Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
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. 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. 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. Rumors have cropped up about a possible position change for Mauer. With Corey Koskie leaving as a free agent, 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.
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. Called 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Durbin could get a shot at Minnesota's rotation in 2005 but most likely will break in as a middle reliever.
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. 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. 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. Added to the 40-man roster, Liriano should begin 2005 in Double-A and could help Minnesota by the end of the year.
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 year later. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
The Tigers weren't able to sign Harben as a 38th-round pick in 2001 out of Central Arkansas Christian (Little Rock), the same high school that produced A.J. Burnett. Harben instead attended Westark (Ark.) CC, where he roomed with Toby Gardenhire, whose father Ron manages the Twins. Based in part on Toby Gardenhire's recommendation, as well as area scout Gregg Miller's, Minnesota stole Harben in the 15th round in 2002. Harben made significant strides last season, proving to Twins brass that he has enough to profile as a big league starter. He showed a full mix of pitches, starting with a 91-95 mph fastball that touches 97 and a solid-average hard slider. His changeup came along nicely and his overall pitching presence was sound. Harben maintains his stuff through the late innings. He has improved his conditioning and mechanics since signing, now showing a smooth, effortless delivery. He has one of the more electric arms in a stacked system and acquitted himself well in a loaded Quad Cities rotation that also included Glen Perkins, Justin Jones, Scott Tyler and Errol Simonitsch. After two years in low Class A, Harben is ready to move up a level.
Plouffe was a two-way star in high school, and the Twins didn't make the call on whether they liked him more as a pitcher or a hitter until last March. On the mound he had a four-pitch mix and could hit 91 mph with great feel and command. He went 25-2 his final two seasons and reminded Minnesota of Brad Radke, but area scout Bill Mele saw enough of Plouffe to recommend he be drafted as a position player. Plouffe accepted a $1.5 million bonus as the first of five Twins picks before the second round. He has special hands both offensively and defensively and projects to hit 15-20 homers a year in the majors. As a position player, he draws comparisons to Greg Gagne from some Twins officials. Plouffe has a plus arm and his advanced makeup and work ethic should push him along quickly. However, none of his tools blows scouts away. He's an average runner and his smallish frame is somewhat of a concern. In the field, he doesn't go as strong to his right as to his left. His power for now is strictly to the pull side. But when Minnesota threw him into the Appalachian League against mostly older foes, Plouffe more than held his own. He should start 2005 in low Class A.
The 25th and last signee out of the Twins' 2004 draft, Perkins accepted a $1.425 million bonus and promptly set about turning heads. He pitches at 88-90 mph and touches 92, but he's all about command and control. Area scout Mark Wilson and Midwest supervisor Joel Lepel liked his advanced changeup, average curveball and strong mound presence. Perkins knows how to attack hitters' weaknesses, use all four quadrants of the strike zone and work inside. At some point he'll incorporate a cut fastball into his repertoire. Perkins isn't much of an athlete and has flat feet, which keeps him from working out as aggressively as preferred. He also missed 2 1/2 weeks during instructional league with a lower back problem. There's some question about his stamina and whether he'll ultimately wind up in the bullpen. As a product of a solid college program, Perkins could move quickly through the system, especially one that lacks a multitude of upper-level lefties. He could start his first full season in Double-A as the Twins seek to ease a rotation logjam at the lower levels.
Span began his high school career at famed baseball power Hillsborough High in Tampa-- the alma mater of Carl Everett, Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield, among others--before transferring to Tampa Catholic and winning a Florida 3-A title as a junior. Also a star wide receiver, he drew interest from NCAA Division I-A football programs until it became clear his future was in baseball. The Rockies wanted to cut a predraft deal with Span and take him ninth overall in 2002, but he wouldn't accede and fell to the Twins at No. 20, where he signed for $1.7 million. He has played just 114 games as a pro because he signed a 2003 contract, spent that season in Rookie ball and then broke the hamate bone in his right wrist last year. The best athlete and fastest player in the system, Span has been timed at 3.8 seconds to first base. He has the potential to be a game-changer on the bases, and in center his speed enables him to outrun mistakes. He does show some prowess for drawing walks, helping him achieve his main goal: to get on base. The Twins believe he'll develop some gap power down the road, though he's been just a slap hitter to this point. Span must prove he can stay healthy after nagging ankle and leg injuries limited his availability in 2003 as well. He has a below-average arm and remains extremely raw. Span was the talk of instructional league, where he began to make significant improvements in nearly every area of his game. He put more balls in play, bunted for base hits and showed a physical and mental maturity that had been missing. Despite his limited experience, he figures to begin 2005 in high Class A.
A product of the same Bishop Hendricken High (Warwick, R.I.) program as Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli, Rainville came flying out of the gate in his pro debut. After signing for $875,000, he dominated the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with two plus pitches: a 91-94 mph sinker and a power curve that already ranks among the best in the organization. He was recommended by area scout Jay Weitzel, whose Florida-based brother Brad landed three other high-round arms for the Twins last June: Matt Fox, Anthony Swarzak and Eduardo Morlan. Of all the pitchers Minnesota signed out of the draft, Rainville projects to throw the hardest. He posted a 38-3 strikeout-walk ratio in the GCL and reminded some observers of a young Curt Schilling with his strong thighs and big frame. He still has to sharpen his changeup in order to convince the Twins he should stay in the rotation. He could wind up as a short reliever, a role that might better suit his intensity and aggressiveness, two traits that helped make him a National Hockey League prospect as a defensemen. Rainville's strong summer ended somewhat murkily when an exit physical revealed weakness in his throwing shoulder. However, an MRI was negative and the Twins believe he should be fully healthy in 2005, when he'll pitch in low Class A.
Ranked No. 2 on Baseball America's deep Cubs prospect list a year ago, Jones was acquired in the four-team Nomar Garciaparra/Orlando Cabrera trade that cost Minnesota Doug Mientkiewicz. Jones wasn't very impressive in his limited Twins debut, and he complained of elbow discomfort. Numerous tests turned up nothing definitive, and Jones was sent home from instructional league without having pitched. When he's right, his fastball sits between 89-92 mph and touches 94. He also has shown a plus curve, an advanced changeup and the makings of a splitter. Jones has never had arm surgery, but his durability is a major question after he has been shut down late the past two seasons. Jones was one of the youngest pitchers in the low Class A Midwest League in 2003 and he figures to return there to start 2005. Minnesota still isn't sure what it has in Jones but hopes he stays healthy so it can find out.
Fox turned down a sixth-round offer from the Diamondbacks in 2001 to play both ways at Central Florida. He had elbow surgery as a freshman and posted a 6.36 ERA in his first two seasons before becoming a full-time pitcher in 2004. That decision paid off, as he became a first-team All-American and a supplemental first-round pick. Recommended by area scout Brad Weitzel, Fox pitches at 88-92 mph and touches 94 with good location on his fastball, and he also shows touch and feel for both a slider and curveball. He even has the makings of a decent changeup. The Twins were frustrated by Fox' inability to stay healthy after signing for $950,000. He was bothered by shoulder tendinitis and was sent to Minneapolis for tests. Nothing turned up, which heightened the aggravation on all parts. Fox attended instructional league but wasn't able to throw, though he did earn points with an upbeat attitude and willingness to learn. He could start the year in the low Class A rotation.
A native Minnesotan, Restovich continues to slip in the eyes of the organization. He ranked in the top five on this list each year from 1999-2003, but has plateaued over the last two seasons while others have blown past him. Restovich still has the best raw power in the system. He drills fastballs with a smooth, sound swing. Quality breaking balls are another story, however. Strikeouts have been a problem along the way, and his walk rate dropped noticeably last year. Restovich is a good athlete for his size. His speed, corner-outfield defense and arm are all fine. He has played sparingly in the majors during the past three seasons, and he's now out of minor league options. The Twins decided to bring Jacque Jones back for 2005, but fellow outfield prospect Jason Kubel's knee injury may enhance Restovich's chances of making the club. He broke his right collarbone when he fell on some ice during Thanksgiving weekend, but should be completely healthy for spring training.
A 260-pound load in high school, Tiffee pared down to 230 by the time the Twins drafted him in 1999, when he was MVP of the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference. Now at 215, he filled in capably for Minnesota when Corey Koskie was hurt in September. Tiffee had injury problems of his own in 2004, dealing with back and hamstring woes in the minors and dislocating his right shoulder in the majors. He still kept producing runs with a line-drive swing from both sides of the plate. He shows more loft power from the right side. Offensively, his greatest need is to show more patience. Though he's in much better shape than he was as an amateur, Tiffee still lacks the lateral mobility and first-step quickness to make anything more than routine plays. He has worked hard on his defense and has average hands and arm strength. With Koskie leaving for Toronto as a free agent, Tiffee's main competition for the third-base job is Michael Cuddyer. While Cuddyer is the favorite, Tiffee at least should find a big league role as a backup.
A rare big-ticket international signing for the Twins, Smit came aboard for $800,000 in July 2002. International scout Howard Norsetter first saw Smit at age 13, when he was playing first base. Rated the top junior pitcher in the Netherlands in 2001-02, Smit has left in the middle of the last two seasons to pitch for the Dutch national team. He pitched in relief at the Sydney Olympics, throwing six strong innings against Canada but getting shelled by Australia. While Smit has pitched very well in pro ball and is still just 19, Minnesota wishes his velocity was more consistent. He pitches at 86-90 mph and tops out at 92. He made strides with his knuckle-curve and the arm action on his changeup, though neither pitch is totally reliable. He projects as a No. 2 or 3 starter if he develops the plus fastball the Twins expect, but he remains fairly raw. Smit has a good frame and durability, and he has gained 17 pounds since signing. He figures to move up to low Class A in 2005, when he once again will be one of the youngest pitchers in his league.
Tyler has ridden a roller coaster as a pro. He led the Appalachian League in strikeouts in 2002, had difficulty finding the plate in 2003, then bounced back when he repeated the Midwest League. Physically imposing with a large, stiff body, he tends to struggle with his delivery and command. However, he got in a little better shape in 2004, showed some mental maturity and improved his approach. He pitched at 92-94 mph and topped out at 95. He shows a hard curve that he throws at 80 mph, as well as a decent changeup. A below-average athlete, he still hasn't proven he should be a starter for the long term. He must improve his durability and strength, and he has to reverse a tendency to fall apart in the middle innings. He runs up high pitch counts quickly, a trait which has slowed his development. Tyler figures to start this year in the high Class A rotation, but a move to the bullpen might not be far away.
A surprise third-rounder in 2003, Woodard had a rough pro debut but repaid the Twins' faith in him with a solid 2004. A late bloomer on the diamond, he focused mainly on basketball in high school and didn't play baseball at all as a junior. Minnesota first noticed him as a high school senior, and got good reports on him from Tony Bloomfield, an associate scout who doubles as the head coach at Cosumnes River (Calif.) JC, where Woodward was the 2003 Bay Valley Conference player of the year. Woodard has a short, fluid swing and 30- homer potential. He uses his lower half well at the plate, hits the gaps and sprays line drives to all fields. He runs decently for a big man and has solid makeup. He is an average defender with good hand-eye coordination and footwork around first base. Though he has made 26 errors in 93 pro games, Minnesota isn't concerned. The Twins were hoping he might show enough versatility to play left field, but it looks like he'll stay at first. He's ready for his first taste of full-season ball.
When the Twins were zeroing in on Matt Moses as their 2003 first-rounder, they got a chance to see more of Winfree at a rival high school. Winfree had been a catcher, but the Twins tried him at first base in his pro debut, then moved him over to third base in 2004. Like fellow 2003 draftee Johnny Woodard, Winfree was overmatched in his first summer before making the necessary adjustments and displaying big-time power in year two. He has a big frame and the ability to turn around quality fastballs. His batting-practice sessions are among the most impressive in the system. Also like Woodard, he strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough. But the potential is there for everything to click. Winfree has plus makeup and dedication to his craft. He left home after his junior year of high school to play in an advanced summer league in Ohio. A below-average runner, Winfree has average range and a slightly better arm at third. He still could end up back behind the plate, but figures to start 2005 at the hot corner in low Class A.
Signed at 18 out of Venezuela, Mata's combination of a big body and a big-time arm reminds some of a young Bartolo Colon. He has a strong lower half and thick back to go with short arms that produce 94-96 mph fastballs. He also has a hard slider that has a chance to become a plus pitch. His power stuff enabled him to tie for the Appalachian League in saves last year, and he has been unhittable in the lower minors. He has good makeup and toughness, and he shows a keen baseball mind. The Twins forced Mata to use his changeup more in instructional league, and the pitch needs much more work. He received a scare at the end of instructional league when he was shut down with elbow pain. Minnesota initially feared he might require Tommy John surgery, but it turned out to be a strained ligament instead of a tear. Mata spent the winter rehabilitating his elbow in preparation for going to low Class A in 2005.
Bonser was one of the Giants' top pitching prospects when they included him in the A.J. Pierzynski trade in November 2003. With the Twins, his profile dropped dramatically, and he moped somewhat about that in the early going last year. After giving up far too many home runs in the first half, Bonser turned it on down the stretch and won his final eight decisions. He also earned a late promotion to Triple-A, where he'll likely start out in 2005. Bonser, who legally changed his name from John in high school, pitches at 89-92 mph but no longer hits the mid-90s as he did earlier in his pro career. Part of that is due to his Rick Reuschelesque frame, which usually carries 250-260 pounds. In the latter part of 2004, Bonser did a better job of keeping the ball down and changing speeds to set up his fastball. He has shown a plus curve in the past but still needs work on his changeup. His concentration and location need sharpening as well. He projects as a back-end-of-the-rotation option but could wind up as a long reliever.
Romero has evolved into a different player than the Twins envisioned when they signed him at age 16 out of Venezuela. He has added strength and thickness, especially in his lower half. He doesn't run well anymore, sacrificing plus speed for more sock at the plate, and no longer has the range to play center field. Romero has continued to hit, however. A switch hitter, he owns a career .308 average as a pro. He shows good patience at the plate and has walked at least as much as he has struck out in each of his four seasons. Now primarily a right fielder, he does have good instincts and an average arm. Romero still lacks the sort of power production teams look for on the corners, which leaves him as a classic 'tweener. He should move up to Double-A in 2005.
Shinskie was recruited as a quarterback by several Big Ten Conference football programs out of Mount Carmel Area High, where he passed for 57 touchdowns and led the team to a pair of Pennsylvania 2-A titles. He signed to play football and baseball at Delaware, then gave that up for a $280,000 bonus from the Twins. He's one of several former quarterbacks in the organization, a list that includes righthander T.J. Prunty, a backup at Miami; catchers Joe Mauer (Florida State) and Eli Tintor (Minnesota-Duluth), who turned down college scholarships; and righty Colby Miller, who won an Oklahoma 4-A state championship in 1999. Shinskie has average stuff across the board, pitching at 89-91 mph and topping out at 93. He has a good slider that he locates well and a circle change that he throws in the mid- 70s. A strike-thrower, he projects as a third or fourth starter at best. However, his athleticism and football background make him a good bet to tough it out along the way. He has strong makeup and shows good competitiveness. He wasn't dominant in the Appalachian League in his first full pro season, but he should move up to low Class A, where rotation spots will be at a premium.
A native Dominican, Portes played some high school baseball in Massachusetts, then dropped out and spent what would have been his senior year on the showcase circuit. He probably should have gone much earlier in the draft but slipped through the cracks and signed with the Twins as a 15th-rounder, in large part because of the diligence of area scout Jay Weitzel. Portes received a general equivalency degree and speaks fluent English, but baseball is his primary language. His bat is his best tool, as he led the Gulf Coast League lead in homers and slugging percentage. He projects to hit for even more power as he matures, despite his relatively small frame. Finding him a position is another matter. A shortstop as an amateur, Portes also played third and second base after signing. All told, he committed 24 errors in 30 games in the field. He has decent hands and slightly above arm strength, but he needs to improve his footwork and the accuracy of his throws. He'll probably spend most of his time at second in the Appalachian League this year.
Another of area scout Brad Weitzel's finds, Morlan comes from the same Coral Park High (Miami) program that produced Jose Canseco. Just before Morlan signed for $420,000, the Twins diagnosed him with an enlarged heart. He was shut down for a month until the condition was analyzed sufficiently, then he got down to business in the Gulf Coast League. In part because of the layoff, Morlan was the hardest thrower for the Twins at instructional league, regularly pitching at 93 mph and peaking at 95-96. He has a big body, an aggressive approach and a high-intensity, high-torque delivery that leaves some observers nervous. The combination of his hard sinking fastball and power slider have some thinking that his future lies in short relief. Morlan has tried to throw a changeup but hasn't grown comfortable with it yet. He might not ever gain the touch on a changeup because he has a full-effort delivery. He could open 2005 either in extended spring training or in the bullpen in low Class A.
Bothered by shoulder tendinitis in the spring of 2003, Simonitsch made just eight starts in his junior year at Gonzaga. Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff wasn't able to see him in person, but area scout Bill Lohr and scouting supervisor Deron Johnson saw enough of Simonitsch to recommend him. Cleared to pitch upon signing, Simonitsch promptly helped Elizabethton win the Appalachian League title. In his first full pro season, he pitched at 86-88 mph but didn't touch 90 mph as often as he did in his debut. He got good results and used his changeup more often and more effectively. He also has a plus curveball. A classic finesse lefty, he has a clean delivery, loose arm, solid frame and good mound presence. He has a lower ceiling than many other Minnesota pitching prospects but is a safer bet to reach the majors. He reminds some of former Twins pitcher Mark Redman, another soft-tossing lefty with a college background.