March 31, 2015

Opening Day roster takes shape as Twins choose veterans over upside

aaron hicks september1

Some were expected and some were unexpected, but all of the Twins' slew of roster moves skew toward veteran mediocrity. Jordan Schafer is the starting center fielder and Shane Robinson is his backup, with both Aaron Hicks and Eddie Rosario sent to Triple-A. Tommy Milone is the fifth starter, Mike Pelfrey stays on the roster as a reliever, and Blaine Boyer also has a bullpen spot, with Trevor May, Alex Meyer, and Michael Tonkin all sent back at Triple-A.

When viewed individually the moves have reasonable explanations, but collectively they signal that despite the switch from Ron Gardenhire to Paul Molitor the Twins still fetishize age and experience even when it comes attached to poor performances and nonexistent upside. This is a team projected to finish in last place following four straight 90-loss seasons and they're still doing whatever they can to delay fully turning the keys over to the prospects they've been stockpiling.

Two years ago the Twins traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere in the same offseason and handed Hicks the center field job at age 23 and with zero experience at Triple-A. He'd played very well that spring to help convince them it was the right move, but flopped once the games counted and was one of the worst rookies in Twins history. Last season, following another strong spring performance, the Twins handed Hicks the center field job again and he again struggled.

This time around it seemed like Hicks had the inside track on a third crack at the Opening Day gig, in part because Molitor seemed at least a little bit less fed up with Hicks than Gardenhire had been and in part because the alternatives were lacking. But when Hicks hit .206 this spring and failed to make some plays defensively they decided not to bother, demoting him back to Rochester while splitting center field between a 28-year-old waiver claim and a 30-year-old minor-league signing.

Schafer will get the bulk of the starts in center field after playing well in 41 games last year when the Twins claimed him off waivers from the Braves. Matching that .285/.345/.362 line while stealing bases and playing decent defense would make Schafer a solid regular, but the problem is that there's nothing in his track record to suggest he's anywhere near that capable offensively and his defensive numbers are sub par in center field.

Schafer has 1,400 plate appearances in the majors and has hit .229/.311/.310 with 360 strikeouts and 142 walks. And he was even worse at Triple-A, hitting .225/.278/.294 with 95 strikeouts and 35 walks in 120 games. He's been particularly helpless against left-handed pitching, hitting .167 off them as a big leaguer. If you're going to play Schafer regularly it should be only versus right-handed pitching, so in theory a platoon with the right-handed-hitting Robinson makes sense.

Robinson can't hit either, unfortunately. He's a .231/.303/.308 hitter in 452 plate appearances in the majors and a .266/.331/.377 hitter in 1,130 plate appearances at Triple-A. Spotting him only versus lefties would help Robinson in the same way that, say, only eating McDonald's twice a week would help a diet. If you're going to use Schafer and Robinson a righty/lefty platoon makes sense, but it's still probably going to be a really bad platoon.

Hicks' remaining window of opportunity with the Twins was narrow to begin with because they've got the best outfield prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton, starting the year at Double-A, but the Twins couldn't even stand to let Hicks keep the position warm until Buxton is ready. That doesn't mean Hicks is a totally lost cause any more than handing him the Opening Day job in 2013 (or 2014) meant he was totally ready to thrive, but it does mean he might be done in Minnesota.

As more and more people jump on the "Hicks just can't hit MLB pitching" bandwagon, it's worth noting that he already has hit MLB pitching as long as it's left-handed. Hicks has a .758 career OPS off lefties, which is higher than, among others, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. And the switch-hitter had similar splits in the minors. If there's any role for which Hicks is actually suited it's platooning against lefties, but instead the Twins will use Robinson in that same role.

For all the talk of Rosario having an impressive spring training he ended up hitting .233/.227/.442 with nine strikeouts and zero walks in 17 games. Spring training numbers aren't worth much and there's certainly plenty he could have done outside of actual games to impress the Twins' coaches, but when your batting average is higher than your on-base percentage and your strikeout-to-walk ratio is infinity that suggests there's some more development needed.

Rosario also struggled at Double-A last season, missing the first 50 games while suspended for marijuana and then hitting just .237/.277/.396 with a 68/17 K/BB ratio in 79 games. Perhaps the spring hype surrounding Rosario was mostly driven by the team's lack of faith in Hicks and their hope that Rosario would step forward as an alternative. Instead they saw what his track record shows, which is a talented 23-year-old with lots of rough edges and zero high-minors success.

Tommy Milone Twins

Milone was horrible for the Twins after they acquired him from the A's for Sam Fuld on July 31, but it was revealed later that he was pitching hurt and needed surgery to remove a benign tumor from his neck. Prior to the trade Milone was a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, albeit one with mid-80s velocity and little upside. He's still relatively young at 28 and still relatively cheap at $3 million, but the Twins have younger, cheaper, higher-upside options in May or Meyer.

Pelfrey made it clear that he's upset about being moved to the bullpen, saying the Twins never intended to make the fifth starter competition a fair fight. He might be right, but certainly there was no bias against Pelfrey when the Twins signed him for $5 million and then re-signed him for $11 million. He's given them plenty of reason for bias during the past two seasons by going 5-16 with a 5.56 ERA and getting hurt.

Pelfrey is a 31-year-old former top-10 draft pick who's spent a decade in the majors without ever making more than two relief appearances in a season, so it's easy to see why he'd be against the idea of full-time bullpen work. However, given his lack of success as a starter, durability concerns following multiple injuries, and career-long inability to develop useful secondary pitches to pair with a hard fastball relief work may suit him best. Or at least less bad.

He throws basically one pitch and that tends not to cut it as a starter, which is why Pelfrey has a 4.56 career ERA with 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. However, being a one-pitch pitcher can be much less of an issue when you're only working an inning at a time and if Pelfrey can follow in the footsteps of many starters-turned-relievers by adding 2-3 miles per hour to his fastball the Twins might have something. Or he might just be a bad pitcher. You know, Occam's razor and all.

May is 25 years old with 400 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and amid an awful overall debut he posted a 41/9 K/BB ratio in his final 37 innings. Meyer is also 25 and started 27 games at Triple-A last season, leading the league in strikeouts. Neither is a can't-miss prospects by any means, but they've pitched well in the minors, throw hard while generating strikeouts, and unlike Milone or Pelfrey might actually be part of the next good Twins team.

Tonkin and his mid-90s fastball are going back to Triple-A for a third straight season at age 25 despite being good there with a 3.48 ERA and 82/20 K/BB ratio in 78 innings and being good for the Twins when given a chance with a 3.26 ERA and 26/9 K/BB ratio in 30 innings. They opted to keep Boyer, a 33-year-old journeyman with a 4.63 ERA, poor control, and just 191 strikeouts in 274 innings who was signed to a minor-league deal in January.

Spring training presented the Twins with plenty of opportunities to fill the margins of the roster with younger, unproven, higher-upside players, many of whom already have significant Triple-A experience. May and Meyer were viable fifth starter and long reliever options. Hicks and Rosario each could have started or platooned in center field. Tonkin could have taken his first extended shot at a setup role and there were also several other intriguing bullpen candidates.

Instead they'll all keep waiting, often in Rochester for a second or third go-around, in favor of proven veteran mediocrity like Pelfrey, Milone, Schafer, Eduardo Nunez, Boyer, and Robinson. Barring last-minute changes the Opening Day roster will include a grand total of just four players who're 25 years old or younger: Designated hitter Kennys Vargas, shortstop Danny Santana, left fielder Oswaldo Arcia, and Rule 5 pick J.R. Graham. Twins will have to keep waiting too.


For a lengthy--and surprisingly heated--discussion of the Twins' roster decisions, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

February 16, 2015

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2015: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

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

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2014     DSL    174     .257     .385     .451      5     18     26     24

Lewin Diaz was the Twins' biggest ticket item from 2013 international spending, signing for $1.4 million out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old. Baseball America referred to the 6-foot-4 first baseman's "big, lumbering body" and wrote that "his value is all in his bat." That player type normally doesn't interest the Twins, but Diaz made his pro debut last season in the Dominican Summer League and batted .257/.385/.451 with 18 extra-base hits and 26 walks in 43 games.

Rookie-ball numbers are to be taken with large grains of salt and the Dominican Summer League is even a step down from that in terms of competition, so Diaz's actual numbers there don't mean much. However, the fact that he hit a bunch of homers and doubles while walking more than he struck out is certainly a positive first impression by a 17-year-old. He was signed for his bat and so far his bat looks pretty good.

For some context his Isolated Power was 125 percent higher than the Dominican Summer League average and he drew 45 percent more walks than the DSL as a whole. When your body type is compared to guys like David Ortiz and Ryan Howard at age 16 you obviously need to hit a ton to make it to the big leagues, which Diaz will look to continue doing at rookie-ball in his American debut this year.

19. Chih-Wei Hu | Starter | DOB: 12/93 | Throws: Right | Sign: Taiwan

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      5     2.45      36.2      28      0      39      8
2014     RK+     3      3     1.69      16.0       7      0      16      2
         A-     10      9     2.29      55.0      40      0      48     13

Signed out of Taiwan for $220,000 in late 2012 as an 18-year-old, Chih-Wei Hu had a strong debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2013 with a 2.45 ERA and 39/8 K/BB ratio in 37 innings. He began last season one level higher at rookie-level Elizabethton, but after just three impressive starts there the Twins decided to promote him to low Single-A. Hu didn't miss a beat, holding Midwest League hitters to a .201 batting average and zero homers in 55 innings.

Hu draws the most praise for his mature approach, strike-throwing ability, and quality changeup, but the 6-foot-1 right-hander is hardly a soft-tosser and can reach the mid-90s with his fastball at times. He has a 103/23 K/BB ratio in 108 career innings through age 20 and has yet to allow a home run in 420 plate appearances despite facing older competition in the vast majority of those matchups.

It's important to keep expectations in check for low-minors pitchers and Hu still needs to show that he can handle a full-season workload as a starter, but he's someone to keep an eye on this season and could rank much higher on this list next year. He was highly thought of as a prospect before signing, has fared very well against older competition at three different levels, and backs up the numbers with quality raw stuff.

18. Taylor Rogers | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2012-11

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      6     1.80      30.0      20      2      39      5
         A-      9      4     2.70      33.1      33      5      35     12
2013     A-      3      3     7.20      10.0      14      1      10      4
         A+     22     21     2.55     130.2     119      5      83     32
2014     AA     24     24     3.29     145.0     150      4     113     37

Taylor Rogers went 13-18 with a 5.35 ERA in three seasons at the University of Kentucky, but the Twins picked him in the 11th round of the 2012 draft and now he's 26-16 with a 2.94 ERA in three seasons as a pro. His success has come despite mediocre strikeout rates, but that inability to miss bats against Single-A and Double-A hitters--and the lack of upside that suggests--is what keeps him from being considered a top prospect.

Last year at Double-A he posted a 3.29 ERA in 24 starts, but managed just 113 strikeouts in 145 innings for a rate below the Eastern League average. It wasn't all smoke and mirrors, though. Rogers had a good walk rate, allowed just four homers in 606 plate appearances, and induced lots of ground balls. And while he was much more effective against lefties than righties, the 6-foot-3 southpaw still held righties to a .367 slugging percentage with a 73/29 K/BB ratio.

Rogers was relatively young for Double-A at age 23 and his velocity has improved to the point that he regularly works in the low-90s, so he's certainly not without potential. Right now he projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but an uptick in strikeouts or improved control to go along with the strong ground-ball rates would give him mid-rotation upside. Either way, he's a candidate to reach the majors in 2015 and the Twins' decision-makers generally speak highly of him.

17. Adam Walker | Right Field | DOB: 10/91 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    252     .250     .310     .496     14     25     19     76
2013     A-     553     .278     .319     .526     27     65     31    115
2014     A+     555     .246     .307     .436     25     45     44    156

Adam Walker's power potential is undeniable. He put up big college numbers at Jacksonville to get picked by the Twins in the third round of the 2012 draft, went deep 14 times in his 58-game debut at rookie-ball, and led his league in homers during each of his first two full seasons. Last year his 25 homers for Fort Myers led the Florida State League and no one else managed even 20 long balls. Walker can hit the ball over the fence.

Unfortunately his inability to control the strike zone stands out almost as much. He's struck out a lot and rarely walked dating back to college and as a pro he's whiffed 347 times in 319 games. That's a red flag, especially when he's already 23 years old and has yet to face competition above Single-A. Walker showed a bit more selectivity last year with 44 walks in 555 plate appearances, but that came with 156 strikeouts and led to a lowly .246 average and .307 on-base percentage.

Most high-strikeout sluggers in the majors didn't actually strike out a ton in the minors because striking out a ton in the minors usually leads to failing in the majors. Walker needs to cut down on his strikeouts or at least learn to draw walks at a much higher rate or his 30-homer power will be wasted. He's a good athlete with above-average speed for a corner outfielder and should be a plus defensively, so if the strike-zone control clicks at some point he has plenty of all-around upside.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
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
2014     AAA    39      0     2.80      45.0      41      2      46     12
         MLB    25      0     4.74      19.0      23      2      16      6

After beginning his pro career as a 30th-round draft pick and mediocre starter prospect Michael Tonkin shifted to the bullpen full time in 2011 and has looked like a late-inning reliever prospect ever since. He's split each of the past two years between Rochester and Minnesota, posting a 3.48 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 78 innings at Triple-A and a 3.26 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 30 innings in the majors. At age 25 he's deserving of extended chance in the Twins' bullpen for 2015.

Tonkin is a sturdy 6-foot-7 with the velocity to match his size, averaging 94 miles per hour with his fastball in the majors. He also throws a sharp, mid-80s slider that has already proven to be a plus pitch against big-league hitters by generating swinging strikes and ground balls. He's allowed a total of just 13 homers in 278 innings between the minors and majors over the past four years, including no more than four homers in a season.

Tonkin has top-notch raw stuff, misses plenty of bats with his fastball-slider combo, and unlike lots of hard-throwing reliever prospects he actually throws strikes too. His career walk rate is a very reasonable 2.5 per nine innings, including 2.3 at Triple-A and 2.7 in the majors. By this time next year there's a decent chance Tonkin will be entrenched as Glen Perkins' primary setup man and will have his own identity rather than being known as Jason Kubel's brother-in-law.


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October 22, 2014

Twins decline $3.6 million option on Jared Burton; bullpen overhaul next?

jared burton twins

Rather than keep right-hander Jared Burton around for next season at a cost of $3.6 million the Twins declined his 2015 option and paid him a $200,000 buyout, making the 33-year-old reliever a free agent. Burton was a great scrap-heap pickup for the Twins after his career was derailed by injuries with the Reds and not so long ago his 2015 option looked like it might be a bargain, but his performance and raw stuff both slipped this season.

Burton debuted for the Reds in 2007 as a 26-year-old and posted a 3.47 ERA in 161 innings from 2007-2009, but then arm problems caused him to miss most of 2010 and 2011. Cut loose by the Reds in November of 2011, he signed a minor-league contract with the Twins two weeks later and made the Opening Day roster out of spring training. He was an elite setup man in 2012 and much of 2013 before fading down the stretch, and those struggles continued this season.

If the Twins felt Burton was a decent bet to bounce back next season $3.6 million certainly isn't a crazy price tag for a late-inning reliever, but he has a 5.12 ERA and 50/28 K/BB ratio in 72 innings since August of 2013 and averaged just 91 miles per hour on his fastball while being overtaken as Glen Perkins' primary setup man by Casey Fien. Plus, if the Twins are planning to have a payroll below $90 million again there's hardly any room under their self-imposed spending limit.

Six relievers appeared in 30 or more games for the Twins this season and their bullpen could look much different in 2015. Perkins is signed through at least 2017 and Fien is a lock to be retained via arbitration, but rising salaries and underwhelming performances make the arbitration-eligible duo of Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak non-tender candidates. That would leave Perkins, Fien, and low-leverage lefty Caleb Thielbar as the bullpen holdovers.

It would also clear the path for less experienced relievers like Michael Tonkin, Ryan Pressly, and Lester Oliveros to take bigger roles and the Twins still have Mike Pelfrey and his one-pitch repertoire under contract for $5.5 million. Factor in starter prospects who could benefit from being worked into the mix as relievers, plus various intriguing bullpen arms in the minors, and the Twins may be able to get both cheaper and better by overhauling the bullpen around Perkins and Fien.


For a lot more about the Twins' payroll plans and Terry Ryan's comments about the team's lack of spending, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

September 3, 2014

Meet the Twins’ September call-ups

aaron hicks september1

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

Aaron Hicks, 24-year-old outfielder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Tonkin, 24-year-old right-hander

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

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

Lester Oliveros, 26-year-old right-hander

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Thompson, 27-year-old left-hander

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

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

Logan Darnell, 25-year-old left-hander

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

Chris Herrmann, 26-year-old catcher/outfielder

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

Doug Bernier, 34-year-old infielder

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


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

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.

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