April 6, 2006

Minor League Opening Day

While the big-league club opened its season Tuesday, the Twins' minor-league teams didn't begin playing until yesterday. One of my goals for this season is to devote more of the coverage here to Twins prospects, and with last night's loss to the Blue Jays maddeningly not on television here today seems like a good time to start. Rather than focus on which teams won or lost semi-meaningless games, here are some notable individual performances from the first day of the minor-league season:

Note: If applicable I'll include each player's ranking among Baseball America's top-30 Twins prospects.

  • Former first-round pick Denard Span (BA #6), who may end up replacing Torii Hunter in center field some day soon, went 2-for-4 with a solo homer leading off for Double-A New Britain. The homer is particularly good news for Span, because while he is considered a very good defensive outfielder with a ton of speed and good on-base skills, he hit a grand total of one homer in 453 at-bats last season.
  • Another former first rounder, Glen Perkins (BA #4), started the game for New Britain and put up the following line against Toronto's Double-A team:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    5.0 2 2 2 1 7 0

    Perkins struggled after his promotion to New Britain last year, so it's nice to see him getting off to a good start there this time around. With the futures of both Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse uncertain past this year, I wouldn't be shocked to see Perkins in the 2007 rotation if things go well for him in the minors this season.
  • Yet another former first-round pick, Matt Moses (BA #3), went 1-for-4 with a single as New Britain's third baseman and #3 hitter. The Twins are probably hoping that Moses can become the team's starting third baseman at some point next season, but after hitting just .210/.275/.366 in 48 games following a promotion to Double-A last year, he'll have to make some pretty big strides.
  • Triple-A Rochester doesn't have as many top prospects, but they have the guys who are next on the depth chart when the Twins need reinforcements. Jason Bartlett should be starting in the big leagues, but instead went 2-for-4 with a double and a triple against Toronto's Triple-A team to likely guarantee himself another three months in the minors. Bartlett hit .332 at Triple-A over the past two years, so I'm guessing the Twins won't even notice him putting up huge numbers there for a third straight season.
  • Boof Bonser (BA #25), who came over from the Giants in the incredible haul for A.J. Pierzynski that also included Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano, started the game for Rochester and put up a line even better than Perkins' at New Britain:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    6.0 2 0 0 2 8 0

    In most organizations Bonser would be a top pitching prospect and probably would have been given a shot in the majors already, but with the Twins he's sort of an afterthought. I like him as a long-term middle reliever or fifth starter, and he's great insurance to have around this season.
  • Dennys Reyes pitched a scoreless inning in relief, allowing zero baserunners. Reyes then handed the ball over to Rochester's closer, Pat Neshek, who struck out two batters in a scoreless 1.1-inning outing to record the save. While Reyes will probably join the Twins' bullpen at some point in 2006, Neshek has the potential to be a setup man down the road. He saved 24 games with a 2.19 ERA and 95-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio at New Britain last season.
  • Other notables playing for Rochester: Jason Tyner went 2-for-5 with a double ... Luis Maza went 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs ... Terry Tiffee went 1-for-4 ... Garret Jones went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts ... Alex Romero (BA #22) went 0-for-4.
  • Down in the low minors, Alexi Casilla (BA #23) went 2-for-5 with three RBIs leading off and playing second base for high Single-A Fort Myers in his Twins debut. Casilla, who was acquired from the Angels for J.C. Romero this offseason, profiles as a poor man's Luis Castillo who can play either middle-infield spot well defensively.
  • In that same game former first-round pick Trevor Plouffe (BA #9) started at shortstop and went 1-for-5 with a strikeout batting right behind Casilla. Plouffe had a disappointing full-season debut in 2005, hitting just .223/.300/.345, but many seem to think he's a good bet for a breakout year.
  • Last year's first-round pick, Matt Garza (BA #7), started for Fort Myers:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    5.0 2 2 1 0 4 1

    Another encouraging debut from a Twins pitching prospect. I like Garza quite a bit and think he'll move quickly through the Twins' system if he can stay healthy. He had a 3.57 ERA and 89-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76 innings during his pro debut last season.
  • And last but not least, former first rounder Kyle Waldrop (BA #10) started the season opener for low Single-A Beloit and put up the following line:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    5.1 3 0 0 1 6 0

    That's right, Twins pitching prospects went 4-for-4 with impressive 2006 debuts yesterday, combining to give up just three earned runs in 21.1 innings while striking out 25 and allowing only 13 baserunners.
  • Sadly, it's not all good news on the pitching prospect front, as Jay Rainville (BA #6) will reportedly miss the entire season after undergoing arm surgery last week. Information about Rainville's status has been completely absent from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and MLB.com, which is odd considering he's one of the team's best prospects and a first-round pick just two years ago. Then again, who needs the mainstream media taking their sweet time telling us something when we can get the information online from a fellow Twins fan.
  • Finally, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle has an article about Bartlett's demotion to Triple-A and the Hartford Courant has an article about Span's quest to become Minnesota's next great center fielder. Both articles are worth reading, for completely different reasons.

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