May 1, 2007

Prospect Round Up: April

During the offseason, I put together a series of entries laying out my rankings of the Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007. After recapping the first month of the Twins' season yesterday in this space, I thought today would be a good time to travel through the minor-league system and check in on how some of the team's best prospects fared in April ...

After suffering through with a neck injury that required a cortisone shot during spring training, No. 1 prospect Matt Garza was demoted to Triple-A in favor of Sidney Ponson and struggled with his command while getting off to a slow start in the brutal Rochester weather. He finished the month with back-to-back strong outings, ending April with a 2.84 ERA, 18-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .263 opponent's batting average in 19 innings spread over four starts.

No. 3 prospect Glen Perkins began the season alongside Garza in Rochester's starting rotation, tossing six innings of one-run ball in his first outing, but was quickly summoned to the Twins' bullpen when they went to a 12-man pitching staff. In six total appearances as a reliever spread over nearly three weeks on the roster, Perkins posted a 4.32 ERA, 7-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .241 opponent's batting average in 8.1 innings.

Despite the presence of Garza, Perkins (for a while, at least), and Scott Baker, No. 4 prospect Kevin Slowey was Rochester's best starter in April and pitched about as well as humanly possible. In his first taste of Triple-A, Slowey had a 1.05 ERA, 28-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .152 opponent's batting average in 25.2 innings spread over four starts. After a two-strikeout start to begin the season, Slowey racked up nine, nine, and eight strikeouts in his final three April outings.

No. 6 prospect Alexi Casilla began the year as Rochester's starting second baseman, but played just two games there before the Twins called him up when injuries struck. Casilla spent time at shortstop and second base, showing good range defensively while going 4-for-4 stealing bases, but looked overmatched at the plate while hitting .233/.250/.256 with an 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 plate appearances. The 22-year-old was sent back down when Jeff Cirillo returned from the disabled list.

Down at low Single-A Beloit, No. 2 prospect Chris Parmelee was also overmatched at the plate, hitting just .215/.282/.400 with 27 strikeouts in 65 at-bats. Parmelee's power has been decent, with two homers and seven total extra-base hits, and the strikeouts aren't necessarily overly troubling by themselves. However, a 27-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio is definite cause for concern when it comes to a first-round pick getting his first taste of full-season ball.

No. 5 prospect Anthony Swarzak got off to a horrible start at Double-A, with an 11.12 ERA and .360 opponent's batting average through two outings, and then his season got even worse when he was slapped with a 50-game suspension for violating the minor-league drug policy by using what has been described to me as a "non-steroid substance." Swarzak will return in July, but his chances of moving quickly through the high minors have likely vanished.

Meanwhile, No. 7 prospect Pat Neshek's April was just slightly better. The sidearming blogger picked up right where he left off last season, posting a 2.25 ERA, 12-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .146 opponent's batting average in 12 innings as one half of the Twins' setup duo along with Juan Rincon. Neshek's month also included a lengthy interview on and he's on the verge of officially no longer being a "prospect" by crossing the 50-inning mark for his career.

The pitching staff at high Single-A Fort Myers includes No. 8 prospect Eduardo Morlan, No. 9 prospect Oswaldo Sosa, and No. 10 prospect Alexander Smit. Unfortunately, only Morlan put together a strong April and he did so pitching out of the bullpen. Acting as Fort Myers' closer, Morlan posted a 0.84 ERA, 9-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .108 opponent's batting average in 10.2 innings, saving three games in seven appearances.

Sosa posted a solid 22-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19.1 innings and continued his heavy ground-ball tendencies by serving up just one homer, but allowed opponents to bat .341 against him while compiling a 5.59 ERA in five starts. Smit managed a similarly impressive 20 strikeouts in 23.1 innings, but walked 11 batters and allowed opponents to hit .269 with two homers on the way to a 5.40 ERA in five starts.

Perhaps even more so than Slowey's fantastic start at Triple-A, No. 12 prospect Jeff Manship's first month at low Single-A sticks out as the organization's best April performance. Manship posted a 0.84 ERA, 36-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .147 opponent's batting average in 32 innings spread over five starts. Equally as impressive, he had a 4.6-to-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, which sticks out like a sore thumb in the Twins' fly-ball heavy system and is a tremendous indicator for future success.

The Twins' second-round pick last June, No. 11 prospect Joe Benson hit just .175/.254/.206 with 20 strikeouts in 63 at-bats at Beloit. That's an incredibly discouraging first month regardless of how you spin it, but it's worth noting that Benson is a 19-year-old seeing his first full-season action. That he's on the same team and in the same league as a relatively polished, 22-year-old former college star like Manship is revealing for both players. Benson deserves patience and Manship deserves a promotion.

No. 13 prospect David Winfree got off to a good start at Double-A, hitting .333/.382/.533 through eight games, but is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury. No. 15 prospect Erik Lis continued to knock around too-young competition, hitting .310/.402/.488 with two homers, 11 total extra-base hits, and a 12-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 games at high Single-A. Like Manship, he deserves a promotion and the chance to play against challenging competition.

No. 18 prospect Alex Romero and No. 37 prospect J.D. Durbin are no longer in the organization. Romero was claimed off waivers by the Diamondbacks when the Twins decided to keep Chris Heintz instead. With no minor-league options left, Durbin had to be placed on waivers when he was cut at the end of camp. He was claimed and waived by the Diamondbacks, Red Sox, and Phillies within the span of three weeks, before finally passing through waivers and reporting to Philadelphia's Triple-A team.

No. 19 prospect Matt Moses continued to do absolutely nothing to justify the "third baseman of the future" label that's been stuck to him since being a first-round pick in 2003, hitting .203/.213/.339 with a horrendous 16-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16 games at Triple-A. Similarly, supposed "center fielder of the future" and No. 29 prospect Denard Span hit just .243/.300/.338 with a 16-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 games alongside Moses in Rochester.

After missing all of last season following shoulder surgery, No. 21 prospect Jay Rainville posted a 2.63 ERA, 15-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .265 opponent's batting average in 24 innings at high Single-A (which is where he was prior to the injury). No. 23 prospect Trent Oeltjen, who might be next in line for a call-up should more injuries strike the Twins, hit .318/.375/.409 with an 8-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 games at Triple-A.

No. 24 prospect Yohan Pino continued to pitch extremely well despite underwhelming velocity, posting a 2.25 ERA, 15-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .217 opponent's batting average in 12 innings working primarily out of the bullpen at high Single-A. Also at Fort Myers, No. 25 prospect Kyle Waldrop showed signs of regaining his bat-missing ability by posting a 3.08 ERA, 25-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .227 opponent's batting average in 26.1 innings spread over five starts.

Pitching alongside Manship at Beloit as a teenager, No. 30 prospect Alex Burnett started four games with a 3.68 ERA, 19-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .228 opponent's batting average in 22 innings. Showing his first signs of life since being a first-round pick in 2004, No. 31 prospect Trevor Plouffe hit .323/.391/.565 with three homers, nine total extra-base hits, and a 10-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 games as the starting shortstop at Double-A.

Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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