June 12, 2013

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

miguel sano fort myers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This week's blog content is sponsored by Ticket King, a local ticket broker that doesn't charge check-out fees, offers in-store pickup, and specializes in Twins tickets. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

April 10, 2013

Twins Notes: Extensions, saves, prospects, and premature press releases

Justin Morneau

LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Justin Morneau approached the Twins during spring training about a contract extension and they weren't interested, which is the right stance to take. Morneau is an impending free agent, but even setting aside his extensive injury history signing a good but not great 31-year-old first baseman to a multi-year contract isn't a great idea unless he were to take significantly less than his current $14 million salary.

Morneau hasn't topped an .800 OPS while playing more than 100 games since 2009 and while his .267/.333/.440 production in 134 games last season was encouraging after back-to-back years ruined by a concussion it was mediocre for a first baseman. Among the 29 regular first basemen he ranked 14th in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage, and 16th in slugging percentage. Toss in the health question marks and that's an awfully shaky investment.

There's also a chance of Morneau upping his production to pre-concussion levels, but even then they'd have an appealing option of tendering him a one-year "qualifying offer" that was worth $13.4 million this winter. If he accepts they get Morneau back for his age-32 season at a similar salary without a long-term commitment. If he declines and signs elsewhere they get a first-round draft pick. If he isn't traded by then, of course, which is another reason to avoid an extension.

Scott Diamond's delayed comeback from December elbow surgery created an opening in the rotation before the season had even started and Samuel Deduno's groin injury ruled him out, so the Twins turned to Cole De Vries ... and he had to be placed on the disabled list with a strained forearm before his first turn came up. Already scrambling for starters, the Twins called up Triple-A left-hander Pedro Hernandez, who had the benefit of being on the 40-man roster.

Hernandez was acquired from the White Sox along with Eduardo Escobar for Francisco Liriano in July and ranked 35th on my annual list of Twins prospects. He's a soft-tossing control artist with extreme platoon splits that could make it tough for him to stick as a starter, but the 23-year-old fared well enough in his Twins debut. Assuming that Diamond avoids further setbacks Hernandez may not be needed again for a while.

• One side effect of Ron Gardenhire holding Glen Perkins back for "save situations" that may not actually arrive is that lesser relievers are forced into pressure-packed spots. For instance, in the eighth inning Friday left-handed Orioles slugger Chris Davis came up with the bases loaded and one out in a tie game. Situations don't get any more important and if there was no such thing as the "save" statistic Perkins--being the best reliever and a lefty--would be the obvious choice.

Instead, with the game in the balance, Gardenhire called on 25-year-old rookie Tyler Robertson, who served up a grand slam and was promptly demoted to Triple-A the next day. He barely made the team out of spring training, has yet to show he can consistently get big leaguers out, and was apparently one bad pitch from going back to the minors, yet the manager chose Robertson to face Davis while Perkins watched. And people say guys like me are obsessed with statistics.

Since taking over for Matt Capps as the Twins' closer Perkins has converted 18 of 20 saves with a 2.01 ERA and 45-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings. That's incredibly good pitching, but the role change has also made Perkins less of a weapon thanks to such strict usage. And because the Twins' overall bullpen depth is weak and their only other standout reliever, Jared Burton, needs regular days off holding Perkins back for save situations will lead to some ugly matchups.

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America put together a list of the youngest prospects at each level of the minors, which includes Miguel Sano as the youngest player in the Florida State League and Oswaldo Arcia as the sixth-youngest player in the International League. Age relative to the level of competition is an extremely important factor in evaluating prospects, so keep that in mind when looking at their raw numbers this season.

• Here's where the Twins' top 20 prospects are beginning the season (Rochester is Triple-A, New Britain is Double-A, Fort Myers is high Single-A, and Cedar Rapids is low Single-A):

 1. Miguel Sano      Fort Myers       11. Max Kepler       Cedar Rapids
 2. Byron Buxton     Cedar Rapids     12. Luke Bard        Cedar Rapids
 3. Oswaldo Arcia    Rochester        13. Travis Harrison  Cedar Rapids
 4. Aaron Hicks      Minnesota        14. Mason Melotakis  Cedar Rapids
 5. Alex Meyer       New Britain      15. Jorge Polanco    Cedar Rapids
 6. Kyle Gibson      Rochester        16. J.T. Chargois    Cedar Rapids
 7. Eddie Rosario    Fort Myers       17. Niko Goodrum     Cedar Rapids
 8. Trevor May       New Britain      18. Hudson Boyd      Cedar Rapids
 9. J.O. Berrios     Cedar Rapids     19. Levi Michael     Fort Myers
10. Joe Benson       Rochester        20. Chris Herrmann   Rochester

No big surprises, although Byron Buxton moving to low Single-A and full-season ball at age 19 instead of spending more time in rookie-ball is noteworthy, as is Trevor May repeating Double-A at age 23 after spending all of last season there in the Phillies' system. Max Kepler will eventually join Buxton in the Cedar Rapids outfield, but for now he's rehabbing an injury in extended spring training. And some of the pitchers, including J.O. Berrios, will have their 2013 debuts delayed.

Wilkin Ramirez making the Opening Day roster as the designated "bench bat" based on a good spring training was an odd choice because he's 27 years old with a decade of awful plate discipline and underwhelming overall production in the minors. In adding Ramirez the Twins needed to clear space on the 40-man roster and they did that by designating Alex Burnett for assignment, which exposed the 24-year-old reliever to the waiver wire and got him claimed by the Blue Jays.

I'm hardly a big Burnett fan and praised the Twins for finally deciding he was better off at Triple-A, but losing him for nothing in order to add Ramirez is different. They thought Burnett was worthy of a bullpen job in 2010 at age 22 and worth keeping in the bullpen in 2011 and 2012, but in 2013 he's not worth a spot on a 40-man roster that includes Drew Butera, Caleb Thielbar, and Tim Wood? All so they could add a 27-year-old corner outfielder who's hit .255/.310/.430 at Triple-A.

• Tuesday morning the Twins sent out a press release announcing an "early entry program" at Target Field offering fans the chance to pay an extra $15 for the ability to get in 45 minutes early to watch batting practice. About five hours later they issued another press release retracting that offer because it was "not fully vetted across the Twins organization" and "we apologize for a lack of internal communication which led to the premature release of this misinformation." So ... yeah.

• Through eight games Twins pitchers have the fewest strikeouts in baseball with 38, which is 4.9 per nine innings. They also ranked dead last among all teams in strikeouts in 2011 and 2012 while averaging 6.0 and 5.9 per nine innings.

Josh Willingham has already been plunked twice and is well on his way to extending his streak of ranking among the league's top 10 in hit by pitches every season since 2007. Willingham has a career on-base percentage of .362, but if you removed the hit by pitches it would drop to .346.

Kevin Correia isn't missing any bats, but he induced 12 and 15 ground-ball outs in his first two starts after getting 12 or more ground-ball outs just three times in his final 13 starts last season.

Joe Mauer moved past Gary Gaetti for sixth place on the Twins' all-time hit list with 1,277. In getting those first 1,276 hits Gaetti made 1,077 more outs than Mauer. Seriously.

Aaron Hicks joined Rich Becker in 1993 and Butera in 2010 as the only Twins position players to strike out three times in their MLB debut.

• Butera broke his left hand at Triple-A, so now he'll make $700,000 on Rochester's disabled list.

• "Roy Smalley's Fist List" is a thing, apparently.

Ben Revere is learning some very important things in Philadelphia.

• On this week's "Gleeman and the Geek" episode we talked lots about Hicks' slow start, Perkins' excellence, and Gardenhire's decision-making.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

March 28, 2013

Twins Notes: Setting the Opening Day roster

ron gardenhire spring training

• Barring any changes between now and Monday here's what the Twins' roster looks like:

   LINEUP:                    ROTATION:
C  Joe Mauer               RH Vance Worley
1B Justin Morneau          RH Kevin Correia
2B Brian Dozier            RH Mike Pelfrey
SS Pedro Florimon          RH Liam Hendriks
3B Trevor Plouffe          RH Cole De Vries
LF Josh Willingham
CF Aaron Hicks                BULLPEN:
RF Chris Parmelee          LH Glen Perkins
DH Ryan Doumit             RH Jared Burton
                           LH Brian Duensing
   BENCH:                  RH Casey Fien
IF Jamey Carroll           RH Josh Roenicke
IF Eduardo Escobar         RH Ryan Pressly
OF Darin Mastroianni       LH Tyler Robertson
OF Wilkin Ramirez

If the above 25-man roster sticks there will be a total of 11 holdovers from last season's Opening Day roster: Joe Mauer, Justin MorneauJosh WillinghamRyan Doumit, Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe, and Jamey Carroll among position players and Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, and Liam Hendriks among pitchers.

Scott Diamond's elbow problems opened the door for Samuel Deduno to get back into the rotation, but a groin injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic shut that door. Deduno, who was dropped from the 40-man roster and passed through waivers unclaimed four months ago, will head to Triple-A. Cole De Vries, who unlike Deduno is on the 40-man roster, is set to join Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Hendriks in the season-opening rotation.

De Vries held his own in 14 starts as a 27-year-old rookie last season, but he was an emergency call-up when the rotation was wrecked by injuries and has a 4.39 ERA with just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 156 innings at Triple-A. De Vries throws strikes and as an Eden Prairie native who went undrafted out of the University of Minnesota he's a good story, but he's likely to serve up a ton of homers and turning to him already is a bad sign.

Alex Burnett stuck around in the majors far longer than his performance warranted, spending nearly three full seasons in the Twins' bullpen despite a 4.61 ERA, sub par control, and just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. On the surface his 3.52 ERA last season may have looked like a big step forward, but it came with a horrible 36-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 72 innings and the Twins smartly didn't let his experience keep them from sending Burnett to Triple-A.

Barring late additions Burnett's demotion to Rochester means that the four bullpen spots after Perkins as closer and Burton and Duensing as his primary setup men will go to Casey Fien, Josh Roenicke, Ryan Pressly, and Tyler Robertson. Pressly is the biggest surprise after the Twins opted not to keep Rule 5 picks in the majors in both 2011 and 2012, but he throws hard and they clearly like how he's looked since shifting from starter to reliever late last season.

I'm glad Fien is getting another shot after looking good in 35 innings last season. He has a solid enough track record in the minors to think he can be a useful middle man. Roenicke was claimed off waivers from the Rockies in November and has shown the durability to soak up innings, but poor control and sub par strikeout rates aren't an encouraging combo. Rafael Perez not being ready yet following shoulder surgery made it pretty easy for Robertson to be the third left-hander.

Perkins and Burton put the Twins in good shape for the eighth and ninth innings, but beyond that duo Fien, Roenicke, and Pressly from the right side and Duensing and Robertson from the left side isn't particularly promising. Anthony Swarzak, who likely would have made the team as a long reliever, and Tim Wood, who was in the mix for one of the final bullpen spots, will both begin the season on the disabled list.

• Last offseason the Twins signed outfielder Wilkin Ramirez to a minor-league deal and sent him to the minors without any fanfare after he hit .214 in 10 spring training games. He played most of the season at Triple-A and did little to distinguish himself, hitting .276/.316/.451 with 15 homers and an ugly 97-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98 games. He became a free agent and re-signed with the Twins on another minor-league deal. And now Ramirez is on the Opening Day roster.

What changed between then and now to make a 27-year-old journeyman with an underwhelming decade-long track record and awful plate discipline worth a roster spot in the majors? Ramirez has had a good spring, hitting .444 with nine doubles in 16 games. And that's basically it. Last year at this time no one gave him much thought and his play in Rochester didn't warrant a call-up, but 45 good at-bats convinced the Twins he's the man for the job.

It doesn't matter much, because backups on last-place teams aren't exactly of vital importance and the Twins failed to bring in many superior options, but trusting 50 plate appearances in spring training over 4,000 plate appearances in the minors generally isn't a sound approach to decision-making and Ramirez is an odd pick to replace Drew Butera following Ron Gardenhire's call to "beef up" the bench. He's a career .255/.310/.430 hitter at Triple-A.

Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press crunched the numbers and calculates the Twins' payroll at $81 million, which is the lowest since it was $65 million during the final season at the Metrodome in 2009. In their first season at Target Field the Twins spent $98 million and in Year 2 that rose to $113 million, but the payroll dropped to $94 million in Year 3 and now it's well below MLB average. Not quite the pattern fans were hoping for throughout the new ballpark push.

• Friend of AG.com Dan Szymborski predicted the American League standings for ESPN.com based on his excellent ZiPS projection system and not surprisingly the Twins are bringing up the rear in the AL Central at 66-96. Only the Astros have a worse projected record in the AL.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode featured a whole bunch of Aaron Hicks talk.


This week's blog content is sponsored by Territory Train, which takes the heavy lifting out of planning and executing Twins road trips. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

January 31, 2013

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2013: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

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

35. Pedro Hernandez | Starter | DOB: 4/89 | Throws: Left | Trade: White Sox

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     A-     29     13     4.04     100.1     122      6      79     17
2011     A+     15      6     2.70      56.2      52      3      44      6
         AA      9      8     3.48      41.1      39      4      43     10
         AAA     4      4     6.00      18.0      28      3       7      6
2012     AA     12     12     2.75      68.2      68      6      37     18
         AAA     7      6     4.46      34.1      43      2      28      4
         MLB     1      1    18.00       4.0      12      3       2      1

Pedro Hernandez was signed by the Padres out of Venezuela as a 17-year-old in 2006, traded to the White Sox as part of the package for Carlos Quentin in 2011, and acquired by the Twins along with Eduardo Escobar in the Francisco Liriano deal. He appeared in one game for the White Sox last season, getting clobbered for eight runs in four innings on July 18 against the Red Sox, and spent the rest of the year at Double-A and Triple-A.

He throws in the low-90s with more fly balls than ground balls and struggled to miss bats after advancing beyond Single-A, producing just 65 strikeouts in 103 innings last season. In the minors at least he's been able to offset all that somewhat with very good control, walking just 1.6 batters per nine innings for his career, but the left-hander has limited upside despite not yet turning 24 years old.

Hernandez has little chance to make the team out of spring training, but he has a spot on the 40-man roster and that means when the Twins need pitching reinforcements during the season he'll jump to the front of the line with any sort of decent work in Rochester. If things go well he could wind up as a useful back-of-the-rotation starter, but Hernandez struggled against right-handed hitters last year and a shift to the bullpen may be his best path to the majors.

34. Jason Wheeler | Starter | DOB: 10/90 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2011-8

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2012     A-     27     27     3.45     156.2     170     12     115     43

Jason Wheeler was a mess in his first two college seasons, but put together a solid junior year at Loyola Marymount in 2011 and was drafted by the Twins in the eighth round. He signed too late to debut, so the 6-foot-8, 250-pound left-hander began his pro career last season at low Single-A by going 14-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 27 starts. Meanwhile his brother, third base prospect and 2009 fifth-round pick Ryan Wheeler, made his MLB debut for the Diamondbacks.

Wheeler's nice-looking ERA and win-loss record overstate how well he pitched for Beloit, as he got a ton of run support from a stacked, Miguel Sano-led lineup and managed just 115 strikeouts in 157 innings. He did a decent job limiting homers, but Wheeler induced a modest number of ground balls, allowed opponents to hit .281 off him, and showed mediocre control with 2.5 walks per nine innings.

Physically he's among the largest pitchers in baseball, minors or majors, but Wheeler works in the high-80s and low-90s with his fastball. If the Twins' coaches can somehow figure out how to turn his massive frame into added velocity at age 22 he could be a breakout candidate, but short of that Wheeler looks like a potential back-of-the-rotation starter who does most things reasonably well without any standout skill.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
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
2012     A+      8      7     6.39      25.1      33      1      14     15

In the low minors Adrian Salcedo looked like a high-upside prospect, but his stock dropped along with his strikeout rate against more experienced competition and he missed most of last season after being hit in the face by a line drive. He threw just 31 ineffective innings, wasn't picked in the Rule 5 draft after being left off the 40-man roster, and will be 22 years old by the time he throws his first pitch above Single-A.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 as a 16-year-old, Salcedo has just 72 walks in 386 innings for a rate of 1.7 per nine frames. Brad Radke's career walk rate was 1.6 per nine innings, so for Salcedo to show that type of pinpoint control so early in his career is extremely impressive. Unfortunately his strikeouts per nine innings fell from 8.6 in rookie-ball to 6.1 at low Single-A to 5.1 at high Single-A, where Salcedo has a 6.32 ERA in 53 innings.

Salcedo's low-90s fastball and overall raw stuff have always gotten positive reviews, but even before the injury the 6-foot-4 right-hander was trending in the wrong direction. Being a control artist in the majors is one thing, but most successful low-strikeout, low-walk starters actually managed decent strikeout rates in the minors. He's still young enough to bounce back from the lost year of development time, but Salcedo's status as a quality prospect is shaky.

32. Tyler Robertson | Reliever | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2010     AA     27     27     5.41     144.2     181     17      91     57
2011     AA     55      0     3.61      89.2      87      6      88     29
2012     AAA    33      0     3.77      28.2      26      2      33     13
         MLB    40      0     5.40      25.0      21      4      26     14

Once upon a time Tyler Robertson ranked among the Twins' best pitching prospects, but his strikeout rate deteriorated as his climbed the organizational ladder and injuries kept him from maintaining peak velocity. After an ugly 2010 season at Double-A the Twins decided they'd seen enough of Robertson as a starter, shifting the 6-foot-5 left-hander to the bullpen. He fared well there with a 3.65 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 118 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

That earned him a June call-up and Robertson struck out the first four big leaguers he faced, but he struggled to consistently throw strikes and finished with a 5.40 ERA in 25 innings. He actually dominated lefties with a .190 batting average and 22-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but righties hit .290 with more walks than strikeouts. His splits were similarly extreme at Triple-A, so Robertson needs to show that he can avoid being a liability against righties.

His high-80s fastball is reason for skepticism in that area, although the off-speed repertoire from his days as a starter should come in handy. If he can improve versus righties Robertson has a chance to be a ground ball-getting setup man, but if not he'll likely be limited to a southpaw specialist role. Either way, this season will be key for Robertson because at age 25 he may not get a particularly long leash.

31. Madison Boer | Starter | 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
2012     A-      5      5     3.58      27.2      26      1      20     10
         A+     22     19     6.41     111.0     147     15      66     32

Picked out of Oregon in the second round of the 2011 draft, Madison Boer posted a ridiculous 43-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his 25-inning debut that year. Unfortunately none of that carried over to his first full season, as the 6-foot-4 right-hander from Eden Prairie got knocked around for a 5.84 ERA in 139 innings between two levels of Single-A, allowing opponents to hit .309 while managing just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

Boer's lack of missed bats isn't a total shock after he struck out just 74 batters in 99 innings during his final college season and Baseball America noted before the draft that his velocity fell from the mid-90s as a reliever to the low-90s as a starter. Still, there's no way a 22-year-old top-100 pick with big-time college experience should struggle that much at Single-A, particularly after toying with rookie-ball hitters.

Boer is already 23 years old, so if he continues to struggle as a starter it'll be interesting to see how long the Twins wait to shift him to the bullpen. That's certainly not a guaranteed fix, but it would allow him to focus on the fastball-slider combo that drew pre-draft praise and would likely provide a much quicker path to the majors. At this point, though, Boer simply needs to get back to pitching well again regardless of the role.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Peter David Benson's book "All Babies Suck," which is available on Amazon.com as a free Kindle download. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

February 13, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

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

40. Kyle Waldrop | Reliever | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     20      0     3.09      35.0      43      0      20      7
         AA     31      0     1.46      55.2      51      2      30     18
2010     AAA    59      0     2.57      87.2      89      5      60     20
2011     AAA    56      0     3.87      79.0      84      7      44     18

Kyle Waldrop wasn't added to the 40-man roster following a standout season at Triple-A in 2010. He went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft that winter, returned to Rochester, had a worse season in nearly every possible way, and was added to the 40-man roster and called up in September. That doesn't make a ton of sense, even considering the Twins' injury wrecked roster last season, but does suggest that they view him as a potentially useful bullpen option.

Waldrop was a first-round pick back in 2004, shifted to the bullpen following shoulder surgery in 2008, and is already 26 years old, so there isn't much upside beyond what he's shown already. And that hasn't been particularly impressive, as his fastball typically resides in the high-80s and he's managed just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A. That includes a measly 44 strikeouts in 79 innings there last season.

What he does well is throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground, which could be enough to make Waldrop a decent middle reliever if he can keep his strikeout rate from falling further against big leaguers. He induced 65 percent grounders in two years at Triple-A and anything above 55 percent in the majors qualifies someone as an extreme ground-ball pitcher. Waldrop will compete for a low-leverage role this spring and should get a chance to sink or swim soon.

39. Anderson Hidalgo | Third Base | DOB: 9/88 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     RK+    205     .291     .379     .469      6     19     25     38
2010     A-     315     .316     .375     .443      3     29     24     50
2011     A+     384     .274     .332     .395      6     29     27     65

Anderson Hidalgo's quest to become one of the shortest third basemen in big-league history at 5-foot-9 hit a snag last season, as he followed up a strong showing at low Single-A in 2010 by losing 100 points of OPS in the move to high Single-A. His raw totals were better than they look because the Florida State League as a whole slugged .386, but with just six homers and 29 total extra-base hits in 100 games his Isolated Power was slightly below league average.

Hidalgo got away with the lack of power in the past because he hit at least .290 in each of his first five professional stops, but his batting average dropped to .274 last season. Maintaining similar strikeout and walk rates suggest that Hidalgo wasn't overmatched at high Single-A, but then again he didn't make tons of contact or draw a bunch of walks to begin with. At age 23 there's still time for Hidalgo to develop, but his low-minors success no longer means much.

Among active big leaguers listed at 5-foot-10 or shorter only Placido Polanco, Chone Figgins, Nick Punto, Maicer Izturis, and Alberto Callaspo have 250-plus games at third base. Hidalgo lacks the speed and defensive chops to seamlessly fit into that group, but coincidentally or not his offensive upside could be pretty close. Polanco is the high end, Punto is the low end, and somewhere in the middle would be hitting around .275 with doubles power and a .725 OPS.

38. Dereck Rodriguez | Center Field | DOB: 6/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK-     98     .156     .216     .200      0      4      5     35

Named after his future Hall of Famer father, Ivan Rodriguez, junior goes by Dereck Rodriguez and was the Twins' sixth-round pick last year out of a Florida high school. Pudge is still trying to stick around at age 40 for a 22nd season in the majors, but he won't be able to hang on until his son is ready to join him. Dereck made his pro debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .156 with zero homers and 35 strikeouts in 29 games.

While his MVP-winning father is one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, Rodriguez is an outfielder who saw time in all three spots during his debut. He does have his dad's arm, but he'll be trying to gun down runners at the plate instead of trying to throw them out from behind it. If he sticks as a position player, that is. Before the draft there was talk of some teams preferring Rodriguez as a pitcher because they liked his arm and questioned his bat.

For now there's no talk of the Twins encouraging a switch to the mound, but Rodriguez will have to show that he can hit following such an ugly--and albeit brief--debut at the plate. Rodriguez is 6-foot-1, but just 175 pounds and won't be 20 years old until June. Of course, by the time Ivan was 20 years old he was already in his second season as the Rangers' starting catcher, made his first of 16 All-Star teams, and won his first of 13 Gold Gloves. Good luck, kid.

37. JaDamion Williams | Right Field | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-10

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    124     .214     .279     .295      1      6     10     43
2011     RK+    212     .324     .406     .465      4     17     25     58

He was all tools and projection when the Twins took him out of a Florida high school in the 10th round of the 2010 draft, but JaDamion Williams showed last season that there's also a good baseball player beneath all the speed and athleticism. He struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .214 while playing primarily second base in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but switched to the outfield while moving up to rookie-level Elizabethton last season and thrived.

He batted .317 with 17 extra-base hits, 25 walks, and 10 steals in 50 games, joining Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario in an Elizabethton lineup that scored six runs per game. Williams struck out too much, whiffing 58 times in 212 plate appearances, and the move to right field means he'll have to keep putting up big numbers offensively to make a significant impact, but as a toolsy 21-year-old that's certainly within reach.

Williams still hasn't faced full-season competition yet, so expectations should be held in check, but he'll make the jump to Beloit this year and is definitely someone to keep an eye on when checking low-minors boxscores. It'll be interesting to see if the Twins have completely given up on the idea of him playing the infield, because being even a passable option at second base or third base would dramatically alter his upside.

36. Tyler Robertson | Reliever | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     26     26     3.33     143.1     139      7     103     51
2010     AA     27     27     5.41     144.2     181     17      91     57
2011     AA     55      0     3.61      89.2      87      6      88     29

In the low minors Tyler Robertson looked like a future mid-rotation starter, but his strikeout rate deteriorated as he moved up the organizational ladder and injuries further pushed him off course, leading to the Twins shifting the 2006 third-round pick to the bullpen at Double-A last season. At the same level the previous season Robertson got knocked around for a 5.41 ERA and .308 opponents' batting average, but he performed like a totally different pitcher in relief.

Robertson appeared in 55 games and logged 90 innings with a 3.61 ERA and .252 opponents' average, inducing two ground balls per fly ball. He also had nearly as many strikeouts (88) in 90 innings as he did (91) in 145 innings as a starter, including a 41-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 second-half innings. In one year repeating Double-A he went from an afterthought left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft as a starter to added to the 40-man roster as a reliever.

However, while that's plenty encouraging Robertson's upside is still limited by mediocre control and underwhelming velocity. Those weaknesses are muted somewhat as a reliever, especially when spotted mostly against left-handed batters, but Robertson is far more likely to develop into a useful situational southpaw than an impact setup man. Hanging on to last year's success while moving up to Triple-A could put him in the Twins' bullpen mix by the second half.

Older Posts »