February 2, 2010

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26

Other entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 31-35, 36-40.

30. Estarlin De Los Santos | Shortstop | DOB: 1/87 | Bats: Switch | Sign: D.R.

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     RK     322     .264     .341     .363      1     20     26     66
2008     A-     269     .242     .304     .309      2      9     19     55
2009     A+     284     .290     .330     .397      1     19     13     49

Signed by the Twins out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old in 2005, Estarlin De Los Santos was a surprise addition to the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft in December. He played last year at high Single-A and managed just a .727 OPS there, making it unlikely that any team would have been willing to keep him in the majors for all of 2010, but clearly the Twins like De Los Santos enough to not take the minimal chance of losing him.

De Los Santos' glove is definitely the big draw, because he had a career-year offensively in 2009 and still hit just .290/.330/.397 with one homer and a 49-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio while being limited to 68 games with multiple injuries. For his career he's batted .259/.322/.347 in 227 games, but Twins vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff recently described him as "the only true shortstop we have in our system" with "a plus arm and plus hands."

His defensive reputation alone was nearly enough for De Los Santos to crack this list in both 2008 and 2009, so now that he's shown some semblance of offensive potential it's an easy call. Great glove or not he'll obviously need to improve at the plate to be an asset in the majors and the Twins sending him to Double-A as a 23-year-old is a sign that they think his switch-hitting gap power and excellent speed will eventually equal more production.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2008     RK-     96     .286     .358     .440      0     10      9     10
2009     RK     173     .250     .316     .462      7     17     13     30

Picked out of a California high school in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, Reggie Williams signed too late to debut that year and then played only briefly in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2008. Still on the conservative path last season, Williams played 43 games at rookie-level Elizabethton before going 6-for-10 with two doubles and two walks in three games following an end-of-the-year promotion to low Single-A Beloit.

Williams has logged a grand total of just 281 plate appearances in three years since being drafted, but his performance has been very encouraging for a player who was supposed to be all about raw tools and athleticism at the time. He's batted .276 with 29 extra-base hits and a .468 slugging percentage in 69 games spent in pitcher-friendly environments while showing decent plate discipline and strike-zone control with a 42-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Along with that offensive promise Williams has played all three infield spots defensively after originally being drafted as a shortstop, suggesting that his glove could also have considerable value down the road. Williams should see his first full-season action in 2010 as a 21-year-old and a solid campaign at Single-A would make the Twins spending $153,000 to lure him away from Cal-State Fullerton look like a great decision. In a system that's perpetually short on quality infielders, he's very intriguing.

28. Michael McCardell | Starter | DOB: 4/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2007-6

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2007     RK-     4      2     2.50      18.0      11      2      25      3
         RK      8      8     2.00      45.0      29      3      70      5
2008     A-     22     21     2.86     135.1     110     10     139     25
2009     A+     17     17     3.93      94.0      98     10      78     16
         AA      9      9     4.10      48.1      45      4      40     16

Michael McCardell dominated at rookie-ball and low Single-A after being drafted in the sixth round out of Kutztown University in 2007, but my worry last year at this time was that modest raw stuff made him "no sure thing to clear the high-minors hurdles." Sure enough his performance deteriorated splitting last season between high Single-A and Double-A, with a 3.98 ERA as an older-than-average pitcher in offense-suppressing environments that included just 118 strikeouts versus 143 hits in 142 innings.

McCardell's control remained excellent with 32 walks in 596 plate appearances, but the mostly younger opponents batted .264 against him and he had a difficult time keeping the ball on the ground. Throwing strikes should keep McCardell on the prospect radar, but as a fly-ball pitcher with a high-80s fastball who doesn't miss many bats his long-term upside is limited and he'll turn 25 years old in April despite making a total of just nine starts above Single-A.

Because of his small-school pedigree and pinpoint control McCardell has sometimes been compared to Kevin Slowey, but Slowey's numbers in the minors were mind-boggling good at every level and he's already logged over 300 innings in the majors despite being less than a year older than McCardell. In reality McCardell's upside is likely closer to someone like Josh Towers, which is to say a serviceable but very hittable fifth starter or long reliever. Hopefully he'll get his first crack at Triple-A this year.

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

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2007     AA     555     .274     .326     .410      9     48     38     89
2008     AA     249     .269     .325     .410      3     23     16     43
        AAA     272     .256     .292     .420      6     26     14     47
2009    AAA     477     .260     .313     .407     10     38     34     68

Trevor Plouffe had been promoted very aggressively since the Twins took him out of high school in the first round of the 2004 draft, but pushing him through the system despite the lack of any major offensive development now leaves him as a 24-year-old about to spend a third straight season at Rochester. He has six seasons under his belt, including 1,553 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A, yet has never posted even a .750 OPS at any level and owns a .256/.318/.385 career line.

His production has been remarkably consistent in its mediocrity, with zero real strides made in any key areas, and Plouffe's lack of progress at the plate is especially damaging because he's no sure thing to be an asset defensively at shortstop. His glove gets mixed reviews and while Plouffe played exclusively shortstop last year the Twins used him at third base extensively in 2008. If he's not at least an average defensive shortstop in the majors it's tough to see Plouffe having much value.

Plouffe is certainly still young enough for something to click offensively, but as the Twins saw with Luis Rivas and could be seeing with Delmon Young at some point actual production takes precedence over youth. He's about to enter his seventh professional season and fourth straight year in the high minors, but aside from his age and status as a former first-round pick Plouffe has shown almost no reason for optimism. My guess is that by this time next year he'll either be in the majors or off the 40-man roster.

26. Shooter Hunt | Starter | DOB: 8/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2008-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2008     RK      4      4     0.47      19.0       4      0      34      6
         A-      7      7     5.46      31.1      26      2      34     27
2009     RK-     7      5     9.60      15.0      10      0       8     25
         A-      7      5    10.70      17.2      15      1      18     33

Sadly, those numbers aren't a misprint. Normally the Twins don't target pitchers with poor control, but they couldn't pass up the chance to draft Shooter Hunt when he fell to them with the No. 31 overall pick in 2008. Baseball America ranked Hunt as the draft's No. 4 pitcher after a dominant season at Tulane University and he blew away rookie-ball hitters upon signing, but he had a tough time throwing strikes following a promotion to low Single-A and then completely fell apart last year.

Hunt's control wasn't great in college and in ranking him as the Twins' fifth-best prospect heading into last year I wrote that "learning to harness his raw stuff will be the biggest challenge," but no one could have predicted a potentially career-wrecking descent into Rick Ankiel, Mark Wohlers, and Steve Blass territory. Hunt simply couldn't throw the ball over the plate, issuing 58 walks, uncorking 15 wild pitches, and plunking seven batters in 32.2 innings between rookie-ball and low Single-A.

When he's right Hunt has top-of-the-rotation stuff and the Twins were very fortunate that he fell into their laps on draft day, but history suggests that he'd have been better off blowing out his elbow or shoulder and missing a couple years rather than trying to come back from a debilitating case of the yips. Right now his 2010 season should be considered a success if Hunt can simply show some semblance of command, regardless of whether he gets knocked around in the process.

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