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True aberration: Twins develop talent from within

by Jim Callis
October 7, 2004

CHICAGO—In August 2002, Bud Selig labeled the Twins an aberration. They were en route to winning the American League Central by 13 1/2 games, but Air Bud lumped the Twins with the Expos as the two franchises with the least potential for growth and questioned whether Minnesota would be able to afford its players the following season.

Of course, the Twins have captured two more division titles in the last two years.

But let's give Selig a little credit. He was correct . . . just not in the way he intended.

The Twins are an aberration. They're the only 2004 playoff team that ranks in the bottom half of major league payrolls and, not coincidentally, they're just one of two postseason clubs that developed more than half of their regulars.

Of the 15 players who make up Minnesota's lineup, five-man rotation and closer heading into the playoffs, 10 pulled on a Twins uniform when they reached the majors for the first time. That total would be 11 if überprospect Joe Mauer hadn't hurt his knee.

The Twins have drafted well, grabbing Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter (as well as Mauer) in the first round and finding Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, Justin Morneau and Brad Radke in later rounds. They've also done some astute scouting in the minors.

When Chuck Knoblauch demanded a trade, Minnesota got Cristian Guzman in a package from the Yankees. The Twins also used Rick Aguilera to get Kyle Lohse from the Cubs and stole Lew Ford from the Red Sox in exchange for Hector Carrasco. Those moves pale in comparison to the decision to acquire a raw young lefty in the 1999 major league Rule 5 draft: AL Cy Young Award favorite Johan Santana.

None of those acquisitions had played above Class A before switching organizations.

Growing Their Own

It may be surprising considering their $145.75 million free-agent spending spree, but the Angels are the lone playoff team that can match the Twins' self-reliance. They also have 10 regulars who made their big league debut with the organization.

The faces may change in the next few years, but Anaheim's system will continue to provide the bulk of its talent. First baseman Casey Kotchman and third baseman Dallas McPherson are on the short list of the game's best position prospects, and both should win regular jobs in 2005. The Angels also have a wave of middle infielders surging toward the majors.

The Braves' minor league department has been as consistently strong as their major league club during their string of 13 consecutive division titles. In BA's annual rankings of minor league talent, Atlanta never has dropped lower than seventh.

The team currently features an even split of seven in-house products and seven imports among its regulars. Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz have been around for most (or all) of the run, while the double-play combination of Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles arrived earlier this decade. This season, Adam LaRoche and Charles Thomas joined the mix.

The Braves don't have a homegrown pitcher in their rotation for the first time since 1878. (That's not a misprint, and the team used exactly one starter that year.) But Jose Capellan, Dan Meyer and Kyle Davies should change that in the next couple of seasons.

Houston's system is no match for Atlanta's, but the Astros also produced half of their postseason regulars. That group includes their best hitter (Lance Berkman), leading winner (Roy Oswalt) and the best closer in baseball down the stretch (Brad Lidge), as well as longtime mainstays Jeff Bagwell—he made his big league debut as an Astro after being pilfered from the Red Sox—and Craig Biggio.

Other End Of Spectrum

The Red Sox lie at the other extreme. Boston gets credit for just two of its regulars, 1993 first-rounder Trot Nixon and 1997 trade acquisition Jason Varitek. The Sox also signed Curt Schilling out of junior college, but he developed more and made his big league debut with the Orioles.

The Yankees aren't much better with four homegrown prospects: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams—none of whom were signed after 1992. (And no, they don't get credit for Orlando Hernandez and Hideki Matsui, longtime professionals in other countries.) It's going to be a few years before the two bitter rivals bring more talent to the majors, so Boston and New York will continue to depend on their hefty payrolls.

So too will St. Louis, which has have lived off trading for stars other teams couldn't afford: Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria, Scott Rolen, Larry Walker. Outside of catcher Yadier Molina, no youngsters are set to join born-and-bred Cardinals Dan Haren, Matt Morris and Albert Pujols.

The Dodgers found their two cornerstones, Adrian Beltre and Eric Gagne, on their own, but their only other true-blue regular is Alex Cora. Unlike the Boston, New York and St. Louis, Los Angeles does have a deep farm system and should take on much more of a homegrown flavor in the near future.

The Dodgers still have a long way to go to catch the Twins, however. They're an aberration that just won't quit.

You can reach Jim Callis by sending e-mail to jimcallis@baseballamerica.com.

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