January 29, 2007

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

15. Erik Lis | First Base | DOB: 3/84 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2005-9

2005 RK 168 .315 .356 .577 10 23 9 35
2006 A- 411 .326 .402 .547 16 56 51 83

A three-year starter at the University of Evansville, Erik Lis batted .342 with 25 homers, 49 doubles, and 147 RBIs during his 165-game college career. The Twins don't typically go after college sluggers, but liked Lis enough to grab him in the ninth round of the 2005 draft. He debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton after signing, batting .315/.356/.577 with 10 homers and 23 total extra-base hits in 49 games, but posted a sub par 35-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio against less experienced competition.

Lis moved up to low Single-A Beloit in 2006 and absolutely destroyed the Midwest League, winning the "Sabermetric Triple Crown" by leading the MWL in batting average (.326), on-base percentage (.402), and slugging percentage (.547), all while posting a much-improved 83-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 105 games. The MWL hit a combined .253/.325/.365 in 2006, meaning it was an extremely pitcher-friendly environment, which makes Lis' numbers there even more impressive than they initially appear.

If you adjust the MWL's offensive levels to fit last year's AL numbers (.275/.339/.437), Lis' hitting line jumps to a monstrous .350/.420/.650. Of course, as a 22-year-old former college star he was supposed to dominate low Single-A. The big test will come this year, when Lis either holds his own at high Single-A and makes it to Double-A during the second half of his age-23 season or becomes just another guy who beat up on young pitching to begin his career.

14. Paul Kelly | Shortstop | DOB: 10/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2005-2

2005 RK 137 .277 .358 .365 2 8 14 36
2006 A- 378 .280 .352 .384 3 29 32 60

One of several high-school shortstops the Twins have drafted recently, Paul Kelly has moved past Trevor Plouffe and Drew Thompson to become the team's best low-minors middle-infield prospect. A second-round pick out of Texas in 2005, Kelly batted .277/.358/.365 in 40 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League after signing. He moved up to low Single-A Beloit last year and hit .280/.352/.384 before a knee injury cut his first full season short after 95 games.

With just five homers and 40 total extra-base hits in 531 pro at-bats, Kelly's biggest strength is clearly his solid on-base skills. However, there's reason to believe he has more power potential than his raw numbers suggest. The Midwest League was very pitcher-friendly in 2006, slugging a combined .365 with a .112 Isolated Power. Despite being a teenage shortstop, Kelly basically matched those league averages with a .384 SLG and .104 IsoP, which is reason enough to hope for double-digit homers.

A high-school pitcher, Kelly boasts one of the organization's strongest arms and is considered a solid defensive shortstop, but may slide over to second base in the future. Most of his value will ultimately come defensively, but Kelly's odds of developing into a capable hitter are probably better than most think. With Jason Bartlett finally entrenched in the lineup and Alexi Casilla set to replace Luis Castillo, the Twins can afford to be patient with Kelly, who won't be ready for several years.

13. David Winfree | Third Base | DOB: 8/85 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2003-13

2004 RK 217 .286 .349 .433 8 16 18 51
2005 A- 562 .294 .329 .452 16 52 22 93
2006 A+ 261 .276 .328 .490 13 28 19 59

Drafted in the 13th round out of a Virginia high school back in 2003, David Winfree hit just .129 in 23 games of rookie-ball after signing. He shook that off to bat .286/.349/.433 in his second try at rookie-ball in 2004 and then broke out at low Single-A Beloit in 2005, hitting .294/.329/.452 while leading the Midwest League in hits and RBIs. That earned Winfree the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year award, but his follow-up performance was put on hold when he left the organization last spring.

While details of Winfree's situation are somewhat sketchy, he said afterward that he needed some time off to get over a shoulder injury and regain his confidence. Winfree also told Baseball America that he questioned whether baseball was what he's "supposed to be doing." Whatever the case, Winfree returned around midseason and picked up right where he left off, hitting .276/.328/.490 with 13 homers and 28 total extra-base hits in 67 games at high Single-A Fort Myers.

Walking away from baseball is a concern and Winfree's plate discipline is sub par, but his power potential is undersold by good-but-not-great slugging percentages. While nothing special in the majors, a .492 SLG is outstanding from a 21-year-old in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. In fact, the only FSL hitters to top that in 2006 were both two years older than Winfree. He's probably destined to move away from third base, but more importantly might be the Twins' next 30-homer hitter.

12. Jeff Manship | Starter | DOB: 1/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2006-14

2006 RK 2 0 0.00 5.2 3 0 10 1
A+ 4 3 2.08 8.2 7 0 12 2

One of the most highly touted pitchers in the country coming out of high school, Jeff Manship showed up at the University of Notre Dame with an elbow injury that eventually required season-ending Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire 2004 season and pitched just 22.2 innings in 2005, before finally putting together his first healthy year in 2006. Pitching alongside Jeff Samardzija in the Irish's starting rotation, Manship went 9-2 with a 3.26 ERA and 111-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings.

A draft-eligible sophomore in June due to the injuries, Manship had the leverage of being able to return to school and reportedly fell out of the early rounds because teams were worried about his bonus demands. The Twins snatched him up in the 14th round, handed him a $300,000 bonus that was more like third-round money, and got him on the field in time to toss 14.1 innings with a 1.26 ERA and 22-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio between rookie-ball and high Single-A.

Manship's medical history is always going to be a concern, but he's long been viewed as a potential star and his performance in 2006 was fantastic given that it was his first full season back after a significant injury. Between being arguably Notre Dame's best pitcher and striking out 22 batters in his first 14.1 pro innings, Manship showed that he still has the ability that made him a big-time prospect several years ago. If Manship has an injury-free season, he could be near the top of this list next year.

11. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2

2006 RK 196 .260 .335 .444 5 21 21 41

A two-sport star in high school, Joe Benson was lured away from Purdue University when the Twins selected him in the second round of June's draft and handed him a $575,000 bonus. A catcher in high school, Benson was moved to center field upon signing and reportedly has the speed and athleticism to handle the unique position switch long term. Benson debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, hitting .260/.335/.444 in 52 games.

Benson's GCL performance shows a player who is both very raw and very promising. The good news is that he smacked five homers and 21 total extra-base hits in 196 at-bats in a very tough environment for hitters, stole nine bases, and drew 21 walks. The bad news is that he struck out 41 times, was thrown out on 10 of his 19 steal attempts, and struggled in a six-game stint at low Single-A Beloit after an end-of-season promotion.

All things considered, Benson's pro debut was an impressive one and puts him in a good position heading into this season. At just 19 years old there's little reason to rush Benson, so expect him to reach Double-A sometime around mid-2008 and start scratching at the door to the big leagues no sooner than 2009. That means he won't be ready nearly in time to replace Torii Hunter, but Benson is the only Twins center-field prospect who has legitimate star potential.

January 26, 2007


  • Ever since the title of Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com was vacated by a declining Elisha Cuthbert, the two main candidates for the throne have been Keeley Hazell and Jenna Fischer. Despite seeing and hearing plenty of evidence in favor of both parties, I've held off naming a new OFGoAG.com, perhaps waiting for a new contender to emerge. Clearly sensing that the door is open for her to claim the crown and the opportunity might be slipping away, Hazell has taken a drastic step.

    That's right, she went the Paris Hilton route and had a homemade "sex tape" find its way to the public. Normally that'd be a positive thing for her OFGoAG.com candidacy, but I find myself with surprisingly mixed feelings on the issue. I've decided that I'll probably have to view the footage several thousand times before making a final decision, if only to give Fischer (not to mention past title holders Cuthbert and Jessica Alba) a proper opportunity to respond similarly. That's only fair, right?

    Oh, and let me assure you that, despite all the rumors and speculation, this is not the same way LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune went about becoming the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com.

  • I'm happy to have Matthew LeCroy back in a Twins uniform, but not nearly as happy as Will Young. Much like a fine wine or Diane Lane, this picture gets better with age. After you ponder the entry's title in relation to the picture, look closely at Will's shirt and then check out the jersey hanging in between them for good measure. If a greater photograph has ever been taken in the middle of a Twins pro shop, I'd love to see it.
  • I'm not sure whether to be proud or embarrased, but apparently I now have 68 friends.
  • As promised, NBCSports.com is beginning to beef up its baseball coverage in preparation for spring training, adding Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News as regular columnists. I've taken a few weeks off from writing for NBCSports.com, mostly because this is sort of the calm before the baseball storm, but I'll be getting back into the mix next week and am currently working on finalizing my schedule for the season.

    It's still a work in progress, but it'll be pretty cool to be one-third of a columnist lineup that includes a pair of guys from two of the biggest newspapers in the country. I haven't actually met Massarotti or Grant, because I was too shy to introduce myself to them at the Winter Meetings. I did, however, witness LEN3 identify Grant from 30 feet away using nothing more than the back of his head. I believe his exact words were, "Hey, there's Evan Grant's big, bald head!" I consider that a point in Grant's favor.

  • Rather than comment on the firing of Dwane Casey by rehashing my long-standing and oft-repeated thoughts on the mess that is the Timberwolves, I'll simply say that I'm fully in favor of the agenda put forth by this website.
  • Jessica Biel correctly pointed out that the "tush" on Maria Menounos is "out of this world," but given this photographic evidence, that's like Joe Mauer complimenting Michael Cuddyer on his swing. Plus, it looks like Sean Combs (I refuse to remember which nickname he's going by at the moment) thinks Biel's "tush" isn't even her best tool.
  • I said last month that the Gophers' decision to fire Glen Mason was reactionary and somewhat misguided, but put me on record as being fully in support of hiring Tim Brewster as his replacement. The move has been met with a ton of criticism, much of which seems to stem from Brewster being a little-known lifetime assistant, but the fact that he's not a big name doesn't bother me one bit. In fact, after reading up on him and then watching him in action, I'm confident that he's a good fit for the job.

    Consistently winning football games at the University of Minnesota is significantly more difficult than most fans think, but Brewster's decision to focus on in-state recruiting is an important first step. Much like in basketball, the state has produced an awful lot of good players for other schools over the past half-dozen years. It remains to be seen whether Brewster can truly improve the level of incoming talent, but "locking up the borders" is the most realistic way to do it.

    Brewster is already behind in the count because most fans unrealistically wanted "name" coaches that surely had no interest in coming here and he could do a reasonably effective job and still not improve upon Mason's admittedly mediocre results. However, given the circumstances and the available options, I think the Gophers did well. Plus, after years of watching running backs pile up yardage behind the always-solid offensive line, it'll be fun to watch a wide open spread-option for a while.

  • A mostly baseless prediction: Brewster will last longer in Minnesota than Lane Kiffin will in Oakland.
  • I'm fairly certain that this page contains the first (and perhaps last) instance of my testicles being used as the topic of poetry.
  • I never would have imagined that one day teenagers would be bragging that they "beat Gleeman to print." Given my brief and painful history with the newspaper industry, it's a bit like Andre Rison and Kordell Stewart bragging that they beat the Deadspin secondary for a touchdown, but congratulations go out to Trevor Born anyway. At this point, my best chance for landing a newspaper gig might involve waiting a couple decades until Born is the editor-in-chief somewhere and hoping he remembers me.
  • Over at The Biz of Baseball, Maury Brown interviewed FOXSports.com reporter Ken Rosenthal:

    BizBall: Finally, you have been affectionately termed "Robothal" by some in the online community for your constant stream of breaking baseball news. As a guesstimate, how many minutes do you log on your cell phone and what's the average number of hours a night you sleep?

    Rosenthal: First off, I'm very grateful that people notice and appreciate my work. As someone who is 5-foot-4, 140 pounds, I get a particular kick out of that nickname. It makes me sound like I'm a relentless, indestructible machine! I only wish that were the case. ...

    I've got a 4,000-minute plan on my cell phone, and like others in my position, I also make extensive use of e-mail, text messaging, and instant messaging. As for sleep, I don't get much, but work is only partly to blame. I've got three kids--15, 14, and 11--who are very busy and energetic.

    One of my favorite things about going to the Winter Meetings was watching Rosenthal in action. In constant motion, he bounced between sources in the lobby while scribbling in his notebook, hustled upstairs to type up his latest batch of notes, and then went right back down to the lobby again. In one of my on-site reports for NBCSports.com, I referred to him as a mini-Peter Gammons, but the "Robothal" nickname that the mob over at Baseball Think Factory has tagged him with works just as well.

    Incidentally, I would have bet a large amount of money on Rosenthal not being the father of an 11-year-old, let alone an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 15-year-old. I learned from the interview that he's been "covering baseball ... for more than 20 years," but I wouldn't have skipped a beat if you told me Rosenthal just turned 30 years old. I'm a big fan, and not just because Rosenthal once discussed his bathroom habits with Howard Stern.

  • Who knew that a former Twins batboy who goes by the nickname "Puffy" could be so dangerous? Also, who knew someone could get that worked up about college hockey?
  • As a blogger, I feel it's my duty to inform you of every mind-numbing detail about my life, whether you like it or not. That's why I'm so disappointed in John Mayer, whose otherwise solid blog is seemingly the only website in the world that doesn't have pictures of him and Jessica Simpson on it. I've literally written thousands of words here about things no one but me could possibly care about, yet Mayer has yet to even hint at the fact that he's dating one of the world's most famous women. Bad blogger!
  • Finally, one of my beloved Diamond-Mind keeper leagues has a sudden opening. It's a hardcore league and we're looking for an owner who has previous Diamond-Mind experience and plenty of time to devote to his team. If you meet those qualifications and you're interested, drop me an e-mail.

  • January 25, 2007

    Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

    Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

    20. Ryan Mullins | Starter | DOB: 11/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3

    2005 RK 11 11 2.18 53.2 34 4 60 13
    2006 A- 27 26 3.86 156.1 157 14 139 53

    A three-year starter at Vanderbilt University who pitched alongside 2004 top-10 pick Jeremy Sowers, Ryan Mullins went a combined 18-12 with a 3.15 ERA and 223-to-62 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 271.2 college innings. Loaded up with extra draft picks in 2005 thanks to free-agent compensation for losing Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman, and Henry Blanco, the Twins used their seventh selection--a third-round pick and No. 105 overall--to grab Mullins.

    A 6-foot-6 left-hander who makes up for modest raw stuff by featuring good off-speed pitches and coaxing a high number of ground balls, Mullins posted a 2.18 ERA and 60-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53.2 innings at rookie-level Elizabethton after signing. He moved up to low Single-A Beloit for his first full season in 2006 and held his own, with a 3.86 ERA and 139-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 156.1 innings.

    It would have been nice to see the Twins push Mullins a little more aggressively through the system, because he's spent his first two pro seasons throwing to teenagers despite having high-level college experience. Mullins will likely begin this season at high Single-A, but should see Double-A by midseason and could be knocking on the door to the majors at some point in 2008 if he holds up against the improved competition.

    19. Matt Moses | Third Base | DOB: 2/85 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2003-1

    2004 A- 112 .223 .304 .366 3 10 12 25
    2005 A+ 265 .306 .376 .453 7 24 28 59
    AA 186 .210 .275 .366 6 16 14 51
    2006 AA 474 .249 .303 .386 15 33 35 113

    Ranked by Baseball America as the fourth-best "pure hitter" in the 2003 draft behind Rickie Weeks, Michael Aubrey, and Delmon Young, Matt Moses has been a bust since the Twins selected him 21st overall out of a Virginia high school. Moses' pro career got off to a great start, as he batted .385 in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League after agreeing to a $1.45 million bonus, but he missed most of the next season with a back injury and has yet to get back on track.

    Despite what was essentially a lost 2004 season, Moses moved up to high Single-A in 2005 and batted .306/.376/.453 in 73 games to put some life back into his prospect stock. Unfortunately, he then hit .210/.276/.366 in 48 games at Double-A after a midseason promotion. Moses returned to Double-A last year and hit .318/.370/.515 in April, but faded horribly after that and ended up hitting .249/.303/.386 with 15 homers and a putrid 113-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 125 games.

    Lost in the disappointing offense is that Moses' defense at third base has been sub par, suggesting he'll probably end up at first base, left field or designated hitter in the majors. Of course, he'll have to start hitting at some point first. The biggest things on Moses' side right now are that he's still just 22 years old and has been rushed through the Twins' system, which means his ugly numbers may not tell the whole story. Whatever the case, 2007 could be a make-or-break year.

    18. Alex Romero | Left Field | DOB: 9/83 | Bats: Left | Sign: Venezuela

    2004 A+ 380 .292 .387 .405 6 29 54 47
    2005 AA 509 .301 .354 .458 15 48 36 69
    2006 AA 167 .281 .384 .461 5 18 26 19
    AAA 236 .250 .300 .301 0 10 15 22

    Signed out of Venezuela in 2002, Alex Romero quietly put up solid numbers in his first three pro seasons before hitting .301/.354/.458 with 48 extra-base hits in 139 games at Double-A in 2005. Promoted to Triple-A for the first time, Romero struggled to begin last season and was quickly dropped back to New Britain, where he batted .281/.384/.461 in 48 games. Oddly, one bad half-season at Triple-A from a 23-year-old outfielder with a good track record was apparently all the Twins needed to see.

    After signing Ramon Ortiz last week, the Twins attempted to pass Romero through waivers to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. He was predictably claimed by the Diamondbacks, meaning the Twins lost Romero for absolutely nothing when they could have chosen instead to pass several lesser players--including 33-year-old third-string catcher Chris Heintz--through waivers, where they likely would have gone unclaimed.

    I suspect Ortiz will do enough on his own to make the Twins regret signing him, but there's a good chance Romero will add to their remorse. He doesn't profile as a superstar, but has a chance to develop into a capable starting corner outfielder or a quality fourth outfielder. Romero isn't the type of player any organization should be giving up for nothing, but for a team that's lacking in major league-ready bats it's one of the biggest head-scratchers in some time.

    17. Zach Ward | Starter | DOB: 1/84 | Throws: Right | Trade: Reds

    2006 A- 26 24 3.06 144.1 103 3 118 48

    Originally selected by the Reds in the third round of the 2005 draft out of Gardner-Webb University, the Twins acquired Zach Ward for Kyle Lohse on the eve of last season's trading deadline. At the time of the deal, Ward was 7-0 with a 2.29 ERA in 114 innings in the low Single-A Midwest League. He stayed in the MWL after the trade, moving from Dayton to Beloit, but struggled with a 5.93 ERA in six starts after switching teams.

    It's discouraging to see the Twins "buy high" on a hot pitcher only to see him finish the year poorly after joining the organization, but Ward's overall numbers remained encouraging. In 144.1 total innings, he posted a 3.06 ERA and 118-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio while limiting hitters to a .202 batting average. Within that performance was a 3-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, which is how he managed to serve up just three homers all year.

    A 6-foot-3 right-hander, Ward's combination of above-average stuff and extreme ground-ball inducing makes him an intriguing prospect. There are reportedly some concerns about his long-term durability and at 22 he was a little old to have spent an entire year in the MWL, but the Twins should be able to push him to Double-A by the end of 2007. Ward's modest strikeout rate limits his potential somewhat, but keeping the ball on the ground and throwing strikes is the recipe for a solid mid-rotation starter.

    16. Whit Robbins | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-4

    2006 A- 112 .304 .421 .482 3 13 22 17

    After two solid but unspectacular years at Georgia Tech University, Whit Robbins finished his college career with a monster 2006 season, batting .352/.468/.595 with 13 homers, 33 total extra-base hits, and 67 RBIs in 66 games. The Twins drafted him in the fourth round, locked him up quickly with a $265,000 bonus, and started Robbins off at low Single-A Beloit. Considered a very good defensive first baseman in college, Robbins played primarily third base in his first pro season.

    Robbins doesn't have huge power at the plate, with 20 homers in 553 college at-bats and just three long balls in 32 games at Beloit, so being able to stick at third base defensively is important for his long-term value. He draws plenty of walks, controls the strike zone well, has good gap power, and posted a .337 batting average between Georgia Tech and Beloit last season, so even passable defense at third base would make Robbins a very solid prospect.

    The Twins are suddenly relatively deep in third-base prospects and are seemingly always lacking good-hitting first basemen throughout the system, so Robbins probably won't be on a long leash defensively. If he continues to hit and can hold his own at third base, Robbins could move quickly. If a move across the diamond is needed, Robbins' upside drops into Doug Mientkiewicz territory and he'll be stuck behind Justin Morneau.

    January 24, 2007

    Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 25, 24, 23, 22, 21

    Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

    25. Kyle Waldrop | Starter | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1

    2004 RK 7 7 1.42 38.0 32 1 30 4
    RK 4 4 3.24 25.0 21 1 25 3
    2005 A- 27 27 4.98 151.2 182 17 108 23
    2006 A- 18 18 3.85 110.0 110 8 62 17
    A+ 8 7 3.57 45.1 48 4 25 17

    The Twins were awarded the 25th overall pick in the 2004 draft as compensation for LaTroy Hawkins leaving via free agency the previous offseason and used it to select right-hander Kyle Waldrop out of a Tennessee high school. He quickly agreed to a million-dollar bonus and kicked off his pro career with stops at both rookie-level affiliates, combining to toss 63 innings with a 2.15 ERA and 55-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    At 18 years old Waldrop was already the prototypical strike-throwing machine that the Twins stock their system with and continued to pound the strike zone after moving up to low Single-A Beloit in 2005, walking a remarkable 23 batters in 151.2 innings. However, his strikeout rate plummeted to 6.4 per nine innings and he gave up 17 homers while allowing opponents to hit a robust .291 against him, all of which are warning signs for future struggles.

    Waldrop began last season back at Beloit. He again showed excellent control with just 17 walks in 110 innings and did a much better job limiting hits, but managed only 62 strikeouts. He finished the year at high Single-A Fort Myers, where his 3.57 ERA masked a horrendous 25-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45.1 innings. Waldrop is still very young and has a big-league future, but he'll struggle to be more than a fourth or fifth starter if he can't find a way to miss more bats.

    24. Yohan Pino | Reliever | DOB: 12/83 | Throws: Right | Sign: Venezuela

    2005 RK 12 12 3.72 67.2 68 3 64 13
    2006 A- 42 7 1.91 94.0 69 4 99 20

    Signed out of Venezuela in 2004, Yohan Pino was a relative unknown heading into last season and doesn't crack 90 miles per hour with his fastball, but makes this list because his on-field performance has been ridiculously good. After an outstanding pro debut at rookie-level Elizabethton in 2005, Pino moved up to low Single-A Beloit last year and went 14-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 99-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 innings, holding opponents to a .198 batting average.

    As if that weren't more than enough, he then moved on to the Venezuelan Winter League and went 6-0 with a 1.67 ERA there. Pino has sub par raw stuff, may not have a future as a starting pitcher, and is relatively old for the level of competition he's faced thus far, but it's impossible to ignore a pitcher who essentially went 20-2 with a 1.86 ERA in his first full pro season. I'm a big believer in performance out-weighing tools until proven otherwise, which is why this season will be a huge one for Pino.

    As of right now Pino's prospect stock is more about intrigue than legitimate long-term upside, but that could all change if he holds his own between high Single-A and Double-A in 2007. Conventional wisdom would suggest that his lack of velocity will catch up to him soon, causing a drop in strikeout rate and a significant increase in homers allowed, but with 163 strikeouts and just seven homers in 161.2 innings so far, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    23. Trent Oeltjen | Center Field | DOB: 2/83 | Bats: Left | Sign: Australia

    2004 A+ 324 .278 .337 .352 2 15 18 61
    2005 A+ 341 .287 .369 .396 4 25 26 77
    2006 AA 401 .299 .378 .411 3 29 36 58

    Among the Twins' vast collection of speedy, slap-hitting center-field prospects with limited upside, Trent Oeltjen might be the best bet to become a productive big leaguer. One of many prospects the Twins have signed out of Australia in recent years, Oeltjen has gradually improved his offensive game while moving up the organizational ladder, culminating with a .299/.378/.411 hitting line in 113 games at Double-A last year.

    Oeltjen will never be confused with a power hitter, but his .112 Isolated Power at New Britain was a career-high. He also cut his strikeouts by about 15 percent while upping his walks by about 22 percent, all in his first taste of the high minors. Even with the improved plate discipline, Oeltjen walked just 36 times in 113 games. However, he has shown the ability to supplement his walk totals by leaning into pitches, getting plunked 20, 12, 20, and 16 times over the past four seasons.

    Oeltjen's best skill is without question his speed, but he's yet to turn that into great work on the bases or excellent defense in center field. Instead, some feel he profiles more as an outstanding defensive corner outfielder who's merely passable in center field, and he was just 23-of-34 swiping bases in 2006. Barring another jump in power and plate discipline this year, Oeltjen looks like a prototypical fourth outfielder who could get a chance to start if the Twins start scrambling to replace Torii Hunter.

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

    2006 RK 11 10 4.25 48.2 54 2 54 15

    After selecting high-school hitters with their first two picks in last June's draft, the Twins used their third rounder on a high-school pitcher, taking 6-foot-5 left-hander Tyler Robertson from California. Though considered a big-time talent, Robertson's mechanics have been questioned and Baseball America reported that "some describe his delivery as funky, others as ugly." While noteworthy, Robertson's pitching style should take a backseat to his pitching performance, which was quite good in his debut.

    Reporting to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Robertson joined the starting rotation and posted a 4.25 ERA and 54-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48.2 innings. He ranked third among GCL pitchers in strikeouts and, while opponents hit .280 against him, Robertson served up just two homers in 214 plate appearances. Robertson turned 19 years old in December, so he's clearly a very long way from the majors, but 6-foot-5 lefties who have the potential rack up strikeouts are tough to find.

    In contrast to their focus on toolsy, high-school position players, the Twins strike a better balance when drafting pitching. While typically going heavily after pitching, they do a good job balancing their picks between low-risk arms like Glen Perkins or Kevin Slowey and high-risk, high-upside arms like Robertson. That keeps a constant influx of major league-ready talent available to inexplicably be shoved aside for the likes of Ramon Ortiz, but also allows them to develop raw long-term projects.

    21. Jay Rainville | Starter | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1

    2004 RK 8 7 1.83 34.1 39 1 38 3
    2005 A- 16 16 3.77 88.1 83 14 77 27
    A+ 9 9 2.67 54.0 54 7 35 6

    The Twins used the last of their five 2004 first-round picks on Jay Rainville, a stocky, 6-foot-3 right-hander from a Rhode Island high school. Rainville debuted with a 1.83 ERA and extraordinary 38-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 34.1 innings in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, before spending his first full season split between low Single-A Beloit and high Single-A Fort Myers in 2005. Making 25 total starts, Rainville went 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA and 112-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 142.1 innings.

    Unfortunately, shoulder surgery sidelined Rainville for the entire 2006 season, costing him an all-important year of development and putting his status for 2007 in some doubt. In talking with people who have knowledge of the situation, it sounds like Rainville is already back to pitching at relatively close to full strength and the Twins expect him to pick up where he left off at Fort Myers. Even with what will surely be a conservative post-surgery timetable, Rainville could see Double-A in the second half.

    Big, right-handed control artists taken out of high school 14 picks apart in the 2004 draft, Rainville and Waldrop are similar prospects. However, I like Rainville a bit more long term--even with a significant injury on his resume--because his numbers didn't deteriorate nearly as much as he moved up the organizational ladder. Assuming he makes a full recovery, Rainville looks like a potential No. 3 starter, whereas Waldrop profiles more as a back-of-the-rotation guy at the moment.

    January 21, 2007

    Ay Dios Mio: The Ramon Ortiz Signing

    The Twins' offseason had been a slow one containing no moves that I found particularly objectionable, but that all changed Friday when they signed Ramon Ortiz to a one-year deal worth $3.1 million. Any defense of the signing from the team, its fans or the media almost has to center on things other than Ortiz's actual on-field performance, because there's really no way of getting around the fact that he's been a horrible pitcher for quite a while.

    (The inscription on Ortiz's hat says it all.)

    Ortiz spent last season pitching in the significantly inferior National League and played his home games in one of baseball's most pitcher-friendly ballparks, the spacious RFK Stadium in Washington. Despite having those two sizable advantages, Ortiz posted a horrendous 5.57 ERA for the Nationals and allowed opponents to bat .297/.367/.486 against him. In other words, he essentially turned every hitter he faced last season into Michael Cuddyer.

    Among the 38 NL pitchers who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title in 2006, Ortiz ranked second-to-last in ERA and third-to-last in opponent's batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Once you account for how pitcher-friendly his home ballpark was, a decent argument could probably be made for Ortiz being the single worst starting pitcher in the league last season.

    Given that the Twins just handed him $3.1 million and a spot in the starting rotation, you'd assume that Ortiz's brutal 2006 numbers must have been way out of line with the rest of his career, but that's not the case. In fact, his 2005 performance was similarly awful. Pitching for the Reds, Ortiz posted a 5.36 ERA while allowing opponents to bat .302/.353/.529 against him, which is dangerously close to making everyone who stepped to the plate look like Justin Morneau.

    (Ortiz reacting to one of 34 homers he served up for the Reds in 2005.)

    Ortiz is a former top prospect who throws relatively hard, which is surely why the Twins think he has some sort of untapped potential. In reality, Ortiz is 34 years old and managed a 5.47 ERA while pitching in an inferior league over the past two seasons. He doesn't strike many batters out, doesn't have particularly good control, and serves up a ton of homers. Handing Ortiz a spot in the starting rotation is not as bad as handing Tony Batista the starting job at third base, but it's close enough.

    It's early, but I've already heard an incredible number of people defend the Ortiz signing by using the same misguided logic and wishful thinking they used to defend signing Batista. Like with Batista, all the statistical, performance-based evidence in the world points to Ortiz being horrible, yet it's as if Twins fans learned nothing from last year's experience. More importantly, it's as if the Twins learned nothing either.

    Signing Ortiz provides another blatant example supporting my long-standing claim that the Twins' biggest organizational weakness is the inability to fully trust the outstanding young talent they develop. It's the same thinking that kept Johan Santana in the bullpen long after he was clearly the team's best pitcher and kept Cuddyer from securing a full-time place in the lineup until he made it impossible not to give him one last year.

    It's the same thinking that led to signing a no-upside, sure disaster like Batista in the first place or letting Juan Castro drag the team down just so the Twins could avoid giving Jason Bartlett an opportunity he had clearly earned. Few teams do a better job than the Twins when it comes to acquiring and developing young players, but few teams do a worse job when it comes to trusting that talent once it's ready to play.

    Ortiz isn't quite the sure disaster Batista was, but in some ways signing him is actually the worse move. With Batista, the monetary commitment was relatively small and the Twins didn't have a clear alternative at third base among their collection of young players. With Ortiz, it's $3.1 million out the window and the Twins have less need for a horrible starting pitcher than just about any other team thanks to their abundance of talented, major league-ready young hurlers.

    Rather than trust Boof Bonser, Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey, the Twins will pay a premium for a guy who'll be lucky to avoid a 5.00 ERA. Instead of learning from the past and going with upside and talent over mediocrity and experience, it's the same old story. What makes this version even worse is that not only did the Twins give up $3.1 million for the privilege of letting Ortiz serve up homers in the Metrodome, they lost a talented young player in the process.

    In order to clear space on the 40-man roster for Ortiz, the Twins waived 23-year-old outfield prospect Alex Romero. Romero is likely unknown to most of the same fans who think signing a "name" like Ortiz was a good idea, but he was a solid prospect in an organization that is severely lacking in talented young position players. In fact, Romero would have ranked No. 18 in my ongoing Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007 series.

    Romero struggled in his first crack at Triple-A, but he's a speedy outfielder who batted .296/.362/.459 in 187 games at Double-A over the past two years. He's not going to become a superstar, but Romero is simply not the type of player you risk losing in order to clear roster space for someone like Ortiz. The Twins essentially gave up $3.1 million and their 18th-best prospect for a 34-year-old pitcher who might give them 175 innings of a 5.00 ERA if things go well, which is as obvious as a bad decision can be.

    Interestingly, the biggest head-scratcher in a series of moves filled with head-scratchers is that the Twins didn't even have to risk losing Romero. They could have cleared space for Ortiz on the 40-man roster by waiving Chris Heintz, a 33-year-old catcher with a career .288/.326/.403 hitting line in 280 games at Triple-A who will never be more than a passable backup. If that wasn't bad enough, the Twins have a more-than-passable backup catcher, Mike Redmond, signed through 2009.

    To recap: The Twins handed $3.1 million to a horrible pitcher rather than trust one of the talented young pitchers they've developed, chose to protect a 33-year-old third-string catcher over a 23-year-old outfield prospect, and then lost that outfield prospect for nothing when another team smartly claimed him off waivers. If the above series of moves and decisions doesn't shine a bright light on the Twins' organizational weakness, I don't know what will. Ay dios mio, indeed.

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