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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. Some scouts say Liriano's stuff is better than that of Twins teammate Johan Santana because 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. 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. 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. 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. He has bouts where he doesn't command or trust his fastball as he should. 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.
Kubel reached the majors by the end of 2004, when he hit .352 in the upper minors and 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. 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. Defensively, his best tool is a plus right-field arm. 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 pull-conscious at times. 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. 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.
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. But in 2004 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 and reached Double-A. One of the best pure hitters in his draft class, Moses has a smooth, compact swing that has drawn comparisons to Hank Blalock's. He was pushed to Double-A and 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. Some wonder whether Moses' power will follow him up the ladder. He's a below-average runner, and though he has worked hard on defense may have to move to a corner outfield spot in the majors. He has decent range at third base, but his footwork and throws remain a concern. Moses figures to return to Double-A New Britain to start 2006. Michael Cuddyer hasn't been able to seize Minnesota's third-base job, and Moses could challenge him by 2007.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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 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. 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 electric stuff to go with a prototypical pitcher's frame, loose arm and strong mound presence. 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 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.
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 2005. The fastest player, best athlete and best defensive outfielder in a deep system, Span improved more than any other Twins farmhand last year. He has been timed at 3.8 seconds to first base and has learned to use his speed. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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 Mid in 2005.
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 non-drafted free agent with the Devil Rays last summer. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Kelly reminded area scouts of Jesse Crain, a two-way star at the University of Houston and a 2002 Twins second-rounder. Kelly had mound success in high school, showing a 94-95 mph fastball and a hard slider. But Minnesota took him in the second round as a shortstop because of his varied tools. He overcame a blood clot in his shoulder before his senior season and signed for $650,000. Kelly loves to play, shows passion for the game and has a great work ethic. He has the best infield arm in the system, a possible 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. With the glove, he's a shade behind 2004 first-rounder Trevor Plouffe at this point but could pass him down the line. Kelly is smooth and surehanded in the field and shows plus range. At the plate, he's leaning to stay inside the ball and use his pull-side power better. For now, he has some gap power as well as some quickness on the bases. He got a taste of low Class A at the end of the summer and figures to start there in 2006.
Coming out of Central Arkansas Christian High in Little Rock, the same school that produced A.J. Burnett, Harben didn't sign with the Tigers as a 38th-round afterthought in 2001. Instead, he attended Westark (Ark.) Community College, where he roomed with Toby Gardenhire, whose father Ron manages the Twins. Thanks to a strong recommendation from Toby (who signed with Minnesota as a 41st-round pick in 2005), as well as area scout Gregg Miller, Harben fell into Minnesota's lap as a 15th-round steal in 2002. His fastball was down a notch to 92-94 mph in 2005, occasionally dropping into the high 80s, in part because of nagging trouble with a strained lat muscle. His slider was inconsistent and he still lacks confidence with his changeup. But he was the mainstay of a talented Fort Myers rotation, tossing a one-hitter against Brevard County in mid-June and impressing Florida State League observers. Harben has a prototypical pitcher's frame, throws downhill and shows a willingness to pitch inside. He has improved his conditioning and mechanics since signing. Added to the 40-man roster for the first time in November, he's ready for Double-A.
Brad Radke has made a nice career out of locating an average fastball and outsmarting hitters with a devastating changeup. The Twins are hoping Slowey might follow that same path. He signed for $490,000 as a 2005 second-round pick out of Winthrop, where he first put himself on the map with a 19-strikeout game as a freshman. Last spring, he went 11-1, 2.26 and led NCAA Division I in strikeout-walk ratio (134-13 in 136 innings) and fewest walks per nine innings (0.86). Slowey wasted no time in climbing aboard the Twins' fast track, moving into the low Class A rotation and coming within one out of a no-hitter in August. He has the best command in the system and had a better K-BB ratio as a pro (84-8 in 72 innings) than he did in college. Slowey's fastball sits at 87-89 mph and touches 92 mph, but it could add another tick or two as he fills out a wiry frame. He hides the ball well, and that deception adds to the late movement his fastball shows naturally. His slider is solid-average and he made real progress with his changeup during instructional league. He also showed durability despite tossing 208 innings overall, including college. His next step is high Class A, though if the Twins have a logjam of starting candidates at Fort Myers, they could push Slowey to Double-A.
Two straight years with shoulder problems have raised questions about Durbin's durability and future role. He missed six weeks with shoulder tendinitis last year after May 2004 surgery to shave his labrum and repair a partial tear. A fastball that once hit 101 mph stayed in the 94-96 mph range last year. For a brash type who dubbed himself "Real Deal," this required mental adjustments. Durbin tends to fight himself when things aren't going his way and sometimes gets too caught up in what others think about him. It didn't help when he saw Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker zoom by on their way to the majors. To Durbin's credit, he followed organizational wishes and went to the Venezuelan League in order to work on his changeup, a necessity if he wants to remain a starter. He has shown a hard curveball and tight slider as well, but they remain inconsistent. With all the young starting pitching in their system, the Twins could move Durbin to the bullpen.
Just before Morlan signed for $420,000 as a third-round pick in 2004, the Twins discovered he had an enlarged heart. He was shut down for a month until the condition was analyzed sufficiently, then he mowed through the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Used as a reliever mostly in 2004, he moved into the rotation in his first pro season. Morlan pitched at 90-92 mph and topped out at 94, down a few ticks from his debut. He stayed back in the extended spring program at the start of the year to master a changeup, and he took to it fairly well. He also shows a hard curveball that can be devastating at times. His high-torque delivery deserted him in the middle of the season, but he got it back and continued to make improvements through instructional league. He reminds some of a young Juan Rincon, and a move back to the bullpen remains possible down the road. Morlan figures to open 2006 in low Class A, though he could be pushed to high Class A.
Signed at 17 out of Venezuela, Mijares impressed Midwest League observers last year as the best lefthander in the circuit. Even after moving into the rotation, he maintained the 92-95 mph velocity on his fastball. He gets his curveball over most of the time and has a solid changeup as well. Immaturity remains an issue, as does a tendency to pack weight on a fireplug frame. He failed to make the Beloit roster out of spring training because of conditioning issues but got serious after that setback. He's also going to have to throw more strikes at higher levels. Some view Mijares as a high-maintenance type, but his talent makes him worth the effort. Compared to a young J.C. Romero, whom the Twins traded in December, Mijares could wind up in the bullpen. He pitched for Aragua in the Venezuelan League, and the Twins hope that experience speeds his development. He could return to low Class A as a starter or open 2006 as a swingman on a stacked high Class A staff.
While scouting Matt Moses as their 2003 first-round pick, the Twins came across Winfree at a rival high school. A prep catcher, Winfree moved to first base after Minnesota took him in the 13th round in 2003, then shifted to third base the last two seasons. That's where he will stay for now after bashing his way to the Twins' minor league player of the year award last summer, when he led the Midwest League in hits, RBIs and total bases. Few players in the system can match Winfree's power or ability to hit quality fastballs. He doesn't strike out excessively but could stand to draw a few more walks. With the organization's urging, he spread out his stance and flattened out his swing more last year. Winfree has strong makeup and a willingness to work, which dates to his decision to leave home after his junior year of high school to play in an advanced summer league in Ohio. A below-average runner, he has a big frame that eventually could land him back at first base. For now he shows average range and a slightly above-average arm at the hot corner. He still struggles with his footwork and decisions defensively. Winfree will advance to high Class A this year.
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Portes played limited high school baseball in Massachusetts, then dropped out and spent what would have been his senior year on the showcase circuit. Projected as an early-round pick until he left high school, he slipped to the 15th round of the 2004 draft. Portes received a GED diploma and speaks fluent English. He led the Gulf Coast League in homers and slugging percentage in his debut, then ranked among Appalachian League leaders in those categories during 2005. He projects to add power as he continues to fill out. A shortstop as an amateur, Portes played mostly second base and left field last year. While he showed progress in making the pivot and mastering the intricacies of second, he probably will move to the outfield for good before too long as the Twins have strengthened their middle-infield depth in the past few years. Portes has questionable hands, but he has average speed and arm strength and could merit a look in center field. He'll play in low Class A in 2006.
A second-round pick who signed for $475,000, Thompson was the first of three sons of former big league middle infielders drafted by Minnesota in 2005. His father Robby was an all-star with the Giants and currently is the Indians' bench coach. The Twins also signed Steven Tolleson (Wayne's son) in the fifth round and Toby Gardenhire (whose dad Ron manages the Twins) in the 41st. Thompson is considered more polished than fellow second-round pick Paul Kelly, who went 26 slots ahead of him. A shortstop in high school, Thompson played mostly second in the Gulf Coast League as Kelly stayed at his natural position. Thompson also dealt with a dead-arm period after signing, so the decision was made to leave him at second. Some see him as developing into an offensive second baseman like his father as he fills out, but the Twins believe he can stay at shortstop because of his solid hands and average arm. He's selective and has the potential for gap power. He has a nice, level lefthanded swing and a good idea of the strike zone. Thompson, who wore down by the end of his debut season, figures to open 2006 in extended spring before becoming the starting shortstop at Rookie-level Elizabethton.
Slowed by a broken hamate bone in his hand, Sanchez struggled somewhat as a high school senior and dropped to the Twins with the 39th overall pick in the 2005 draft. They signed him for $900,000 and were impressed with his huge raw power, which was on full display at the Area Code Games before his senior year. Compared to a larger Andres Galarraga by some or a taller Prince Fielder by others, Sanchez can reach the seats in all directions. A Mission Bay High (San Diego) teammate of 2004 No. 1 overall pick Matt Bush, Sanchez can become a 35-homer force in the majors. That projection assumes he cuts down on his strikeouts and keeps his weight in check. He has ballooned as high as 300 pounds and came into pro ball at 260 pounds, and his mobility and defense always will be a question. He's a predictably below-average runner but has better footwork around first base than expected. He has worked to shorten up his swing to make more consistent contact, but Minnesota will be careful not to rob him of his natural aggressiveness. Sanchez figures to open the year in extended spring training but could jump to low Class A.
For their part (Doug Mientkiewicz) in the four-team Nomar Garciaparra trade in July 2004, the Twins received Jones from the Cubs. He was shut down with elbow discomfort in 2004 and missed the first half of last season with a strained elbow ligament. Once he got back on the mound, he began to display the ability that drove him as high as No. 2 on the Cubs' prospect list two years ago. With the help of minor league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp, Jones was able to eliminate a mechanical hitch in which his elbow would fly up too high in mid-delivery. As a result, his fastball returned to 92-93 mph and gave him a third weapon to go with his plus curveball and advanced changeup. Jones never had arm surgery, but he missed time in each of the last three seasons and has just 288 innings in four years as a pro. It took him some time to buy into the Twins' mindset, but now that he has he could start to gather momentum if he can stay healthy. He'll see Double-A at some point in 2006.
This isn't what the Twins were expecting when they signed Romero at age 16 out of Venezuela, but they'll take it. As he has added strength and bulk, particularly in his lower half, he has lost the speed portion of his game. He still takes too many risks on the bases, however, as he apparently failed to get the memo. His ability to put the bat on the ball more than makes up for any shortcomings, and he's a switch-hitter to boot. Romero owns a career .306 average despite a reputation as a bad-ball hitter. He more than doubled his previous career high with 15 homers in 2005, and his strikeouts jumped as well. His work ethic and hustle improved last summer after an early-season talk with minor league field coordinator Joe Vavra. Romero projects as a No. 6 hitter, though some believe he could mature into a No. 3 in time. He's an average defender with average arm strength in left field. He should move up to Triple-A in 2006 and could make his big league debut later in the year.
J.C. Romero wore out his welcome with the Twins, who shipped him to the Angels for Casilla in December. Buried behind a slew of talented infielders led by Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick in the Los Angeles system, Casilla still has his work cut out for him after Minnesota has spent three early-round picks on shortstops in the last two years. He's a high-energy player with above-average speed who keeps the ball on the ground and does the little things to help produce runs. His swing is a little stiff but produces a little gap power. He runs the bases aggressively and has good instincts, finishing fourth in the Midwest League in steals despite playing in just 78 games. Casilla didn't play more because he opened the year filling injury holes at Double-A and Triple-A, then missed the end of the season after breaking his forearm. He was back playing in a low-level Dominican winter league by November. Casilla needs to improve defensively, but has the actions and aptitude to do so as he matures. He should spend most of this year in high Class A.
A sprained right knee limited Pridie to 29 games in 2005, and when he didn't tear it up in the Arizona Fall League, the Devil Rays gambled by not protecting him on their 40-man roster. Minnesota crossed up Tampa Bay, however, taking Pridie in the major league Rule 5 draft. He can't be sent to the minors in 2006 without clearing waivers and being offered back to the Rays for half his $50,000 draft price. Tampa Bay has a ton of outfield depth in the majors and minors, so the Twins could work out a deal for his rights that would allow them to send him down. Pridie's brother Jon pitched in Minnesota's system from 1998- 2004. Jason pitched in high school as well and still boasts plus arm strength, but his sweet swing has made him a full-time outfielder since he signed as a second-rounder in 2002. In his last full season, he topped the low Class A South Atlantic League in runs in 2004. At his best, Pridie has drawn favorable comparisons to Steve Finley from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. He strikes out too much when he gets pull-conscious, and the Devil Rays were trying to get him to focus on making contact and using the opposite field more often. He has solid-average speed to go with excellent instincts in center field.
Considering the stunning rise of Francisco Liriano, it's hard to remember that Bonser was actually the hotter prospect in November 2003. That's when those two came to the Twins along with Joe Nathan in a package that netted A.J. Pierzynski for the Giants. The reversal of fortune is something that must be monitored with Bonser, who has a tendency to mope at times. To his credit, he put together a strong full season in Triple-A last year, anchoring a Rochester staff that saw Liriano and Scott Baker pass through on their way to the majors. Bonser didn't even rate a September callup, but Minnestoa was pleased with his work ethic and the commitment he showed toward improving a lumpy body. He pitches at 89-92 mph, down from the mid-90s range he reached earlier in his career. Bonser, who legally changed his name from John to Boof while in high school, still has a tendency to give up homers. But he has learned to keep hitters off balance by changing speeds and using his plus curveball and decent changeup. He has a ceiling as a back-of-the-rotation starter but likely will break into the majors this year as a middle reliever.
Santiesteban was one of five draft-and-follows who signed with the Twins last spring, and he's clearly the most advanced in that group. A 39th-round pick in 2004, he returned to Palm Beach (Fla.) Community College for his sophomore season before signing for $10,000. He tore up the Gulf Coast League and was leading the circuit in RBIs and slugging in mid-July when he broke his right pinky on a headfirst slide. Santiesteban presents an intriguing package of tools. He has power and plus speed, and he plays a solid center field along with owning the best outfield arm in the system. He has a long swing and is aggressive at the plate, so he may need to tone things down a bit to hit for average at higher levels. He could end up in right field in the long run. Santiesteban has an intense personality and good leadership skills. He should be able to handle the jump to low Class A if Minnesota chooses to push him.
An Australian import, Edlich was one of four Twins pitchers to win minor league ERA titles in 2005, joining Scott Baker (International), Kyle Aselton (Midwest) and Adam Hawes (Appalachian). Edlich led the Gulf Coast League in his first season in the United States after signing for $60,000. His main pitches are an 88-90 mph fastball and an overhand curve that has the potential to be an out pitch. He now uses a mid-three-quarters delivery after working with minor league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp to lower his arm slot. The Twins changed his posture as well, and that gave his pitches late tail. Edlich is competitive, shows strong mound presence and has made nice progress with his changeup already. He missed two weeks with a midseason health issue that required him to wear a heart monitor, but he checked out fine and returned to action. Edlich projects as a No. 3 or 4 starter, but could be even more if he adds strength to his frame and gets better command of his breaking stuff. He likely will move one level at a time, taking him to Elizabethton in 2006.
A 40th-round pick in 2003, Hawes didn't make his pro debut until 2005. A Canadian, he didn't sign as a draft-and-follow until 2004, when a shortage of visas for minor league players prevented him from pitching in the United States. To his credit, he voluntarily went to the Dominican Republic for extra work, but fell victim to a parasitic virus and lost weight. After going through extended spring training last year, he won the Appalachian League ERA title. He showed a 92-93 mph riding fastball, the makings of a plus 12-to-6 curveball and an average changeup. He also messes with a slider, but that pitch lags behind the others. Tall and lanky, he uses his leverage well and shows a good feel for pitching. He has a high three-quarters delivery and throws across his body somewhat, but that only adds to his deception and isn't considered a problem for now. He should open this year in the low Class A rotation.
Left back at extended spring training last April, Lahey approached minor league field coordinator Joe Vavra and Gulf Coast League pitching coach Steve Mintz with a request: Could he try pitching? Considering the light-hitting catcher was a 20th-round senior sign out of Princeton, they didn't see the harm in a little experimentation. It took only a few pitches for Lahey to leave behind his catcher's gear for good. With his big, physical frame and surprisingly smooth delivery, he made himself a prospect almost overnight. His heavy fastball hits home at 94-95 mph and shows good boring action. He breaks bats and shows solid command and mound presence. His slider has come along quickly, and he has worked with pitching coordinator Rick Knapp on a changeup and curve. Both show promise, but if he stays in short relief he probably won't need more than two pitches. Lahey proved dominant in the Appalachian League, where he overmatched younger hitters as the closer for a championship club. He'll begin 2006 in low Class A and could move quickly if he continues to do this Troy Percival imitation.
For the first time in his three-year pro career, Smit struggled in 2005. As usual one of the youngest pitchers in his league, he got hammered in low Class A and had to head back to the Appalachian League, where he pitched the year before. The one thing he did at both levels was rack up strikeouts, averaging 12.3 per nine innings for the season. That's a stunning figure considering his fastball tops out at 92 mph. He did a better job of maintaining his velocity after moving to the bullpen at Elizabethton, after his fastball had dropped to the mid-80s when he tired in the past. Smit also adjusted to throwing a conventional curveball instead of the knuckle-curve he had relied on previously. He's still working on a changeup that's less than reliable. He has a good feel for pitching and an improved understanding of how to set hitters up. Smit, who signed for $800,000, still projects as a No. 3 starter but the bullpen could be his best option. That's where he worked for the Dutch national team at the Athens Olympics. He'll give low Class A another try this year, and at 20 he still has time on his side.
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