Wednesday, June 09, 2010

In Draft, Twins Sticking to Their Guns

The Twins have had a very obvious preference in recent years for using their early draft picks on two particular types of players: light-throwing college pitchers and athletic high school outfielders.

As such, it was hardly surprising that when tracking the Twins' draft over the past couple days I saw them take the following players in the first four rounds:

1) Alex Wimmers, a right-handed starting pitcher from Ohio State University whose fastball barely touches 90 mph.

2) Cartier Goodrum, a speedy and toolsy high school shortstop who most believe will wind up playing in the outfield.

3) Pat Dean, a left-handed starting pitcher from Boston College who typically works in the high 80s with his fastball.

4) Eddie Rosario, an athletic high school outfielder out of Puerto Rico.

The fact that the Twins consistently target these same types of players in the high rounds year after year can be frustrating for fans. When I say they like "light-tossing" college pitchers I don't mean they like to draft guys who throw underhand, but they tend to go after the polished control pitchers like Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker rather than the raw hard-throwers with big-time upside. While this strategy could be considered relatively safe, it doesn't churn out many dominating top-of-the-rotation types.

Similarly, the Twins' tendency to bring in athletically gifted teenage outfielders can peeve fans simply because the arrival time on these players tends to be lengthy. Denard Span was drafted in the first round back in 2002 and it took him six years to make an impact. It's tough to get excited about players who, even if they turn out, won't be able to help the team until 2016.

While some might be dismayed to see the Twins employing the same old approach this year, it's awfully difficult to argue with their recent results.

Kyle Gibson, a polished college hurler nabbed in the first round last year, has quickly transformed into one of the better pitching prospects in the minor leagues. He's already up in Double-A and it's not unthinkable that he could be pitching for the Twins sometime in his first full pro season, a la Matt Garza.

Aaron Hicks, a toolsy high school outfielder taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, has displayed advanced plate discipline and outstanding athleticism in his young professional career and was ranked as the No. 19 prospect in all of baseball prior to this season by Baseball America.

Ben Revere, who was widely considered to be a giant reach when the Twins selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft, has batted .331 and stolen 105 bases over his first 307 minor-league games, positioning himself as the Twins' table setter of the future.

Of course, there are plenty of other examples from years past, including Slowey, Baker, Span, Matt Garza, Torii Hunter and so forth.

Like it or not, the Twins have stringently adhered to a specific draft strategy in recent years and for the most part it has worked for them. Granted, this year's draft -- which saw the Twins select pitchers and outfielders in rounds five-through-eight as well -- once again leaves the organization looking pretty thin on high-end talent at the infield positions, but let's not forget that the team's best current infield prospect (Miguel Sano) and best current catching prospect (Wilson Ramos) were both signed as international free agents. That's an area where the Twins have ramped up their focus lately, so we'll have to hope they can seek to address the areas that remain weaknesses through that avenue.

As far as the draft is concerned, though, the Twins are staying the course. And that's just fine with me. If Wimmers turns out to be the next Brad Radke, he will easily be better than the typical find with the No. 21 overall pick in Major League Baseball's crapshoot draft.


matt said...

I think you are overstating the case of the Twins going after "light throwing college pitchers". First of all, scouting reports on Wimmers put his fastball in the 90-92 range with qualifications from guys like Jim Callis that he is NOT just a finesse pitcher. To say Wimmers' fastball "barely touches 90 mph" is a off the mark.

Also, in the past few years the Twins have taken Gibson, Tootle, Bashore, Bullock, Guttierrez, and Hunt who all have plus velocity.

The idea that the Twins only target soft tossing strike throwers is a myth.

Nick N. said...

The idea that the Twins only target soft tossing strike throwers is a myth.

No it isn't. The Twins went against the grain a bit last year by selecting Tootle and the year before with Hunt, but I wouldn't describe any of those other guys as having "plus velocity." Bullock is a reliever through and through so he doesn't really qualify in this discussion.

Regardless of what Callis says, I've seen Wimmers pitch and he doesn't throw very hard by MLB standards. He also doesn't have the frame/projectability to make me believe he'll add any more velocity. The Twins have a specific mold of pitcher they like to select in the high rounds, and Wimmers falls right into that mold.

Ed Bast said...

A "fastball in the 90-92 range" could describe Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, Duensing, Slama, Perkins, Delaney, Manship, and who knows how many other pitchers they've drafted in the past 5-10 years.

If Wimmers isn't a finesse pitcher at 90-92, what is he?

John said...

Wimmers isn't a finesse pitcher because he has plus stuff; though his fastball is average, he has an excellent change and promising breaking ball. There are starters without great velocity who aren't finesse pitchers by any reasonable definition... Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver, and James Shields are a few good examples.

Clearly the Twins do not emphasize velocity with their draft picks, but it is an exaggeration to say their early pitching picks are 'light-throwing.' Going back to 2005, here are the 12 college pitchers they've chosen in the first 3 rounds:


Four are lefties. Mullins had below average velocity, Dean is average, Duensing and Bashore generally worked around average but flashed a bit higher. Lefties are a different category really but in any case, there is no pronounced soft tosser preference here.

Of the eight righties, three had mediocre velocity- Slowey, Lanigan, and Wimmers. Garza and Tootle were hard throwers. Gutierrez and Gibson throw hard sinkers, which don't have amazing velocity but are far from being soft pitches. Hunt's fastball was above average, factoring in movement.

I don't see a clear trend. There are only so many flamethrowers out there, particularly when the first pick is in the 20s...

John said...

I left out Bullock, since there was never any chance he would start, but I'm not sure that makes sense since the Twins' pitching philosophy extends to their relief pitchers as well. Plus some of the others may wind up in the pen.