Few organizations handle player development as well as the Twins, and six of their finest prospects were found on Triple-A Rochester’s Opening Day roster.
Glen Perkins was quickly recalled to the big leagues to provide a second bullpen lefty behind Denny Reyes, but the Twins still view him as a starter long-term. Speedy, switch-hitting middle infielder Alexi Casilla was added to the big league team during the season’s second week to give the Twins a solid contact hitter off the bench and a high-percentage base stealer (he’s 153-for-188 for his minor league career).
Minnesota decided in spring training to go with veterans Sidney Ponson and Carlos Silva in the rotation, pushing Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey–the organization’s prize righthanders–to Rochester, where they can focus on using all their pitches. Inclement weather in the International League’s northern reaches has cut into both pitchers’ mound time, but the Twins have stressed preparation as they intend to use both of them in the majors this season.
Garza, of course, pitched 50 big league innings last year, and the Twins want to see him establish rhythm, throw strikes and stay ahead of hitters. Though Garza, 23, breezed through the minors last season with 154-32 strikeouts-walks, his command faltered as the rigors of pitching his first full season caught up with him late in the year.
Slowey, 22, doesn’t have as much raw stuff or upper-level experience as Garza, but he does have perhaps the finest command in the minors. He has struck out 237 batters and walked just 30 in his minor league career, though he had made just one start on the season because of all the cancellations.
Denard Span’s center field defense is already big league ready, and he would fill Torii Hunter’s shoes in case of long-term injury, but the Twins want to see him perfect his bunting technique and get better jumps on stolen base attempts. A plus runner and good hitter for average, Span, 23, might be the fastest player in the organization and nobody is faster underway.
The Twins see third baseman Matt Moses as a future offensive contributor, but he has further to go than his Red Wings teammates. He’s a lefty hitter and has been on the young side for his leagues, so the organization feels it’s just a matter of time before things click for him. Though his hands, accuracy and footwork at the hot corner all need considerable improvement, Moses, 22, could handle the corner outfield if his bat develops as the Twins expect.
The Twins began priming Matt Tolbert for a utility role last season at Double-A New Britain, where they plugged him in all over the infield. A natural second baseman, Tolbert was the Twins’ 16th-round selection in 2004 out of Mississippi, and in addition to his versatility he offers good speed and the ability to switch-hit.
Tolbert, 24, was a career .275/.342/.395 hitter entering the season. The Twins challenged him with an Arizona Fall League assignment last winter and he hit .313 with 15 walks and six steals in 24 games for Mesa.
Though he’s just 29-years-old, third baseman Glenn Williams has 13 pro seasons under his belt, the result of signing out of Australia at age 18. Though Williams opted to sign with the Braves back in 1994, the Twins were also in on the bidding and were the club with which he made his major league debut in 2005. Unfortunately, Williams separated his shoulder in the majors that year while diving back into first base that year. He was in the midst of a 13-game hitting streak.
The Twins signed Williams as a minor league free agent following the 2003 season because of his versatility–he plays all four infield spots, a little outfield and has even caught in spring training–and he’s a career .246/.307/.398 hitter in the minors.