March 25, 2014

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2014: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

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

15. Travis Harrison | Third Base | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    253     .301     .383     .461      5     21     24     51
2013     A-     537     .253     .366     .416     15     43     68    125

Travis Harrison was selected by the Twins with the 50th pick in the 2011 draft as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent and signed away from USC for $1.05 million. Touted as one of the best bats in the high school class, Harrison had an impressive debut at rookie-ball and then showed some of his flaws last year while moving up to full-season competition, hitting just .253 while striking out 125 times in 129 games.

Combined with his rookie-ball showing Harrison has 176 strikeouts in 189 games, which is a red flag in the low minors. Beyond that his power has been somewhat underwhelming after being billed as elite coming out of high school, with 20 homers and a .161 Isolated Power in 790 total plate appearances. That's certainly not a lack of power, especially considering Harrison played last season at age 20, but given questions about his ability to stick at third base he needs to mash.

One bright spot is that Harrison drew 68 walks last season and also got plunked by 14 pitches, which suggest he should be able to get on base at a decent clip even if all the strikeouts keep his batting average modest. Ultimately much of his value depends on where he ends up defensively and how much power he can develop by the time he reaches Minnesota. So far he's shown enough to be an intriguing prospect, but the edges are still pretty rough.

14. Danny Santana | Shortstop | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A-     409     .247     .298     .373      7     27     25     98
2012     A+     547     .286     .329     .410      8     38     29     77
2013     AA     587     .297     .333     .386      2     34     24     94

Danny Santana is generally more highly thought of as a prospect than his performance in the minors would suggest based on the idea that athleticism, speed, and defense will eventually allow him to become a starting-caliber shortstop in the majors. At age 23 he still has an opportunity to develop further, but in the meantime he hasn't been all that impressive, making a lot of errors (for whatever that's worth) along with little power and awful strike zone control.

Last season he hit .297 at Double-A, but managed just two homers and 24 walks in 131 games on the way to a modest .333 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage. His numbers at high Single-A in 2012 were similar and combined during the past two seasons he totaled 10 homers in 1,134 plate appearances, struck out 171 times versus 53 walks, and was successful on just 66 percent of his steal attempts. Right now he projects as a sub par offensive player.

The good news is that Santana is still pretty young and the bar for offense at shortstop is very low, so even hitting, say, .275 with minimal power and a poor walk rate would make him a solid all-around player if his glove is a huge asset. If instead his defense at shortstop is merely decent, then his current offensive skill set leaves Santana looking like something less than a building block, even considering the Twins' longstanding inability to develop competent middle infielders.

13. Max Kepler | First Base | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33
2013     A-     263     .237     .312     .424      9     23     24     43

When the Twins signed Max Kepler out of Germany for $800,000 in 2009 he oozed potential. At age 16 he was still growing into a 6-foot-4 frame and had uncommon athleticism along with the unique background of parents who met while performing in the ballet. He was seen as a potential center fielder long term and performed well in the low minors, but Kepler took a step backward last season and has lost a lot of upside as he's matured physically.

He played primarily first base at low Single-A last season, in part because of an elbow injury that delayed this 2013 debut and in part because he no longer has the speed to handle center field on a regular basis. Going from center field to first base or an outfield corner puts far more pressure on the development of Kepler's bat and he hit .237 with a high strikeout rate last year. However, he also showed solid power and patience with nine homers and 24 walks in 61 games.

Kepler is still just 21 years old and still has considerable potential, but his upside has shrunk dramatically. At this point he needs to stay healthy and put up some big numbers offensively to re-emerge as a top prospect, as he's yet to play more than 61 games in a season and yet to advance past low Single-A. If the power arrives Kepler could reach Double-A this year and work his way into the Twins' plans for 2015, but for now he's a question mark.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     A-     48      3     3.87      76.2      82      3      69     24
2012     A-     22      0     1.38      39.0      29      1      53      9
         A+     22      0     2.97      30.1      24      2      44     11
2013     AA     22      0     2.22      24.1      21      0      30      8
         AAA    30      0     4.41      32.2      33      3      36      8
         MLB     9      0     0.79      11.1       9      0      10      3

Michael Tonkin was a 30th-round pick out of high school in 2008 and looked like a mediocre starter prospect in the low minors, but Jason Kubel's brother-in-law has emerged as a potential impact arm since switching to the bullpen full time in 2011. Tonkin stands 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s fastball and has racked up 242 strikeouts in 213 innings during the past three seasons, including an impressive nine-appearance debut with the Twins.

And unlike a lot of hard-throwing young arms Tonkin has also shown good control with a career walk rate of 2.4 per nine innings and just 19 walks in 68 innings last season while rising from Double-A to the majors as a 23-year-old. He's huge, he throws a very hard fastball-slider combo, he misses lots of bats, and he actually knows where the ball is going most of the time, which is the most reliable recipe for a good relief prospect.

Bullpen depth is one of the Twins' few strengths at this point, making it unclear how early Tonkin could be in the big-league relief mix this season, but he certainly looks MLB-ready and projects as a potential late-inning setup man for Glen Perkins. As a reliever in a stacked farm system Tonkin is often overlooked, but in terms of the ability to make an immediate impact few Twins prospects are better.

11. Lewis Thorpe | Starter | DOB: 12/95 | Throws: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2013     RK-    12      8     2.05      44.0      32      2      64      6

Investing baseball's most resources into scouting Australia has yet to pay huge dividends for the Twins, producing a handful of marginal big leaguers and Grant Balfour, who starred elsewhere. Lewis Thorpe has a chance to change that after signing for $500,000 as a 16-year-old in 2012 and dominating rookie-ball in his pro debut last season, posting a 2.05 ERA and 64/6 K/BB ratio in 44 innings against Gulf Coast League hitters.

At age 18 he works in the low-90s and tops out in the mid-90s, complementing his fastball with a changeup that draws praise, and the extent to which he sliced up opponents last season suggests he's ready to skip a level of rookie-ball and go directly to low Single-A. Thorpe is the youngest of my top 20 prospects and if you want to feel really old consider that he was born six months after the Twins drafted Doug Mientkiewicz, so he's a long way from the big leagues.

In terms of long-term upside, however, few prospects in the Twins' farm system can compete with the 6-foot-2 left-hander and he has more polish than most rookie-ball pitchers. His place on this list reflects how I'm generally conservative when it comes to rankings prospects--and particularly pitchers--who've yet to face full-season competition, but Thorpe has cracked some prominent MLB-wide top-100 lists.

February 25, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

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

15. Jorge Polanco | Shortstop | DOB: 7/93 | Bats: Switch | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     DSL     68     .250     .309     .283      0      2      6      9
         RK-    119     .223     .299     .301      1      6     12      9
2011     RK-    193     .250     .319     .349      1     12     15     24
2012     RK+    204     .318     .388     .514      5     22     20     26

Jorge Polanco signing with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2009 largely flew under the radar because he was part of the same international prospect haul that included fellow 16-year-olds Miguel Sano and Max Kepler. Sano got $3.15 million and Kepler got $800,000, but Polanco was considered one of the top middle infield prospects in Latin America and signed for $750,000.

In most organizations that signing bonus would have been enough to make Polanco someone to keep close tabs on, but with the Twins he took an immediate backseat to Sano and Kepler before falling further out of the spotlight with underwhelming rookie-ball numbers in his first two pro seasons. That all changed last year, as Polanco hit .318 with walks and power at rookie-level Elizabethton as one of just seven 18-year-old regulars in the Appalachian League.

Hitting for a high batting average and controlling the strike zone matches the pre-signing reports on Polanco, but last season's 22 extra-base hits in 51 games came as a surprise because he's a slight 5-foot-11 and projects as a contact hitter. Reviews of Polanco's defense have always been positive, but it's worth noting that he played much more second base (35 games) than shortstop (15 games) at Elizabethton. His full-season debut this year should reveal a lot about Polanco.

14. Mason Melotakis | Reliever | DOB: 6/91 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2012-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     RK+     7      0     1.35       6.2       2      0      10      2
         A-     13      0     2.08      17.1      15      3      24      4

After taking Byron Buxton second overall the Twins selected J.O. Berrios and Luke Bard with compensatory picks for losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel as free agents and then used their own second-rounder on Northwestern State reliever Mason Melotakis. Prior to the draft ESPN.com actually ranked Melotakis higher than Berrios and Bard at No. 63, while Baseball America rated the left-hander No. 88.

He ended up coming off the board with the 63rd pick following a junior season in which he threw 62 innings with a 3.63 ERA and 70-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Melotakis made the occasional start in college, but Baseball America called him "a true power relief arm" with "short arm action" who works in the mid-90s and has an inconsistent but potentially solid slider. ESPN.com called him "one of the best potential left-handed relievers in this draft."

However, along with at least a couple of the other college relievers they drafted the Twins plan to give Melotakis an opportunity to start. That's the opposite of a traditional development path for pitchers, which usually involves starting initially and shifting to the bullpen if needed, but it's an interesting approach considering the Twins' dire need for long-term rotation help and the lack of promising college starters available past the first round last June.

13. Travis Harrison | Third Base | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2012     RK+    253     .301     .383     .461      5     21     24     51

Travis Harrison was touted as one of the best bats in the 2011 high school class and showed why in his pro debut, skipping the lower level of rookie-ball for Elizabethton and hitting .301 with 24 walks and 21 extra-base hits in 60 games as a 19-year-old. Selected with the supplemental first-round pick that the Twins received as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent, Harrison is a 6-foot-2 slugger who for now at least plays third base.

Before the draft there were doubts about his ability to stay at third base and Harrison committed 24 errors in 59 games there during his debut, but rookie-ball error totals aren't necessarily an indication of anything other than young players, inexperience, and iffy playing conditions. He may eventually slide to an outfield corner or first base, but much like with Miguel Sano the Twins will probably give Harrison plenty of time to prove he can't remain at the hot corner.

Striking out 51 times in 60 games is a red flag for a hitter whose ability to handle breaking balls was questioned leading into the draft, but for now at least that's picking nits. Harrison performed exactly like the Twins hoped after signing him away from USC for $1.05 million as the 50th overall pick and looks like one of the highest-upside hitters in a system that's made strides to add some right-handed power bats in recent years.

12. 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

After taking high schoolers Byron Buxton and J.O. Berrios with their first two picks the Twins kicked off their run of hard-throwing college relievers by drafting Georgia Tech right-hander Luke Bard with the supplemental first-rounder they received for Jason Kubel walking as a free agent. His brother, Daniel Bard, had a miserable year for the Red Sox, but Luke Bard dominated ACC hitters with a 0.99 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings.

His college season was cut short by an injured lat muscle that may have caused his draft stock to fall, but Bard was healthy enough to appear in seven rookie-ball games after signing for $1.227 million. Luke doesn't quite have Daniel's once-overpowering raw stuff, but Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted "plenty of power in his fastball, at times sitting 93-95 mph" and "a power breaking ball with depth and late bite."

Like several of the college relievers they drafted last June the Twins have said they think Bard has a chance to be an effective starter if they can refine his changeup, which he'll likely attempt to do at low Single-A to begin this season. As a reliever Bard has the potential to move very quickly up the organizational ladder, but his timetable will probably be significantly delayed as long as he's trying to become a starter.

11. 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
2011     RK+    221     .262     .347     .366      1     15     23     54
2012     RK+    269     .297     .387     .539     10     31     27     33

Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, and Aaron Hicks got all the attention, but Max Kepler had a breakout season to emerge as one of the Twins' highest-upside prospects. When he signed out of Germany as a skinny 16-year-old for $800,000 in 2009 the focus was on Kepler's physical tools, including rare speed and athleticism from a 6-foot-4 frame. He held his own in 2010 and 2011 at rookie-ball, hitting .275 with solid on-base skills, and then last season the power arrived.

Kepler got off to a slow start, but destroyed Appalachian League pitching for the final two-thirds of the short-season schedule to finish with the league's highest slugging percentage (.539) among all hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. He ranked among the league's top five in doubles, triples, and homers while hitting .297 with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (33) in 59 games, and did all that playing center field at age 19.

Kepler's age is key, because dominating rookie-ball at 21 or 22 is totally different than doing so as a 19-year-old and he was one of 16 teenagers in the 10-team league to play at least 50 games. That doesn't necessarily mean Kepler is destined for stardom and he's several years from being on the Twins' radar even if things go well, but with his age, physical tools, unique athletic pedigree, and production it's tough not to dream on his ceiling.


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March 19, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

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

15. Madison Boer | Reliever | DOB: 12/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2011     RK+    15      0     2.60      17.1      13      1      31      2
         A-      8      0     6.75       8.0      12      0      12      1

During the previous 11 drafts the Twins used a first-round pick or supplemental first-round pick on a college pitcher 10 times and took at least one college pitcher within the first 75 picks each year but 2001, 2006, and 2007. Last year Madison Boer was their first college pitcher at No. 87 overall after the 6-foot-4 right-hander from Eden Prairie had a 2.27 ERA, .234 opponents' batting average, and 74-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 99 innings as a junior at Oregon.

Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that Boer worked in the low-90s as a starter, but also spent time in the bullpen and was clocked as high as 96 miles per hour as a reliever. After signing for $405,000 he debuted at rookie-level Elizabethon and was quickly promoted to low Single-A Beloit, working exclusively as a reliever while combining to throw 25 innings with a 3.91 ERA and absurd 43-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Experienced college pitchers dominating low-level competition is par for the course in the Twins' farm system, so Boer's performance this year will be much more telling. For now the Twins plan to give him an opportunity as a starter, where Boer projects as a potential mid-rotation option, but his early success and increased velocity as a reliever suggest his fastball-slider combo might find a more impactful long-term home in the bullpen.

14. Hudson Boyd | Starter | DOB: 10/92 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2011-1

Selected out of a Florida high school with the No. 55 overall pick in last year's draft that the Twins received as compensation for losing Jesse Crain as a free agent and signed away from the University of Florida for a $1 million bonus just before the deadline, Hudson Boyd was the first high school pitcher taken by the Twins with a first-round pick or supplemental first-round pick since Kyle Waldrop in 2004.

Boyd was part of the Twins' ongoing but thus far very inconsistent effort to add "power arms" to the organization, as Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report compared him to Jonathan Broxton and Bartolo Colon for mid-90s heat as much as a 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame. He signed too late to debut last season and figures to begin his professional career as a rookie-ball starter.

Without even throwing a professional pitch yet Boyd immediately becomes one of the highest-upside pitchers in the Twins' entire organization and his path to the big leagues could speed up considerably if he's eventually shifted to the bullpen. Whatever the case, he's certainly an against-type pick by the Twins and a prospect who could be much higher on this same list next year.

13. Travis Harrison | Third Base | DOB: 10/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-1

Last year the Twins used the supplemental first-round pick they received as compensation for losing Orlando Hudson as a free agent to select high school slugger Travis Harrison, a third baseman who became the first high school position player they've taken in the first round for his bat more than his tools since Chris Parmelee in 2006. Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted that Harrison "easily rates as the best high school bat" in California.

He was already 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds at age 18, so while Harrison was a third baseman in high school he could wind up shifting across the diamond or to an outfield corner. Jonathan Mayo said during MLB Network's draft coverage that Harrison has impressive power potential, but there are questions about his approach at the plate. Baseball America's take was similar, noting his "above-average power potential" but also his difficulty "adjusting to breaking balls."

For an organization largely devoid of power-hitting prospects after years of focusing on speed and athleticism in the draft a right-handed-hitting corner infielder with plenty of pop in his bat was certainly a welcome addition. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called Harrison "the best bat left on the board" with the 50th pick and they signed him away from USC for a $1.05 million bonus shortly before the August 15 deadline, meaning he'll debut this season.

12. Chris Parmelee | First Base | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
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
2011     AA     610     .287     .366     .436     13     48     68     94
         MLB     88     .355     .443     .592      4     10     12     13

Chris Parmelee was the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft and through his first four seasons was a rare Twins prospect with power and plate discipline. He also struck out a ton and batted just .250, so two years ago the Twins overhauled his approach at the plate to sacrifice homers and walks for contact and singles. He went from hitting .250 with a .200 Isolated Power and 26 percent strikeouts to hitting .285 with a .135 Isolated Power and 15 percent strikeouts.

That change is dramatic and no doubt raised his stock within the organization, but Parmelee's overall production remained mediocre and a first baseman slugging just .416 with 19 homers in 253 games at Double-A isn't encouraging. However, when pressed into action by the Twins' numerous injuries and promoted from Double-A to the big leagues in September he hit .355 with four homers, six doubles, and nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (13) in 21 games.

Parmelee looked great in September, showing power and patience and just about everything else you'd want to see from a 23-year-old, but 21 impressive games in the majors don't wipe away 653 underwhelming games in the minors and there are plenty of questions about him being more than an adequate regular. Parmelee has yet to play at Triple-A, so he'll likely begin this season in Rochester while the Twins find out if Justin Morneau can stay in the lineup.

11. Adrian Salcedo | Starter | DOB: 4/91 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK-    11     10     1.46      61.2      60      1      58      3
2010     RK+    16      8     3.27      66.0      55      3      65     10
         A+      6      6     6.26      27.1      42      3      16      8
2011     A-     29     20     2.93     135.0     131      4      92     27

Adrian Salcedo has been pounding the strike zone since the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2007, walking just 56 batters in 355 innings despite generally being young for the level of competition. That alone is enough to make him a solid prospect, particularly since his raw stuff features a low-90s fastball, but Salcedo's upside is in question because his strikeouts have vanished.

He had 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings in rookie-ball, but has managed just 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings at Single-A. That includes 92 strikeouts in 135 innings at low Single-A last season, which is the only thing that keeps his 2.93 ERA for Beloit as a 20-year-old from being extremely impressive. Salcedo didn't miss many bats, but he issued just 1.8 walks per nine innings and served up only four homers in 562 plate appearances.

Salcedo is 6-foot-4 and skinny, throws relatively hard already, and gets praise for his solid off-speed stuff, so there's reason to be optimistic about him adding a couple more miles per hour while upping his strikeout rate. If that happens he has No. 2 starter potential, but barring that he looks like a future mid-rotation starter who fits the Twins' preferred pitching mold perfectly.

August 19, 2011

Twins Notes: 600, concussions, missed flights, debuts, and naming later

Jim Thome ruined the Twins' plans to have him reach 600 career home runs at Target Field by being too damn good, hitting his 599th and 600th homers Monday night in Detroit and then delivering No. 601 against the Tigers two nights later. Thome has been deserving of the Hall of Fame for years already, but hopefully becoming the eighth member of the 600-homer club will ensure his place in Cooperstown. With the way he's hitting, though, that can probably wait.

Thome hasn't been able to duplicate his ridiculous 2010 numbers, but he's having one of the greatest seasons in baseball history by a 40-year-old. In fact, last season his .283/.412/.627 line added up to the fourth-highest adjusted OPS+ of all time by a 39-year-old and this season his .259/.365/.513 line would be tied for the fourth-highest adjusted OPS+ from a 40-year-old. Here are the age-39 and age-40 leaderboards for adjusted OPS+:

AGE 39           YEAR     PA    OPS+        AGE 40           YEAR     PA    OPS+
Barry Bonds      2004    617    263         Willie Mays      1971    537    158
Ted Williams     1958    517    179         Carlton Fisk     1988    298    155
Hank Aaron       1973    465    177         Edgar Martinez   2003    603    141
JIM THOME        2010    279    161         JIM THOME        2011    226    139
Babe Ruth        1934    471    161         Dave Winfield    1992    670    137

If you're curious, here's the adjusted OPS+ leaderboard among 41-year-olds:

AGE 41           YEAR     PA    OPS+
Ted Williams     1960    390    190
Barry Bonds      2006    493    156
Brian Downing    1992    391    138
Stan Musial      1962    505    137
Carlton Fisk     1989    419    136

I'd love to see Thome take a run at that list in 2012 for the Twins and even in a part-time role he'd move past Sammy Sosa for seventh place on the homer list. My favorite stat: Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds are the only hitters with more homers and more walks than Thome.

• Two weeks ago Denard Span came off the disabled list despite admitting that he wasn't fully recovered from a June 3 concussion, saying that he felt it was time to simply play through the symptoms after spending two months on the sidelines. He struggled on a rehab assignment at Triple-A and that continued with the Twins, as Span went 2-for-35 (.057) with three times as many strikeouts as walks before being shut down again with migraines and dizziness.

According to trainer Rick McWane "this is something very similar" to his 2009 bout with vertigo and "the concussion stirred up a previous existing condition." Various medications failed and left Span with side effects, making it likely that he'll miss the remainder of the season. Worse, much like Justin Morneau coming into this season, Span may enter 2012 as a major question mark. Unfortunately for Span and Morneau being tough won't help you get over a brain injury.

Luke Hughes was recalled from Rochester to take Span's roster spot and the short-handed Twins would've started him last night versus left-hander CC Sabathia and the Yankees, except Hughes missed his flight to Minneapolis because he was at the wrong gate. Seriously. Michael Cuddyer and Matt Tolbert were on the active roster but injured and Jason Kubel wasn't with the team due to a personal matter, which forced Ron Gardenhire to get creative.

Gardenhire had exactly nine healthy players at his disposal, including a 40-year-old designated hitter and a pair of catchers, so he wrote out a lineup that included Joe Mauer in the outfield for the first time since high school. Mauer will surely never get the same type of endless praise that the local media gives Cuddyer for his willingness to play other positions, but he's looked good at first base since returning from the disabled list and was decent in right field too.

• It turns out the "later" in player to be named later was around 48 hours, as the Tigers sent 23-year-old right-hander Lester Oliveros to the Twins to complete the Delmon Young trade. At the time of the deal a source told me the PTBNL would be "nobody special" and Oliveros fits the description, but he's not without promise. His fastball averaged 94.5 miles per hour in nine games for the Tigers and he's got 93 strikeouts in 72 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

Oliveros' mid-90s velocity and outstanding strikeout rate also comes with poor control, as he's walked 43 batters in those 72 frames. Tons of strikeouts, tons of walks, and a big-time fastball make Oliveros appear similar to a younger version of Jim Hoey, which is intended as a positive thing despite the actual Hoey flopping with the Twins earlier this year. Oliveros may eventually do the same, but he also has a chance to be a quality reliever as soon as next season.

• It went down to the wire, but the Twins got first-round pick Levi Michael and supplemental first-round picks Hudson Boyd and Travis Harrison signed before Monday's deadline. Michael received $1.175 million, which is right about the MLB-recommend "slot" bonus for a 30th pick, but Boyd and Harrison each signed for around $1 million when the slot amounts for their picks were $700,000 and $650,000. As always, it's good to see the Twins spending on the draft.

Kevin Mulvey, who the Twins acquired from the Mets as part of the Johan Santana deal and then traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch in mid-2009, was designated for assignment by Arizona. He's allowed 24 runs in 27 innings as a major leaguer and the 26-year-old former second-round pick has posted increasingly poor results at Triple-A, including a 6.98 ERA and 44-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings there this year.

• Gardenhire was asked about the 2012 middle infield during a recent interview on 1500-ESPN and specifically mentioned Brian Dozier, a 2008 eighth-round pick who began this season as a 24-year-old at high Single-A and is now playing at Double-A. Dozier is having a very nice year, hitting .317/.397/.465 with nearly as many walks (46) as strikeouts (55) in 108 games, but has just four homers and batted just .275/.350/.349 between two levels of Single-A last season.

• No decision has been made yet on Kyle Gibson's possible Tommy John surgery, as the 2009 first-round pick has decided to get a second opinion next week from the doctor who performed Joe Nathan's elbow surgery in March of 2010.

Ben Revere has made too many outs atop the lineup, but at least some are exciting outs.

• Last night's game against the Yankees wasn't much fun, but this MLB.com headline made me laugh: "Long balls trip up Duensing." In related news, I'm a 28-year-old child.

• Thanks to everyone who listened to the first episode of my "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast with John Bonnes. We weren't sure what to expect, but the download count and the feedback have been extremely encouraging and our plan is to record one new episode a week. You can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or download it via the website, so please help spread the word. And if anyone with some design skills has an idea for a good logo, let me know.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota law firm Snyder Gislason Frasier LLC, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your legal needs.

June 7, 2011

UNC shortstop Levi Michael leads Twins’ against-type first-round picks

Hoping the Twins take a college middle infielder while expecting them to pick toolsy high school outfielders and strike-throwing college pitchers has become a pre-draft tradition in this space, so imagine my shock last night when they selected North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael with the 30th overall pick and then went further against the grain in the supplemental round with high school slugger Travis Harrison at No. 50 and high school pitcher Hudson Boyd at No. 55.

Not only is Michael the first college middle infielder selected by the Twins in the first round or supplemental first round since LSU second baseman Todd Walker way back in 1994, they last used a first-round pick on a college hitter of any position for Clemson catcher Matthew LeCroy in 1997. Michael alone represents a radical shift in draft strategy for the Twins and Boyd is also the first high school pitcher they've taken in the first round since Kyle Waldrop in 2004.

As a three-year college starter who figures to move through the system quickly Michael fills an obvious need for the Twins, as they've long struggled to develop middle infielders and are very short on MLB-ready help up the middle right now. Drafting for need is normally a mistake, but in this case he's also considered a clear first-round talent who many mock drafts had coming off the board in the 20-25 range. ESPN pegged him as "the top college shortstop in the class."

Baseball America ranked Michael as the 22nd-best player in the draft, noting that "he's been a reliable defender at all three [infield] spots and scouts are warming up to the idea that he could stay at shortstop at the pro level." He's had a disappointing junior year at the plate after a monster sophomore campaign, but that was partly due to an ankle injury and Michael still hit .297 with a .444 on-base percentage and more walks (47) than strikeouts (41) in 60 games.

Overall in three years as a full-time player at North Carolina the switch-hitting Michael batted .310/.440/.520 with 27 homers, 81 total extra-base hits, and a 123-to-117 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 191 games, stealing 40 bases in 47 attempts and adding to his on-base percentage by leaning into 45 pitches. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and ESPN noted that Michael has "solid tools across the board" with "great instincts and no real weaknesses in his game."

There are some questions about his power potential and range, but the Twins did very well to address an obvious area of short- and long-term need with a consensus first-round talent who should move quickly. As a switch-hitting college middle infielder with a strong track record and standout plate discipline Michael is exactly the type of player I've been hoping the Twins would target seemingly every June for the past decade. On paper at least, it's an ideal pick.

Harrison and Boyd are much different picks than Michael, as they're both years from potentially entering the Twins' plans and represent bigger risks along with sizable upsides. Harrison isn't quite as against type for the Twins as Michael or Boyd, but he's the first high school position player they've taken in the first round for his bat more than his tools since Chris Parmelee in 2006. According to Baseball America he "easily rates as the best high school bat" in California.

He's already 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds at 18, so while Harrison played third base in high school he may end up shifting across the diamond or to left field. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com reported during the draft coverage on MLB Network that Harrison has impressive power potential, but there are questions about his approach at the plate. Baseball America's take is similar, noting his "above-average power potential" but also his difficulty "adjusting to breaking balls."

For an organization largely devoid of power-hitting prospects after years of focusing on speed and athleticism in the draft a right-handed-hitting corner infielder with plenty of pop in his bat is certainly a welcome addition and while 50th overall is slightly higher than most projections Harrison is generally ranked as a top-100 player. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called Harrison "the best bat left on the board" and they'll have to sign him away from USC.

Michael addresses the lack of middle infield depth, Harrison brings some much-needed power, and Boyd is the latest move in the Twins' ongoing effort to add high-velocity arms to a system largely populated by finesse guys. Baseball America compared him to Jonathan Broxton and Bartolo Colon for mid-90s heat as much as a 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame and Jason Churchill of ESPN says Boyd may wind up as a late-inning reliever if his off-speed stuff doesn't develop.

This week's content is sponsored by the Minnesota law firm Snyder Gislason Frasier LLC, so please help support AG.com by considering them for your legal needs.