August 14, 2013

The future is now with Oswaldo Arcia

oswaldo arcia homer

Oswaldo Arcia would have entered this year as the No. 1 prospect in most other farm systems and would have been the Twins' top prospect in most of the past 10 years, but instead he's largely been overshadowed by Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton (and for a while at least, Aaron Hicks too). None of which is to say that Arcia is on the same level as Sano or Buxton, but rather that perception and context often play big roles in the amount of hype attached to prospects.

Arcia climbed the minor-league ladder very quickly, particularly in the typically slow-paced Twins system, and now he's showing a ton of promise in the majors as a 22-year-old rookie. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, including strikeout-filled slumps and multiple demotions back to Triple-A, but for a 22-year-old to show this kind of power potential and overall hitting ability is incredibly encouraging.

This year at Triple-A he hit .313/.426/.594 with 10 homers and 22 walks in 38 games and dating back to the beginning of last year Arcia has played exactly 162 games in the minors while hitting .318/.396/.551 with 27 homers, 77 total extra-base hits, and 73 walks. And while posting those monster numbers Arcia was very young for every level of competition and never stuck around in one place for more than a couple months. He was young, he moved quickly, and he crushed.

His numbers in the majors aren't as jaw-dropping, but within the context of being a 22-year-old rookie they're every bit as impressive. Arcia has hit .264/.321/.452 with 10 homers and 25 total extra-base hits in 70 games, which makes him solidly above average in a year when MLB as a whole has hit .254/.317/.398. Here's how he ranks in slugging percentage, OPS, and adjusted OPS+ compared to the other 22-year-olds in Twins history with at least 250 plate appearances:

SLUGGING %                 OPS                        ADJUSTED OPS+
Kent Hrbek       .485      Kent Hrbek       .848      Kent Hrbek       128
OSWALDO ARCIA    .452      David Ortiz      .817      David Ortiz      111
David Ortiz      .446      Joe Mauer        .783      OSWALDO ARCIA    110
Tom Brunansky    .445      OSWALDO ARCIA    .773      Joe Mauer        107
Joe Mauer        .411      Tom Brunansky    .753      Tom Brunansky    103

In the entire history of the Twins only four 22-year-olds have been above-average hitters in 250 or more plate appearances. Arcia is on pace to become the fifth, which would mean joining Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Joe Mauer, and Tom Brunansky in some pretty nice company. Breaking his production down even further, Arcia's current Isolated Power of .188 would be second among all 22-year-old Twins, sandwiched between Brunansky at .218 and Hrbek at .184.

Looking to all of MLB, if Arcia maintains his current production he'd join this list of 22-year-olds from 2005-2012 to reach a 110 adjusted OPS+ and a .180 Isolated Power: Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Grady Sizemore, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez, Brian McCann, Chris Davis, Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Pablo Sandoval, Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton. Guys who hit like Arcia at 22 turn out pretty well.

There are still plenty of rough edges to be smoothed out too. Arcia has struck out 81 times in 70 games, which is the equivalent of 179 strikeouts prorated to 600 plate appearances. Studies have shown that high strikeout totals can actually be a positive thing for very young hitters because it often foreshadows significant power development down the road, but it's nearly impossible to post high batting averages whiffing in 30 percent of your trips to the plate.

Arcia whiffed a lot in the minors too, including 99 strikeouts in 454 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. He managed to hit .323 in the high minors despite striking out nearly once per game, but that was due to a .380 batting average on balls in play that simply isn't sustainable in the majors. To put that in some context, no active big leaguer has a career batting average on balls in play above .365 and a .335 mark is in the top 30.

So despite his lofty batting averages in the minors it's hard to see Arcia challenging for batting titles in the majors barring a change in approach. Of course, with his power even a .285 batting average could be enough to make him one of the league's best hitters. More worrisome than the high strikeout total is Arcia's ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio, which stands at 81-to-18 through 70 games. Plenty of excellent hitters strike out a lot, but very few have strike-zone control that bad.

The good news is that walk rate and strike-zone control are weaknesses for many young hitters and also tend to improve with age and experience. And in this specific case Arcia drew a decent number of walks in the minors, especially factoring in his age and rapid promotions. He's certainly a free-swinger right now and Arcia seems unlikely to ever become a truly patient hitter, but if he can draw walks somewhere around a league-average rate he'll be just fine.

Arcia's long-term ceiling is very high, but in trying to be at least somewhat realistic projecting his future performance based on his current strengths and flaws a .285 hitter with 30-homer power and mediocre plate discipline seems reasonable. Jason Kubel spent five seasons as a regular for the Twins and hit .273 with an average of 22 homers, 55 walks, and 113 strikeouts per 600 plate appearances, so a rich man's Kubel might not be a bad target for now.

Kubel's upside became limited by his inability to do damage versus left-handed pitching, against whom he's hit just .244/.316/.420 for his career. That may also end up limiting Arcia, who has a 30-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio versus left-handers in the majors so far. Small sample size caveats apply, but Arcia showed extreme splits in the minors too. Over the past two years in the minors Arcia had a .961 OPS against righties and a .742 OPS against lefties.

Also like Kubel he figures to be a below-average defensive corner outfielder. His early defensive numbers are awful, with a collection of awkward plays to match, and even in a best-case scenario he seems destined to be a minus in the field. None of that will impact his ability to develop into a middle-of-the-order slugger offensively, but defense will certainly play a big part in Arcia's overall value and raises the bar for his offense on any potential path to all-around stardom.

Dreaming about the arrivals of Sano and Buxton is exciting, but in the meantime Arcia is already in Minnesota and already a quality middle-of-the-order bat having more success at age 22 than anyone in Twins history but Hrbek, Ortiz, and Mauer. He's the best Twins position player prospect to reach the majors since Mauer in 2005 and the best young power hitter the Twins have called up since Justin Morneau in 2003.

For a lot more about Arcia's rookie-year production and long-term potential, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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May 8, 2013

Revisiting the best Twins prospects of the 2000s

mauer and morneau rookie

Coming into the season the Twins were universally regarded as having one of the truly elite farm systems in baseball, boasting plenty of star-level talent and impressive depth. I called it the best crop of Twins prospects in my decade-plus writing about the team and nothing has changed since then, as consensus top-25 prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are off to amazing starts and most of system's other significant prospects have played well.

I've written plenty about the Twins' prospects as part of my annual rankings, so there's no sense in revisiting everything a month into the season, but I thought it would be interesting to examine the recent history of Twins prospects. This year the Twins had six prospects in Baseball America's top 100 list, including Sano and Buxton in the top 10 and Oswaldo Arcia in the top 50, but what exactly has it meant to be a Twins prospect in the Baseball America top 100?

I wanted to focus on how prospects were perceived nationally at the time, rather than local hype or how I personally viewed them or how they actually turned out--no Johan Santana, in other words--so I relied on BA's list. On a season-to-season basis prospect crops vary wildly, so not all rankings are created equal, but below you'll find my best estimate of the highest-rated and/or most-hyped Twins prospects since 2000 (minus current prospects) and where they stand now.


1. Joe Mauer: #7 in 2002, #4 in 2003, #1 in 2004, #1 in 2005

Joe Mauer was basically as good as prospects get. He was a multi-sport superstar in high school, got drafted No. 1 overall, had immediate success hitting .400 at rookie-ball, thrived at every stop in the minors despite being young for the level of competition, was named Baseball America minor league player of the year, and reached the majors two weeks before his 21st birthday. Mauer was arguably the best MLB prospect of the 2000s and has obviously lived up to the hype.


2. Francisco Liriano: #83 in 2003, #6 in 2006

When the Giants traded Francisco Liriano to the Twins he was a former top 100 prospect who'd fallen off the list due to arm problems in the low minors, but two years later he re-emerged as the best pitching prospect in baseball. He showed why with one of the most dominant rookie seasons ever, but that was cut short by elbow surgery. Liriano has found some post-surgery success, but he was never the same and is a prime example of the volatile nature of pitching prospects.


3. Justin Morneau: #21 in 2002, #14 in 2003, #16 in 2004

Coming up in the same farm system at the same time as Mauer made Justin Morneau somewhat overshadowed, but he was definitely an elite prospect. Not only did Morneau rank among Baseball America's top 25 prospects in three straight seasons, he put up big numbers at every level in the minors and debuted in the majors a month after his 22nd birthday. Injuries have unfortunately kept Morneau from realizing his full potential, but he obviously lived up to the hype.


4. Michael Cuddyer: #36 in 1999, #18 in 2000, #55 in 2001, #27 in 2002, #17 in 2003

Michael Cuddyer was the ninth overall pick out of high school and cracked Baseball America's top 50 a remarkable five times, peaking at No. 17 the same year Mauer was No. 4 and Morneau was No. 14. He doesn't have an MVP, but Cuddyer has played 13 seasons as an above-average corner outfielder and occasional infielder, hitting .272/.342/.457. Everyone should be thrilled if similarly hyped prospects turned out as well as Cuddyer.


5. Jason Kubel: #17 in 2005, #58 in 2006

Oh, what could have been. Jason Kubel hit .352/.414/.590 with 16 steals between Double-A and Triple-A at age 22, hit .300 in a 23-game September debut, and ranked 17th on BA's list. Then a gruesome collision destroyed his knee, knocked him out for an entire year, and turned Kubel from an athletic, high-average hitter with good speed to a plodding slugger. And yet Kubel has still managed a decade-long career as an above-average corner outfielder not far off from Cuddyer.


6. Matt Garza: #21 in 2007

Matt Garza made just one Baseball America top 100, but that's because he went from first-round pick to the big leagues in one year. After some initial struggles Garza made 15 starts with a 3.69 ERA as a 23-year-old, at which point the Twins traded him for Delmon Young. Young is one of the biggest prospect busts of the 2000s whereas Garza had a five-season run as a solid No. 2 starter, but injuries have derailed him at age 29.


7. Michael Restovich: #50 in 1999, #26 in 2000, #63 in 2002, #37 in 2003

Drafted in the second round out of a Minnesota high school, Michael Restovich was a 6-foot-6 slugger who put up big power numbers in the minors and ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects four times. He debuted with the Twins at age 23 after hitting .286/.353/.542 at Triple-A, but never got an extended chance despite generally faring pretty well. He was lost on waivers in 2005, bounced around a ton, and ended up with just 297 career plate appearances.


8. Carlos Gomez: #60 in 2007, #52 in 2008

Carlos Gomez twice cracked Baseball America's top 100 in the Mets' system and was arguably the centerpiece of the Twins' haul for Santana. He debuted at age 21 and was the Twins' starting center fielder at 22, but rushing Gomez through the minors left him as mostly a mess offensively. Traded to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy after the 2009 season and now 27, he's finally becoming an impact hitter to go along with what was always excellent defense.


9. Adam Johnson: #41 in 2002, #85 in 2002

Adam Johnson was the No. 2 pick in 2000 draft out of Cal-State Fullerton, but Baseball America projected him as a mid-first rounder and the Twins were criticized for making a "signability pick." Johnson predictably fared well in the low minors against less experienced competition and cracked the top 50 in 2002, but things fell apart once he advanced past Single-A. He posted a 10.25 ERA in 26 innings as a major leaguer, washing out at age 23.


10. Luis Rivas: #70 in 1997, #55 in 1998, #63 in 1999, #86 in 2000, #93 in 2001

Luis Rivas ranked as a top 100 prospect in five straight seasons, but in the early days of this blog I wrote often about how his actual performance never matched the hype. He never hit well in the minors, yet the Twins made him their starting second baseman at age 21 and stuck with him as a regular for five seasons despite a .262/.307/.383 mark and iffy defense. He played 565 games for the Twins through age 25, but totaled just 83 more games after they finally let him go.


11. Wilson Ramos: #71 in 2009, #58 in 2010, #96 in 2011

While never quite an elite prospect Wilson Ramos typically ranked among the top five catchers and was a good enough prospect for long enough to create questions about how the Twins could make room for him and Mauer in their long-term plans. Ramos was a top 100 prospect three times and debuted with the Twins at age 22, but was traded to the Nationals for Matt Capps later that season. He's still just 25, but looks headed for a lengthy career as an above-average catcher.


12. Glen Perkins: #91 in 2006, #66 in 2007

Glen Perkins starred for the Gophers, made the top 100 twice, and debuted for the Twins two years after they made him a first-round pick. He was billed as a mid-rotation starter and looked the part as a 25-year-old rookie, but then struggled for two seasons as injuries derailed him. Perkins was demoted to the minors at age 27 and returned as a reliever, throwing harder than ever and quickly moving into the closer role.


13. J.D Durbin: #66 in 2004, #70 in 2005

J.D. Durbin threw hard and talked a good game, nicknaming himself "The Real Deal." He debuted in 2004 with all kinds of promise at age 22, but didn't make it back to the majors until 2007 and all that prospect shine had worn off by then. His strikeout rates and overall numbers in the minors never quite matched his hype and once he got to Triple-A poor control further did him in. Last year Durbin spent his 13th season in the minors, compared to 73 total innings in the majors.


14. Deolis Guerra: #35 in 2008

Deolis Guerra is technically still a prospect in that he's only 24 years old and hasn't reached the majors, but between his on-field struggles and recent health problems he's looking like a long shot to have a big-league career. Once upon a time many people felt that Guerra, not Gomez, was the best prospect in the Santana package, but like Gomez he wasn't helped by being rushed through the minors in the Mets' system and has had little success above Single-A.


15. Matthew LeCroy: #44 in 2000

Matthew LeCroy was a first-round pick out of college and crushed minor-league pitching while moving quickly through the Twins' system, debuting as their Opening Day catcher in his third pro season. He struggled offensively and proved to be a liability behind the plate, but after a demotion back to the minors he returned as a good platoon bat versus left-handed pitching at designated hitter, first base, and occasionally catcher.


16. Kevin Slowey: #71 in 2007

Kevin Slowey was an oft-debated prospect because his ridiculously great numbers in the minors didn't match his underwhelming raw stuff. Baseball America tends to skew heavily toward stuff over stats, so the fact that Slowey still made the top 100 shows just how silly his numbers were. He debuted at age 23 after posting a 2.28 ERA and 159-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio between Double-A and Triple-A, and split the difference by becoming a decent mid-rotation starter.


17. Ben Revere: #59 in 2009

Ben Revere was viewed as a reach in the first round of the 2007 draft, but started to get some prospect hype after he hit .379 at low Single-A in 2008. That was his only year appearing in the top 100, which isn't surprising considering prospect rankings are all about upside and Revere's complete lack of power and arm strength limited that even in optimistic scenarios. He's more or less become the flawed but useful player his minor-league track record suggested.


18. Jesse Crain: #89 in 2004, #63 in 2005

Jesse Crain was a college reliever and second-round pick who moved quickly through the Twins' system, debuting at age 23 after 162 innings in the minors. While the shape of his performance has changed over the years, Crain was a good setup man immediately and has remained so for a decade with a 3.18 ERA that includes just two seasons above 3.60. Relievers are rarely considered elite prospects, but Crain's career has gone almost exactly as hoped.


19. Matt Moses: #81 in 2004, #75 in 2006

Billed as a "pure hitter" coming out of high school as a first-round pick, Matt Moses got by on that reputation for quite a while before everyone finally realized that he couldn't actually hit. He cracked Baseball America's top 100 twice, peaking at No. 75 on a 2006 list that had Jay Bruce, Dustin Pedroia, and Kendry Morales in the next three spots, but never advanced beyond Double-A and hit just .249/.304/.374 in the minors overall before washing out at age 24.


20. Nick Blackburn: #56 in 2008

I disagreed so much with Baseball America ranking Nick Blackburn as the Twins' top prospect in 2008 that I made a bet with the magazine's editor, John Manuel, that Blackburn wouldn't get 70 career wins. I'm feeling pretty safe about the bet now with Blackburn stuck on 43 wins and his career at a crossroads, although in retrospect he did turn out better than I expected even if 819 innings of a 4.85 ERA is nothing special.


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July 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nerds are the worst, amirite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 6, 2012

Twins follow Byron Buxton pick by loading up on hard-throwing pitchers

Using their highest pick since 2001 to choose Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton over Stanford right-hander Mark Appel will understandably be the focus of the Twins' draft, but along with the No. 2 pick they also had five other top-100 selections in one of the most stacked collections of early picks in draft history. That included No. 32 and No. 42, which are essentially first-rounders and not far off from where they've usually made their first picks.

For instance, last year their top choice was No. 30 and from 2002-2011 they chose higher than No. 20 just once. This year, thanks to a combination of last season's 63-99 record and losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel to free agency, they had picks at 2, 32, 42, 63, 72, and 97. That provided a unique and much-needed opportunity to restock the farm system and after taking the best player available in Buxton the Twins loaded up on high-velocity pitchers.

Buxton being the focus of everything means No. 32 pick Jose Berrios will get considerably less attention than No. 30 pick Levi Michael received last year, but in a draft where Carlos Correa became the first Puerto Rican player to be the top pick Berrios also became the highest drafted Puerto Rican pitcher of all time. Berrios threw a no-hitter against Correa's team in April and the Twins snagged the high school right-hander sooner than most draft analysts expected.

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 for him, although that's much more common in MLB than the NFL or NBA and the scouting reports on Berrios 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 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." While watching the first round of the draft unfold Monday night it became apparent that there weren't many top-ranked college pitchers left on the board for the Twins at No. 32 and that may have played a part in choosing Berrios, but he certainly sounds like a high-upside arm.

Ten picks later the Twins took Georgia Tech reliever Luke Bard, who'll be given a chance to start. His brother, 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard, emerged as a top setup man for the Red Sox before struggling in a move to the rotation. Luke doesn't quite have Daniel's overpowering raw stuff, but in ranking him as the 93rd-best player Baseball America noted "plenty of power in his fastball, at times sitting 93-95 mph" and "a power breaking ball with depth and late bite."

Bard's college numbers were fantastic, with a 0.99 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings to go along with zero homers allowed, but he missed much of the season with an injured lat muscle that ESPN.com speculated may have kept him out of the first round. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called the injury "a low to moderate risk" and expressed optimism that Bard can develop his changeup enough to be an effective starter.

Berrios was compensation for losing Cuddyer and Bard was compensation for losing Kubel, so with their own second-rounder the Twins took Northwestern State reliever Mason Melotakis with the 63rd pick. ESPN actually ranked Melotakis higher than Berrios and Bard at No. 63 while Baseball America rated the left-hander No. 88 following a junior season in which he threw 62 innings with a 3.63 ERA and 70-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Melotakis made the occasional start in college, but Baseball America calls him "a true power relief arm" with "short arm action" who works in the mid-90s and has an inconsistent but potentially solid slider. ESPN calls him "one of the best potential left-handed relievers in this draft" and offers more praise for "a hammer curveball" while suggesting that he might have a future as a starter, so like with Bard the Twins may let him try it in the low minors.

With their second compensatory pick for losing Cuddyer the Twins selected yet another college reliever in Rice right-hander J.T. Chargois, whom Baseball America rated 77th and ESPN rated 64th. As a junior Chargois threw 38 innings with a 2.15 ERA and 38-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and according to ESPN he has the mid-90s fastball, sharp-breaking slider, and high-effort delivery "that virtually demands he get to the majors as quickly as possible."

Chargois also played first base for Rice and hit .323 with a .411 on-base percentage, but he failed to homer in 51 games and his future is on the mound. Unlike with Bard and Melotakis there's no chance of Chargois starting and concerns about his mechanics appear in every scouting report, but ESPN says he's "someone to sign and send right out to Double-A" and praises his slider for being "almost comical in how quickly it appears to dive down out of sight."

After selecting three consecutive college pitchers the Twins used their third-round pick on a college hitter, taking Jacksonville first baseman Adam Walker with the 97th pick. Rarely have the Twins used high picks on college sluggers, but the Wisconsin native whose father was a replacement player for the Vikings in 1987 apparently caught their eye by hitting .343 with 12 homers, 14 doubles, and a .581 slugging percentage in 56 games as a junior.

And he was even better as a sophomore in 2011, hitting .409 with a .682 slugging percentage in 61 games. Unfortunately all that power came with 110 strikeouts in 117 games, which along with far fewer walks than strikeouts is often a red flag for a college bat. Sure enough, Baseball America notes that Walker "struggles to lay off breaking pitches or fastballs up and out of the zone." Despite that they rated him as the 58th-best player in the class.

After snagging a potential power bat in Walker the Twins went back to the well for more college relievers, using their fourth-rounder on San Jose State right-hander Zack Jones and their fifth-rounder on Rice right-hander Tyler Duffey. Jones started occasionally, but Baseball America says "scouts view him as a reliever" because he lacks a quality third pitch to go with a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. As a junior he threw 54 innings with a 60/17 K/BB ratio.

Twins scouts apparently saw a lot of Rice games, because Chargois and Duffey were the Owls' co-closers and now they have both of them. Duffey can't match Chargois' dominant raw stuff, but Baseball America says he throws in the low-90s with a good slider and his numbers were even better with a 1.93 ERA and 68/21 K/BB ratio in 51 innings. And unlike Chargois there's apparently some hope that Duffey's changeup is good enough to make it as a starter.

Stepping away from the college ranks the Twins took Florida high school left-hander Andre Martinez and Puerto Rico high school catcher Jorge Fernandez in the sixth and seventh rounds, but then went to college with their next eight picks. That included big, hard-throwing College of Charleston right-hander Christian Powell and good-hitting, iffy-fielding Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli, whose father Lee Mazzilli played 14 seasons in the majors.

They went high school heavy at the top, putting their faith in Buxton over Appel and using the No. 32 pick on Berrios, but the Twins took college players with 14 of their next 16 picks. And within all those college players the theme is clear: After years of hoarding low-velocity strike-throwers the Twins have finally focused on adding more big-time velocity and bat-missing ability. Powers arms is what the fan base has wanted and powers arms is what they got.

Unfortunately this wasn't a deep draft for high-end college starters and by the time the Twins were ready to start picking again after Buxton the cupboard was pretty bare, so they went heavy on college relievers. Normally that's not a great investment in the top 100, but the lack of highly touted college starters available beyond the first round forced their hand and they seem confident that at least some of those college relievers can develop into starters as pros.

This group isn't the amazing collection of high-upside talent you'd like to see come from such a stockpile of early picks, but that has more to do with the weak draft class than any decisions the Twins made. They deserve credit for addressing the organization-wide pitching issues, albeit several years later than they should have and with relievers instead of starters. It'll be years before we can properly pass judgment on this draft, but the approach was a good one.

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December 20, 2011

Jason Kubel leaves Twins for two-year, $15 million deal with Diamondbacks

Jason Kubel's expected departure became official yesterday, as he agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Diamondbacks. Kubel has been a solid player and should thrive moving to the NL and Arizona's hitter-friendly ballpark, but he's also a 30-year-old should-be designated hitter with a modest .259/.327/.430 line during the past two seasons and the Diamondbacks already had a younger, cheaper, and arguably better all-around left fielder in Gerardo Parra.

Kubel had a standout 2009 season, hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28 homers at age 27, but was otherwise a pretty ordinary corner outfielder/designated hitter. He hit .271/.335/.459 overall in 753 games for the Twins, who refused to platoon Kubel and gave him more than 25 percent of his career plate appearances versus left-handed pitching despite a measly .239/.313/.365 line against southpaws.

Kubel's production (.271/.335/.459) is nearly identical to Jacque Jones, who hit .279/.327/.455 in 976 games for the Twins and also should have been platooned, with the difference being that Jones was an outstanding defensive corner outfielder who would've played center field if not for Torii Hunter's presence. Kubel was far from a butcher in the outfield and had a strong arm, but lacked the range to be anything but below average.

Of course, that wasn't always the case. Kubel was a very promising prospect, hitting .352 with 22 homers, 42 doubles, and nearly as many walks (53) as strikeouts (59) in 127 games split between Double-A and Triple-A as a 22-year-old in 2004. He even stole 16 bases, played some center field, and ranked 17th on Baseball America's annual list of MLB's top prospects. And then a brutal outfield collision while playing in the Arizona Fall League wrecked his left knee.

Kubel tore three ligaments, missed the entire 2005 season, and came back as a shell of his old self in 2006, hitting .241/.279/.386 in 73 games for the Twins while displaying below average speed. To his credit Kubel transitioned successfully from toolsy prospect with a blown out knee to lumbering designated hitter, batting .273/.339/.466 from 2007-2011, but much of his upside vanished that day in Arizona and sadly the Twins never got to see his full capabilities.

We'll never know what he would've done with a healthy knee and uninterrupted development, but the player Kubel became following the injury was much closer to average than a star. He certainly had plenty of value, but poor defensive corner outfielders who hit .275 with 20 home runs and an .775 OPS shouldn't be terribly difficult or expensive to find for teams willing to use a platoon or at least go year-to-year with the role.

And the Twins have basically done just that by replacing Kubel with Ryan Doumit, who'll make $3 million in 2012 and has a Kubel-like .271/.334/.442 career line with similar struggles versus lefties. Kubel perhaps has more upside than Doumit, but he also has less defensive versatility and would've required a multi-year commitment for more than twice as much money per year. Plus, by swapping Kubel for Doumit the Twins gain a supplemental first-round draft pick.

Much like with Michael Cuddyer it would've been nice to see Kubel start and finish his career in Minnesota, but also like Cuddyer the Twins were able to replace him with a similar, arguably superior player for a fraction of the price while adding value in a draft pick. Smart decisions are often tough decisions and while a segment of the fan base is no doubt upset about Cuddyer and Kubel leaving the Twins made the right move in both cases.

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