February 26, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Also in this series: 31-35.

40. Sean Gilmartin | Starter | DOB: 5/90 | Throws: Left | Trade: Braves

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-      5      5     2.53      21.1      18      3      30      2
2012     AA     20     20     3.54     119.1     111      9      86     26
         AAA     7      7     4.78      37.2      41      6      25     13
2013     AAA    17     17     5.74      91.0     112     12      65     33

Heading into the 2011 draft there was some talk of the Twins targeting Sean Gilmartin and as a soft-tossing college left-hander he certainly fit their longstanding drafting approach, but they picked 30th that year and the Braves took him two spots earlier. Three years later the Twins essentially acquired Gilmartin for nothing, getting him in the Ryan Doumit salary dump, which speaks to how far his prospect stock has dropped and how modest his upside was to begin with.

As you'd expect from an experienced college pitcher Gilmartin dominated in the low minors, but he managed just 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 20 starts at Double-A and then fell apart at Triple-A last year with a 5.74 ERA, .304 opponents' batting average, and 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Plenty of former first-round picks bounce back from struggles in the minors to thrive in the majors, but with a high-80s fastball Gilmartin doesn't seem like a good bet to be one of them.

On the other hand he's still just 23 years old and with only three pro seasons Gilmartin doesn't even require a 40-man roster spot yet, which no doubt played a part in the Twins asking for him in the deal. Gilmartin has had extreme splits in the minors--including an .859 OPS versus righties and a .635 OPS versus lefties last year--and could find a bullpen niche as a southpaw specialist. He's more "minor leaguer" than "prospect" at this point.

39. Dalton Hicks | First Base | DOB: 4/90 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2012-17

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    136     .270     .382     .435      4     11     19     37
2013     A-     400     .297     .355     .497     13     44     34     85
         A+     176     .270     .364     .405      4     12     22     38

Dalton Hicks is a prime example of why looking at the right numbers--and perhaps even more importantly, putting those right numbers into proper context--plays such a key role in evaluating prospects. At first glance Hicks had an impressive 2013 season, hitting .290 with 110 RBIs, but despite being a 6-foot-5 first baseman he managed only 17 homers in 576 plate appearances along with a 123 strikeouts and a mediocre walk rate.

Beyond that Hicks was also old for the levels of competition, starting the season at low Single-A and ending it at high Single-A as a 23-year-old former college draft pick. Consider that Hicks and Byron Buxton both split time between Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers, yet Buxton is 44 months younger. Comparisons to Buxton will leave most minor leaguers looking like non-prospects, but of the 50 hitters in the Midwest League to log 400 plate appearances only one was older than 23.

RBIs don't mean much in terms of evaluating long-term upside, Hicks lacks ideal power for first base, and his strike-zone judgment was shaky even versus inexperienced pitching. None of which is to suggest that he's incapable of developing into a big leaguer, just that the odds are stacked against him for several reasons that take some digging to find. He'll likely begin this season at Double-A, which should determine whether Hicks is worth keeping an eye on.

38. Logan Darnell | Starter | DOB: 2/89 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2010-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-      6      6     3.78      33.1      24      1      24      8
         A+     15     15     4.17      86.1      95      6      46     25
         AA      5      5     5.58      30.2      38      3      20      4
2012     AA     28     28     5.08     156.0     193     22      98     47
2013     AA     15     15     2.61      96.2      96      4      77     23
        AAA     12     11     4.26      57.0      63      5      43     22

Logan Darnell looked like a non-prospect after struggling in each of his first two full pro seasons, but the 2010 sixth-round pick put himself on the Twins' radar with a nice year between Double-A and Triple-A. One of many University of Kentucky alums in the farm system, Darnell finished his solid 15-start run in New Britain with a complete-game shutout and then moved up to Rochester in late June.

He struggled a bit at Triple-A and allowed a .274 opponents' batting average overall last season, which matches his underwhelming raw stuff. Darnell throws in the low-90s with his fastball and the left-hander receives praise for the command of his off-speed pitches, but he's managed just 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Darnell induces a good number of ground balls, but his control has been mediocre and at age 25 it's tough to see much upside.

However, the Twins liked what Darnell did last season enough to add him to the 40-man roster and that puts him in position to reach the majors at some point in 2014. Like most left-handers he's fared poorly versus right-handed hitters, potentially making the bullpen a long-term fit, but Darnell will probably get a chance to prove that he can stick as a back-of-the-rotation starter first. In the meantime he'll be in Rochester's rotation trying to build on a positive 2013.

37. Luke Bard | Reliever | DOB: 11/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK-     3      1     6.75       4.0       3      0       3      5
         RK+     4      0     0.00       3.0       2      0       4      2
2013     RK+     7      2     1.08       8.1       2      0       6      6

When the Twins drafted right-hander Luke Bard with the 42nd overall pick in 2012 they did so with the intention of seeing if he could convert from the bullpen to the rotation after starring as a college reliever at Georgia Tech. Instead they've had trouble simply getting him on the mound, period, as Bard has thrown a grand total of 19 innings in two pro seasons while missing time with elbow and shoulder injuries.

His final college season was also cut short by an injury, so Bard has done very little actual pitching recently and any notion of him moving quickly through the Twins' farm system has disappeared. None of which means Daniel Bard's younger brother should fall completely off the prospect map after being selected with the compensatory first-round pick the Twins received when Jason Kubel walked as a free agent and signed for $1.25 million.

When healthy Bard topped out in the mid-90s with his fastball and received praise for his breaking ball, which suggests the Twins might be better off ditching any idea of him holding up physically with a starter's workload and unleashing him an inning at a time out of bullpen. Either way, Bard simply needs to stay healthy this season and log significant innings against professional hitters, because he's already 23 years old and has yet to advance beyond rookie-ball.

36. Brian Navarreto | Catcher | DOB: 12/94 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2013-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    158     .226     .318     .365      3     10     15     35

Based on skills alone Brian Navarreto may have gone 2-3 rounds higher in June's draft, but his involvement in an ugly on-field brawl likely dropped his stock enough for the Twins to snag the Florida high school catcher in the sixth round. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report hinted at other "makeup questions" at play, but also touted his "man strength" at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds while noting that he "has the physicality and arm strength to get scouts excited."

Navarreto signed for $262,500 and reported to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he struggled in 42 games as an 18-year-old, hitting .226 with 35 strikeouts in 158 plate appearances. He did show some pop with 13 of his 31 hits going for extra bases and Navarreto drew a decent number of walks, but it certainly wasn't an impressive pro debut. Of course, high school catchers not named Joe Mauer tend to be projects.

Navarreto was one of three catchers the Twins drafted in the first nine rounds last year, between a pair of college backstops in third-rounder Stuart Turner and ninth-rounder Mitch Garver. They both figure to move much more quickly than Navarreto, but in terms of upside he's likely the best catching prospect in the farm system save for MLB-ready Josmil Pinto. This year, however, he'll probably spend the entire season in rookie-ball.

December 25, 2013

Twins trade Ryan Doumit to Braves for Sean Gilmartin, sign Kurt Suzuki

ryan doumit and kurt suzuki

By signing Jason Kubel last week the Twins added to what was already a logjam at designated hitter and the outfield corners. Ryan Doumit's role seemed particularly tenuous with his ability to remain an option at catcher in question, possibly leaving him as merely a bad defensive outfielder with a mediocre bat. Apparently the Twins assessed the situation exactly that way, because less than 48 hours after adding Kubel they subtracted Doumit (and then added Kurt Suzuki).

Doumit is under contract for $3.5 million in 2014 as part of a two-year extension handed out by the Twins midway through his first season in Minnesota, but he wasn't worth that money in 2013 and ceased being a good fit for the current roster. Simply clearing his entire salary off the books and removing him from the bad-fielder logjam is an accomplishment for the Twins and getting a recent first-round draft pick from the Braves in exchange for Doumit is an added bonus.

Heading into the 2011 draft there was some talk of the Twins targeting Sean Gilmartin and as a soft-tossing college left-hander he certainly fit their longstanding drafting approach, but they picked 30th that year and the Braves took him two spots earlier. Three years later the Twins essentially acquired Gilmartin for nothing, but that mostly speaks to how far his prospect stock has dropped and how modest his upside was to begin with.

As you'd expect from an experienced college pitcher Gilmartin dominated in the low minors, but he managed just 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 20 starts at Double-A and then fell apart at Triple-A this year with a 5.74 ERA, .304 opponents' batting average, and 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Plenty of former first-round picks bounce back from struggles in the minors to thrive in the majors, but with a high-80s fastball Gilmartin doesn't seem like a good bet to be one of them.

On the other hand he's still just 23 years old and with only three pro seasons Gilmartin doesn't even require a 40-man roster spot yet, which no doubt played a part in the Twins asking for him in the deal. Gilmartin has had extreme splits in the minors--including an .859 OPS versus righties and a .635 OPS versus lefties this year--and could find a bullpen niche as a southpaw specialist. He's more "minor leaguer" than "prospect" at this point, but the deal is about shedding Doumit.

It's been clear all offseason that the Twins prioritized adding a veteran catcher and after missing out on both Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski they were linked to second-tier options like Suzuki and John Buck. They ended up settling on Suzuki, who'll get $2.75 million to compete for playing time with and hopefully mentor Josmil Pinto. Suzuki was once a young building block for the A's, but huge workloads early in his career seem to have caught up to him.

Suzuki was a college superstar at Cal-State Fullerton, hitting .413/.511/.702 in 2004 before being drafted 67th overall. He debuted with the A's as a 23-year-old rookie in 2007, led the league in games caught in both 2008 and 2009, and then ranked third in games caught in 2010 and 2011. Through his first four full seasons in the majors Suzuki averaged 132 games and 1,145 innings behind the plate, which is a great path to being washed up before age 30.

Suzuki hasn't topped a .250 batting average or .700 OPS since 2009 and combined over the past two seasons he hit .234/.282/.332 in 212 games. That's backup-caliber offense at best and while Suzuki has a strong reputation behind the plate his actual defensive numbers have also been ugly recently. His caught-stealing numbers were consistently mediocre until this year, when 57 of 65 stolen base attempts were successful against Suzuki for an abysmal 12 percent throw-out rate.

Perhaps more importantly, Parker Hageman of Twins Daily notes that Suzuki fares very poorly in his ability to coax strikes out of borderline pitches. Dating back to 2008 he ranked 52nd out of 66 regular catchers in getting called strikes on pitches deemed to be within the strike zone, a metric which rated Doumit dead last during that same span. Breaking that down further into actual runs, Suzuki's pitch-framing graded out to 24.2 runs below average from 2010-2013.

So why do the Twins want Suzuki if he can't hit, his work framing pitches grades out poorly, and this year at least he couldn't throw? First and foremost because the veteran catcher market isn't exactly overflowing with capable options, so it's basically about holding your nose and deciding which huge flaws are palatable. Beyond that the Twins clearly believe more in their scouting and Suzuki's reputation than any defensive numbers.

He's a better option than Eric Fryer or Chris Herrmann, although the risk with Suzuki is that it's easy to envision Ron Gardenhire falling in love with his veteran-ness. As spring competition and eventually a backup and mentor for Pinto he's a perfectly reasonable, inexpensive fit, but if Suzuki finds his way into the lineup 4-5 times per week or perhaps even convinces the Twins to send Pinto back to the minors the signing will look a whole lot different.

For a lot more on the Doumit trade and Suzuki signing--plus the Mike Pelfrey re-signing--check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.