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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 signed him in May 2002. He's had two surgeries on his right knee as a pro to try to fix a cartilage problem along the way. Blackburn's knee problems limited his ability to do conditioning drills, and as he added weight, his fastball lost its zip. Blackburn 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. Blackburn regained his velocity, his secondary stuff improved and his career took off. He had a streak of 411⁄3 innings without giving up an earned run and finished the season in the major leagues. Blackburn got better in every phase in 2007. With less weight to carry, he got stronger and was able to work with Twins coaches to lengthen his stride, get better extension out front and improve the qualify of his stuff. His two-seam fastball 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. Sent to the Arizona Fall League specifically to improve his offspeed pitches, he showed a solid-average curve and improved his feel for a changeup that scouts now grade as a plus pitch. 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. Blackburn has to learn to pitch with better stuff, when to pitch to contact and when to go for strikeouts. 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. Minnesota stuck with Blackburn, 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.
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. 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 aboveaverage 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. 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 to polish his overall offensive approach. His basestealing savvy also needs work after he was caught 16 times in 34 basestealing attempts. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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 delivery adds deception. Minnesota says his makeup separates Robertson, a baseball rat who studies hitters but doesn't overthink. 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, however. He's still searching for a consistent third pitch. 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.
Swarzak's season started inauspiciously, as he made two brutal starts, then 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. 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. Swarzak lacks the feel for a true changeup. He'll keep throwing it, but he likely will have to use his curve as his offspeed pitch while adding a cutter or slider to give hitters a different look. The Twins were impressed with how he came back from his suspension and believe it forced him to mature. 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.
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 in 1997. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. Pridie 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. 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. 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.
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 goldmedal game and was chased one out shy of earning the victory. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. Even with Minnesota's backlog of starters, he could force his way into the rotation equation by 2009.
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. When he's playing well, Plouffe shows four or five average tools. 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 professional makeup serves him well. 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. 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.
Mijares remains a favorite of scouts and player-development personnel from other organizations, because his stuff is just so fun to watch. But they don't have to deal with him every day like the Twins do. Minnesota officials also know Mijares comes from a poor background in Caracas' slums, however, and give him credit for small steps of maturity in 2007. Still, he's not ranked higher because his makeup makes it hard to know whether his stuff will play in the big leagues. The Twins protected him on the 40-man roster, an easy call because he's lefthanded and can show three plus pitches. Mijares' four-seam fastball has touched 98 mph and averaged 94 at times. At others, he'll sit at 87-89. His power curveball and mid-80s slider both have tilt and depth. He even breaks out a changeup from time to time. Mijares' fastball gets straight and he doesn't throw consistent strikes, sometimes a function of not being in shape and being able to repeat his delivery. He averaged 6.9 walks per nine innings in 2007, but he didn't issue a walk in his first 12 innings in winter ball in Venezuela. Ticketed to start the year in Triple-A, Mijares will dictate his own timetable. His stuff will play at any level if he throws strikes.
Among the high school hitters the Twins have drafted with their top choice in seven of the last years, Parmelee most closely resembles infielder Matt Moses, a 2003 first-rounder taken more for his bat than for filling Minnesota's usual all-around-tools profile. Signed for $1.5 million as the 20th overall pick in 2006, Parmelee had a modestly disappointing first full pro season. He didn't show the feel for hitting and ability to hit for average the Twins expected, and never got comfortable, tinkering with his setup and showing modest bat speed. Lefthanders handled him easily, holding him to a .549 OPS. His power was evident, as he used a smooth, pretty swing to crush offspeed stuff in the zone. Parmelee's body never has been his strength, and he needs to stay in better shape. His lack of athleticism and already below-average speed may make it difficult for him to stay in right field, which would waste his plus arm at first base or DH. Minnesota has misjudged one-dimensional hitters in the past--see Ortiz, David--and will be patient with Parmelee, who should move up to high Class A for 2008.
Romero was part of the Rookie-level Elizabethton juggernaut that went 50-18, and he moved up for the Midwest League playoffs at season's end. He has the combination of offensive upside and defensive ability at a key position to be a big league regular. Romero's bat speed jumps out and gives him above-average power potential. He hadn't gone deep in his first 15 Appalachian League games last year, then blasted three homers and drove in 10 runs in a single contest. He stayed hot and finished third in the league in the triple-crown categories while tying for the league lead with 60 runs and 78 hits. Romero enhances his offensive value by being selective at the plate. He has solid athleticism and speed. He projects to be an above-average defender at third base, with agility and above-average arm strength. Some scouts are more confident in his glove than his bat, expressing concern about Romero's feel for hitting. He's the latest prospect to take up the challenge of filling the Twins' void at third base, but he's two or three years away from the majors. He'll begin 2008 in low Class A.
Born in St. Paul and a product of the University of Minnesota, Perkins was on his way to becoming a hometown hero, earning a spot on the 2006 playoff roster. Then injury and indecision sidetracked him. He began 2007 with one Triple-A start before joining the big league bullpen, where he pitched somewhat effectively before straining a muscle behind his shoulder. After a brief return to the mound in July, he was out until August. The Twins still have mixed opinions on whether he'll be a starter or reliever. His stuff fits the starter profile, with a solid fastball and changeup to go with a plus curveball. At his best, Perkins can touch 94 mph with his fastball and ride it on righthanders. His curve has been a true hammer at times. His stuff usually is a grade lower when he works out of the rotation, however, and while he was hurt, other starters moved forward. Minnesota would like Perkins to begin the year as a starter in Triple-A so it can evaluate him in that role. If a need arises in the major league bullpen, however, he could go back to relief.
The Twins first saw Bromberg playing with Alex Burnett and Curtis Leavitt in a Los Angeles wood-bat event, and all three are now Twins, with Bromberg and Leavitt playing together at Elizabethton last season. After starring at Palisades High in Los Angeles, Bromberg signed as a draft-and-follow after a year at Santa Ana (Calif.) JC, where he pitched with Braves prospect Kris Medlen. Bromberg had a solid pro debut while getting into better shape, then broke out as the Appalachian League pitcher of the year in 2007, averaging 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Bromberg attacks hitters confidently with two pitchers, a 90-92 mph fastball and a high-70s power slurve that he improved after working with Elizabethton pitching coach Jim Shellenback. There's probably more velocity to come because he has a projectable frame with a narrow torso and long legs. Bromberg's changeup needs work, as lefthanders (.844 OPS) fared much better against him than righthanders (.566 OPS), and his slurve could use refinement as well. He's still working to repeat his delivery and throw more quality strikes. Bromberg may have a ways to go, but his ceiling is considerable. He's expected to earn a spot in Beloit's 2008 rotation.
Mullins' profile has risen to its highest point since he was a teammate of current Indians big leaguers Jensen Lewis and Jeremy Sowers at Vanderbilt. All three were in the same rotation in 2004, and Mullins was supposed to be the ace and a possible first-rounder in '05. A drunken-driving arrest and six-game suspension, followed by a subpar season, dropped him to the third round. Mullins has had a solid pro career since then, reaching Triple-A at the end of 2007 and finishing with a solid Arizona Fall League stint. He's a four-pitch lefty with a long, lanky frame and somewhat deceptive arms-and-legs delivery. Mullins' fastball sits in the upper 80s and touches 91. His big, slow curve was his go-to pitch in college, and he's added power to it and learned to throw it for strikes more as he has matured. He has added a slider to help him get inside on righthanders and also owns an effective changeup. Mullins hasn't added velocity as scouts hoped he might, but he knows his limits and executes well. He's ready for another shot at Triple-A, where he was hammered late last year, and profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
The Twins haven't developed a homegrown shortstop since Pat Meares in the late 1990s, acquiring the likes of Cristian Guzman and Jason Bartlett in trades. De los Santos is the toolsiest shortstop in the system and has made major strides offensively to put himself on the prospect map before reaching full-season ball. He tied for the Appalachian League lead with 60 runs and ranked third with 27 steals last year, even though he tired and finished the season in a 2-for-42 slump (including the playoffs). A slashing switch-hitter, de los Santos takes advantage of his line-drive swing from the left side, using his plus-plus speed, and he has decent raw power. He's just not selective enough to get pitches he can drive yet. Defensively, de los Santos needs better footwork and may not have soft enough hands to stay at shortstop. However, his arm rates an easy 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His overall defensive package might profile better in center field, but the Twins could use him at shortstop, so he'll have ample opportunity to stick there. He should open 2008 in low Class A.
Area scout John Wilson had seen McCardell as a closer and standout defensive third baseman for Division II power Kutztown (Pa.), but his interest was piqued when McCardell moved into the Golden Bears' rotation late in 2007. Hedidn't play as much third base as a senior, either, and his velocity jumped into the low 90s, peaking with an outstanding playoff start in which he struck out 13 against Slippery Rock (Pa.). After signing for $75,000 as fifth-round pick, he posted a stunning 102-9 K-BB ratio (including a playoff start). While he signed as a college senior and was old for Rookie ball, McCardell has the Twins thinking he's legitimate. He's athletic and has a pitcher's frame, with excellent control of his fastball. His best pitch is an outstanding curveball, one he can throw for strikes or bury as a chase pitch, and he uses an unusual grip that makes it tougher for hitters to identify. He's learning a changeup. McCardell has to prove his debut was no fluke while adjusting to a full season as a starter. His fastball/curveball combo profiles him as at least a setup man right now. He's expected to get on the fast track and jump to high Class A.
The Twins have been trying to mine Europe for talent for years, and with enigmatic lefty Alexander Smit lost on a waiver claim to the Reds, the 7-foot-1 Van Mil has succeeded him as the organization's top Euro prospect. He might have surpassed Smit anyway because he has one of the Twins' biggest fastballs, which was on display for the Netherlands in the World Cup in November. Van Mil closed for the Dutch and dominated with a 0.71 ERA in 13 innings, topping out at 97 mph and sitting at 94. As a teen, Van Mil had a clean arm action but an awkward delivery, and Minnesota worked with him before signing him. Former special assistant Larry Corrigan (now with the Pirates) was instrumental in getting the fairly athletic and coordinated Van Mil to stay tall in his delivery and use a higher arm slot. His slider touches 88 mph at times, and with his arm action, it's not unthinkable that he could reach 100 with his fastball and 90 with his slider down the line. He's not just a relief prospect either. He has flashed a changeup and curveball with potential, though all his offerings need to find the strike zone more often. Holding runners and fielding are weaknesses for Van Mil, who hadn't pitched until age 17 while growing up about 60 miles south of Amsterdam. Attempting to become the tallest big leaguer ever, he appears to be putting it all together. He'll start the year in low Class A--a long reach, even for him, from the majors.
The Twins drafted Span and Matt Moses in back-to-back years in the first round, and expected them to be ready to fill holes in the big league team by now. Span got an extra year to develop when the Twins signed Torii Hunter to a one-year contract extension last offseason, but he proved he still wasn't ready for the majors with a poor start in Triple-A. He finished strong, however, hitting .306 after the all-star break with improved plate discipline. Span's offensive ceiling appears to be lower than Minnesota had hoped. He's an outstanding bunter and is more effective when he does that, draws walks and keeps the ball on the ground. His swing lacks a load needed to hit for power. More disappointing is his grasp of baserunning. His poor instincts keep him from putting his excellent speed to work offensively. Defensively, his speed helps him outrun his mistakes and make plays, but he's not smooth. His fringy arm plays well enough in center for him to be an average big league defender. The acquisition of Jason Pridie in the Delmon Young trade with the Rays means Span will need a huge spring training to win the Twins' center-field job. Otherwise, he's headed back to Triple-A.
Minnesota's track record for developing pitchers is mixed of late. The Twins have preferred taller, big-bodied righthanders such as Nick Blackburn, since-traded Matt Garza and 2004 first-rounder Kyle Waldrop, though they've had more success with shorter, more athletic pitchers such as Jesse Crain and Kevin Slowey. Burnett fits into the latter category, and some club officials call him a poor man's Roy Oswalt. Burnett's fastball rivals any in the system because it jumps out of his hand and has good sinking life at 88-92 mph. He has shown more velocity in the past, touching 94-95 in high school. He complements his fastball with a curveball that gives him a second strikeout pitch. Besides his size, the Oswalt comparison also stems from his ability to change speeds on his breaking ball, using it as either a power pitch or as a changeup when he throws a slower version. He also has an average true changeup, and his feel for changing speeds helped him dominate lefthanded hitters (.525 OPS) in 2007. He's prone to missing up in the strike zone with his fastball, which at times is pretty straight. Burnett profiles as a No. 4 starter down the line and will continue his climb this season in high Class A.
The Twins went hard after third basemen in the 2006 draft, just as they had three years earlier. In those drafts, they acquired players such as Matt Moses, Garrett Olson, Whit Robbins, Valencia and David Winfree, and most of them haven't met expectations. That has prompted them to add Brian Buscher (minor league Rule 5 draft) and Matt Macri (trade) to buttress the big league club at the hot corner, but there's still hope Valencia can be part of the equation. He's one of the system's better run producers, with a pull-oriented approach and good strength and leverage in his swing, producing above-average power. While Valencia sells out too much and is prone to strikeouts, he has some feel for hitting. Defensively, he lacks the range to be a quality defender, but his solid hands and above-average arm should keep him at third base. His makeup hasn't endeared him to the Twins, and similar concerns cropped up in his college career, split between UNC Greensboro and Miami. Despite the organization's logjam of mediocrity on its third-base depth chart, Valencia should move up a step to Double-A.
Twins officials were high on Sosa coming into 2007, particularly after he tore through the Venezuelan League as a 21-year-old, going 5-0, 2.30 for Aragua. His 47 winter innings pushed him past 200 for 2006, counting the minor league regular season and one playoff start. It was too much for Sosa's stuff to hold up over last season. After sitting at 89-94 mph the previous year, his fastball rarely got over 91 in 2007 and usually parked at 88-90. He had pitched with similar stuff in the past before physically maturing and improving his delivery, and he figured out a way to succeed, pounding the bottom of the zone with two-seamers, cut fastballs and sliders to try to get groundballs. While he nibbled too much and didn't attack hitters as much as Minnesota wants him to, he kept the ball in the ballpark and competed well. Some Twins officials believe his velocity will return with a fresher arm, but Sosa frustrated club officials by again pitching in winter ball, albeit with a reduced workload. Just 22, Sosa already has claimed a spot on the 40-man roster and has reached Double-A, and he'll return there for 2008.
The Twins have had success with sweet-swinging Canadians, such as Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau. Tosoni may not have their upside, but he's one of the system's most intriguing hitters. Minnesota liked him enough to draft him twice, in 2004 out of high school and in 2005 after a year at Chipola (Fla.) JC, which alma mater of Canadians such as Adam Loewen and Russell Martin. He's somewhat raw and was exposed a bit in the Midwest League playoffs, but Tosoni has the sweetest swing in the organization. Even when he hit just .192 in the postseason, four of his five hits were doubles. Tosoni has a compact lefthanded stroke, and he keeps the bat in the hitting zone a long time. He has a line-drive approach, centers the ball on the barrel regularly and has shown good plate discipline, making the Twins optimistic that his power will develop. He has average speed, range and arm strength, and he can become an above-average corner fielder with repetitions and work. Tosoni finished the year in low Class A and will go back there for the 2008 season.
When DePaula signed with the Twins, he was a smallish middle infielder. They wanted him as a pitcher, though, and he has worked hard to get stronger over eight years in the system. His one-stop-a-year approach finally paid off with a late-season big league promotion in 2007. DePaula doesn't have the breaking ball to start, but he has two above-average pitches that should make him an effective middle reliever. His low-90s fastball touches 95-96 mph and features good life down in the zone, and his changeup once rated as the best in the organization. It's still a plus pitch, and because of it, DePaula can get leftthanders out (.542 OPS last year). He has enough stuff and durability to extend his outings, with 10 of his Triple-A appearances lasting at least three innings. DePaula gets in trouble when he leaves his fastball up. His lack of confidence in his breaking ball makes him more vulnerable against righthanders. DePaula pitched in the Dominican Winter League and was expected to come to compete for a spot in the big league bullpen.
Berlind was predominantly a catcher in middle and high school before growing too tall for the position and moving to the mound as a prep junior. He was a sought-after recruit who chose Cal Poly, but he spent only the fall semester there before transferring to Pierce (Calif.) JC after Poly assistant coach Jerry Weinstein left the program. Berlind had a solid year at Pierce, signed for $80,000 as a seventh-rounder, then was the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League pitcher of the year in his pro debut. He has imposing size and good athletic ability, showing a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits at 89-90 mph and touches 93, and between his age and body, he has plenty of projection. His hard slider and changeup both have shown potential to be solid-average pitches, if not better. Most encouraging, Berlind challenges hitters and fills up the strike zone, showing coordination and a relatively compact delivery for his size. He's polished enough to jump over Elizabethton and start 2008 in low Class A if he has a good spring.
Lis hopes his home run against Roger Clemens in a May 18 game in high Class A isn't his career highlight. Of course, he already has others. He led the organization in batting (.326) in 2006, then topped it in homers (18) and RBIs (97) last year while playing in the Florida State League, a difficult environment for hitters. The Twins aren't sold on Lis because he's not a typical Twins player. His tools other than his bat stand out as negatives, and he's not a well-rounded player, with below-average running, throwing and defensive tools. He played more left field than any other position in 2007, but he hit much better as a first baseman or DH (.293, 12 homers in 225 at-bats) than while playing left (.261, six homers in 264 at-bats). Lis hits with a stiff setup, and his swing is far from classic or fluid, but it works because he has above-average bat speed. FSL managers noted his improvement in handling offspeed pitches. He hangs in well against lefthanders and is a good situational hitter. Lis' efforts to become passable in left field and to hit his way into the Minnesota's plans will continue this year in Double-A.
Slama redshirted as a freshman due to arm trouble at UC Riverside, then transferred to Santa Ana (Calif.) JC for two seasons before joining San Diego. The Twins drafted him in 2006, then followed him in 2007 as Slama closed for the West Coast Conference champion Toreros. Slama was expected to re-enter the draft, but when San Diego went 0-2 in regional play, his college career was done and the Twins moved in to sign him before the 2007 draft. He was still eligible to sign with Minnesota because he was a fifth-year senior. Slama quickly showed he was too good for Elizabethton and dominated in low Class A, striking out 13.9 batters per nine innings between the two stops. He picked up three saves in the Midwest League playoffs, relying on a low 90s fastball that has heavy sink. When he commands the fastball to both sides of the plate, he's tough to elevate. Slama gave up just two homers over the last two years between college and pro ball. He throws from a low three-quarters arm slot and gets groundballs with his heater and solid-average slider. Slama's profile marks him as a middle reliever and he's quite old for a first-year player, but he's primed to move quickly, perhaps even jumping to Double-A in 2008.
Bass has been around, making appearances on Royals prospect lists since he was drafted in 2000, ranking as high as No. 8 after the 2003 season. Shoulder problems interrupted his 2004 and 2006 campaigns, and the Royals let him depart as a minor league free agent. Though he had just four career relief appearances against 140 starts, Minnesota signed him for its Triple-A bullpen. Bass struggled, both with the new role and with shoulder tenderness. As the season went along, he got a chance to start, and his work ethic put him in position to take advantage of it. He showed his old fastball, sitting in the low 90s and touching plenty of 94s and 95s. His slider was a plus pitch late in the year, a hard mid-80s breaking ball with depth. His changeup was fringe-average but played up because he threw quality strikes with everything. The Twins added him to the 40-man roster after the season and he pitched winter ball in Venezuela. Depending on how the big league roster shakes out, Bass will have a chance to make the Opening Day rotation.
The Twins have been active in Australia for years, with several players breaking through to the majors (Grant Balfour, Mike Nakamura, Brad Thomas) but none making a major impact. Tippett and fellow Aussie righthander Liam Hendriks are the best of the organization's current crew from Down Under. Hendriks, whose father was an Australian Rules Football star, has better present stuff and is a gifted athlete. However, he has had knee trouble that has led to other nagging injuries, and he has a below-average fastball. Tippett rates as the better long-term prospect because he has similar 84-88 mph velocity--touching 90 at times--but already owns a devastating changeup, a true major league plus pitch. Lefthanders were helpless against Tippett last year, going 0-for-36 with no walks and 19 strikeouts. His curveball has the potential to be an average pitch, and he pounds the strike zone with everything. His low-maintenance delivery makes his command project to be major league average, if not a tick above. If his fastball comes along, Tippett could develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He'll need a good spring to break through Minnesota's glut of young pitchers and make the Beloit rotation, but a return to extended spring training shouldn't be considered a major setback.
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