February 2, 2007

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

10. Alexander Smit | Starter | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Left | Sign: Netherlands

2004 RK 6 5 2.54 28.1 25 0 43 10
2005 RK 21 0 1.97 45.2 25 3 86 12
A- 14 10 5.98 49.2 58 9 54 28
2006 A- 34 13 2.99 108.1 77 6 141 53

The most high-profile of the Twins' Dutch signings, Alexander Smit received an $800,000 bonus as a 16-year-old in 2002. A 6-foot-3 left-hander, Smit annihilated rookie-ball during his first two seasons, posting a 1.76 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 66.1 combined innings. He moved up to low Single-A Beloit in 2005 and fell apart, going 1-9 with a 5.98 ERA in 14 starts before a demotion back to rookie-level Elizabethton, where he got back on track with a 1.97 ERA in 45.2 innings out of the bullpen.

Smit stayed in the bullpen and took his second crack at Beloit last season, but inconsistent mechanics continued to doom him as he walked 20 batters in 34.1 innings while posting a 4.19 ERA. After reportedly working extensively with the Beloit coaching staff to correct his problems, Smit's mechanics were eventually fixed and he moved back into the starting rotation in mid-June, going 5-1 with a 2.43 ERA and 98-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 innings to end the season.

Smit's control has come and gone, and he's had some very hittable stretches, but the one constant has been the ability to rack up huge strikeout totals. Smit has never failed to strike out more than one batter per inning and has an incredible total of 364 strikeouts in 270 career frames. That's unusual for someone who doesn't throw particularly hard and makes Smit an extremely good prospect despite some struggles thus far. If he can keep the mechanics in line, Smit's upside is huge.

9. Oswaldo Sosa | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Sign: Venezuela

2004 RK 8 5 2.20 28.2 27 0 30 4
2005 RK 12 11 4.95 56.1 59 4 40 21
2006 A- 20 20 2.75 117.2 102 1 95 36
A+ 6 6 2.08 34.2 23 1 27 18

Hailing from the same city in Venezuela that produced Johan Santana, Oswaldo Sosa signed with the Twins as a 16-year-old in 2002. Sosa pitched well in rookie-ball during his first two pro seasons, but moved up to low Single-A Beloit last year and made a name for himself with a 2.75 ERA and 95-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117.2 innings spread over 20 starts. Those numbers are good, but the most impressive stat was allowing a grand total of one homer in 485 plate appearances.

A 6-foot-4 right-hander with what is described as a "heavy" fastball-slider combination, Sosa caused Midwest League hitters to pound the ball into the ground at nearly a 2-to-1 ratio and was actually more effective against left-handed batters, holding them to .192/.259/.222. Despite not turning 21 years old until September, Sosa received a late-season promotion to high Single-A and posted a 2.08 ERA in six starts at Fort Myers, holding opponents to a .189 batting average and one homer in 34.2 innings.

Sosa induces plenty of ground balls, but he's not quite at the level of being called an extreme ground-ball pitcher. However, given his age and body type, he's a good bet to get there. Sosa tends to get overlooked in an organization overflowing with quality pitching prospects and his lack of a great strikeout rate makes his "ceiling" relatively low. On the other hand, his "floor" is basically a mid-rotation starter and he's got plenty of time to work on missing bats when he's not killing worms.

8. Eduardo Morlan | Starter | DOB: 3/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-3

2004 RK 11 2 2.84 25.1 25 1 28 10
2005 RK 4 4 0.82 22.0 6 0 30 6
A- 10 10 4.38 51.1 39 5 55 31
2006 A- 28 18 2.29 106.1 78 6 125 38

Taken out of a Florida high school in the third round of the 2004 draft, Eduardo Morlan signed for a $400,000 bonus and debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, tossing 25.1 innings with a 2.84 ERA and 28-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Morlan got a late start in 2005 to get some additional work in at extended spring training, eventually posting a 3.31 ERA and 85-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73.1 innings spread over 14 starts at rookie-level Elizabethton and low Single-A Beloit.

Morlan spent last season back at Beloit and had a fantastic year split between the rotation and bullpen, posting a 2.29 ERA and 125-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106.1 innings while holding opponents to a .202 batting average. Because of a delivery that has been described as "violent," some feel Morlan will eventually move to the bullpen full time. However, he posted a 2.48 ERA in 18 starts last year, including a 1.93 ERA and 37-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32.2 innings over his final six outings.

An overpowering fastball-slider combination gives Morlan the raw stuff to dominate in any role, but he'll likely need to develop both his changeup and stamina to remain in the rotation long term. If he can do both of those things, Morlan has No. 1 starter potential. If not, he might have to settle for being the next Juan Rincon. Either way, he's one of the best young arms in a system that's absolutely overflowing with them, and has a ton of upside.

7. Pat Neshek | Reliever | DOB: 9/80 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2002-6

2004 A+ 16 0 2.95 18.1 16 2 19 2
AA 26 0 3.82 35.1 34 2 38 18
2005 AA 55 0 2.19 82.1 69 9 95 21
2006 AAA 33 0 1.95 60.0 41 7 87 14
MLB 32 0 2.19 37.0 23 6 53 6

A 26-year-old who appeared in 32 games for the Twins last season, Pat Neshek clings to "prospect" status because his 37 innings fall under the eligibility requirement for Rookie of the Year. He's also not a typical prospect, in that there's no question about what his upside is or whether he can reach it. A side-arming right-hander who's faced skepticism throughout his climb up the organizational ladder, Neshek emerged as one of the most trusted members of the Twins' bullpen within weeks of his debut.

A native Minnesotan selected out of Butler University in the sixth round of the 2002 draft, Neshek posted a 2.19 ERA and 95-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82.1 innings at Double-A in 2005. He then dominated Triple-A hitters last year, posting a 1.95 ERA, 87-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .189 opponent's batting average in 60 innings before the Twins finally called him up in July. Neshek didn't miss a beat in the majors, with a 2.19 ERA, 53-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .176 OAVG in 37 innings.

Perpetual doubters have overstated Neshek's weakness against left-handed hitters, but it's true that his unique delivery leaves him vulnerable to lefties with power. Between Triple-A and the majors, Neshek held lefties to a .240 batting average, but served up eight homers in 125 at-bats for a .456 slugging percentage. That's certainly nothing outlandish, and as long as Neshek continues to make right-handed batters look silly flailing away at his frisbee slider he'll be an excellent late-inning reliever.

6. Alexi Casilla | Shortstop | DOB: 7/84 | Bats: Switch | Trade: Angels

2004 RK 163 .258 .332 .313 0 5 15 10
2005 A- 308 .325 .392 .409 3 17 29 31
2006 A+ 323 .331 .390 .406 0 18 30 36
AA 170 .294 .375 .382 1 12 18 20

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2003, Alexi Casilla was acquired in the trade that saw the Twins dump J.C. Romero on the Angels last offseason, adding yet another name to the long list of impact prospects Terry Ryan has plucked from the low minors of other organizations. While Romero posted a 6.70 ERA with his new team, Casilla batted .318/.385/.398 with 50 steals in 123 games between high Single-A and Double-A before making his major-league debut in September.

A speedy switch-hitter who controls the strike zone and slaps the ball around, Casilla is as close to a Luis Castillo clone as you'll find offensively. Defensively he's more like a Rafael Furcal clone, with the ability to play shortstop and a rocket arm that explodes out of his diminutive frame from an exaggerated delivery. However, with Jason Bartlett seemingly entrenched there finally, Casilla's eventual home may be as the replacement for Castillo at second base.

Whatever the combination, Bartlett and Casilla would form an excellent defensive middle infield and give the Twins a pair of speedsters with good on-base skills at the top of the lineup. And the cost to acquire them? Romero and Brian Buchanan. Casilla figures to begin this season at Triple-A, but will be first in line should Bartlett or Castillo suffer a major injury and is set up perfectly to step into the lineup when Castillo leaves via free agency next winter.

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