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.

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