February 20, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 35, 34, 33, 32, 31

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 36-40.

35. Scott Diamond | Starter | DOB: 7/86 | Throws: Left | Trade: Braves

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     AA     23     23     3.50     131.0     152      5     111     53
2010     AA     17     17     3.52     102.1     113      4      90     39
         AAA    10     10     3.36      56.1      53      2      33     15
2011     AAA    23     23     5.56     123.0     158     11      90     36
         MLB     7      7     5.08      39.0      51      3      19     17

Scott Diamond was a worthwhile pickup when the Twins plucked him from the Braves' system in last winter's Rule 5 draft, but rather than simply keep him in the majors as a long reliever they traded former second-round pick Billy Bullock to Atlanta for the right to stash him in the minors. Not only was Bullock the better, higher-upside prospect, making the swap lopsided in talent alone, the Twins ended up promoting Diamond to the majors in July anyway.

Once there he struggled in seven starts with a 5.08 ERA, 19-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .317 opponents' batting average in 39 innings, showing the mediocre raw stuff that limits his long-term potential. His average fastball clocked in at just 88.9 miles per hour and batters also did damage against his 83-mph changeup. Seven bad starts aren't necessarily meaningful and Diamond did a good job inducing ground balls, but the marginal stuff matched his track record.

He's allowed just 13 home runs in 33 career starts at Triple-A, but that comes with a 4.87 ERA and 123-to-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 179 innings from a left-hander who'll turn 26 years old this summer. For the first time in a long time the Twins' system is short on starting pitching and Diamond is nice to have around as depth, but he seems unlikely to be more than a fifth starter and giving up Bullock to keep him when the Twins basically already had him was a mistake.

34. Jairo Perez | Third Base | DOB: 6/88 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     RK-    142     .217     .324     .317      1      9     17     12
2011     A-     316     .337     .413     .580     15     36     32     48

Jairo Perez signed with the Twins out of Venezuela as an 18-year-old in 2006 and hit .338 over 48 games in the Dominican summer league in 2008. That earned him a 2009 promotion to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but he hit just .217 in 37 games and then missed all of 2010 following Tommy John elbow surgery. Perez was totally off the prospect radar, but the Twins moved him up to low Single-A last year and he responded with a monster half-season.

He hit .337/.413/.580 with 15 homers and 20 doubles in 74 games, showing decent strike-zone control with 32 walks versus 48 strikeouts in 316 plate appearances. Perez also committed 17 errors in just 49 games at third base and likely lacks the range to play second base despite seeing some time there for Beloit, but the Twins can obviously find a home for him further down the defensive spectrum if he keeps hitting.

Everything about Perez was surprising last season, but his power was particularly noteworthy from a guy listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds. Because of the season lost to elbow surgery Perez is already 24 years old and he may prove to be a one-year wonder, but posting the second-best OPS in the entire Midwest League is worth noticing in a farm system severely lacking in impressive production above rookie-ball last season.

33. James Beresford | Shortstop | DOB: 1/89 | Bats: Left | Sign: Australia

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     A-     505     .289     .342     .313      0     11     34     70
2010     A-     540     .297     .349     .363      1     25     34     56
2011     A+     545     .270     .328     .299      0     13     43     63

James Beresford showed some power development while repeating low Single-A in 2010, doubling his extra-base hit total and adding 50 points to his slugging percentage, but the skinny shortstop from Australia moved up to high Single-A last season and took several steps backward. He failed to homer in 545 plate appearances and managed just 12 doubles, producing a measly .299 slugging percentage despite a solid .270 batting average.

To put that lack of power in some context, consider that no hitter in Twins history with 500 plate appearances in a season has ever posted an Isolated Power below .040. He had a .029 Isolated Power for Fort Myers and a .037 Isolated Power for his career. Beresford has a good enough glove that he certainly doesn't need to be a slugger, but at some point he'll have to show some ability to drive the ball or it's tough to see him developing beyond a utility man.

Beresford is 6-foot-2 and an above-average athlete, but for whatever reason he's been unable to put on muscle since the Twins signed him as a 16-year-old. He's still just 23 years old, so that could change, and he's done a nice job controlling the strike while drawing a fair number of walks for someone to whom pitchers will gladly throw strikes. With even a little pop he'd be very intriguing and as always the Twins could use some long-term middle infield help.

32. Terry Doyle | Starter | DOB: 11/85 | Throws: Right | Rule 5: White Sox

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     RK+    12     10     2.98      57.1      51      1      75     15
2010     A-      7      7     0.96      47.0      31      2      58     12
         A+     20     20     3.71     121.1     115     13      99     34
2011     A+     11     11     2.84      73.0      71      3      49     11
         AA     15     15     3.24     100.0      91      8      73     22

With the No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft the Twins selected right-hander Terry Doyle from the White Sox. Doyle's strong performance in the Arizona Fall League got the Twins' attention, but that involved just eight starts and he split the regular season between Single-A and Double-A despite being a 25-year-old drafted out of college in 2007. He fits the Twins' mold with good control and a low-90s fastball, throwing 173 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 122/33 K/BB ratio.

Rule 5 picks must remain in the majors all season or be offered back to their original team, but last year the Twins got around that by overpaying the Braves to retain Diamond as a minor leaguer. That move never made sense to me and made even less sense when Diamond was in Minnesota around midseason anyway, so presumably by passing on higher-upside arms to take Doyle with the No. 2 pick they're willing to simply keep him in the majors as a long man.

Vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff told John Manuel of Baseball America that the Twins think Doyle "has got the ability to be a fourth or fifth starter" with velocity that ranges from "marginal" to "average." Not exactly the upside you'd ideally like to target atop the Rule 5 draft and his declining strikeout rate isn't encouraging from a 26-year-old with 15 career starts above Single-A and none at Triple-A, but Doyle isn't without potential.

31. Tyler Grimes | Shortstop | DOB: 7/90 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-5

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     A-     159     .225     .316     .406      4     13     13     53

As part of their uncharacteristically loading up on college middle infielders last year the Twins drafted Wichita State shortstop Tyler Grimes in the fifth round and signed him for a $132,500 bonus. He showed minimal power as a junior, but hit .300 with 57 walks in 65 games for an excellent .467 on-base percentage. He also struck out 61 times in 65 games and Baseball America's pre-draft scouting report noted both his lack of consistency and all-or-nothing swing.

Those concerns proved accurate in his professional debut, as Grimes skipped rookie-ball and hit just .225 with 53 strikeouts in 42 games at low Single-A. He also failed to maintain the standout plate discipline that he showed in college, drawing just 13 walks in 159 plate appearances, but did flash more pop than expected with four homers and 13 total extra-base hits for a solid .181 Isolated Power.

Grimes' future at shortstop is in question because he made a ton of errors in college, continued to do so during his pro debut, and the Twins used him at second base about one-fourth of the time in Beloit. His arm strength isn't in question, but Baseball America noted that "he plays out of control at times." In theory at least Grimes' speed and on-base skills make him a welcome addition to a Twins system that's perpetually lacking middle infield depth.

February 17, 2012

Link-O-Rama

• I'll be hanging out at Smalley's 87 Club in downtown Minneapolis tonight, raising money for charity and supporting Lindsay Guentzel's bid for the "MLB Fan Cave" contest. My podcast co-host John Bonnes will also be there, along with Nick Nelson and Parker Hageman. And depending on how things go, we might even record a "Gleeman and The Geek" episode in front of an actual audience for the first time. Here are the details:

Who: Gleeman, Bonnes, Guentzel, Nelson, Hageman, and more

What: Blogger get-together, MLB Fan Cave voting party, charity fundraiser

Where: Smalley's 87 Club at 100 Sixth Street downtown

When: 7:00 p.m. Friday night, February 17

Why: Drink beer, talk Twins, win prizes

It'll be fun, trust me.

• I've spent 29 years thinking I was pretty weird, but then I read about this guy.

Jeff Sullivan at SB Nation collected footage of the 10 worst swings of the 2011 season.

• I can't imagine why Ricky Rubio wouldn't spend $500,000 on this.

• If you've ever wondered what famous literary characters would look like if drawn by police sketch artists, this is your lucky day.

• When does getting cut from a basketball team qualify as the good news? When the reason you were cut involves "male enhancement pills."

• I normally mock people who bring signs to sporting events, but this is an obvious exception.

• My beloved Hardball Dynasty league on WhatIfSports.com starts a new season next week. If you're interested in joining, click here for more details.

Louis C.K. is nearly everyone's favorite comedian at this point, but only because he evolved:

On a related note: George Carlin was pretty great.

• After being on life support for years my 1994 Grand Am finally died. I'm having a difficult time deciding on a replacement, in part because it would be nearly impossible to pick a car that wasn't a huge upgrade and in part because I know absolutely nothing about cars. I drive so infrequently that spending more than, say, $5,000-$7,500 seems sort of silly, which has me wondering if leasing might be my best option.

An argument against leasing is that you don't own the car, but if you're only spending $7,500 to begin with owning that car a few years later barely has value anyway. For similar money in a cheap lease you can get a significantly newer, better car for three years. My dream scenario is that a nice reader with a car dealership wants to trade an inexpensive lease for Official Car Dealership of AG.com status and various other ads/plugs, but I'd settle for some advice.

• What did Royals fans do to deserve this?

• Quote of the week, from television writer Alan Sepinwall about Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke playing himself on Luck: "The sabermetric side of me can't stand the guy."

Jon Heyman can't stop being Jon Heyman.

Tony Gwynn had a facial nerve transplant during a 14-hour surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his cheek, which is yet another reminder that using smokeless tobacco is stupid.

Matthew Leach is almost as good at photo-bombing as he is at writing for MLB.com.

• Also good at photo-bombing? Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Lizzy Caplan.

Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover model Kate Upton is helping Justin Verlander, David Price, C.J. Wilson, and Jay Bruce sell video games:

There are so many possibilities for a joystick-related joke that I'm not even going to make one.

• Texas Christian University is apparently a lot more fun than the name would suggest.

• How did Allen Iverson burn through $150 million by age 35? Practice.

• If you've ever seen me reference the "defensive spectrum" and wondered what it meant, read this article by friend of AG.com Jay Jaffe.

• As an 18-year-old wannabe writer I attended a sports journalism event at the University of Minnesota during the Final Four in 2001. Lots of big-name media members were there, but none impressed me more than Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. This week he announced his upcoming retirement on Bill Simmons' podcast.

• In light of his Grammy performance earlier this week, it's important to remember certain things about Chris Brown.

• Netflix recommendation: I put off watching Buck despite hearing it was great because a documentary about a horse trainer didn't sound all that interesting, but ... it's great.

• Baseball Prospectus should definitely give Kevin Goldstein's girlfriend her own column.

Carl Pavano got married, apparently.

• It's now the law that the Twins and White Sox are "arch rivals."

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Whitney Houston singing a live version of "How Will I Know" from 1986:

February 16, 2012

Twins Notes: Mastroianni, waivers, options, and avoiding arbitration

Darin Mastroianni is the Twins' latest waiver claim, as they snagged the 26-year-old outfielder after the Blue Jays designated him for assignment to make 40-man roster room for Francisco Cordero. Mastroianni is too old to be a prospect and lacks the skill set to have big upside, but he's potentially a useful role player and could be a solid fit on the Twins' roster as a right-handed hitter with speed and on-base skills who can play all three outfield spots.

Mastroianni's patience and strike-zone control are great for a player with almost zero power, as he's drawn 82 walks per 150 games in the minors despite pitchers never being afraid to throw him strikes. He managed just four homers and a measly .379 slugging percentage in 325 games between Double-A and Triple-A, but also hit .283 with a .368 on-base percentage and nearly as many walks as strikeouts while averaging 54 steals per 150 games.

Ultimately most of his value depends on defense and in asking around about Mastroianni's range I've gotten mixed reviews, which along with about half of his action last season coming as a left fielder suggests he's probably not an elite center fielder. However, even if he's merely average in center field and above average in the corners Mastroianni looks capable of being a worthwhile backup behind two lefty-swinging outfielders in Denard Span and Ben Revere.

• To make room for Mastroianni on the 40-man roster the Twins designated reliever Esmerling Vasquez for assignment after claiming him off waivers from the Diamondbacks in early October. Vasquez has a mid-90s fastball, but it comes with awful control and not surprisingly he passed through waivers unclaimed. That means the Twins were able outright him to Triple-A, keeping the 28-year-old right-hander in the organization without taking up a 40-man roster spot.

Alexi Casilla and the Twins avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.38 million deal. He filed for $1.75 million and they countered at $1.065 million, settling just below the midpoint. Casilla will be arbitration eligible again in 2013, but keeping him around for a decent-sized raise would be tough to justify unless he can finally stay healthy and consistently productive. He's never played 100 games in a season and is a 27-year-old career .252/.310/.327 hitter.

• MLB Trade Rumors put together a list of players on 40-man rosters with less than five years of MLB experience and no minor-league options, and the Twins' contingent is Casilla, Glen Perkins, Anthony Swarzak, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, Matt Maloney, and Jeff Gray. Perkins, Casilla, Swarzak, and Plouffe are locks to make the team and Hughes is a near-lock if the sprained shoulder he suffered playing winter ball in Australia doesn't ruin his chances.

Gray and Maloney lacking options is part of why the Twins claiming them off waivers back in October never made sense to me, with the other reason being that they simply aren't much good. Both pitchers are marginal big leaguers without any sort of real upside, so if the Twins need to trim any more players from the 40-man roster they'd seemingly be atop the list. And if not expect to see them both placed on waivers at some point between now and Opening Day.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports calculates MLB's average payroll at $98 million, which is exactly where the Twins stand after choosing not to spend $1 million on one of many decent relievers available. Obviously having an average payroll is much better than the Twins' spending during the Metrodome years, but if they're already merely average in Target Field's third year and have shed $15 million from last season's payroll falling below average soon seems inevitable.

Keith Law of ESPN.com ranked the Twins' farm system 14th among all MLB teams, pegging the strengths as "interesting high school bats and high-impact Latin American prospects."

• I answered some questions about the Twins over at Razzball.

• On this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode John Bonnes and I went through the roster for a player-by-player look at each hitter, from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to Drew Butera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, discussing where they each stand heading into 2012.

February 14, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #28: My Twin The Car

This week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" was recorded at Scoreboard in Minnetonka and our beer of choice was Grain Belt Nordeast. Topics included the death of my car and whether to buy or lease, claiming Darin Mastroianni off waivers, Luke Hughes' shoulder injury, comparing the Twins' payroll to the MLB average, and a hitter-by-hitter breakdown of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and all the position players as spring training nears, including cars they resemble.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 28

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

February 13, 2012

Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2012: 40, 39, 38, 37, 36

Also in this series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35.

40. Kyle Waldrop | Reliever | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     20      0     3.09      35.0      43      0      20      7
         AA     31      0     1.46      55.2      51      2      30     18
2010     AAA    59      0     2.57      87.2      89      5      60     20
2011     AAA    56      0     3.87      79.0      84      7      44     18

Kyle Waldrop wasn't added to the 40-man roster following a standout season at Triple-A in 2010. He went unpicked in the Rule 5 draft that winter, returned to Rochester, had a worse season in nearly every possible way, and was added to the 40-man roster and called up in September. That doesn't make a ton of sense, even considering the Twins' injury wrecked roster last season, but does suggest that they view him as a potentially useful bullpen option.

Waldrop was a first-round pick back in 2004, shifted to the bullpen following shoulder surgery in 2008, and is already 26 years old, so there isn't much upside beyond what he's shown already. And that hasn't been particularly impressive, as his fastball typically resides in the high-80s and he's managed just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A. That includes a measly 44 strikeouts in 79 innings there last season.

What he does well is throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground, which could be enough to make Waldrop a decent middle reliever if he can keep his strikeout rate from falling further against big leaguers. He induced 65 percent grounders in two years at Triple-A and anything above 55 percent in the majors qualifies someone as an extreme ground-ball pitcher. Waldrop will compete for a low-leverage role this spring and should get a chance to sink or swim soon.

39. Anderson Hidalgo | Third Base | DOB: 9/88 | Bats: Right | Sign: Venezuela

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2009     RK+    205     .291     .379     .469      6     19     25     38
2010     A-     315     .316     .375     .443      3     29     24     50
2011     A+     384     .274     .332     .395      6     29     27     65

Anderson Hidalgo's quest to become one of the shortest third basemen in big-league history at 5-foot-9 hit a snag last season, as he followed up a strong showing at low Single-A in 2010 by losing 100 points of OPS in the move to high Single-A. His raw totals were better than they look because the Florida State League as a whole slugged .386, but with just six homers and 29 total extra-base hits in 100 games his Isolated Power was slightly below league average.

Hidalgo got away with the lack of power in the past because he hit at least .290 in each of his first five professional stops, but his batting average dropped to .274 last season. Maintaining similar strikeout and walk rates suggest that Hidalgo wasn't overmatched at high Single-A, but then again he didn't make tons of contact or draw a bunch of walks to begin with. At age 23 there's still time for Hidalgo to develop, but his low-minors success no longer means much.

Among active big leaguers listed at 5-foot-10 or shorter only Placido Polanco, Chone Figgins, Nick Punto, Maicer Izturis, and Alberto Callaspo have 250-plus games at third base. Hidalgo lacks the speed and defensive chops to seamlessly fit into that group, but coincidentally or not his offensive upside could be pretty close. Polanco is the high end, Punto is the low end, and somewhere in the middle would be hitting around .275 with doubles power and a .725 OPS.

38. Dereck Rodriguez | Center Field | DOB: 6/92 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2011-6

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2011     RK-     98     .156     .216     .200      0      4      5     35

Named after his future Hall of Famer father, Ivan Rodriguez, junior goes by Dereck Rodriguez and was the Twins' sixth-round pick last year out of a Florida high school. Pudge is still trying to stick around at age 40 for a 22nd season in the majors, but he won't be able to hang on until his son is ready to join him. Dereck made his pro debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .156 with zero homers and 35 strikeouts in 29 games.

While his MVP-winning father is one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, Rodriguez is an outfielder who saw time in all three spots during his debut. He does have his dad's arm, but he'll be trying to gun down runners at the plate instead of trying to throw them out from behind it. If he sticks as a position player, that is. Before the draft there was talk of some teams preferring Rodriguez as a pitcher because they liked his arm and questioned his bat.

For now there's no talk of the Twins encouraging a switch to the mound, but Rodriguez will have to show that he can hit following such an ugly--and albeit brief--debut at the plate. Rodriguez is 6-foot-1, but just 175 pounds and won't be 20 years old until June. Of course, by the time Ivan was 20 years old he was already in his second season as the Rangers' starting catcher, made his first of 16 All-Star teams, and won his first of 13 Gold Gloves. Good luck, kid.

37. JaDamion Williams | Right Field | DOB: 11/90 | Bats: Switch | Draft: 2010-10

YEAR     LV      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR    XBH     BB     SO
2010     RK-    124     .214     .279     .295      1      6     10     43
2011     RK+    212     .324     .406     .465      4     17     25     58

He was all tools and projection when the Twins took him out of a Florida high school in the 10th round of the 2010 draft, but JaDamion Williams showed last season that there's also a good baseball player beneath all the speed and athleticism. He struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .214 while playing primarily second base in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, but switched to the outfield while moving up to rookie-level Elizabethton last season and thrived.

He batted .317 with 17 extra-base hits, 25 walks, and 10 steals in 50 games, joining Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario in an Elizabethton lineup that scored six runs per game. Williams struck out too much, whiffing 58 times in 212 plate appearances, and the move to right field means he'll have to keep putting up big numbers offensively to make a significant impact, but as a toolsy 21-year-old that's certainly within reach.

Williams still hasn't faced full-season competition yet, so expectations should be held in check, but he'll make the jump to Beloit this year and is definitely someone to keep an eye on when checking low-minors boxscores. It'll be interesting to see if the Twins have completely given up on the idea of him playing the infield, because being even a passable option at second base or third base would dramatically alter his upside.

36. Tyler Robertson | Reliever | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3

YEAR     LV      G     GS      ERA        IP       H     HR      SO     BB
2009     A+     26     26     3.33     143.1     139      7     103     51
2010     AA     27     27     5.41     144.2     181     17      91     57
2011     AA     55      0     3.61      89.2      87      6      88     29

In the low minors Tyler Robertson looked like a future mid-rotation starter, but his strikeout rate deteriorated as he moved up the organizational ladder and injuries further pushed him off course, leading to the Twins shifting the 2006 third-round pick to the bullpen at Double-A last season. At the same level the previous season Robertson got knocked around for a 5.41 ERA and .308 opponents' batting average, but he performed like a totally different pitcher in relief.

Robertson appeared in 55 games and logged 90 innings with a 3.61 ERA and .252 opponents' average, inducing two ground balls per fly ball. He also had nearly as many strikeouts (88) in 90 innings as he did (91) in 145 innings as a starter, including a 41-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 second-half innings. In one year repeating Double-A he went from an afterthought left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft as a starter to added to the 40-man roster as a reliever.

However, while that's plenty encouraging Robertson's upside is still limited by mediocre control and underwhelming velocity. Those weaknesses are muted somewhat as a reliever, especially when spotted mostly against left-handed batters, but Robertson is far more likely to develop into a useful situational southpaw than an impact setup man. Hanging on to last year's success while moving up to Triple-A could put him in the Twins' bullpen mix by the second half.

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