Top Ten Prospects: Minnesota Twins
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Josh Boyd
February 2, 2004
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
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After facing the possibility of contraction following the 2001 season, the Twins posted their first consecutive 90-win seasons in a decade. Contrary to commissioner Bud Selig�s assertion that they were an aberration, they�ve become the model for small-market success. General manager Terry Ryan holds the blueprint.
It starts and ends with scouting and player development, the lifeblood of the organization. Despite their recent turnaround, which has included consecutive American League Central titles, the Twins still deal with strict financial constraints. That puts more pressure on the farm system to have major league-ready talent on call. Minnesota doesn�t have the payroll to keep its predominantly homegrown roster at home for long.
In one of the rare instances where the Twins were able to be a factor in the trade market, Ryan sent Bobby Kielty to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart last July, sparking a second-half turnaround. But in order to retain Stewart as a free agent, Minnesota couldn�t re-sign Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins. They freed up more payroll by trading Eric Milton and A.J. Pierzynski.
Scouting director Mike Radcliff�one of the game�s most respected evaluators�farm director Jim Rantz and their staffs have been up to the task, churning out enough big leaguers to keep pace with departing free agents. An impressive core of power pitching prospects waits in the wings to help replace Guardado and Hawkins in the bullpen. Joe Nathan, part of the Pierzynski trade with the Giants, could open the season as the closer. Minor leaguers Jesse Crain and J.D. Durbin also have the stuff and makeup to swoop in and finish games.
Their most anxiously awaited arrival, however, is 2003 Minor League Player of the Year Joe Mauer. He�s the best prospect in the game and the best all-around catcher to come along since Pudge Rodriguez. His rapid development allowed the Twins to part with Pierzynski.
Minnesota will be able to add another haul of prospects in June, when they�ll have four extra first-round picks as compensation for the loss of Guardado and Hawkins. Whether the Twins will be able to sign all those premium picks remains to be seen, though. Their seven unsigned first-rounders represent the highest total in draft history.
Beyond the draft, the Twins have been one of the most progressive organizations in scouting Australia and have branched out into Europe and Africa. Australians Grant Balfour and Brad Thomas, signed in 1997 by Howard Norsetter, will be counted on to contribute to the pitching staff this season. Shortstop Luke Hughes, outfielder Trent Oeltjen and second baseman Paul Rutgers lead the next wave from Down Under.
Venezuela has also proven to be a fruitful scouting ground for Minnesota. Righthander Juan Rincon showed an electric arm and turned in a solid rookie campaign last year. The Twins have lacked a presence in the Dominican Republic, and are in the process of moving into the academy formerly operated by the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks.
Top Prospect: Joe Mauer, c
Age: 20 Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 230 Bats: L Throws: R
Drafted: HS�St. Paul, Minn., 2001 (1st round)
Signed by: Marc Wilson/Joel Lepel
Background: Growing up in St. Paul as a Twins fan just 10 minutes from the Metrodome, Mauer seemed destined to play for the hometown team. He was regarded as one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation and nearly followed fellow Cretin-Derham Hall grad Chris Weinke to Florida State. Twins scouts saw Mauer play more than 100 times as an amateur and ultimately chose him over Mark Prior with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. While Prior has become a star in the majors, Mauer isn�t too far behind. He won BA�s Minor League Player of the Year award in 2003 and is set to make his big league debut at 20 when he opens this season as Minnesota�s regular catcher. Mauer was a member of the U.S. team that fell short in the Olympic qualifying tournament, though he was inexplicably left out of the lineup in the deciding game against Mexico. His older brothers Jake, a second baseman, and Bill, a righthander, also are Minnesota farmhands.
Strengths: Mauer combines a picture-perfect lefthanded stroke with impeccable strike-zone judgment to generate high batting averages and on-base percentages. His natural approach and swing path lend themselves more to a batting title than a home run crown. He�s geared to hit line drives back up the middle and toward left-center. Defensively, Mauer had no equals at the minor league level. Some scouts say he�ll be the best receiver in the American League when he debuts in April. Despite his size�only Sandy Alomar Jr. is bigger among major league catchers�Mauer expertly blocks pitches with his soft hands and moves quickly on balls in front of the plate. Outstanding arm strength gives him a third present 80 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale to go with his bat and glove. Mauer has a quick release and puts his throws on the bag with uncanny accuracy; he nabbed 52 percent of basestealers last year. He�s a quiet leader who exudes confidence but maintains a low profile. The Twins wanted Mauer to become more comfortable at running a pitching staff, and he did just that. He runs better and has more athleticism than most catchers.
Weaknesses: Though Mauer has hit just nine career homers, Twins scouts insist he has the power to one day hit 35-40 in a season if he wants to. He showed signs of adding more loft to his swing in Double-A.
The Future: Most scouts give Mauer the nod over Devil Rays shortstop B.J. Upton as the best prospect in the game. The Twins cleared Mauer�s path to the majors by dealing all-star A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants in November. Mauer, who will bat seventh or eighth to start 2004, is an early favorite for American League rookie of the year. There�s no reason he shouldn�t develop into a perennial all-star.
|Fort Myers (High A)||62||233||25||78||13||1||1||44||24||24||3||.335||.395||.412|
|New Britain (AA)||73||276||48||94||17||1||4||41||25||25||0||.341||.400||.453|
2. Justin Morneau, 1b
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS�New Westminster, B.C., 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Howard Norsetter.
Background: Various injuries have hobbled Morneau since he signed as a catcher in 1999. The most serious was an intestinal virus that caused him to drop 20 pounds before the 2002 season, but last year�s broken toe couldn�t stop him from hitting a team-high .429 in spring training. He hit five homers in six games to lead Canada to second place at the Olympic qualifying tournament in November, earning a spot in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Strengths: Morneau has huge power, with a classic finish and natural loft to his swing. He generates easy pop and has the plus bat speed to drive good fastballs.
Weaknesses: Morneau struggled with offspeed stuff in the big leagues and will have to adjust. Morneau will be just adequate defensively at first base despite working hard to improve.
The Future: Morneau is likely to start the year at Triple-A Rochester, but should get at least 200-250 at-bats for the Twins between first base and DH. He should wrest the first-base job from Doug Mientkiewicz and bat cleanup for Minnesota in 2005.
3. Matt Moses, 3b
Age: 19. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS�Richmond, 2003 (1st round). Signed by: John Wilson.
Background: Moses rated as one of the best pure hitters among 2003 high school draftees. A routine physical after he agreed to a $1.45 million bonus revealed an irregularity in his heart. A 20-minute procedure patched a tiny hole and has permitted him to proceed with his career without concern.
Strengths: Moses consistently hits the ball squarely thanks to a sound, compact swing. Scouts liken him to Hank Blalock, and the Twins say Moses has all the components at the plate to develop power and move on the fast track in a similar fashion. Because he�s a baseball rat who loves to hit, he has advanced pitch recognition and solid plate discipline.
Weaknesses: A shortstop in high school, Moses was announced as a third baseman on draft day. He has impressed Minnesota by putting in extra work to improve defensively, but he�s still fringe-average in the field. His arm is average at best, and his throwing mechanics are inconsistent, leading to erratic throws. He has below-average speed.
The Future: Moses will move to low Class A Quad Cities this season. His bat is going to be special, and he should have little difficulty adjusting to pitchers at each level.
4. J.D. Durbin, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 188. Drafted: HS�Scottsdale, Ariz., 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Lee MacPhail.
Background: Nicknamed �Real Deal,� Durbin oozes confidence and personality. He was a two-way star in high school and also was recruited as a wide receiver. He made two scoreless appearances in relief for Team USA at the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Strengths: Durbin attacks hitters with a 94-95 mph fastball, which he can maintain deep into games, and a pair of deadly breaking balls. He uses a slurvy curveball, keeping his 87 mph slider in reserve. With a compact yet full-effort delivery, he�s able to repeat his mechanics and fill the strike zone with quality offerings.
Weaknesses: Some scouts doubt Durbin�s size and delivery will hold up in a starting role. He must continue to establish his changeup and build confidence in the pitch. More often than not, it comes in as a batting-practice fastball and gets crushed. He has to stay on top of his pitches to avoid flattening them out.
The Future: Durbin likely will be the Opening Day starter in Triple-A. He should make his big league debut in 2004, and the lack of a clear-cut closer in Minnesota could present an opportunity for him.
5. Jesse Crain, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Houston, 2002 (2nd round). Signed by: Marty Esposito.
Background: Crain preceded Reds top prospect Ryan Wagner as the closer at Houston, where he was an All-America shortstop/reliever in 2002. He didn�t allow an earned run until his final appearance of his junior season, and has been nearly as stingy as a pro. He pitched three scoreless innings for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Strengths: Crain dominates hitters with two plus-plus pitches, and his fastball is a couple of ticks better than Wagner�s. Crain tops out at 96 mph and usually deals at 92-94. His slider is a true strikeout pitch with vicious, late break. He repeats his delivery, throws strikes and manages to get good leverage despite his stature.
Weaknesses: Crain needs to be more consistent at driving the ball down in the zone. His changeup is just usable, but he doesn�t need it.
The Future: There�s no question Crain is going to get the ball with the game on the line. The only question is whether he�ll be a premium set-up man or a quality closer. The Twins believe he�s capable of either and could give him save opportunities this season.
6. Jason Bartlett, ss
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Drafted: Oklahoma, 2001 (13th round). Signed by: Lane Decker (Padres).
Background: The Twins have had little middle infield depth in the minors, and they addressed the problem in July 2002 by trading Brian Buchanan to the Padres for Bartlett. He has exceeded their expectations. While Twins scout John Leavitt projected Bartlett as an everyday big league shortstop, Minnesota would have been content with a utility infielder.
Strengths: Bartlett turns in quality at-bat after quality at-bat. He protects the plate well with quick hands and good bat control. While his tools aren�t overwhelming in the middle of the diamond, he has the arm to make strong, accurate throws from the hole and enough range to both sides.
Weaknesses: Though Bartlett has proven to be a table-setter, he doesn�t project to make much of an impact with his bat. A tick above-average as a runner, he led the system in steals but needs to improve his jumps and technique. He topped the minors by getting caught 24 times last year.
The Future: Guzman�s tenure as Minnesota�s shortstop likely will run out when his contract ends after 2004. After a full season of development in Triple-A, Bartlett is his heir apparent.
7. Denard Span, of
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HS�Tampa, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Brad Weitzel.
Background: Span helped Tampa Catholic win the Florida 3-A title as a junior after transferring from Hillsborough High (alma mater of Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield). The Twins took him 20th overall in 2002 and signed him for $1.7 million late in the summer, delaying his pro debut until last June.
Strengths: Span is the fastest player in the system and has impact basestealing potential, though nagging ankle and leg injuries hampered him in 2003. He made encouraging strides in honing his leadoff skills. He shortened his stroke and cut down some of his natural uppercut, which improved his ability to hit grounders to the left side and let his speed turn them into singles.
Weaknesses: Span is still unrefined in most aspects of the game. His speed disguises many of his mistakes in the outfield; his arm is below-average. His approach at the plate doesn�t generate power, though the Twins say he�ll learn to drive the ball to the gaps as he matures.
The Future: The Twins understand Span will need time to develop into a premium leadoff man. He�ll play in low Class A this season and likely will need a full year at each level.
8. Jason Kubel, of
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 193. Drafted: HS�Palmdale, Calif., 2000 (12th round). Signed by: Bill Mele.
Background: Like many things the Twins do, Kubel has remained under the radar despite a productive start to his young career. He tied for second in RBIs and finished fourth in hitting in the high Class A Florida State League last year. He has been an all-star in each of his two full seasons.
Strengths: Kubel has a professional approach at the plate. He understands the strike zone and doesn�t chase bad pitches. He displays pop to the opposite field with good leverage and finish to his quick, compact swing. He hits lefties (.306) and righties (.294) equally well. He has prototypical right-field arm strength and is a solid-average outfielder.
Weaknesses: Kubel�s slugging percentage dropped from .521 in low Class A to .400 last year in the pitcher-friendly FSL. Selectively aggressive, he needs to make more quality contact to tap into his raw power. A below-average runner, he won�t be a threat on the bases.
The Future: Equipped with a strong, compact body, Kubel profiles as a poor man�s Brian Giles. He�s on the verge of a breakout season and will be Double-A New Britain�s everyday right fielder in 2004.
9. Grant Balfour, rhp
Age: 26. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 170. Signed: Australia, 1997. Signed by: Howard Norsetter.
Background: The Twins have been one of the pioneers in scouting Australia, and Balfour and lefty Brad Thomas will pay the first dividends. After moving to the bullpen in mid-2000, the same year he pitched in the Olympics, Balfour filled a hole in the Rochester rotation last June. It was scheduled to be a brief stay, but he flourished and found a new role.
Strengths: Balfour operates with a lightning-quick arm and fills the strike zone with four pitches. He relied on his 91-94 mph fastball and his slider out of the bullpen. As a starter, he dusted off his curveball, which emerged as his best pitch, and a dependable changeup. He also has enough stamina to maintain his peak velocity deep into starts.
Weaknesses: There were doubts about how Balfour would hold up, even as a reliever, because of his slender build. The same concerns still apply because he never has worked more than 97 innings in a season. His control was a little shaky in the majors last year.
The Future: The Twins hope Balfour can handle the No. 4 slot in their rotation. If he can�t, he can fall back on a career in relief.
10. Michael Restovich, of
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225. Drafted: HS�Rochester, Minn., 1997 (2nd round). Signed by: Joel Lepel.
Background: Restovich ranked in the top five on this list from 1999-2003, but he took a step in the wrong direction when he repeated Triple-A last year. Though he hit .283 in a brief stay in Minnesota, the Twins were disappointed with his lack of power and sent him to winter ball in Puerto Rico, where his manager was Twins bench coach Steve Liddle.
Strengths: Restovich�s raw power is his calling card. He can hit fastballs a mile with his fluid, direct swing. He concentrated on making consistent contact and hitting the ball to right field last year.
Weaknesses: While he showed versatility with his new approach, Restovich needs to hit the ball out of the park and be a run producer. That won�t happen by inside-outing balls to the opposite field. His strikeout rates have risen as he has advanced. He�s just adequate as a baserunner and corner outfielder.
The Future: This is a pivotal year in Restovich�s career. With a crowded outfield in Minnesota, he appears headed for a third straight year in Triple-A. The Twins have turned down several trade inquiries for him, but a change of scenery might be best at this point.