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.

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.

November 21, 2011

Twins Notes: Carroll’s contract, Kubel’s compensation, and minor moves

Jamey Carroll's deal was initially reported as two years and $7 million, but the actual details are slightly different. Carroll will get $2.75 million in 2012 and $3.75 million in 2013, and there's also a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option with no buyout if he tops 400 plate appearances in 2013. Most likely it'll wind up being a two-year, $6.75 million deal, but it could become a three-year, $8.5 million contract.

Obviously committing multiple seasons to a 38-year-old middle infielder isn't ideal, but Carroll's deal seemed like a fair one to me at the time and looks even better now compared to a pair of middle infielder signings that followed. Mark Ellis got two years and $8.75 million to basically replace Carroll on the Dodgers. They're similar players, but Ellis hasn't played shortstop since 2005 and is coming off a career-worst season that saw him hit just .248/.288/.346 at age 34.

Clint Barmes got two years and $11 million from the Pirates, who'll use him as their everyday shortstop. All things being equal Barmes might be a better choice than Carroll for the next two seasons because he's five years younger and an elite defender with 15-homer power, but the money isn't close to equal and Barmes has also hit just .230/.275/.360 away from Colorado. Even with Coors Field included his .302 on-base percentage is 54 points below Carroll's mark.

Reported changes in the soon-to-be-signed collective bargaining agreement would eliminate compensation for Type B free agents, meaning the Twins would receive nothing if Jason Kubel signs elsewhere. Getting rid of the Type B free agent designation and lessening the number of Type A free agents qualified for compensation seems like bad news for the Twins long term, as they lose more free agents than they sign and rely heavily on the extra draft picks.

Not trading Kubel was a questionable decision when the Twins assumed they'd be receiving a supplemental first-round pick if he left as a free agent, but if that compensation for Kubel and other Type B players is eliminated they'll obviously regret the non-move. Instead of cashing him in for a decent prospect or two they'd get nothing, although certainly you can't blame the Twins for not being able to predict the future of collective bargaining changes.

Phil Dumatrait re-signed with the Twins on a minor-league deal after being trimmed off the 40-man roster. Dumatrait's track record shows that even his limited success involved pitching way over his head, but as Triple-A depth he's fine. Along with Dumatrait (and Brian Dinkelman and Jared Burton, who signed last week) the Twins also inked minor-league deals with Jason Bulger, Brendan Wise, Matt Carson, Wilkin Ramirez, Samuel Deduno, and Luis Perdomo.

When the Angels acquired Bulger from the Diamondbacks for Alberto Callaspo in 2006 he was a potential late-inning reliever, but injuries and control problems have held him back and now he's 32 years old with just 133 career innings in the majors. On the other hand he has a 4.33 ERA and 138 strikeouts in those 133 innings and throws in the low-90s with a good curveball, so the right-hander could be a midseason bullpen option.

Perdomo throws hard and spent 2009 in the Padres' bullpen with a 4.80 ERA and 55/34 K/BB ratio in 60 innings, but the 27-year-old righty has been mediocre at Triple-A since then and mostly just adds to the sudden collection of relievers with big velocity and little else. Wise and Deduno don't fit that mold, topping out in the low-90s. Wise's pretty ERA at Triple-A hides poor secondary numbers and Deduno is a ground-ball guy who doesn't miss bats or throw strikes.

Carson and Ramirez are both journeyman outfielders with brief stints in the majors who'll add some speed and right-handed pop to Rochester's lineup. Carson has hit .280/.343/.515 in 378 games at Triple-A, including .279/.337/.533 with 24 homers and 11 steals in 112 games this year at age 29. Ramirez is 27 years old and has hit .247/.308/.431 in 270 games at Triple-A, including .267/.307/.458 with 11 homers and 19 steals in 81 games this season.

• Bulger, Burton, Dumatrait, Dinkelman, and Carson are examples of the type of guys available on minor-league deals every offseason, which is why it's so confusing that the Twins decided to give 40-man roster spots to similarly mediocre talent like Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray. They can always drop Maloney and Gray from the 40-man roster, of course, but in the meantime the deadline to add prospects newly eligible for the Rule 5 draft came and went.

Oswaldo Arcia, Carlos Gutierrez, and Tyler Robertson were the three additions, protecting them from being selected in next month's draft, but the Twins also left decent prospects Angel Morales, Manuel Soliman, and Tom Stuifbergen unprotected and changed David Bromberg from protected to unprotected by outrighting him off the 40-man roster. Odds are that none of those four will be Rule 5 picks, but it certainly wouldn't be shocking if the Twins lost someone.

Bromberg was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but saw his stock drop with the jump to Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 and missed most of this year after a line drive broke his forearm in May. He ranked No. 13 on my list of the Twins' best prospects coming into this season and will probably drop into the 20-30 range for 2012, which is also where Morales, Stuifbergen, and Soliman will likely end up if they remain in the organization.

Delmon Young's postseason power surge caused some people to overreact about the Twins dumping him in mid-August, but now Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com writes that the Tigers are trying to deal him because they're "concerned about his defense." They apparently offered Young to the Braves for Martin Prado, but were turned down. And if the Tigers keep Young for 2012 they'll likely be paying him at least $7 million in his final season before free agency.

May 11, 2011

Twins Notes: Hail Mary

Joe Mauer took batting practice prior to last night's game, but told reporters that there's still no timetable for his return despite "feeling a lot better." Here's more from Mauer on his status:

Today was kind of my first day getting on the field a little bit, moving around, and it was a good day. That [viral infection] really did push me back quite a bit. When it was all said and done, I lost around 15 pounds. I lost a lot of strength, so that probably pushed me back a week or a couple weeks.

I'm feeling a lot better now. I'm getting my strength back and my weight back, so hopefully I can get back on the field. You've got to get back into baseball shape. But yeah, I still got some work to do, and I wish I knew when I would be back, and I know everybody else wishes too, but you just got to keep going in the right direction.

Mauer and Twins trainer Rick McWane have both admitted that he wasn't physically ready for Opening Day due to offseason knee surgery, but unsuccessfully played anyway until shutting it down after nine games. In his absence Drew Butera, Steve Holm, and Rene Rivera have hit a combined .102 with zero homers and a .136 slugging percentage. For comparison, National League pitchers have hit .133 with a .167 slugging percentage this season.

• Last week I wrote about Carl Pavano's strikeout rate plummeting and then he whiffed zero of the 25 batters he faced Sunday against the Red Sox, marking his second straight start with zero strikeouts. Pavano now has just 17 strikeouts in 42 innings this season and a total of 29 strikeouts in his last 81 innings dating back to August of last year. Since the beginning of 2010 here's a list of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball among pitchers with at least 200 innings:

                    SO/9
NICK BLACKBURN      3.92
Mark Buehrle        4.23
Brad Bergesen       4.45
CARL PAVANO         4.59
Livan Hernandez     4.77

Having two-fifths of the rotation on the lowest strikeout rate list isn't a good thing, particularly with a poor defense trying to turn all those balls in play into outs behind them, and Pavano's inability to miss bats is very worrisome six weeks into a two-year, $16.5 million deal.

• Unfortunately throwing one of the least impressive no-hitters of all time didn't magically get Francisco Liriano back on track, as he allowed four runs before departing after three innings with the same illness that pushed the follow-up start back in the first place. Liriano now has a 7.07 ERA and more walks (27) than strikeouts (21) in 36 innings after posting a 3.62 ERA and 201-to-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 192 innings last year. What a mess. And then it hailed.

• Ranking dead last among AL teams in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, and walks is depressing enough, but Nick Nelson notes that the Twins have still managed to hit into the fourth-most double plays. Pretty hard to do with the fewest baserunners, but they've found a way. Overall they're on pace to score 505 runs after scoring 781 runs last season. Makes the removal of those trees in center field seem kind of silly, huh?

Jason Kubel deserves plenty of praise for continuing to thrive in the middle of an otherwise horrendous lineup. He hasn't driven in many runs because no one else can get on base, but Kubel is hitting .347/.400/.504 with three homers and 10 doubles in 34 games. Take out Kubel and the rest of the Twins' lineup has hit .216 with a .297 slugging percentage. Seriously.

Matt Tolbert has a .290 career on-base percentage, including .183 this year, yet yesterday was the 10th time in 34 games this season he's batted first or second in the Twins' lineup. And prior to Trevor Plouffe's hamstring injury Ron Gardenhire had him batting second despite a .306 career OBP in the minors. At this point I should be used to it, but Gardenhire ignoring OBP skills because he has it in his head that No. 2 hitters should be middle infielders is maddening.

Michael Cuddyer has hit just .267/.332/.406 in 189 games since the beginning of last year while earning around $12 million, yet when it comes to the local mainstream media you're far more likely to see him touted as team MVP than criticized for sub par production. Following the various Twins beat writers on Twitter provides an interesting glimpse into why Cuddyer rarely gets any heat from people who rely on him for quotes in an otherwise untalkative clubhouse.

For instance, here's a recent tweet from Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press:

Wanna know why the Twins kept Cuddyer? Because he's a leader. Because he stands up and faces the music when they're struggling. Sets an example.

And here's a similar tweet from John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

How long can media go with just Cuddyer, Span, and the starting pitcher talking after games?

Personality and media friendliness definitely impact how a player's performance gets portrayed and with Cuddyer serving as everyone's go-to quote his on-field struggles tend to be ignored. I'm not necessarily blaming reporters for taking that approach, since it's somewhat natural and I'd surely be guilty of doing the same to some degree if put in that position, but it's one reason why being an outsider with no access can be a positive thing for objective analysis.

Delmon Young went 4-for-5 in an extended spring training game yesterday and is aiming to come off the disabled list Friday, which would mean missing 19 games with a strained oblique muscle. Obviously the lineup is desperate for some help, but hopefully Young is fully recovered because oblique strains tend to linger. My guess is that Rene Tosoni heads back to Triple-A to make room for Young, if only because Ben Revere can back up Denard Span in center field.

• Much has been made about the Twins' franchise-record $113 million payroll, which only adds to the frustration with their early struggles, but Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune points out that they've basically gotten zero positive value from their five highest-paid players earning a total of $67 million in Mauer ($23 million), Justin Morneau ($15 million), Joe Nathan ($11.25 million), Cuddyer ($10.5 million), and Pavano ($8 million).

• Third base coaches from successful teams are frequently linked to managerial openings each offseason, yet Scott Ullger was rarely even mentioned as a candidate during his mistake-filled five seasons as the Twins' third base coach. Ullger was moved (or perhaps demoted) to bench coach this season and now Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune names him as a potential Ozzie Guillen replacement if the White Sox continue to struggle, writing:

Few potential candidates are more intriguing than Scott Ullger, who has been on the Twins' coaching staff since 1998 and is currently Ron Gardenhire's top lieutenant. Would the Twins let Ullger talk to the White Sox? Would Ullger want to?

Yes, please. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

• Every time Jose Mijares allows a hit, let alone a run, my Twitter feed fills with people calling him names and acting as if he's the worst pitcher in Twins history, so just a reminder: Mijares has a 2.56 career ERA and .225 opponents' batting average. I realize fat people make for easy targets, literally and figuratively, but being overweight doesn't preclude someone from being good at their job.

Matt Capps didn't pitch in Monday night's extra-inning loss because there was never a "save situation." Last night he closed out a 10-2 loss. Modern closer usage is hilarious sometimes.

Conor Glassey of Baseball America broke down the picks for next month's draft and the Twins have seven of the first 200 selections, including their own first rounder at No. 30 and a pair of compensatory picks at No. 50 and No. 55 for losing Type B free agents Orlando Hudson and Jesse Crain. They forfeited as many as four more compensatory picks for Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch by not offering them arbitration.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka fracturing his fibula when Nick Swisher slid hard into second base raised questions about whether he was fully prepared for American baserunners aggressively trying to break up double plays after not having to account for that threat in Japan. As part of his ongoing rehab Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Nishioka may start working on double-play technique with former second baseman Paul Molitor in Fort Myers.

J.J. Hardy returned from the disabled list last night and homered for the Orioles.

• All the Twins' injuries and subsequent call-ups from Triple-A have left Rochester with a very thin roster, so they signed 27-year-old Aaron Bates to a minor-league contract. Bates was the Red Sox's third-round pick in 2006 and briefly made it to the big leagues in 2009, but as a first baseman with a .230/.318/.344 line in 198 games at Triple-A he's little more than roster filler. Bates is, however, engaged to Lacey Wilson, the reigning Miss Massachusetts.

• They also signed Deinys Suarez, a 27-year-old right-hander who defected from Cuba along with Yuniesky Maya in 2009. Maya and Suarez both threw in front of scouts in the Dominican Republic after defecting, but Maya got a $7.4 million deal from the Nationals and Suarez had to settle for a minor-league deal from the Twins two years later despite solid numbers in Cuba.

• Pitching prospect David Bromberg underwent surgery to fix a broken forearm that involved inserting five screws to stabilize the injury suffered from a line drive. Bromberg ranked 13th on my list of Twins prospects coming into the year and prior to the injury he had a 3.63 ERA and 11-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 innings at Double-A.

• Sad news about Paul Bargas, the 21-year-old reliever acquired from the Rockies this winter for Jose Morales. He was sent home from spring training with what was called a neurological condition and LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Bargas has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

February 18, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

15. Pat Dean | Starter | DOB: 5/89 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     RK-     4      0     0.00       5.0       3      0       5      0
         RK+     5      5     2.59      24.1      17      3      32      1

Going into last year's draft Baseball America compared Boston College left-hander Pat Dean to Glen Perkins, so the Twins picking him in the third round may seem strange given how Perkins has fallen out of favor. Of course, Perkins was once a good college southpaw and first rounder himself, so the comparison is meant as a compliment. Dean followed up a standout sophomore season by struggling with injuries as a junior, but proved healthy after signing for $320,000.

He debuted in the Gulf Coast League and was quickly promoted one step up the ladder to the Appalachian League, combining for a 2.15 ERA and remarkable 37-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 innings between the two levels of rookie-ball. Dean also showed pinpoint control at BC, walking just 30 batters in 173 innings as a starter, and the 6-foot-1 southpaw is also capable of missing bats with a four-pitch repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball and plus changeup.

As an experienced college starter who faced quality competition in a top conference and then breezed through rookie-ball lineups Dean figures to move quickly through the Twins' system. Much like Perkins he doesn't project as a top-of-the-rotation guy, but Dean has mid-rotation upside and can hopefully keep the comparison going by developing into the pre-2009 version of Perkins who began his career 12-4 with a 4.13 ERA in 185 innings.

14. Rene Tosoni | Right Field | DOB: 7/86 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2005-36

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     A+     170     .300     .408     .414      1     11     21     30
2009     AA     490     .271     .360     .454     15     44     45     98
2010     AA     219     .270     .369     .422      4     16     25     52

Rene Tosoni had a strong 2009, batting .271/.360/.454 in 122 games at Double-A and winning MVP honors in the Futures Game during the All-Star break, yet the Twins sent him back to New Britain to begin last season. He got off to a solid start, basically duplicating his 2009 numbers with a bit less power through 52 games while repeating the level, but then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in June that required surgery.

Between repeating Double-A and shoulder surgery Tosoni's chances of reaching the majors in 2011 took a hit, but he could still get to Minnesota in the second half after being added to the 40-man roster this winter. His production in the minors has been solid rather than spectacular, as the former 36th-round pick from Canada has consistently been above average at each stop without really flashing any standout skills.

He's hit .270/.363/.444 with 19 homers and a 150-to-70 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 174 games at Double-A and turns 25 years old in July, so Tosoni projects as more of a platoon starter or fourth outfielder than everyday player unless his glove proves to be a major asset. He's spent some time in center field, but most of his action has come as a right fielder. If he bounces back well at Rochester he could be in line to replace Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer in 2012.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A-     27     27     4.44     150.0     149     10     177     54
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

David Bromberg was named Twins' minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 after going 13-4 with a 2.70 ERA at high Single-A while leading his league in strikeouts for a third straight year, but he made the jump to the high minors last year and struggled to miss bats with just 112 strikeouts in 151 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. As he's climbed up the minor-league ladder Bromberg's yearly strikeouts per nine innings have dipped from 10.6 to 8.7 to 6.7.

His control has also improved while the strikeouts have declined, but with 48 walks and 10 hit batters in 151 innings last year Bromberg's command is hardly a strength. He's done a nice job keeping the ballpark in the ballpark, allowing just 13 homers in 151 innings last season and a total of 35 long balls in 564 career frames, but that will be nearly impossible to maintain given that Bromberg has proven to be an extreme fly-ball pitcher.

Bromberg has a pitcher of the year award and track record full of low-minors success, making it easy to assume he's a top-notch prospect. However, the numbers show a fly-baller with so-so control and a declining, mediocre strikeout rate, which isn't a common recipe for success. He's certainly a solid prospect and simply holding his own at Double-A and Triple-A as a 22-year-old was a plus, but Bromberg's upside is in more question than his name recognition suggests.

12. Oswaldo Arcia | Right Field | DOB: 5/91 | Bats: Left | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     DSL    248     .293     .343     .432      4     20     16     27
2009     RK-    187     .275     .337     .455      5     18     15     18
2010     RK+    283     .375     .424     .672     14     42     19     67

Oswaldo Arcia was the Twins' breakout prospect of 2010 with a monstrous half-season in the rookie-level Appalachian League, batting .375 with 14 homers and 42 total extra-base hits in 64 games. History is filled with hitting prospects who knocked around rookie-ball pitching only to flame out against tougher competition, but even keeping that in mind the degree to which the 19-year-old Venezuelan stood out is incredible.

Arcia had an amazing .375/.424/.672 line in a pitcher-friendly league that hit just .258 with a .384 slugging percentage overall, leading in batting average by 52 points, on-base percentage by 44 points, slugging percentage by 62 points, and OPS by 122 points. He hit .398 off righties and .330 off lefties, won the sabermetric triple crown, finished just three homers short of the traditional triple crown, and not surprisingly won Appalachian League player of the year.

Despite that remarkable production he did a poor job controlling the strike zone, and while not being patient enough to walk much is excusable from a teenager hitting .375 his 67 strikeouts in 259 at-bats are a potential red flag. Arcia split time between center field and right field for Elizabethton, but profiles as a corner outfielder long term. He'll move up to low Single-A for his full-season debut and could have an impressive year at Beloit even if his OPS falls 300 points.

11. Angel Morales | Center Field | DOB: 11/89 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     RK     218     .301     .413     .623     15     28     26     72
2009     A-     418     .266     .329     .455     13     40     30    104
2010     A-     247     .289     .381     .474      4     24     24     65
         A+     301     .272     .347     .349      1     15     28     75

Angel Morales was the Twins' third-round pick in 2007 out of Puerto Rico and had an Arcia-like half-season at Elizabethton in 2008, batting .301/.413/.623 with 15 homers in 54 games as an 18-year-old. Amid those monster numbers Morales struggled to make consistent contact and his shaky strike-zone control has been exposed further as he's moved up the ladder, although he hit .274/.348/.462 in 175 games at low Single-A despite a 169-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Morales was asked to repeat low Single-A last season and improved his production the second time around, but then saw his power vanish following a midseason promotion to high Single-A. It was a solid season overall, as Morales hit .280 with 29 steals in 133 total games between the two levels and upped his walk rate by 30 percent, drawing 52 free passes in 513 plate appearances. The bad news is that he struck out 140 times while managing just five homers.

Through four seasons Morales has shown big power, good plate discipline, the ability to hit for a nice batting average, and 30-steal speed, but he's yet to put all those skills together at the same time and the only constant has been the strikeouts. He's still just 21 years old and will have strong defensive value whether he winds up in center field or a corner spot and the star potential is still there even if the flaws have become more prominent since his rookie-ball days.