Thursday, April 3, 2008
Opening Day – Minor League Style
Happy Opening Day again! Today is opening day across the full season minor leagues. All four Twins affiliates will be opening their seasons today. The Rochester Red Wings will be in Norfolk for a 3:00 (note – all times central here) start. The New Britain Rockcats will host Portland in a 5:05 game time. Sarasota will be in Ft. Myers to take on the Miracle at 6:05. And finally, the Beloit Snappers will be hosting Kane County at 6:35.
I am a rare Twins fan who is arguably more excited to get the minor league regular season started as I am about the big league season. For me, it’s about prospects and development and stories and overcoming obstacles and the journey to their ultimate baseball goal, a job in the big leagues. Hopefully this site will be a place where you can find information on anything related to the Twins minor league system. No, I don’t focus on the teams, the Twins affiliates. I know that winning is important to the teams and the cities they are in, but as a Minnesota Twins fan, my hope is that these players will eventually contribute to the Twins at the big league level, so whether their team finishes 1st or 5th doesn’t matter. And yet, I do believe that learning how to win and being part of a winning environment can also be a beneficial thing for all players. That’s why I am excited about the teams in Beloit and Ft. Myers this year because those teams are comprised of many of the players who played on playoff teams the last couple of seasons.
Most days throughout the season, this can be your one-stop shopping for updates on how the Twins minor league teams and its prospects did. Generally, I will give a game score followed by who pitched (and how they pitched) and any hitters with multi-hit games or home runs. I will try to keep track of trends throughout the year and make any interesting notes. I have written this before, but my belief is that these affiliates contain players who have a chance to be Minnesota Twins in the future. I would venture to guess that as much or more than any other team, the Twins have traditionally built from within, so many of these guys will get a shot. I also believe that these guys deserve the recognition. I know this is a lowly blog, but there are a lot of Twins-loyal fans. I believe that these guys play the same game that the big leaguers do. They work just as hard, if not harder. They don’t travel in style or stay in the best hotels. Their per diems are miniscule in comparison. They earn a few thousand dollars a month and work to advance. They all have the same goal, to get to the big leagues. For those reasons, I am happy to provide a place for them to be talked about and discussed. I hope you understand and will participate and try to learn as much as you can about the players in the Twins system.
For today, I hope to make a few predictions about players in the Twins farm system. I will start with any thoughts I have on the players on the Rochester roster and work my way down to New Britain, Ft. Myers and Beloit. I may even have a thought or two on some guys who are still in Ft. Myers at Extended Spring Training either hoping for a call up to Beloit or waiting for the short-season leagues to get started.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Below you will find a sentence or three about the prospects in the Twins system. If there are any Twins fans in the Rochester, New Britain, Ft. Myers or Beloit areas, please let me know. I would love to talk to you about the players, and if you get to any games, I would love to hear you first-hand thoughts on the players.
ROCHESTER RED WINGS – International League
· Ricky Barrett- I am really hopeful that he can stay healthy for once this year. He has great stuff and the ability to strike people out. If he can stay healthy through June, I expect he’ll get a big league call up.
· Julio DePaula – he was excellent for the Red Wings in 2007, and I expect him to improve some in 2008 and to pitch better when the Twins call.
· Brian Duensing – like many, I expect that he won’t duplicate his 2007 success, but I said the same last year, and he just continues to impress. Could get a September promotion.
· Mariano Gomez – our friend Roger tells us that we really need to watch this guy. He’s already 25 and hasn’t pitched in AAA before, so I guess we shall see.
· Philip Humber – Could be the surprise of 2008. He is frequently forgotten among the four players the Twins acquired from the Mets, but let’s not forget that he is now in his second full season after Tommy John surgery and he was the #3 overall pick in the 2004 draft. He could get back to that status and if so, he could really help the Twins at some point this season and for years into the future.
· Bobby Korecky – the Red Wings closer was a surprise add to the Twins 40 man roster last winter. He had 35 action-packed saves last year for the team. He could fill a 12 pitcher role for the Twins.
· Kevin Mulvey – Another guy to watch, he was a 2nd round pick in 2006 out of Villanova. Good control, but he knows how to get hitters out. Very good in AA last year, then threw 13 shutout innings at AAA to end the season.
· Glen Perkins – The Twins owe it to themselves and to Perkins to see if he can be a starter. I hope he is given a half-season at least to make that determination… I think they will find he’s best suited for the bullpen.
· Jose Morales – I project that his batting average drops well below .300, maybe something like .275 this year, but he is adequate as a #3 catcher for now.
· Brian Buscher – He’ll play 1B, 3B and DH. I can’t imagine he could play 2B adequately. I expect a drop-off from his 2007 numbers. But he could be a guy called up in case of injury strictly as pinch hitter.
· Alexi Casilla – I expect a very solid season from the still-just-23 year old youngster. I dream of a lineup with Carlos Gomez and Casilla hitting back to back and wreaking havoc on pitchers and catchers.
· Matt Macri – hopefully he is given an opportunity to play every day because I do think he has some pop in his lineup. I wouldn’t mind him being a right-handed platoon type 3B for the Twins in 2009.
· Randy Ruiz – he had the nice spring training camp, but don’t’ expect the same. I think he’ll be replaced by Brock Peterson by the All Star break. Ah, the beauty of spring training stats.
· Jon Knott – now I do believe that Knott will be very good at Rochester and I would have no problem with him being a right handed pinch hitter and occasional DH for the Twins (if they drop Craig Monroe).
· Jason Pridie – I don’t expect him to put up the same numbers he did in 2007. I think he played over his head, but I do believe he is a far-superior 4th OF option than Jason Tyner has been the last couple of years.
· Denard Span – Maybe it’s because he was nice to me, but I can see Span getting off to a quick start and being a .290-310 type of hitter. If he can get that OBP up to .370 and leg out some doubles and triples, a .750 OPS is attainable.
NEW BRITAIN ROCKCATS – Eastern League
· Kyle Aselton – the 6-5 lefty needs to stay healthy and throw strikes. When he has done those two things, he has been fine. Big year for him though.
· Armando Gabino – had a remarkable season last year at Beloit, Ft. Myers and New Britain. I think repeating AA is smart, but if he starts out well, he’ll move up quickly.
· Ryan Mullins – had a solid 2007. He is going to have to pitch very well to move up because of the team’s organizational pitching depth. He’s not dominant, so he’s going to have to be very good.
· Yohan Pino – They say AA is the league where college pitchers start to experience struggles. I think the same can be said for guys who struggle to hit 88 mph. This is a big year for Pino. Will he start or relieve… or both?
· Jay Rainville – his 2007 was a success because he stayed healthy all year after missing all of 2006 with surgery. This year, he can think about just pitching. I expect a very good year and for his velocity to creep back up.
· Oswaldo Sosa – I was impressed in what I saw during one spring training inning. Has to keep the ball down though. I think he’ll spend the whole year here and be slightly above average.
· Anthony Swarzak – he put himself back on the prospect map with the way he pitched for the Rockcats the last month of the season. Hopefully he can build on that, and like Mullins, success could mean a quick advancement to AAA.
· Zach Ward – He was a tough-luck loser much of last year. It started to wear on him. He’ll be in the bullpen, but he has to start this year with a clean slate mentally.
· Drew Butera – He can be the best defensive catcher and game caller, but he also needs to be able to hit above .150 as he moves up.
· Jeff Christy – Also known for his defense, we shouldn’t forget that Christy is a year (ok, 8 months) younger than Butera.
· Luke Hughes – he’s been effective the last couple of years as a frequent playing utility player. An Eastern League all-star last year, I hope he is given consistent playing time.
· Matt Moses – the thought is that moving him to the OF will help him relax and then redevelop the hitting that made him a high prospect several years ago… I don’t expect it to work.
· Brock Peterson – He has to be able to psychologically get over the fact that Randy Ruiz took advantage of his spring training big league invite and Peterson is going back to AA. If he is able to, and he is able to take his second half walk/strikeout rate into this season, he will be up at AAA at some point.
· Trevor Plouffe – he kept getting advanced despite little performance. Then last year, he performed, and now he is repeating a level. It didn’t make sense in the past. He’s blocked by several guys who are just veteran placeholders.
· Steven Tolleson – he may take on a utility type of role. Not great defensively, but he can get on base and he steals bases.
· David Winfree – I really would like to see Winfree take to the outfield and put together a full, healthy, happy season because I think he has tremendous potential to hit for average and a lot of power.
· Erik Lis – The man can just hit, and I am looking forward to seeing what he does in the Eastern League after hitting well in two pitcher’s leagues the past two years. I expect a great year in terms of doubles and homers, but he’ll spend the season in New Britain because of lack of position.
· Dustin Martin – I think that the Twins fans should be happy with the Luis Castillo transaction. Martin can play CF which would make him more valuable, but he’s got some pop, some speed, can hit for some average, takes walks. My thought is he’s probably not flashy, but over time, he would be impressive.
· Brandon Roberts – the fact that he hit .300 or better every month but April still stands out. He’ll have to wait out the Twins/Red Wings CF situation before he is able to advance. I would like to see him steal more bases again in 2008!
FT. MYERS MIRACLE – Florida State League
I’m not going to really mention Francisco Liriano because we know he will make just one start, then a AAA start and then re-evaluate.
· Alex Burnett – one of my favorite pitching prospects, I think he is underrated because of his height. But he has a toughness and I expect a solid season.
· Robert Delaney – surprised that he is back with the Miracle. I expect him to be very hittable and not be the closer all year.
· Cole DeVries – not a bad 5th starter option, DeVries will be an average, or slightly better, pitcher in the league.
· Matthew Fox – The plodding, methodical return from injury schedule that the Twins have Matt Fox on is great, but I think that they should push him a little bit in 2008 to find out if he was worthy of that supplemental 1st round pick in 2004.
· Deolis Guerra – I am happy that the Twins are keeping the 19 year old in the FSL to start the year. The Mets pushed him too much. That said, if he earns a promotion to AA, then go ahead. I expect he’ll be at New Britain at some point.
· Jeff Manship – I expect a situation similar to last year for Manship. I think he’ll do quite well right away and we’ll be wondering why he isn’t promoted, but then he will end the season with the Rockcats. Or, he could follow the path of fellow Tommy John survivor Brian Duensing and get up to Rochester for a few starts.
· Frank Mata – he threw hard before his Tommy John in 2006. He struggled at times in 2007, but I think he will have a much improved season in 2008. It is a huge year for him.
· Tyler Robertson – seeing him in person, the 19 year old could be quite intimidating on a mound. Add a funky delivery and some serious “stuff” and you’ve got a guy with huge potential.
· Anthony Slama – he’ll get plenty of opportunity to close, but he’s older than Delaney.
· Kyle Waldrop – hopefully a couple of weeks of rehab will be exactly what Waldrop needs. This is a big year for him.
· Wilson Ramos – of all of the Twins prospects, Ramos may be as intriguing as any of them. I think he’ll spend the whole season in Ft. Myers where he will hit alreight compared to the league, but the numbers won’t look too impressive.
· Brian Dinkelman – He needs to show that the 0-fer that he experienced for a couple of weeks at the end of the season was a fluke. He could move up after the all star break.
· Juan Portes – apparently I am much higher on Portes than anyone else is. I think he has a great bat. Although he doesn’t really have a natural position, he appears to at least adequately play several.
· Whit Robbins – could be a special player IF his back is able to hold up.
· Danny Valencia – This could be a short-lived stay in Ft. Myers for Valencia who will be packing for Connecticut in no time.
· Johnny Woodard – needs to improve his ability to make contract. Lots of power.
· Edward Ovalle – he isn’t really even considered a prospect, but at just 22 years old, I think he is very overlooked in prospect circles.
· Danny Santiesteban – he played great in the playoffs last year for Beloit, but he’ll need to get off to a quick start with the Miracle. He’s so athletic and so talented and I think he’s got a chance
· Rene Tosoni – only had a handful of at bats with Beloit last year before their playoff run, Tosoni jumps all the way to Ft. Myers. But he’s a natural, and I’m sure he’ll adjust fine.
BELOIT SNAPPERS – Midwest League
Is it possible that the Snappers will have the tallest pitching staff of all time?
· Dan Berlind had a strong debut with the GCL team last year. At 6-7, he could develop much more.
· David Bromberg was the Appalachian League pitcher of the year last year. He needs to cut down the walks, but other than that, he is certainly a legit prospect.
· Brian Kirwan really struggled last season with the Snappers. The Twins put a lot of money into him and he will get plenty of chances. He just needs to start pitching better.
· Michael McCardell – 95 strikeouts, 8 walks. That’s just not something you can forget. I expect him to have a season that mirrors Manships from last year. He’ll do great at Beloit and we’ll think he should advance, but they’ll be patient. Eventually though, he will get to Ft. Myers.
· Henry Reyes – he’s a 6-7 lefty. Although he was the 5th starter for E-Town last year, he put together excellent numbers. He’ll begin the season on the DL but how he performs is intriguing.
· Michael Tarsi – the 6-8 lefty out of UConn had a strong debut with E-Town a year ago and he should just get better. Expect him to have a strong season and get consideration for a promotion to Ft. Myers as well.
· Loek Van Mil – The 7-1 righty from The Netherlands is the definition of intriguing. Control has been his issue so far in his career which is no surprised. But he is a good athlete who should be able to improve his control and his velocity. It certainly won’t happen overnight, but if the stars align, he could be a special pitcher. I suppose it would be dorky to say something like… when it comes to ceilings, Van Mil’s is higher than most.
· Danny Lehman – he was a very solid catcher at Rice, a college powerhouse, so he knows how to play the game and catch a good game. He will be fine, it’s just that I am yet to really figure out the Twins strategy when it comes to catchers.
· Greg Yersich – He really struggled at Beloit to start last year, so he was sent back to E-Town where he was very good. When he came back to Beloit, he was fine. I am curious how the playing time will work itself out, especially with Jair Fernandez coming over from the Mariners.
· Ben Petsch – he got off to a great start to begin his pro career, but then he was injured. I am curious to see how he does this year.
· Deibinson Romero – He and Valencia are the future at 3B. Valencia’s promotion from Ft. Myers to Beloit could mean that Romero may soon be in line for a promotion to Ft. Myers. I do expect he’ll have an impressive season.
· Steve Singleton – He’s always been able to hit for high average with extra base power. Last year, he was hurt to start the season and never fully recovered. I expect he’ll get back to that strong offensive form and at some point he will be starting in Ft. Myers.
· Joe Benson – Those close to Beloit have told me that the Benson they saw in the season’s second half was so much improved over what they saw early in the season. If he can continue to progress, his athleticism and talent will start to come into play and he will be in Ft. Myers by mid season.
· Ozzie Lewis – the MVP of the Appalachian League is another candidate for a midseason promotion IF he plays like he did last season with E-Town. He is a great athlete who Twins fans should hope becomes a great baseball player.
· Garrett Olson – he is listed with the outfielders in his return to Beloit although he can play anywhere on the diamond. That is important to the Twins but hopefully it doesn’t limit him too much.
· Chris Parmelee – I think that Parmelee showed the ability to take walks and to hit for power. His 2008 wasn’t as bad as many think. But he does need to find a way to cut down the strikeouts. If he can do that, his ceiling is Brian Giles. If he doesn’t, his ceiling is Adam Dunn. Or any number of past prospects that we don’t remember any more.
EXTENDED SPRING TRAINING – Ft. Myers, Florida
35-40 players who are not with a full-season affiliate are still in Ft. Myers as part of the extended spring training program. These players essentially continue their spring schedule. They’ll practice in the mornings and play games against each other or other area extended spring teams. But it is all about instruction. Then after the June draft, the more advanced players will be assigned to Elizabethton with the top college draft picks. They will also fill a GCL Twins roster with high school, JC and later round small college players. Of course, there are likely to be several players released again at that time. Here are some names that don’t appear on the four above rosters worth watching:
· Ben Revere – so many Twins fans seem to want the Twins top pick in 2007 to be fast tracked. Instead, he begins the season in EST and will play at Elizabethton unless there is an injury or a need at Beloit.
· Nick Papasan – he put together a very impressive spring training but was sent to EST very late. I see him as a future #3 of #5 type of hitter despite his lack of height.
· Curtis Leavitt – last year, he pitched in the bullpen in E-Town and it seemed like every time he would pitch, it would be one inning, three strikeouts. The Twins are going to send him back to E-Town but the goal is for him to be a starter this year.
· Brad Tippett – it surprised me that Tippett was not sent to Beloit. However, I learned that the Twins were not happy that he chose to participate with Team Australia in an Olympic qualifier rather than report to training camp on time. If that’s the full reason, that’s unfortunate. Yes, you want all your players there, but we are talking about representing your country. Let’s not forget two years ago when the Twins let Kevin Slowey leave his New Britain teammates late in the regular season to pitch for Team USA in the Olympic qualifier in Cuba. I expect Tippett to be in Beloit before too long.
In the 2005 draft, the Twins drafted Matt Garza in the first round, Kevin Slowey in the 2nd round and Brian Duensing and Ryan Mullins in the 3rd round. All four were selected as pitchers out of college. In the same draft, the Twins took Henry “Hank” Sanchez with a supplemental draft pick and then Paul Kelly with a second round pick and then Andrew Thompson with a supplemental 2nd round pick. They were all high school hitters. And all three of them have pretty much missed the last two years because of injuries. I am very curious about how these three are doing health-wise, and what the team hopes for them in 2008.
So good luck to the four Twins full-season affiliates and all of the prospects on those teams and in Extended Spring. I know I am excited for the minor league season to begin. I also know that the demographic survey conducted last month told me that most of your are too.
In the Comments below, please feel free to add your thoughts on the Twins system, some of the players and prospects. Make a few predictions like which players will have big breakout seasons, and if you choose, which players will disappoint. always, you can also feel free to e-mail me as well.