November 29, 2006

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 36-40

35. Doug Deeds | Left Field | DOB: 6/82 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2002-9

2004 A+ 435 .294 .364 .448 5 45 43 86
2005 AA 493 .304 .382 .479 16 52 56 119
2006 AA 440 .282 .383 .470 14 52 70 107

In a system full of good pitchers and toolsy position players, guys like Doug Deeds tend to get lost in the shuffle. A ninth-round pick out of Ohio State University in 2002, Deeds batted .294/.364/.448 at high Single-A in 2004 and .304/.382/.479 after moving up to Double-A in 2005. At 23 years old with full seasons at both Fort Myers and New Britain, it seemed natural that the Twins would promote Deeds to Triple-A last year. Instead, Deeds actually spent the entire 2006 season back at Double-A.

He batted .282/.383/.470 in 133 games, ranking third among Eastern League hitters in OPS, yet failed to receive even a late-season promotion to Triple-A despite Rochester's need for bats after much of their lineup was promoted to Minnesota. Given Deeds' track record, it's telling that the Twins let Deeds essentially waste a year of development by repeating a level he had already conquered. I suspect the front office doesn't think much of him as an eventual big-league option, which is a shame.

Deeds doesn't have big-time home-run power and he's not an athletic speedster, but does have good plate discipline with enough pop to be dangerous, and is thought to be a capable defender at first base or either corner-outfield spot. That doesn't make him a future star, but in an organization lacking quality hitting prospects he's a guy who could be a solid left-handed bench bat or even platoon starter if given the opportunity.

34. Brandon Roberts | Center Field | DOB: 11/84 | Bats: Left | Trade: Reds

2005 RK 274 .318 .386 .438 4 19 24 44
2006 A+ 532 .293 .349 .355 4 23 36 82

Originally taken by the Reds in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, Brandon Roberts hit .318/.386/.438 in rookie-ball after signing, got off to a slow start at high Single-A in 2006, and was traded to the Twins for Juan Castro in mid-July. I called the trade a perfect "example of addition by subtraction" at the time, but it has a chance to be more than that after Roberts remained in the Florida State League and hit .316/.370/.396 in 71 games with Fort Myers.

Roberts' overall hitting line of .293/.349/.355 in 131 games is nothing to get excited about even in the pitcher-friendly FSL and a complete lack of power means he'll never be an impact hitter, but his world-class speed makes him an intriguing prospect anyway. Roberts has 82 stolen bases in 199 pro games, including 50 steals in 2006, and has reportedly learned to take advantage of his speed enough defensively to be above average in center field long term.

Roberts is no higher than the No. 3 speedy, slap-hitting center-field prospect on the organizational depth chart and it's difficult to get overly excited about someone who could somewhat accurately be described as the next Jason Tyner, but at 22 years old he has a chance to be a decent major leaguer. Roberts is no more of a clear replacement for Torii Hunter than anyone else in the system, but he at least might be a rich man's Tyner after hitting lefties (.315) better than righties (.289) last season.

33. Danny Valencia | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-19

2006 RK 190 .311 .365 .505 8 21 15 34

Danny Valencia didn't put up any huge numbers at the University of Miami, hitting .300/.355/.471 as a sophomore and .324/.382/.475 as a junior, but the Twins saw something they liked and grabbed him in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. Valencia signed quickly rather than return to school for his senior season and reported to rookie-level Elizabethton, where he played primarily first base with some third base mixed it.

It remains to be seen where Valencia's long-term home is defensively, but it's clear that the Twins drafted him for his bat. Valencia hit .311/.365/.505 with eight homers and 13 doubles in his first 48 pro games, ranking among the pitcher-friendly Appalachian League's top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. An experienced college hitter beating up on rookie-league competition isn't particularly rare or impressive, so it'll be interesting to see how Valencia does in his first full season.

Typically a tools-oriented organization that leans toward pitching and high schoolers, the Twins have done relatively well grabbing a few college hitters like Valencia, Whit Robbins, and Erik Lis in the middle rounds over the past couple years. Valencia gives a nice boost to a system lacking impact bats, although he's considerably less valuable if playing third base passably is ruled out. At 22 years old and with big-conference college experience, he could move quickly.

32. Brian Duensing | Starter | DOB: 2/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3

2005 RK 12 9 2.32 50.1 49 4 55 16
2006 A- 11 11 2.94 70.1 68 3 55 14
A+ 7 7 4.24 40.1 47 4 33 8
AA 10 9 3.65 49.1 51 6 30 18

While at the University of Nebraska, Brian Duensing missed most of 2003 and all of 2004 because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He bounced back to go 8-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 2005 and the Twins selected him in the third round that June. Duensing debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton and posted a 2.32 ERA and 55-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50.1 innings, although those numbers are less impressive than they initially appear given his younger, less experienced competition.

As most teams do with a polished college hurler, the Twins promoted Duensing aggressively in his first full season, with stops at low Single-A and high Single-A before two months at Double-A to finish the year. Duensing certainly held his own, posting a 3.49 ERA in 160 total innings, but his secondary numbers show a pitcher who was far from spectacular. Duensing tallied just 118 strikeouts, failing to whiff as many as 7.5 batters per nine innings at any level, and gave up more hits than innings pitched.

In particular his numbers after moving beyond Beloit were well below par, as Duensing allowed 98 hits, including 10 homers, while handing out 26 walks in 89.2 innings between Fort Myers and New Britain. The Twins were smart for being aggressive with Duensing and he deserves credit for holding his own post injury, but soon he needs to show that he's more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. As a soon-to-be 24-year-old with an iffy strikeout rate and .273 opponent's batting average, I'm skeptical.

31. Trevor Plouffe | Shortstop | DOB: 6/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2004-1

2004 RK 237 .283 .340 .380 4 13 19 34
2005 A- 466 .223 .300 .345 13 31 50 78
2006 A+ 455 .246 .333 .347 4 34 58 93

Free-agent compensation left the Twins with seven of the first 100 picks in the 2004 draft and they used all but the first of them (20th overall) on pitchers. Interestingly, some felt that the lone position player they grabbed, high schooler Trevor Plouffe, had more of a long-term future on the mound. The Twins liked him as a shortstop, handing him a $1.5 million bonus and starting him at rookie-level Elizabethton, where Plouffe batted a solid .283/.340/.380 in 60 games.

Unfortunately, it's been all downhill since. Plouffe batted just .223/.300/.345 at low Single-A in 2005, received a promotion to high Single-A that he didn't deserve, and hit .246/.333/.347 there last season. Being moved so aggressively out of high school means Plouffe is still just 20 years old, which is the main thing on his side at this point. He's also considered a quality defender at shortstop, which is why back-to-back sub par seasons at the plate haven't wiped him completely off the prospect map.

Along with that, another thing in Plouffe's favor is that he has good plate discipline for such a young hitter, walking in nearly 11 percent of his plate appearances over the past two seasons. His power isn't horrible for a middle infielder and he doesn't strike out an insane amount, which means if Plouffe can simply find a way to boost his batting average into the realm of respectability he still has plenty of time to salvage a career that's at a crossroads. I'm not overly optimistic or willing to write him off just yet.

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