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.

February 25, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

15. Jorge Polanco | Shortstop | DOB: 7/93 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     DSL     68     .250     .309     .283      0      2      6      9
         RK-    119     .223     .299     .301      1      6     12      9
2011     RK-    193     .250     .319     .349      1     12     15     24
2012     RK+    204     .318     .388     .514      5     22     20     26

Jorge Polanco signing with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2009 largely flew under the radar because he was part of the same international prospect haul that included fellow 16-year-olds Miguel Sano and Max Kepler. Sano got $3.15 million and Kepler got $800,000, but Polanco was considered one of the top middle infield prospects in Latin America and signed for $750,000.

In most organizations that signing bonus would have been enough to make Polanco someone to keep close tabs on, but with the Twins he took an immediate backseat to Sano and Kepler before falling further out of the spotlight with underwhelming rookie-ball numbers in his first two pro seasons. That all changed last year, as Polanco hit .318 with walks and power at rookie-level Elizabethton as one of just seven 18-year-old regulars in the Appalachian League.

Hitting for a high batting average and controlling the strike zone matches the pre-signing reports on Polanco, but last season's 22 extra-base hits in 51 games came as a surprise because he's a slight 5-foot-11 and projects as a contact hitter. Reviews of Polanco's defense have always been positive, but it's worth noting that he played much more second base (35 games) than shortstop (15 games) at Elizabethton. His full-season debut this year should reveal a lot about Polanco.

14. Mason Melotakis | Reliever | DOB: 6/91 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2012-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     7      0     1.35       6.2       2      0      10      2
         A-     13      0     2.08      17.1      15      3      24      4

After taking Byron Buxton second overall the Twins selected J.O. Berrios and Luke Bard with compensatory picks for losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel as free agents and then used their own second-rounder on Northwestern State reliever Mason Melotakis. Prior to the draft ESPN.com actually ranked Melotakis higher than Berrios and Bard at No. 63, while Baseball America rated the left-hander No. 88.

He ended up coming off the board with the 63rd pick 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 called 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.com called him "one of the best potential left-handed relievers in this draft."

However, along with at least a couple of the other college relievers they drafted the Twins plan to give Melotakis an opportunity to start. That's the opposite of a traditional development path for pitchers, which usually involves starting initially and shifting to the bullpen if needed, but it's an interesting approach considering the Twins' dire need for long-term rotation help and the lack of promising college starters available past the first round last June.

13. Travis Harrison | Third Base | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    253     .301     .383     .461      5     21     24     51

Travis Harrison was touted as one of the best bats in the 2011 high school class and showed why in his pro debut, skipping the lower level of rookie-ball for Elizabethton and hitting .301 with 24 walks and 21 extra-base hits in 60 games as a 19-year-old. Selected with the supplemental first-round pick that the Twins received as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent, Harrison is a 6-foot-2 slugger who for now at least plays third base.

Before the draft there were doubts about his ability to stay at third base and Harrison committed 24 errors in 59 games there during his debut, but rookie-ball error totals aren't necessarily an indication of anything other than young players, inexperience, and iffy playing conditions. He may eventually slide to an outfield corner or first base, but much like with Miguel Sano the Twins will probably give Harrison plenty of time to prove he can't remain at the hot corner.

Striking out 51 times in 60 games is a red flag for a hitter whose ability to handle breaking balls was questioned leading into the draft, but for now at least that's picking nits. Harrison performed exactly like the Twins hoped after signing him away from USC for $1.05 million as the 50th overall pick and looks like one of the highest-upside hitters in a system that's made strides to add some right-handed power bats in recent years.

12. 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

After taking high schoolers Byron Buxton and J.O. Berrios with their first two picks the Twins kicked off their run of hard-throwing college relievers by drafting Georgia Tech right-hander Luke Bard with the supplemental first-rounder they received for Jason Kubel walking as a free agent. His brother, Daniel Bard, had a miserable year for the Red Sox, but Luke Bard dominated ACC hitters with a 0.99 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings.

His college season was cut short by an injured lat muscle that may have caused his draft stock to fall, but Bard was healthy enough to appear in seven rookie-ball games after signing for $1.227 million. Luke doesn't quite have Daniel's once-overpowering raw stuff, but Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted "plenty of power in his fastball, at times sitting 93-95 mph" and "a power breaking ball with depth and late bite."

Like several of the college relievers they drafted last June the Twins have said they think Bard has a chance to be an effective starter if they can refine his changeup, which he'll likely attempt to do at low Single-A to begin this season. As a reliever Bard has the potential to move very quickly up the organizational ladder, but his timetable will probably be significantly delayed as long as he's trying to become a starter.

11. Max Kepler | Center Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    153     .286     .346     .343      0      7     13     27
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33

Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, and Aaron Hicks got all the attention, but Max Kepler had a breakout season to emerge as one of the Twins' highest-upside prospects. When he signed out of Germany as a skinny 16-year-old for $800,000 in 2009 the focus was on Kepler's physical tools, including rare speed and athleticism from a 6-foot-4 frame. He held his own in 2010 and 2011 at rookie-ball, hitting .275 with solid on-base skills, and then last season the power arrived.

Kepler got off to a slow start, but destroyed Appalachian League pitching for the final two-thirds of the short-season schedule to finish with the league's highest slugging percentage (.539) among all hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. He ranked among the league's top five in doubles, triples, and homers while hitting .297 with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (33) in 59 games, and did all that playing center field at age 19.

Kepler's age is key, because dominating rookie-ball at 21 or 22 is totally different than doing so as a 19-year-old and he was one of 16 teenagers in the 10-team league to play at least 50 games. That doesn't necessarily mean Kepler is destined for stardom and he's several years from being on the Twins' radar even if things go well, but with his age, physical tools, unique athletic pedigree, and production it's tough not to dream on his ceiling.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Rotoworld's annual "Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide," which is available in both magazine and online versions. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

June 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 13, 2012

Byron Buxton gets $6 million as Twins sign 10 of their first 11 draft picks

One of the nice things about the draft-related changes to the collective bargaining agreement is that MLB moved the signing deadline from mid-August to mid-July, encouraging players to sign quickly and get their pro careers started in the minors. Kyle Gibson and Levi Michael are recent Twins first-round picks who signed too late to debut the year they were drafted, but this year the Twins have already signed 10 of their first 11 picks within two weeks of the draft.

That includes No. 2 overall pick Byron Buxton, who arrived in Minnesota yesterday to undergo his pre-signing physical exam and also took batting practice at Target Field in the same hitting group as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Jim Callis of Baseball America reports that Buxton agreed to a $6 million signing bonus, which is slightly below the $6.2 million slot figure and substantially more than the $4.8 million Carlos Correa got from the Astros as the No. 1 pick.

Not every dollar figure is public yet, but Baseball America reports that No. 32 pick Jose Berrios agreed to a deal for the exact slot amount of $1.55 million and No. 63 pick Mason Melotakis accepted $750,000 compared to the slot amount of $818,500. And among the 11 players the Twins took within the draft's first 250 overall selections Georgia Tech right-hander and No. 42 pick Luke Bard is the only one yet to sign.

All of which is a major change from past years and particularly encouraging for Buxton, who can now get an early start on his development and potentially play a full rookie-ball season at age 18. Buxton will likely be assigned to the Gulf Coast League, which is the lower level of rookie-ball, and if things go well there early on Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that the Twins could move him up one level of rookie-ball to the Appalachian League by season's end.

Even the best-case scenario for Buxton's development probably won't get him to Minnesota before 2015 and not arriving until 2016 or 2017 wouldn't be surprising, but to get him signed, get him working with Twins coaches, and get him in the lineup against professional pitchers just weeks after being drafted is a nice first step down the long road to the big leagues. I'm already looking forward to checking those rookie-ball box scores.

This week's blog content is sponsored by PickPointz, where you can make predictions, pick games, and win prizes for free. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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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