February 14, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

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

25. 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
2012     A-     352     .299     .433     .427      4     25     44     37

Nate Roberts has moved very slowly through the system since being drafted in the fifth round out of High Point University in 2010, in part because the Twins have refused to promote him and in part because he's rarely stayed healthy. He'll turn 24 years old before playing a game above low Single-A and spent back-to-back seasons in Beloit despite hitting .302/.443/.446 there as a 22-year-old the first time around.

That might suggest the Twins don't think much of Roberts' potential, but they gave him a spot in the Arizona Fall League and he hit .446/.565/.662 in 19 games. He led the country in on-base percentage as a college junior and has gotten on base at a .439 clip in the minors, combining patience and strike zone control with an amazing ability to get hit by pitches. Dating back to his final college season Roberts has been plunked 81 times in 235 games.

Along with being an on-base machine Roberts also has 41 steals in 179 games as a pro, but his power has been limited with just 13 homers and he's strictly a corner outfielder defensively. It's tough to get too excited about Roberts' future until he stays healthy and faces more advanced competition, but hopefully the dominant AFL stint convinces the Twins to at least push him aggressively at age 24.

24. Daniel Santana | Shortstop | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    144     .264     .285     .421      4     13      3     30
         A-     144     .238     .289     .315      0      7      7     40
2011     A-     409     .247     .298     .373      7     27     25     98
2012     A+     547     .286     .329     .410      8     38     29     77

Daniel Santana all but fell off the prospect map following a 2011 season in which he hit just .247/.298/.373 and moved around the diamond defensively at low Single-A, but the switch-hitter from the Dominican Republic stepped up to high Singe-A last year and showed enough promise to think he can have a big-league future. Santana batted .286 with 38 extra-base hits in 121 games, swiped 17 bases, and struck out in just 14 percent of his plate appearances.

With that said, his overall .286/.329/.410 line wasn't particularly impressive and he drew just 29 walks in 547 plate appearances while being thrown out on 11 of 28 steal attempts. In other words Santana is still pretty rough around the edges and there isn't much in his track record through age 22 to suggest he's capable of being more than a bottom-of-the-order bat. He's hit .266/.313/.398 for his career and hasn't cracked a .750 OPS since rookie-ball in 2008.

Defensively, however, Santana gets positive reviews as both a shortstop and second baseman. He alternated middle infield spots with 2011 first-round pick Levi Michael for much of last season, but Santana eventually emerged as Fort Myers' primary shortstop. If he can remain an asset at shortstop Santana could hit enough to be a decent starter there, but right now he seems to be on the utility infielder track.

23. Zack Jones | Reliever | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       6.0       2      0       9      4
         A-     12      0     3.21      14.0       9      1      25      7

Zack Jones had mediocre results in three years at San Jose State, posting a 4.11 ERA in 138 innings spent mostly as a reliever, but his mid-90s fastball and high strikeout rate convinced the Twins to make him their fourth-round pick in June. Jones started eight games in his final college season, but Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that "scouts view him as a reliever" because he lacked a quality third pitch to go with a fastball and slider.

Jones debuted at rookie-level Elizabethon and then moved up to low Single-A Beloit, throwing 20 total innings while working exclusively out of the bullpen. He overpowered hitters, holding them to a .159 batting average and striking out 34 of the 81 batters he faced, but also walked 11. While the Twins are hoping some of the college relievers they drafted in June can become starters, it sounds like Jones and the organization both prefer him in the bullpen.

Even in short outings his control needs a lot of work. He limited walks in his final season at SJSU, but Jones' overall walk rate in college was 4.4 per nine innings and he issued 5.0 walks per nine innings in his admittedly brief pro debut. Still, as a hard-throwing reliever Jones potentially could move very quickly through the minors and has a decent chance to be the Twins' first 2012 draft pick to reach to the majors.

22. Amaurys Minier | Shortstop | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

As part of MLB's new collective bargaining agreement the Twins were allowed to spend a total of $2.9 million on international prospects last year and they gave $1.4 million of that to 16-year-old Amaurys Minier, a switch-hitting infielder from the Dominican Republic. Ranked by Baseball America as the 12th-best international prospect in last year's signing class, Minier is currently a shortstop but is expected to move to third base once his 6-foot-2 frame fills out.

According to David Rawnsley of Perfect Game he "has immense power from both sides of the plate" but "doesn't have the athleticism" to stick at shortstop. Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that Minier "has drawn attention for his bat speed and plus power from both sides of the plate" with "one of the sweeter swings in the Dominican." However, he added that "scouts have reservations about his ability to hit in games, so his pitch recognition skills will have to improve."

Three years ago the Twins signed Miguel Sano out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old for $3.15 million, but making that type of investment is no longer feasible under the CBA and the $1.4 million they spent on Minier is more than all but three international prospects got in 2012. That doesn't mean he's destined for stardom, but Minier is definitely a high-upside prospect and it's always nice to see the Twins adding a potential impact bat to the system.

21. Michael Tonkin | Reliever | DOB: 11/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-30

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK+    10      0     1.08      25.0      18      1      26      4
         A-     13     12     4.29      65.0      76      7      40     18
2011     A-     48      3     3.87      76.2      82      3      69     24
2012     A-     22      0     1.38      39.0      29      1      53      9
         A+     22      0     2.97      30.1      24      2      44     11

Michael Tonkin is a former 30th-round pick for whom "Jason Kubel's brother-in-law" was once his claim to fame, but he's thrived since moving to the bullpen full time in mid-2011 and last year dominated between two levels of Single-A to emerge as someone to watch. Tonkin racked up 90 strikeouts in 69 total innings while holding opponents to a .209 batting average and three homers, posting a 2.09 ERA at age 22.

Plenty of relievers put up great numbers in the low minors every season, but few are 6-foot-7 with mid-90s fastballs like Tonkin. He's moved methodically through the farm system, finally reaching high Single-A midway through his fifth pro season, but that was in part because Tonkin was trying to stick as a starter early on and now that he's in the bullpen to stay there's the potential to rise pretty quickly.

His time as a starter helped develop a three-pitch fastball/slider/changeup repertoire that misses lot of bats and induces a decent number of ground balls. And for a big guy with a big fastball his control isn't bad either, with 20 walks in 69 innings last season and 2.3 walks per nine innings for his career. It's usually silly to get excited about Single-A relievers, but Tonkin's combination of raw stuff, size, and performance since shifting to the bullpen is very encouraging.


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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.