February 28, 2010

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: System Overview

My annual series ranking and profiling the Twins' top 40 prospects concluded last week, so here's the complete list, along with links to each individual write-up and an overview of the whole system:

1. Aaron Hicks, CF                21. Alex Burnett, RP
2. Kyle Gibson, SP                22. Robert Delaney, RP
3. Wilson Ramos, C                23. Luke Hughes, 3B
4. Miguel Angel Sano, SS          24. Ben Tootle, RP
5. Ben Revere, CF                 25. Deolis Guerra, SP
6. Angel Morales, CF              26. Shooter Hunt, SP
7. David Bromberg, SP             27. Trevor Plouffe, SS
8. Danny Valencia, 3B             28. Michael McCardell, SP
9. Matthew Bashore, SP            29. Reggie Williams, 2B
10. Billy Bullock, RP              30. Estarlin De Los Santos, SS
11. Rene Tosoni, RF                31. Derek McCallum, 2B
12. Chris Parmelee, RF             32. Jose Morales, C
13. Adrian Salcedo, SP             33. Chris Herrmann, LF
14. Joe Benson, CF                 34. Bobby Lanigan, SP
15. Jeff Manship, SP               35. Danny Rams, C
16. Tyler Robertson, SP            36. Josmil Pinto, C
17. Carlos Gutierrez, RP           37. Steven Tolleson, 2B
18. B.J. Hermsen, SP               38. Anderson Hidalgo, 3B
19. Anthony Slama, RP              39. Loek Van Mil, RP
20. Max Kepler, CF                 40. Joe Testa, RP

Most years at least a handful of significant prospects from my top-40 list exhaust their rookie eligibility or leave the organization via trade, but last season only Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing, and Jose Mijares graduated to the majors and only Kevin Mulvey was dealt away. That atypical lack of turnover combined with the addition of high-end talent like Kyle Gibson, Miguel Angel Sano, Matthew Bashore, Billy Bullock, and Max Kepler makes the 2010 list much stronger than the 2009 version. And different.

For the past few years the Twins' minor-league system was long on depth and short on star potential, but the opposite may now be true. While the system still lacks elite MLB-ready talent--Danny Valencia is the only top-10 guy who seems likely to play a big role in the majors this season--the Twins boast four of the top 75 or so prospects in all of baseball thanks to using their past two first-round picks on Aaron Hicks and Gibson, dropping a record bonus on Sano, and Wilson Ramos' continued progress.

On the other hand the second half of this year's top 40 seems weaker than previous versions, although certainly that's a tough thing to accurately gauge. Of course, if given the choice strong in top-end talent and weak in mid-level depth is clearly preferable to the opposite and the potential shift in organizational strategy is a positive one. Taking more chances and spending more money on high-upside prospects is absolutely the way to go for a team that may never out-spend the big boys for major-league talent.

As an organization the Twins have long thrived at churning out potential mid-rotation starters, but it now appears to be a relative weakness within the system and instead their minors are flush with outfielders (Hicks, Ben Revere, Angel Morales, Rene Tosoni, Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, Kepler) and relievers (Bullock, Carlos Gutierrez, Anthony Slama, Alex Burnett, Rob Delaney). However, some things never change and they still haven't figured out how to develop middle infielders who can field and hit.

Sano was officially signed as a shortstop, but has about as much chance of reaching the majors at the position as I do and may not even stick in the infield once his 6-foot-3 frame fills out (sadly my 6-foot-2 frame has already filled out too much). And after that the best SS/2B prospects are Trevor Plouffe (27), Reggie Williams (29), Estarlin De Los Santos (30), and Derek McCallum (31). I've blogged about the Twins and their prospects since 2002, and young infielders have been a weakness the entire time.

Last year at this time I described the Twins' system as "right in the middle of the pack" amongst all 30 teams, but they're now safely in the upper half and probably in the 10-12 range. With that said, the main problem with making those team-to-team comparisons is that young non-prospects get totally ignored. In other words, prospects are technically only "prospects" until they play regularly in the big leagues, at which point they simply become "young major leaguers."

There aren't as many lists ranking those guys, but the future of a team is clearly about more than which youngsters retain prospect status by not using up their MLB-defined rookie eligibility. For instance, had Swarzak thrown just nine fewer innings last year he'd be eligible for this list, but his long-term potential doesn't change because he's absent from the top 40. With all that in mind, here's an organization-wide view of key Twins who're 29 years old or younger, including both prospects and non-prospects:

Joe Mauer, 27              Justin Morneau, 29         Denard Span, 26
Wilson Ramos, 22           Jason Kubel, 28            Aaron Hicks, 20
Jose Morales, 27           Delmon Young, 24           Ben Revere, 22
Danny Rams, 21             Rene Tosoni, 23            Angel Morales, 20
Josmil Pinto, 21           Chris Parmelee, 22         Joe Benson, 22
                           Chris Herrmann, 22         Max Kepler, 17

SECOND BASE:               SHORTSTOP:                 THIRD BASE:
Alexi Casilla, 26          J.J. Hardy, 27             Brendan Harris, 29
Matt Tolbert, 28           Miguel Angel Sano, 17      Danny Valencia, 25
Reggie Williams, 22        Trevor Plouffe, 24         Luke Hughes, 25
Derek McCallum, 22         E. De Los Santos, 23       Anderson Hidalgo, 21

RH STARTER:                LH STARTER:                RELIEVER:
Scott Baker, 28            Francisco Liriano, 26      Pat Neshek, 29
Kevin Slowey, 26           Glen Perkins, 27           Jose Mijares, 25
Nick Blackburn, 28         Brian Duensing, 27         Jesse Crain, 28
Anthony Swarzak, 24        Matthew Bashore, 22        Billy Bullock, 22
Kyle Gibson, 22            Tyler Robertson, 22        Carlos Gutierrez, 23
David Bromberg, 22                                    Anthony Slama, 26
Adrian Salcedo, 19                                    Alex Burnett, 22
Jeff Manship, 25                                      Robert Delaney, 25
B.J. Hermsen, 20                                      Ben Tootle, 22
Deolis Guerra, 21                                     Loek Van Mil, 25
Shooter Hunt, 23                                      Joe Testa, 24

Plenty of players aren't listed above, but that should provide an outline of the Twins' depth at each spot.

Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

February 23, 2010

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

5. Ben Revere | Center Field | DOB: 5/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2007-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     RK     216     .325     .388     .461      0     16     13     20
2008     A-     374     .379     .433     .497      1     28     27     31
2009     A+     517     .311     .372     .369      2     19     40     34

Any prospect would look great while leading the minor leagues in batting average like Ben Revere did in 2008, but hitting "only" .311 last season showed why his long-term upside is limited. That mark still ranked second in the Florida State League, yet Revere couldn't even crack a .750 OPS thanks to just 34 walks, two homers, and 19 total extra-base hits in 121 games. The good news is that Revere's blazing speed and excellent contact rate should allow him to maintain lofty batting averages.

The bad news is that even if he hits .300 in the majors Revere's secondary skills would basically make him Juan Pierre. In fact, their minor-league stats were very similar at this stage. Both spent age 21 at Single-A. Pierre hit .320/.366/.390. Revere hit .311/.372/.369. Pierre homered once, stole 66 bags, and had 38 walks versus 37 strikeouts. Revere homered twice, stole 45 bags, and had 40 walks versus 34 strikeouts. Being the next Pierre certainly isn't a bad thing, but it's not really a great thing either.

And right now that appears to be Revere's ceiling, which doesn't leave much room for error if he's only able to hit, say, .280 in the majors. Any thoughts of Revere developing the power to move beyond Pierre territory to comparisons with a higher level of speedy, weak-armed center fielders like Kenny Lofton or Johnny Damon have been all but extinguished and pitchers will never be afraid to throw him strikes, so the most likely way to improve his outlook would be upping his walk rate from bad to mediocre.

4. Miguel Angel Sano | Shortstop | DOB: 5/93 | Bats: Right | Sign: Dominican

Considered by many to be the premier international prospect available last year and one of the most advanced bats to come out of the Dominican Republic in a long time, Miguel Angel Sano saw multiple teams end their pursuit once MLB was unable to confirm his age. Instead of signing along with the rest of the top international players in July he waited until September, choosing the Twins over the Pirates and several other teams for a $3.15 million bonus that was lower than expected.

Of course, $3.15 million is still by far the highest bonus that the Twins have handed out internationally and ranks as the second-most any team has ever given to a Latin American prospect outside of Cuba. Investing in international prospects is incredibly risky, but the Twins should be applauded for spending the money to land Sano and ultimately his signing bonus is less than Nick Punto makes per season. And at the age of 16 the consensus is that Sano has almost limitless upside offensively.

In fact, praise for his bat is strong enough that no one seems to care that he has little shot of sticking at shortstop (or even third base). He's already 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, which obviously led to the doubts about his age, but even if he's actually 18 or 19 the signing is a worthwhile risk. Had he been eligible for the draft Sano almost surely would've been a first-round pick and perhaps a top-five selection. He's yet to play a minor-league game, so believe it or not his spot on this list is actually sort of conservative.

3. Wilson Ramos | Catcher | DOB: 8/87 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     A-     316     .291     .345     .438      8     26     19     61
2008     A+     500     .288     .346     .434     13     38     37    103
2009     AA     214     .317     .341     .454      4     20      6     23

Promoted to Double-A as a 21-year-old after thriving in the low minors, Wilson Ramos missed around two-thirds of the season with finger and hamstring injuries while continuing to show tons of promise in the 54 games he was healthy enough to play. Ramos hit .317 with 20 extra-base hits in 205 at-bats for a .795 OPS in a league where the average mark was .717 and the average hitter was 24. Oh, and he's also a catcher who gunned down over 40 percent of steal attempts for the second straight season.

Ramos has never walked much and basically swung at everything last year, drawing six free passes in 214 trips to the plate. At some point he'll have to be more patient to take full advantage of his offensive potential, but a 21-year-old hacking away versus Double-A pitchers is expected and Ramos did hit .317 while cutting his strikeout rate in half. Plus, after the season he went to the Venezuelan Winter League, where in addition to batting .332 with 12 homers and 14 doubles in 54 games he drew 21 walks.

Solid defensive reviews, excellent throw-out stats, and consistently strong batting make Ramos one of the best catching prospects in baseball. He's a career .294 hitter and has shown plenty of pop despite pitcher-friendly environments and being young for every level. Ramos has played just 54 games above Single-A and catching prospects have a notoriously high flameout rate, so there's no need to question where he'd fit on a team with Joe Mauer quite yet, but a healthy, productive 2010 would change that.

2. Kyle Gibson | Starter | DOB: 10/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2009-1

Initially a consensus top-10 pick who Baseball America ranked as high as the fourth-best player in last June's draft, Kyle Gibson fell into the Twins' lap with the 22nd pick after a late-season dip in velocity led to the discovery a stress fracture in his forearm. Once he received a clean bill of health Gibson held out for top-10 money, eventually signing for $1.8 million literally minutes before the August 18 deadline and too late for the 6-foot-6 right-hander to make his pro debut.

Despite pitching through the injury in a hitter-friendly environment that averaged over 11 runs per game, Gibson was 11-3 with a 3.21 ERA and 131-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 106.2 innings during his final year at the University of Missouri. He works primarily in the low-90s with his fastball and also features a pair of plus off-speed pitches in a changeup and sharp slider, throwing everything with great command and some sinking action.

He doesn't quite project as a dominant ace, but just about everyone seems to agree that he's capable of becoming a strong No. 2 starter and should move very quickly up the minor-league ladder. Thanks to their willingness to gamble a bit on what proved to be a short-term injury the Twins were able to nab an experienced college starter who'd been projected as a top-10 pick for several years, and Gibson fits the organization's preferred strike-throwing mold with better raw stuff than their usual control artists.

1. Aaron Hicks | Center Field | DOB: 10/89 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     RK     204     .318     .409     .491      4     18     28     32
2009     A-     297     .251     .353     .382      4     22     40     55

Prior to the 2008 draft Baseball America called Aaron Hicks "the finest prep outfielder-pitcher prospect in the greater Los Angeles area since Daryl Strawberry." Most teams liked Hicks as a pitcher, but the Twins picked him 14th overall as a hitter and he made an immediate splash by batting .318 with power and patience at rookie-ball after signing for $1.8 million. Rather than jump straight to full-season action last year the Twins kept him in extended spring training until June and then sent him to low Single-A.

Hicks played 67 games alongside No. 6 prospect Angel Morales in Beloit's outfield, but failed to match his great debut by hitting just .251 with four homers. The good news is that his glove received positive reviews in center field and he drew 40 walks in just 297 trips to the plate, proving that the surprisingly strong plate discipline he showed in rookie-ball was no fluke. In fact, he had the second-highest walk rate of any hitter in the Twins' entire minor-league system. As a 19-year-old in his full-season debut.

Rarely is such a patient approach found in a teenager, let alone a teenager billed as a "five-tool talent." He has plus speed with an absolute cannon for an arm and is expected to develop 20-homer power as a switch-hitter, which along with a strong walk rate would make him pretty close to a perfect all-around player. At this point Hicks is far more about projection than performance, but his OPS was solidly above the Midwest League average as a 19-year-old and any way you slice it his upside is tremendous.

Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

February 21, 2010

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

10. Billy Bullock | Reliever | DOB: 2/88 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2009-2

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK      7      0     1.23       7.1       3      0      10      1
         A-     26      0     2.73      26.1      25      0      35     12

Going heavy on college pitchers in last June's draft included snagging University of Florida reliever Billy Bullock in the second round. Initially a starter, Bullock moved to the bullpen last year and became the Gators' closer while posting a 2.64 ERA and 50-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings. His control is spotty and no one seems to think much of his off-speed stuff, but Bullock also regularly works in the mid-90s with his fastball and was frequently dominant for one of the best teams in the country.

Keith Law of ESPN.com called him "the top college closer in this draft class" and Bullock dominated in the low minors after signing for $522,000, saving 11 games with a 2.41 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 33.2 innings between rookie-ball and low Single-A. Because of their preference for polished strike-throwers the Twins typically lack high-upside power arms in the minors and Bullock was frequently projected as a top-50 pick before falling to them at No. 70 overall, so he's a very nice addition to the system.

Harnessing his raw stuff and developing better off-speed pitches will be key for Bullock, but 35 walks in 82 innings between college and the low minors last year shows that his control is at least reasonably decent and ultimately his fastball is what got him drafted. Early success this season could put Bullock on the fast track to Minnesota, but whether or not he's able to continue simply overpowering everyone once he gets to Double-A or Triple-A will be the big test.

9. Matthew Bashore | Starter | DOB: 4/88 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2009-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK      1      0     0.00       2.0       3      0       2      0

Selected last June with the supplemental first-round pick the Twins received for losing Dennys Reyes via free agency, Matthew Bashore signed for $750,000 but appeared in just one game at rookie-level Elizabethton before being shut down with an elbow injury. He had bone chips removed, but is expected to be fully healthy for spring training and will likely begin this season at low Single-A. If healthy Bashore has a chance to move quickly through the Twins' system because of his extensive college experience.

A three-year starter at Indiana University, the 6-foot-3 left-hander tossed 95 innings last season with a 4.07 ERA and 108-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He won't light up any radar guns, but Bashore has an above-average fastball with the plus command that the Twins always target in starters and was one of the better pitchers in the Big Ten while going 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA in conference play. Bashore finished his Hoosiers career tied for the school record with 248 strikeouts.

John Manuel of Baseball America has compared Bashore to fellow Big Ten left-hander and Twins first rounder Glen Perkins. Their pedigrees and repertoires are definitely similar, but Perkins had far better college numbers, was generally a more consistent Big Ten performer, and reached Double-A midway through his age-22 season. Bashore turns 22 in April, so given his brief pro debut it'll be tough to follow the same path, but assuming no more elbow issues his overall upside certainly seems Perkins-like.

8. Danny Valencia | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-19

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     A-     271     .302     .374     .500     11     26     28     54
         A+     250     .291     .332     .422      6     16     16     48
2008     A+     251     .336     .402     .518      5     28     27     43
         AA     287     .289     .334     .485     10     30     18     70
2009     AA     252     .284     .373     .482      7     25     31     40
         AAA    282     .286     .304     .454      7     31      8     37

In less than four years Danny Valencia has gone from 19th-round pick to the presumed third baseman of the future in Minnesota, which is remarkable given that his minor-league production has been closer to good than great. He's hit .299/.354/.480 with an average of 16.5 homers per 500 at-bats, which while certainly a solid performance is hardly the stuff of an elite prospect even without accounting for the fact that Valencia is already 25 years old and accumulated nearly 2.5 strikeouts for every walk.

He's had strong batting averages at every level, but Valencia doesn't possess especially great power, strikes out quite a bit, has averaged just 45 walks per 600 plate appearances, and had an ugly 37-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 71 games in his first taste of Triple-A. To be clear, Valencia is a good, solid prospect. However, the notion that he has obvious star potential or is even a sure thing to become an above-average regular in the majors just isn't supported by his track record.

Certainly many prospects fare better in the majors than they did in the minors, but usually that group doesn't include guys who post an .833 OPS despite being relatively old for each level and reach the big leagues at age 25. That he's touted as the long-term answer at third base may say less about Valencia and more about how bad the spot has been since Corey Koskie or how few of the Twins' quality hitting prospects are MLB-ready. He looks like a .270 hitter with 15-homer pop, few walks, and a decent glove.

7. David Bromberg | Starter | DOB: 9/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-32

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2007     RK     13     11     2.78      58.1      45      4      81     32
2008     A-     27     27     4.44     150.0     149     10     177     54
2009     A+     27     26     2.70     153.1     125      6     148     63

Named the Twins' minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 after leading his league in strikeouts for the third straight season, David Bromberg has gone from 32nd-round pick to one of the system's top arms despite not fitting into the preferred strike-throwing mold. In fact, from rookie-ball to the majors he led the entire Twins organization in walks last season with 63 in 153.1 innings. Of course, he also ranked second to only Scott Baker with 148 strikeouts and opponents hit just .230 with six homers off him.

Moving up to Double-A figures to provide a big test for Bromberg's run of league-leading strikeout totals and overall performance, because his low-90s fastball isn't overpowering and fairly neutral ground-ball rates suggest the homers will start flying eventually. He can offset what will likely be fewer missed bats and more homers with improved control, and ultimately that may be the key to whether or not Bromberg can develop into more than a potential mid-rotation starter.

At just 22 years old there's plenty of time to cut down on walks and at 6-foot-5 there's seemingly plenty of room to project increased velocity, which along with a big-breaking curveball leaves the right-hander with as much upside as any Twins pitching prospect short of perhaps 2009 first rounder Kyle Gibson. However, recently the Twins have been kind of hit (Matt Garza, Francisco Liriano) or miss (J.D. Durbin, Shooter Hunt) with their few starter prospects who, like Bromberg, aren't strike-throwing machines.

6. Angel Morales | Center Field | DOB: 11/89 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2007-3

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     RK-    143     .256     .357     .405      2     11     12     44
2008     RK     218     .301     .413     .623     15     28     26     72
2009     A-     418     .266     .329     .455     13     40     30    104

After a monster 2008 at rookie-ball Angel Morales moved to low Single-A for his first full-season action and got off to a brutal start while battling multiple injuries. He turned things around by hitting .340 after July 1, led Beloit in homers and steals, and finished with an OPS that was 12 percent above the league average, including 40 extra-base hits in 115 games for a .189 Isolated Power that ranked 62 percent above par for the Midwest League. And he did all that as a 19-year-old.

Morales' flaws were also on full display, as he rarely walked and struck out 104 times in 418 trips to the plate. Whiffing in 25 percent of his plate appearances actually represented improvement from Morales striking out 32 percent of the time in rookie-ball, but his inability to make consistent contact and control the strike zone are definitely worrisome. Of course, an unrefined approach at the plate is common for a teenage hitter and the former third-round pick's other tools are very impressive.

His power potential is immense, with 28 homers and 68 total extra-base hits in 559 at-bats during the past two seasons despite playing in extremely pitcher-friendly environments, and Morales' speed has led to 27 steals per 150 career games and a reputation as a solid defender in center field. He could eventually slide over to right field full time, especially if he remains with the Twins, but Morales also has a very strong arm. He's certainly far from a finished product, but Morales oozes upside at age 20.

Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

February 18, 2010

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 6-10, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

15. Jeff Manship | Starter | DOB: 1/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2006-14

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2007     A-     13     13     1.51      77.2      51      4      77      9
         A+     13     13     3.15      71.1      77      5      59     25
2008     A+     13     13     2.86      78.2      68      0      63     20
         AA     14     14     4.46      76.2      90      8      62     24
2009     AA     13     13     4.28      75.2      72      2      45     20
         AAA     8      8     3.22      50.1      53      1      30     17
         MLB    11      5     5.68      31.2      39      4      21     15

Selected in the 14th round of the 2006 draft and lured away from Notre Dame with a $300,000 signing bonus that was more like third-round money, Jeff Manship hit the low minors like gangbusters but has since seen the steady deterioration of his numbers with each move up the organizational ladder. While not uncommon, in Manship's case the consistent level-by-level slippage in his strikeout and walk rates have left him looking like little more than a potential back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever.

His big-league debut came in August, first as a low-leverage reliever and then into the rotation for five late-season starts, but Manship struggled with a 5.68 ERA and 21-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31.2 innings while averaging just 89.8 miles per hour with his fastball. Prior to that he had a 4.09 ERA and 137-to-61 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 202.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, so without delving all the way back into Single-A days it's tough to find signs of upside and Manship is already 25 years old.

More than 50 percent of Manship's balls in play have been grounders in each of his four pro seasons and like just about every Twins pitching prospect his control is pretty good, so he's certainly not totally without value. Somewhat similar to Anthony Swarzak in that Manship is MLB-ready yet it's unclear if he fits into the Twins' plans as a fifth starter, reliever, or trade piece. He'll compete for the final rotation spot this spring before likely heading to Triple-A, where he'll be near the front of the line for a call-up.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     A-     507     .255     .347     .368      5     31     49    124
2008     A-     290     .248     .326     .382      4     23     24     73
2009     A+     327     .285     .414     .403      5     18     46     74

Joe Benson hit just .254/.337/.386 through three pro seasons and missed half of 2008 with a stress fracture in his back while repeating low Single-A, but the Twins moved him up to high Single-A last year anyway and the 2006 second rounder fared surprisingly well. Benson hit .285 after batting .260, .255, and .248 in his first three seasons and upped his walk rate by 60 percent. Unfortunately he was limited to 80 games because of another injury, this time a broken hand suffered punching a wall in frustration.

Aside from that wall Benson has been unable to make consistent contact, whiffing 140 times per 600 plate appearances for his career. Along with the high strikeout rate and low batting average he's also a terrible base-stealer despite possessing good speed, which is why last season's walk increase is key for Benson's development offensively. Defensively he's considered a solid center fielder, but because of a strong arm and the organization's log jam at the position he may end up in right field long term.

He won't be 22 years old until next month, so Benson still has time on his side, but inconsistency and injuries continue to make him more about tools and potential than actual production. That's not such a good thing for someone entering his fifth pro season, yet if Benson stays healthy and performs well in 2010 he could be knocking on the door to the majors at some point in 2011. His tools put him closer to being a big leaguer than the mediocre numbers suggest, but at some point that ceases being enough.

13. Adrian Salcedo | Starter | DOB: 4/91 | Throws: Right | Sign: Dominican

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK-    11     10     1.46      61.2      60      1      58      3

Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old two winters ago, Adrian Salcedo began his pro career in 2008 by dominating in the Dominican Summer League, posting a 1.65 ERA, .198 opponents' batting average, and 50-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65.1 innings. He moved up a level to the first rung on the American minor-league ladder last year and had equally ridiculous numbers in the Gulf Coast League with a 1.46 ERA and 58-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61.2 innings.

By themselves even those great numbers wouldn't be enough for Salcedo to rank this highly, because plenty of pitchers have insanely good stats in rookie-ball and the Twins' entire GCL pitching staff (which also included No. 18 prospect B.J. Hermsen) had a combined 2.46 ERA last season. What makes his insanely good stats particularly impressive is that Salcedo was just 18 years old--which is young even for the youngest league--and more importantly has the raw stuff to match.

Despite packing only 175 pounds on to a 6-foot-4 frame, his fastball is already regularly in the low-90s and can reach the mid-90s. Salcedo complements the plus heater with what John Manuel of Baseball America calls "a mid-80s power breaking ball" and also has an effective changeup for a teenager. His stats are amazing, his stuff is already very strong, and between his age and body type there's plenty of room for projection. As far as teenage, rookie-ball pitching prospects go, Salcedo is a really good one.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     A-     501     .239     .313     .414     15     43     46    137
2008     A-     289     .239     .385     .496     14     27     52     83
2009     A+     501     .258     .359     .441     16     44     65    109

Chris Parmelee is all about power and patience, which makes him stick out within an organization that stresses just about everything else and has generally shied away from players like him. Of course, the Twins selected him with the 20th overall pick in the 2006 draft, so presumably they still like Parmelee despite his lack of resemblance to just about every other prospect in the system. And as long as they're willing to look past the strikeouts and low batting averages, there's still plenty to like.

Parmelee stayed healthy last season after missing half of 2008 with a wrist injury, moving up from low Single-A to high Single-A while leading the Florida State League in walks and ranking third in homers. Despite the lowly .258 batting average Parmelee's overall production was 15 percent above the league average and his Isolated Power was 65 percent above par. Pitcher-friendly environments mute his raw numbers, but Parmelee has a ton of power and loads of plate discipline. That's the good news.

The bad news is that most of MLB's best low-average sluggers actually hit for solid batting averages in the minors. Adam Dunn hit .304, Pat Burrell hit .303, Matt Stairs hit .293, Troy Glaus hit .288, Carlos Pena hit .283, and most of the other prominent guys were above .270. In other words, a .250 average in the minors may get Parmelee compared to Dunn or Burrell, but guys who hit .250 with big power in the majors typically hit at least .275 with big power in the minors. Until that happens, he's a question mark.

11. Rene Tosoni | Right Field | DOB: 7/86 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2005-36

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     RK     286     .301     .407     .428      3     20     32     48
2008     A+     170     .300     .408     .414      1     11     21     30
2009     AA     490     .271     .360     .454     15     44     45     98

After drafting him in 2004 out of a Canadian high school and in 2005 out of a Florida junior college, the Twins had Rene Tosoni skip low Single-A and spend his first full season at high Single-A in 2008. He hit .300/.408/.414 with nice strike-zone control despite being one of the Florida State League's younger players, but was limited to 42 games because of a broken foot. That setback didn't stop the Twins from moving him to Double-A last year and Tosoni stayed healthy while hitting .271/.360/.454 in 122 games.

Tosoni hasn't shown a standout skill yet, but seems to do just about everything pretty well. He's hit .287 through 963 plate appearances as a pro, draws a fair number of walks without tons of strikeouts, has above-average speed, flashed more pop than expected last year, and is considered a good defensive right fielder who may even be passable in center field. And obviously the Twins really believe in Tosoni after drafting him twice and promoting him aggressively.

Taken alone a .271/.360/.454 line at Double-A certainly doesn't predict stardom, but Tosoni was 12th among Eastern League hitters in OPS while being younger than all but one of the guys ahead of him. His overall production was 12 percent better than the league average, which along with good defense and being young for the level of competition makes him a very solid prospect. Putting together a similar year at Triple-A could thrust Tosoni into the Twins' plans for 2011.

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February 16, 2010

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 20, 19, 18, 17, 16

Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

20. Max Kepler | Center Field | DOB: 2/93 | Bats: Left | Sign: Germany

Signed out of Germany in July just four months after his 16th birthday, Max Kepler received the largest bonus ever given to a European position player at $800,000. His parents, American-born Kathy Kepler and Polish-born Marek Rozycki, met while starring together in the Berlin ballet, leading to an intriguing upbringing for their baseball-playing son. Twins scout Andy Johnson first saw Kepler when he was 14 years old and described him running to first base "like a galloping baby deer."

After signing he came to the United States, enrolled in a Florida high school near the Twins' facilities in Fort Myers, and got his feet wet by playing in an instructional league. Kepler recently got his GED, but is still living with his mother and plans to take a few classes at a local junior college. In other words, he's a long way from the majors and may not even see full-season action until 2012. For this year he'll likely stay behind in extended spring training before making his way to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

Kepler is on this list almost by default because his physical tools draw rave reviews and the Twins just paid $800,000 for him as a 16-year-old, but it's tough to rate him any higher without some game action to base things on. What little we do know is that Kepler is already 6-foot-3 and said to be a very graceful athlete with good speed and some pop at the plate. Along with Miguel Angel Sano he represents a big shift in the Twins' pursuit of high-end international talent, but right now he's an expensive lottery ticket.

19. Anthony Slama | Reliever | DOB: 1/84 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2006-39

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2007     RK      6      0     2.45       7.1       2      0      10      1
         A-     21      0     1.48      24.1      15      0      39      9
2008     A+     51      0     1.01      71.0      43      0     110     24
2009     AA     51      0     2.48      65.1      46      5      93     32
         AAA    11      0     3.45      15.2      11      0      19      8

It took until just months before his 26th birthday, but Anthony Slama was finally promoted to Rochester late last season. Clearly the Twins have little faith in the former 39th-round pick despite his absolutely incredible minor-league numbers, but his performance screams out for a chance to prove whether he can get major-league hitters out. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about Slama's raw stuff, yet in 183.2 career innings he has a 1.86 ERA and 271 strikeouts while allowing just 117 hits.

Getting his first taste of the high minors at age 25, he began last season as the closer at Double-A and converted 25 saves with a 2.48 ERA, 93 strikeouts, and .201 opponents' batting average in 65 innings. Promoted to Triple-A in August, he saved four more games while racking up 19 strikeouts and allowing just 11 hits in 15.2 innings. Slama's walk rate rose significantly last season, but nearly a quarter of his free passes were intentional. He handed out 31 non-intentional walks in 81 innings, which is just fine.

I'm certainly not going to suggest that Slama is destined for stardom, but Pat Neshek should've shown the Twins that pitchers who repeatedly put up amazing numbers in the minors despite underwhelming raw stuff can't simply be dismissed. Slama's numbers aren't merely great, they're truly spectacular, and his raw stuff is hardly horrible. If a 2.67 ERA, 112 strikeouts, and .203 opponents' batting average in 81 innings between Double-A and Triple-A aren't enough to get Slama a shot in Minnesota, it's a shame.

18. B.J. Hermsen | Starter | DOB: 12/89 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK-    10     10     1.35      53.1      32      0      42      4

B.J. Hermsen initially projected as a possible second rounder during his senior season of high school in Iowa, but a broken collarbone suffered while playing football and expectations that he'd play college ball at Oregon State dropped him into the sixth round. Eventually the Twins lured him into the pros with a $650,000 signing bonus that beat the money given to their second-round pick, and Hermsen made his debut last season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

He was nearly unhittable in 10 starts, with a 1.35 ERA, 42-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, .171 opponents' batting average, and zero homers allowed in 53.1 innings. He also induced a grounder on 52.5 percent of his balls in play, which is important because despite his 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame and promising velocity in high school Hermsen topped out in the low-90s last season while racking up a modest 42 strikeouts in 53.1 frames.

Of course, at just 20 years old he has plenty of time to add a few miles per hour to match his imposing presence on the mound and focusing on velocity or strikeouts is perhaps picking nits given his overall performance. Don't expect Hermsen to move all that quickly through the system, but he definitely has a very high long-term ceiling and a few more missed bats this season could propel him near the top of this list for 2011.

17. Carlos Gutierrez | Reliever | DOB: 9/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     A+     16      0     2.10      25.2      23      0      19      7
2009     A+     11     10     1.32      54.2      37      1      33     22
         AA     22      6     6.19      52.1      62      6      32     24

Carlos Gutierrez went from the rotation to the bullpen at the University of Miami following Tommy John surgery in 2007 and became one of the best closers in the country, but when the Twins took him with the 27th overall pick in the 2008 draft they talked him up as a potential starter. That plan looked genius when Gutierrez posted a 1.32 ERA in the rotation at high Single-A, but he struggled mightily following a midseason promotion to Double-A and was shifted back to the bullpen.

He works primarily with a low-90s sinker that induces a ton of ground balls, and at the time of the draft Baseball America noted his "rudimentary" off-speed stuff, which is why few projections had him going in the first or even second round and Gutierrez's odds of sticking as a starter are slim. However, there was no real harm in letting him give starting one last try and Gutierrez can still move quickly through the system if the Twins make him a full-time reliever again this season.

His strikeout numbers have been underwhelming, which is what you'd expect from a sinkerballer with lacking secondary pitches, but Gutierrez's worm-killing ability is for real with 61.4 percent of his balls in play being grounders through 132.2 pro innings. That would've ranked as the second-best ground-ball rate in the AL last season and is enough to make Gutierrez a promising relief prospect despite sub par strikeout and walk numbers. The question is whether he can be more than a solid middle reliever.

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

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2007     A-     18     16     2.29     102.1      87      3     123     33
2008     A+     15     15     2.72      82.2      78      3      73     31
2009     A+     26     26     3.33     143.1     139      7     103     51

Tyler Robertson ranked No. 3 on this list heading into 2008, but missed half that season with shoulder problems and then was mediocre while repeating high Single-A last year. He posted a solid 3.33 ERA in 26 starts at Fort Myers, but managed just 103 strikeouts in 143.1 innings for by far the fewest missed bats of his career and allowed right-handers to hit .285 against him. The good news is that Robertson stayed healthy, throwing the seventh-most innings of any pitcher in the Twins' minor-league system.

Robertson's unorthodox throwing motion has created skeptics since the Twins made him a third-round pick in 2006, with his 2008 arm problems, inconsistent velocity, and falling strikeout rate lending further evidence that the left-hander's mechanics are a legitimate issue. On the other hand he has a 3.03 ERA as a pro and will likely begin this season at Double-A as a 22-year-old, so Robertson remains a plenty good prospect despite the issues dragging his stock down over the past two years.

More than half of Robertson's balls in play have been on the ground every season and he's been death to left-handed hitters, holding them to a .197 batting average with zero home runs last year and a .210 mark for his career. Ground balls and shutting down lefties make it likely that Robertson can transition nicely to the bullpen if concerns about his durability and struggles against righties continue, but for now he definitely still has a chance to develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

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