March 12, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Also in this series: 31-35, 36-40.

30. D.J. Baxendale | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-10

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       7.2       1      0      16      1
         A-     11      0     1.64      11.0      12      0      15      1
2013     A+      9      9     1.10      57.1      34      2      48     11
         AA     16     16     5.63      92.2     110     13      64     22

D.J. Baxendale had a dominant 19-inning pro debut after going to the Twins in the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Arkansas and began his first full season by jumping all the way to high Single-A, where he went 7-0 with a 1.10 ERA in nine starts. That earned Baxendale a lot of attention and a quick promotion to Double-A, but he allowed as many earned runs in his first start there as he did combined in nine starts for Fort Myers.

Overall in New Britain he got knocked around for a 5.63 ERA and .293 opponents' batting average in 16 starts to provide a reminder that college pitchers thriving at rookie-ball and Single-A tends not to mean much of anything. Baxendale throws strikes and works mostly in the high-80s with his fastball, so it's not surprising that he ran into a wall against more experienced Double-A hitters after carving up the low minors.

Another worry is that he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and that became an issue for the first time in New Britain, where he allowed 13 homers in 93 innings. Fly balls and high-80s fastballs are a bad combination, although it's worth noting that Baxendale reached Double-A very quickly at age 22. His raw stuff seems unlikely to ever translate into many missed bats, so Baxendale's control may determine his big-league chances. So far he's walked just 35 batters in 169 pro innings.

29. Lewin Diaz | First Base | DOB: 9/96 | Bats: Left | Sign: Dominican

Last year the Twins' biggest international splash was spending $1.4 million on 16-year-old Lewin Diaz, a 6-foot-4 first baseman from the Dominican Republic. Ben Badler of Baseball America, whose coverage of foreign prospects is the most informed and thorough anywhere, ranked Diaz as the 15th-best international player available and wrote that "his value is all in his bat" and his "big, lumbering body ... could end up along the lines of David Ortiz physically."

Having an Ortiz build unfortunately doesn't necessarily mean having an Ortiz bat, but Badler reported that Diaz has "good bat speed and flashes some of the best raw power in Latin America during batting practice." However, he also noted at the time of the signing that Diaz "doesn't bring the same loft power against live pitching" and "will have to make adjustments for his power to play in games."

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com ranked Diaz as the 10th-best international prospect, writing that "scouts love the big left-handed hitter's stroke at the plate and his body reminds many scouts of Ryan Howard." When a baby-faced 16-year-old is compared physically to Ortiz and Howard he's going to be a massive adult some day, so not surprisingly Diaz has sub par speed and projects as a first baseman. In other words, the Twins are betting on him developing huge power.

28. Miguel Sulbaran | Starter | DOB: 3/94 | Throws: Left | Trade: Dodgers

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    11     11     2.51      57.1      57      2      62      9
2013     A-     27     20     2.96     112.2     110      3     101     32

When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers in July for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that the return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.

As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League last season Sulbaran had a 2.96 ERA and 101/32 K/BB ratio in 113 innings. For comparison, top-10 prospect Jose Berrios had a 3.99 ERA and 100/40 K/BB ratio in 104 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Two years ago the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd overall pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera was shocking.

Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but before the trade Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Any deal for Butera would have gotten the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but Sulbaran was a nice haul.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    119     .214     .252     .455      6     13      6     29

There was a lot of excitement surrounding Amaurys Minier when the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old, with some people even making stretched comparisons to Miguel Sano, but last season he showed the folly of hyping every big-money teenage signing. Minier began his pro career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .214 with 29 strikeouts in 31 games.

The good news is that he did manage six homers in 112 at-bats, which is impressive in a league where two entire teams managed only five total homers in the 60-game schedule and the overall slugging percentage was .338. The better news is that Minier turned 18 years old in January and what he did in a 31-game debut doesn't mean much in terms of his long-term potential. Not all teenage prospects come out of the gates slugging like Sano, which is what makes Sano so special.

Minier was technically signed as a shortstop, but he'll never play there and spent last season at third base. There's no real sense in trying to analyze Minier's performance so far and his place on this list is based mostly on the money the Twins paid to sign him and the fact that just about everyone seems to agree he has the potential to be a very good hitter. It may take another year or two before there's much beyond that to analyze.

26. Fernando Romero | Starter | DOB: 12/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      6     1.60      45.0      32      0      47     13

Fernando Romero signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, getting $260,000 as a 16-year-old. After throwing 31 mediocre Dominican Summer League innings in 2012 he moved up to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year for his American debut and dominated similarly inexperienced hitters with a 1.60 ERA and 47/13 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. He held opponents to a .196 batting average, including zero homers in 181 plate appearances.

Of course, Gulf Coast League numbers are rarely accurate predictors of success, particularly when the sample size is 181 plate appearances. At the time of the signing Romero reportedly threw in the high-80s and low-90s, and he's added some velocity since then while filling out his six-foot frame a bit. Like most teenagers his fastball is ahead of his off-speed stuff and Romero hasn't shown whether he can hold up under a starter's workload yet.

In terms of long-term upside he's one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins' farm system, but my general approach to this list is to be conservative with teenagers until there's some sort of track record versus decent competition. Romero won't turn 20 years old until after this season and figures to spend the whole year pitching for rookie-level Elizabethton, putting him several seasons away from even entering into the Twins' plans.

July 5, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• News story lead sentence of the week: "A bizarre incident at a McDonald's drive-thru involving a bare-breasted woman and caramel led to the woman being arraigned."

Baseball America is publishing Byron Buxton porn now.

• In response to my post about the Twins signing 16-year-old Lewin Diaz for $1.4 million, swing mechanics expert Bobby Tewksbary broke down the video and compared him to David Ortiz.

Gilbert Gottfried as Walter White is just dumb enough to be funny.

• As a longtime Google Reader power user who relies on constantly updated RSS feeds to do his job I was crushed when it went away this week, but I'm slowly rebounding with Feedly.

• Not mentioned on this "Most Popular Date Ideas By City" list is Minnetonka: Chinese takeout and "Blue Valentine" on Netflix.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode we unfortunately predicted exactly how the Josh Willingham injury situation would play out and examined the Kyle Gibson hype meter.

• I generally think Conan O'Brien on television is hit or miss, but his internet videos are more often than not really funny:

And my favorite O'Brien thing is the "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" documentary, which is on Netflix.

Joe Mauer, on moving to a new house with his pregnant wife: "I've been told I'm a hoarder."

Glen Perkins thinks the Twins should be using him more often in non-save situations, which is exactly what I wrote here not so long ago. He probably has a better chance of convincing them.

• Here's an example of the type of e-mails that get sent to the HardballTalk contact address. We write about baseball, by the way.

Jim Thome was unable to land another major-league job at age 42, so he joined the White Sox front office as a special assistant to the general manager.

• There's something funny about the Twins' television announcer implying that people who watch games on television don't know as much as people who watch games at Target Field.

• On a related note, I've gone to a bunch of Twins games recently and luckily spotted this.

• Holding up signs at baseball games always seems silly to me, but I'm making an exception.

• I really liked Britt Robson's lengthy, reasoned analysis of the Timberwolves beefing up their offense and ignoring their defense.

• My weekly half-hour appearance on KFAN with Paul Allen was pushed back to Friday because of the holiday and we were joined by Paul Charchian. I explained Mase to them.

• I'm almost finished re-watching all six seasons and 86 episodes of "The Sopranos" and this is by far the saddest moment.

• One of the best "The Sopranos" moments that I'd forgotten about was Christopher Moltisanti quoting "Born To Run" in a scene with Bruce Springsteen's bandmate Steven Van Zandt:

With all that New Jersey and all that Van Zandt, how did Springsteen avoid making a cameo?

• So you wanna work in baseball, huh?

• On a recent "Gleeman and The Geek" episode I talked about being nostalgic for typewriters and according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "typewriters are surprisingly hip again."

• Just a super chill Twitter bro offering up his thoughts about baseball and life to me.

• Two-and-a-half years after leaving the Twins for the Dodgers and a three-year, $12 million deal Matt Guerrier was traded for Carlos Marmol in a swap of unwanted contracts.

Tami Taylor was amazing, but it turns out that Connie Britton is pretty great in real life too.

• One of the better Twitter conversations of all time. Just happy to be a small part of it.

• Never forget that Karl Pilkington is the best.

• "Stop Podcasting Yourself" is my favorite podcast and it's especially good when hosts Graham Clark and Dave Shumka are joined by a guest with as much silliness as Caitlin Howden.

Jon Dore was a fun guest on "Who Charted?" with Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Darin Mastroianni girlfriend"
- "Ways to approach a 39-year-old daughter to lose weight"
- "Bret Saberhagen net worth"
- "Are Aaron Gleeman and Dana Wessel the same person?"
- "Fox Sports North Girls last name"
- "Drinking alcohol while on the elliptical"
- "Is Kyle Gibson right-handed or left-handed?"
- "Ron Coomer strip club"
- "Jim Thome shirtless"
- "Sid Hartman still alive"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Leaving California" by Shawn Smith:


This week's blog content is sponsored by Ticket King, a local ticket broker that doesn't charge check-out fees, offers in-store pickup, and specializes in Twins tickets. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

July 3, 2013

International signing day: Twins spend $2 million on 16-year-old hitters

lewin diaz

In recent years the MLB draft has gotten significantly more attention as media members and fans have increased their focus on prospects, but the international signing period continues to lag far behind. My assumption is that the dearth of readily available information about 16-year-olds from foreign countries plays the biggest role in the lack of attention, because certainly in terms of the long-term impact on teams international signings are every bit as important as draft picks.

This year's international market opened yesterday and the Twins' biggest splash was spending $1.4 million on 16-year-old Lewin Diaz, a 6-foot-4 first baseman from the Dominican Republic. Ben Badler of Baseball America, whose coverage of foreign prospects is the most informed and thorough anywhere, ranked Diaz as the 15th-best international player available and wrote long before signing day that "the Twins appear to be higher on Diaz than any other team."

Badler writes that "his value is all in his bat" and his "big, lumbering body ... could end up along the lines of David Ortiz physically." Having an Ortiz build doesn't mean having an Ortiz bat, but Badler reports that Diaz has "good bat speed and flashes some of the best raw power in Latin America during batting practice." However, he also notes that Diaz "doesn't bring the same loft power against live pitching" and "will have to make adjustments for his power to play in games."

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com ranked Diaz as the 10th-best international prospect, writing that "scouts love the big left-handed hitter's stroke at the plate and his body reminds many scouts of Ryan Howard." When a baby-faced 16-year-old is compared physically to Ortiz and Howard he's going to be a massive adult some day, so not surprisingly Diaz has sub par speed and projects as a first baseman. In other words, the Twins are betting on him developing huge power.

DPLBaseball.com has video of Diaz doing outfield drills and taking batting practice:

Along with spending big on Diaz the Twins also dropped $550,000 on another 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic, third baseman Roni Tapia. He didn't crack the top-30 list on Baseball America or MLB.com, but Badler correctly pegged the Twins' interest in the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Tapia and calls him "an average runner who generates easy power from the right side" while also noting that "defense is a challenge for Tapia, so a position change is likely."

DPLBaseball.com has video of Tapia fielding grounders at third base and taking batting practice:

When it comes to drafting position players the Twins have long targeted athleticism and speed at the expense of power potential, but their recent approach to international signings has been much different. Four years ago they made a record-breaking $3.15 million bet on a 16-year-old slugger from the Dominican Republic named Miguel Sano and now they've committed another $2 million to a pair of 16-year-old Dominicans with bat-driven upside in Diaz and Tapia.

Sano was considered one of the best 16-year-old international prospects ever and it's taken him four years just to reach Double-A, so it'll be a while before any kind of judgment can be passed on the Diaz and Tapia signings. In the meantime, though, it's nice to see the Twins straying from their overall comfort zone in an effort to add some much-needed power to an organization that has lacked it for a couple decades now.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Ticket King, a local ticket broker that doesn't charge check-out fees, offers in-store pickup, and specializes in Twins tickets. Please support them for supporting AG.com.