February 4, 2008

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Note: Prospects 31-40 in this series were actually posted already last month, but the Twins acquiring four good prospects in exchange for Johan Santana last week caused a shift in the rankings and made the original version out of date. The least-confusing option for proceeding seems to be restarting the whole series, with the four new prospects included and the four lowest-ranked prospects from the original version (Jose Morales, Steven Tolleson, Brandon Roberts, Denard Span) bumped off the list.

40. Matt Tolbert | Second Base | DOB: 5/82 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2004-16

2005 A+ 472 .266 .326 .365 3 29 35 80
2006 A+ 173 .303 .360 .458 4 13 14 17
AA 292 .258 .341 .363 3 19 30 43
2007 AAA 477 .293 .353 .427 6 37 37 56

A four-year starter at the University of Mississippi, the Twins selected Matt Tolbert in the 16th round of the 2004 draft despite a modest .288/.365/.394 career hitting line. He signed quickly and made his pro debut at rookie-level Elizabethton, batting .308/.376/.500 in 33 games, and then skipped low Single-A while making the jump to high Single-A during his first full season. Tolbert struggled at Fort Myers, batting just .266/.326/.365 in 111 games, but was promoted to Double-A in 2006.

Tolbert again struggled and was demoted back to Fort Myers, but hit .303/.360/.458 in 40 games there to earn a trip back up to New Britain. He hit just .255/.339/.360 in 72 total games at Double-A, but rather than ask a 25-year-old to take another crack at the level the Twins pushed Tolbert up to Triple-A last season. He hit .340 in April and .370 in May before eventually crashing back down to earth, hitting just .267/.323/.396 in the second half to finish the season at .293/.353/.427 in 121 games overall.

Despite an amazing start that got fans who didn't know better way too excited, Tolbert's "breakout" season actually blends in with the rest of his career. He's hit just .280/.345/.405 in 377 minor-league games and turns 26 years old in May, which adds up to a low ceiling. However, as a switch-hitter who controls the strike zone reasonably well, has solid speed, and can handle second base or third base defensively, Tolbert could carve out a decent major-league career as a utility man.

39. Brian Dinkelman | Second Base | DOB: 11/83 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-8

2006 RK 203 .298 .338 .420 4 15 10 29
2007 A- 278 .283 .373 .488 7 29 30 34
A+ 292 .255 .361 .389 6 17 36 43

The NAIA's all-time leader in hits, doubles, runs scored, and total bases after his four-year career at McKendree College, Brian Dinkelman won the 2006 NAIA Player of the Year by batting .462 during his senior season. A college shortstop, Dinkelman moved to second base after being drafted by the Twins in the eighth round and debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton, batting .298/.338/.420 with four homers, 15 total extra-base hits, and a 29-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 games.

Dinkelman moved up to low Single-A last season and thrived, batting .283/.373/.488 with 10 steals in 67 games. His production dropped off after a midseason promotion to high Single-A, but he held his own by hitting .255/.361/.389 with eight steals in 64 games. His overall raw numbers aren't especially eye-popping, but a young middle infielder smacking 46 extra-base hits and drawing 66 walks between a pair of extremely low-scoring environments is impressive.

In fact, if you adjust Dinkelman's 2007 performance to account for the pitcher-friendly leagues that he played in, his hitting line goes from .269/.367/.437 to .280/.378/.493. A 23-year-old second baseman with a context-adjusted Isolated Power of .213 is worth keeping an eye on, although Dinkelman saw about one-fourth of his action in left field last season and may not remain at second base long term. As an outfielder he's a marginal player, but as an infielder his bat and speed could have an impact.

38. Brian Buscher | Third Base | DOB: 4/81 | Bats: Left | Rule 5: Giants

2005 A+ 237 .282 .367 .422 5 18 27 47
AA 247 .228 .304 .288 1 10 20 36
2006 AA 524 .259 .321 .366 7 33 39 75
2007 AA 284 .308 .391 .478 7 27 31 30
AAA 147 .311 .374 .523 7 14 13 11

After two years at a Florida junior college Brian Buscher transferred to the University of South Carolina, where he batted .393/.453/.644 as a senior and became the Giants' third-round pick in the 2003 draft. Buscher received a $215,000 bonus and began his career at low Single-A, but hit just .278/.310/.320 with zero homers in 54 games. Over the next two seasons he experienced modest success at high Single-A, batting .288/.359/.413 in 143 games, but hit just .265/.336/.378 in 257 games at Double-A.

A 25-year-old with a .359 career slugging percentage, Buscher fell out of the Giants' plans and was taken by the Twins in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December of 2006. Expected to be little more than roster filler, Buscher instead had the best season of any hitter in the Twins' system, hitting .309/.385/.493 with 14 homers, 41 total extra-base hits, and a 41-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He then hit .244/.323/.329 in 33 games with the Twins.

Buscher has three major strikes against him in that he's old for a prospect, has a poor track record that makes his breakout year look like a fluke, and appeared to be an awful defensive third baseman in his time with the Twins. On the other hand, his already strong hitting line from last season jumps to .316/.388/.540 after adjusting for the pitcher-friendly environments he called home and included vastly improved strike-zone control, which is at least enough to think that he may have turned the corner.

37. Matt Macri | Third Base | DOB: 5/82 | Bats: Right | Trade: Rockies

2005 A+ 292 .283 .381 .443 7 24 33 67
2006 AA 326 .233 .294 .372 8 22 22 66
2007 AA 298 .298 .349 .502 11 34 20 58
AAA 59 .286 .322 .554 4 6 3 13

Originally taken out of an Iowa high school by the Twins in the 17th round of the 2001 draft, Matt Macri opted for college instead of signing and played three seasons at Notre Dame, batting .367/.465/.667 in his final year. Selected by the Rockies in the fifth round of the 2004 draft, Macri hit well between two levels of Single-A to begin his minor-league career before batting just .232/.293/.370 with a 66-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84 games at Double-A in 2006.

Asked to repeat Double-A last season, Macri bounced back by hitting .298/.349/.502 with 11 homers, 34 total extra-base hits, and a 58-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 79 games. Traded to the Twins in August for Ramon Ortiz, Macri moved up to Triple-A and finished the season by hitting .286/.322/.554 with four homers in 17 games. Macri now carries a .282/.350/.467 hitting line in 296 career games, with solid numbers everywhere except for the season at Double-A in 2006.

He's played all over the infield defensively and is considered a solid glove at third base, so it's easy to see Macri emerging with a major-league job at some point. On the other hand, he turns 26 years old in May, doesn't have much plate discipline, and has struck out in 21 percent of his career trips to the plate. He might be stretched as an everyday player, but being productive platooning against left-handed pitching is doable and the Twins' system lacks good bats, let alone infielders with power.

36. Daniel Berlind | Starter | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-7

2007 RK 11 9 1.93 56.0 37 4 52 20

Selected out of high school by the Cubs in the 44th round of the 2006 draft, Daniel Berlind opted for college instead of signing, enrolling at California Polytechnic State University before transferring to a junior college that was also in California. The decisions paid off for Berlind, who was taken by the Twins in the seventh round of June's draft and received an $80,000 signing bonus before making his pro debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

A 6-foot-7 right-hander who works primarily with a low-90s fastball and slider combination, Berlind held GCL hitters to a measly .186 batting average while posting a 1.93 ERA and 52-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 innings. While his batting average against and ERA were undeniably fantastic, Berlind's strikeout and walk rates are less impressive than they initially appear given the GCL's pitcher-friendly environment and the fact that he was facing slightly less experienced competition.

A dozen starting pitchers in the 16-team GCL had better strikeout-to-walk ratios than Berlind and even his minuscule 1.93 ERA ranked just third in the league. Of course, all of that is picking nits somewhat and Berlind certainly had a very strong debut that plants him firmly on the prospect map just six months after being a seventh-round pick. If he buys into the Twins' organization-wide emphasis on throwing strikes, Berlind has a chance to rank much higher on this list next year.

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