March 1, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
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
2011     AAA    43      0     4.62      62.1      60      2      57     31

From the moment they took him 27th overall in the 2008 draft the Twins have talked up Carlos Gutierrez as a future late-inning reliever, touting his "power sinker" and closing experience at the University of Miami. Unfortunately there hasn't been much about his actual performance to match those high hopes, as his impressive ground-ball rate comes attached to terrible control, just 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 4.07 ERA in four pro seasons.

Gutierrez missed more bats at Triple-A last season, but 57 strikeouts over 62 innings is hardly encouraging for a 24-year-old reliever with high-leverage aspirations, and his control actually regressed with 4.5 walks per nine innings. When he threw the ball over the plate Gutierrez's sinker did its job, as he allowed just two homers and induced 62 percent ground balls. To put that in some context, Jake Westbrook led the majors in grounders last season at 60 percent.

Throwing hard and inducing 60 percent ground balls is enough to make Gutierrez a future big leaguer, but without more missed bats or dramatically improved control it's currently difficult to envision him as a successful setup man or closer. At age 25 he's running out of time to turn his raw stuff into results, but Gutierrez will likely begin this season back in Rochester and figures to crack the Twins' bullpen at some point.

24. Nate Roberts | Left Field | DOB: 2/89 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-5

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+    153     .336     .444     .547      5     16     21     29
2011     A-     283     .302     .443     .446      4     20     28     48

Knee problems limited Nate Roberts to 68 games last year in his full-season debut at low Single-A, but when healthy he showed the exceptional on-base skills that allowed him to lead the country in on-base percentage as a junior at High Point University. Roberts won Big South conference player of the year by hitting .417 with 19 homers, 36 steals, and a ridiculous .573 OBP, which got him selected by the Twins in the fifth round.

Roberts hit .336 with a .444 OBP in his 35-game debut at rookie-ball after signing and then batted .302 with a .443 OBP in Beloit last season. In addition to a combined .314 batting average and 49 walks in 436 plate appearances he's also been hit by 33 pitches, which is a total high enough to seem like a fluke if not for the fact that Roberts was plunked 25 times in just 56 games for High Point in 2010.

Getting hit by pitches is definitely a skill, and players like Craig Biggio, Carlos Quentin, Jason Kendall, and Chase Utley boost their on-base percentages by routinely getting plunked 20-plus times per season. Along with the high batting average, solid walk rate, and plus speed that makes Roberts an underrated prospect, but he's too old to be stuck in the low minors much longer and as a corner outfielder he'll need to develop more power than he's shown.

23. Matthew Summers | Reliever | DOB: 8/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-4

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+    20      0     0.87      20.2      11      0      36      5

Matthew Summers began his college career as an outfielder, but moved to the mound full time last season and became UC-Irvine's best starter, throwing 116 innings with a 2.02 ERA and 99-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just one homer. That got him a $172,000 signing bonus as the Twins' fourth-round pick and Summers predictably dominated rookie-ball hitters in his pro debut.

Working out of the bullpen in Elizabethton he posted a 0.87 ERA and 36-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21 innings, allowing no homers and inducing 57 percent ground balls while opponents hit just .153 off him. Letting college pitchers toy with rookie-ball hitters is standard operating procedure for the Twins and typically doesn't mean much, but in Summers' case his own lack of experience as a pitcher at least made it more of a fair fight.

His long-term role is unclear, as Baseball America reports that he works in the low-90s as a starter and the mid-90s as a reliever. He also has the unorthodox delivery and rudimentary off-speed pitches of a former position player, so the 6-foot-1 right-hander may be destined for the bullpen despite winning Big West conference pitcher of the year honors as a starter. Regardless of the role, Summers will make his full-season debut this year.

22. 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
2011     A+     23     22     4.40     116.2     151     10      75     19

Tom Stuifbergen signed with the Twins out of the Netherlands as an 18-year-old in 2006, missed all of 2008 following shoulder surgery, and missed time with elbow problems in 2009 and 2010, but he's still managed to establish himself as a solid prospect and potential mid-rotation starter. Long term his success may hinge on inducing ground balls in bunches, however, because Stuifbergen's strikeout rate plummeted while stepping up to high Single-A.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio remained excellent in Fort Myers, but that was mostly due to just 1.5 walks per nine innings. His strikeout rate fell from 8.5 per nine innings to 5.6 per nine innings, and he also served up 11 homers in 117 frames after allowing a total of just nine career homers in 189 innings coming into the year. And while his sinker kills plenty of worms, his ground-ball rate of 47 percent during the past two seasons isn't anything special.

Stuifbergen has pitched well in international competition, including thriving on a big stage in 2009 while being coached by Bert Blyleven in the World Baseball Classic. Last year in this space I compared Stuifbergen to Nick Blackburn and that still looks pretty accurate. Blackburn logged 131 innings in Fort Myers, striking out 76 and walking 23 with a 4.19 ERA. Stuifbergen has thrown 119 innings in Fort Myers, striking out 78 and walking 20 with a 4.53 ERA.

21. David Bromberg | Starter | DOB: 9/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-32

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     27     26     2.70     153.1     125      6     148     63
2010     AA     17     17     3.62      99.1     105      4      65     35
         AAA     9      9     3.98      52.0      47      9      47     13
2011     AA      8      7     6.08      37.0      50      3      23     15

David Bromberg led his league in strikeouts in 2007, 2008, and 2009, the latter of which got him named Twins minor league pitcher of the year, but his performance dropped off while making the jump to Double-A in 2010 and he missed most of last season when a line drive broke his forearm. Between the injury and struggles his stock dropped so far in such a short time that the Twins trimmed him from the 40-man roster and no team claimed him off waivers.

That doesn't mean Bromberg won't go on to have a big-league career, but it does suggest that his perceived upside isn't strong and most teams don't view him as being MLB-ready. He's still just 24 years old and Bromberg can be given a pass for getting knocked around after the injury, but even before last season his strikeouts per nine innings had plummeted from 10.6 to 8.7 to 6.7 and he's totaled just 137 strikeouts in 188 innings above Single-A.

Bromberg is 6-foot-5 and hefty even after dropping 30 pounds last year and some more weight this winter, but his fastball tops out in the low-90s. His off-speed stuff gets positive reviews and prior to being derailed by the broken forearm he'd sliced his walk rate from poor to mediocre, but as a fly-ball pitcher who doesn't seem likely to miss many bats his upside is limited. He's capable of being a mid-rotation starter, but this year will be key for his chances.

November 21, 2011

Twins Notes: Carroll’s contract, Kubel’s compensation, and minor moves

Jamey Carroll's deal was initially reported as two years and $7 million, but the actual details are slightly different. Carroll will get $2.75 million in 2012 and $3.75 million in 2013, and there's also a $2 million team option or $250,000 buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option with no buyout if he tops 400 plate appearances in 2013. Most likely it'll wind up being a two-year, $6.75 million deal, but it could become a three-year, $8.5 million contract.

Obviously committing multiple seasons to a 38-year-old middle infielder isn't ideal, but Carroll's deal seemed like a fair one to me at the time and looks even better now compared to a pair of middle infielder signings that followed. Mark Ellis got two years and $8.75 million to basically replace Carroll on the Dodgers. They're similar players, but Ellis hasn't played shortstop since 2005 and is coming off a career-worst season that saw him hit just .248/.288/.346 at age 34.

Clint Barmes got two years and $11 million from the Pirates, who'll use him as their everyday shortstop. All things being equal Barmes might be a better choice than Carroll for the next two seasons because he's five years younger and an elite defender with 15-homer power, but the money isn't close to equal and Barmes has also hit just .230/.275/.360 away from Colorado. Even with Coors Field included his .302 on-base percentage is 54 points below Carroll's mark.

Reported changes in the soon-to-be-signed collective bargaining agreement would eliminate compensation for Type B free agents, meaning the Twins would receive nothing if Jason Kubel signs elsewhere. Getting rid of the Type B free agent designation and lessening the number of Type A free agents qualified for compensation seems like bad news for the Twins long term, as they lose more free agents than they sign and rely heavily on the extra draft picks.

Not trading Kubel was a questionable decision when the Twins assumed they'd be receiving a supplemental first-round pick if he left as a free agent, but if that compensation for Kubel and other Type B players is eliminated they'll obviously regret the non-move. Instead of cashing him in for a decent prospect or two they'd get nothing, although certainly you can't blame the Twins for not being able to predict the future of collective bargaining changes.

Phil Dumatrait re-signed with the Twins on a minor-league deal after being trimmed off the 40-man roster. Dumatrait's track record shows that even his limited success involved pitching way over his head, but as Triple-A depth he's fine. Along with Dumatrait (and Brian Dinkelman and Jared Burton, who signed last week) the Twins also inked minor-league deals with Jason Bulger, Brendan Wise, Matt Carson, Wilkin Ramirez, Samuel Deduno, and Luis Perdomo.

When the Angels acquired Bulger from the Diamondbacks for Alberto Callaspo in 2006 he was a potential late-inning reliever, but injuries and control problems have held him back and now he's 32 years old with just 133 career innings in the majors. On the other hand he has a 4.33 ERA and 138 strikeouts in those 133 innings and throws in the low-90s with a good curveball, so the right-hander could be a midseason bullpen option.

Perdomo throws hard and spent 2009 in the Padres' bullpen with a 4.80 ERA and 55/34 K/BB ratio in 60 innings, but the 27-year-old righty has been mediocre at Triple-A since then and mostly just adds to the sudden collection of relievers with big velocity and little else. Wise and Deduno don't fit that mold, topping out in the low-90s. Wise's pretty ERA at Triple-A hides poor secondary numbers and Deduno is a ground-ball guy who doesn't miss bats or throw strikes.

Carson and Ramirez are both journeyman outfielders with brief stints in the majors who'll add some speed and right-handed pop to Rochester's lineup. Carson has hit .280/.343/.515 in 378 games at Triple-A, including .279/.337/.533 with 24 homers and 11 steals in 112 games this year at age 29. Ramirez is 27 years old and has hit .247/.308/.431 in 270 games at Triple-A, including .267/.307/.458 with 11 homers and 19 steals in 81 games this season.

• Bulger, Burton, Dumatrait, Dinkelman, and Carson are examples of the type of guys available on minor-league deals every offseason, which is why it's so confusing that the Twins decided to give 40-man roster spots to similarly mediocre talent like Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray. They can always drop Maloney and Gray from the 40-man roster, of course, but in the meantime the deadline to add prospects newly eligible for the Rule 5 draft came and went.

Oswaldo Arcia, Carlos Gutierrez, and Tyler Robertson were the three additions, protecting them from being selected in next month's draft, but the Twins also left decent prospects Angel Morales, Manuel Soliman, and Tom Stuifbergen unprotected and changed David Bromberg from protected to unprotected by outrighting him off the 40-man roster. Odds are that none of those four will be Rule 5 picks, but it certainly wouldn't be shocking if the Twins lost someone.

Bromberg was named Twins minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but saw his stock drop with the jump to Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 and missed most of this year after a line drive broke his forearm in May. He ranked No. 13 on my list of the Twins' best prospects coming into this season and will probably drop into the 20-30 range for 2012, which is also where Morales, Stuifbergen, and Soliman will likely end up if they remain in the organization.

Delmon Young's postseason power surge caused some people to overreact about the Twins dumping him in mid-August, but now Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com writes that the Tigers are trying to deal him because they're "concerned about his defense." They apparently offered Young to the Braves for Martin Prado, but were turned down. And if the Tigers keep Young for 2012 they'll likely be paying him at least $7 million in his final season before free agency.

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.