October 9, 2015

Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster this offseason?

Chris Herrmann Twins

At the beginning of each offseason every team goes through the ritual housecleaning of shedding players from the 40-man roster to prepare for a winter of adding new players and protecting new prospects. Despite improving from one of MLB's worst teams to a Wild Card contender the Twins have no shortage of marginal big leaguers clinging to 40-man spots, so here's my breakdown of the players most likely to be shed and where they stand (in alphabetical order):

(Note: Free agents Torii Hunter, Mike Pelfrey, Brian Duensing, Blaine Boyer, and Neal Cotts are automatically removed from the 40-man roster.)

A.J. Achter: Called up as a late-season bullpen reinforcement in each of the past two seasons, Achter has allowed 17 runs in 24 innings for the Twins. His numbers at Triple-A are much better, including a 2.57 ERA and 21 saves in 99 appearances, but there's nothing impressive about his 136/51 K/BB ratio in 144 innings there and Achter's fastball tops out in the low-90s. He could find a niche as a middle reliever, but at age 27 he doesn't possess much upside beyond that.

Logan Darnell: After making four starts and three relief appearances for the Twins last season Darnell didn't pitch in the majors this year, going on the disabled list with pneumonia following a September call-up. Darnell was used primarily as a reliever at Triple-A, posting a 66/25 K/BB ratio in 78 innings. He works in the high-80s with his fastball and combines mediocre strikeout rates with poor control, so it's tough to see the 26-year-old lefty as more than a middle reliever.

Casey Fien: Arbitration eligible and due a raise to around $2.5 million, Fien could be expendable if the Twins get serious about upgrading the bullpen. He has a lifetime 3.82 ERA, including a 3.55 ERA and 41/8 K/BB ratio in 63 innings this season, but Fien is a low-strikeout 32-year-old and fits best in middle relief. They have bigger issues to address and a $2.5 million price tag isn't much, but the Twins could use more youth, velocity, and upside in Fien's role.

Eric Fryer: Re-added to the 40-man roster on September 1 because the Twins wanted a third catcher around once rosters expanded, Fryer has passed through waivers unclaimed before and figures to do so again. At age 30 he's hit .243/.329/.336 in 65 games as a major leaguer and .237/.328/.328 in 271 games at Triple-A. Organizations need players like Fryer around because catching is difficult to acquire midseason, but there's no need to have him on the 40-man.

Chris Herrmann: For long stretches in each of the past three seasons the Twins have gone with Herrmann as their backup catcher and he's hit .181/.249/.280 in 142 games. Among all players with at least 300 plate appearances for the Twins since 1985 his .529 OPS ranks second-worst, ahead of only his backup-catching predecessor Drew Butera at .494. And he hasn't been much better in the minors, hitting .261/.336/.391 in 152 games at Triple-A.

Tommy Milone: In a season that included a month-long demotion to Triple-A and multiple arm injuries Milone still ranked among the Twins' better starters with a 3.92 ERA and 91/36 K/BB ratio in 129 innings. His track record as a solid back-of-the-rotation starter is well established by 619 innings of a 3.97 ERA, but the question is whether the Twins want to pay him around $5 million via arbitration for 2016 when they seemingly have too many mediocre veteran starters as is.

Ricky Nolasco: He's owed $25 million for the next two seasons and the Twins can't escape that commitment, but there are two ways in which they could remove Nolasco from the 40-man roster to make use of his spot. One is to simply get rid of him via trade or release, both of which would require eating the remaining contract. The other is to let him pass through waivers unclaimed and outright him to Triple-A sans 40-man spot. Unlikely, but an option if space gets tight.

Eduardo Nunez: After five seasons as a below-average hitter Nunez finally produced a little bit, hitting .282/.327/.431 in a bench role. In two years with the Twins he's started 45 and 48 games while getting 213 and 204 plate appearances. Keeping him around in a similar role makes sense, but with Nunez due for a raise to around $2 million via arbitration it's possible the Twins will want to fill that bench spot with either a more capable defensive shortstop or a more potent bat.

Ryan O'Rourke: Added to the 40-man roster and called up in July to fill a left-handed specialist role, O'Rourke fared well initially before going through a rough patch and then mostly collected dust down the stretch. He held lefties to a .171 batting average for the Twins after dominating them to an incredible degree in the minors, so there's little doubt O'Rourke can fill the specialist role, but control problems and struggles versus righties really limit his potential usage.

Josmil Pinto: Pinto once looked like a long-term building block as a catcher/designated hitter, but he struggled in 57 games for the Twins in 2014 and spent all of 2015 at Triple-A having his season wrecked by concussions. When healthy Pinto is a good right-handed hitter with power and plate discipline whose defensive chops behind the plate are iffy. He's still just 26 years old, but catching regularly may be out of the question and the Twins have no shortage of DH options.

Ryan Pressly: Sidelined for the final three months of the year by a lat muscle injury, Pressly's place in the Twins' plans depends on his health and a belief that his 3.46 career ERA tells a more accurate story than his 85/47 K/BB ratio in 133 innings. He's a perfectly solid middle reliever and throws harder than most of the Twins' incumbent options for that role, but the 27-year-old former Rule 5 pick hasn't found a way to generate strikeouts and has iffy control.

Shane Robinson: After nine years in the Cardinals organization Robinson signed with the Twins as a minor-league free agent, won a spot on the Opening Day roster, and received a career-high 48 starts and 198 plate appearances. He hit just .250/.299/.322, which is in line with his modest track record. Robinson is a good defender with plus speed, but he doesn't hit enough to be more than a fifth outfielder and "fifth outfielder" is no longer even a job on many teams.

Aaron Thompson: For six weeks or so Thompson emerged as Paul Molitor's go-to lefty setup man and got the Twins through a bunch of key innings unscathed, but his deal with the devil ran out and he was demoted to Triple-A in July. He was nothing special there and did not receive a September call-up, finishing the season with a 5.01 ERA and 17/11 K/BB ratio in 32 innings. At age 28 there's nothing in his track to suggest Thompson is more than a replacement-level arm.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Harry's Razors, where you can get discounted razors and shaving supplies delivered to your door by entering in the code "gleeman" at Harrys.com.

February 4, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35.

40. A.J. Achter | Reliever | DOB: 8/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2010-46

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18      1     2.48      40.0      33      5      49     12
         A+     19      0     0.79      34.1      21      0      37      3
2013     AA     25      0     2.21      36.2      28      3      36     19
         AAA    16      0     3.04      23.2      17      4      20     14
2014     AAA    40      0     2.38      72.0      44      4      69     24

A.J. Achter was a 46th-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 2010 and posted a 4.52 ERA in 2011 as a starter at low Single-A, but he shifted to the bullpen in 2012 and has a combined 2.10 ERA in 213 innings as a reliever since then. That includes a 2.17 ERA and 80/25 K/BB ratio in 79 innings last season, mostly at Triple-A, which was enough to get him added to the 40-man roster as a September call-up.

However, his shiny ERAs come with good but not exceptional strikeout rates and Achter's control is mediocre. He's done an amazing job limiting hits, including a .173 opponents' batting average last season, but that was driven by an unsustainably great .228 batting average on balls in play. Toss in underwhelming velocity and his odds of sticking in the big leagues don't seem particularly good, but at age 26 he warrants a "why not?" look.

Achter got into seven games for the Twins as a reliever and posted another nice-looking 3.27 ERA, but he managed just five strikeouts in 11 innings, opponents hit .304/.347/.522 off him, and his average fastball clocked in at 90.2 miles per hour. Middle relief is Achter's upside and the Twins' bullpen depth chart is pretty crowded, but the fact that they kept him on the 40-man roster all offseason suggests they're interested in giving him another shot at some point.

39. Logan Darnell | Starter | DOB: 2/89 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     28     28     5.08     156.0     193     22      98     47
2013     AA     15     15     2.61      96.2      96      4      77     23
        AAA     12     11     4.26      57.0      63      5      43     22
2014    AAA     23     19     3.60     115.0     108     16      90     49
        MLB      7      4     7.13      24.0      31      5      22      8

A solid 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A got Logan Darnell added to the 40-man roster, but the 2010 sixth-round pick spent most of last year back at Triple-A and managed just 90 strikeouts in 115 innings while walking 3.8 batters per nine frames. That poor strikeout rate matches his high-80s fastball velocity and Darnell has an underwhelming 3.81 ERA and 133/71 K/BB ratio in 172 career innings at Triple-A.

He also got knocked around in his first taste of the majors, allowing 20 runs in 24 innings for the Twins at age 25. Given his sub par velocity, mediocre control, and inability to hold right-handed hitters in check it's hard to imagine Darnell having sustained success as a starter in the majors, but the left-hander could find a home in the bullpen as a southpaw specialist. Of course, that role is such that the same can be said for nearly every decent lefty in the minors.

In the minors during the past two seasons Darnell held lefties to a combined .228 batting average and 74/18 K/BB ratio, whereas righties batted .285 off him over that same span. Regardless of the role Darnell is behind a lot of names on the Twins' pitching depth chart heading into 2015 and seems like a candidate to be removed from the 40-man roster if space is needed early, but if given a chance he could carve out a useful niche in middle relief.

38. Levi Michael | Second Base | DOB: 2/91 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     A+     512     .246     .339     .311      2     20     56     82
2013     A+     375     .229     .331     .340      4     23     49     67
2014     A+     201     .305     .375     .395      1     12     19     25
         AA      63     .340     .444     .358      0      1      7     11

Levi Michael was billed as being close to MLB-ready when the Twins drafted the North Carolina shortstop in the first round in 2011 and the pick made sense for a team that had long struggled to develop capable middle infielders. They showed their faith in his readiness by sending him directly to high Single-A, but three years later Michael was still stuck there. Nagging injuries repeatedly derailed Michael's development and the solid power he showed in college disappeared.

Last season, in his third go-around at Fort Myers, he finally showed some promise by hitting .305 in 45 games to earn a promotion to Double-A, where he hit .340 in 15 games. Those lofty batting averages are misleading because he managed just one home run, but Michael controlled the strike zone well. Even within the overall struggles Michael always made plenty of contact and drew some walks, suggesting the switch-hitter could have value even if the power is gone for good.

Unfortunately he's no longer a shortstop. Dating back to college there were questions about his ability to stick at shortstop long term and last season Michael played almost exclusively second base at both levels. Not only does that raise the bar for his offensive production, it makes it much harder for Michael to potentially stick in the majors as a utility infielder. At age 24 and with just 15 career games above Single-A it's time for Michael to sink or swim.

37. Stephen Pryor | Reliever | DOB: 7/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Mariners

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     11      0     1.12      16.0       7      0      24      5
         AAA    16      0     0.00      20.0      11      0      20     11
         MLB    26      0     3.91      23.0      22      5      27     13
2014     AAA    38      0     3.16      51.1      32      6      49     34

Acquired from the Mariners on July 24 as the Twins' return in the Kendrys Morales salary dump, Stephen Pryor was one of the few players on the 40-man roster not to get a September call-up to Minnesota. However, he remained on the 40-man roster all offseason and presumably the front office has enough patience in the 25-year-old right-hander to see if he can get healthy and regain his old velocity after missing most of 2013 and part of 2014 following shoulder surgery.

Before the injury Pryor looked destined for a late-inning bullpen role in Seattle. As a 22-year-old in 2012 he blitzed through the minors, going from Single-A to Double-A to Triple-A before debuting with the Mariners in June. Overall that season Pryor posted a 0.93 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 39 innings as a minor leaguer and then racked up 27 strikeouts in 23 innings for the Mariners while averaging 96.3 miles per hour with his fastball.

His arm gave out in 2013 and while Pryor returned last season to log 55 innings in the minors and make two appearances for the Mariners he was a shell of his former self, throwing in the low-90s with less than one strikeout per inning. Pryor has always struggled to consistently throw strikes and control problems that can be overlooked when attached to a high-90s fastball may be tough to overcome if that velocity is gone for good.

36. Lester Oliveros | Reliever | DOB: 5/88 | Throws: Right | Trade: Tigers

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     13      0     1.42      19.0      10      0      16      7
         AAA    19      0     3.07      29.1      24      2      35      8
2014     AA     26      0     0.89      30.1      17      0      36     14
         AAA    24      0     2.29      35.1      27      0      52     13

Lester Oliveros was acquired from the Tigers in the 2011 trade for Delmon Young and missed most of 2013 recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He returned last year and was better than ever between Double-A and Triple-A with a 1.64 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 66 innings while holding opponents to a .187 opponents' batting average with zero home runs. And then naturally Oliveros served up a homer to the first batter he faced as a September call-up.

Oliveras has always had a big fastball, averaging 94 miles per hour as a big leaguer before and after elbow surgery. He's also always had iffy control, with nearly four walks per nine innings in the minors. He made some minor strides with his control last season when a lot of pitchers see their walk rate rise after surgery, but there's still plenty of work to be done in terms of harnessing his raw stuff.

As a 27-year-old reliever Oliveros is stretching the definition of "prospect" and expectations should certainly be modest, but when someone with a mid-90s fastball averages more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings at Double-A and Triple-A he's generally worth an extended look. Unfortunately for Oliveros, because the Twins decided against overhauling their bullpen this offseason he faces an uphill battle for an Opening Day roster spot.

For a lengthy discussion about projecting the Opening Day roster, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

September 22, 2014

Who will the Twins purge from the 40-man roster this offseason?

Jared Burton Twins

At the beginning of each offseason every team goes through the ritual housecleaning of shedding players from the 40-man roster to prepare for a winter of adding new players and protecting new prospects. As one of baseball's worst teams for a fourth straight year the Twins have no shortage of dead weight on the 40-man roster, plus plenty of marginal talents clinging to spots, so here's my breakdown of the players most likely to be shed and where they stand (in alphabetical order):

A.J. Achter: Added to the 40-man roster in September after a nice season between Double-A and Triple-A, the former 46th-round pick debuted at age 26. His success this season was driven largely by an unsustainably great batting average on balls in play and Achter's control has never been particularly good, which along with a high-80s fastball and unspectacular strikeout rates makes him unlikely to project as more than a middle reliever.

Doug Bernier: Last year the Twins called up Bernier to fill a little-used bench role and dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season, which is presumably the plan again this time. He had a solid season at Triple-A, hitting .280/.348/.396 in 124 games, but Bernier is 34 years old and the epitome of a replacement-level player. Great to have stashed at Triple-A, not great to have in the majors or even taking up a spot on the 40-man roster.

Jared Burton: One of the Twins' better scrap-heap pickups, Burton was a high-end setup man for a year-and-a-half before struggling down the stretch last year and showing major signs of decline this season. Dating back to August of last season Burton has a 5.12 ERA and 50/28 K/BB ratio in 72 innings. His velocity is down, he's ceased missing bats, and at age 33 it's hard to see him being trusted enough in a high-leverage role to justify picking up his $3.6 million option for 2015.

Chris Colabello: He was a good story and absolutely deserved a shot in the majors after crushing Triple-A pitching, but Colabello hit .214/.284/.364 with a ghastly 124/34 K/BB ratio in 114 games. He has no defensive value and, unlike most right-handed hitters, his approach at the plate doesn't lend itself to crushing left-handers. At age 31 it's tough to imagine giving him another extended opportunity, especially considering the Twins' depth at first base and designated hitter.

Logan Darnell: It's tough to see Darnell sticking in the big leagues as a starter. He has a 3.82 ERA with a poor strikeout rate and mediocre control in 172 innings at Triple-A, his average fastball so far in the majors is 89 miles per hour, and he struggles against right-handed hitters. At age 25 he may still have a future in the bullpen, but the same could be said of nearly every left-handed starter and there isn't much in his track record to suggest his upside there is notable.

Brian Duensing: It's masked by a strong ERA, but Duensing's secondary numbers collapsed with a 32/20 K/BB ratio in 53 innings. His inability to handle righties means he can't be trusted in the late innings and he's not dominant enough against lefties to be a southpaw specialist. Duensing is a perfectly decent middle reliever, but at age 31 and with an arbitration-fueled raise to at least $3 million coming for his final pre-free agency season he's a non-tender candidate.

Eric Fryer: Tabbed to fill the Drew Butera role as a catcher who can't hit enough to warrant a roster spot, Fryer took over as Kurt Suzuki's backup when the Twins demoted Josmil Pinto to the minors. He's hit .248/.325/.345 in limited MLB action, which is actually much better than his .217/.314/.316 line in 204 games at Triple-A. Even if the Twins are convinced Pinto has no future behind the plate they can do better than Fryer as a second (or third) catcher.

Chris Herrmann: In theory Herrmann brings versatility to the table as a catcher/outfielder, but the Twins want nothing to do with him behind the plate defensively and he doesn't hit enough to have any business in the outfield. He's hit .184/.256/.268 in 91 games for the third-worst OPS in the Ron Gardenhire era of 2002-2014, ahead of only Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. And at age 27 his .262/.331/.399 line in 129 games at Triple-A is barely any better.

Kris Johnson: Acquired from the Pirates as part of the Justin Morneau trade, it was never clear why the Twins wanted Johnson unless they focused on his misleadingly good 2.39 ERA at Triple-A last season. He posted another decent-looking 3.48 ERA at Triple-A this year, but managed just 102 strikeouts in 132 innings while walking 3.8 per nine frames. Johnson is 30 years old with 6.2 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings for his career at Triple-A.

Eduardo Nunez: When the Twins acquired Nunez they talked up his offensive potential as if he hadn't hit .267/.313/.379 for the Yankees or had similar numbers in the minors. He's been even worse for the Twins, hitting .251/.274/.385 in 67 games. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him as one of the worst shortstops in baseball at 30 runs below average per 150 games and he's looked shaky at third base as well. It's unclear where exactly the upside is with the 27-year-old Nunez.

Lester Oliveros: He hasn't looked good in the majors yet, but Oliveros put together an excellent season between Double-A and Triple-A in his first full year back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He struck out 88 batters in 66 total innings, posting a 1.64 ERA while allowing zero home runs. His control remains spotty, but with a mid-90s fastball and outstanding strikeout rates Oliveros seems deserving of an extended chance. It's just unclear if he'll get that in Minnesota.

Chris Parmelee: Since his big September debut Parmelee has hit .237/.303/.372 in 248 games for the Twins, showing mediocre power while failing to control the strike zone. Good numbers at Triple-A suggested the former first-round pick may have finally figured things out, but he's failed to do anything with semi-regular playing time in three straight seasons and will soon be 27 years old. Why keep waiting for what might be, at best, an average first baseman/corner outfielder?

Mike Pelfrey: Re-signing Pelfrey to a two-year, $12 million deal never made any sense and he allowed 23 runs in 24 innings before being shut down with an elbow injury. He's owed $5.5 million next season, so Pelfrey being cut loose would be a surprise, but he's 12-29 with a 5.00 ERA in 390 innings since 2011, throws one mediocre pitch, and injuries have wiped out two of his last three seasons. He's a sunk cost, but perhaps they can salvage some value out of Pelfrey in the bullpen.

Yohan Pino: When he was a prospect posting great numbers in the minors from 2005-2009 the Twins never called up Pino, but they finally gave him a chance as a 30-year-old journeyman in his second stint with the organization. Pino had an ugly 5.07 ERA in 11 starts and struggles to limit home runs, but his 50/14 K/BB ratio in 60 innings was solid. As the past four seasons have shown there's always plenty of need for rotation depth, but elbow problems cloud his status for 2015.

Ryan Pressly: After spending all of last year in the majors as a Rule 5 pick Pressly spent most of this year at Triple-A, throwing 60 innings with a 2.98 ERA and 63/21 K/BB ratio. He throws hard, but it has never led to big strikeout rates and Pressly has just 63 strikeouts 102 innings for the Twins. He has a nice-looking 3.54 ERA and the Twins have been to known to let that sway their opinion more than it should, but at age 26 it's tough to see significant upside.

Stephen Pryor: Acquired from the Mariners in the Kendrys Morales swap/salary dump, Pryor is one of the few players on the 40-man roster not to receive a September call-up. He was once a top reliever prospect with a high-90s fastball, but he's struggled to regain velocity after shoulder surgery. He posted a 3.93 ERA at Triple-A with awful control and just 52 strikeouts in 55 innings. Still just 25 years old, presumably the Twins liked Pryor enough to see what he looks like in 2015.

Jordan Schafer: It seems unlikely that the Twins would get rid of Schafer after how well he's played in 40 games since they claimed him off waivers in early August, but he's the type of player who regularly gets dropped from 40-man rosters. Schafer is a 27-year-old career .230/.312/.311 hitter who also batted just .225/.278/.294 at Triple-A and despite great speed he's a mediocre defensive center fielder. He's a decent fit as a backup outfielder, but that skill set is plentiful.

Anthony Swarzak: After flopping as a starter Swarzak found a fit as a long reliever able to soak up low-leverage innings, but his effectiveness slipped this year and he's due for a raise to around $2 million via arbitration. Swarzak's strikeout rate of 5.2 per nine innings ranks 125th out of the 131 pitchers with at least 50 innings as relievers and his career rate as a reliever is 5.8 per nine innings. His role could be better utilized to break in a young starter.

Aaron Thompson: His flukishly good numbers versus lefties this season caught the Twins' eye and earned him a call-up, but Thompson is a 27-year-old journeyman with a high-80s fastball and a 4.33 ERA in a decade as a minor leaguer. That includes a 3.52 ERA and 107/51 K/BB ratio in 120 innings at Triple-A. Like most reasonably effective lefties he could probably hold his own in a southpaw specialist role, but the Twins should be aiming higher for a Duensing replacement.

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September 3, 2014

Meet the Twins’ September call-ups

aaron hicks september1

September 1 roster expansion means an assortment of new and sort-of-new players added to the Twins' roster for the final month of the season, so here's a look at the call-ups:

Aaron Hicks, 24-year-old outfielder

Hicks has been bad enough in 129 games for the Twins--hitting .194 with poor defense--that his status as a top-100 prospect as recently as last season is easy to forget, but there's still a decent chance he becomes a useful regular. Whether that comes in Minnesota or elsewhere is unclear, because Byron Buxton's presence means the window for someone else to play center field is a small one and Hicks hitting enough to be an asset as a corner outfielder is a stretch.

Hicks' primary strength as a hitter has always been plate discipline, but he's been more passive than patient in the majors and even in the minors as a prospect he struck out a lot and posted mediocre batting averages. Demoted to Double-A in mid-June and once again a switch-hitter, he batted .297/.404/.466 with more walks (28) than strikeouts (27) in 43 games and then batted .278/.349/.389 in 24 games at Triple-A following an August promotion.

Overall between the two levels Hicks hit .291/.387/.441, which is plenty solid for a 24-year-old and nearly identical to his .286/.384/.460 line at Double-A in 2012 that wrongly convinced the Twins he was ready for the big leagues. Obviously his stock has plummeted since then, but they'd be smart to give Hicks another extended opportunity down the stretch. His skill set is such that he can provide reasonable value hitting .240 and as awful as he's looked that's still doable.

Josmil Pinto, 25-year-old catcher/designated hitter

By signing Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $12 million contract extension the Twins made it clear they don't think Pinto's defense is good enough to be a starting catcher. He can still provide plenty of value as a part-time catcher and part-time designated hitter, but his upside in that role would be considerably lower and the emergence of Kennys Vargas means Pinto's future at DH could be cloudy as well.

Pinto's month-long slump led to the Twins casting him aside for Kendrys Morales in mid-June, which was questionable at the time based on their respective track records and proved to be a horrendous move when Morales hit like a backup shortstop for six weeks. Pinto has been in the minors since then, hitting .279/.376/.457 in 60 games at Triple-A after hitting .309/.400/.482 between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

It might take Vargas slumping for Pinto to get another extended opportunity, but a 25-year-old with a .265/.349/.464 line through 64 games in the majors to go along with a strong track record in the minors deserves a much longer leash than he's received so far. Pinto has plenty of power potential, he can draw walks, and his OPS in the majors (.813) is nearly the same as Vargas' (.830) right now. He just needs a chance to show the slump was merely a slump.

Michael Tonkin, 24-year-old right-hander

After pitching well in an 11-inning Twins debut last season Tonkin seemed likely to have a sizable role at some point this season, but instead the bullpen in Minnesota was rarely a big problem and he spent most of the year in Rochester. Combined between this year and last year Tonkin has a 3.48 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 78 innings at Triple-A, and unlike most hard-throwers his control has actually been good with only 16 non-intentional walks.

Tonkin struggled in a month-long stint with the Twins this season, but the 6-foot-7 right-hander has averaged 94 miles per hour with his fastball in the majors and has the minor-league track record to match. He throws strikes and misses bats with quality raw stuff and should emerge as a late-inning bullpen option in 2015. Counting the minors and majors Tonkin has 228 strikeouts in 195 innings since moving to the bullpen full time in 2012.

Lester Oliveros, 26-year-old right-hander

Oliveros was acquired from the Tigers in the 2011 trade for Delmon Young and missed most of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned better than ever, starting the season at Double-A before moving up to Triple-A. Overall he threw 66 innings with a 1.64 ERA, including 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a .187 opponents' batting average with zero homers in 272 plate appearances. (Naturally he allowed a homer to the first MLB batter he faced Tuesday.)

Oliveras has always had a big fastball, averaging 94 miles per hour as a big leaguer in limited pre-surgery action. He's also always had iffy control, with nearly four walks per nine innings in the minors. His rebuilt elbow can still reach the mid-90s consistently and Oliveros made some minor strides with his control when a lot of pitchers see their walk rate rise after surgery. At age 26 he looks like an intriguing 2015 bullpen option.

A.J. Achter, 26-year-old right-hander

Achter was a 46th-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 2010 and posted a 4.52 ERA in 2011 as a starter at low Single-A, but he shifted to the bullpen in 2012 and has a combined 2.10 ERA in 213 innings as a reliever since then. That includes a 2.17 ERA and 80-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 79 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season, which was enough to get him added to the 40-man roster for September.

However, his shiny ERAs come with good but not exceptional strikeout rates and Achter's control is mediocre. He's done an amazing job limiting hits, including a .173 opponents' batting average this season, but that was driven by an unsustainably great .228 batting average on balls in play. Toss in underwhelming velocity and his odds of sticking in the majors don't seem particularly good, but at age 26 he warrants a "why not?" look.

Aaron Thompson, 27-year-old left-hander

Not technically a September call-up, Thompson was added to the roster on August 31 when the Twins lost Sam Deduno on waivers to the Astros. Ron Gardenhire talked up Thompson's work against left-handed hitters in Rochester and sure enough he held them to a .186 batting average, but a 13/7 K/BB ratio hardly displayed dominance and last season, also in Rochester, he allowed lefties to hit .267 compared to .265 by righties. In other words, it looks like a fluke.

Thompson is a 27-year-old journeyman with a 4.33 ERA in a decade as a minor leaguer, including a 3.52 ERA and thoroughly mediocre 107-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 120 innings at Triple-A. He's a former first-round draft pick, but that no longer matters much considering it was the same year (2005) the Twins selected Matt Garza three picks later. Deduno is certainly no big loss, but he has higher odds than Thompson of being a valuable reliever for the Twins.

Logan Darnell, 25-year-old left-hander

Darnell fared well at Double-A to begin last season, but has a 3.82 ERA in 172 innings at Triple-A along with a poor strikeout rate and mediocre control. He got knocked around in a brief stint with the Twins earlier this season while averaging just 90.3 miles per hour with his fastball and looks unlikely to be stick as a starting pitcher thanks to an inability to hold right-handed bats in check. Like most competent lefty starters he could have a future in the bullpen as a southpaw specialist.

Chris Herrmann, 26-year-old catcher/outfielder

In theory Herrmann brings versatility to the bench, but he's really a catcher in name only and doesn't hit enough for a corner outfielder. In fact, among all Twins hitters with at least 200 plate appearances in the Gardenhire era of 2002-2014 he has the third-worst OPS ahead of only Drew Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. He actually hit well in 60 games at Triple-A this season, but he's 26 years old with a sub-.400 slugging percentage between Double-A and Triple-A.

Doug Bernier, 34-year-old infielder

Bernier spent the second half of last season with the Twins in a utility infielder role, logging just 64 plate appearances in two-plus months. He was dropped from the 40-man roster, re-signed on a minor-league contract, and has now been added back to the 40-man roster for a September stint. Presumably the 34-year-old journeyman will be dropped again after the season, but Bernier can play all over the diamond defensively and had a solid season at Triple-A hitting .280/.348/.396.

For a lot more about the Twins' plans for September and what their offseason shopping list may look like, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

February 26, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Also in this series: 31-35.

40. Sean Gilmartin | Starter | DOB: 5/90 | Throws: Left | Trade: Braves

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-      5      5     2.53      21.1      18      3      30      2
2012     AA     20     20     3.54     119.1     111      9      86     26
         AAA     7      7     4.78      37.2      41      6      25     13
2013     AAA    17     17     5.74      91.0     112     12      65     33

Heading into the 2011 draft there was some talk of the Twins targeting Sean Gilmartin and as a soft-tossing college left-hander he certainly fit their longstanding drafting approach, but they picked 30th that year and the Braves took him two spots earlier. Three years later the Twins essentially acquired Gilmartin for nothing, getting him in the Ryan Doumit salary dump, which speaks to how far his prospect stock has dropped and how modest his upside was to begin with.

As you'd expect from an experienced college pitcher Gilmartin dominated in the low minors, but he managed just 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 20 starts at Double-A and then fell apart at Triple-A last year with a 5.74 ERA, .304 opponents' batting average, and 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Plenty of former first-round picks bounce back from struggles in the minors to thrive in the majors, but with a high-80s fastball Gilmartin doesn't seem like a good bet to be one of them.

On the other hand he's still just 23 years old and with only three pro seasons Gilmartin doesn't even require a 40-man roster spot yet, which no doubt played a part in the Twins asking for him in the deal. Gilmartin has had extreme splits in the minors--including an .859 OPS versus righties and a .635 OPS versus lefties last year--and could find a bullpen niche as a southpaw specialist. He's more "minor leaguer" than "prospect" at this point.

39. Dalton Hicks | First Base | DOB: 4/90 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2012-17

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    136     .270     .382     .435      4     11     19     37
2013     A-     400     .297     .355     .497     13     44     34     85
         A+     176     .270     .364     .405      4     12     22     38

Dalton Hicks is a prime example of why looking at the right numbers--and perhaps even more importantly, putting those right numbers into proper context--plays such a key role in evaluating prospects. At first glance Hicks had an impressive 2013 season, hitting .290 with 110 RBIs, but despite being a 6-foot-5 first baseman he managed only 17 homers in 576 plate appearances along with a 123 strikeouts and a mediocre walk rate.

Beyond that Hicks was also old for the levels of competition, starting the season at low Single-A and ending it at high Single-A as a 23-year-old former college draft pick. Consider that Hicks and Byron Buxton both split time between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, yet Buxton is 44 months younger. Comparisons to Buxton will leave most minor leaguers looking like non-prospects, but of the 50 hitters in the Midwest League to log 400 plate appearances only one was older than 23.

RBIs don't mean much in terms of evaluating long-term upside, Hicks lacks ideal power for first base, and his strike-zone judgment was shaky even versus inexperienced pitching. None of which is to suggest that he's incapable of developing into a big leaguer, just that the odds are stacked against him for several reasons that take some digging to find. He'll likely begin this season at Double-A, which should determine whether Hicks is worth keeping an eye on.

38. Logan Darnell | Starter | DOB: 2/89 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-      6      6     3.78      33.1      24      1      24      8
         A+     15     15     4.17      86.1      95      6      46     25
         AA      5      5     5.58      30.2      38      3      20      4
2012     AA     28     28     5.08     156.0     193     22      98     47
2013     AA     15     15     2.61      96.2      96      4      77     23
        AAA     12     11     4.26      57.0      63      5      43     22

Logan Darnell looked like a non-prospect after struggling in each of his first two full pro seasons, but the 2010 sixth-round pick put himself on the Twins' radar with a nice year between Double-A and Triple-A. One of many University of Kentucky alums in the farm system, Darnell finished his solid 15-start run in New Britain with a complete-game shutout and then moved up to Rochester in late June.

He struggled a bit at Triple-A and allowed a .274 opponents' batting average overall last season, which matches his underwhelming raw stuff. Darnell throws in the low-90s with his fastball and the left-hander receives praise for the command of his off-speed pitches, but he's managed just 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Darnell induces a good number of ground balls, but his control has been mediocre and at age 25 it's tough to see much upside.

However, the Twins liked what Darnell did last season enough to add him to the 40-man roster and that puts him in position to reach the majors at some point in 2014. Like most left-handers he's fared poorly versus right-handed hitters, potentially making the bullpen a long-term fit, but Darnell will probably get a chance to prove that he can stick as a back-of-the-rotation starter first. In the meantime he'll be in Rochester's rotation trying to build on a positive 2013.

37. Luke Bard | Reliever | DOB: 11/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     3      1     6.75       4.0       3      0       3      5
         RK+     4      0     0.00       3.0       2      0       4      2
2013     RK+     7      2     1.08       8.1       2      0       6      6

When the Twins drafted right-hander Luke Bard with the 42nd overall pick in 2012 they did so with the intention of seeing if he could convert from the bullpen to the rotation after starring as a college reliever at Georgia Tech. Instead they've had trouble simply getting him on the mound, period, as Bard has thrown a grand total of 19 innings in two pro seasons while missing time with elbow and shoulder injuries.

His final college season was also cut short by an injury, so Bard has done very little actual pitching recently and any notion of him moving quickly through the Twins' farm system has disappeared. None of which means Daniel Bard's younger brother should fall completely off the prospect map after being selected with the compensatory first-round pick the Twins received when Jason Kubel walked as a free agent and signed for $1.25 million.

When healthy Bard topped out in the mid-90s with his fastball and received praise for his breaking ball, which suggests the Twins might be better off ditching any idea of him holding up physically with a starter's workload and unleashing him an inning at a time out of bullpen. Either way, Bard simply needs to stay healthy this season and log significant innings against professional hitters, because he's already 23 years old and has yet to advance beyond rookie-ball.

36. Brian Navarreto | Catcher | DOB: 12/94 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2013-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    158     .226     .318     .365      3     10     15     35

Based on skills alone Brian Navarreto may have gone 2-3 rounds higher in June's draft, but his involvement in an ugly on-field brawl likely dropped his stock enough for the Twins to snag the Florida high school catcher in the sixth round. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report hinted at other "makeup questions" at play, but also touted his "man strength" at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds while noting that he "has the physicality and arm strength to get scouts excited."

Navarreto signed for $262,500 and reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he struggled in 42 games as an 18-year-old, hitting .226 with 35 strikeouts in 158 plate appearances. He did show some pop with 13 of his 31 hits going for extra bases and Navarreto drew a decent number of walks, but it certainly wasn't an impressive pro debut. Of course, high school catchers not named Joe Mauer tend to be projects.

Navarreto was one of three catchers the Twins drafted in the first nine rounds last year, between a pair of college backstops in third-rounder Stuart Turner and ninth-rounder Mitch Garver. They both figure to move much more quickly than Navarreto, but in terms of upside he's likely the best catching prospect in the farm system save for MLB-ready Josmil Pinto. This year, however, he'll probably spend the entire season in rookie-ball.

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