Top Ten Prospects: Minnesota Twins
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Mike Berardino
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, 2005.
Background: Seemingly out of central casting, Mauer grew up about 10 minutes from the Metrodome. He developed into one of the country’s top quarterback recruits, signing with Florida State, where he would follow in the footsteps of fellow Cretin-Derham Hall product Chris Weinke. Like Weinke, Mauer signed to play baseball first. Unlike Weinke, Mauer never had to use football as a fallback. Twins scouts saw Mauer more than 100 times as an amateur and had no reservations in picking him No. 1 overall in 2001, even though they passed on Mark Prior in the process. After signing for a club-record $5.15 million, Mauer roared through the minor leagues and was Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2003. Two of his older brothers also play in the Twins system: Jake, a second baseman, was at Double-A New Britain in 2004; Bill, a righthander, pitched at low Class A Quad Cities. With the trade of A.J. Pierzynski to San Francisco after the 2003 season, Minnesota handed its catching job to Mauer. He had a strong spring but tore the meniscus in his left knee in the second game of the year. After surgery, he faced a four- to five-month rehabilitation. Mauer tried to rush back into a pennant race, suffering a setback that led to a second operation. He didn’t play after July 15.
Strengths: There’s nothing not to like about Mauer. He has a smooth lefthanded stroke that promises a high career average, if not a batting title or two. He shows strong strike-zone judgment and sprays line drives up the middle and to left-center. Though he hit just nine homers in three minor league seasons, he showed much more power in Minnesota, building the Twins’ confidence that he could hit as many as 35-40 homers on an annual basis. He’s excellent defensively and worked hard last spring to learn the major league staff and call games to their liking. He blocks balls well, has soft hands and plus arm strength. Only veteran Sandy Alomar is taller among contemporary major league catchers, but Mauer is smooth and sound behind the plate. He has a quick release and is accurate with his throws, shown by the 52 percent of basestealers he nailed in 2003. He shows quiet leadership, simmering confidence and maintains a low profile that makes him popular with teammates.
Weaknesses: Prior to surgery he ran better and was more athletic than most of his catching counterparts. There is some concern about that at this point. Inexperience is a factor, as Mauer skipped Triple-A and went straight to the majors before rehab sent him back to the minors.
The Future: Rumors have cropped up about a possible position change for Mauer. With free agent Corey Koskie possibly leaving, there has been talk about Mauer moving to the hot corner to take pressure off his knees. The Twins insist he’ll remain behind the plate and should have no further setbacks. They expect him to become an all-star in short order.
Background: Kubel landed in the majors by the end of 2004 and made the Twins’ postseason roster. The organization’s minor league player of the year, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and sustained further damage to his left knee in an outfield collision in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Compared to a poor man’s Brian Giles, Kubel shows a professional approach at the plate. He has a strong grasp of the strike zone, features a quick, compact stroke and offers opposite-field power. He hits both lefties and righties with equal force. His best defensive tool is a legitimate right-field arm.
Weaknesses: Unlike Giles, Kubel isn’t much of a basestealing threat. He has limited speed and range in the outfield, so the knee injury won’t affect his game too much. He has a tendency to get pull-happy at times.
The Future: Kubel could miss all or most of 2005, ending his chances of possibly claiming the right-field job. Because speed wasn’t a big part of his game before the injury, the Twins hope he’ll come back as the same player.
Background: Part of the pitching pipeline at the University of Houston, Crain preceded the Reds’ Ryan Wagner as the Cougars’ closer. Also a shortstop in college, Crain blew through the Twins system on his way to the majors. He worked just 162 innings before coming to the majors in August.
Strengths: Crain has two plus-plus pitches and uses them both to great effect. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph and tops out at 96. He also has a late-breaking slider that he uses to get strikeouts. He’s able to repeat his delivery, throws strikes and generates good leverage despite his average size.
Weaknesses: Except for keeping the ball down in the zone more consistently, Crain has little to work on. He has a usable changeup but rarely needs to break it out because his first two pitches are so solid.
The Future: With closer Joe Nathan not eligible for free agency until after 2007, Crain figures to settle in as his setup man. Should arbitration-fed raises push Nathan out of Minnesota’s budget, however, Crain would be poised to take over.
Background: Known for his confidence and brash personality, Durbin has dubbed himself “Real Deal.” Stalled by minor shoulder surgery in May to shave his labrum and repair a partial tear, he came back strong. He touched 97 mph and allowed two earned runs or fewer in his first seven starts to earn a promotion to Triple-A and later a September callup.
Strengths: Durbin flashes a mid-90s fastball and maintains his velocity deep into games. He reached triple digits in the Arizona Fall League. He has a power curveball that’s the system’s best and a slider he can pump at 87 mph. He showed improved mound presence and did a better job of pitching to contact in 2004.
Weaknesses: Durbin needs more polish before he’s ready to start in the majors. He still needs to improve his changeup and sharpen his location, though he made strides with the change last season. Some scouts think his size, stuff and mentality will fit better in the bullpen.
The Future: Durbin could get a shot at Minnesota’s rotation in 2005 but most likely will break in as a middle reliever.
Background: The least known of the three players Minnesota received in last winter’s A.J. Pierzynski trade, Liriano could wind up as the jewel of the deal. Considering Joe Nathan was an all-star closer in 2004, that’s saying something. Liriano missed most of 2003, but Twins scout Sean Johnson recommended him after seeing him in instructional league.
Strengths: After two years of shoulder woes, Liriano stayed healthy in 2004 and flashed a package that made the Twins daydream about having another Johan Santana. Liriano pitches at 93-95 mph and has hit 97. He has a plus changeup and a big-breaking curveball. His makeup and work ethic are excellent.
Weaknesses: A former outfielder who converted to the mound shortly after signing with the Giants, Liriano is still raw, both in terms of experience and his build. He still must prove he can stay healthy over the long haul. He has trouble at times commanding his fastball, his curve can be inconsistent and his slider is a work in progress.
The Future: Added to the 40-man roster, Liriano should begin 2005 in Double-A and could help Minnesota by the end of the year.
Background: Kentucky-based Twins scout Tim O’Neil managed Waldrop in the East Coast Showcase in 2003, and familiarity played a big role in Minnesota drafting him 25th overall. A Vanderbilt recruit, he signed for $1 million as the last of the club’s three first-round picks. Though he went 22-0 in his last two prep seasons, some clubs liked him more as a power-hitting first baseman/outfielder.
Strengths: Waldrop has an advanced feel for pitching. He spots his 86-92 mph fastball and has one of the best changeups in recent memory for a pitcher just out of high school. His spike curveball has good bite. A strike-thrower, he maintains his velocity into the late innings. He also earns high marks for his poise, work ethic and professionalism.
Weaknesses: Waldrop’s fastball doesn’t light up radar guns, but it’s more than enough to set up his other pitches. His main need is consistency with secondary pitches, which should come with experience.
The Future: Rated the top pitching prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, Waldrop could move quickly for a prep pitcher. He figures to start 2005 in a stacked rotation at low Class A Beloit.
Background: Swarzak was the ace of a Nova High team that won the Florida 5-A championship in 2004, the first state title for a Broward County public school in 57 years. Area scout Brad Weitzel started following him the summer before his senior year and stayed on him. Swarzak spurned Louisiana State to sign for $575,000 and quickly proved to be a bargain.
Strengths: The fifth of six pitchers Minnesota drafted in the first three rounds in 2004, Swarzak may have the highest ceiling of the group. He pitches at 90-92 mph and has touched 95. His curveball is a strikeout pitch, and his changeup also induces swings-and-misses. He’s tall with a loose arm, lean body and impressive arm strength that should only increase. He also has a strong mound presence.
Weaknesses: Swarzak’s slider is the least advanced of his pitches. He joined the Twins with a reputation for cockiness, but he has shown a willingness to learn and a receptiveness to coaching.
The Future: Like many of Minnesota’ promising young arms, Swarzak will begin his first full season in low Class A. He’s nearly as polished as Kyle Waldrop and should move along with him.
Background: A routine physical after the Twins drafted Moses in 2003 revealed a tiny hole in his heart. A 20-minute surgical procedure remedied the problem, and he signed for $1.45 million. A more serious setback came in 2004, when he missed nearly four months with a stress fracture in his lower back, a recurrence of an injury he sustained before high school.
Strengths: One of the best pure hitters in the 2003 draft, Moses has a smooth, compact swing. He has the frame to develop power as he matures. He shows advanced pitch recognition and plate discipline, and scouts compare his offensive package to Hank Blalock’s.
Weaknesses: Moses’ back didn’t require surgery, but it will require monitioring. He has played just 47 pro games so far, and a sprained thumb limited him in instructional league. A high school shortstop, Moses needs time to adjust to third base, where his arm and range are average and his throws are erratic. He’s a below-average runner.
The Future: Moses worked out at second base in instructional league and could wind up at first or left field. His bat will be his ticket to the majors, and he could open 2005 at high Class A Fort Myers.
Background: Less than two weeks after signing Khalil Greene as a 2002 first-round pick, the Padres put another former college shortstop in a minor deal for Brian Buchanan. Twins scout John Leavitt had seen Bartlett in the minors and projected him as an everyday shortstop in the majors—a role he could assume in 2005.
Strengths: Despite missing two months with a broken right wrist, Bartlett made strides at the plate last season, putting balls in play and battling pitchers every time up. He understands his role as a contact hitter. He has the arm to make plays from the hole and range to both sides.
Weaknesses: None of Bartlett’s tools is overwhelming. He has limited power and his barely above-average speed is below the standard for a middle infielder. He needs to improve his jumps and technique on the bases, as well as his concentration on defense.
The Future: Minnesota opted not to pick up Cristian Guzman’s $5.25 million contract option, making the starting shortstop job Bartlett’s to lose. The hope is he can hold the job for several years, or at least until 2004 first-round pick Trevor Plouffe is ready.
Background: Baker reached Triple-A 13 months after signing. In his first full season, he started the Hall of Fame game for the Twins, who named him their minor league pitcher of the year. He continued to build on his success with a strong Arizona Fall League performance.
Strengths: Baker pitches at 91-93 mph with sink and occasionally reaches 95. He has plus fastball command, an advanced changeup and a smooth delivery. He also throws a quick-breaking slider and a knuckle-curve. He has an outstanding work ethic and is one of the most focused, intense prospects in the system.
Weaknesses: Though he’s polished, Baker doesn’t have a true out pitch and already is close to his ceiling. He projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter. He struggled in Triple-A, so he needs to prove he can maintain his stuff over a full season and get more advanced hitters out.
The Future: Baker could get a chance to make Minnesota’s rotation in spring training. He may need a few more starts in Triple-A before he’s ready.