July 9, 2013

Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, midseason rankings, and great prospect duos

buxton and sano

Baseball America released its midseason top 50 prospects list--updating their preseason list based on performances, injuries, and graduations to the majors--and the No. 1 spot belongs to Byron Buxton. Midseason lists and preseason lists aren't apples-to-apples comparisons, but dating back to 1990 the only Twins prospect to hold Baseball America's top spot was Joe Mauer in 2004 and 2005. Buxton was No. 10 on the preseason list, which is remarkable in itself after 48 pro games.

Miguel Sano was No. 9 on the preseason list and moves up to No. 3 in the midseason update, behind only Buxton and Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras. Preseason lists are the standard for measuring prospect status and things could change between now and the official 2014 version, but I thought it would be interesting to go back through Baseball America's archives looking for other instances of one team having multiple prospects in the top five.

2009: Braves had Tommy Hanson at No. 4 and Jason Heyward at No. 5.
2006: Diamondbacks had Justin Upton at No. 4 and Stephen Drew at No. 5.
2004: Devil Rays had B.J. Upton at No. 2 and Delmon Young at No. 3.
1999: Cardinals had J.D. Drew at No. 1 and Rick Ankiel at No. 2.
1998: Dodgers had Paul Konerko at No. 2 and Adrian Beltre at No. 3.
1995: Yankees had Ruben Rivera at No. 2 and Derek Jeter at No. 4.
1994: Blue Jays had Alex Gonzalez at No. 4 and Carlos Delgado at No. 5.

Seven times in the past 24 seasons a team has placed multiple prospects in Baseball America's top five, which is actually more often than I'd have guessed. It's interesting that there are two sets of brothers (the Uptons and the Drews) included in the sample of 14 total players. And the presence of Delmon Young is kind of a buzzkill for Twins fans attempting to get swept up in the Buxton-Sano hype.

Of those seven pairs of top-five prospect teammates only the 1998 Dodgers' duo of Konerko and Beltre both went on to have lengthy, star-caliber careers. Drew and Ankiel for the 1999 Cardinals were both headed to sustained stardom before Ankiel's pitching career imploded suddenly and the 2009 Braves' pair of Hanson and Heyward were briefly both stars before injuries wrecked Hanson. In general, having two top-five prospects has usually just meant ending up with one star.

In terms of the Twins' highest-ranking duos, they've never come particularly close to placing two prospects in Baseball America's top five. In fact, Buxton and Sano this year are the only instance of two Twins prospects cracking the top 10. Back when Mauer was No. 1 in consecutive years the Twins' next-highest prospects were Justin Morneau at No. 16 in 2004 and Jason Kubel at No. 17 in 2005. They also had Mauer at No. 4 and Morneau at No. 14 in 2003.

There isn't much question that Buxton and Sano are the best Twins prospect duo of at least the past 25 years and if they both maintain their current status for the rest of the season there's an argument to be made that they're one of the top two or three prospect duos any team has had since 1990. I'd say Drew and Ankiel currently hold that distinction and they'd be awfully tough to surpass, but after that it would at the very least be open for debate.

Also of note from Baseball America's midseason top 50 is that Alex Meyer ranks No. 32, moving up from preseason No. 59. Meyer hasn't pitched since June 1 because of a shoulder injury that the Twins insist is minor, but before going on the Double-A disabled list the 23-year-old right-hander acquired from the Nationals for Denard Span posted a 3.69 ERA and 73-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings while holding opponents to a .226 batting average and just three homers.

With the same caveat that midseason and preseason lists aren't on equal footing, the last time Baseball America ranked a Twins pitcher higher than No. 32 was Matt Garza at No. 21 in 2007. Before that it was Francisco Liriano at No. 6 in 2006 and Eric Milton at No. 25 in 1998. Toss in the fact that Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson surely would have joined Buxton, Sano, and Meyer in the midseason top 50 if they weren't already in the majors and it's tough not to start dreaming.


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June 12, 2013

Twins Notes: Sano, Buxton, Hicks, Arcia, Rosario, and Richardson

miguel sano fort myers

• Last year the Twins kept Miguel Sano at low Single-A for the entire season despite his having the second-highest OPS in the Midwest League. He moved up to high Single-A to begin this year and was even better, so this time around the Twins decided that a promotion was in order after two months of Florida State League destruction. Sano fittingly homered twice in his final game for Fort Myers, including a monstrous blast in his last at-bat.

Overall he hit .330/.424/.655 with 16 homers in 56 games, leading the FSL in homers, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage despite being the league's youngest hitter. It just doesn't get much better for a 20-year-old stud prospect and in fact no FSL hitter of any age has topped his OPS since 27-year-old Morgan Burkhart in 1999. Sano even stole nine bases at an 82 percent clip and reviews of his defense at third base have been a little more positive than last year.

And now he moves up to Double-A, where the average pitcher is five years older than Sano and both the off-speed pitches and command are much sharper than Single-A. It's a huge test for a truly elite hitting prospect, so even holding his own there at age 20 would be more evidence that Sano is very special and thriving there would put him on the verge of the majors. Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia arrived in Minnesota having played a combined nine games at Triple-A.

• Presumably the Twins considered promoting Byron Buxton in tandem with Sano to give Fort Myers a new stud prospect after losing the FSL's best hitter. For now at least Buxton remains at low Single-A, where he's batting .350/.444/.578 with 29 extra-base hits, 26 steals, and nearly as many walks (39) as strikeouts (44) in 58 games as a 19-year-old. Toss in standout defense in center field and Buxton's performance has been every bit as impressive as Sano's.

FOX Sports North broadcast Monday afternoon's Cedar Rapids game and Buxton put on a show, going 3-for-4 with a bases-loaded double off the left-center field wall, a legged-out triple on a ball that didn't even get to the right-center field wall, and a spectacular sprawling catch. No doubt the Twins wanted to avoid promoting Buxton until after FSN's special broadcast, but the kid is leading the Midwest League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

Eddie Rosario and Angel Morales are joining Sano in getting the promotion from Fort Myers to New Britain. Rosario ranked No. 7 on my annual Twins prospect list coming into the season and has improved his stock since then, batting .329/.377/.527 with 24 extra-base hits in 52 games at high Single-A as a 21-year-old and reportedly getting more comfortable defensively in his ongoing transition from center fielder to second baseman.

Morales once ranked among the Twins' top prospects, but injuries and poor performances have sent the 2007 third-round pick's stock plummeting in recent years. He turned things around in a big way at Fort Myers, batting .297/.364/.525 with 28 extra-base hits and 20 walks in 55 games as the everyday center fielder, but it's worth noting that Morales is 23 years old and had already played there for part of 2011 and all of 2012.

• Hicks' hamstring injury puts on hold the rookie's slow climb to respectability following a brutal 2-for-48 start to his career. Hicks has hit .225/.275/.423 in 42 games since then, which is at least more in line with standard rookie struggles. Oddly enough when Hicks couldn't buy a hit he drew walks in bunches, but he's walked just 10 times versus 36 strikeouts in those 42 games. His less patient approach resulted in plenty of pop, with six homers and a .198 Isolated Power.

To replace Hicks on the roster the Twins recalled Arcia from Triple-A just two weeks after sending him back there in part due to a lack of consistent playing time. Arcia clearly has no business in center field, the corner outfield logjam hasn't lessened any in the meantime, and he hit just .218 in 15 games at Triple-A between call-ups, so it's not exactly an ideal situation. Also far from ideal: Clete Thomas will presumably be the everyday center fielder with Hicks out.

• Thomas was playing well in Rochester, but he's a .250/.326/.423 hitter in 400 career Triple-A games and at 29 years old is the epitome of a replacement-level outfielder. Darin Mastroianni's ankle injury left the Twins short on center field depth and that's what replacement-level talent is there for, but if they were turning to a Triple-A journeyman as a stop gap Antoan Richardson would have been a more interesting call-up.

Richardson is the same age as Thomas and has only a brief cup of coffee with the Braves in 2011, but he's hit .314 with a .451 on-base percentage between Double-A and Triple-A this season and has a .404 OBP for his career. Thomas has much more power and perhaps the Twins don't trust Richardson's defense, but the switch-hitter has topped a .400 OBP in three straight seasons while averaging 40 steals per 150 games. Why not give him a shot in the unproductive leadoff spot?

• For the second time in two weeks the Twins lost a former top prospect in order to clear 40-man roster space. Joe Benson was claimed off waivers by the Rangers and now Tyler Robertson was claimed off waivers by the Nationals. At this point Benson and Robertson are long shots to become valuable big leaguers, but they at least have some upside remaining and the same can't be said of 40-man roster holdovers like Drew Butera and Cole De Vries.

When discussing the Twins' haul in last week's draft it's worth noting that Benson and Robertson were their second- and third-round picks in 2006. They both developed well enough to emerge as good prospects, with Benson even cracking Baseball America's top 100 in back-to-back seasons, only to be lost for nothing. Neither loss is hugely troubling in a vacuum, but considering how much the Twins preach patience with prospects it's frustrating to lose talent when it could be avoided.

Alex Meyer, the 6-foot-9 right-hander who was acquired from the Nationals for Denard Span and ranks as the Twins' best pitching prospect, is on the Double-A disabled list with shoulder soreness. Hopefully it proves to be a minor injury, because Meyer was off to a very good start with a 3.69 ERA and 73-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings while holding opponents to a .226 batting average and just three homers.

• It took seven seasons, but Carlos Gomez is finally living up to his potential by becoming one of the best all-around players in baseball. Unfortunately it's coming far too late to help the Twins and Gomez's recent comments about how he's changed as a hitter sound a lot like David Ortiz's old comments when he started thriving with the Red Sox:

Before, Carlos Gomez tried to put the ball in play, hit the ball on the ground, because that's what people wanted. That takes my ability out. That's not me. I'm a free swinger. I like to swing hard, whether I have one or two strikes. When I step to the plate, I try to hit a home run.

I may hit a ball to right field, but I'm not trying to. I’m letting my instincts and my ability do the job. I'm looking for my pitch, a pitch I can hit out of the ballpark. If they throw me a different pitch, I can make the change and hit the ball the other way. If I try to hit the ball the other way, I get in trouble, because I slow down my swing. That’s not me.

Obviously the Brewers deserve credit for Gomez's development, but he joins Ortiz and some other less prominent players in suggesting that the Twins stifled power potential by forcing hitters to fit their preferred mold.

Scott Diamond allowed double-digit hits Sunday for the sixth time in 45 starts and opponents are now batting .293 off him for his career. That ranks as the fifth-highest batting average against in Twins history among all pitchers with 250 or more innings:

Travis Miller      .304
Nick Blackburn     .303
Carlos Silva       .303
Bob Tewksbury      .294
Scott Diamond      .293

If you can't strike anyone out you're going to give up a ton of hits and the above list is basically a mediocre middle reliever and four of the biggest pitch-to-contact starters you'll ever find.

• In the American League there are 66 pitchers with at least 50 innings and only three of them have a strikeout rate below 4.5 per nine innings: Diamond, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey.

• Last year the Twins drafted Connecticut second baseman L.J. Mazzilli in the ninth round and he ended up being their highest pick not to sign, returning to school for his senior season. Mazzilli hit .354/.408/.515 with 29 steals in 63 games and was drafted by the Mets in the fourth round, so Lee Mazzilli's son probably earned himself an extra $250,000.

• Current third base coach and former hitting coach Joe Vavra's son, Valparaiso infielder Tanner Vavra, was drafted by the Twins in the 30th round. Nepotism aside Vavra has an incredible story, overcoming being blinded in his right eye by two serious childhood injuries to hit .332 as a junior and .330 as a senior. He's very much a legitimate late-round pick.

• General managers usually get the credit or blame for draft picks, but Terry Ryan talked to Parker Hageman of Twins Daily about why that's misleading.

• Since taking over for Matt Capps last season Glen "Proven Closer" Perkins has converted 30-of-34 save chances with a 2.31 ERA and 77-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 innings.

Delmon Young in 225 games since leaving the Twins: .263/.296/.424 with 171 strikeouts, 33 walks, and 31 double plays. Toss in defense and he's been worth -1.5 Wins Above Replacement.

Francisco Liriano has a 1.75 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36 innings for the Pirates.

• For a lot more about Sano's promotion and the Twins' draft, check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


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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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March 6, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Also in this series: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Alex Meyer | Starter | DOB: 1/90 | Throws: Right | Trade: Nationals

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     18     18     3.10      90.0      68      4     107     34
         A+      7      7     2.31      39.0      29      2      32     11

Alex Meyer split his pro debut between two levels of Single-A, posting a 2.86 ERA and .211 opponents' batting average with a 139-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129 innings. And then 17 months after giving Meyer a $2 million signing bonus as the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft--seven spots ahead of where the Twins took infielder Levi Michael--the Nationals sent the 6-foot-9 right-hander to Minnesota in exchange for Denard Span.

Meyer regularly works in the mid-90s, topping out close to triple-digits, and Baseball America's season review of the South Atlantic League praised his "wipeout slider in the mid-80s" and noted that his changeup "could become an average third pitch." Keith Law of ESPN.com described Meyer as a "potential frontline starter," writing that "his slider is filthy, a bona fide out pitch" and "his changeup has improved to the point where it's probably a future-average pitch."

His control was very shaky at the University of Kentucky, but Meyer's walk rate was a respectable 3.1 per nine innings in his pro debut and he also induced 52 percent ground balls. Expectations should be held in check considering Meyer hasn't even thrown a pitch above Single-A yet, but he immediately becomes the Twins' top pitching prospect and is arguably the organization's best, highest-upside pitching prospect since Matt Garza in 2006.

4. Aaron Hicks | Center Field | DOB: 10/89 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     A-     518     .279     .401     .428      8     41     88    112
2011     A+     528     .242     .354     .368      5     41     78    110
2012     AA     563     .286     .384     .460     13     45     79    116

Last year at this time Aaron Hicks' stock had gradually slipped due to questions about his low batting averages, modest power, perceived passiveness at the plate, and lopsided splits as a switch-hitter. He answered all those questions and then some at Double-A, batting .286 with 13 homers, 45 total extra-base hits, 32 steals, and 79 walks in 129 games while posting an .828 OPS from the left side and an .881 OPS from the right side.

His season was so encouraging that the Twins surprisingly traded both Denard Span and his assumed center field replacement Ben Revere, suggesting they believe Hicks will be ready for the majors in 2013. Whether that's Opening Day or midseason or September remains to be seen, but the former first-round pick has the range and arm strength to be a defensive asset right now, at age 23, and made major strides offensively in New Britain.

His defense has always gotten very positive reviews, as Hicks combines plus range with an arm that had some teams liking him more as a pitcher coming out of high school. He strikes out quite a bit and may never hit for great batting averages, but Hicks has drawn a ton of walks at every level and has the speed to take advantage of his on-base skills. If last year's power development sticks he has a chance to be a star and if not he should be a solid regular for a long time.

3. Oswaldo Arcia | Right Field | DOB: 5/91 | Bats: Left | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    283     .375     .424     .672     14     42     19     67
2011     A-      81     .352     .420     .704      5     14      9     16
         A+     227     .263     .300     .460      8     24      9     53
2012     A+     235     .309     .376     .517      7     26     23     45
         AA     299     .328     .398     .557     10     35     28     62

Generally speaking few organizations promote prospects slower than the Twins, but every once in a while they veer from that approach with a special player and that's how Oswaldo Arcia reached Double-A a month after his 21st birthday last season. Arcia has produced at every level since the Twins signed him out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2007, hitting .314/.371/.535 in 374 career games despite constantly facing older, more experienced competition.

For much of that time he put up big numbers despite ugly strikeout-to-walk ratios, but that's not uncommon amid aggressive promotions and last season Arcia walked more and struck out less to cement his status as an elite hitting prospect. He batted .328/.398/.557 in 69 games at Double-A, becoming the first prospect to top a .950 OPS in the Eastern League at 21 or younger since David Wright in 2004. Wright is now 30 years old and a six-time All-Star.

Arcia still has some work to do in terms of making consistent contact and handling left-handed pitching, but everything else about his performance and age relative to the levels of competition suggest he'll develop into a middle-of-the-order bat. And while he had to shift to right field after starting out as a center fielder he should add some value defensively too, with solid range and a strong arm.

2. Byron Buxton | Center Field | DOB: 12/93 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK-    102     .216     .324     .466      4     11     11     26
         RK+     87     .286     .368     .429      1      8      8     15

Given their choice of college starting pitchers with the No. 2 pick in June's draft the Twins went for long-term upside over short-term need, taking Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton. He hit over .500 as a senior and struck out 18 batters in a seven-inning complete game to win the state championship as a pitcher, with Baseball America, ESPN, and MLB.com all ranking Buxton as the best player in what was considered a weak overall draft class.

Buxton signed quickly for a $6 million bonus that's the highest in franchise history and played in two levels of rookie-ball for his debut, totaling 19 extra-base hits, 19 walks, and 11 steals in 48 games at age 18. He also struck out 41 times and hit .248, but the power, patience, and speed were all very encouraging considering the pre-draft questions about the low level of competition he faced in high school and the fact that he was picked mostly for his physical tools.

He'd be the clear No. 1 prospect for many and perhaps even most teams, but my rankings tend to be somewhat conservative with players who've yet to face full-season competition and ... well, the guy in the Twins' top spot is pretty good. Buxton has immense upside as a potential five-tool center fielder, the early returns are positive, and the Twins were right to pass on non-elite college arms for him, but he's still a very long way from the big leagues and very far from a sure thing.

1. Miguel Sano | Third Base | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     DSL     80     .344     .463     .547      3      6     14     17
         RK-    161     .291     .338     .466      4     18     10     43
2011     RK+    293     .292     .352     .637     20     45     23     77
2012     A-     553     .258     .373     .521     28     60     80    144

After crushing rookie-ball pitching to establish himself as an elite prospect Miguel Sano moved up to full-season competition at low Single-A and had the second-highest OPS in the Midwest League. He got off to a huge start, slumped for a couple months, and then finished strong while the Twins opted against a second-half promotion to high Single-A. His high strikeout total and low batting average were disappointing, but Sano had 80 walks and a league-leading 28 homers at age 19.

To put that production at Sano's age in context, consider that since 2000 only seven hitters have topped his .893 OPS as teenagers in the Midwest League, including Mike Trout, Prince Fielder, and current stud prospects Wil Myers and Oscar Taveras. That doesn't guarantee stardom, but it shows just how rare it is for a 19-year-old to be among the best hitters in a full-season league and why there's no reason to fret about a .258 batting average or lack of consistent contact yet.

There is reason to wonder about Sano's long-term home defensively, as reviews of his range and glove at third base are mixed at best and given his size a move to right field or first base looms as a strong possibility. For now the Twins will give him more time at third base in the hopes that his arm strength and athleticism can carry him, but ultimately Sano's ceiling is so offense-driven that sliding down the defensive spectrum won't change much. He's the real deal.


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August 29, 2012

Twins Notes: Morneau, Hendriks, Pavano, Sano, Liriano, Mauer, and Battey

• Within the Los Angeles Times' story about the Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster trade was this tidbit from beat reporter Dylan Hernandez:

A four-time All-Star first baseman, [Adrian] Gonzalez was the prize in the deal. The Dodgers inquired about him leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and approached the Red Sox again after a failed attempt to land Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau last week.

Not shocking, as the Dodgers were also linked to Justin Morneau in July, but the notion of the Twins turning them down multiple times is certainly interesting. Morneau has been excellent since the All-Star break, hitting .320/.365/.523 in 39 games, but his overall production this season still qualifies as good but not great and his health remains an issue. Toss in the fact that he has one year and $14 million left on his contract and Morneau's trade value isn't great.

Or at least it shouldn't be, which makes me wonder if they should've jumped at the Dodgers' offer assuming it included any kind of decent prospect. Simply clearing Morneau's salary off the books for 2013 has value to the Twins, especially with Chris Parmelee waiting in the wings as a minimum-salaried replacement, and the Dodgers ended up sending a surprisingly strong package of players to the Red Sox for the right to take on $275 million in mostly bad contracts.

Given how the Dodgers are throwing around money it's not safe to assume their interest in Morneau and his contract guarantees similar interest from other teams, and now Los Angeles is no longer an option for a future deal. Obviously every Twins fan would love to see Morneau resume being an elite hitter, but $14 million would come in handy and letting him walk for nothing as a free agent in 15 months would be a missed opportunity.

Liam Hendriks came into Monday with an 0-8 record and 6.75 ERA in 13 career starts, threw a one-run complete game while allowing just three hits ... and lost 1-0 to Felix Hernandez. Setting aside the silliness of "wins" and "losses" for pitchers it was a very encouraging outing and it's nice to see the Twins giving Hendriks an opportunity to start every fifth day down the stretch following another good stint at Triple-A. At age 23 he maintains mid-rotation potential.

Carl Pavano has been ruled out for the season and--you may want to sit down for this--the Twins' medical staff apparently failed to properly diagnose his injury for three months before a second opinion found the source of the problem:

It's too bad it took three months diagnose that. I could have been resting. The good news is, it doesn't require surgery. I've had this in the past and gotten through it, and obviously I've pitched a lot since then. But as far as I'm concerned, this whole season has been a failure on many levels, for myself, for the team. It's just kind of lousy that it took this long.

Pavano went on to blame himself, rather than the Twins, but it's tough not to connect those dots after reading John Shipley's article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Keith Law of ESPN.com recently stopped by Beloit to watch the Twins' low Single-A team and had some interesting observations about Miguel Sano. First, the good:

Sano has incredibly easy power, with a clean, rotational swing that generates most of its power from his hips and legs, a textbook example of how to make hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. His home run on Friday night went over the batter's eye in Beloit, which is 380 feet from home plate, and he drove two more balls to left without even squaring either up fully.

And now, the bad:

Sano's biggest drawback is his obvious disdain for the defensive side of the game. ... So while he has the arm and hands for [third base] now, the question of whether he'll outgrow the position is secondary to the question of whether he'll work enough to make third base a possibility.

Law also wrote up reports on Eddie Rosario, Kennys Vargas, and Taylor Rogers.

• Monday night Lew Ford started at designated hitter and batted fifth for the Orioles, going deep off White Sox starter Francisco Liriano for his first homer since 2007. What a world.

• Speaking of Liriano, since being traded to the White Sox he's started six games with a 4.26 ERA and 33-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings. Liriano has allowed two or fewer runs in five of those six starts and dating back to rejoining the Twins' rotation in May he's started 17 games with a 3.87 ERA, .211 opponents' batting average, and 112 strikeouts in 98 innings.

Joe Mauer passed Earl Battey for the most games caught in Twins history, which provides a good reason to remind everyone that Battey was a helluva player.

• While researching a future article about prospect development, I stumbled across this:

Mauer in the minors: .330 batting average, .406 on-base percentage, 1.2 walks per strikeout
Mauer in the majors: .322 batting average, .404 on-base percentage, 1.2 walks per strikeout

It's probably also worth noting that Mauer was done playing in the minors at age 20, played only 73 games above Single-A, and skipped Triple-A altogether.

Joe Benson's nightmare season now includes left knee surgery, along with a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A and a broken wrist. Coming into the year he looked just about ready to claim a starting job in the majors at age 24, but instead he hit .202/.288/.336 while missing half the season with injuries and never even got to Minnesota.

• Twins' record in their last 300 games: 117-183.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball Times depressingly notes that all the recent losing has dropped the Twins' all-time record since moving to Minnesota below .500.

• Hundreds of players are placed on revocable waivers every August. Mauer is reportedly one of them. Probably isn't the first time. Probably won't be the last time. The end.

• I'm not sure what exactly is going on here with Mauer, but I watched it about 50 times.

• I went to last night's Twins-Mariners game (the weather was nice, at least), which means I was part of the smallest crowd in Target Field history.

• For a lot more about Morneau and Hendriks, check out this week's Gleeman and The Geek.

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