November 27, 2012

Twins Notes: Pinto, Thielbar, Bromberg, Clement, Valencia, and Nishioka

• After clearing lots of the dead weight from the 40-man roster the Twins filled the empty spots by adding eight players: Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson, B.J. Hermsen, Michael Tonkin, Daniel Santana, Josmil Pinto, Tim Wood, Caler Thielbar. All eight players would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft on December 6 if they hadn't been added and the first five names on the list were expected, as they rank among the Twins' better upper-minors prospects.

Pinto was somewhat surprising in that he's played just 12 games above Single-A through age 23, already spent about half of his time as a designated hitter, and failed to crack a .700 OPS in 2010 or 2011. He did bounce back with a strong season at high Single-A, hitting .295/.361/.473 in 93 games before a late promotion to Double-A, and the Twins apparently believe Pinto has a chance to be an impact bat.

When the Twins signed Wood to a minor-league contract on November 10 he didn't get a 40-man roster spot, but for some reason two weeks later they decided the 30-year-old reliever with just 58 career innings of big-league experience needed to be protected. He has a decent Triple-A track record and looks capable of being a useful middle reliever, but adding Wood to the 40-man roster weeks after signing him to a non-roster deal certainly seems odd.

Thielbar was cut by the Brewers two years after being an 18th-round draft pick and latched on with the independent league St. Paul Saints, where the left-handed reliever impressed the Twins enough to sign him in mid-2011. This year he pitched at Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, faring very well overall, but his 3.57 ERA and 32/16 K/BB ratio in 40 innings for Rochester were nothing special for a 25-year-old. Helluva story, questionable 40-man addition.

• Most of the aforementioned dead weight that was previously trimmed from the 40-man roster have either found new homes or re-signed with the Twins on minor-league deals. Samuel Deduno, P.J. Walters, Esmerling Vasquez, and Luis Perdomo re-upped without 40-man roster spots, Jeff Manship signed a minor-league contract with the Rockies, and Matt Carson signed a minor-league deal with the Indians.

At the time Carlos Gutierrez was the only player claimed off waivers after being dropped from the 40-man roster by the Twins, but two weeks later the Cubs dropped him from their 40-man roster and sent him outright to Triple-A when no one claimed the former first-round pick. As of now the Twins have a full 40-man roster, but there's still no shortage of replacement-level talent that can safely be let go if/when they need spots for trades or signings.

David Bromberg was the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but he was dropped from the 40-man roster after missing most of 2011 with a broken forearm and became a minor-league free agent last month. It was somewhat surprising to see the Twins sour on Bromberg so quickly, but he was never considered a top prospect and struggled this year working mostly as a reliever at age 24. He signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates.

• If you're into misleading headlines "Twins sign former top prospect, No. 3 pick" is a good one, but Jeff Clement seems destined for Rochester after inking a minor-league deal. While in the Mariners' farm system Clement ranked among Baseball America's top 75 prospects in 2006, 2007, and 2008, but poor defense kept him from playing catcher regularly and his bat hasn't been good enough for first base/designated hitter. For now he's just intriguing Triple-A depth.

Tim Doherty and Marty Mason replaced Tom Brunansky and Bobby Cuellar on the Triple-A coaching staff. Doherty will be Rochester's hitting coach after serving as a Red Sox assistant hitting coach this year. Mason takes over as pitching coach and his resume includes 11 seasons as the Cardinals' bullpen coach under manager Tony La Russa. Brunansky and Cuellar were promoted to the Twins' coaching staff as part of last month's quasi-shakeup.

• Last month when Tsuyoshi Nishioka forfeited the remaining $3.25 million on his contract to part ways with the Twins it was portrayed as an act of charity on his part. There's no doubt he did the Twins a favor, but as I wrote at the time: "He'll likely recoup the $3.25 million and then some back in Japan, where he was a .346-hitting, Gold Glove-winning star before leaving." Sure enough, Nishioka signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Hanshin Tigers.

Danny Valencia spent most of his time at Triple-A after the Twins traded him to the Red Sox for a non-prospect in early August and now Boston has cut him from the 40-man roster. Overall this year Valencia hit .188/.199/.299 in the majors and .259/.300/.404 in the minors, posting a combined 90/21 K/BB ratio in 126 games. At age 28 he might be nearing the end of the line, although Valencia re-emering as a right-handed bench bat wouldn't be shocking.

Torii Hunter is back in the AL Central, signing a two-year, $26 million contract with the Tigers. That's a big commitment to a 37-year-old and his 2012 production was built on an sustainably great ball-in-play batting average, but it's worth noting that Hunter has more or less been worth $20 million over every two-year period since establishing himself in 2001. He's aged remarkably well and moving from center field to right field resuscitated his defense.

• For a whole lot more about the 40-man roster additions, Nishioka's raise, and the state of the Twins' farm system check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

October 25, 2012

Twins Notes: 40-man cuts, declining Capps, Baker talks, and 25 years ago

Yesterday in this space I listed 11 marginal players the Twins could designate for assignment to create space on the 40-man roster heading into the offseason and by the afternoon they'd done just that, dropping all but four of those players from the roster. Carlos Gutierrez was claimed off waivers by the Cubs while Jeff Manship, Luis Perdomo, Esmerling Vasquez, Kyle Waldrop, P.J. Walters, and Matt Carson all passed through waivers unclaimed.

Gutierrez was the 27th overall pick in the 2008 draft out of the University of Miami and for years was touted as a late-inning bullpen option, but he never actually pitched well beyond Single-A. He got ground balls with his sinker, but Gutierrez was basically a one-pitch reliever with poor control. He posted a 4.90 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A while managing just 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings and is currently recovering from shoulder surgery at age 26.

Manship once looked like a decent prospect as a starter in the minors, but he simply couldn't miss enough bats against experienced hitters and wasn't able to add much velocity in a move to the bullpen. He could resurface as a decent middle reliever at some point, but there's little in his track record to suggest an upside beyond that and Manship is 27 years old with mediocre raw stuff and a 6.20 ERA in 85 innings as a big leaguer.

Waldrop was drafted 25th overall in 2004, which is so long ago that the Twins took him with the compensatory pick they got for losing LaTroy Hawkins as a free agent. He was drafted as a starter out of high school, but shifted to the bullpen following shoulder surgery in 2008 and spent three years at Triple-A. Waldrop throws strikes and gets tons of ground balls, but had just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings in Rochester and missed even fewer bats in Minnesota.

Perdomo, Vasquez, Walters, and Carson were each acquired by the Twins via minor-league deals or waiver claims, so cutting them loose comes as no surprise. Perdomo is the reliever the Twins decided to promote in September instead of giving Anthony Slama an opportunity to show that his consistently amazing minor-league numbers are no fluke, which was maddening then and remains so now.

• Along with trimming the 40-man roster the Twins also declined their $6 million option on Matt Capps, buying him out for $250,000 instead. That doesn't preclude them from re-signing Capps for less, but hopefully the front office can talk themselves into a clean breakup after such an odd love affair. Capps threw 122 innings for the Twins with a 3.61 ERA and 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, which cost them Wilson Ramos, one draft pick, and $13 million.

Capps is a perfectly decent setup man when healthy, but he's always been an example of the folly behind labeling someone a "proven closer" based on save totals and then paying a premium for that meaningless label. Doing it over and over again, as the Twins did, is one of the team's most obvious fundamental mistakes in recent memory. Closers are made, not born, as Rick Aguilera, Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado, and now Glen Perkins have shown.

• They haven't officially declined the $9 million option on Scott Baker for 2013, but that's merely a formality after he missed the entire season following Tommy John elbow surgery. Two months ago Baker said he'd like to remain in Minnesota, this week general manager Terry Ryan said the Twins are interested in keeping him around, and yesterday Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com reported that the two sides are "working now on a new deal."

Baker is no sure thing to be healthy by Opening Day and had durability issues even before the surgery, but getting him signed to an incentive-laden one-year deal before free agency begins would be a nice first step toward rebuilding the rotation. Baker logged 135 innings with a 3.14 ERA and 123-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2011 and among the 144 starters with 500-plus innings since 2007 he ranks 12th in K/BB ratio, 50th in xFIP, and 52nd in ERA.

• Last but not least, on this date 25 years ago ...

Twins 4, Cardinals 2.

July 25, 2012

Twins Notes: Deadline duds, spreadsheet nerds, back hair, and Zubaz

• In what may have been his final start in a Twins uniform Francisco Liriano turned in a clunker Monday night in Chicago, failing to make it out of the third inning while the White Sox got to him for seven runs. Coming into the game Liriano had gone at least five innings in every start since April 27, but he allowed three homers in 2.2 innings after allowing a total of three homers in his previous 71 innings.

Obviously one bad start isn't likely to significantly impact someone's trade value and even with the ugly outing Liriano has a 3.68 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 11 starts since rejoining the rotation in late May. Still, it was rough timing considering he has a maximum of one more start before the July 31 trade deadline and at least a half-dozen scouts were on hand to file reports to interested teams.

In terms of what the Twins might actually get for Liriano, the Marlins' haul for fellow impending free agent starter Anibal Sanchez offers some clues. Miami sent Sanchez and good but not great infielder Omar Infante to Detroit for a three-prospect package led by 21-year-old right-hander Jacob Turner, a 2009 first-round pick who ranked among Baseball America's top 30 prospects in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Fans should be thrilled with a Turner-like prospect.

• On a related note, this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode featured me arguing with John Bonnes about whether or not Liriano's trade value was likely to continue rising if the Twins held off making a trade until right before the deadline.

Terry Ryan made it clear he'll be looking for high-upside prospects rather than MLB-ready prospects at the trade deadline, which is good to hear. Putting a decent team on the field for 2013 would be nice, but taking a short-term view of a long-term problem would be a mistake and Ryan deserves credit for recognizing that even when he might not be general manager for the long haul. They simply need talent and putting any limits on that search is silly.

• Two weeks ago Glen Perkins publicly outed himself as a Fan Graphs-reading, batting average on balls in play-quoting stat-head, which means he's now subject to the same anti-sabermetrics taunting that lowly bloggers like me have long endured on a regular basis. Case in point, this Twitter exchange between Perkins and a media member bully following Monday night's game in which Twins hitters grounded into five double plays:

Nerds are the worst, amirite?

Carlos Gutierrez has been limited to 10 appearances at Triple-A due to shoulder problems and now the 2008 first-round pick may be out until next season following arthroscopic surgery. If healthy Gutierrez still projects as a potential ground ball-getting middle reliever, but with a 4.90 ERA in 257 innings between Double-A and Triple-A his on-field performance has never matched the Twins' frequent touting of his raw stuff and he'll be 26 years old in September.

Brett Jacobson, the minor-league reliever acquired from the Orioles along with Jim Hoey for J.J. Hardy, has been released. Jacobson was always a marginal prospect and completely fell apart at Double-A this season, walking 45 batters and allowing 41 runs in 42 innings. Hoey was lost on waivers to the Blue Jays back in December, so the Twins officially got zero value out of the Hardy trade that was all kinds of misguided even if they'd gotten a better return.

Jason Kubel had a three-homer game this week and is hitting .297/.368/.577 with 21 home runs and an NL-leading 71 RBIs for the Diamondbacks, but it's tough to blame the Twins for letting him walk. Ryan Doumit has matched his Twins production at a fraction of the cost and Kubel has hit .257/.320/.414 away from Arizona's hitter-friendly ballpark. And for all the talk about Target Field killing Kubel's power he hit .275/.335/.450 on the road in 2010-2011.

• I'm not saying this couldn't have been me, but it wasn't me:

My favorite part? Someone else had to do the sculpting of that Joe Mauer back-hair jersey.

• It's too bad that so much of Chris Parmelee's season has been spent collecting dust on the Twins' bench, because when given a chance to play regularly at Triple-A for the first time in his career he's been very impressive. Parmelee, who initially skipped Triple-A to begin this season in the majors, has hit .302/.446/.510 with four homers, eight doubles, and more walks (24) than strikeouts (18) in 28 games for Rochester.

• In their never-ending search for pitching depth the Twins have signed Eric Hurley, a former first-round pick who was released from Triple-A by the Angels. Hurley is still just 26 years old and ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects in both 2007 and 2008, but hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008 and has a 5.43 ERA in 60 career starts at Triple-A. He's purely depth for Rochester at this point.

Trevor Plouffe's thumb injury is a shame, because even after his power binge of 13 homers in 22 games came to an end in mid-June he's hit .283/.354/.460 with five homers, five doubles, and 11 walks in 26 games since. And overall since carrying a .133 batting average into May 15 he's hit .296/.344/.618 with 18 homers in 52 games.

• When asked by Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com if the Twins are shopping Josh Willingham an unnamed general manager replied: "He's out there if you want to pay, like, forever."

Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune passes along the best Tom Kelly picture ever:

I'm waiting for Zubaz to make a comeback. Maybe we can get hipsters to wear them ironically?

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

March 1, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

25. Carlos Gutierrez | Reliever | DOB: 9/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     11     10     1.32      54.2      37      1      33     22
         AA     22      6     6.19      52.1      62      6      32     24
2010     AA     32     16     4.57     122.0     136      7      81     50
2011     AAA    43      0     4.62      62.1      60      2      57     31

From the moment they took him 27th overall in the 2008 draft the Twins have talked up Carlos Gutierrez as a future late-inning reliever, touting his "power sinker" and closing experience at the University of Miami. Unfortunately there hasn't been much about his actual performance to match those high hopes, as his impressive ground-ball rate comes attached to terrible control, just 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 4.07 ERA in four pro seasons.

Gutierrez missed more bats at Triple-A last season, but 57 strikeouts over 62 innings is hardly encouraging for a 24-year-old reliever with high-leverage aspirations, and his control actually regressed with 4.5 walks per nine innings. When he threw the ball over the plate Gutierrez's sinker did its job, as he allowed just two homers and induced 62 percent ground balls. To put that in some context, Jake Westbrook led the majors in grounders last season at 60 percent.

Throwing hard and inducing 60 percent ground balls is enough to make Gutierrez a future big leaguer, but without more missed bats or dramatically improved control it's currently difficult to envision him as a successful setup man or closer. At age 25 he's running out of time to turn his raw stuff into results, but Gutierrez will likely begin this season back in Rochester and figures to crack the Twins' bullpen at some point.

24. Nate Roberts | Left Field | DOB: 2/89 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-5

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    153     .336     .444     .547      5     16     21     29
2011     A-     283     .302     .443     .446      4     20     28     48

Knee problems limited Nate Roberts to 68 games last year in his full-season debut at low Single-A, but when healthy he showed the exceptional on-base skills that allowed him to lead the country in on-base percentage as a junior at High Point University. Roberts won Big South conference player of the year by hitting .417 with 19 homers, 36 steals, and a ridiculous .573 OBP, which got him selected by the Twins in the fifth round.

Roberts hit .336 with a .444 OBP in his 35-game debut at rookie-ball after signing and then batted .302 with a .443 OBP in Beloit last season. In addition to a combined .314 batting average and 49 walks in 436 plate appearances he's also been hit by 33 pitches, which is a total high enough to seem like a fluke if not for the fact that Roberts was plunked 25 times in just 56 games for High Point in 2010.

Getting hit by pitches is definitely a skill, and players like Craig Biggio, Carlos Quentin, Jason Kendall, and Chase Utley boost their on-base percentages by routinely getting plunked 20-plus times per season. Along with the high batting average, solid walk rate, and plus speed that makes Roberts an underrated prospect, but he's too old to be stuck in the low minors much longer and as a corner outfielder he'll need to develop more power than he's shown.

23. Matthew Summers | Reliever | DOB: 8/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+    20      0     0.87      20.2      11      0      36      5

Matthew Summers began his college career as an outfielder, but moved to the mound full time last season and became UC-Irvine's best starter, throwing 116 innings with a 2.02 ERA and 99-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just one homer. That got him a $172,000 signing bonus as the Twins' fourth-round pick and Summers predictably dominated rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut.

Working out of the bullpen in Elizabethton he posted a 0.87 ERA and 36-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21 innings, allowing no homers and inducing 57 percent ground balls while opponents hit just .153 off him. Letting college pitchers toy with rookie-ball hitters is standard operating procedure for the Twins and typically doesn't mean much, but in Summers' case his own lack of experience as a pitcher at least made it more of a fair fight.

His long-term role is unclear, as Baseball America reports that he works in the low-90s as a starter and the mid-90s as a reliever. He also has the unorthodox delivery and rudimentary off-speed pitches of a former position player, so the 6-foot-1 right-hander may be destined for the bullpen despite winning Big West conference pitcher of the year honors as a starter. Regardless of the role, Summers will make his full-season debut this year.

22. Tom Stuifbergen | Starter | DOB: 9/88 | Throws: Right | Sign: Netherlands

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+    13     13     3.28      79.2      79      4      69      6
2010     A-     19     17     2.98      93.2      99      5      88     23
2011     A+     23     22     4.40     116.2     151     10      75     19

Tom Stuifbergen signed with the Twins out of the Netherlands as an 18-year-old in 2006, missed all of 2008 following shoulder surgery, and missed time with elbow problems in 2009 and 2010, but he's still managed to establish himself as a solid prospect and potential mid-rotation starter. Long term his success may hinge on inducing ground balls in bunches, however, because Stuifbergen's strikeout rate plummeted while stepping up to high Single-A.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio remained excellent in Fort Myers, but that was mostly due to just 1.5 walks per nine innings. His strikeout rate fell from 8.5 per nine innings to 5.6 per nine innings, and he also served up 11 homers in 117 frames after allowing a total of just nine career homers in 189 innings coming into the year. And while his sinker kills plenty of worms, his ground-ball rate of 47 percent during the past two seasons isn't anything special.

Stuifbergen has pitched well in international competition, including thriving on a big stage in 2009 while being coached by Bert Blyleven in the World Baseball Classic. Last year in this space I compared Stuifbergen to Nick Blackburn and that still looks pretty accurate. Blackburn logged 131 innings in Fort Myers, striking out 76 and walking 23 with a 4.19 ERA. Stuifbergen has thrown 119 innings in Fort Myers, striking out 78 and walking 20 with a 4.53 ERA.

21. David Bromberg | Starter | DOB: 9/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-32

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     27     26     2.70     153.1     125      6     148     63
2010     AA     17     17     3.62      99.1     105      4      65     35
         AAA     9      9     3.98      52.0      47      9      47     13
2011     AA      8      7     6.08      37.0      50      3      23     15

David Bromberg led his league in strikeouts in 2007, 2008, and 2009, the latter of which got him named Twins minor league pitcher of the year, but his performance dropped off while making the jump to Double-A in 2010 and he missed most of last season when a line drive broke his forearm. Between the injury and struggles his stock dropped so far in such a short time that the Twins trimmed him from the 40-man roster and no team claimed him off waivers.

That doesn't mean Bromberg won't go on to have a big-league career, but it does suggest that his perceived upside isn't strong and most teams don't view him as being MLB-ready. He's still just 24 years old and Bromberg can be given a pass for getting knocked around after the injury, but even before last season his strikeouts per nine innings had plummeted from 10.6 to 8.7 to 6.7 and he's totaled just 137 strikeouts in 188 innings above Single-A.

Bromberg is 6-foot-5 and hefty even after dropping 30 pounds last year and some more weight this winter, but his fastball tops out in the low-90s. His off-speed stuff gets positive reviews and prior to being derailed by the broken forearm he'd sliced his walk rate from poor to mediocre, but as a fly-ball pitcher who doesn't seem likely to miss many bats his upside is limited. He's capable of being a mid-rotation starter, but this year will be key for his chances.

February 16, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Tom Stuifbergen | Starter | DOB: 9/88 | Throws: Right | Sign: Netherlands

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+    13     13     3.28      79.2      79      4      69      6
2010     A-     19     17     2.98      93.2      99      5      88     23

Tom Stuifbergen signed with the Twins out of the Netherlands as an 18-year-old in 2006 and missed all of 2008 following shoulder surgery, but bounced back to be a member of the Dutch pitching staff coached by Bert Blyleven in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. At the time he had never thrown a pitch above rookie-ball, yet Stuifbergen matched up with Ubaldo Jimenez and tossed four shutout innings versus the Dominican Republic in the tournament's biggest upset.

After playing in the WBC he spent 2009 at rookie-level Elizabethton, posting a brilliant 69-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings while inducing 64 percent ground balls, but Stuifbergen also missed some time with elbow problems. Last season was a similar story, as the 6-foot-4 right-hander fared very well at low Single-A with a 2.98 ERA and 88/23 K/BB ratio in 94 innings, but missed a chunk of the season with more elbow issues.

Clearly staying healthy is key for Stuifbergen, who's appeared in just 40 pro games, but even in limited action a 169/33 K/BB ratio in 188 innings is impressive and he's still just 22 years old. His raw stuff isn't overpowering, but Stuifbergen throws strikes, misses a fair number of bats, and induces grounders in bunches. Right now Nick Blackburn seems like a decent comparison, but if he can stay healthy for a while and add some velocity he could have mid-rotation upside.

19. Chris Parmelee | First Base | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     A-     289     .239     .385     .496     14     27     52     83
2009     A+     501     .258     .359     .441     16     44     65    109
2010     A+      93     .338     .430     .463      2      5     13     11
         AA     463     .275     .341     .389      6     33     43     70

Through his first four pro seasons Chris Parmelee stood out in a system full of toolsy, athletic hitting prospects because his game was about power and patience, but last year at the Twins' urging the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft totally overhauled his approach. It accomplished what the Twins had in mind, as he hit .285 between high Single-A and Double-A after coming into the season as a .250 hitter and also struck out 43 percent less often than his career rate.

Unfortunately, as his contact and average increased Parmelee's power vanished. He homered just eight times in 133 games and his Isolated Power was 42 percent below his career mark. His walk rate also fell by 22 percent. Add it all up and despite a 35-point uptick in average and 43 percent fewer whiffs his on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS were all lower than each of the previous two years. In other words, the change in approach made him worse.

Or at least it did in 2010. Clearly the Twins felt that, despite solid overall production in the low minors, Parmelee's original approach made him unlikely to succeed in the majors. And they're probably right, as most of the majors' best low-average, high-power hitters actually hit above .280 in the minors. On other hand, regardless of the approach being used if Parmelee can't rediscover his power everything else will be a moot point. Power is the non-negotiable part.

18. Alex Burnett | Reliever | DOB: 7/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-12

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     28     25     3.76     143.2     151     12      84     36
2009     A+     18      0     1.99      22.2      14      0      26      7
         AA     40      0     1.79      55.1      36      2      52     19
2010     AAA    14      0     5.49      19.2      26      1      18      8
         MLB    41      0     5.29      47.2      52      6      37     23

Alex Burnett thrived while transitioning from starter to reliever at high Single-A and Double-A in 2009 and last April the Twins bypassed several more experienced relief prospects to call him up when they needed immediate bullpen help with injuries to Clay Condrey and Jose Mijares. He found success right away, throwing 31 innings with a 26-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.30 ERA through mid-June, but then fell apart and kept struggling after a demotion to Triple-A.

Burnett allowed 20 runs in his final 16 innings with the Twins and had a 5.49 ERA in 20 innings at Triple-A after posting a 1.85 mark between Single-A and Double-A in 2009. It wasn't pretty, but Burnett's low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider combination showed plenty of potential and it's important to remember that he was a 22-year-old in his second season of relief work. Plus, with a 4.54 xFIP in his 48-inning debut Burnett pitched better than his 5.29 ERA shows.

He'll get another chance to establish himself in the majors this year, perhaps right away, and is capable of becoming a key component of the Twins' bullpen long term. Burnett has thrown a total of 98 innings in the minors since becoming a reliever, posting a 2.57 ERA and 96/34 K/BB ratio while allowing just three homers. He obviously needs to bounce back and iron out some rough spots, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him in a late-inning role down the stretch.

17. Carlos Gutierrez | Reliever | DOB: 9/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     16      0     2.10      25.2      23      0      19      7
2009     A+     11     10     1.32      54.2      37      1      33     22
         AA     22      6     6.19      52.1      62      6      32     24
2010     AA     32     16     4.57     122.0     136      7      81     50

Carlos Gutierrez began his college career as a starter, but moved to the bullpen after Tommy John surgery and served as the University of Miami's closer in 2008 before the Twins selected him 27th overall with the compensatory draft pick received for the Angels signing Torii Hunter. In the three seasons since then Gutierrez has moved back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, but his success as a starter has been limited and he projects as a full-time reliever.

Because of the frequent role changes it's difficult to get a handle on Gutierrez's upside by way of his numbers. He's been dominant at times and awful at others, but the overall performance is mediocre with a 3.93 ERA and 171-to-105 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 259 innings. However, as more or less a one-pitch pitcher Gutierrez should fare better when working exclusively as a reliever and that one pitch is a sinker that induced 60 percent ground balls at Double-A.

Once the Twins cease trying him as a starter Gutierrez has a chance to move very quickly and perhaps even join the big-league bullpen this year, but I'd like to see him thrive in a relief role for a few months before assuming he'll make a late-inning impact. Right now Gutierrez's upside is based more on the praise for his "power sinker" than his actual performance, but mid-90s velocity and a 60 percent ground-ball rate are pretty solid building blocks for relief success.

16. Max Kepler | Center Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    153     .286     .346     .343      0      7     13     27

American-born Kathy Kepler and Polish-born Marek Rozycki met while starring together in the Berlin ballet and their son, Max Kepler, signed with the Twins out of Germany as a 16-year-old in July of 2009, getting an $800,000 bonus that ranks as the largest ever given to a European position player. When he wasn't busy getting his driver's license and going to high school in a foreign country, Kepler held his own while debuting in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

He showed limited power, but hit .286 with a decent walk rate and, most importantly for a raw 17-year-old, continued to impress with his physical tools. Asked to assess Kepler's first season Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff focused primarily on his work ethic and success "navigating the baseball life on and off the field," but also pointed to his "unbelievably athletic body ... pretty swing, terrific bat speed, and strength." In other words, so far so good.

For now at least Kepler projects as a potential center fielder, but that may change quickly once his 6-foot-4 frame fills out and he played all three outfield spots in rookie-ball, where Baseball America named him the ninth-best prospect in the upside-filled GCL. He's likely still a season or two from facing full-season competition, so thinking about how Kepler might look roaming the outfield at Target Field is very premature, but if he gets there the ceiling could be sky high.