March 5, 2008

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Previous Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2008: 6-10 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40

5. Anthony Swarzak | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-2

2005 A- 18 18 4.04 91.1 81 7 101 32
A+ 10 10 3.66 59.0 72 3 55 11
2006 A+ 27 27 3.27 145.2 131 8 131 60
2007 A+ 3 3 2.30 15.2 14 0 18 5
AA 15 14 3.23 86.1 78 6 76 23

Things went from bad to worse for Anthony Swarzak early last season, as an 11.12 ERA through two starts at Double-A was followed by a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a non-performance enhancing drug. The Twins punished Swarzak when he returned from suspension by demoting him back to high Single-A, but after posting a 2.30 ERA in three starts there he moved back to Double-A and thrived with a 2.67 ERA and 69-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80.2 innings.

Between the two levels Swarzak had a 3.09 ERA, 94-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .241 opponent's batting average in 102 innings, and then posted a 2.05 ERA over seven starts in an extremely difficult environment for pitchers after heading to the Arizona Fall League to get some more work in. In 2006 he led the Florida State League in strikeouts while finishing third in ERA, giving him a 3.30 ERA and 204-to-76 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 220.2 innings spread over 40 career starts at high Single-A.

Swarzak has allowed just 24 long balls in 398.1 innings above rookie-ball, but continuing to suppress homers figures to be difficult given his extreme fly-ball tendencies. That and a non-elite strikeout rate may keep him from becoming more than a No. 2 or No. 3 starter long term, but a 21-year-old shutting down Double-A hitters even after losing a half-season to suspension is very impressive and Swarzak remains on track to arrive in Minnesota at some point this season despite the lost development time.

4. Glen Perkins | Starter | DOB: 3/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2004-1

2005 A+ 10 9 2.13 55.0 41 2 66 13
AA 14 14 4.90 79.0 80 4 67 35
2006 AA 23 23 3.91 117.1 109 11 131 45
2007 MLB 19 0 3.14 28.2 23 2 20 12

A St. Paul native who went 19-5 with a 2.87 ERA in two seasons at the University of the Minnesota, Glen Perkins was selected by the Twins with the 22nd overall pick in the 2004 draft and signed for a $1.4 million bonus. He had a 1.79 ERA between rookie-ball and two levels of Single-A to begin his pro career before struggling some after making the jump up to Double-A in 2005, but remained there in 2006 while posting a 3.91 ERA and 131-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 117.1 innings.

Perkins made his big-league debut that September and pitched well enough out of the bullpen to be included on the Twins' postseason roster. Despite that he began last year at Triple-A before being called up for more relief duty two weeks into the season. After a dozen appearances, a strained left shoulder sidelined Perkins for nearly four months. He came back strong in September, tossing five scoreless frames to finish the year with a 3.14 ERA and 20-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28.2 innings.

The missed time last season stunted Perkins' development and shoulder problems are concerning, but he'll have a good chance to claim a rotation spot this season and is still just 25 years old. Perkins doesn't project as an ace, but has already shown that his low-90s fastball and solid secondary stuff can get big-league hitters out, holding them to .219/.299/.311 in 34.1 innings. Keeping the ball in the ballpark may be a problem at times, but he's capable of being a nice mid-rotation starter.

3. Tyler Robertson | Starter | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3

2006 RK 11 10 4.25 48.2 54 2 54 15
2007 A- 18 16 2.29 102.1 87 3 123 33

Taken by the Twins out of a California high school in the third round of the 2006 draft, Tyler Robertson signed for $405,000 and debuted with a 4.25 ERA and 54-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48.2 innings at rookie-ball. Rather than give him more rookie-level work last year, the Twins started Robertson at extended spring training and then jumped him up to low Single-A in May. He responded with a 2.29 ERA, 123-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .229 opponent's batting average in 102.1 innings.

Among minor-league pitchers who threw at least 90 innings last year, Robertson led the Twins' entire system with a 2.14 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and only Kevin Slowey (2.39) joined him below 2.90. Robertson was one of just nine teenage pitchers who threw at least 90 innings in the 14-team Midwest League, yet his 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second in the league behind only Dodgers uber-prospect Clayton Kershaw at 12.4.

A 6-foot-5 southpaw, Robertson uses an odd-looking, stiff delivery along with a heavy low-90s fastball and hard slider to rack up huge strikeout totals while inducing tons of ground balls. He coaxed two ground balls for every fly ball last year, has allowed just five homers in 635 career plate appearances, and boasts a 177-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 151 pro innings. He's a long way from the majors, but Robertson's performance thus far is nearly flawless and suggests that he's capable of stardom.

2. Deolis Guerra | Starter | DOB: 4/89 | Throws: Right | Trade: Mets

2006 A- 17 17 2.20 81.2 59 3 64 37
2007 A+ 21 20 4.01 89.2 80 9 66 25

Signed out of Venezuela for a $700,000 bonus as a 16-year-old in 2005, Deolis Guerra is an example of the Mets hyper-aggressively pushing their top prospects up the organizational ladder. Guerra made his full-season debut shortly after his 17th birthday and started his first game at high Single-A last season before turning 18. He was the lone teenage pitcher in the entire Florida State League and the average hitter he faced was 23 years old, which is why simply holding his own there is very impressive.

Guerra posted a 4.01 ERA and 66-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 89.2 innings at high Single-A, as the Mets limited his workload and a shoulder injury sidelined him for about a month. Combined with the numbers from his 2006 debut, Guerra now has a 3.27 ERA, 135-to-65 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .228 opponent's batting average in 178.2 pro innings, which is amazing for someone who's faced advanced competition at such a young age and why the Twins targeted him in the Johan Santana trade.

Guerra's velocity has reportedly been inconsistent, but he's been clocked in the mid-90s at times and as a stocky, 6-foot-5 right-hander who won't be old enough to drink legally until mid-2010 there's plenty of room to project a big-time fastball. Better yet, Guerra's changeup is said to be his best pitch, which is another area where he's miles ahead of other teenage hurlers. The Twins will no doubt slow down his development considerably, but Guerra has as much upside as anyone in the system.

1. Carlos Gomez | Center Field | DOB: 12/85 | Bats: Right | Trade: Mets

2005 A- 539 .275 .331 .376 8 27 32 88
2006 AA 486 .281 .350 .423 7 39 27 97
2007 AAA 157 .286 .363 .414 2 12 15 23
MLB 139 .232 .288 .304 2 5 8 27

Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2002, Carlos Gomez is another prospect who was rushed through the Mets' system, making his MLB debut last season as the NL's youngest player after just 36 games at Triple-A. He predictably struggled, hitting just .232/.288/.304 in 58 games, and missed about two months with a broken left hand. A 21-year-old flailing away in the majors is nothing to get overly concerned about and there's plenty of promise within Gomez's minor-league work.

In 156 games between Double-A and Triple-A, Gomez has hit .282/.354/.421 with nine homers, 51 total extra-base hits, 58 steals, and a 120-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is much better than it initially appears given his age. He lacks plate discipline and strike-zone control, but has shown the ability to hit for a solid average and has more power potential than a typical speedster. If his bat becomes even a modest asset Gomez has a chance to make a huge impact because of his world-class speed.

Gomez is without question one of the fastest players in baseball, swiping a dozen bags in his stint with the Mets after stealing an average of 60 bases per 600 plate appearances in the minors. Along with game-changing speed on the bases, Gomez also projects as an excellent defensive center fielder who combines outstanding range with a powerful arm. He's far from a finished product and would benefit from more time at Triple-A, but Gomez oozes potential if he can simply make some strides at the plate.

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