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Top Ten Prospects: Minnesota Twins
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Mike Berardino
February 1, 2006


Chat Wrap: Mike Berardino took your Twins questions
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, 2006.

Their three-year run atop the American League Central came to an end in 2005, but the Twins continued to position themselves as modest-budget contenders for years to come.

The ever-thriving farm system pushed several contributors to the big league team, including Joe Mauer, Jesse Crain, Francisco Liriano, Jason Bartlett and Scott Baker—half of last year's Top 10 Prospects list. Minnesota also replenished the system at the back end with another strong draft under scouting director Mike Radcliff.

Thanks to the free-agent defections of Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman and Henry Blanco, the Twins owned seven picks in the first three rounds. They spent a total of $4.615 million to sign those picks, which began with hard-throwing Fresno State righthander Matt Garza. They also added high school slugger Henry Sanchez, toolsy prep infielders Paul Kelly and Drew Thompson, polished righthander Kevin Slowey and college lefties Brian Duensing and Ryan Mullins.

Garza was the only 2005 draftee to make the top 10 list this time, but that was a testament to the depth of the organization as well its 2004 draft, which featured five picks before the second round.

Stability remains a Twins hallmark. General manager Terry Ryan signed with the Twins as a high school pitcher, has been in the front office since 1986 and enters his 12th season running the baseball operation. Farm director Jim Rantz has been with the franchise since signing with the then-Washington Senators after winning the final game of the 1960 College World Series. He moved into the front office in 1965 and has been in charge of the farm system since 1986. Radcliff joined the Twins as an area scout in 1987 and became scouting director in 1994.

Assistant GMs Bill Smith and Wayne Krivsky and director of baseball operations Rob Antony all have been with Minnesota for more than a decade. Minnesota's continuity extends to field operations as well, as minor league hitting coordinator and Jim Dwyer and pitching coordinator Rich Knapp enter their 10th year in their jobs.

Having such continuity makes it easier to implement a unified philosophy. The Twins place a strong emphasis on developing young pitching, and no fewer than 30 of their pitching prospects averaged 90 mph of better with their fastballs in 2005. Baker won the ERA title in the Triple-A International League, Kyle Aselton did the same in the low Class A Midwest League, and Adam Hawes (Appalachian) and Kyle Edlich (Gulf Coast) captured ERA crowns while making their pro debuts in Rookie ball. The farm system has posted only one losing season (1999) in the past 13 years and just two losing seasons since 1987.

Besides developing their own talent, the Twins have an eye for grabbing it from other organizations. Most famously, they got ace Johan Santana by orchestrating a 1999 Rule 5 draft trade with the Marlins. Top prospect Francisco Liriano was considered the third-best player in the November 2003 A.J. Pierzynski deal with the Giants, in which Minnesota also stole closer Joe Nathan.

Regulars Bartlett (from the Padres for Brian Buchanan) and Lew Ford (from the Red Sox for Hector Carrasco) arrived in transactions that received little attention at the time. Matt Guerrier, who played a key bullpen role last year, was claimed off waivers from the Pirates.


1. FRANCISCO LIRIANO, lhp      Born: October 26, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt: 185
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000   Signed by: Rick Ragazzo (Giants)

Background: A former outfielder who converted to the mound shortly after signing with the Giants, Liriano has exceeded all expectations. That includes those that accompanied his arrival as an overlooked part of a three-player package sent to the Twins in exchange for catcher A.J. Pierzynski in November 2003. While Joe Nathan has become an all-star closer and Boof Bonser a solid Triple-A starter, Liriano could turn out to be the best of the bunch. He missed part of 2002 and most of 2003 with shoulder problems, but Twins scout Sean Johnson recommended the team grab him after seeing him during instructional league. Liriano has been healthy since switching organizations and was spectacular in 2005, when he was Minnesota's minor league pitcher of the year. He led the minors in strikeouts while ranking as the No. 1 prospect in the Double-A Eastern League and No. 2 (behind Minor League Player of the Year Delmon Young) in the Triple-A International League.

Strengths: Some scouts say Liriano's stuff is better than that of Twins teammate Johan Santana, the 2004 American League Cy Young Award winner. They say Liriano throws harder, has a better slider and owns a changeup that is equal in quality. When he gets rolling, Liriano can dominate for long stretches behind a 94-96 mph fastball that has reached 98 mph and a hard, tight slider that comes in at 89 mph. He can throw the slider for strikes in any count, and he also features a plus changeup. The fastball and slider grade out as the best in the system. He has thrown a curve in the past, but has pushed it aside for now. While at Triple-A Rochester, Liriano fanned Red Sox prospect Kevin Youkilis twice on a total of six pitches, much to the amazement of players on both sides because Youkilis might have been the most patient hitter in the minors. Liriano has a reserved personality and shows good baseball aptitude, a strong work ethic and solid makeup. It’s not uncommon for him to beat his teammates to the ballpark and start running and long-tossing well before the others arrive. He has learned English well and has no trouble communicating with teammates and coaches.

Weaknesses: Liriano's history of shoulder woes means his durability must be monitored. He battled mechanical issues early in 2005, failing to repeat and flying open too often, which caused him to labor noticeably. Once he got to Triple-A, Rochester pitching coach Bobby Cuellar did a good job of keeping Liriano’s delivery on track and showing him the benefits of maintaining a smooth motion. Liriano also had problems with overstriding in 2004, causing his arm to drag behind his body. He has bouts where he doesn’t command or trust his fastball the way he should, but minor league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp has stayed on him about that.

The Future: After striking out 33 in 24 innings during his first taste of the majors in September, Liriano has been penciled into Minnesota's rotation to begin 2006. Just as the Twins hope location-first righthander Scott Baker will gain from working alongside Brad Radke, they believe Liriano will benefit from pitching with Santana. The pair seemed to hit it off last year. Barring a spring surprise, Liriano’s minor league seasoning is complete and he should be on his way to becoming a No. 1 starter.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Britain (AA) 3 5 3.64 13 13 0 0 77 70 6 26 92 .242
Rochester (AAA) 9 2 1.78 14 14 0 0 91 56 4 24 112 .177
Minnesota 1 2 5.70 6 4 0 0 24 19 4 7 33 .221


2. JASON KUBEL, of       Born: May 25, 1982 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Palmdale, Calif., 2000 (12th round)   Signed by: Bill Mele

Background: A self-made prospect, Kubel rose steadily through the system and reached the majors by the end of 2004, when he hit .352 in the upper minors. Minnesota's minor league player of the year, he even got seven at-bats in the American League Division Series. His banner year ended disastrously, however, when he tore up his left knee in an outfield collision in the Arizona Fall League. He missed the 2005 season.


Strengths:
Often compared to a young Brian Giles, Kubel has a tremendous approach at the plate. His plate discipline is the best in the system, while his stroke is quick and compact with some opposite-field power. It’s no problem for him to hit righties or lefties. Defensively, his best tool is a plus right-field arm.

  

Weaknesses:
Even before the injury, Kubel wasn’t considered much of a basestealing threat, though he did swipe 16 bags in 19 tries at Triple-A. He has limited speed and range in the outfield. Like many young hitters, he can become overly pull-conscious at times.

  

The Future:
Kubel made it back last year in time for instructional league, where he had to wear a large brace on his knee and couldn't do much running or fielding. Though he says otherwise, the Twins doubt he'll be 100 percent for spring training. Rather than competing for the right-field job, he likely will start the season in Triple-A.


2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Did Not Play- Injured


3. MATT MOSES, 3b    Born: February 10, 1985 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 210
Drafted: HS--Richmond, 2003 (1st round)   Signed by: John Wilson

Background: Shortly after he was taken 21st overall in the 2003 draft, Moses had a routine physical that revealed a tiny hole in his heart. A 20-minute surgical procedure fixed the problem, and he signed for $1.45 million. More concerns followed in 2004, when he missed nearly four months with a stress fracture in his lower back, a recurrence of an old high school injury. He stayed healthy through 2005, which was his primary objective, and reached Double-A.


Strengths:
One of the best pure hitters in his draft class, Moses has a smooth, compact swing that has drawn comparisons to Hank Blalock's. Moses was pushed to Double-A, which was hard enough, but also remade his swing at the Twins’ suggestion to cut down a pronounced toe tap. He shows a strong work ethic and a grinder’s mentality.

  

Weaknesses:
Some wonder whether Moses' power will follow him up the ladder. He's a below-average runner, and though he was worked hard on defense may have to move to a corner outfield spot in the majors. A high school shortstop, he has decent range at third base, but his footwork and throws remain a concern.

  

The Future:
Moses figures to return to Double-A New Britain to start 2006, and a full, healthy season will again be the objective. Michael Cuddyer hasn't been able to seize Minnesota's third-base job, and Moses could be ready to challenge him at some point in 2007.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Fort Myers (Hi A) .306 .376 .453 265 37 81 16 1 7 42 28 59 13 4
New Britain (AA) .210 .275 .366 186 25 39 9 1 6 30 14 51 3 2


4. GLEN PERKINS, lhp        Born: March 12, 1983 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-0 Wt: 200
Drafted: Minnesota, 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Mark Wilson

Background: The last player to sign out of the Twins' 2004 draft class, Perkins accepted a $1.425 million bonus and got right to work. He turned heads with his debut and continued to gain admirers when he reached Double-A in his first full season. His stock continued to rise when he was one of the few starting pitchers to have consistent success in the Arizona Fall League.


Strengths:
Perkins got in better shape as a pro and saw his fastball increase from 88-92 to 91-94 mph. That made his advanced changeup even better. He also began throwing two different curveballs, a hard breaker and a slower version to throw off hitters’ timing. He has a strong mound presence, good feel for pitching and solid makeup.

  

Weaknesses:
Perkins isn't much of an athlete and has flat feet, which previously kept him from working out as aggressively as some would have liked. Wearing orthotics has solved that problem. He had lower-back issues at the end of 2004 but none last year.

  

The Future:
Hit harder than expected in Double-A, Perkins will return there to anchor the rotation. With a successful first half, he could soon find himself in Triple-A, knocking on the door to the majors.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Fort Myers (Hi A) 3 2 2.13 10 9 2 0 55 41 2 13 66 .205
New Britain (AA) 4 4 4.90 14 14 0 0 79 80 4 35 67 .263


5. ANTHONY SWARZAK, rhp       Born: September 10, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 195
Drafted: HS--Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 2004 (2nd round)   Signed by: Brad Weitzel

Background: As a senior at Nova High in 2004, Swarzak was the ace for a team that won a Florida 5-A championship, the first state title for a Broward County public high school in 57 years. He was the consensus best pitching prospect on a loaded low Class A Beloit staff last year, and he reached high Class A Fort Myers by the middle of his first full pro season.


Strengths:
Swarzak was dominant at times during the first half at Beloit. He pitched at 91-93 mph with his fastball, showing a hard downer curve and a devastating changeup as well. He has touched 95 mph and has generally electric stuff to go with a prototypical pitcher’s frame, loose arm and strong mound presence.

  

Weaknesses:
He stumbled a bit near midseason, so the Twins promoted him to jar him out of perceived boredom. Pitching close to home in the Florida State League, Swarzak seemed to press at times and developed minor delivery issues. He doesn’t trust his changeup enough at times. His body is starting to fill out and he must be careful not to pack on weight in the wrong places.

  

The Future:
The fifth of six pitchers the Twins took in the first three rounds in 2004, Swarzak remains near the head of that class. He figures to return to high Class A to start 2006, where he'll again head a prospect-laden rotation.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Beloit (Lo A) 9 5 4.04 18 18 0 0 91 81 7 32 101 .238
Fort Myers (Hi A) 3 4 3.66 10 10 0 0 59 72 3 11 55 .300


6. DENARD SPAN, of     Born: February 27, 1984 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-1 Wt: 180
Drafted: HS--Tampa, 2002 (1st round)   Signed by: Brad Weitzel

Background: A star wide receiver in high school, Span received interest from NCAA Division I-A football programs until they realized baseball was his first love. He turned down a 2002 predraft deal to go ninth to the Rockies and wound up signing for $1.7 million as the 20th pick. Nagging injuries to his legs and ankle slowed him in 2003, and a broken hamate bone in his right wrist caused him to miss more than two months in 2004, but he stayed healthy in a strong 2005 campaign.


Strengths:
The fastest player, best athlete and best defensive outfielder in the deep Twins system, Span has begun to justify the hype. Without hesitation, club officials name him as the farmhand who improved the most last year. He has been timed at 3.8 seconds to first base and has learned to use his speed as an offensive weapon. He has sharpened his bunting, taken more pitches, done a better job of keeping the ball out of the air and generally warmed to the role of leadoff hitter. Comparisons to Juan Pierre are starting to make sense.

  

Weaknesses:
Span doesn’t have much power. He sometimes has to rely on his quickness to make up for mistakes on routes in center field. His arm is fringe average at best, though he makes up for it by playing shallow. He gets caught stealing more than he should because he's still perfecting his leads and jumps.

  

The Future:
With Torii Hunter the subject of trade rumors, Span’s window of major league opportunity is drawing closer. Hunter isn’t likely to be in Minnesota beyond 2006, at which point the Twins hope Span is ready for his close-up. He'll probably open the season in Triple-A.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Fort Myers (Hi A) .339 .410 .403 186 38 63 3 3 1 19 22 25 13 4
New Britain (AA) .285 .355 .345 267 47 76 6 5 0 26 22 41 10 8


7. MATT GARZA, rhp      Born: November 11, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190
Drafted: Fresno State, 2005 (1st round)  Signed by: Kevin Bootay

Background: Garza has come a long way from the scared kid who went 1-6, 9.55 as a Fresno State freshman in 2003. Afterward, he had eye surgery to correct cloudy vision in his right eye. Over the next two seasons, he went a combined 12-8, 3.99, pitching himself into the first round of the 2005 draft. He signed for $1.35 million as the 25th overall pick.


Strengths:
Garza showed a full mix of pitches in his debut, including a 90-94 mph fastball that touches 96, a hard slider at 82-84 mph, a 72-78 mph curveball and a changeup that needs work but shows potential. A hard worker with outstanding makeup, he's a serious pro, a young husband and father who wants to make an impact.

  

Weaknesses:
His main weakness is a reluctance at times to trust his stuff. Garza will drop down on occasion in an attempt to bury his slider instead of repeating his delivery. The Twins hope he'll be more willing to pitch to contact as he gains experience.

  

The Future:
Garza needed just four starts in the Rookie-level Appalachian League before moving up to the low Class A Midwest League, where he figures to start out this season. He may not stay there long, as he ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the MWL in 2005.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Elizabethton (R) 1 1 3.66 4 4 0 0 20 14 3 6 25 .200
Beloit (Lo A) 3 3 3.54 10 10 0 0 56 53 5 15 64 .251


8. JAY RAINVILLE, rhp    Born: October 16, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 230
Drafted: HS--Pawtucket, R.I., 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Jay Weitzel

Background: Drafted out of the same Bishop Hendricken High (Warwick, R.I.) program as Rocco Baldelli, Rainville signed for $875,000 as the fifth of five Twins first-round picks in 2004. He was also an NHL prospect as a defenseman. His brother Michael, a third baseman, signed as a nondrafted free agent with the Devil Rays last summer.


Strengths:
A big, physical presence on the mound, Rainville pounds the strike zone with an 88-91 mph fastball, 12-to-6 power curveball and improving changeup. With his strong thighs and intense approach, he reminds some of a young Curt Schilling. Rainville made great strides last year in terms of game management, showing an ability to identify situations that's beyond his years. His command ranks with the best in the system and he posted 3.4 strikeouts for every walk.

  

Weaknesses:
Rainville's velocity was down a tick or two from the 91-94 mph he reached regularly in his debut. The Twins weren’t concerned, attributing that to physical changes anyone his age would experience. Still, his debut season ended with weakness in his throwing shoulder, so durability could be a concern.

  

The Future:
While he could wind up at the back of the bullpen, Rainville remains a starting prospect now with the potential to be a 230-inning horse. He should start the year back in high Class A as a member of star-studded rotation.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Beloit (Lo A) 8 2 3.77 16 16 0 0 88 83 14 27 77 .243
Fort Myers (Hi A) 4 3 2.67 9 9 1 0 54 54 7 6 35 .256


9. TREVOR PLOUFFE, ss       Born: June 15, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 175
Drafted: HS--Northridge, Calif., 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Bill Mele

Background: A two-way star in high school, Plouffe didn’t convince the Twins he was a better position player until March of his draft year. On the mound, he showed a four-pitch mix and could hit 91 mph with command. He went 25-2 his final two seasons, but area scout Bill Mele recommended Plouffe remain at shortstop. He accepted a $1.5 million bonus as the 20th overall pick in the 2004 draft.


Strengths:
Plouffe gets the nod as the Twins best defensive infielder, slightly ahead of 2005 second-round pick Paul Kelly, a fellow shortstop. Plouffe’s arm is a shade below Kelly’s but still rates a solid 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Plouffe showed soft hands and good power in 2005, continuing to draw comparisons to former Twins shortstop Greg Gagne. He has average speed.

  

Weaknesses:
Plouffe got off to a miserable start at Beloit with the bat, struggling with timing because of late activity in his swing. He adjusted in the second half and became a threat at the plate, though he could use more strength on his smallish frame. Defensively, he needs to stay lower on balls and work to improve his balance.

  

The Future:
With Kelly and second-rounder Drew Thompson entering the system last year, Plouffe suddenly has lots of company at his position. He figures to open the year in high Class A.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Beloit (Lo A) .223 .300 .345 466 58 104 18 0 13 60 50 78 8 4


10. KYLE WALDROP, rhp     Born: October 27, 1987 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt: 190
Drafted: --Knoxville, Tenn., 2004 (1st round)    Signed by: Tim O'Neil

Background: Kentucky-based Twins scout Tim O’Neil managed Waldrop in the 2003 East Coast Showcase, and that familiarity played a role in Minnesota taking Waldrop 25th overall and signing him for $1 million. Though he went 22-0 over his final two prep seasons, some teams liked him more as a power-hitting first baseman/outfielder. The Twins have no plans to move him off the mound.


Strengths:
Waldrop's changeup already is the best in a system that features several polished soft-tossers, and his command is right there with the best of the Twins' prospects. He won’t blow hitters away with his 88-91 mph fastball, but he also features a big-breaking curveball and has a slider as well. His work ethic is beyond question and his mound presence is good. His yes-sir, no-sir personality draws comparisons to Peyton Manning's.

  

Weaknesses:
Waldrop had trouble maintaining his arm slot for most of last season, but he rallied late. He gave up too many hits considering his profile, but some of those were due to mediocre defense behind him. His curveball tends to get loopy at times.

  

The Future:
Unlike Anthony Swarzak and Jay Rainville, Waldrop stayed in low Class A throughout his first full pro season. He figures to join them in high Class A to begin 2006 and could reach Double-A by midseason if he starts fast.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Beloit (Lo A) 6 11 4.98 27 27 2 0 152 182 17 23 108 .291


Photo Credits:
Span: Bill Mitchell
Perkins, Ploufee, Waldrop: Steve Moore
Moses: Kevin Pataky
Liriano: Sports on Film

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