March 12, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Also in this series: 31-35, 36-40.

30. D.J. Baxendale | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-10

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     6      0     0.00       7.2       1      0      16      1
         A-     11      0     1.64      11.0      12      0      15      1
2013     A+      9      9     1.10      57.1      34      2      48     11
         AA     16     16     5.63      92.2     110     13      64     22

D.J. Baxendale had a dominant 19-inning pro debut after going to the Twins in the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Arkansas and began his first full season by jumping all the way to high Single-A, where he went 7-0 with a 1.10 ERA in nine starts. That earned Baxendale a lot of attention and a quick promotion to Double-A, but he allowed as many earned runs in his first start there as he did combined in nine starts for Fort Myers.

Overall in New Britain he got knocked around for a 5.63 ERA and .293 opponents' batting average in 16 starts to provide a reminder that college pitchers thriving at rookie-ball and Single-A tends not to mean much of anything. Baxendale throws strikes and works mostly in the high-80s with his fastball, so it's not surprising that he ran into a wall against more experienced Double-A hitters after carving up the low minors.

Another worry is that he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and that became an issue for the first time in New Britain, where he allowed 13 homers in 93 innings. Fly balls and high-80s fastballs are a bad combination, although it's worth noting that Baxendale reached Double-A very quickly at age 22. His raw stuff seems unlikely to ever translate into many missed bats, so Baxendale's control may determine his big-league chances. So far he's walked just 35 batters in 169 pro innings.

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

Last year the Twins' biggest international splash was spending $1.4 million on 16-year-old Lewin Diaz, a 6-foot-4 first baseman from the Dominican Republic. Ben Badler of Baseball America, whose coverage of foreign prospects is the most informed and thorough anywhere, ranked Diaz as the 15th-best international player available and wrote that "his value is all in his bat" and his "big, lumbering body ... could end up along the lines of David Ortiz physically."

Having an Ortiz build unfortunately doesn't necessarily mean having an Ortiz bat, but Badler reported that Diaz has "good bat speed and flashes some of the best raw power in Latin America during batting practice." However, he also noted at the time of the signing that Diaz "doesn't bring the same loft power against live pitching" and "will have to make adjustments for his power to play in games."

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com ranked Diaz as the 10th-best international prospect, writing that "scouts love the big left-handed hitter's stroke at the plate and his body reminds many scouts of Ryan Howard." When a baby-faced 16-year-old is compared physically to Ortiz and Howard he's going to be a massive adult some day, so not surprisingly Diaz has sub par speed and projects as a first baseman. In other words, the Twins are betting on him developing huge power.

28. Miguel Sulbaran | Starter | DOB: 3/94 | Throws: Left | Trade: Dodgers

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    11     11     2.51      57.1      57      2      62      9
2013     A-     27     20     2.96     112.2     110      3     101     32

When the Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers in July for a player to be named later or cash considerations my assumption was that the return would be cash and the considerations would be approximately the cost of a bucket of baseballs. Instead they ended up getting Miguel Sulbaran, a diminutive 19-year-old left-hander with a solid track record in the low minors since signing out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old.

As one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League last season Sulbaran had a 2.96 ERA and 101/32 K/BB ratio in 113 innings. For comparison, top-10 prospect Jose Berrios had a 3.99 ERA and 100/40 K/BB ratio in 104 innings facing the same low Single-A hitters at the same age. Two years ago the Twins drafted Berrios with the 32nd overall pick and he has much better raw stuff, so they're hardly prospect equals, but to get any sort of useful player for Butera was shocking.

Sulbaran hasn't cracked any Baseball America or ESPN rankings, but before the trade Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com rated him as the No. 14 prospect in the Dodgers' farm system. Mayo wrote that Sulbaran "has a good feel for his low-90s fastball" and "his curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise." Any deal for Butera would have gotten the "great trade ... who'd we get?" treatment, but Sulbaran was a nice haul.

27. Amaurys Minier | Shortstop | DOB: 1/96 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2013     RK-    119     .214     .252     .455      6     13      6     29

There was a lot of excitement surrounding Amaurys Minier when the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $1.4 million as a 16-year-old, with some people even making stretched comparisons to Miguel Sano, but last season he showed the folly of hyping every big-money teenage signing. Minier began his pro career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .214 with 29 strikeouts in 31 games.

The good news is that he did manage six homers in 112 at-bats, which is impressive in a league where two entire teams managed only five total homers in the 60-game schedule and the overall slugging percentage was .338. The better news is that Minier turned 18 years old in January and what he did in a 31-game debut doesn't mean much in terms of his long-term potential. Not all teenage prospects come out of the gates slugging like Sano, which is what makes Sano so special.

Minier was technically signed as a shortstop, but he'll never play there and spent last season at third base. There's no real sense in trying to analyze Minier's performance so far and his place on this list is based mostly on the money the Twins paid to sign him and the fact that just about everyone seems to agree he has the potential to be a very good hitter. It may take another year or two before there's much beyond that to analyze.

26. Fernando Romero | Starter | DOB: 12/94 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      6     1.60      45.0      32      0      47     13

Fernando Romero signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, getting $260,000 as a 16-year-old. After throwing 31 mediocre Dominican Summer League innings in 2012 he moved up to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year for his American debut and dominated similarly inexperienced hitters with a 1.60 ERA and 47/13 K/BB ratio in 45 innings. He held opponents to a .196 batting average, including zero homers in 181 plate appearances.

Of course, Gulf Coast League numbers are rarely accurate predictors of success, particularly when the sample size is 181 plate appearances. At the time of the signing Romero reportedly threw in the high-80s and low-90s, and he's added some velocity since then while filling out his six-foot frame a bit. Like most teenagers his fastball is ahead of his off-speed stuff and Romero hasn't shown whether he can hold up under a starter's workload yet.

In terms of long-term upside he's one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins' farm system, but my general approach to this list is to be conservative with teenagers until there's some sort of track record versus decent competition. Romero won't turn 20 years old until after this season and figures to spend the whole year pitching for rookie-level Elizabethton, putting him several seasons away from even entering into the Twins' plans.

March 7, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Also in this series: 36-40.

35. Brian Gilbert | Reliever | DOB: 8/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2013-7

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK+     6      0     0.00       6.0       1      0       7      1
         A-     13      0     1.06      17.0      12      0       7      0

Brian Gilbert split the 2011 and 2012 seasons between Seton Hall University's rotation and bullpen with mediocre results, but switched to relief work full time in 2013 and thrived in the closer role with a 2.40 ERA, .198 opponents' batting average, and 49 strikeouts in 49 innings. Drafted by the Twins in the seventh round, he signed for $120,000 and predictably dominated inexperienced hitters in the low minors during his pro debut.

He made six rookie-ball appearances and 13 more at low Single-A, posting a 0.78 ERA and 14/1 K/BB ratio in 23 innings while allowing zero homers after serving up just one long ball last year at Seton Hall. Gilbert issued 22 walks and uncorked six wild pitches in 49 college innings, so his control in the low minors was a surprise. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report pegged his fastball at 92-95 miles per hour, but noted that his off-speed pitches need improvement.

College relievers tend to move quickly through a farm system if they perform well, so hopefully the Twins test Gilbert against some more experienced hitters and see if his raw stuff translates into missed bats higher up the organizational ladder. They also drafted his Seton Hall teammate, outfielder Zack Granite, in the 14th round and he hit .285/.362/.343 with 14 steals in 61 games at rookie-ball.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+     7      0     3.86      11.2      12      0      11      5
2012     A-     47      0     3.47      62.1      55      5      68     33
2013     A+     35      0     5.16      45.1      44      7      43     23

Corey Williams took a step backward last season, but it wasn't as big as his ERA jumping from 3.47 to 5.16 would suggest. Most of his secondary numbers remained similar, but the problem is that he spent a full season being sub par at high Single-A as a 22-year-old in his third pro season and hasn't improved upon his poor control since being drafted in the third round by the Twins out of Vanderbilt University in 2011.

Williams has totaled 125 strikeouts in 121 pro innings, which is good but not great for someone the Twins hoped would develop into a mid-90s throwing, late-inning reliever. More troubling are his 63 walks in 121 innings, along with a relatively high 12 homers allowed and struggles versus right-handed hitters. Last season righties had an .823 OPS against Williams and he also failed to shut down lefties after holding them to a .179 batting average in 2012.

This is a key season for Williams, who once signed for $575,000 but now appears to be on the verge of falling into the potential middle reliever or situational left-hander pile, which isn't home to many actual prospects. He throws hard, induces plenty of ground balls, and misses a fair number of bats, but his actual results have been underwhelming dating back to college and there is no shortage of intriguing relief prospects throughout the Twins' farm system.

33. 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

University of Kentucky pitchers have been popular Twins targets in recent drafts and that includes selecting left-hander Taylor Rogers in the 11th round two years ago. Rogers' college numbers were actually very ugly, as he went 13-18 with a 5.35 ERA while posting an ERA above 4.50 in all three seasons, but he's nearly halved that with a 2.69 ERA in two years as a pro. However, he's done that against Single-A hitters and with a high-80s fastball his prospect status is questionable.

Rogers' strikeout rate was very good at rookie-ball and low Single-A, but he's managed just 83 strikeouts in 131 innings at high Single-A and it's tough to take seriously a pitching prospect who can't crack six strikeouts per nine innings in the Florida State League. His control also hasn't been especially good, with 2.2 walks per nine innings at high Single-A, but Rogers did induce lots of ground balls while serving up a total of just five homers in 528 plate appearances there.

There are certainly plenty of soft-tossing lefties with poor strikeout rates who do just fine the big leagues, but for the most part they tended to have decent strikeout rates in the minors. Rogers shouldn't be written off as a total non-prospect and can do away with a lot of skepticism if he thrives at Double-A this season as a 23-year-old, but the odds are stacked against him and he lacks upside.

32. Tyler Duffey | Starter | DOB: 12/90 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2012-5

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    12      0     1.42      19.0      10      1      27      2
2013     A-      9      9     2.78      58.1      49      5      47      6
         A+     15      9     4.45      62.2      67      3      44     17

Two years ago the Twins drafted Rice University co-closers J.T. Chargois in the second round and Tyler Duffey in the fifth round. Chargois' career has been derailed by elbow surgery, but Duffey transitioned from reliever to starter at low Single-A last season with a lot of success, starting nine games with a 2.78 ERA and 47/6 K/BB ratio. Unfortunately he was considerably less impressive after being promoted to high Single-A and finished the year in the bullpen.

As a reliever at Rice and in his rookie-ball debut Duffey racked up tons of strikeouts, but last year as a starter he missed fewer bats and instead relied on very good control with an 83/20 K/BB ratio in 111 total innings. Those numbers match his raw stuff, which includes a low-90s fastball and slider/changeup off-speed repertoire, so it'll be interesting to see how long the Twins stick with Duffey as a starter.

Selecting college relievers and trying to turn them into professional starters was the focus of the Twins' draft in 2012 (well, that and picking some guy named Byron Buxton), but so far none of them have emerged as a standout starter prospect. Duffey and third-rounder Mason Melotakis look like the best bets right now, while Chargois and supplemental first-rounder Luke Bard have barely gotten out of the gates due to injuries.

31. Brett Lee | Starter | DOB: 9/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-10

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+    16      4     2.68      43.2      39      3      48     12
2013     A-     23     19     2.95     116.0     117      7      89     26

Brett Lee was drafted in the late rounds by the Pirates in 2009 and the Dodgers in 2010 before signing with the Twins for $150,000 as a 10th-round pick out of St. Petersburg College in 2011. He had an excellent pro debut at rookie-ball in 2012 and then moved up to full-season competition last year, thriving at low Single-A with a 2.95 ERA and 89/26 K/BB ratio in 116 innings for Cedar Rapids.

Lee had the sixth-best walk rate in the Midwest League among all pitchers with at least 15 starts, but his strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine innings was actually below the league average of 7.6. Those numbers suggest that Lee is just another soft-tosser, of which the Twins never have a shortage, but he's actually a 6-foot-4 left-hander with decent velocity. Whether or not that ever translates into more missed bats is a key question for Lee's development.

Another reason to possibly be more excited about Lee's season than his overall numbers show is that he put together a fantastic second half with a 1.41 ERA and 45/8 K/BB ratio in 57 innings while holding opponents to a .204 batting average and one homer. Still not as many missed bats as you'd like to see, but eight walks and one homer in 57 innings is some awfully good pitching to contact and his ground-ball rate was strong as well.

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.

March 11, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: System Overview

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

My annual series ranking and profiling the Twins' top prospects concluded last week, so here's the complete list of 40 players along with links to each individual write-up and an overview of the farm system as a whole:

 1. Miguel Sano, 3B                21. Michael Tonkin, RP
 2. Byron Buxton, CF               22. Amaurys Minier, SS
 3. Oswaldo Arcia, RF              23. Zack Jones, RP
 4. Aaron Hicks, CF                24. Daniel Santana, SS
 5. Alex Meyer, SP                 25. Nate Roberts, LF
 6. Kyle Gibson, SP                26. Adam Walker, RF
 7. Eddie Rosario, 2B              27. Corey Williams, RP
 8. Trevor May, SP                 28. Tyler Duffey, RP
 9. J.O. Berrios, SP               29. B.J. Hermsen, SP
10. Joe Benson, CF                 30. Kennys Vargas, 1B
11. Max Kepler, CF                 31. Madison Boer, SP
12. Luke Bard, RP                  32. Tyler Robertson, RP
13. Travis Harrison, 3B            33. Adrian Salcedo, SP
14. Mason Melotakis, RP            34. Jason Wheeler, SP
15. Jorge Polanco, SS              35. Pedro Hernandez, SP
16. J.T. Chargois, RP              36. Alex Wimmers, SP
17. Niko Goodrum, SS               37. Josmil Pinto, C
18. Hudson Boyd, SP                38. Deolis Guerra, RP
19. Levi Michael, 2B               39. Eduardo Escobar, SS
20. Chris Herrmann, C              40. Ryan Pressly, RP

In one year the Twins' farm system improved from mediocre to elite, adding high-end prospects via the draft (Byron Buxton, J.O. Berrios) and trades (Alex Meyer, Trevor May) while top-10 holdovers (Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario) further improved their stock. To refill the talent pool it took losing 99 games and two prominent free agents in 2011 and trading away two good center fielders this offseason, but the water is plenty deep now.

In fact, this is the best collection of prospects the Twins have had in the decade I've been writing about them. And they've had plenty of top-drawer prospects during that time, from Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer among hitters to Francisco Liriano and Matt Garza among pitchers. However, the depth of this current group is unmatched with a pair of consensus top-25 prospects and as many as seven names regularly appearing in top-100 lists.

No other team boasts a clearly superior prospect duo than Sano and Buxton, in whom the Twins invested a combined $9.15 million and their first top-10 draft pick since selecting Mauer first overall in 2001. They're both still teenagers, which means they're several years from potentially even entering the Twins' plans and far from sure things to develop into superstars, but in terms of raw upside there aren't a dozen better prospects in baseball.

Sano and Buxton would each be the No. 1 prospect for most of the other 29 teams, both Arcia and Hicks would hold the top spot in quite a few organizations, and Meyer, Rosario, and Kyle Gibson would probably garner top billing in a few farm systems. There's also improved depth behind those front-line guys thanks to the Twins having six of the top-100 picks in June's draft and high-upside teenagers Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco taking big steps forward in the low minors.

All of which is the good news. The bad news is that while the overall talent level has skyrocketed in the past 12 months only a handful of the Twins' top 20 prospects are close to MLB-ready. Hicks and Gibson figure to play substantial roles this season and Arcia, May, and Joe Benson could as well, but none of Sano, Buxton, Meyer, Rosario, Berrios, Kepler, Polanco, Luke Bard, Travis Harrison, Mason Melotakis, and J.T. Chargois have played above Single-A yet.

Help is definitely on the way and some of it will begin arriving this season and next season, but the full scope of the farm system's dramatic improvement probably won't begin showing itself in Minnesota until 2015 or 2016. And there are plenty of stumbling blocks for those many low-minors prospects to avoid between now and then, although it's also worth noting that in three months the Twins will be adding the No. 4 overall pick in the draft to their prospect stockpile.

Liam Hendriks, Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, and Scott Diamond all graduated from last year's top-40 list by exhausting their prospect status with regular action in the majors, but only Diamond can be considered an established major leaguer at this point. Hendriks just turned 24 and would rank in the 8-12 range if he retained prospect status, so he (and to lesser extents Parmelee and Dozier) shouldn't be forgotten as part of the Twins' collection of young talent.


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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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