Minors : : General
Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Top Prospects: Minnesota Twins

Todd Gold        
Photo: Minnesota Twins
General Manager:  Terry Ryan
Minor League Director:  Jim Rantz
Scouting Director:  Deron Johnson

AAA:  Rochester Red Wings (Pacific Coast League) 53-91
AA:  New Britain Rock Cats (Eastern League) 72-70
Hi A:  Ft. Myers Miracle (Florida State League) 63-76
Low A:  Beloit Snappers (Midwest League) 69-69
Rookie Adv.:  Elizabethtown Twins (Appalachian League) 42-26
Rookie:  GCL Twins (Gulf Coast League) 31-29
Dominican:  DSL Twins (Dominican Summer League) 42-26

System Overview

The Twins have enjoyed considerable success at the Major League level in recent years before a surprising collapse in 2011. As a result they have picked later in the draft in recent years, the lower draft position coupled with their general aversion to high dollar gambles on draft pick signing bonuses has led to a farm system lacking in Major League ready starpower at the upper levels.

With an injury to Kyle Gibson, a lack of progress from Aaron Hicks and the graduation of Ben Revere, the overall strength of the system regressed in 2011. However, the Twins continue to reap the benefits of a strong international effort which has lead to a top ten list in which the top four players hail from: the Dominican Republic (Miguel Sano), Venezuela (Oswaldo Arcia), Australia (Liam Hendriks) and the United States (Aaron Hicks). Puerto Rican outfielder Eddie Rosario pushes the total of nations represented in the top ten list to five.

The Twins' strong track record of developing mid-round college pitchers who are viewed as low-ceiling pitchability guys into solid Major League contributors has supplemented their international efforts to develop talent through the farm system in spite of a conservative approach to draft signing bonuses.

Miguel Sano has ascended to the top of the system with his impressive showing in the lower levels of the minors at a young age, but his unchallenged status as the top prospect is also a commentary on the lack of elite talent in the upper levels of the system. The Twins success in the near future will depend heavily on the performance of the players who they have made large investments in at the Major League level (especially Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau), as their large payroll and lack of depth among elite prospects that can be used as trade chips will make filling holes at the Major League level difficult.

There are several players with the potential to become stars at the Major League level in the system, though none can reasonably be expected to do so in the next year or two. A strong season from Aaron Hicks could vault him back into elite prospect status, Kyle Gibson's return from Tommy John surgery in 2013 will give them another high level prospect, and a strong debut from 2011 Supplemental First Rounder Travis Harrison could also significantly improve the outlook of the Twins system. But for now the future in Minnesota looks to be in the hands of teenage imports.

Changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) should help the Twins significantly in the draft going forward. The signing bonus limitations will reduce their competition's ability to outspend them on signing bonuses for high level talent, likely dropping the asking price for a lot of high upside high school talent that the Twins have passed on in recent drafts. However, the new CBA also deters international spending, and could diminish their ability to continue procuring international talent. Also the draft bonus limits will likely cause other organizations to become more aggressive internationally, creating greater competition in areas where the Twins have enjoyed a strong advantage.

It will be interesting to see exactly how the changes will affect the way the Twins conduct business in the future. They will have the second overall pick in 2012, and the second largest signing bonus pool from which to work with.

2011 Draft

With the CBA negotiations on the horizon, most organizations approached the 2011 draft as a last chance to sign high upside high school prospects to overslot bonuses, with many handing out huge signing bonuses to persuade them not to go to college. The most glaring example came when the Cubs handed out $2.5 Million to 14th rounder Dillon Maples. The Twins however, stuck to their philosophy of targeting high floor, low ceiling, signable college players, for the most part.

Coming off a division title in 2010 the Twins held the 30th overall pick, and used it on switch-hitting MIF Levi Michael out of North Carolina. The supplemental first round, where the Twins owned two selections, saw Minnesota land a pair of high upside high school players in 3B/OF Travis Harrison (50th overall) and RHP Hudson Boyd (55th overall).

Both players were viewed as potential first rounders coming into the draft, especially Harrison. Both slipped because their mature bodies led to questions about their long term positions, and both demanded (slightly) over slot bonuses. But both also have very good upside, as Harrison (who was selected with a pick received as compensation for free agent 2B Orlando Hudson) was rated as one of the best high school power hitters in the class. Boyd (compensation for reliever Jesse Crain) may find that his future lies in the bullpen, potentially limiting his value. But Boyd possesses one of the most powerful arms in the class and projects to feature at least two plus offerings.

From the second round on the Twins returned to their college heavy, quality out of quantity approach, selecting eleven college players between rounds two through twelve. All of whom signed for reasonably inexpensive signing bonuses, including the lone prep player, Dereck Rodriguez (son of HoF candidate Ivan). In all, the Twins inked 20 of their first 21 picks, with 14th round high school lefty Adam McCreery being the lone exception. Of those 20 players signed, 16 were college players (three JuCo's), twelve of which were drafted out of college as pitchers.

The draft strategy is nothing new for the Twins, who have long shown a preference toward a conservative, low-cost strategy, choosing to instead allocate signing bonus money away from the draft and towards international signings. Whether that will continue to be the case with the new CBA in place going forward remains to be seen.

Top 10 Prospects

1. Miguel Sano - Baseball-reference player profile

The Twins made a huge splash at the July 2md deadline in 2009 when they inked Sano (then known as Miguel Angel) to a $3.15 Million signing bonus, then the second highest ever for a player out of the Dominican Republic. After signing, Sano announced "I'm going to work very hard to try to get to the Majors in two years." That attitude and ambition has served him well to this point, as a 17 year-old, Sano had a solid debut in the U.S. in 2010, appearing in 41 games with the GCL Twins, hitting .291/.338/.466. His full season debut in 2011 was even more encouraging, as he hit .292/.352/.637 with 20 Home Runs in 66 games at the Rookie Level Appalachian League.

The strong, physically built Sano has already been moved from playing shortstop full-time, over to third base in his brief pro career. His significantly increased size and strength over the past two years raises some questions about just how big Sano will get eventually. Given his impressive raw bat speed, the strength has done wonders for his offensive prowess, allowing him to begin to fulfill his massive power potential at a young age. But it also raises questions about his ability to stay on the left side of the infield. While he projects to hit enough for any position on the diamond, Sano's potent bat would prove especially valuable if he can stick at third. Though if he continues to mash as he moves up the ladder, it will be tempting for the Twins to move him to a less demanding position in order to accelerate his development. His present speed is still a tick above average, though it has diminished quite a bit already, and does not look like it will be a big part of his game long term. While his walk rates in the lowest levels of the minors have been solid, he will need to improve his strike zone discipline and contact rates to continue posting a high on-base percentage.

Sano will move up to Low-A Beloit in 2012, where it will be nearly impossible to replicate his gaudy power numbers from 2011. Though he has the raw tools to hit even in the pitching-dominated Midwest League, and could soon find himself on the fast track. His rate of development will be dictated by his bat.

2. OF Oswaldo Arcia - Baseball-reference player profile

The Venezuelan product wasn't quite able to put up numbers that matched his debut season in the Appalachian League in 2010, but he came close. Arcia hit a blistering .352/.420/.704 to open the season in Low-A Beloit, forcing his way to the High-A Florida State League. His red-hot bat cooled considerably after the promotion, but he continued to hit for power.

The stockily built Arcia gets good use of his thick, strong lower half. His swing creates a lot of torque and features a direct uppercut path, a product of his power-oriented approach. His bat will have to carry him, as his above average arm strength is his only defensive tool, making left field his most likely long term destination. Through the low minors Arcia has posted decent walk rates, though it has steadily declined as he has progressed up the ladder. This will likely be the most important area of development for Arcia going forward, as he is nearly maxed out physically. While he already possesses the physical tools to be an offensive asset, they will only play if he can improve his pitch recognition and strike zone discipline in order to take advantage of them against higher level pitching.

Arcia had an underwhelming showing in 59 games at High-A Ft. Myers in 2011, and will likely return there to start the 2012 season. If all goes well, he could find his way to Minnesota by 2013, though 2014 may be a bit more realistic.

3. RHP Liam Hendriks - Baseball-reference player profile

Hendriks reached the Majors in September, 2011 as a 22 year old. The Australian product made four starts for the Twins at the end of the season, with mixed results.

Hendriks fits into the classic mold of the Twins undersized, soft tossing, high pitchability righty. Hendriks is very stingy with free passes, and while he rarely misses the strike zone, he has not yet proven that he can miss Major League bats either. Hendriks' repertoire is very deep, featuring four different pitches that he can throw for strikes. He features a solid slider, an average changeup, a mid 70s curveball that he typically uses as a chase pitch in two-strike counts, and a fastball that sits in the upper 80s-low 90s (occasionally touching 93 or 94) with sink and plus command. The diminutive right hander creates a drastic angle to the plate with a release point out front of his body and coming from the third base side of the rubber. Combined with his slow, effortless delivery, Hendriks creates good deception to his pitches. Hendriks has the makings of a pre-wrist injury Kevin Slowey (who had more Wins than walks prior to the 2009 injury) type of innings eater. While the only thing exotic about the hurler is his Australian heritage, Hendriks has a chance to be a solid contributor to a Major League pitching staff, an expensive commodity on the free agent market.

Hendriks will likely open the season at AAA Rochester, where he will be an injury away from returning to the Twins rotation. Though the Major League bullpen is another possibility, as Hendriks could serve in a long relief role until a rotation spot becomes available.

4. OF Aaron Hicks - Baseball-reference player profile

Along with Eric Hosmer and Ethan Martin, Hicks was rated as one of the best two-way prospects in the class of 2008 coming out of high school. Hicks put up elite level workout results at a number of PG events as a prep prospect and showed well in the 2007 WWBA World Championship. In high school his fastball touched 95 mph, he also posted an impressive 6.45 60 yard dash time at the 2007 National Showcase, where he also threw 97 mph during the outfield workout. The athleticism and upside led to the Twins selecting him 14th overall.

The physical tools have great promise for Hicks, who has very good range in center and plus arm. His tools however, have not translated into the type of on-field success in the low minors that most expected. His .294/.400/.559 showing in the 2011 Arizona Fall League is encouraging though. A switch hitter, Hicks has hit much better from the right side throughout his professional career. While giving up batting from the left side would reduce his production from the right (as a result of seeing a significant number of righty-righty matchups), his minor league numbers would still look considerably less discouraging. His outfield defense has been excellent, though his speed has not yet translated into success when it comes to stolen bases. If Hicks doesn't show significant improvement with his left handed swing, he may be forced to eventually give up switch hitting, limiting his offensive upside somewhat. While the development in the finer points has been slow to this point, the physical tools remain extremely promising and continue to make Hicks an exciting (though frustrating) prospect.

Hicks success in the AFL suggests he may be ready for a promotion to AA New Britain in spite of his offensive struggles in the Florida State League. Hidden beneath the unimpressive statistics are some signs of progress, and Hicks possesses tantalizing upside. At this point Hicks development with hitting against right handed pitching (and to a lesser extent, stolen base success against lefties) will determine his rate of promotion, though if his performance to continues to fall below expectations, a move to the mound for the former high school flamethrower may become a possibility.

5. OF Eddie Rosario - Baseball-reference player profile

The highest drafted player out of Puerto Rico in 2010 (135th overall), Rosario thrived in the offensive paradise that is Elizabethtown of the Appalachian League in 2011. He bested top prospect Miguel Sano with 21 Home Runs in 270 ABs, earning league MVP honors.

The 2011 performance was encouraging, especially after a solid debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2010. But it is important to temper expectations, the video game power numbers were the result of a combination of factors: above average power, an advanced approach, and a very favorable power hitting environment. Rosario moves well defensively, with above average speed, and held down centerfield well for Elizabethtown in 2011. Though his long term position is still up in the air, he lacks the top end speed to play center at the Major League level, or the arm strength for right field. His offensive tools are good, but he will have to reach his ceiling for his bat to play in left. Rosario also got some work in at second base during fall instructs, a position where the Twins lack organizational depth. He is still raw and young, but shows promise with solid tools across the board and a good feel for the game.

Rosario is likely to open the 2012 season in Low-A Beloit as a 20 year old. He is still several years away from reaching the Major Leagues, but the early returns are encouraging.

6. RHP Kyle Gibson - Baseball-reference player profile

Gibson entered 2011 as the top pitching prospect in the system, having had a lot of success at three levels in 2010 (reaching as high as AAA) after being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. Gibson got his 2011 campaign off to a good start, posting solid numbers through May, before he began to wear down in June. Gibson's season came to an end when he was forced to leave his July 22nd start with elbow soreness, eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery in early September. Gibson is expected to miss the entire 2012 season while recovering from the injury.

Gibson's lofty ranking in spite of the injury is a testament to his ability. The tall physical righty generates excellent sink on his low 90s two-seam fastball. Coupled with good command of the pitch, Gibson has done an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground. In 2011 Gibson increased his strikeout rate to 8.59 per nine innings, while maintaining a solid 2.55 walks per nine, all in spite of a rough stretch to end the season as his elbow problems began to flare up. Gibson supplements his hard tailing fastball well with a pair of quality secondary pitches: a well above average slider and above average changeup. Each pitch has been borderline plus quality at times, and he was beginning to show more consistency in 2011. Prior to the injury Gibson had the makings of a very good no. 2 starter, and if he can make a complete recovery his upside remains very high.

The typical timetable for return from Tommy John surgery is a full year, which leaves the door open for a September return. Though it would be wise for the Twins to take a conservative approach to his recovery, putting him on target for a return to the mound in 2013.

7. OF Joe Benson - Baseball-reference player profile

Benson was a second round pick out of Joliet Catholic (IL) in 2006, and has had an up and down professional career to this point. The 27 Home Runs he hit in 2010 was very encouraging, though a combination of injuries and inconsistency has also led to a lot of frustration as well.

Benson has always displayed good raw power and speed, but he has yet to develop his skills set in order to get the most from his raw tools. While Benson makes very hard contact, he hasn't yet made it consistently enough to give the Twins a lot of optimism about his ability to hit at the Major League level. His showing in his September callup last year did nothing to alleviate this concern, as he hit .239/.270/.352 over 74 plate appearances. With his concerning contact rate, Benson will need to continue to show the power he displayed in 2010 to go with his above average defense to be an everyday player in the Majors. Though he can handle centerfield, it is highly unlikely that Benson will ever get the opportunity to do so in Minnesota thanks to the presence of Denard Span, Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks, but he would make a quality defender at either corner outfield spot.

Benson will likely make his first trip to AAA Rochester to open 2012, with a chance to return to Minnesota at some point during the season. Though breaking camp with the big club is not entirely out of the question, Benson will need a huge spring and/or an injury for that to happen.

8. RHP Alex Wimmers - Baseball-reference player profile

The Twins top pick in 2010 got off to an inauspicious start to his 2011 season, as he walked the first six batters he faced before being pulled. After taking time off, the Twins eased Wimmers back into game action, having him pitch out of the bullpen for High-A Ft. Myers. He finished the season strong, with four starts to end the season, capping off an impressive comeback with a (seven inning) no-hitter in his final start.

Wimmers stuff is solid, though when he is at his best he relies on good command and pitchability to get outs. This makes his early season struggles in 2011 all the more puzzling. His fastball sits in the low 90s as a starter, and he mixes his quality changeup well. His fastball command is crucial to his ability to succeed, as he lacks a true out pitch and relies on location to induce weak contact and post decent strikeout rates. His body and arm speed are good enough that it is easy to believe that his early struggles were an aberration, but without a plus offering, the margin of error is small.

Wimmers could open 2012 in AA New Britain after a strong showing down the stretch in Ft. Myers to conclude the 2011 season. If he can prove that his early hiccups are in the past, he could move fairly quickly the rest of the way.

9. 3B/OF Travis Harrison - Baseball-reference player profile

Harrison was one of the top power hitting prospects from the high school ranks in the 2011 draft. When he slipped out of the first round the Twins snapped him up with the 50th pick, shelling out $1.05 Million to sign the product of Aliso Viejo, CA away from his commitment at nearby USC.

Harrison's present power graded near the top of the class, with a physically mature 6-foot-2 215 pound frame and plus bat speed, Harrison is capable of putting on a show during batting practice and punishing mistake pitches. His ability to translate that raw power into in-game offensive production will determine his ultimate success as a pro. Scouts are divided on his pure hitting ability, though many believe he has above average pure hitting potential as his swing becomes more consistent, and none doubt his raw power. The big question surrounding Harrison is his long term defensive position. When he was younger, Harrison showed good speed and athleticism, but as he began to fill out and became considerably stronger since his 16th birthday, Harrison's speed and range began to diminish. His defensive skills at third base have progressed slowly in recent years, and while he was ahead of the curve at the position recently, there is a concern that he may become a liability there long term if he regresses. While there is plenty of evidence that suggests that Harrison could hit enough for any spot in the lineup, the bar is set incredibly high for the less demanding positions that some are concerned Harrison may be forced to move to, and he will need to reach his full offensive potential to provide adequate production for a first base/designated hitter role. If he can stick at third or handle left field long term, Harrison's upside is tremendous.

We will find out a lot more about Harrison when he makes his professional debut in 2012. For now the upside of his power gives reason for optimism, if not excitement about his long term potential.

10. SS Levi Michael - Baseball-reference player profile

Michael was the Twins top selection in 2011 as a 20 year old junior out of the University of North Carolina. Michael enrolled early as a freshman in the spring of 2009 and started at three different infield positions (2B, 3B, SS) for the Tar Heels during his career.

The quick twitch switch-hitter lacks any one tool that grades out as plus. However, his potential to produce adequate offensive numbers from both sides of the plate and play above average defense on either side of the middle infield make him a relatively safe bet to reach the Major Leagues. An above average runner with good all-around athleticism, Michael does just about everything on the diamond well. Though he has shown some power (especially from the right side) in his college career, Michael's game is based on hitting hard line drives to the gaps and using his speed to stretch hits for extra bases. His defensive range is good enough to play any infield position, and he has adequate arm strength for the left side, though his highest defensive upside is at second.

Michael's polished skill set should allow the Twins to give him an aggressive assignment for his professional debut in 2012. High-A Ft. Myers could be his initial destination to open 2012, though reaching AA New Britain at some point is not out of the question.

Others in the conversation (listed alphabetically): RHP Madison Boer, RHP Hudson Boyd, SS Brian Dozier, 1B Chris Parmelee, RHP Adrian Salcedo
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