January 18, 2009

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2009: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

40. Charles Nolte | Reliever | DOB: 3/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-24

2007 RK- 14 0 1.85 24.1 17 0 22 11
2008 A- 44 0 2.05 70.1 63 1 75 35

Charles Nolte underwent Tommy John elbow surgery following his senior year of high school and then barely pitched during his college career at San Diego State, but the Twins still liked the big right-hander enough to take him in the 24th round of the 2007 draft. Not only has Nolte stayed healthy as a pro, he's emerged as an intriguing relief prospect by racking up 97 strikeouts in 94.2 innings while inducing an extreme number of ground balls.

Nolte has served up a grand total of one homer while facing 417 batters, which is what happens when 71.3 percent of your balls in play are on the ground. To put that stat into some context, consider that no MLB pitcher had a ground-ball rate of even 70 percent last season and no Twins pitcher was above 60 percent. Nolte has induced over five ground balls for every fly ball as a pro and that alone would make him someone to watch even without the low-90s fastball and strong strikeout rate.

Most relievers who dominate in the low minors eventually fail to pan out and Nolte is a long way from Minnesota, but his combination of velocity, missed bats, and ground balls is much tougher to find than just another sparkling ERA at low Single-A. His lack of college experience suggests that Nolte could be a late bloomer and also means that his arm hasn't accumulated much mileage since the surgery four years ago, so if healthy he has a chance to move pretty quickly through the Twins' system.

39. Dan Osterbrock | Starter | DOB: 1/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2008-7

2008 RK 13 13 3.00 75.0 70 7 104 8

The all-time wins leader at the University of Cincinnati, Dan Osterbrock went 18-3 with a 3.12 ERA and 156-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 193.1 innings during his final two college seasons. Selected by the Twins in the seventh round last June, Osterbrock debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton and had a 3.00 ERA and 104-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 75 innings spread over 13 starts, thoroughly dominating the less experienced competition to lead the Appalachian League in strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

After taking home Appalachian League pitcher of the year honors he had 11 strikeouts in seven shutout innings to win the league title game. His fastball typically resides in the high-80s and he's anything but overpowering, so his high strikeout rate surprised everyone. "I've never really been a strikeout pitcher," Osterbrock said. "I'm not sure how it happened this year. A lot of times they just swing and miss. I've been throwing a slider down and in on righties, and that's really been working for me."

That will change now that Osterbrock is finished facing lineups filled with overmatched teenagers, but his control has been excellent with just 43 walks in his last 268 innings dating back to college and with a 3.09 ERA during that time he clearly has the offspeed stuff to get by with a modest fastball for now. His ability to get by on command and secondary stuff will be tested soon enough, but in the meantime he looks like a potential back-of-the-rotation starter and shouldn't need a ton of time in the low minors.

38. Danny Rams | Catcher | DOB: 12/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-2

2007 RK- 106 .258 .311 .361 0 9 5 22
2008 RK 166 .228 .301 .428 5 16 15 71

Danny Rams' sophomore year didn't go a whole lot better than his disappointing pro debut and he now sports an ugly .240/.305/.398 line with 93 strikeouts in 68 games two years after being a second-round pick. Rams was drafted based mostly on what Baseball America ranked as the best power in the 2007 high school class, but so far he's had trouble simply making contact, whiffing in 34 percent of his plate appearances.

Rams struck out in 71 of his 166 trips to the plate at rookie-level Elizabethton last year, which works out to an astonishing 42.8 percent. Strikeouts aren't necessarily a horrible thing and certainly many power hitters struggle to make consistent contact, but 43 percent is well beyond an acceptable amount. With that said, Rams did show considerable pop at the plate when he actually put the ball in play, batting .436 with an .808 slugging percentage when he made contact.

That's certainly grasping at straws in search of some reason for optimism, but five homers and 16 total extra-base hits in 149 at-bats from a teenager in a pitcher-friendly environment definitely qualifies as big power potential. Rams also drew a solid number of walks and saw regular action at catcher, which is key given that his future behind the plate has been questioned due to his massive frame. He's very raw and has started down the bust path, but it's early yet and Rams still has potential if things click.

37. Daniel Ortiz | Right Field | DOB: 1/90 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2008-4

2008 RK- 205 .274 .328 .419 2 18 11 30

Drafting Angel Morales in the third round two years ago has worked out so well thus far that the Twins decided to select another toolsy high school outfielder from Puerto Rico when they made Daniel Ortiz a fourth rounder in June. Morales debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit .256/.357/.405 in 2007, so naturally Ortiz followed in his footsteps by batting .274/.328/.419 in the GCL after signing for $253,000. While his .747 OPS may not seem like much, Ortiz's debut was actually very impressive.

As a whole the GCL batted just .253/.331/.356 last year, so Ortiz was about 10 percent above average offensively as an 18-year-old. His power was particularly good, as Ortiz smacked 18 extra-base hits in 186 at-bats for an Isolated Power that was 41 percent above par for the GCL. For comparison, Justin Morneau's power was 35 percent above the MLB average last year. Ortiz struck out a lot and didn't walk much, but showed plenty of promise at the plate to go along with good speed and athleticism.

Ortiz is under six feet tall and has a very slight build, so despite the pop shown in the small sample of his debut it's tough to project a ton of power. Of course, he's young enough that adding more size and strength is inevitable. He'll probably climb only one rung on the organizational ladder this year, going from the GCL to more short-season competition in the rookie-level Appalachian League, as the Twins' suddenly outfield-rich system should let them take things slow with Ortiz.

36. Reggie Williams | Second Base | DOB: 10/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2007-4

2008 RK- 96 .286 .358 .440 0 10 9 10

Reggie Williams was drafted out of a California high school in the fourth round two Junes ago, but was left off last year's version of this list because he signed too late to make a 2007 debut. His pro career began in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season and Williams looked very good in a limited number of games, hitting .286/.358/.440 while seeing most of his defensive action at second base and one appearance at third base.

It doesn't make much sense to put a whole lot of weight on 96 plate appearances versus short-season competition, but Williams showed a promising all-around offensive game for a teenager with as many extra-base hits as strikeouts and a solid walk rate. Williams was drafted as a shortstop and praised for his athleticism, so he'll try to stay a middle infielder for as long as possible before potentially moving to third base if his left-handed bat develops as planned.

He's a long way from the big leagues and probably won't even see full-season competition until 2010, but Williams was touted as a high-upside prospect when the Twins handed him a $153,000 signing bonus to lure him away from a scholarship to Cal-State Fullerton and he has already shown flashes of that potential. If he can handle second base and put together a good campaign at Elizabethton there will be room for Williams much higher on this list next year.

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