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.

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