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.


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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.


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March 15, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Chris Herrmann | Catcher | DOB: 10/87 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2009-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     RK+    277     .297     .391     .453      7     22     33     40
2010     A+     408     .219     .310     .301      2     22     41     74
2011     A+     106     .310     .404     .425      1      7     15      6
         AA     406     .258     .380     .392      7     26     64     68

Chris Herrmann played mostly left field at the University of Miami and stayed in the outfield to begin his professional career, but the 2009 sixth-round pick has since moved behind the plate while showing enough to possibly stick at catcher long term. He's still rough around the edges defensively at age 24, totaling 11 errors and seven passed balls in 108 games, but Herrmann has also thrown out 37 percent of steal attempts.

He's not quite a full-time catcher, seeing about half of his action last year as a corner outfielder and designated hitter, but even as a part-time catcher with some question marks defensively Herrmann is the closest thing the Twins have to a decent prospect at the position. Offensively his primary skill is fantastic plate discipline, as Herrmann tied for the system lead with 79 walks in 121 games between high Single-A and Double-A last year while striking out only 74 times.

Unfortunately he also batted just .269 and is a career .258 hitter with just 17 home runs and a .377 slugging percentage in 287 games. As a full-time catcher with sound defensive skills the walk-drawing alone could be enough to make him a starting-caliber all-around player, but if instead Herrmann ends up as a defensively challenged part-time catcher and part-time corner outfielder the bar will be raised enough offensively that he'll need to add some power.

19. Corey Williams | Reliever | DOB: 7/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+     7      0     3.86      11.2      12      0      11      5

As a Vanderbilt freshman Corey Williams made a name for himself on YouTube with a clip that's been viewed a half-million times showing him taking a line drive off the leg and recovering to get the out at first base before writhing in pain with what turned out to be a shattered kneecap. And if watching someone's kneecap explode on the field isn't enough, the X-rays are equally cringe-inducing.

Williams recovered from the gruesome injury but wasn't effective as a sophomore, throwing 38 innings with a 4.49 ERA and 37-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a reliever, but the Twins picked the left-hander in the third-round on the basis of his mid-90s fastball. And according to Baseball America he may have gone even earlier if not for the assumption he'd be a tough sign, which is why the Twins had to spend double the recommended slot amount with a $575,000 bonus.

He debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton with a 3.86 ERA and 11-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 innings. Between college and the minors he's thrown just 67 innings during the past three years, so staying healthy and getting some consistent work should be the primary goal for Williams in 2012. He has the raw stuff to move pretty quickly through the system if the Twins keep him as a reliever.

18. Angel Morales | Left Field | DOB: 11/89 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A-     418     .266     .329     .455     13     40     30    104
2010     A-     247     .289     .381     .474      4     24     24     65
         A+     301     .272     .347     .349      1     15     28     75
2011     A+     138     .264     .326     .388      3      9     13     36

Angel Morales was the Twins' third-round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2007 and emerged as one of their top prospects by showing an impressive power-speed combo in the low minors. He was a rookie-ball monster in 2008, hitting .301/.413/.623 in 54 games, and then slugged .455 at low Single-A as a 19-year-old. His power disappeared in 2010, but Morales hit .280 with a .362 on-base percentage while improving his plate discipline between two levels of Single-A.

Even while he was thriving as a young center fielder in the low minors Morales' high strikeout rates stood out as a potential red flag, but it was injuries that did him in last season. He repeated high Single-A and missed all but 37 games with an elbow injury, struggling when in Fort Myers' lineup and then going unpicked in the Rule 5 draft when the Twins opted against protecting him with a 40-man roster spot.

Morales is still just 22 years old, so if healthy he's capable of re-emerging as a top prospect this season, but five years into his pro career he's yet to advance past Single-A and his upside remains more about physical tools than actual production. Staying in the lineup will be the biggest key for Morales in 2012, but he also needs to either cut down on the strikeouts or rediscover the power he displayed early on.

17. Max Kepler | Left 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

Signed out of Germany as a 16-year-old in 2009 and given an $800,000 bonus that ranks as the highest ever for a European position player, Max Kepler's first two pro seasons have been encouraging despite modest raw numbers. He's hit a combined .272/.347/.356 in 87 games between two levels of rookie-ball, upping his power from non-existent to sub par last season at Elizabethton while maintaining a solid walk rate.

Kepler is years from potentially entering the Twins' plans and at this point it's tough to even get a feel for what type of player he might become, but for a raw teenager to hold his own right away is certainly a positive sign. His physical tools include above-average speed and athleticism, leaving center field as a possible long-term home, and at 6-foot-4 he should add significant strength along the way.

In addition to being an intriguing prospect Kepler also has a very interesting back-story, as his American-born mother and Polish-born father met while starring together in the Berlin ballet. Kepler should provide a clearer picture of his upside if the Twins let him take a crack at full-season competition for the first time in 2012, but it's important to remember that he didn't turn 19 years old until last month.

16. Niko Goodrum | Shortstop | DOB: 2/92 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    128     .161     .219     .195      0      4      9     34
2011     RK+    230     .275     .352     .382      2     15     21     56

Niko Goodrum had one of the worst debuts you'll ever see from a second-round pick, batting .161 with 34 strikeouts in 36 games at rookie-ball after the Twins selected him 71st overall out of a Georgia high school in 2010. Those struggles weren't overly alarming because Goodrum was considered very raw at the time of the draft and last season the switch-hitting shortstop's impressive physical tools were on full display.

He moved up one level of rookie-ball and hit .275/.352/.382 with 15 extra-base hits and eight steals in 59 games for a star-studded Elizabethton lineup that also included Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Goodrum still had trouble making consistent contact, whiffing 56 times in 230 plate appearances, but he also drew 21 walks and finished the Appalachian League season on a very strong note by hitting .341/.438/.489 in 26 games during the final month.

Like most teenage shortstops he made a ton of miscues, committing 24 errors in 54 starts, but Goodrum's arm is shortstop-caliber and depending on how his 6-foot-3 frame fills out there's a shot he could play the position long term. Goodrum also saw some action at second base and seemingly has the skills to be a center fielder if moving away from the infield proves necessary. He's a long way from the majors, but ranks among the Twins' most intriguing prospects.

February 16, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Tom Stuifbergen | Starter | DOB: 9/88 | Throws: Right | Sign: Netherlands

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+    13     13     3.28      79.2      79      4      69      6
2010     A-     19     17     2.98      93.2      99      5      88     23

Tom Stuifbergen signed with the Twins out of the Netherlands as an 18-year-old in 2006 and missed all of 2008 following shoulder surgery, but bounced back to be a member of the Dutch pitching staff coached by Bert Blyleven in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. At the time he had never thrown a pitch above rookie-ball, yet Stuifbergen matched up with Ubaldo Jimenez and tossed four shutout innings versus the Dominican Republic in the tournament's biggest upset.

After playing in the WBC he spent 2009 at rookie-level Elizabethton, posting a brilliant 69-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings while inducing 64 percent ground balls, but Stuifbergen also missed some time with elbow problems. Last season was a similar story, as the 6-foot-4 right-hander fared very well at low Single-A with a 2.98 ERA and 88/23 K/BB ratio in 94 innings, but missed a chunk of the season with more elbow issues.

Clearly staying healthy is key for Stuifbergen, who's appeared in just 40 pro games, but even in limited action a 169/33 K/BB ratio in 188 innings is impressive and he's still just 22 years old. His raw stuff isn't overpowering, but Stuifbergen throws strikes, misses a fair number of bats, and induces grounders in bunches. Right now Nick Blackburn seems like a decent comparison, but if he can stay healthy for a while and add some velocity he could have mid-rotation upside.

19. Chris Parmelee | First Base | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     A-     289     .239     .385     .496     14     27     52     83
2009     A+     501     .258     .359     .441     16     44     65    109
2010     A+      93     .338     .430     .463      2      5     13     11
         AA     463     .275     .341     .389      6     33     43     70

Through his first four pro seasons Chris Parmelee stood out in a system full of toolsy, athletic hitting prospects because his game was about power and patience, but last year at the Twins' urging the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft totally overhauled his approach. It accomplished what the Twins had in mind, as he hit .285 between high Single-A and Double-A after coming into the season as a .250 hitter and also struck out 43 percent less often than his career rate.

Unfortunately, as his contact and average increased Parmelee's power vanished. He homered just eight times in 133 games and his Isolated Power was 42 percent below his career mark. His walk rate also fell by 22 percent. Add it all up and despite a 35-point uptick in average and 43 percent fewer whiffs his on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS were all lower than each of the previous two years. In other words, the change in approach made him worse.

Or at least it did in 2010. Clearly the Twins felt that, despite solid overall production in the low minors, Parmelee's original approach made him unlikely to succeed in the majors. And they're probably right, as most of the majors' best low-average, high-power hitters actually hit above .280 in the minors. On other hand, regardless of the approach being used if Parmelee can't rediscover his power everything else will be a moot point. Power is the non-negotiable part.

18. Alex Burnett | Reliever | DOB: 7/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-12

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     28     25     3.76     143.2     151     12      84     36
2009     A+     18      0     1.99      22.2      14      0      26      7
         AA     40      0     1.79      55.1      36      2      52     19
2010     AAA    14      0     5.49      19.2      26      1      18      8
         MLB    41      0     5.29      47.2      52      6      37     23

Alex Burnett thrived while transitioning from starter to reliever at high Single-A and Double-A in 2009 and last April the Twins bypassed several more experienced relief prospects to call him up when they needed immediate bullpen help with injuries to Clay Condrey and Jose Mijares. He found success right away, throwing 31 innings with a 26-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.30 ERA through mid-June, but then fell apart and kept struggling after a demotion to Triple-A.

Burnett allowed 20 runs in his final 16 innings with the Twins and had a 5.49 ERA in 20 innings at Triple-A after posting a 1.85 mark between Single-A and Double-A in 2009. It wasn't pretty, but Burnett's low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider combination showed plenty of potential and it's important to remember that he was a 22-year-old in his second season of relief work. Plus, with a 4.54 xFIP in his 48-inning debut Burnett pitched better than his 5.29 ERA shows.

He'll get another chance to establish himself in the majors this year, perhaps right away, and is capable of becoming a key component of the Twins' bullpen long term. Burnett has thrown a total of 98 innings in the minors since becoming a reliever, posting a 2.57 ERA and 96/34 K/BB ratio while allowing just three homers. He obviously needs to bounce back and iron out some rough spots, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him in a late-inning role down the stretch.

17. Carlos Gutierrez | Reliever | DOB: 9/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     16      0     2.10      25.2      23      0      19      7
2009     A+     11     10     1.32      54.2      37      1      33     22
         AA     22      6     6.19      52.1      62      6      32     24
2010     AA     32     16     4.57     122.0     136      7      81     50

Carlos Gutierrez began his college career as a starter, but moved to the bullpen after Tommy John surgery and served as the University of Miami's closer in 2008 before the Twins selected him 27th overall with the compensatory draft pick received for the Angels signing Torii Hunter. In the three seasons since then Gutierrez has moved back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, but his success as a starter has been limited and he projects as a full-time reliever.

Because of the frequent role changes it's difficult to get a handle on Gutierrez's upside by way of his numbers. He's been dominant at times and awful at others, but the overall performance is mediocre with a 3.93 ERA and 171-to-105 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 259 innings. However, as more or less a one-pitch pitcher Gutierrez should fare better when working exclusively as a reliever and that one pitch is a sinker that induced 60 percent ground balls at Double-A.

Once the Twins cease trying him as a starter Gutierrez has a chance to move very quickly and perhaps even join the big-league bullpen this year, but I'd like to see him thrive in a relief role for a few months before assuming he'll make a late-inning impact. Right now Gutierrez's upside is based more on the praise for his "power sinker" than his actual performance, but mid-90s velocity and a 60 percent ground-ball rate are pretty solid building blocks for relief success.

16. 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

American-born Kathy Kepler and Polish-born Marek Rozycki met while starring together in the Berlin ballet and their son, Max Kepler, signed with the Twins out of Germany as a 16-year-old in July of 2009, getting an $800,000 bonus that ranks as the largest ever given to a European position player. When he wasn't busy getting his driver's license and going to high school in a foreign country, Kepler held his own while debuting in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

He showed limited power, but hit .286 with a decent walk rate and, most importantly for a raw 17-year-old, continued to impress with his physical tools. Asked to assess Kepler's first season Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff focused primarily on his work ethic and success "navigating the baseball life on and off the field," but also pointed to his "unbelievably athletic body ... pretty swing, terrific bat speed, and strength." In other words, so far so good.

For now at least Kepler projects as a potential center fielder, but that may change quickly once his 6-foot-4 frame fills out and he played all three outfield spots in rookie-ball, where Baseball America named him the ninth-best prospect in the upside-filled GCL. He's likely still a season or two from facing full-season competition, so thinking about how Kepler might look roaming the outfield at Target Field is very premature, but if he gets there the ceiling could be sky high.

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