February 26, 2008

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

15. Trevor Plouffe | Shortstop | DOB: 6/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2004-1

2005 A- 532 .223 .300 .345 13 31 50 78
2006 A+ 524 .246 .333 .347 4 34 58 93
2007 AA 555 .274 .326 .410 9 48 38 89

Armed with seven of the first 100 picks in the 2004 draft thanks to compensation for Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins leaving as free agents, the Twins grabbed six pitchers and California high-school shortstop Trevor Plouffe, who went No. 20 overall and signed for a $1.5 million bonus. Plouffe debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton, hitting .283/.340/.380 in 60 games, but then struggled at low Single-A and high Single-A over the next two seasons, batting a combined .235/.316/.346 in 252 games.

Despite those struggles and the fact that he wouldn't be turning 21 years old until mid-June, the Twins pushed Plouffe up to Double-A last season. He responded by having the best year of his career, batting .274/.326/.410 with nine homers, 48 total extra-base hits, and an 89-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 126 games. Those numbers aren't eye-popping, but a 21-year-old shortstop simply holding his own at Double-A is plenty impressive and Plouffe's 37 doubles ranked third among Eastern League hitters.

Interestingly, throughout Plouffe's struggles at Single-A he showed good plate discipline, but his walk rate declined last season when he finally began hitting. He kept his strikeouts in check and showed the aforementioned gap power, which along with what are considered a solid glove and strong arm at shortstop makes his low batting averages easier to swallow. It's tough to get a great read on Plouffe's true ceiling because he's been pushed aggressively, but 2007 was a big step in the right direction.

14. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2

2006 RK 221 .260 .335 .444 5 21 21 41
2007 A- 507 .255 .347 .368 5 31 49 124

A two-sport star in high school who was lured away from college by a $575,000 bonus after the Twins took him in the second round of the 2006 draft, Joe Benson ranked 11th on this list last year and was the organization's lone center-field prospect who possessed anything resembling star potential. A year later he's been joined by Carlos Gomez and Ben Revere, and is coming off a somewhat disappointing first full season that likely puts him behind both players on the position's long-term depth chart.

After hitting .260/.335/.444 during his 52-game pro debut at rookie-ball after signing in 2006, Benson jumped to low Single-A last season and batted .255/.347/.368 with five homers, 31 total extra-base hits, and a 124-to-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 122 games. Lots of strikeouts and little power is a bad combination, but Benson's modest-looking .715 OPS was actually above the pitcher-friendly Midwest League's average, which is notable from a teenager playing an up-the-middle position.

Benson's game is still very raw, from a .257 career batting average and strikeouts in 23 percent of his plate appearances to being thrown out on half of his steal attempts and showing limited pop. However, faults and all his overall production offensively has been solidly above average for the environments that he's played in and includes solid plate discipline, which along with what's considered strong defense in center field gives him a chance to develop into a very good all-around player.

13. Deibinson Romero | Third Base | DOB: 9/86 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

2006 RK 197 .313 .365 .460 4 16 13 37
2007 RK 293 .316 .406 .506 9 27 34 47

Signed by the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in 2004, Deibinson Romero first appeared on the prospect radar by ranking ninth in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in OPS with a .313/.365/.460 hitting line over 50 games in 2006. He took one step up the organizational ladder to Elizabethton in 2007, hitting .316/.406/.506 in 66 games to rank fourth among Appalachian League hitters in OPS as a 20-year-old. He then went 3-for-10 after a late-season promotion to low Single-A.

Romero's 2007 numbers are plenty good on their own, but look even better once you account for the fact that he was playing in an extremely pitcher-friendly environment. Adjusted for context, his hitting line goes from .316/.406/.506 to .328/.409/.560, which was the best year that any prospect in the Twins' entire minor-league system had at the plate in 2007. Rookie-ball numbers are only worth so much, but hitting .314/.389/.485 through 118 games is an awfully good way to begin a career.

Romero will play the entire 2008 season as a 21-year-old and has been hurt by environments that don't lend themselves to big numbers offensively, yet has already shown excellent power and good plate discipline while posting big batting averages and a reasonable strikeout rate. He's obviously a long way from the majors, but Romero has one of the highest offensive ceilings of any position-player prospect in the organization and should stick at third base long term defensively.

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

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
2007 A+ 19 19 2.23 105.0 94 2 82 36
AA 9 9 4.50 48.0 45 4 35 22

Signed by the Twins out Johan Santana's hometown in Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2002, Oswaldo Sosa didn't make his full-season debut until 2006, when he started out at low Single-A and received a promotion to high Single-A late in the year. Making 26 combined starts between the two levels, Sosa posted a 2.60 ERA, 122-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .224 opponent's batting average in 152.1 innings while serving up a grand total of just two homers in 628 plate appearances.

Sosa remained at high Single-A last year, posting a 2.23 ERA and 82-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just two homers in 105 innings before finishing the season by holding his own in six starts at Double-A. Even after uncharacteristically serving up four homers in 48 innings at Double-A, Sosa has allowed a total of eight homers in 305.1 innings since advancing past rookie-ball, which is an amazing ability to suppress power that works out to one long ball every 160 plate appearances.

His home-run rate figures to rise going forward because Sosa's 1.8 ground balls for every fly ball over the past two seasons doesn't quite qualify as extreme, although at 22 years old there's still time for his fastball-slider combo to produce more grounders. Perhaps because of modest strikeout totals Sosa tends to get overlooked in a system full of good pitching prospects, but keeping the ball on the ground can make up for a lack of missed bats and he's on the path to becoming a solid mid-rotation starter.

11. Chris Parmelee | Right Field | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1

2006 RK 179 .279 .369 .532 8 19 23 47
2007 A- 501 .239 .313 .414 15 43 46 137

Taken by the Twins with the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft out of a California high school, Chris Parmelee agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and spent his first pro season hitting .279/.369/.532 in 56 games between the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and low Single-A. He then spent all of last season at low Single-A, but hit just .239/.313/.414 with 15 homers, 43 total extra-base hits, and a 137-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 games for a hugely disappointing full-season debut.

Parmelee hitting .239 and striking out in 27 percent of his plate appearances are major concerns, but the ugly raw numbers also overstate his struggles. His .727 OPS was safely above the league average despite the fact that he was just 19 years old and in particular his power was far more impressive than it initially appears. He ranked among the Midwest League's top 10 in homers and Isolated Power, and his slugging percentage jumps from .414 to .471 once you adjust for the pitcher-friendly environment.

Parmelee looks capable of developing into a major power threat, but the rest of his offensive game needs a lot of work and his defensive value figures to be minimal. A teenager producing 23 homers, 63 total extra-base hits, and a .189 Isolated Power through 184 career games despite playing in extremely pitcher-friendly environments is impressive, but less so when combined with a .249 batting average and 193 strikeouts. Some of the bloom is off Parmelee's rose, but he remains a potential impact bat.

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