February 1, 2011

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2011: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

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

40. Matthew Bashore | Starter | DOB: 4/88 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2009-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+     1      0     0.00       2.0       3      0       2      0

Matthew Bashore has appeared in just one pro game two years after the Twins made him the 46th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He signed for $750,000, tossed two innings at rookie-level Elizabethton, and was shut down with an elbow injury. He underwent surgery to remove bone chips and was supposed to be ready for the beginning of last season, but instead never threw a pitch in 2010 and is a question mark for this year following Tommy John surgery.

My decision to include Bashore on this list despite his uncertain status stems from the fact that he'd no doubt have cracked the top 40 after struggling mightily in his first taste of pro ball by virtue of being a top-50 pick. Obviously needing his elbow rebuilt is far worse than simply not performing well, but Tommy John surgery is hardly a death sentence for pitchers and at age 23 he still has plenty of time to get back on track before falling off the prospect map.

Bashore is a 6-foot-3 lefty who spent three years in Indiana University's rotation, finishing his career tied for the school strikeout record. He worked in the low-90s with his fastball before going under the knife and fits the Twins' mold as a control-and-command guy. This season will be crucial for Bashore, as he can't afford another setback if the Twins are to get any value out of the compensatory draft pick received for letting Dennys Reyes walk as a free agent.

39. Lance Ray | Right Field | DOB: 9/89 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2010-8

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK+     76     .314     .360     .414      0      6      3     10
         A-     199     .279     .377     .418      3     17     28     28

After two seasons playing for a Nevada junior college Lance Ray transferred to the University of Kentucky last year and got off to a slow start following offseason wrist surgery, but quickly got on track and ended up leading the Wildcats in batting average (.356), on-base percentage (.458), and slugging percentage (.720) while walking as many times (20) as he struck out (21) against high-level competition in the Southeastern Conference.

He finished his junior season on a 21-game hitting streak, during which he batted .418 with 18 extra-base hits and 16 walks, and was picked by the Twins in the eighth round. He signed for $125,000 and spent just a few weeks in rookie-ball before quickly moving up to low Single-A, combining to bat .289/.372/.417 with three homers, 23 total extra-base hits, and a 38-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 total games.

Ray looks like a good bet to control the strike zone, grind out walks, and post strong on-base percentages, but as a first baseman or corner outfielder his power development will be crucial. He showed plenty of pop wielding the metal in college, but didn't do much damage shifting to wood bats in his professional debut and pre-draft reports pegged Ray as more of a line-drive hitter than a slugger.

38. Tyler Robertson | Starter | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     15     15     2.72      82.2      78      3      73     31
2009     A+     26     26     3.33     143.1     139      7     103     51
2010     AA     27     27     5.41     144.2     181     17      91     57

Tyler Robertson was the Twins' third rounder in 2006 and fared very well in the low minors to emerge as one of the team's top pitching prospects, but his performance has deteriorated so steadily since missing half of 2008 with shoulder problems that the Twins announced plans to move him to the bullpen this season. Even when Robertson was thriving there were questions about his stiff, unorthodox delivery, so an injury isn't the only possibly factor in his decline.

During the past four years Robertson's strikeouts per nine innings have gone from 10.8 to 7.9 to 6.5 to 5.8, and last season at Double-A he had a sub par 91-to-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 145 innings while opponents hit .308 with 17 homers. However, even while struggling overall the 23-year-old southpaw maintained a ground-ball rate around 50 percent and previously did very well limiting long balls.

Ultimately shifting to the bullpen is likely best for Robertson, as he's had difficulty keeping his velocity steady throughout a full season in the rotation and has a strong enough track record versus left-handed hitters to settle into a lefty specialist role if setup duties prove above him. He's definitely at a career crossroads this season, as the Twins left him off the 40-man roster and unprotected for the Rule 5 draft knowing he wouldn't be selected.

37. Danny Rams | Catcher | DOB: 12/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-2

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     RK     166     .228     .301     .428      5     16     15     71
2009     RK      72     .355     .444     .790      6     14      8     22
         A-     195     .229     .308     .429      7     21     18     77
2010     A-     450     .243     .310     .450     16     48     31    145

It's been four years since the Twins picked Danny Rams in the second round of the 2007 draft and he really hasn't developed one bit. He still swings at everything, still strikes out a ton, and still has lots of people questioning whether he can remain a catcher long term. And yet Rams also still has enough raw power and arm strength to keep him on the prospect map at age 22, albeit just barely.

Ugly as they were last season's .243 batting average and 145-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio at low Single-A are right in line with Rams' career marks, but he also smacked 16 homers and 48 total extra-base hits in 407 at-bats playing in Beloit's pitcher-friendly environment and threw out 47 percent of steal attempts. Among all the hitters in the Twins' system with at least 300 plate appearances last season only Joe Benson had a higher Isolated Power.

His flaws are prominent enough to possibly derail his development, but because the standard for "decent" among major-league catchers is so low simply hitting some homers and controlling the running game can make Rams a valuable player along the lines of, say, John Buck, Miguel Olivo, and Rod Barajas. Of course, those guys weren't already quite so flawed and limited in the minors, which means they represent optimistic scenarios for Rams at this point.

36. Scott Diamond | Starter | DOB: 7/86 | Throws: Left | Rule 5: Braves

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A-      9      9     3.08      52.2      47      2      38     11
         A+     17     15     2.79     100.0      95      6      85     28
2009     AA     23     23     3.50     131.0     152      5     111     53
2010     AA     17     17     3.52     102.1     113      4      90     39
         AAA    10     10     3.36      56.1      53      2      33     15

Scott Diamond went undrafted out of a Canadian high school in 2007 and signed with Atlanta for $50,000, which is the same price the Twins paid in December to nab him in the Rule 5 draft. Despite being undrafted Diamond moved pretty quickly through the Braves' system, reaching Triple-A in his third year as a pro. He's had success at every level, posting ERAs of 3.08 at low Single-A, 2.79 at high Single-A, 3.51 at Double-A, and 3.36 at Triple-A.

Last season he made 17 starts at Double-A and 10 starts at Triple-A, posting a 3.46 ERA and 123-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 159 total innings. His strikeout and walk rates have been mediocre, with 7.3 strikeouts and 3.0 walks per nine innings, but Diamond has served up just 19 homers in 442 career innings, including 11 long balls in 290 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and has also had a ground-ball rate above 50 percent at every level.

In order for the Twins to keep Diamond he must remain on the 25-man roster (or disabled list) for the entire season or he'll be offered back to the Braves. Unlike most Rule 5 picks Diamond has a chance to stick, in part because he projects as a potentially useful pitcher and in part because the Twins have plenty of spots to settle in the bullpen. He could begin 2011 in a long relief role and perhaps get a chance to be a situational left-hander if things go well.

October 20, 2010

Twins Notes: Baker, Blackburn, Punto, Sano, Kepler, and Laudner

• Last week Michael Cuddyer underwent knee surgery and now both Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn need elbow "clean ups." Blackburn missed just one start due to the injury, but told Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he's been pitching with discomfort "over the last couple years" and "just decided to get it taken care of now." Baker missed more time during the season and needed two cortisone shots, but both surgeries are considered minor.

Kelly Thesier of MLB.com writes that the Twins "will likely decline" their $5 million option on Nick Punto for 2011. Not paying $5 million for a 33-year-old utility man who hit .238/.313/.302 this season and .247/.321/.322 for his career would normally be a no-brainer, but the Twins paid him $4 million in each of the past two years and ... well, I just can't see Ron Gardenhire letting Punto leave without a fight. His deal includes a $500,000 buyout of the option.

• Following the Twins' latest first-round playoff exit there's been lots of talk about needing to add a "true ace" to the rotation without anyone really defining exactly what "true ace" means. For many people it seemingly just means "a starter who pitches very well in the playoffs" even if that evaluation is made after the fact, but Bryan Smith of Fan Graphs crunched the numbers in an effort to determine exactly how each "spot" in the rotation performs across MLB.

Miguel Sano is without question one of the Twins' best prospects, but I'm not sure what to call him at this point. When the Twins signed him out of the Dominican Republic last season for a record $3.15 million bonus he went by Miguel Angel Sano. For most of this season he was generally referred to as simply Miguel Sano. And now John Manuel of Baseball America notes that the 17-year-old infielder "wants to go by his dad's surname and be called Miguel Jean."

Old What's His Name batted .307/.379/.491 with seven homers, 24 total extra-base hits, and a 60/24 K/BB ratio in 61 games between two levels of rookie-ball in his professional debut.

Tyler Robertson's prospect stock has declined during the past few seasons, in part because he's struggled to stay healthy and in part because his strikeout rate deteriorated as he moved up the minor-league ladder. He ranked 16th on my list of the Twins' prospects this winter, but went 4-13 with a 5.41 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A and Baseball America correspondent Phil Miller reports that the 22-year-old left-hander has been moved to the bullpen full time.

• Miller also wrote an interesting article about Max Kepler, the 17-year-old German outfielder who made his pro debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and batted .286/.346/.343 in 37 games. Vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff had all kinds of positive things to say about Kepler's first taste of pro ball and his numbers, while not jaw-dropping, are impressive for an extremely raw prospect who was one of the youngest players in the GCL.

• After spending the past few seasons as one of the Twins' secondary FSN television analysts Tim Laudner has taken a minor-league coaching job with ... the White Sox. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, after spending his entire nine-year career as a Twins catcher Laudner will focus on helping to develop the White Sox's catching prospects and could end up spending most of his time at Triple-A Charlotte.

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