January 27, 2005


Along with Carlos Delgado signing with the Marlins and Doug Mientkiewicz being traded to the Mets, the one other thing that caught my eye yesterday was that the Twins announced their list of non-roster invitees for spring training. NRI lists aren't typically bursting with talent, but Twins fans can look back to last year's list to see that the players can have an impact. Last season's NRIs were Joe Mauer, Chris Heintz, Brandon Marsters, Gabby Torres, Jake Mauer, Alex Prieto, Luis Rodriguez, Jesse Crain, Seth Greisinger, Peter Munro, Jeromy Palki, and Joe Roa.

Everyone knows about Mauer, obviously. Greisinger spent part of the year in the Twins' rotation, going 2-5 with a 6.18 ERA in 51 innings before the team decided to give Terry Mulholland a chance. Roa did a nice job as the long man in Minnesota's bullpen, going 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 70 innings. Crain joined the Twins in the middle of the year, tossed 27 innings with a 2.00 ERA, and is expected to be one of Joe Nathan's setup men this season. Prieto got a little action, hitting .250/.306/.375 in 36 plate appearances. And though Munro didn't pitch a single inning for the Twins, he went 4-7 with a 5.15 ERA in 99.2 innings with the Astros, and then actually started two postseason games for Houston.

All of which leads us to this year's group: Scott Baker, Willie Eyre, Trey Hodges, C.J. Nitkowski, Brent Abernathy, Andy Fox, Luis Maza, Eric Munson, Glenn Williams, Todd Dunwoody, Josh Rabe, Jason Tyner, Mulholland, Heintz, and Torres. It is an interesting group with a lot of fairly recognizable names who were once thought of as pretty good prospects.

Munson, whom I discussed in some length when the Twins signed him to a minor-league deal last week, was the #3 pick in the 1999 draft. For my thoughts on him you can read last week's column, but the short version is that he's got a lot of pop in his bat and is a good player to take a flier on, but his .215/.287/.414 career offense and lack of defensive ability makes him someone who would be pretty stretched as an everyday player on a contending team.

Tyner was the #21 overall pick by the Mets back in the 1998 draft and has never really done anything -- in the minors or the majors -- to justify that selection even for just a little bit. He has as little power as you will ever see from a major-league outfielder, setting a career-high with a .400 slugging percentage at Triple-A in 2003. He is a career .309 hitter in 561 minor-league games and has good speed and decent on-base skills, but it has only translated to .257/.294/.299 in 246 major-league games. If a team asked for a fifth outfielder from Central Casting, Tyner would be high up on the list of guys they sent.

Abernathy was Toronto's second-round pick in 1996. He hit pretty well in the minors and was traded to the Devil Rays for Steve Trachsel and Mark Guthrie in the middle of the 2000 season. Abernathy debuted for Tampa Bay in 2001, hitting .270/.328/.382 in 79 games, and then hit just .242/.288/.311 in 117 games as their starting second baseman in 2002. He got 37 plate appearances between Tampa Bay and Kansas City in 2003 and then didn't play in the majors at all last season. Though he's only a career .245/.295/.327 hitter in the majors, Abernathy hit .294/.357/.463 at Triple-A last year and there's a decent shot he could match Luis Rivas' production at second base in 2005 -- and he'd do it for about 20% of the cost. It'll never happen, of course -- he'll do a nice job for Triple-A Rochester.

Hodges and Dunwoody weren't high draft picks, but they were each considered one of their team's best prospects at one point. Hodges went 15-9 with a 3.19 ERA in 172 innings at Triple-A in 2002 and combined to throw 77 innings with a 4.77 ERA with the Braves between 2002 and 2003. He then went 5-2 with a 4.82 ERA in 52 innings back at Triple-A last year before being sold to a Japanese League team, where he went 2-3 with a 5.31 ERA in 40.2 innings. It's unlikely Hodges will make the Twins out of spring training, but his track record suggests he could get the job done as a fifth starter or long reliever in the majors. If nothing else, he should be one of the better starting pitchers in the International League.

I don't have nearly as much hope for Dunwoody. He put up some impressive numbers while in the Marlins' minor-league system in the late 90s, but hasn't done a whole lot since then. An outfielder, Dunwoody batted .281/.317/.473 with a ridiculously bad 75-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 107 games at Triple-A last year and is a career .267/.313/.471 hitter in 595 games at Triple-A. I checked out his page over at Baseball-Reference.com and was shocked to learn that he has played parts of six seasons in the major leagues, combining to hit .233/.277/.348 in 986 plate appearances.

On the other end of the spectrum from these former prospects is Baker, who was the Twins' second-round pick in the 2003 draft. He has breezed through the system, going 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 220 innings between Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, while posting a fantastic 192-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Baker is one of the team's best pitching prospects and, like Crain last year, seems destined to impress the coaching staff during spring training, start the season at Triple-A, and then make his big-league debut in the second half.

Eyre, Rabe, Maza, and Torres are also all original Twins' draftees. Maza is a 25-year-old infielder who looked like nothing more than organizational filler before last season, but then hit .311/.365/.470 in 126 games at Double-A New Britain. Rabe is a former 11th-round pick who has had a couple decent stops, hitting .340/.427/.481 in 80 games at Single-A in 2002 and .303/.361/.445 in 94 games at Double-A in 2003, but hasn't done much of anything beyond that. He is a career .279/.350/.401 hitter in 547 minor-league games and hit just .264/.333/.376 in 121 games at Triple-A in 2004.

Eyre is a right-handed pitcher who has put together quite a few solid seasons while going up through the system, but his sub par strikeout numbers and lack of control suggest he probably isn't destined for much more than a few more years in the minors and maybe a cup of coffee or two in the big leagues. On the other hand, Torres is an intriguing player. He didn't have a great year in 2004, but he is a catcher who has hit .290/.366/.420 in 216 career games at Double-A. Torres will be 27 years old in 2005, so he's not destined for stardom, but he seems like someone who deserves a shot at being a backup catcher somewhere. Plus, you've got to love a guy who says his "favorite baseball player growing up was Bo Diaz."

Mulholland is the NRI most likely to make the team out of spring training and would likely be the team's swingman if Joe Mays is healthy. Nitkowski is around to presumably "compete" with Mulholland, although considering his lack of major-league success (5.35 ERA in 475.2 career innings) and inability to move back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation, Mulholland shouldn't be very worried. Similarly, Fox is around to give Minnesota's assortment of middle infielders a little competition during the spring, but he's destined for Rochester along with Heintz and Williams.

Oh, and one last thing: If you'd have bet me that I couldn't write 1,300 words on the Minnesota Twins' non-roster invitees for 2005 ... well, you'd be wrong.

Today at The Hardball Times:

- The Hardball Times 2005 NCAA Pre-Season All-America Team (Part Two) (by Craig Burley)

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