June 12, 2013

Twins Notes: Sano, Buxton, Hicks, Arcia, Rosario, and Richardson

miguel sano fort myers

• Last year the Twins kept Miguel Sano at low Single-A for the entire season despite his having the second-highest OPS in the Midwest League. He moved up to high Single-A to begin this year and was even better, so this time around the Twins decided that a promotion was in order after two months of Florida State League destruction. Sano fittingly homered twice in his final game for Fort Myers, including a monstrous blast in his last at-bat.

Overall he hit .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games, leading the FSL in homers, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage despite being the league's youngest hitter. It just doesn't get much better for a 20-year-old stud prospect and in fact no FSL hitter of any age has topped his OPS since 27-year-old Morgan Burkhart in 1999. Sano even stole nine bases at an 82 percent clip and reviews of his defense at third base have been a little more positive than last year.

And now he moves up to Double-A, where the average pitcher is five years older than Sano and both the off-speed pitches and command are much sharper than Single-A. It's a huge test for a truly elite hitting prospect, so even holding his own there at age 20 would be more evidence that Sano is very special and thriving there would put him on the verge of the majors. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia arrived in Minnesota having played a combined nine games at Triple-A.

• Presumably the Twins considered promoting Byron Buxton in tandem with Sano to give Fort Myers a new stud prospect after losing the FSL's best hitter. For now at least Buxton remains at low Single-A, where he's batting .350/.444/.578 with 29 extra-base hits, 26 steals, and nearly as many walks (39) as strikeouts (44) in 58 games as a 19-year-old. Toss in standout defense in center field and Buxton's performance has been every bit as impressive as Sano's.

FOX Sports North broadcast Monday afternoon's Cedar Rapids game and Buxton put on a show, going 3-for-4 with a bases-loaded double off the left-center field wall, a legged-out triple on a ball that didn't even get to the right-center field wall, and a spectacular sprawling catch. No doubt the Twins wanted to avoid promoting Buxton until after FSN's special broadcast, but the kid is leading the Midwest League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

Eddie Rosario and Angel Morales are joining Sano in getting the promotion from Fort Myers to New Britain. Rosario ranked No. 7 on my annual Twins prospect list coming into the season and has improved his stock since then, batting .329/.377/.527 with 24 extra-base hits in 52 games at high Single-A as a 21-year-old and reportedly getting more comfortable defensively in his ongoing transition from center fielder to second baseman.

Morales once ranked among the Twins' top prospects, but injuries and poor performances have sent the 2007 third-round pick's stock plummeting in recent years. He turned things around in a big way at Fort Myers, batting .297/.364/.525 with 28 extra-base hits and 20 walks in 55 games as the everyday center fielder, but it's worth noting that Morales is 23 years old and had already played there for part of 2011 and all of 2012.

• Hicks' hamstring injury puts on hold the rookie's slow climb to respectability following a brutal 2-for-48 start to his career. Hicks has hit .225/.275/.423 in 42 games since then, which is at least more in line with standard rookie struggles. Oddly enough when Hicks couldn't buy a hit he drew walks in bunches, but he's walked just 10 times versus 36 strikeouts in those 42 games. His less patient approach resulted in plenty of pop, with six homers and a .198 Isolated Power.

To replace Hicks on the roster the Twins recalled Arcia from Triple-A just two weeks after sending him back there in part due to a lack of consistent playing time. Arcia clearly has no business in center field, the corner outfield logjam hasn't lessened any in the meantime, and he hit just .218 in 15 games at Triple-A between call-ups, so it's not exactly an ideal situation. Also far from ideal: Clete Thomas will presumably be the everyday center fielder with Hicks out.

• Thomas was playing well in Rochester, but he's a .250/.326/.423 hitter in 400 career Triple-A games and at 29 years old is the epitome of a replacement-level outfielder. Darin Mastroianni's ankle injury left the Twins short on center field depth and that's what replacement-level talent is there for, but if they were turning to a Triple-A journeyman as a stop gap Antoan Richardson would have been a more interesting call-up.

Richardson is the same age as Thomas and has only a brief cup of coffee with the Braves in 2011, but he's hit .314 with a .451 on-base percentage between Double-A and Triple-A this season and has a .404 OBP for his career. Thomas has much more power and perhaps the Twins don't trust Richardson's defense, but the switch-hitter has topped a .400 OBP in three straight seasons while averaging 40 steals per 150 games. Why not give him a shot in the unproductive leadoff spot?

• For the second time in two weeks the Twins lost a former top prospect in order to clear 40-man roster space. Joe Benson was claimed off waivers by the Rangers and now Tyler Robertson was claimed off waivers by the Nationals. At this point Benson and Robertson are long shots to become valuable big leaguers, but they at least have some upside remaining and the same can't be said of 40-man roster holdovers like Drew Butera and Cole De Vries.

When discussing the Twins' haul in last week's draft it's worth noting that Benson and Robertson were their second- and third-round picks in 2006. They both developed well enough to emerge as good prospects, with Benson even cracking Baseball America's top 100 in back-to-back seasons, only to be lost for nothing. Neither loss is hugely troubling in a vacuum, but considering how much the Twins preach patience with prospects it's frustrating to lose talent when it could be avoided.

Alex Meyer, the 6-foot-9 right-hander who was acquired from the Nationals for Denard Span and ranks as the Twins' best pitching prospect, is on the Double-A disabled list with shoulder soreness. Hopefully it proves to be a minor injury, because Meyer was off to a very good start with a 3.69 ERA and 73-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings while holding opponents to a .226 batting average and just three homers.

• It took seven seasons, but Carlos Gomez is finally living up to his potential by becoming one of the best all-around players in baseball. Unfortunately it's coming far too late to help the Twins and Gomez's recent comments about how he's changed as a hitter sound a lot like David Ortiz's old comments when he started thriving with the Red Sox:

Before, Carlos Gomez tried to put the ball in play, hit the ball on the ground, because that's what people wanted. That takes my ability out. That's not me. I'm a free swinger. I like to swing hard, whether I have one or two strikes. When I step to the plate, I try to hit a home run.

I may hit a ball to right field, but I'm not trying to. I’m letting my instincts and my ability do the job. I'm looking for my pitch, a pitch I can hit out of the ballpark. If they throw me a different pitch, I can make the change and hit the ball the other way. If I try to hit the ball the other way, I get in trouble, because I slow down my swing. That’s not me.

Obviously the Brewers deserve credit for Gomez's development, but he joins Ortiz and some other less prominent players in suggesting that the Twins stifled power potential by forcing hitters to fit their preferred mold.

Scott Diamond allowed double-digit hits Sunday for the sixth time in 45 starts and opponents are now batting .293 off him for his career. That ranks as the fifth-highest batting average against in Twins history among all pitchers with 250 or more innings:

Travis Miller      .304
Nick Blackburn     .303
Carlos Silva       .303
Bob Tewksbury      .294
Scott Diamond      .293

If you can't strike anyone out you're going to give up a ton of hits and the above list is basically a mediocre middle reliever and four of the biggest pitch-to-contact starters you'll ever find.

• In the American League there are 66 pitchers with at least 50 innings and only three of them have a strikeout rate below 4.5 per nine innings: Diamond, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey.

• Last year the Twins drafted Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli in the ninth round and he ended up being their highest pick not to sign, returning to school for his senior season. Mazzilli hit .354/.408/.515 with 29 steals in 63 games and was drafted by the Mets in the fourth round, so Lee Mazzilli's son probably earned himself an extra $250,000.

• Current third base coach and former hitting coach Joe Vavra's son, Valparaiso infielder Tanner Vavra, was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round. Nepotism aside Vavra has an incredible story, overcoming being blinded in his right eye by two serious childhood injuries to hit .332 as a junior and .330 as a senior. He's very much a legitimate late-round pick.

• General managers usually get the credit or blame for draft picks, but Terry Ryan talked to Parker Hageman of Twins Daily about why that's misleading.

• Since taking over for Matt Capps last season Glen "Proven Closer" Perkins has converted 30-of-34 save chances with a 2.31 ERA and 77-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 innings.

Delmon Young in 225 games since leaving the Twins: .263/.296/.424 with 171 strikeouts, 33 walks, and 31 double plays. Toss in defense and he's been worth -1.5 Wins Above Replacement.

Francisco Liriano has a 1.75 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36 innings for the Pirates.

• For a lot more about Sano's promotion and the Twins' draft, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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February 28, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Also in this series: 1-5, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

10. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     A+      96     .294     .375     .588      4     16      8     21
         AA     423     .251     .336     .527     23     50     39    115
2011     AA     472     .285     .388     .495     16     48     56    109
         MLB     74     .239     .270     .352      0      7      3     21
2012     AA     157     .184     .268     .305      3     10     13     43
         AAA    108     .179     .269     .316      2      7     11     27

Joe Benson jumped from Double-A to the majors in September of 2011, appearing in 21 games for the Twins and mostly struggling at age 23. He headed to Triple-A for the first time to begin last season, seemingly on the verge of reaching the majors to stay after cracking Baseball America's top-100 prospects list in back-to-back seasons, but instead Benson had an absolutely miserable year filled with injuries, demotions, and horrible production.

He hit .179 through 28 games in Rochester, got demoted back to New Britain for a third season at Double-A, and then two weeks later Benson broke his wrist. He returned two months later, only to undergo season-ending knee surgery in August. So the final tally on Benson's nightmare season was one demotion, two major injuries that required surgery, and a .182 batting average in 65 games. It would be hard for a prospect's stock to drop further in the span of six months.

And yet he's still just 24 and could be one good spring training away from getting an opportunity with the Twins following the Denard Span and Ben Revere trades. It remains to be seen how much of a toll last year took on Benson, but before the injuries he had 25-homer power, enough range to play center field, and enough arm to be an ideal right fielder. He's one year removed from hitting .285/.388/.495 in 111 games at Double-A, so don't write off Benson yet.

9. J.O. Berrios | Starter | DOB: 5/94 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     8      1     1.08      16.2       7      0      27      3
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0       8      1      22      1

Byron Buxton being the focus meant No. 32 pick J.O. Berrios got considerably less attention than previous Twins first-rounders in the 20-30 range, but in a draft where Carlos Correa was the first Puerto Rican player to be the top pick Berrios also became the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher of all time. Baseball America ranked Berrios as the 49th-best player, including 25th among pitchers, while ESPN.com ranked him 73rd overall and 27th among pitchers.

That suggests the Twins may have reached a bit, although that's much more common in MLB than other sports and the scouting reports are encouraging. Baseball America noted that he added significant muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame and "his fastball now sits in the 93-95 mph range." ESPN.com had a similar review of his raw stuff, noting that "he'll touch 96 and works at 92-94 with a hard downward-breaking curveball at 80-82 and a straight changeup in the same range."

And then Berrios quieted any talk of a reach with a spectacular debut in rookie-ball, posting a 1.17 ERA in 31 innings with a 49-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .140 opponents' average. Rookie-ball performances should always be taken with huge grains of salt, but Berrios was every bit as young as his competition at age 18 and ... well, it's just hard to pitch any better than that. He's a very long way from entering the Twins' plans, but so far so good.

8. Trevor May | Starter | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Phillies

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A-     11     11     2.91      65.0      51      3      92     20
         A+     16     14     5.01      70.0      53      7      90     61
2011     A+     27     27     3.63     151.1     121      8     208     67
2012     AA     28     28     4.87     149.2     139     22     151     78

Trevor May was the Phillies' fourth-round pick in 2008 and emerged as a top prospect in 2011 by leading all of the minors with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, whiffing 208 in 151 frames at high Single-A. He ranked 69th on Baseball America's overall top prospect list coming into last season, drawing praise for a mid-90s fastball with "heavy life and great angle," but May's stock dropped as he moved up Double-A at age 22 and struggled with his control.

He walked 78 batters and plunked 11 more in 150 innings on the way to a 4.87 ERA and May's strikeout rate declined by 27 percent. Of course, 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings for a 22-year-old at Double-A is still plenty good and no Twins pitching prospect with 100 or more innings managed a strikeout rate of even 7.0. And then in December the Phillies sent May to the Twins along with Vance Worley in exchange for Ben Revere.

May must improve his control considerably to avoid eventually winding up in the bullpen and stumbling at Double-A means he's no longer a consensus top-100 prospect, but he's not that far off and is exactly the type of big, hard-throwing, bat-missing pitcher the Twins misguidedly shied away from for so long. He doesn't have quite as much upside as Alex Meyer, who was acquired a week earlier from the Nationals for Denard Span, but May could reach the majors sooner.

7. Eddie Rosario | Second Base | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    213     .294     .343     .438      5     16     16     28
2011     RK+    298     .337     .397     .670     21     39     27     60
2012     A-     429     .296     .345     .490     12     48     31     69

Eddie Rosario had a monster 2011 season, hitting .337/.397/.670 with 21 homers in 67 games alongside Miguel Sano in rookie-level Elizabethton's lineup. His move to full-season competition last year began with a switch from center field to second base, was derailed for six weeks by a line drive to the face in mid-June that led to surgery to insert a metal plate above his lip, and finished on a positive note.

Overall he batted .296/.345/.490 with 48 total extra-base hits in 95 games at low Single-A as a 20-year-old, which would have gotten more attention if not for his ridiculous 2011 production setting an awfully high bar and Sano putting up even bigger numbers for Beloit. Rosario has done nothing but hit since the Twins took him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft out of Puerto Rico, but his permanent home defensively is in question.

Reviews of his defense at second base were mixed at best and Rosario ended up playing 19 games back in center field, suggesting the Twins are still unsure where he fits. Rosario has Aaron Hicks ahead of him and Byron Buxton behind him on the path to play center field in Minnesota, so second base would certainly make things much easier and right now at least he looks capable of having enough offensive upside to shift to a corner outfield spot if needed.

6. Kyle Gibson | Starter | DOB: 10/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2009-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A+      7      7     1.87      43.1      33      2      40     12
         AA     16     16     3.68      93.0      91      5      77     22
         AAA     3      3     1.72      15.2      12      0       9      5
2011     AAA    18     18     4.81      95.1     109     11      91     27
2012     RK-     9      7     2.45      14.2       9      1      16      4
         A+      2      2     2.57       7.0       6      1       7      1
         AAA     2      2     9.45       6.2      11      1      10      1

Kyle Gibson was on the verge of the majors in early 2011 when the former first-round pick started getting knocked around at Triple-A and was shut down with elbow problems, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery in September. He returned ahead of the standard 12-month recovery timetable, making his first post-surgery appearance in July, and worked his way up from rookie-ball to Triple-A.

Overall he threw 28 innings with a 4.13 ERA and 33-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio and then kept racking up strikeouts in the Arizona Fall League with a 28/6 K/BB ratio in 23 innings. Gibson wasn't really a strikeout pitcher before the injury, averaging 7.9 per nine innings in his first two seasons, but in addition to all the missed bats during his comeback the 6-foot-6 right-hander also flashed increased velocity.

Throwing harder after Tommy John surgery isn't totally unheard of, but it's too early to say for sure if going under the knife has actually improved Gibson's raw stuff. Before blowing out his elbow Gibson projected as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter who balanced mediocre strikeout rates with good control and lots of ground balls, so an extra mile or two per hour on his fastball could have a huge impact considering he's already 25 years old.


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June 27, 2012

Down on the farm: Checking in on the Twins’ top 10 prospects

Each winter I rank and profile the Twins' top 40 prospects, so with the minor-league season reaching the halfway point let's check in on the top 10 prospects to see how they're faring:

No. 1 prospect Miguel Sano got off to a huge start at low Single-A, hitting .276/.422/.586 in April, but then showed that for all the incredible long-term upside he's still a teenager with shaky strike-zone control facing full-season competition for the first time. Sano went into a prolonged slump right around his 19th birthday and has hit just .220 with 58 strikeouts in 48 games since May 1, putting on hold any talk of a first-half promotion to high Single-A.

Sano also struck out 137 times in 127 games of rookie-ball, so the lack of consistent contact is nothing new and remains a potential red flag. On the other hand 19-year-olds with massive raw power are supposed to be strikeout prone and Sano has made major strides in plate discipline by drawing 42 walks in 73 games for Beloit after totaling 47 walks in 127 games at rookie-ball. And even while struggling overall recently he's continued to hit for huge power.

Sano leads the Midwest League with 15 homers and ranks fourth slugging percentage, fifth in walks, and seventh in OPS despite being the sixth-youngest player in the league. His low batting average and high strikeout total are certainly worrisome and make it impossible to project him as a future .300 hitter, but in terms of being a middle-of-the-order monster Sano remains right on track with a .240/.355/.483 line at the same age as a college sophomore.

No. 2 prospect Joe Benson has had a miserable season that started bad and got much worse. Finally promoted to Triple-A for the first time at age 24 he hit .179 in 28 games for Rochester, at which point the Twins decided to send him back down to Double-A for a third straight year. He got off to a slow start there before breaking his wrist on a swing in his eighth game, requiring surgery and a two-month recovery timetable.

Wrist injuries often prove tricky for hitters to bounce back from and when combined with hitting .173 in 36 games between Double-A and Triple-A his stock has clearly plummeted this season. Reacting to 28 bad games at Triple-A by demoting Benson back to a level he'd already mastered for two seasons was an odd, seemingly panicky move by the Twins, but that's mostly a moot point now as he simply needs to get healthy and start hitting again somewhere.

No. 3 prospect Aaron Hicks made the jump to Double-A and hit well enough early on to create some optimism that he was finally ready to tap into his offensive potential after underwhelming power and batting averages in the low minors. Instead he's basically back to where he's always been, showing excellent plate discipline and good speed while hitting just .248 with seven homers in 63 games for New Britain.

He's still 22 years old and it would be silly to brush aside 33 walks and 16 steals in 63 games from a strong-armed center fielder, but at this point his long-term upside needs recalibrating. His defense, speed, and on-base skills are still more than enough to make Hicks a potential quality regular in the majors, but any thoughts of stardom can wait until his average or power rise and his switch-hitting actually leads to good production from both sides of the plate.

No. 4 prospect Eddie Rosario was one of the few Twins minor leaguers having a standout year, hitting .293/.362/.473 with seven homers, 20 doubles, and 27 walks in 62 games at low Single-A as a 20-year-old. Then a batting practice line drive off the bat of a Beloit teammate struck him in the face on June 12 and surgery to insert a metal plate above his lip followed, putting his season on hold for at least six weeks.

Halting his strong hitting isn't ideal, but the bigger issue is that Rosario had been transitioning from center fielder to second baseman and all the missed repetitions will further complicate an already difficult proposition. Also worth noting is that while hitting well overall before the facial injury his power was down substantially from last year, which is what many people expected to happen considering Rosario is more of a line-drive hitter than a slugger.

No. 5 prospect Liam Hendriks was the Twins' choice to replace the injured Scott Baker in the Opening Day rotation despite being 23 years old with just nine starts at Triple-A. He predictably struggled and was sent back to Rochester three weeks later, but then put together an impressive seven-start stretch there in which he threw 46 innings with a 1.94 ERA, .180 opponents' batting average, and 42-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

That and more injuries to the rotation earned Hendriks a return to the majors two weeks ago and he promptly served up three homers in his first start back after allowing a total of three homers in 16 starts at Triple-A. Learning to keep the ball in the ballpark will be crucial, because Hendriks' raw stuff is mediocre and his bat-missing ability is in question. Hendriks was the top pitching prospect by default and his upside as a mid-rotation starter hasn't changed.

No. 6 prospect Oswaldo Arcia has moved past the slumping Sano to own the highest OPS by any Twins minor leaguer and while his long-term upside can't compete with Sano he's in the mix as one of MLB's best young outfield prospects. Arcia began the year at high Single-A and hit .309/.376/.517 with seven homers, 16 doubles, and an improved strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 games to earn a promotion to Double-A and a spot in the Futures Game next month.

At just 21 years old Arcia is one of the half-dozen youngest hitters in the Eastern League and it's noteworthy that the Twins have gone away from their usual deliberate development by aggressively promoting him for a second straight season. In general testing good prospects is smart, although in Arcia's case his plate discipline and strike-zone control are shaky enough that constantly facing new, tougher competition makes improving those skills on the fly tough.

No. 7 prospect Kyle Gibson has been sidelined since undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery last September, but the 2009 first-round pick recently started a throwing program and is ahead of schedule in his recovery. He won't be an option for the Twins this season, whereas before the surgery he was on track to be in the majors by now, but getting back on the mound for some minor-league game action at some point in July would be great news.

No. 8 prospect Levi Michael was supposed to advance through the farm system quickly after starring in college at North Carolina, giving the Twins some much-needed middle infield depth. Jumping directly to high Single-A was part of that plan, but the switch-hitting first-round pick has struggled there by hitting .219 with two homers and 49 strikeouts in 61 games while splitting time between shortstop and second base.

Michael had excellent strike-zone control in college, totaling more walks (93) than strikeouts (73) in 2010-2011. So far the plate discipline side of that equation has remained with 31 walks despite a .295 slugging percentage not scaring pitchers, but the 49 strikeouts are a concern attached to such little power. Hopefully he simply wasn't as advanced as believed, since it'd be a shame if the Twins finally addressed their infield issues with a college pick who went bust.

No. 9 prospect Alex Wimmers recovered from extreme control problems to get back on track by the end of last season and the Twins were confident enough to assign the 2010 first-round pick to Double-A this year. Unfortunately he went down with an elbow injury after just one start there and was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, which typically leads to Tommy John surgery. For now he's attempting rest and rehab instead of surgery.

No. 10 prospect Brian Dozier began the year at Triple-A for the first time at age 25 and didn't play particularly well, but the Twins called him up in mid-May anyway and he arrived with some misguidedly inflated expectations among many fans and media members. Talk of him being "the next big thing" seems even sillier now, as Dozier has struggled both offensively and defensively while playing shortstop every day for the past six weeks.

He's hit .225/.249/.306 in 44 games with predictably little pop and a surprisingly ugly 33-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio after walking nearly as often as he struck out in the minors. Defensively he's shown iffy range and arm strength while also being less sure-handed than expected. He realistically never projected as anything close to a star, but struggling so much to control the strike zone and consistently make plays at shortstop is worrisome for 25-year-old.

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June 21, 2012

Twins Notes: Liriano, Benson, Rosario, Slama, Bard, Doyle, and Marquis

Francisco Liriano had a 9.45 ERA, .346 opponents' average, and 21-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings over six starts when the Twins demoted him to the bullpen in May. Since rejoining the rotation he has a 2.67 ERA, .155 opponents' average, and 35-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30 innings over five starts. It's hard to imagine the Twins re-signing the impending free agent, in which case he has another half-dozen starts to build trade value.

• As if the Twins' farm system wasn't weak enough already now four of their top 10 prospects in my preseason rankings are on the minor-league disabled list. No. 7 prospect Kyle Gibson is still making his way back from last year's Tommy John surgery, No. 9 prospect Alex Wimmers is trying to rehab an elbow injury of his own to avoid the same fate, and now No. 2 prospect Joe Benson and No. 4 prospect Eddie Rosario are both sidelined for extended periods.

Benson fractured his left wrist and surgery will keep him out until mid-July. Rosario was struck in the face by a teammate's line drive and is expected to miss six weeks after surgery to insert a metal plate above his lip. Benson had already been demoted from Triple-A to Double-A and wrist problems often linger, so his injury is the bigger long-term concern. Rosario's injury is also a shame, because it sounds gruesome and he was hitting .293/.363/.473 at low Single-A.

• Sadly the "Free Anthony Slama" movement has been put on ice, and not because the Twins finally called him up after years of dominating in the minors. Slama is slated to miss six weeks after a line drive broke his leg, potentially ending his season with a 0.40 ERA, .175 opponents' average, and 37-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 innings at Triple-A. He'll be 29 years old before next season and has a 2.24 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 141 career Triple-A innings.

• No. 42 pick Luke Bard was the last remaining holdout among the Twins' top 11 draft picks and the Georgia Tech right-hander agreed to a deal yesterday, meaning just two weeks after the draft they've signed every player selected within the first 250 overall picks. No. 2 pick Byron Buxton is expected to make his rookie-ball debut within a week, so the earlier signing deadline as part of the new collective bargaining agreement has worked well for the Twins.

Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that in preparing scenarios for the No. 2 pick the Twins narrowed their list to Buxton, Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and Kyle Zimmer. Most pre-draft speculation had them choosing whichever one of Buxton or Appel didn't go No. 1, but in reading between the lines it seems like they were set to take Correa if the Astros had taken Buxton. And there was lots of organizational disagreement about the best player.

• In examining the Twins' draft it was obvious that they went out of their way to get power arms, even if they came in the less-than-ideal form of college relievers. Sure enough vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff admitted that was the plan going in, saying: "Pitchability and playability, maybe we overemphasized that. Maybe we emphasized that for too long. It added up. This year, we went for the more presentable qualities."

• Going into the draft Mitch Brown seemed destined for the Twins, as they had six picks in the top 100 and the local right-hander from Rochester Century high school was regarded as a consensus top-100 player. General manager Terry Ryan even scouted him in person multiple times, but then the Twins passed on him at 32, 42, 63, and 72. Brown wound up with the Indians at 79 and signed for an above-slot bonus of $800,000.

• They also repeatedly passed on Gophers right-hander T.J. Oakes, who was selected by the Rockies in the 11th round and signed for $100,000. Oakes is considered a marginal prospect, placing 292nd in Baseball America's pre-draft rankings, but the Twins liked the 6-foot-5 starter enough to draft him in the 41st round last year as a sophomore and have a history of picking Gophers. Oakes had a 2.31 ERA and 78-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings as a junior.

Released by the Twins with an 8.47 ERA and more walks (14) than strikeouts (12) in seven starts, Jason Marquis signed a minor-league deal with the Padres and made one Double-A start before returning to the majors. Marquis and his agent were smart to choose an NL team with MLB's most-pitcher friendly park, but this is crazy: Through three starts he has a 1.86 ERA and 20/8 K/BB ratio in 19 innings, including his first double-digit strikeout game since 2001.

• Waiver claim Erik Komatsu became expendable once the Twins decided to recall Ben Revere from Triple-A a month ago, so the Rule 5 pick was designated for assignment and predictably the Nationals accepted his return. Komatsu had more upside than the guy he replaced as fourth outfielder, Clete Thomas, but there wasn't much fit for him on a roster that includes both Revere and Denard Span. He's back at Triple-A for the Nationals.

• Speaking of the Rule 5 draft, Terry Doyle is headed to Japan after the Twins selected him with the No. 2 pick only to send him back to the White Sox in spring training. Doyle rejoined the White Sox at Triple-A with a 2.83 ERA and 71-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76 innings, including a near no-hitter against Rochester, but they agreed to release the 26-year-old right-hander so he could sign with a Japanese team. A fitting end to an all-around weird story.

Phil Dumatrait, who was pitching in Rochester's bullpen after spending much of last season with the Twins, announced his retirement at age 30. He spent parts of 10 years in the minors and finishes with a 6.20 ERA in 151 career innings as a big leaguer, but the 2000 first-round pick had enough smoke and mirrors to post a 3.92 ERA in 45 appearances for the Twins last season despite an ugly 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 innings.

Kevin Mulvey also called it quits, becoming the first player from the Johan Santana trade to retire. At the time of the Santana deal Mulvey was 23 years old and the former second-round pick looked like a potential mid-rotation starter who was billed as close to MLB-ready, but he posted a 7.90 ERA in 27 innings as a big leaguer. He was a bust, but the Twins managed to get some value out of Mulvey by trading him to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch in mid-2009.

Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors crunched the numbers on every team's payroll commitments for next season and the Twins have the 13th-most money already spent at $65 million. This year's payroll is around $94 million, which represents a 17 percent drop from last year's $113 million.

Trevor Plouffe isn't the only Twins hitter putting up big numbers since May 15. Through that date the Twins' lineup scored an average of just 3.3 runs in 36 games, but in 31 games since then they've averaged 5.2 runs.

Alex Burnett has a great-looking 2.16 ERA, but he's gotten it done with a ton of smoke and mirrors while posting a horrid 13-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33 innings. Burnett's strikeouts per nine innings have plummeted from 7.0 in 2010 to 5.9 in 2011 to 3.5 this season, which is the lowest mark by any reliever in baseball.

Jim Thome has hit .315 with 61 homers and a .640 slugging percentage in 194 career games against the Twins. He hit .266 with 37 homers and a .562 slugging percentage in 179 games for the Twins, producing the highest Isolated Power in team history.

Paul Konerko (.431) and Joe Mauer (.415) are the only hitters in the American League with an on-base percentage above .400.

Justin Morneau is hitting .310 with a .595 slugging percentage against right-handers and .091 with a .197 slugging percentage against left-handers.

Lew Ford, who last played in the majors for the Twins in 2007 and is now 35 years old, has hit .383/.450/.626 with five homers and four steals in 28 games at Triple-A for the Orioles.

John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com took a trip to Beloit to see the Twins' low Single-A team and had some interesting thoughts on a variety of prospects, including a pre-injury Rosario.

• ESPN.com ranked the 25 best single-game performances in postseason history and two of the top three spots belong to Twins.

• I was a guest on the Bucs Dugout podcast, talking about the Twins and my decade blogging about them with host Charlie Wilmoth.

• And if you haven't listened to this week's Gleeman and The Geek episode yet, the show was a good one as my guest co-hosts Parker Hageman and Joe Nelson subbed for Wally Pipp.

This week's blog content is sponsored by DiamondCentric and their new "Plouffe There It Is!" shirt, which is available in men's and women's sizes. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 29, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Liam Hendriks | Starter | DOB: 2/89 | Throws: Right | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+     3      3     3.71      17.0      19      0      13      1
         A-     11     11     3.51      66.2      73      3      62     15
2010     A-      6      6     1.32      34.0      16      0      39      4
         A+     13     12     1.93      74.2      63      2      66      8
2011     AA     16     15     2.70      90.0      85      5      81     18
         AAA     9      9     4.56      49.1      52      0      30      3
         MLB     4      4     6.17      23.1      29      3      16      6

Liam Hendriks signed with the Twins out of Australia as an 18-year-old in 2007, but missed all of 2008 and half of 2009 following knee and back surgeries. He returned in 2010 with a fantastic season between two levels of Single-A, throwing 109 innings with a 1.74 ERA as a 21-year-old, and then thrived between Double-A and Triple-A last season while winning Twins minor league pitcher of the year honors and making his big-league debut in September.

Statistically he was the best pitcher in the Twins' system in both 2010 and 2011, going from low Single-A to the majors during that time despite not turning 23 years old until last month. That includes a 3.36 ERA, 111-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and just five homers allowed in 139 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season, but unfortunately Hendriks' strikeout rate dipped dramatically once he got to Triple-A and his raw stuff isn't quite as impressive.

Hendriks is the prototypical Twins pitcher with excellent control and off-speed pitches that receive positive reviews, but his average fastball clocked in at just 89.9 miles per hour. Toss in an unspectacular, deteriorating strikeout rate with a neutral ground-ball rate and he looks like more of a strike-throwing No. 3 starter than a top-of-the-rotation guy. Kyle Gibson's injury makes Hendriks the top pitching prospect by default, but he should be MLB-ready soon.

4. Eddie Rosario | Second Base | DOB: 9/91 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-4

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    213     .294     .343     .438      5     16     16     28
2011     RK+    298     .337     .397     .670     21     39     27     60

Miguel Sano was the biggest name in Elizabethton's lineup, but rookie-ball teammate and 2010 fourth-round pick Eddie Rosario actually led the Appalachian League in homers and slugging percentage while hitting .337. They each topped 20 homers in the 68-game season after a grand total of one Appalachian League hitter had 20 homers in the past 20 years. Rosario can't compete with Sano's raw power, but should have far more defensive value.

At which position is unclear, because after playing Rosario in center field last season the Twins have moved him to second base in the hopes that he can fix their longstanding inability to develop middle infielders. Rod Carew and Chuck Knoblauch are the only second basemen in Twins history with an OPS above .750 in multiple seasons, which along with the organization's strong outfield depth certainly makes Rosario in the infield a worthwhile experiment.

Last year's record-setting slugging probably overstates Rosario's long-term power potential, but the 20-year-old left-handed hitter clearly has plenty of pop and moving up to full-season competition at low Single-A should provide a clearer picture of his all-around upside. So far he's hit .319 with 26 homers and 39 steals in 118 games after Baseball America's pre-draft report called him "the best pure hitter" in Puerto Rico and compared him to Bobby Abreu.

3. Aaron Hicks | Center Field | DOB: 10/89 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A-     297     .251     .353     .382      4     22     40     55
2010     A-     518     .279     .401     .428      8     41     88    112
2011     A+     528     .242     .354     .368      5     41     78    110

Aaron Hicks' stock has gradually slipped since the Twins drafted him out of high school in 2008 and the expectations of a No. 14 pick shape how he's perceived. On one hand Hicks is a speedy 22-year-old center fielder with good range and a strong arm, led the system with 78 walks last year at high Single-A, and has a .377 career on-base percentage. On the other hand he's a .266 hitter, hasn't developed power, and struggles from the left side of the plate.

His upside certainly looks lower now than two years ago, but it's too early to write Hicks off as a bust. His defense, speed, and patience are all impressive, although it's possible he's actually too passive at the plate. And while the lack of pop is disappointing he's hardly in Ben Revere territory. Hicks had a .126 Isolated Power and 41 extra-base hits in 443 at-bats for Fort Myers. Revere had a .058 Isolated Power and 19 extra-base hits in 466 at-bats there in 2009.

Compared to Revere at the same age and level Hicks hits for twice as much power and draws twice as many walks. Revere is faster and has more range, but Hicks is also considered a strong defensive center fielder and has a vastly superior arm. Revere's flaws were just more easily hidden by lofty batting averages and even now Hicks has more all-around upside, but he absolutely needs more pop or consistency switch-hitting to look like a potential star again.

2. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A+     327     .285     .414     .403      5     18     46     74
2010     A+      96     .294     .375     .588      4     16      8     21
         AA     423     .251     .336     .527     23     50     39    115
2011     AA     472     .285     .388     .495     16     48     56    109
         MLB     74     .239     .270     .352      0      7      3     21

Joe Benson was pressed into major-league duty by the Twins' many injuries and predictably struggled while making the leap from Double-A to the majors at age 23, but prior to an ugly September he was very impressive in New Britain. Whether he should have been essentially repeating Double-A after spending most of 2010 there is a legitimate question, but he showed improvement while hitting .285 with good power, better patience, and fewer strikeouts.

Benson's inability make consistent contact is the biggest red flag in an otherwise well-rounded game, but while he whiffed 21 times in 74 plate appearances for the Twins his Double-A strikeout rate improved from 27 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2011. Overall in 213 games at Double-A he's smacked 39 homers and 98 total extra-base hits for a .241 Isolated Power. By comparison, Harmon Killebrew has the top Isolated Power in Twins history at .258.

Benson isn't the second coming of Killebrew, but should have 25-homer pop with plus speed and center field range with a right field arm. His all-around upside isn't far off from Michael Cuddyer, who manned right field for the Twins from 2006-2011. Cuddyer hit .282/.373/.478 in 279 games at Double-A, compared to .269/.363/.510 for Benson. Cuddyer also crushed Triple-A pitching after that, which Benson will finally get a chance to do this season.

1. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     DSL     80     .344     .463     .547      3      6     14     17
         RK-    161     .291     .338     .466      4     18     10     43
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77

Miguel Sano has lived up to the hype and then some so far, emerging as one of baseball's elite prospects three years after the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old for a record $3.15 million bonus. As a soon-to-be 19-year-old who's yet to advance past rookie-ball Sano's odds of going bust are considerably higher than most top prospects, but his upside is incredible and his early production has been jaw-dropping.

Sano was 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds when the Twins signed him and is now at least 240, which is why his remaining at shortstop was a pipe dream and even sticking at third base may be a stretch. It would be nice to have a slugging third baseman instead of a slugging right fielder or first baseman, but if Sano's bat develops as hoped he'll be MVP-caliber anywhere on the diamond and join Justin Morneau as the only Twins with multiple 30-homer years since 1987.

He's struck out 137 times in 127 games and hasn't walked much, but that's expected from a raw teenager and Sano has hit .300/.364/.572 in pitcher-friendly environments. Last year he blasted 20 homers and 45 total extra-base hits in 66 games, slugging .637 in a league that slugged .404. Anyone who sees Sano inevitably comes away saying the same two things: He's massive and the ball explodes off his bat. And he's the best Twins prospect since Joe Mauer.

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