Minnesota Twins: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Minnesota Twins: Scouting Reports

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, 2008.

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Minnesota Twins

Adecade that had been rolling along smoothly suddenly threw the Twins off course in 2007.

For the first time since being a contraction candidate in the winter of 2000-01, Minnesota finished with a losing record. Starting in late August, the Twins lost 10 of 12 games, fell completely out of the American League playoff chase and never got over .500 after Sept. 4. The offense ranked 12th in the league in scoring despite a career year by Torii Hunter, who signed with the Angels as a free agent after the season.

A first-round pick in 1993, Hunter wasn't the longest-tenured Twin to leave his job. Club employees were asked to come to a morning meeting Sept. 12, and most didn't know what to expect. Many wept with sadness and surprise when told general manager Terry Ryan was stepping aside after 13 seasons. Ryan cited burnout and stress for wanting to accept his new role as senior adviser to his successor, former assistant GM Bill Smith. Ryan will be one of Minnesota's top talent evaluators in a role one club official called "GM Lite."

Smith's ascension had a domino effect. One of those promoted was Mike Radcliff, the longest-tenured scouting director in the industry, who as vice president of player personnel effectively becomes Minnesota's top talent evaluator (along with Ryan) on the pro side as well as the amateur draft. West Coast crosschecker Deron Johnson succeed Radcliff as scouting director.

Smith and Co. had work to do and got right to it. The Twins moved to improve their offense in late November, dealing Matt Garza (No. 1 on this list a year ago), Jason Bartlett and pitching prospect Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and outfield prospect Jason Pridie. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft, Young was the key piece for Minnesota with his superstar potential.

The acquisitions of Harris and Pridie were important as well, because first-round picks Denard Span (2002) and Matt Moses (2003) were supposed to be ready for big league jobs by now, yet are far from ready. Either Harris or veteran free agent Mike Lamb should take the third-base job that the Twins once envisioned going to Moses, who wasn't protected on the 40-man roster after the season. Pridie, who almost made Minnesota's 2006 roster as a Rule 5 draft pick, will get the chance to replace Hunter in center field because Span hit a soft .267 in Triple-A.

Minnesota has had more success of late drafting and developing pitchers than hitters. That's a trend it hopes to reverse with 2007 first-rounder Ben Revere, the seventh high school position player it has chosen with its first pick in the last nine drafts.

The Young-Garza trade can't be Smith's last bold move, though. The Twins have Johan Santana and Joe Nathan—arguably the best starter and best closer in the game—signed through 2008 but no longer. Despite a new ballpark scheduled to arrive in 2010, Minnesota still lacks the financial commitment from owner Carl Pohlad to keep both players, not to mention Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau once they approach free agency.

Santana rejected a four-year, $80 million offer from the Twins, spurring trade talks that dominated the Winter Meetings. Minnesota's eventual resolution with Santana likely will set the course for the franchise for the rest of the decade.

1.  Nick Blackburn, rhp   Born: Feb. 24, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 205
 Drafted: Seminole State (Okla.) JC, D/F 2001 (29th round)Signed by: Gregg Miller
Nick BlackburnBackground: The Devil Rays drafted Blackburn in the 34th round out of Del City (Okla.) High in 2000, but failed to land him as a draft-and-follow after he spent a year at Seminole State (Okla.) JC. The Twins made him a 29th-rounder in 2001, and after he drew attention by throwing in the low 90s and flashing a plus slider, they signed Blackburn in May 2002. He repeated low Class A, high Class A and Double-A and has had two surgeries on his right knee to try to fix a cartilage problem. His knee problems limited Blackburn's ability to do conditioning drills, and as he added weight—at one point club officials estimate he was close to 260 pounds—his fastball lost its zip. He started to get healthier toward the end of 2006, regaining some velocity, and came to camp in the best shape of his career last spring. What followed was a revelation. Blackburn regained his amateur velocity, his secondary stuff improved and his career took off. He had a streak of 411⁄3 innings without giving up an earned run.

Strengths: Blackburn got better in every phase in 2007. With less weight to carry, he got stronger and was able to lengthen his stride, get better extension out front and improve the quality of his stuff. His two-seam fastball now sits at 90-91 mph, and as he has regained velocity, he has run his four-seamer as high as 95. Blackburn's cutter, which sits in the upper 80s and has real depth at times, helped him limit lefthanders to a .226 average in 261 minor league at-bats. Minnesota sent Blackburn to the Arizona Fall League to improve his offspeed pitches; mission accomplished. He now trusts his average curve and improved his feel for a changeup that scouts now grade as a plus pitch. Now that he's in better shape, Blackburn repeats his low-maintenance delivery and has average big league command, if not a tick above. His mound demeanor always has endeared him to club officials, who said he never stopped competing even when his stuff was short.

Weaknesses: Blackburn has to learn to pitch with above-average stuff. He's learning when to pitch to contact and when to go for strikeouts, and scouts say his curveball could become a strikeout pitch if he threw it more and relied less on the cutter. He doesn't have a truly outstanding pitch, which probably limits his ceiling to that of No. 3 starter. The Twins laud his durability and believe he's over his past knee troubles.

The Future: The Twins could have made Blackburn a fastball/cutter setup man. They stuck with him as a starter, however, and he rewarded them with a tremendous comeback season, finishing with a dominant turn in the AFL. The Twins will enter spring training with at least seven candidates for their rotation, and Blackburn's command and repertoire could give him a leg up for the No. 5 job.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Britain (AA) 3 1 3.08 8 7 0 0 38 36 1 7 18 .240
Rochester (AAA) 7 3 2.11 17 17 3 0 111 96 7 12 57 .232
Minnesota 0 2 7.71 6 0 0 0 12 19 2 2 8 .365
2.  Joe Benson, of   Born: March 5, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS—Joliet, Ill., 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Billy Milos
Joe BensonBackground: Benson could have played both baseball and football (as a running back) at Purdue but opted to sign with the Twins as a second-round pick for $575,000. He got off to a terrible start in his first full season, batting .175 in April, but rallied to hit .273 after the all-star break.

Strengths: Benson's tools are as prodigious as anyone's in the system. Once he settled into the routine of the season, he let his athletic ability take over and showed a short, quick swing and above-average power potential to all fields. He's a well above-average runner (4.0 seconds to first from the right side) who can handle center field despite his size and football build. His arm is strong enough to play in any outfield spot.

Weaknesses: It's never good when your weakest tool is your bat, but that's the case with Benson. Even in his strong second half, he struck out once every 3.2 at-bats. He'll need plenty of time polish his overall offensive approach. His basestealing savvy also needs work after he was caught 16 times in 34 basestealing attempts.

The Future: Benson has the highest ceiling in the system because of his power-speed combo and ability to play a premium position, but his bat might be three or more years away. He'll start 2008 at high Class A Fort Myers.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Beloit (Lo A) .255 .347 .368 432 73 110 18 8 5 38 49 124 18
3.  Wilson Ramos, c   Born: Aug. 10, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 178
 Signed: Venezuela, 2004Signed by: Jose Leon
Wilson RamosBackground: Ramos' season almost went unnoticed, but not by the Twins and not by scouts of rival clubs, who called him the best position prospect on low Class A Beloit's roster. He didn't get there until June after beginning the year in extended spring training, then had his season ended in late August when he hurt his right thumb on an errant slide.

Strengths: Ramos blends catch-and-throw talent and offensive upside in a manner rare among current minor leaguers. He has excellent strength, helping produce above-average bat speed and power to all fields. A solid-average runner for now, Ramos rounds out his tools with an accurate, above-average arm and the hands to be a sound receiver. He threw out 41 percent of basestealers in 2007.

Weaknesses: He has yet to play a full season, and Ramos needs experience to refine his tools into skills. His swing plane lends itself more to line drives rather than home runs, and he won't maximize his power if he's not more selective at the plate. As he gets older, he'll be a below-average runner.

The Future: One Twins official described Ramos as nearly a five-tool catcher, while another termed him untouchable. He's young enough to return to low Class A while still being ready to jump on the fast track.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Beloit (Lo A) .291 .345 .438 292 40 85 17 1 8 42 19 61 1
4.  Tyler Robertson, lhp   Born: Dec. 23, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-5Wt: 225
 Drafted: HS—Fair Oaks, Calif., 2006 (3rd round)Signed by: Kevin Bootay
Tyler RobertsonBackground: Robertson's father Jay, a longtime scout, is a special assistant to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. The Twins started Tyler in extended spring training in 2007, but when a rotation spot opened in low Class A, he seized the opportunity and became Beloit's ace. He struck out 20 in two Midwest League playoff starts spanning 12 innings.

Strengths: Big and physical, Robertson attacks hitters with two average or better pitches. His sinking fastball touches 92-93 mph and his hard slider is the best in the system. His change and curve have average potential. His delivery adds deception. Minnesota says his makeup separates Robertson, a baseball rat who studies hitters but doesn't overthink.

Weaknesses: Robertson's fastball velocity was inconsistent all year, often sitting at 86-90 mph with his fastball, and even the Twins agree his stiff arm action precludes significant projection. They don't consider his delivery stressful, though some scouts outside the organization disagree.

The Future: His advocates contend Robertson proved he could dominate without his best stuff. Skeptical scouts have turned him in as a lefty reliever. Minnesota is confident that he'll reach his No. 2 or 3 starter ceiling due to his makeup, and that he'll move quickly after starting 2008 in high Class A.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Beloit (Lo A) 9 5 2.29 18 16 2 1 102 87 3 33 123 .226
5.  Anthony Swarzak, rho   Born: Sept. 10, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 2004 (2nd round)Signed by: Brad Weitzel
Anthony SwarzakBackground: Swarzak's season started inauspiciously. He was suspended after two brutal starts for 50 games for violating MLB's drug policy. It was for a recreational drug, not a performance enhancer, and he returned from the suspension to post a solid season, capped by a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: After he worked through 2006 with modest stuff, Swarzak's fastball and curveball ranked among the best in the system last year. At its best, his fastball sits at 91-93 mph and touches 94, and he stays tall in his delivery and pitches with a good downhill angle. His curveball can be a true hammer with power and depth, and he has improved his ability to throw strikes with it.

Weaknesses: Swarzak lacks the feel for a true changeup. He likely will have to use his curve as his offspeed pitch while adding a cutter or slider to give hitters a different look. While the suspension clearly throws up red flags on Swarzak's makeup, the Twins were impressed with how he came back from it and believe it forced him to mature.

The Future: Minnesota has enough pitching options ahead of Swarzak that he could return to Double-A New Britain. He's more likely to push his way up to Triple-A and could make his big league debut later in the year.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Britain (AA) 5 4 3.23 15 14 1 0 86 78 6 23 76 .241
Fort Myers (Hi A) 0 0 2.30 3 3 0 0 16 14 0 5 18 .241
6.  Ben Revere, of   Born: May 3, 1988B-T: L-RHt: 5-9Wt: 152
 Drafted: HS—Lexington, Ky., 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Billy Corrigan
Ben RevereBackground: Revere has a lot to live up to. His father John played (and coached) football at Eastern Kentucky and played baseball there, while older brother J.R. was a two-sport athlete at Georgia Southern at the turn of the decade. Revere wasn't a consensus first-rounder, but the Twins believed in him, drafted him 28th overall and signed him for $750,000. That was the lowest guarantee for a first-round hitter since Adam Kennedy got $650,000 from the Cardinals I 1997.

Strengths: A true burner, Revere was the fastest player in the draft, covering 60 yards in around 6.3 seconds. He swings the bat with authority and conviction, lashing line drives to the gaps. Some Twins officials think he'll even develop average power. He has all the tools to be an above-average center-field defender. His confidence and work ethic push his makeup into the elite range.

Weaknesses: If the power doesn't develop, Revere's ceiling will be a bit limited. His arm is just fringe-average, though that's not much of a liability for a center fielder.

The Future: If Revere hits his ceiling, his overall game could resemble Ichiro's, minus the game-changing arm. He has a chance to move quickly and will start the season in low Class A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Twins (R) .325 .388 .461 191 46 62 6 10 0 29 13 20 21
7.  Jason Pridie, of   Born: Oct. 9, 1983B-T: L-RHt: 6-1Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Prescott, Ariz., 2002 (2nd round)Signed by: Craig Weissmann (Rays)
Jason PridieBackground: The prospect world almost forgot Pridie, whom the Rays drafted sandwiched between B.J. Upton and Elijah Dukes in 2002. Sidetracked by knee problems and by getting Rule 5ed by the Twins—he nearly made their 2006 roster—he didn't reach Triple-A until 2007. Pridie, whose brother Jon once was a Minnesota farmhand, was a crucial piece in the six-player Delmon Young-Matt Garza trade in November.

Strengths: Pride is a well-rounded player, and his best present tool is his center-field defense. He has plus speed and range to go with a solid, accurate arm. Offensively, he has a smooth swing that generates at least average pop to all fields. He's a good teammate who plays with energy.

Weaknesses: A career .327 on-base percentage and high caught-stealing totals (10 in 36 tries last year) reflect how Pridie's aggressiveness can get the best of him at times. His home run totals could jump if he becomes more selective.

The Future: Pridie has more present ability and upside than Denard Span, the other in-house candidate to replace Torri Hunter. If it all comes together, Pridie has a chance to make good on his early-career comparisons to Steve Finley.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Montgomery (AA) .290 .331 .441 279 42 81 16 7 4 27 14 45 14
Durham (AAA) .318 .375 .539 245 47 78 16 4 10 39 22 47 12
8.  Brian Duensing, lhp   Born: Feb. 22, 1983B-T: L-LHt: 5-11Wt: 195
 Drafted: Nebraska, 2005 (3rd round)Signed by: Mark Wilson
Brian DuensingBackground: A survivor of Tommy John surgery while in college, Duensing reached Triple-A in his second full season. He led the system with 167 innings, then tacked on a stint with Team USA at the World Cup in Taiwan. He started against Cuba in the gold-medal game and was chased one out shy of earning the victory.

Strengths: Duesning rivals Jeff Manship for having the most polish of any Twins farmhand. He throws strikes with four quality pitches, spotting, sinking and cutting his 87-91 mph fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone. His changeup grades as above average, helping him combat righthanders, and his average slider yields groundouts.

Weaknesses: Short and stocky, Duensing will have to monitor his conditioning to make sure he doesn't lose any velocity. He's not particularly athletic, limiting his ability to field his position. His curveball is fringy, though he can spot it for strikes early in the count.

The Future: Duensing respects hitters but believes he's better than each one who steps to the plate. That makeup has the Twins believing he'll become a solid No. 4 starter, sooner rather than later. If he doesn't force his way into the big league rotation, he'll return to Triple-A to start 2008.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
New Britain (AA) 4 1 2.66 9 9 0 0 51 47 2 7 38 .240
Rochester (AAA) 11 5 3.24 19 19 3 0 117 115 13 30 86 .261
9.  Jeff Manship, rhp   Born: Jan. 16, 1985B-T: B-RHt: 6-0Wt: 165
 Drafted: Notre Dame, 2006 (14th round)Signed by: Billy Milos
Jeff ManshipBackground: After his senior season of high school, Manship pitched for Team USA in the World Junior Championship and hurt his elbow on a substandard pitching mound in Curacao. He had Tommy John surgery, redshirted as a freshman and had two good seasons at Notre Dame. The Twins paid him $300,000 as a 14th-round pick, and he has gone 15-6, 2.20 in 11⁄2 pro seasons.

Strengths: Manship's older brother Matt, a former Stanford pitcher, got the size, but Jeff got the stuff in the family. His curveball ranks among the system's best, a 12-to-6 pitch that he can throw for strikes or bury. His fastball usually sits at 90-91 mph, and his command rivals the organization's models of Brad Radke and Kevin Slowey. Manship throws his solid-average changeup and his slider for strikes. Despite his short frame, he keeps his pitches down and is durable.

Weaknesses: Manship's repertoire lacks power, giving him less margin for error. When his command is off—on the rare occasions when he overthrows, or when he tires, as he did late in the season—he's quite hittable.

The Future: Manship profiles as a No. 3 or 4 starter at best, and he'll begin what should be his last full minor league season in Double-A. He could force his way into Minnesota's rotation equation by 2009.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Beloit (Lo A) 7 1 1.51 13 13 0 0 78 51 4 9 77 .185
Fort Myers (Hi A) 8 5 3.15 13 13 0 0 71 77 5 25 59 .270
10.  Trevor Plouffe, ss   Born: June 15, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 175
 Drafted: HS—Northridge, Calif., 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Bill Mele
Trevor PlouffeBackground: The Twins have taken high school hitters with their first pick in seven of the last nine drafts, and with the exception of Joe Mauer, they've developed slowly. Plouffe finally made significant progress in 2007, setting career highs in most categories.

Strengths: When he's playing well, Plouffe shows four or five average tools, and the Twins say he resembles '80s shortstop Greg Gagne except with average speed. He has some feel for hitting and is developing power as he learns to use the leverage in his swing. A good prospect as a pitcher in high school, he has plenty of arm to make plays at shortstop and to handle third base if needed. He has average speed. His low-maintenance makeup serves him well.

Weaknesses: Plouffe doesn't stand out in any phase of the game. He figures to bat at the bottom of a big league order. An inconsistent defender, he made 32 errors last season and must improve his footwork to remain a shortstop. His quickness is below average for his position.

The Future: After starting his first Double-A season at age 20, Plouffe will consolidate his gains and go back to New Britain to start the season. He has similar tools but lacks the results of recently traded Jason Bartlett, and he could factor into Minnesota's shortstop mix in 2009 if he can become more consistent.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
New Britain (AA) .274 .326 .410 497 75 136 37 2 9 50 38 89 12

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Photo Credits:
Kevin Pataky (Blackburn, Swarzak, Duensing, Plouffe)
Paul Gierhart (Benson, Manship)
Cliff Welch (Revere)