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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