Thursday, February 25, 2010

NTB Top 10 Twins Prospects: 2010

Last year I posted a Top Ten Prospects list for the first time since this blog launched. I'd been hesitant to jump into the fray with a top prospects list in the past since so many other bloggers and writers already create these rankings and I didn't see much need to come up with my own given that they would likely mirror the other ones out there pretty closely.

Yet, I think I found a good way to put the list to use. At the beginning of each month, I would post a "Prospect Rundown," highlighting the performances of each of my top ten prospects during the past month (you can click here for an example). This proved to be a good way for me to keep up with the progress of some of the organization's most prominent up-and-comers, and hopefully everyone else found them useful as well.

So, below is my ranking of the organization's top ten prospects as we enter the 2010 season. If people found the monthly rundowns worthwhile, I'll continue with those this year. (And if you found them worthless, don't hesitate to let me know.) Alongside each prospect's name is their position, the level they finished at last season and where they ranked on last year's list.

10. Joe Benson, OF | Class-A+ Ft. Myers (NR)
When the Twins plucked Benson in the second round of the '06 draft, he was the type of player that warranted immediate excitement. A tremendous high school athlete who excelled in baseball and football, Benson had a well-rounded set of tools that screamed upside. Unfortunately, injuries and a lack of strike zone control bogged down Benson's first few years as a professional. Last year in Ft. Myers, Benson finally started to display the promise that the Twins saw when they drafted him, batting .283 with an excellent .414 on-base percentage. Benson turns 22 next week and will likely open the season in New Britain, where he'll need to ramp up his power in order to transform into a legitimate big-league prospect.

9. Carlos Gutierrez, RP | Class-AA New Britain (NR)
Last year, Gutierrez just missed making this list, as I noted that he'd performed well in an initial stint at Ft. Myers but added that I'd "need to see more from him before I'm willing to call him a Top 10 prospect." Well, Gutierrez showed plenty in his first year with the Miracle, utilizing his boring fastball to induce ground balls 68.6 percent of the time while holding opponents to a measly .196 average and posting a 1.32 ERA and allowing only one home run. Gutierrez stalled after a midseason promotion to Double-A, posting a 6.19 ERA and 1.64 WHIP over 52 1/3 innings, which keeps him from ranking higher on this list, but his sinker is for real and he deserves credit for reaching New Britain in his first year as a pro in the first place.

8. David Bromberg, SP | Class-A+ Ft. Myers (NR)
A tall and burly right-hander who the Twins picked in the 32nd round of the 2005 draft, Bromberg has quietly risen through the ranks at a steady pace while posting surprisingly strong numbers for a guy who lacks dominating stuff. Bromberg has led his respective league in strikeouts for three consecutive years, including last season in the Florida State League when he went 13-4 with a 2.70 ERA and 148-to-63 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Miracle. Bromberg's lack of outstanding velocity and control will be put to the test as he delves into Double-A this year, but you can't argue with his results up to this point.

7. Danny Valencia, 3B | Class-AAA Rochester (5)
After ranking fifth on this list last year, Valencia came out of the gates fast in New Britain with a .284/.373/.482 hitting line that earned him a midseason promotion to Rochester. There, Valencia continued to hit for a strong average (.286) with solid power (.454 SLG, 7 homers and 24 doubles in 282 PA). It was a bit troubling to see Valencia's OBP drop to .305 thanks to a 37-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but it's worth noting that the third baseman posted a 70-to-18 mark in that category after being promoted to Double-A in 2008 only to adjust and post a 40-to-31 ratio there in the first half last year. If he can make those same adjustments in Rochester this year, it'd be no surprise to see him manning the hot corner for the Twins in the second half this season, especially if Brendan Harris and/or Nick Punto struggle in the early months.

6. Angel Morales, OF | Class-A Beloit (9)
Morales seems to be one of those players that steps into the batter's box, closes his eyes and swings as hard as he can. The result is a lot of strikeouts (104 in 418 plate appearances last year for a 24.9 percent rate that was actually an improvement on his 33 percent rate from 2008) and a lot of power. In a league that generally suppresses offensive numbers, Morales ripped 13 homers, 22 doubles and five triples, leading to a .455 slugging percentage in spite of his pedestrian .266 batting average. He also displayed good speed, swiping 19 bases in 25 attempts and continuing to impress scouts with his work in the outfield. Morales' lack of plate discipline raises some major red flags, but it's tough not to get excited about an outfielder with his kind of athleticism and raw power who, by the way, is still only 20 years old.

5. Miguel Angel Sano, SS | N/A (NR)
As far as prospects go, Sano is an interesting case. On the one hand, most of us have never seen him play and we don't even have any professional numbers to work off of in assessing him. On the other hand, he was perhaps the most highly sought international prospect last year and he came to the Twins on a massive $3.15 million signing bonus that easily ranks as the largest in franchise history for a foreign prospect. Additionally, scouts rave about his almost limitless offensive upside. If all the talk is true, Sano could easily shoot to the top of this list very quickly, but first he'll have to show us something. That's why he'll be a very interesting player to follow this season.

4. Ben Revere, OF | Class-A+ Ft. Myers (3)
I've been fairly skittish on Revere for some time now. Last offseason, I made a case that the Twins might be wise to move him while his value was high, as he'd just come off a stellar season in which he'd led all the minors in batting average. While most people ranked him first or second on their preseason prospect lists prior to the '09 campaign, I had him third for fear that if his sky-high batting average come down his overall numbers would start to look rather ordinary. As it would turn out, that's just what happened. Revere's average dropped from .379 to .311, and as a result his OPS dropped from .930 to .741. He's still a highly disciplined hitter with excellent speed on the basepaths and great range in the outfield, but unless Revere can add some semblance of power to his game, he'll project as more Juan Pierre than Carl Crawford in the big leagues.

3. Kyle Gibson, SP | N/A (NR)
With Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and others, the Twins have proven incredibly adept at using high picks to draft polished college starters and moving them quickly through the minors. Gibson looks like he might fall right into this mold. A dominating starter at the University of Missouri, Gibson was projected by many as a top-10 draft pick but he fell to the Twins at No. 22 overall due to questions about a forearm injury suffered during his senior year. Fortunately, he seems to have put the injury behind him and will start the season in Ft. Myers, where he'll seek to follow a similar path to Garza, who went from Single-A to the majors in a single season.

2. Wilson Ramos, C | Class-AA New Britain (2)
Injuries cut Ramos' 2009 season short, limiting him to just 54 games and 214 plate appearances with the Rock Cats, but when he was in the lineup he posted an excellent .317/.341/.454 line while cutting down significantly on his strikeout rate from the previous year and continuing to impress with his work behind the plate. He didn't slow down a big in winter ball, where he carved up opposing pitchers with a .332/.397/.582 hitting line to go along with 12 homers and 49 RBI in 54 games. Still just 22 years old, Ramos is quickly establishing himself as one of the game's best upcoming backstops. Unfortunately, he's in one of the worst organizations to do so.

1. Aaron Hicks, OF | Class-A Beloit (1)
After ranking on top of this list a year ago, Hicks put forth a somewhat underwhelming season in 2009. He spent the first half the year in extended spring training, and when the Twins finally sent him to Beloit the outfielder hit just .251 with four homers in 67 games while going just 10-for-18 on stolen base attempts. Of course, Hicks was also only 19 years old, and he did manage to draw an impressive 40 walks (against 55 strikeouts) in 297 plate appearances, proving that the advanced plate discipline he displayed in his rookie debut was no mirage. Recently ranked as the No. 19 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, Hicks has immense tools and seems poised to unleash them this year as he takes on his first full season of competitive pro baseball.


Jake said...

Loved the monthly check ups of the minor leaguers! Keep'em coming! I know that I don't have the time to keep up with the whole minor league system so getting this cliff notes version once in a while is a great way to keep track of another very important team element.

TT said...

Good list. I think you over-value Bromberg and Valencia, but for your purposes they are interesting players to follow.

I suspect Benson is one of those guys who is more athlete than baseball player. He looks great in a uniform but the results are never going to be there.

If I were replacing those guys on a list to follow, I think I would add Guerra, Kepler and Bashore.

Its also interesting to look at what happened to the guys on last year's list, but not on this years:

Mijares - major league reliever, maybe the Twins best setup guy depending on what last year's late season swoon means.

Tolleson - let go to create roster space.

Slama - I am surprised he isn't still on the list. He sort of fits in the Valencia category, a guy who has had success against younger players in the lower levels. Of course, he doesn't have a clear path to a major league job the way Valencia does. There are a lot of other young pitchers who are probably ahead of him.

Mulvey - didn't help much last year and then was essentially traded for Rauch. He still might be a major league starter.

Hunt - Steve Blass disease, which seems to be a terminal illness for pitchers. Everyone seems to treat this as a "head" problem and therefore something that can be overcome. But that may be wishful thinking. I don't know of anyone who has actually recovered.

Missing was Duensing, who wasn't even on the "just missing the cut" list last year. He emerged as a potential starter if he can continue to pitch like he did at the end of last season. In fact, some people saw him as the favorite before the old Liriano emerged in winter ball.

Seth said...

Keep the monthly minor league prospect updates. I can never find other good info about what is happening in the minors, so I'm a big fan of yours.

TT said...

"he'll project as more Juan Pierre than Carl Crawford in the big leagues."

I am not sure that is a bad thing. Pierre gets on base more often than Crawford and plays center field. Crawford's power makes him more valuable than Pierre further down in the order. But if I was looking for a lead off hitter, I think I would take Pierre.

And yeh, I know Pierre is a poster child for an "empty" batting average. But that's the poster's problem.

As for Puckett's sudden emergence as a power hitter, for some reason no one mentions the elephant in the room:

"With long-term use of steroids, cataracts or glaucoma may develop."

I think we need to be careful with historic projections from the steroids era. They may not be valid for future predictions.

JK said...

I'd be thrilled if Ben Revere could duplicate Juan Pierre's early career. He averaged 2.8 WAR. The Twins need that kind of production from Pre-Arb players to consistently compete.

John said...

I personally think you're still a little to berish on Revere. .311 with a .372 OBP is nothing to sneeze at as a 20-21 year old in a league filled with pitcher's parks.

But I'm glad you have Morales on the list so prominently. Looking at that list, this could be a big year to follow the Twins minors. They have a huge opportunity for real breakthroughs - or some big setbacks.

Dave said...

TT, I am fairly new to this blog but I am already at a loss for some of your posts. Pierre better than Crawford? Puck on steroids? Yikes.

Nick N. said...

Its also interesting to look at what happened to the guys on last year's list, but not on this years

I was thinking about doing write-ups on these players but kinda ran out of time. Thanks for doing that.

Slama - I am surprised he isn't still on the list.

It was sort of by design. His performance last season certainly didn't merit a big drop, but last year I had Mijares on the list and he was with the Twins for almost the entire season, so for the purposes of the Prospect Rundowns he wasn't a very good fit. I could see Slama taking a similar path this year and spending much of the season with the big-league club, particularly if any relievers get hurt.

I'd be thrilled if Ben Revere could duplicate Juan Pierre's early career.

No doubt. That's why he remains a top five prospect on this list. But I think Revere's first couple seasons brought out overly lofty expectations in some circles. There were Puckett comparisons. If Revere can perform like a young Pierre he can be a very valuable contributor for this team, but right now that's starting to look like his best-case scenario.

tt said...

"Pierre better than Crawford?"

Dave - I didn't say better. I said he would be a better if you were looking for leadoff hitter. And almost certainly better if you needed a center fielder.

As for Puckett on steroids, I did a longer version of that on my own blog. Largely spurred by looking at his development for comparison and realizing his later medical problems are known side-effects of steroid use.

Nick N. said...

Dave - I didn't say better. I said he would be a better if you were looking for leadoff hitter. And almost certainly better if you needed a center fielder.

I don't think that the latter statement is "almost certainly" true. I'd argue that Crawford is a better outfielder than Pierre, no matter where he's playing.

Ben said...

Who were your honorable mentions that just got left off when making this list?

Nick N. said...

Who were your honorable mentions that just got left off when making this list?

Strong consideration went to Slama, Adrian Salcedo, Chris Parmelee, Rene Tosoni and Billy Bullock. I think all those guys are pretty close to Benson and really any one of them could have occupied that tenth spot.

TT said...

"I'd argue that Crawford is a better outfielder than Pierre, no matter where he's playing."

You would likely be correct. Which makes my comment on the two inoperative aka wrong.

Josh Johnson said...

I enjoy your monthly prospect updates, it's interesting to see how the players you ranked are performing.

Steve said...

TT - Wow, you're delving into Twins Blasphemy territory with that Puckett comment. While your look at it might take into account some (maybe) credible arguments, you should be ashamed of yourself if you are a Twins fan. And by the way, Glaucoma is a rare side-effect of topical steroid use around the eyes, and I haven't found a single article that ties it directly to ANABOLIC Steroid use, just so you know.

-Nick, like your list more than a lot of guys, I too don't like doing a "Top Ten Prospects" list, as you say, there are a ton of them out there done by people who probably know a lot more and have better access to information. I Take the "Top Ten Prospects You Might See This Year" approach to mine, call it "The Next Twins" list. Unfortunately, I put Shooter Hunt at #1 last year expecting him to perform like Garza did (oops). I hope Gibson does much better, as he'll probably make that list this to last years if you care to look:

Steve said...

And I agree, keep the monthly updates, they make good reading.

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