October 6, 2015

Eight big positives to take from the Twins’ half-full, half-empty season

Miguel Sano Twins

There are half-full and half-empty ways to view the Twins' season. On the half-full side they won 83 games compared to a Las Vegas over/under of 72.5 and local optimism topping out around 78, emerging as a contender ahead of schedule. On the half-empty side they made plenty of decisions on playing time, player evaluation, and call-ups that seemed iffy at the time and now stand out as especially damaging within the context of missing out on a Wild Card spot by just three games.

Whichever side you lean toward from a team-wide perspective, there's no doubt that looking at the Twins' season from a player-by-player view leads to an abundance of half-full glasses and a few that are overflowing. I've identified eight players whose 2015 performance stood out in a very positive way, both for this season and for the Twins' long-term plans. There are more, of course, but these eight made me feel the best about what happened this season on the way to 83-79.

Miguel Sano: I've spent the past three months obsessively posting Sano statistical porn on Twitter, so I'll try to keep this #SanoPorn somewhat brief. Sano arrived from Double-A on July 2 as a fully formed middle-of-the-order monster and one of the most extreme Three True Outcomes bats of all time, hitting .269/.385/.530 with 18 homers, 17 doubles, 53 walks, and 119 strikeouts in 80 games at age 22. He was a revelation, shattering the typical Twins hitting mold.

He's not without flaws, including a strikeout rate that will make posting decent batting averages difficult, but Sano's power and patience are both 99th percentile skills and his debut was one of the best in Twins history. Actually, that's underselling it. Sano had the 12th-highest OPS (.915) in MLB history among 22-year-old right-handed hitters, taking his spot on the list directly after Hank Aaron (.923) and Alex Rodriguez (.919). His long-term potential is drool-inducing.

Eddie Rosario: Despite little in his 2013 or 2014 performance to suggest he was ready for the majors Rosario was the first outfielder called up when reinforcements were needed in early May and never went back to the minors. He swung at everything on the way to 118 strikeouts and 15 walks in 122 games to match the idea that he wasn't ready, but Rosario also batted .267 with 46 extra-base hits and plus defense to show Paul Molitor was right to believe in his raw talent.

There's no doubting Rosario's tools, which include an extremely quick bat, very good speed on the bases and in the outfield, and a strong arm that killed 16 runners when stubborn teams refused to stop testing him. None of that will mean much if Rosario can't develop some semblance of strike zone control, but in terms of debuts for 23-year-olds there was a ton to like and even with the undisciplined approach at the plate he was an above-average player as a rookie.

Trevor May: May was sent down to Triple-A at the end of spring training, but Ricky Nolasco immediately getting hurt opened up a rotation spot and he had the best strikeout rate, swinging strike rate, and xFIP among Twins starters through mid-July. And then the Twins moved May to the bullpen, where he took the unwanted and undeserved role change in stride and thrived as a reliever with a 2.87 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 31 innings.

Like most starters May's velocity and raw stuff went up a tick or two as a reliever, giving him the potential to be a late-inning setup man or closer. However, he's also shown enough as a starter to think he can help the Twins more logging 200 innings in the rotation instead of 70 innings in the bullpen and May has made it clear he wants to start. Whatever happens, May took a huge step forward this season at age 25 and gives the Twins' pitching staff a much-needed building block.

Eduardo Escobar: For whatever reason the Twins were very hesitant to trust Escobar as their starting shortstop despite a strong 2014 in that role, first handing the Opening Day job to Danny Santana and then waiting three months to give it back to Escobar when Santana flopped. Escobar ended up starting 71 games at shortstop--along with way too many games miscast as a left fielder and designated hitter--and batted .262/.309/.445 with 12 homers and 47 total extra-base hits.

For his Twins career Escobar has started 187 games at shortstop and hit .281/.328/.480 in those games, which is the best shortstop production in team history and should be more than enough to make him the 2016 starter. Escobar is a free-swinger, but he's got rare power for the position and offers solid, sure-handed defense too. At age 26 he's under team control through 2018, so they may have stumbled into a shortstop solution after two decades of unsuccessful searching.

Tyler Duffey: Entering the year as a mid-level prospect with questions about his durability and bat-missing ability, Duffey finished it as arguably the Twins' best starter. Called up in early August as a short-term rotation patch, Duffey got knocked around by the Blue Jays in his debut and then went 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 52/18 K/BB ratio in 56 innings over his final nine starts while giving up just two homers in 229 plate appearances.

Duffey was even stingier with the long ball in the minors this season, giving up just one homer in 138 innings and 559 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A before the call-up. Because he's not an extreme ground-ball pitcher those low homer totals figure to be somewhat of a fluke long term, but Duffey has good command of a low-90s fastball and his curveball is a swing-and-miss weapon. At age 25 he deserves a full-time shot in the Twins' rotation next season.

Aaron Hicks: All but left for dead as a prospect after back-to-back awful seasons in the majors, Hicks earned his way back to Minnesota by dominating Triple-A for six weeks and finally showed the skills that made him a first-round draft pick and four-time Baseball America top-100 prospect. With a revamped approach at the plate that dialed up aggression and converted passiveness into patience, he hit .256/.323/.398 with 11 homers in 97 games.

Hicks also looked much better defensively in center field, making his usual assortment of standout plays without mixing in as much shaky route-running, and went 13-for-16 stealing bases too. He slumped down the stretch and it remains to be seen if the switch-hitting Hicks can handle right-handers well enough to thrive as an everyday player, but he was an above-average all-around center fielder at age 25 and that's a remarkable turnaround given how far his stock had fallen.

Jose Berrios: Setting aside whether or not the Twins should have called up Berrios to the big leagues this season--in July or August would have been my preference--his performance while spending the entire year in the minors firmly established the 21-year-old right-hander as the organization's best pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2006. Berrios began the season at Double-A, moved up to Triple-A in early July, and was one of the best pitchers in both leagues.

Overall he threw 166 innings with a 2.87 ERA and 175/38 K/BB ratio while limiting opponents to a .223 batting average and 12 homers. His handling may have been frustrating to Twins fans, but it was a fantastic season for an excellent prospect and one that would have gotten Berrios to the big leagues in most organizations. Pitching prospects fail at a remarkably high rate, but Berrios looks MLB-ready and projects as a potential front-line starter. His development in 2015 was impressive.

Max Kepler: Prior to this season Kepler's prospect status was based more on his physical tools and youth than actual production, which was mostly mediocre thanks in part to a bunch of injuries keeping him off the field. That all changed in a huge way this year, as Kepler stayed healthy and crushed Double-A, hitting .322/.416/.531 with 54 extra-base hits, more walks (67) than strikeouts (63), and 18 steals to be named MVP of the Southern League at age 22.

Kepler is 6-foot-4 and significantly stronger than when the Twins signed him out of Germany as a 16-year-old in 2009, but still has enough range to occasionally play center field and figures to be a plus defender in a corner spot. Much like with Berrios, in most organizations Kepler likely would have been called up to the big leagues for more than a September cup of coffee, but regardless of that his season was a true breakout and thrusts him into the Twins' long-term plans.

For a lengthy discussion of the highs and lows of the Twins' season and Paul Molitor's first year as manager, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

February 23, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

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

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43
2014     A+     407     .264     .333     .393      5     31     34     62

As a 16-year-old Max Kepler was big and fast with lots of tools and a unique background that included his parents meeting as performers in the German ballet, so when the Twins signed him out of Germany for $800,000 he was viewed as an intriguing, high-upside prospect. Five seasons later some of that intrigue and upside have vanished, in part because Kepler has struggled to stay healthy and in part because his performance beyond rookie-ball has underwhelmed.

Kepler played 163 games at Single-A during the past two seasons, hitting .253/.325/.405 with 14 homers. He also seems less and less likely to stick in center field, playing quite a bit of right field and first base. On the other hand Kepler was one of the Florida State League's youngest regulars last season at age 21, so even holding his own there is a positive sign. And after a bad first three months Kepler finished the year on a high note by hitting .303/.359/.442 in July and August.

Kepler is no longer incredibly young and no longer oozes upside, so now he simply needs to start hitting and in particular turn his 6-foot-4 frame and power potential into actual homers. Despite not playing above Single-A he was added to the 40-man roster, which means the clock is ticking on Kepler showing he belongs in the majors and the door is open for him to reach Minnesota at some point this season if he plays well.

14. Michael Cederoth | Starter | DOB: 11/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2014-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2014     RK+    11     10     3.55      45.2      41      1      42     18

In their ongoing effort to add more high-end velocity to the organization the Twins picked San Diego State right-hander Michael Cederoth in the third round last year. Cederoth was a starter in 2012 and 2013, but shifted to the bullpen in 2014 and topped out at 100 miles per hour while racking up 20 saves with a 2.28 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 52 innings. Despite that relief success Cederoth made his pro debut as a starter and fared pretty well for rookie-level Elizabethton.

Making the abbreviated outings that are common for rookie-ball starters, he posted a 3.55 ERA with just one homer allowed and a 42/18 K/BB ratio in 46 innings. His fastball predictably wasn't able to reach triple-digits as a starter, but Cederoth worked in the mid-90s and his control was encouraging. He walked 3.5 per nine innings, which is a lot, but in college Cederoth walked 5.2 per nine innings.

Converting hard-throwing college relievers into pro starters has repeatedly gone poorly for the Twins in recent years and Cederoth's mediocre results as a college starter leave even less room for optimism, but he's 6-foot-6 with an equally big fastball and there's always a role in the majors for that profile even if it's yet to be determined. This year he'll make the jump up to full-season competition at Single-A and try to develop his secondary pitches.

13. Amaurys Minier | Left Field | 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
2014     RK-    205     .292     .405     .520      8     21     29     52

When the Twins signed Amaurys Minier for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic there were immediate comparisons to Miguel Sano, but those quieted down when he hit .214 at rookie-ball in his pro debut. However, within the ugly batting average Minier showed a ton of power and last season he made it clear why the Twins were so high on him by crushing the Gulf Coast League in his second go-around.

Minier hit .292/.405/.520 with eight homers, 21 total extra-base hits, and 29 walks in 53 games, leading the GCL in homers and ranking third in both slugging percentage and OPS. And he did so while playing the entire season at age 18. He was signed as a shortstop, debuted at third base, and played left field and first base last season, but his eventual defensive home is secondary to Minier's offensive upside as a switch-hitting slugger.

Rookie-ball numbers should be viewed skeptically because the level of competition is inconsistent and the sample size is small, but Minier's production was special. He posted a .925 OPS, which is the highest by any Twins prospect in the Gulf Coast League during the past decade. And the only Twins prospects in the Gulf Coast League within 30 points of his OPS from 2005-2014 were Chris Parmelee (.901 in 2006), Aaron Hicks (.900 in 2008), and Kennys Vargas (.895 in 2010).

12. Stephen Gonsalves | Starter | DOB: 7/94 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2013-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-     5      2     0.63      14.1       8      0      18      7
         RK+     3      3     1.29      14.0      10      0      21      4
2014     RK+     6      6     2.79      29.0      23      1      26     10
         A-      8      8     3.19      36.2      31      1      44     11

Stephen Gonsalves was viewed as a first-round talent in 2013, but fell to the Twins in the fourth round following a suspension during his senior year of high school in California and then signed for second-round money at $700,000. His pro debut was impressive, as the 6-foot-5 lefty logged 28 rookie-ball innings with a 0.95 ERA and 39/11 K/BB ratio without allowing a homer. He stayed in rookie-ball to begin last season and then moved up to low Single-A, where he thrived at age 19.

Despite being younger than around 90 percent of the pitchers in the Midwest League he started eight games for Cedar Rapids with a 3.19 ERA and 44/11 K/BB ratio in 37 innings, striking out 30 percent of the batters he faced while opponents hit .228 with one homer. Toss in his rookie-ball numbers and through two pro seasons Gonsalves has a combined 2.39 ERA with 109 strikeouts and two homers allowed in 94 innings.

His control still needs work and Gonsalves' off-speed pitches generally receive mediocre reviews, both of which may need to change for his success to continue against tougher competition if his fastball stays in the low-90s. He also needs to handle a full-season workload for the first time at age 20, so expectations should be held in check, but Gonsalves looks like a potential mid-rotation starter down the road if things go well.

11. Trevor May | Starter | DOB: 9/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Phillies

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     AA     28     28     4.87     149.2     139     22     151     78
2013     AA     27     27     4.51     151.2     149     14     159     67
2014     AAA    18     18     2.84      98.1      75      4      94     39
         MLB    10      9     7.88      45.2      59      7      44     22

When the Twins acquired Trevor May from the Phillies along with Vance Worley in exchange for Ben Revere he was coming off an underwhelming 2012 season at Double-A. They had him repeat the level in 2013 with similarly mediocre results, but May moved up to Triple-A last year and took a big step forward. He posted a 2.84 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 98 innings, cut his walk rate by 15 percent, and allowed just four homers after previously struggling to limit long balls.

That earned May an August call-up to the majors, where everything unraveled. His debut was a mess, as he issued seven walks in two innings and 10 of 15 batters reached base. He continued to struggle for the next few starts and finished with a hideous 7.88 ERA, but May actually showed signs of progress down the stretch. He posted a strong 41/9 K/BB ratio in his final 37 innings, averaged 92 miles per hour with his fastball, and generated a solid number of swinging strikes.

There's no doubt that it was a sour first taste of the majors, but May at least showed glimpses of his potential to match the 18 good starts at Triple-A. He'll likely be a part of the Twins' rotation at some point in 2015 and if May can throw strikes he's capable of being a mid-rotation starter. At age 25 and with 400 innings between Double-A and Triple-A his leash may not be particularly long considering the Twins were so hesitant to promote him in the first place.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Uber, which is offering a free ride to first-time users who sign up with the promo code "UberGleeman."

March 25, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

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

15. 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
2013     A-     537     .253     .366     .416     15     43     68    125

Travis Harrison was selected by the Twins with the 50th pick in the 2011 draft as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent and signed away from USC for $1.05 million. Touted as one of the best bats in the high school class, Harrison had an impressive debut at rookie-ball and then showed some of his flaws last year while moving up to full-season competition, hitting just .253 while striking out 125 times in 129 games.

Combined with his rookie-ball showing Harrison has 176 strikeouts in 189 games, which is a red flag in the low minors. Beyond that his power has been somewhat underwhelming after being billed as elite coming out of high school, with 20 homers and a .161 Isolated Power in 790 total plate appearances. That's certainly not a lack of power, especially considering Harrison played last season at age 20, but given questions about his ability to stick at third base he needs to mash.

One bright spot is that Harrison drew 68 walks last season and also got plunked by 14 pitches, which suggest he should be able to get on base at a decent clip even if all the strikeouts keep his batting average modest. Ultimately much of his value depends on where he ends up defensively and how much power he can develop by the time he reaches Minnesota. So far he's shown enough to be an intriguing prospect, but the edges are still pretty rough.

14. Danny Santana | Shortstop | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A-     409     .247     .298     .373      7     27     25     98
2012     A+     547     .286     .329     .410      8     38     29     77
2013     AA     587     .297     .333     .386      2     34     24     94

Danny Santana is generally more highly thought of as a prospect than his performance in the minors would suggest based on the idea that athleticism, speed, and defense will eventually allow him to become a starting-caliber shortstop in the majors. At age 23 he still has an opportunity to develop further, but in the meantime he hasn't been all that impressive, making a lot of errors (for whatever that's worth) along with little power and awful strike zone control.

Last season he hit .297 at Double-A, but managed just two homers and 24 walks in 131 games on the way to a modest .333 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage. His numbers at high Single-A in 2012 were similar and combined during the past two seasons he totaled 10 homers in 1,134 plate appearances, struck out 171 times versus 53 walks, and was successful on just 66 percent of his steal attempts. Right now he projects as a sub par offensive player.

The good news is that Santana is still pretty young and the bar for offense at shortstop is very low, so even hitting, say, .275 with minimal power and a poor walk rate would make him a solid all-around player if his glove is a huge asset. If instead his defense at shortstop is merely decent, then his current offensive skill set leaves Santana looking like something less than a building block, even considering the Twins' longstanding inability to develop competent middle infielders.

13. Max Kepler | First Base | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43

When the Twins signed Max Kepler out of Germany for $800,000 in 2009 he oozed potential. At age 16 he was still growing into a 6-foot-4 frame and had uncommon athleticism along with the unique background of parents who met while performing in the ballet. He was seen as a potential center fielder long term and performed well in the low minors, but Kepler took a step backward last season and has lost a lot of upside as he's matured physically.

He played primarily first base at low Single-A last season, in part because of an elbow injury that delayed this 2013 debut and in part because he no longer has the speed to handle center field on a regular basis. Going from center field to first base or an outfield corner puts far more pressure on the development of Kepler's bat and he hit .237 with a high strikeout rate last year. However, he also showed solid power and patience with nine homers and 24 walks in 61 games.

Kepler is still just 21 years old and still has considerable potential, but his upside has shrunk dramatically. At this point he needs to stay healthy and put up some big numbers offensively to re-emerge as a top prospect, as he's yet to play more than 61 games in a season and yet to advance past low Single-A. If the power arrives Kepler could reach Double-A this year and work his way into the Twins' plans for 2015, but for now he's a question mark.

12. Michael Tonkin | Reliever | DOB: 11/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-30

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-     48      3     3.87      76.2      82      3      69     24
2012     A-     22      0     1.38      39.0      29      1      53      9
         A+     22      0     2.97      30.1      24      2      44     11
2013     AA     22      0     2.22      24.1      21      0      30      8
         AAA    30      0     4.41      32.2      33      3      36      8
         MLB     9      0     0.79      11.1       9      0      10      3

Michael Tonkin was a 30th-round pick out of high school in 2008 and looked like a mediocre starter prospect in the low minors, but Jason Kubel's brother-in-law has emerged as a potential impact arm since switching to the bullpen full time in 2011. Tonkin stands 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s fastball and has racked up 242 strikeouts in 213 innings during the past three seasons, including an impressive nine-appearance debut with the Twins.

And unlike a lot of hard-throwing young arms Tonkin has also shown good control with a career walk rate of 2.4 per nine innings and just 19 walks in 68 innings last season while rising from Double-A to the majors as a 23-year-old. He's huge, he throws a very hard fastball-slider combo, he misses lots of bats, and he actually knows where the ball is going most of the time, which is the most reliable recipe for a good relief prospect.

Bullpen depth is one of the Twins' few strengths at this point, making it unclear how early Tonkin could be in the big-league relief mix this season, but he certainly looks MLB-ready and projects as a potential late-inning setup man for Glen Perkins. As a reliever in a stacked farm system Tonkin is often overlooked, but in terms of the ability to make an immediate impact few Twins prospects are better.

11. Lewis Thorpe | Starter | DOB: 12/95 | Throws: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      8     2.05      44.0      32      2      64      6

Investing baseball's most resources into scouting Australia has yet to pay huge dividends for the Twins, producing a handful of marginal big leaguers and Grant Balfour, who starred elsewhere. Lewis Thorpe has a chance to change that after signing for $500,000 as a 16-year-old in 2012 and dominating rookie-ball in his pro debut last season, posting a 2.05 ERA and 64/6 K/BB ratio in 44 innings against Gulf Coast League hitters.

At age 18 he works in the low-90s and tops out in the mid-90s, complementing his fastball with a changeup that draws praise, and the extent to which he sliced up opponents last season suggests he's ready to skip a level of rookie-ball and go directly to low Single-A. Thorpe is the youngest of my top 20 prospects and if you want to feel really old consider that he was born six months after the Twins drafted Doug Mientkiewicz, so he's a long way from the big leagues.

In terms of long-term upside, however, few prospects in the Twins' farm system can compete with the 6-foot-2 left-hander and he has more polish than most rookie-ball pitchers. His place on this list reflects how I'm generally conservative when it comes to rankings prospects--and particularly pitchers--who've yet to face full-season competition, but Thorpe has cracked some prominent MLB-wide top-100 lists.

April 10, 2013

Twins Notes: Extensions, saves, prospects, and premature press releases

Justin Morneau

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Justin Morneau approached the Twins during spring training about a contract extension and they weren't interested, which is the right stance to take. Morneau is an impending free agent, but even setting aside his extensive injury history signing a good but not great 31-year-old first baseman to a multi-year contract isn't a great idea unless he were to take significantly less than his current $14 million salary.

Morneau hasn't topped an .800 OPS while playing more than 100 games since 2009 and while his .267/.333/.440 production in 134 games last season was encouraging after back-to-back years ruined by a concussion it was mediocre for a first baseman. Among the 29 regular first basemen he ranked 14th in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage, and 16th in slugging percentage. Toss in the health question marks and that's an awfully shaky investment.

There's also a chance of Morneau upping his production to pre-concussion levels, but even then they'd have an appealing option of tendering him a one-year "qualifying offer" that was worth $13.4 million this winter. If he accepts they get Morneau back for his age-32 season at a similar salary without a long-term commitment. If he declines and signs elsewhere they get a first-round draft pick. If he isn't traded by then, of course, which is another reason to avoid an extension.

Scott Diamond's delayed comeback from December elbow surgery created an opening in the rotation before the season had even started and Samuel Deduno's groin injury ruled him out, so the Twins turned to Cole De Vries ... and he had to be placed on the disabled list with a strained forearm before his first turn came up. Already scrambling for starters, the Twins called up Triple-A left-hander Pedro Hernandez, who had the benefit of being on the 40-man roster.

Hernandez was acquired from the White Sox along with Eduardo Escobar for Francisco Liriano in July and ranked 35th on my annual list of Twins prospects. He's a soft-tossing control artist with extreme platoon splits that could make it tough for him to stick as a starter, but the 23-year-old fared well enough in his Twins debut. Assuming that Diamond avoids further setbacks Hernandez may not be needed again for a while.

• One side effect of Ron Gardenhire holding Glen Perkins back for "save situations" that may not actually arrive is that lesser relievers are forced into pressure-packed spots. For instance, in the eighth inning Friday left-handed Orioles slugger Chris Davis came up with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game. Situations don't get any more important and if there was no such thing as the "save" statistic Perkins--being the best reliever and a lefty--would be the obvious choice.

Instead, with the game in the balance, Gardenhire called on 25-year-old rookie Tyler Robertson, who served up a grand slam and was promptly demoted to Triple-A the next day. He barely made the team out of spring training, has yet to show he can consistently get big leaguers out, and was apparently one bad pitch from going back to the minors, yet the manager chose Robertson to face Davis while Perkins watched. And people say guys like me are obsessed with statistics.

Since taking over for Matt Capps as the Twins' closer Perkins has converted 18 of 20 saves with a 2.01 ERA and 45-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings. That's incredibly good pitching, but the role change has also made Perkins less of a weapon thanks to such strict usage. And because the Twins' overall bullpen depth is weak and their only other standout reliever, Jared Burton, needs regular days off holding Perkins back for save situations will lead to some ugly matchups.

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America put together a list of the youngest prospects at each level of the minors, which includes Miguel Sano as the youngest player in the Florida State League and Oswaldo Arcia as the sixth-youngest player in the International League. Age relative to the level of competition is an extremely important factor in evaluating prospects, so keep that in mind when looking at their raw numbers this season.

• Here's where the Twins' top 20 prospects are beginning the season (Rochester is Triple-A, New Britain is Double-A, Fort Myers is high Single-A, and Cedar Rapids is low Single-A):

 1. Miguel Sano      Fort Myers       11. Max Kepler       Cedar Rapids
 2. Byron Buxton     Cedar Rapids     12. Luke Bard        Cedar Rapids
 3. Oswaldo Arcia    Rochester        13. Travis Harrison  Cedar Rapids
 4. Aaron Hicks      Minnesota        14. Mason Melotakis  Cedar Rapids
 5. Alex Meyer       New Britain      15. Jorge Polanco    Cedar Rapids
 6. Kyle Gibson      Rochester        16. J.T. Chargois    Cedar Rapids
 7. Eddie Rosario    Fort Myers       17. Niko Goodrum     Cedar Rapids
 8. Trevor May       New Britain      18. Hudson Boyd      Cedar Rapids
 9. J.O. Berrios     Cedar Rapids     19. Levi Michael     Fort Myers
10. Joe Benson       Rochester        20. Chris Herrmann   Rochester

No big surprises, although Byron Buxton moving to low Single-A and full-season ball at age 19 instead of spending more time in rookie-ball is noteworthy, as is Trevor May repeating Double-A at age 23 after spending all of last season there in the Phillies' system. Max Kepler will eventually join Buxton in the Cedar Rapids outfield, but for now he's rehabbing an injury in extended spring training. And some of the pitchers, including J.O. Berrios, will have their 2013 debuts delayed.

Wilkin Ramirez making the Opening Day roster as the designated "bench bat" based on a good spring training was an odd choice because he's 27 years old with a decade of awful plate discipline and underwhelming overall production in the minors. In adding Ramirez the Twins needed to clear space on the 40-man roster and they did that by designating Alex Burnett for assignment, which exposed the 24-year-old reliever to the waiver wire and got him claimed by the Blue Jays.

I'm hardly a big Burnett fan and praised the Twins for finally deciding he was better off at Triple-A, but losing him for nothing in order to add Ramirez is different. They thought Burnett was worthy of a bullpen job in 2010 at age 22 and worth keeping in the bullpen in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013 he's not worth a spot on a 40-man roster that includes Drew Butera, Caleb Thielbar, and Tim Wood? All so they could add a 27-year-old corner outfielder who's hit .255/.310/.430 at Triple-A.

• Tuesday morning the Twins sent out a press release announcing an "early entry program" at Target Field offering fans the chance to pay an extra $15 for the ability to get in 45 minutes early to watch batting practice. About five hours later they issued another press release retracting that offer because it was "not fully vetted across the Twins organization" and "we apologize for a lack of internal communication which led to the premature release of this misinformation." So ... yeah.

• Through eight games Twins pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in baseball with 38, which is 4.9 per nine innings. They also ranked dead last among all teams in strikeouts in 2011 and 2012 while averaging 6.0 and 5.9 per nine innings.

Josh Willingham has already been plunked twice and is well on his way to extending his streak of ranking among the league's top 10 in hit by pitches every season since 2007. Willingham has a career on-base percentage of .362, but if you removed the hit by pitches it would drop to .346.

Kevin Correia isn't missing any bats, but he induced 12 and 15 ground-ball outs in his first two starts after getting 12 or more ground-ball outs just three times in his final 13 starts last season.

Joe Mauer moved past Gary Gaetti for sixth place on the Twins' all-time hit list with 1,277. In getting those first 1,276 hits Gaetti made 1,077 more outs than Mauer. Seriously.

Aaron Hicks joined Rich Becker in 1993 and Butera in 2010 as the only Twins position players to strike out three times in their MLB debut.

• Butera broke his left hand at Triple-A, so now he'll make $700,000 on Rochester's disabled list.

• "Roy Smalley's Fist List" is a thing, apparently.

Ben Revere is learning some very important things in Philadelphia.

• On this week's "Gleeman and the Geek" episode we talked lots about Hicks' slow start, Perkins' excellence, and Gardenhire's decision-making.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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.

Older Posts »