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.

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