June 10, 2008

Recapping the Twins' Draft

By selecting Aaron Hicks with the No. 14 overall pick in last week's draft the Twins used their first pick on a high-school hitter for the eighth time in the past 10 years. Here's the complete list:

Selecting Joe Mauer first overall in 2001 has worked out brilliantly, but taking B.J. Garbe fifth overall two years earlier was a disaster. A toolsy outfielder from Washington, Garbe batted .235/.305/.325 over eight minor-league seasons, never made it past Double-A, and announced his retirement at the age of 25. Matt Moses is on a Garbe-like path to being a complete bust, sporting a .257/.313/.391 career line in the midst of his sixth minor-league season.

Denard Span got off to a hot start at Triple-A this year, but is a .285/.353/.354 hitter in six minor-league seasons and looks capable of becoming at best a fourth outfielder in the majors. Trevor Plouffe has a similarly unimpressive .255/.323/.376 career line, although he's improved since moving past Single-A. Chris Parmelee and Ben Revere have both established themselves among the Twins' top prospects, but because neither player has advanced past Single-A the jury is still out on their long-term potential.

Mauer has lived up to the hype as the No. 1 pick and both Parmelee and Revere look capable of being good players at this point, but the foursome of Garbe, Span, Moses, and Plouffe will likely provide very little combined value given where they were drafted. Of course, mixed in with those eight high-school hitters were a pair of college pitchers in Matt Garza (25th overall in 2005) and Adam Johnson (second overall in 2000). Garza is already a solid big-league starter, but Johnson was a complete bust.

Hicks was a two-way star in high school and most teams reportedly liked him more as a pitcher, but he made it clear prior to the draft that he wanted to be a position player and the Twins selected him as a center fielder. Teams having to decide whether to groom a top high-school player as a pitcher or hitter is not uncommon. For instance, the Twins made Plouffe a full-time shortstop after taking him with the 20th overall pick in 1999 despite many teams viewing him as having more upside on the mound.

Baseball America ranked Hicks as possessing the second-best arm strength and third-best fastball in the high-school class, but also pegged him as the second-best athlete. BA's scouting report on Hicks called him "the finest prep outfielder/pitcher prospect in the greater Los Angeles area since Daryl Strawberry in the early 1980s" and compared him to former first-round pick Adam Jones, who's now starting in center field for the Orioles. Here's more of BA on Hicks as a position player:

As an outfielder, Hicks projects as a five-tool player, and his arm grades out to near 80 on the scouting scale. With his plus speed (6.6 seconds over 60 yards), Hicks is a daring and aggressive baserunner. His speed, easy range and arm mean Hicks will begin his career as a center fielder. Prior to the 2008 season, many scouts had reservations about his hitting ability. A switch-hitter, he's shown improvement by lowering his hands. His hitting mechanics and lightning reflexes permit scouts who believe in him to project him as an above-average hitter with above-average power.

Between Revere, Span, Garbe, and Hicks the Twins have used four recent first-round picks on athletic, speedy outfielders who came with questions about their bats, although Hicks is generally believed to have far more power potential than anyone expected from Span or Revere. MLB.com called Hicks "one of the more athletic outfielders" in the draft, but added: "He's got a ton of tools, but will he learn how to use them?" Here's the MLB.com scouting report on Hicks:

Hitting Ability: Hicks generally has an idea of what he wants to do at the plate, but sometimes gets away from it, using his athleticism more than a polished game plan.

Power: He has raw power potential, showing flashes of it in BP. He's more gap-to-gap in games now, but should develop the ability to hit the ball out of the park as he gets bigger.

Running: He's a plus runner who ran a 6.6-second 60-yard dash at the showcase. He needs some work on his technique and jumps. He can outrun some throws at the high school level, but will start getting caught stealing once he advances.

Arm Strength: He's got a plus, plus arm from the outfield and has even shown the ability to throw in the mid-90s from the mound.

Fielding: He's a plus defender who glides to the ball with very fluid actions. With his plus speed, he covers a lot of ground in center field from gap to gap.

Physical Description: Hicks is a very athletic, projectable, toolsy outfielder.

MLB.com's description of Hicks as "very athletic, projectable, toolsy" is essentially the epitome of what the Twins look for in a position player, so in that sense he's a perfect fit. Torii Hunter was described that same way when the Twins selected him out of an Arkansas high school with the 20th overall pick in the 1993 draft, but even with the many high draft picks spent on "athletic, projectable, toolsy" teenage outfielders since then there have been many more misses than hits.

Interestingly, after taking Hicks with their own first-round pick the Twins then used the compensation picks that they received for losing Hunter via free agency on a pair of college pitchers, taking University of Miami closer Carlos Gutierrez at No. 27 and Tulane University ace Shooter Hunt at No. 31. Much like taking Revere last year, the Twins provided the biggest surprise of the first round by grabbing Gutierrez, who was expected go several rounds later and didn't even have an MLB.com scouting report.

Gutierrez missed the 2007 season following Tommy John elbow surgery, but unlike Francisco Liriano came back stronger than ever this year, posting a 3.02 ERA, 70-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .199 opponent's batting average over 48 innings. As the closer for one of the country's best college teams Gutierrez could move through the minors quickly and the Twins' sudden bullpen struggles may have played a part in the selection, although there's talk that the team plans to use him as a starter.

He was in Miami's rotation pre-surgery, but works almost exclusively with a low-90s sinker and doesn't appear to have the secondary stuff that most teams look for in a starter, as BA notes that "he throws a slider on occasion, but it currently can't be considered average." Giving him a chance to prove the scouting reports wrong as a starter is an interesting idea, but if Pat Neshek struggles to bounce back from his own elbow injury next year Gutierrez may be fast-tracked to the Twins' bullpen.

Taking Hunt with the 31st overall pick is my favorite draft choice that the Twins made this year, and not just because "Shooter Hunt" is great name. Ranked by BA as the 11th-best prospect in the entire draft class, Hunt was pegged as having the second-best offspeed stuff of any college pitcher. He posted a 2.68 ERA, 126-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .175 opponent's batting average in 101 innings, taking Pitcher of the Year honors in Conference USA. Here's some of his scouting report from BA:

Batters just can't put the barrel on his lively fastball, which sits at 91-92 mph and tops out at 94, or his hard breaking ball, which features curveball break and slider velocity. A full-time catcher until his junior year in high school, Hunt still is learning the nuances of pitching. He nibbles at the corners and often pitches away from contact rather than attacking hitters. As a result, he had allowed more walks than hits this spring. A sturdy 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, Hunt should be more than capable of handling the demands of starting in pro ball. His biggest adjustment will be learning to trust his stuff so he can keep his pitch counts down. He flashes a plus changeup in the bullpen, though he doesn't use it much in games.

It's not often that the Twins target a pitcher with less than outstanding control, so they must think very highly of Hunt's raw stuff and believe that he'll eventually fit into the organization's strike-throwing mold. Athletic, toolsy high schoolers haven't provided a great return for the Twins recently and save for some prominent exceptions taking college closers in the first round typically provides mediocre value, but balancing Hicks and Gutierrez with a high-upside college starter in Hunt was a good move.

After making three first-round picks, the Twins used their second rounder on arguably the nation's top junior-college prospect, shortstop Tyler Ladendorf. There are questions about his ability to remain at shortstop long term and his amazing numbers offensively should be discounted somewhat given the level of competition, but it's nice to see the Twins targeting someone for their bat while addressing the organization's longstanding lack of middle-infield depth.

In the third round the Twins selected right-hander Bobby Lanigan from Gary Dell'Abate's alma mater, Adelphi University. Like Ladendorf he's faced questionable competition while at a Division II school, but Lanigan is 6-foot-5 and BA reports that he throws a low-90s fastball and a quality slider. Puerto Rican high schooler Danny Ortiz went to the Twins in the fourth round, with BA calling him "a sweet-swinging outfielder ... with a projectable bat and a good approach at the plate."

Perhaps surprisingly the Twins then went fairly heavy on college players, taking San Diego State third baseman Nick Romero in the fifth round, Cincinnati left-hander Dan Osterbrock in the seventh round, New Orleans catcher Jeff Lanning in the eighth round, and Vanderbilt outfielder-second baseman Dominic de la Osa in the 11th round. They even took Gophers left-hander Kyle Carr in the 12th round despite his ugly 6.13 ERA this season.

BA notes that Romero should be capable of sticking at third base defensively, which is good news given that he led San Diego State in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage this season by hitting .335/.418/.544, although his 49-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't a great sign. Osterbrock went 9-2 with a solid 3.55 ERA while walking just 10 batters in 14 starts, but managed only 74 strikeouts in 99 innings and allowed opponents to bat .283.

Lanning hit .369 with a team-leading .627 slugging percentage, but threw out just 5-of-32 runners from behind the plate. BA notes that de la Osa "is a free swinger and somewhat streaky, making his bat his main question mark," but he hit .297/.410/.506 with 27 steals while No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez batted .317/.424/.593 in the same lineup. For more on the draft, check out BA's unmatched coverage, MLB.com's in-depth reports, and friend of AG.com Keith Law's analysis at ESPN.com.

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

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