June 9, 2005

The Twins' Draft

The tendency with drafts is to judge them on first-round picks. However, while that works just fine in basketball and reasonably well in football, the baseball draft is so long and such a complete crapshoot that the odds of finding a player in rounds 2-50 who turns out better than your first-round pick are pretty damn good.

Another thing to consider when thinking about the Twins' draft this year is just how different picking at the end of the first round is from picking at the top of it. For years, the Twins had high first-round picks, culminating in 2001 when they drafted Joe Mauer over Mark Prior #1 overall. There is a huge difference between picking at the beginning of the first round and picking at the end of it, so much so that late first-round picks really shouldn't be viewed any differently than second or third rounders.

That is part of the reason why recent back-to-back-to-back first-round busts Ryan Mills, B.J. Garbe, and Adam Johnson were so disappointing -- they were all top-10 picks. The expected "return" on a top-10 pick is so high that getting complete nothings like Mills, Garbe, and Johnson really hurts. In fact, while 1997 first rounder Michael Cuddyer is contributing to the Twins and still has a chance to become a good player, even he has given them very little actual value at this point.

Keeping in mind that Cuddyer still has some potential, take a look at this brutal stretch the Twins had:

YEAR      #     PLAYER
1996 2 Travis Lee
1997 9 Michael Cuddyer
1998 6 Ryan Mills
1999 5 B.J. Garbe
2000 2 Adam Johnson

To not come away with a single above-average major leaguer from five consecutive top-10 picks is remarkable. It also shows the importance of finding value after the first round, because the Twins have built a thriving organization with a constant flow of young talent despite going five years without an impact first-round pick. Can you imagine an NBA or NFL team succeeding despite coming up empty with picks 2, 9, 6, 5, and 2 in a five-year span?

When you start picking in the 20s, as the Twins have been fortunate enough to do in the last three years, it becomes more about finding someone who fits what the team is looking for, rather than an obvious selection. In other words, at pick #5 there should be an obvious, no-brainer choice and he should be expected to become a very good major-league player. At pick #25, there is no such obvious choice and in turn there should be no such expectation.

Keeping all of that in mind, here's a look at the top 10 picks from Twins' 2005 draft, with stats (when available), quotes from draft experts, and a few of my completely uneducated comments ...

Matt Garza | #25 | RHP | Fresno State University

YEAR      ERA      IP      SO     BB       H
2003 9.55 43 21 31 63
2004 4.90 90 77 34 103
2005 3.07 108 120 37 110

For an organization that leans toward drafting high schoolers, the Twins certainly haven't shied away from using their first pick on college pitching. In fact, Matt Garza becomes the fifth college pitcher the Twins have taken with their first pick since 1995, following Mark Redman, Mills, Johnson, and Glen Perkins. After an ugly 2003 and mediocre 2004, Garza was the WAC Pitcher of the Year this season and led the conference in strikeouts.

Mike Radcliff: He has a lot of the stuff we emphasize to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues. He has command and control, which we think is important. He was a little skinny kid out of high school. He evolved the last couple of years and became the Friday night guy.

Baseball America: Garza had only a four-seam fastball and a slow, lazy curveball when he enrolled at Fresno State, but he now has plus stuff with a four-pitch repertoire. His fastball ranges from 90-94 mph and touches 95, and a hard 82-84 mph slider is an effective second pitch. A 72-78 mph curve has the makings of a solid third pitch, while his changeup has been slower to develop. He's projected to be a starter in pro ball but could move into relief if his curve and changeup don't progress or he lacks the stamina to be a starter.

Henry Sanchez | #39 | 1B | High School (California)

Henry Sanchez is probably the Twins' most interesting pick, in that he is a massive first baseman with very little defensive ability and a lot of power. In other words, he's just about the exact opposite of the type of player the Twins typically go after. For them to take him 39th overall makes me think that they believe his bat is truly special, so it'll be interesting to see how much power he shows early on. As with any large player, the comparisons made are pretty funny to read.

Baseball America: At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Sanchez could become the biggest first-round pick in draft history. He physically resembles a larger Andres Galarraga, and naturally draws comparisons to Brewers prospect Prince Fielder. Sanchez isn't quite as athletic as Fielder but has the same explosive, raw power and ranks as the top power prospect in this year's draft. Exceptionally strong, he can crush balls with a short stroke that generates bat speed well beyond his years.

The prevailing thought is that he could hit 35-40 home runs in the big leagues or just as easily flame out in Class A. His weight, which has reached nearly 300 pounds in the past, is a concern. It limits him to first base, though he has decent mobility around the bag and adequate arm strength for the position. He's a below-average runner.

MLB.com: Large, heavy body. Similar to Bengie Molina, but taller. Quick, powerful bat and alert fielder. Gamer who exudes confidence.

Paul Kelly | #54 | SS/RHP | High School (Texas)

Like many draftees, Paul Kelly is apparently very good at both hitting and pitching. I have often wondered how many teams have drafted a young, two-way star and chosen the wrong position for them as a pro. In other words, when a team drafts a shortstop/pitcher and decides to make him a full-time shortstop, how many times have they missed out on someone who would have become a great pitcher?

Baseball America: Kelly reminds a lot of area scouts of Jesse Crain, who starred as a two-way player at Houston. Kelly isn't quite as physical as Crain yet, but he has a similar build and the potential to be drafted either as a shortstop or a pitcher. While teams preferred Crain on the mound, Kelly has support in both roles. He's close to a five-tool player at shortstop. He handles the bat well and should hit for average with gap power. He shows good quickness on the bases and in the field. Defensively, he has the actions, range and arm strength to stay at shortstop. If he doesn't cut it as a position player, he could fall back on being a reliever because his stuff is reminiscent of Crain's.

Kevin Slowey | #73 | RHP | Winthrop University

YEAR      ERA      IP      SO     BB       H
2003 3.98 86 90 18 86
2004 3.23 120 104 10 120
2005 2.18 136 134 13 91

Kevin Slowey is a textbook Twins pitcher because of his outstanding control and intelligence on the mound. And for a stathead like me, his 134-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year (and 328-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio for his career) is drool-inducing.

Baseball America: Few pitchers had improved their draft stock as much as Slowey, who burst on the scene with a 19-strikeout game as a freshman but didn't emerge as a candidate for the first three rounds until this year. Slowey has always had solid stuff and excellent control that scouts rate at least a 60 on the 20-80 scale; now his stuff has improved as he's become stronger.

He's an excellent competitor who challenges hitters with a fastball in the 87-92 mph range that touches a bit higher. He complements it with a solid-average slider, which was his best secondary pitch this year, while his changeup was his best secondary offering in his first two years. Slowey impresses scouts with his makeup and intelligence on and off the field (he has a 3.96 GPA thanks to one B, in business calculus). Scouts liken his ceiling to that of Cory Lidle or Jeff Suppan, as an innings-eating third or fourth starter.

MLB.com: Good strength for a pitcher. Attacks strike zone with all pitches. Can put fastball on either side of the plate with some late sink. Nice curveball that can throw for strikes. Slider has some quick bite to it. A clever, methodical control pitcher.

Drew Thompson | #80 | SS | High School (Florida)

Baseball America: His father Robbie played second base for the Giants for 11 seasons. Drew is a lefthanded hitter but a similar player in some ways. His father's best tool was his bat (he hit 119 home runs), and Thompson has the advanced approach and hitting instincts of someone who grew up around the game. He has a compact lefthanded swing that sprays line drives to all fields.

He has solid hands and an average arm, probably good enough to be a college shortstop, but pro scouts believe he fits the profile of an offensive second baseman, once he fills out physically and begins to hit for more power. Thompson's father is a Gators alumnus, and scouts believe Drew would have to be drafted higher than the third round to get him to sign.

MLB.com: Athletic middle infielder. Soft hands, excellent instincts. Makes it look easy. Quick bat and hits well to all fields. Makes adjustments. Shows occasional power. Smart base runner, with good first-to-third speed. Knows how to play the game.

Brian Duensing | #84 | LHP | University of Nebraska

YEAR      ERA      IP      SO     BB       H
2002 4.73 78 60 25 82
2003 2.42 22 24 6 14
2004 --- DID NOT PLAY ---
2005 2.60 80 51 25 63

Brian Duensing is an interesting pick. He missed all of 2004 after having Tommy John surgery and then pitched well but with a sub par strikeout rate this season. The Twins must feel like he will get stronger as he continues to recover from the surgery. His 2005 stats are strange, because he didn't strike many hitters out and didn't show great control, but had a 2.60 ERA (with an 8-0 record) and gave up just 63 hits in 80 innings.

Baseball America: Duensing's stuff hasn't been the same since an elbow injury cost him most of 2003 and eventually required Tommy John surgery in 2004. He competes with an 86-90 mph fastball and a changeup. He bailed Nebraska out at the Big 12 Conference tournament by pitching well in back-to-back starts, including 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a 1-0 title-game win over Baylor.

MLB.com: Left-handed pitcher with quality stuff. Throws sinking fastball with good sink. Commands both sides of the plate. Three-fourths slider with tight, sharp rotation and his changeup are his best pitches. Has a feel for pitching.

Ryan Mullins | #105 | RHP | Vanderbilt University

YEAR      ERA      IP      SO     BB       H
2003 3.48 88 64 19 96
2004 2.58 112 98 20 104
2005 3.62 72 61 23 74

Ryan Mullins is surprising pick, because he has had some off-the-field problems and his on-field performance hasn't been all that spectacular. As you'll see in Mike Radcliff's comments below, the Twins must be convinced that he has learned from his mistakes.

Baseball America: He pitched behind Jeremy Sowers -- the No. 6 pick in 2004 -- for two seasons in the Commodores rotation, but stumbled as a junior trying to replace Sowers as the staff ace. By the time Southeastern Conference play came around, righthander Jensen Lewis had overtaken Mullins as the Friday starter, due in part to Mullins' six-game suspension for a DWI arrest.

Mullins' stuff has been a bit off all year. Typically he pitches with an 87-91 mph fastball and hard curveball in the low to mid-70s, but this year he's been in the upper 80s with a slower, though still 12-to-6, curveball. Even when it's not on, the curveball is an average pitch because he locates it and can change its shape, throwing a shorter, quicker version of the big bender at times.

Mike Radcliff: We sat down with all the parties involved. The kid made a mistake, no doubt about that. But we're moving forward.

MLB.com: Body similar to Chuck Finley, only thinner. Moves the ball around, sets hitters up. Tight rotation curveball, lots of potential for strikeout, gets it in the zone. Some feel for fade away changeup.

Caleb Moore | #135 | C/RHP | East Tennessee State University

YEAR      G      AVG      OBP      SLG     BB     SO
2002 38 .216 .286 .304 11 17
2003 49 .237 .307 .370 16 30
2004 52 .455 .509 .752 17 18
2005 52 .382 .457 .705 29 26

Much like Garza, Caleb Moore struggled early in his college career and then broke out in a major way over the past two seasons. If he can stick at catcher, his bat makes him a potential impact player. He has hit .400+ with a .700+ slugging percentage and 44-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the past two years. Just from his numbers, I love this pick. Of course, I hope the Twins won't need another good catcher for a while, but that would be a nice problem to have.

Baseball America: A two-way slugger and power reliever who has put up big numbers for consecutive seasons. Moore touches 93-94 mph with his fastball, but it's fairly straight due to his high arm slot, and he hasn't shown a consistent breaking ball. His arm strength might attract attention, and so might his bat. He makes consistent contact. Scouts think he won't hit for power with his current swing, but he's a solid enough receiver and has enough arm strength to merit a look behind the plate. Which position he'll play depends on the team.

Steven Tolleson | #165 | SS | University of South Carolina

YEAR      G      AVG      OBP      SLG     BB     SO
2003 55 .302 .373 .446 13 30
2004 51 .321 .385 .466 19 38
2005 64 .296 .386 .444 36 41

Steven Tolleson was a very consistent college hitter and put up solid numbers for a middle infielder in a strong conference, but I'm not optimistic about him becoming an impact player in the majors. He had very little power at South Carolina and struggled to control the strike zone, which is a really bad combination.

I said earlier this week that I'd love to see the Twins "go after a college middle infielder who is close to being major-league ready" with their first rounder. While they didn't do that, they did draft three shortstops with their first 10 picks, including Tolleson.

Baseball America: The son of former big leaguer Wayne Tolleson. Tolleson's father was a defensive stalwart who hit .241 in his eight seasons in the big leagues, and most scouts expect Stephen to be a better hitter. He has wiry strength and uses the whole field. He's also patient and has adapted well to hitting toward the top of the Gamecocks lineup, drawing more walks and becoming an efficient basestealer despite his average speed.

He has too much power for his own good sometimes and loses sight of the fact he's not a power hitter, selling out in his swing trying to hit home runs. Tolleson's glove isn't as good as his father's, especially at shortstop, where he usually doesn't have enough arm to make the play in the hole. Most scouts believe he profiles better as a second baseman (where he could be an above-average defender) or utility infielder.

J.W. Wilson | #195 | OF | High School (Texas)

Baseball America: A star wide receiver in football, Wilson has size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds), strength and speed but is raw and needs more discipline at the plate. If he doesn't sign, he'll join his older brother Josh on Texas Tech's baseball team.

MLB.com: Looks similar to Chipper Jones. Not as tall. Very athletic. Strongs hands are made to hit line drives. Plays a very alert right field with good arm strength and accurate throws. Good runner out of the box that gets better once he gets going.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Freaky Batting Leaderboards (by Studes)

Today's Picks (47-42, +$290):
Cleveland (Westbook) +150 over San Diego (Eaton)

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