February 19, 2007

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: The List

I posted the final installment of my eight-part "Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007" series here two weeks ago, but I figured it'd also be good to have another entry where the entire list could be found, if only for future reference. So, below you'll find the complete rankings, links to all 40 player profile write-ups, and some commentary on the overall state of the Twins' minor-league system, as I see it, heading into the 2007 season:

 1. Matt Garza, SP [Profile]              21. Jay Rainville, SP [Profile]
2. Chris Parmelee, RF [Profile] 22. Tyler Robertson, SP [Profile]
3. Glen Perkins, SP [Profile] 23. Trent Oeltjen, CF [Profile]
4. Kevin Slowey, SP [Profile] 24. Yohan Pino, RP [Profile]
5. Anthony Swarzak, SP [Profile] 25. Kyle Waldrop, SP [Profile]
6. Alexi Casilla, SS [Profile] 26. Garrett Olson, 3B [Profile]
7. Pat Neshek, RP [Profile] 27. Jay Sawatski, RP [Profile]
8. Eduardo Morlan, SP [Profile] 28. Jose Mijares, RP [Profile]
9. Oswaldo Sosa, SP [Profile] 29. Denard Span, CF [Profile]
10. Alexander Smit, SP [Profile] 30. Alex Burnett, SP [Profile]
11. Joe Benson, CF [Profile] 31. Trevor Plouffe, SS [Profile]
12. Jeff Manship, SP [Profile] 32. Brian Duensing, SP [Profile]
13. David Winfree, 3B [Profile] 33. Danny Valencia, 3B [Profile]
14. Paul Kelly, SS [Profile] 34. Brandon Roberts, CF [Profile]
15. Erik Lis, 1B [Profile] 35. Doug Deeds, LF [Profile]
16. Whit Robbins, 3B [Profile] 36. Garrett Guzman, LF [Profile]
17. Zach Ward, SP [Profile] 37. J.D. Durbin, SP [Profile]
18. Alex Romero, LF [Profile] 38. Steven Tolleson, 2B [Profile]
19. Matt Moses, 3B [Profile] 39. Loek Van Mil, SP [Profile]
20. Ryan Mullins, SP [Profile] 40. Matt Fox, SP [Profile]

The strength of the Twins' minor-league system has long been pitching, but their current crop of young arms is among the best in all of baseball. As the simple math involved would tell you, most teams would love to have one of baseball's top 25 pitching prospects, but the Twins boast at least three of them in Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey, and might have a fourth top-25 guy in Anthony Swarzak.

Philip Hughes of the Yankees and Homer Bailey of the Reds clearly stand out as baseball's truly elite pitching prospects, but once you get past those two Garza has an argument for claiming the No. 3 spot. At the very least, I think he definitely slots in the top half-dozen. Perkins and Slowey aren't quite in that class of pitching prospect, but can each safely be placed in the 15-25 range. Swarzak is more likely in the 25-40 range, which is damn good for the team's fourth-best young arm.

However, as impressive as those first four guys are, what makes the Twins' collection of pitching prospects so amazing is that they also have a ridiculous amount of depth throughout the organization. Guys like Eduardo Morlan, Oswaldo Sosa, Alexander Smit, and Jeff Manship would be one of the top 2-3 pitching prospects in most organizations, but with the Twins they almost get lost in the shuffle. Beyond that, the Twins have all kinds of what I'd call "C-level" starter prospects.

That group includes Zach Ward, Ryan Mullins, Jay Rainville, Tyler Robertson, Kyle Waldrop, Alex Burnett, Brian Duensing, and J.D. Durbin, which is pretty impressive. For a lot of teams those guys would be considered top-notch arms, but for the Twins they're just one of the masses. Add it all up and the Twins have no fewer than 15 prospects who have a legitimate chance to be big-league starters, including several major league-ready guys.

Only Garza is a good bet to become an ace-caliber starter, but there are all kinds of No. 2 and No. 3 starter candidates in the mix, and the Twins already have a pair of aces in Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. In fact, at just 23 years old Liriano can certainly be included in the young pitching discussion, although his MLB experience means he's no longer a "prospect" for ranking purposes. Along those same lines, Boof Bonser (25) and Scott Baker (25) could also be thrown into the mix.

In other words, while the Twins sign mediocre veterans like Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson to avoid trusting their young pitching and fans start worrying about losing Santana to free agency in two years, the organization will be absolutely stacked with potential starters for the foreseeable future. Actually, the Twins are so loaded with starter prospects that unloading a few of them in trades seems almost inevitable.

Even assuming Carlos Silva is let go after the season and no further veterans are signed, it's going to be difficult to fit Santana, Liriano, Bonser, Garza, Baker, Perkins, and Slowey into five rotation slots this time next year. Plus, even if the Twins find a way to make that work--and/or deal someone like Baker, who they appear to have soured on--where does the next wave of Manship, Sosa, and Swarzak fit into the picture?

Some of the starter prospects mentioned above with surely end up as relievers, but the Twins have plenty of intriguing bullpen arms already. Pat Neshek is technically still a prospect, but he'll resume duties as one of Joe Nathan's setup men this season. Yohan Pino, Jay Sawatski, and Jose Mijares will also be knocking on the door for a bullpen spot relatively soon, and Durbin might have to stick as a reliever coming out of spring training if the Twins want to avoid losing him on waivers.

Through shrewd drafting, trades, and development, the Twins have assembled an embarrassment of young pitching riches. Pitching prospects tend to weed themselves out with injuries and stagnation, which means you can never have too much young pitching, but the Twins appear capable of putting that theory to the test over the next few years. It'll be vital for Terry Ryan and company to determine which ones are truly keepers and then deal the other guys for some value before they die on the vine.

Of course, the flip side to having an insane amount of quality young pitching is that the Twins are lacking in top-notch position-player prospects. At this point Chris Parmelee is system's best bet for a middle-of-the-order offensive force, and he's a year out of high school and has barely stepped past rookie-ball. The Twins have zero of baseball's top-25 hitting prospects, and only Parmelee and Alexi Casilla have a good argument for being included in the top 50.

With that said, the Twins' lack of top-notch hitting prospects is somewhat misleading, because they've graduated elite prospects Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel to the majors during the past three years. Much like with Liriano, Bonser, and Baker on the pitching side, Mauer (24), Morneau (26), Kubel (25), and Jason Bartlett (27) are young and/or inexperienced enough be included in the young hitting picture.

On the other hand, even including Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Bartlett along with the prospects leaves the Twins with big holes on the long-term depth chart. There's no clear replacement for Torii Hunter in center field, where none of Denard Span, Trent Oeltjen, and Brandon Roberts currently look capable of stepping in for the pending free agent. At this point it looks like Hunter's replacement will have to come from outside the organization, which is where trading some of that pitching could come into play.

There's a similar lack of quality options in the outfield corners and at designated hitter, because the Twins simply don't have any impact bats close to the majors. The hope is obviously that Kubel and Michael Cuddyer will take care of two-thirds of those spots for the rest of the decade, but the third place for a big bat remains wide open. Even in terms of long-term bench depth behind Kubel and Cuddyer, losing Alex Romero on waivers earlier this offseason leaves the cupboard bare.

Bartlett is finally entrenched at shortstop and Casilla should be more or less ready to replace Luis Castillo at second base in 2008, but beyond those two the organization's long-standing lack of middle-infield depth remains. Even more extreme is the complete absence of quality catching prospects throughout the system, although that won't be an issue until at least 2011 and hopefully will throw further water on the misguided notion of Mauer moving out from behind the plate.

The Twins have a solid collection of intriguing prospects at third base, but with no clear long-term solution stepping forward they'll try to hold down the fort with Nick Punto and Jeff Cirillo until someone emerges from the group of David Winfree, Whit Robbins, Matt Moses, Garrett Olson, and Danny Valencia. There's plenty of talent there, but several of the guys still have a long way to travel up the organization ladder and questions about defense apply to all but Olson.

Taken as a whole the Twins' farm system is among baseball's best, which is impressive given the number of impact players they've graduated to the majors recently. However, what they really have is one of the 2-3 best collections of young arms, several of which are MLB-ready, and a sub par group of young bats, almost none of which are MLB-ready. That's not such a concern with Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, and Bartlett around, but it may be necessary for them to balance the scales a bit.

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