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Hicks is a Los Angeles kid who doesn't fit into preconceived stereotypes. He's an African-American who spent much of the last three years playing at Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy, becoming its highest-drafted alumnus when the Twins took him 14th overall in June. He's also a scratch golfer who won a slew of tournaments as a teenager and considered a golf career. When he learned that his father played baseball professionally--Joseph Hicks was a Padres 12th-round pick in 1975 and played four seasons in the minors--he decided to focus his prodigious athletic ability on the diamond, helping Wilson High win the No. 1 national ranking and its first California Interscholastic Federation title in 50 years in 2007. Minnesota considered Hicks the best athlete in the 2008 draft, and he was the Los Angeles area's best since Darryl Strawberry was the No. 1 overall choice in June 1980. While the Twins preferred Hicks as an outfielder, other clubs were prepared to take him in the first round as a pitcher after seeing his fastball range from 94-97 mph last spring. Minnesota has no reason to question its decision, as Hicks ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League after signing quickly for $1.78 million. Sometimes it seems like there's nothing Hicks can't do. He's a premium athlete with growing skills and true five-tool ability. He's a switch-hitter who's a natural from the right side and improved from the left by lowering his hands and unleashing his bat speed. He was more polished and selective at the plate in his debut than the Twins thought he might be, and his eye allowed him to get to his above-average power potential earlier than expected. He projects to hit 20-25 homers annually as he matures. Hicks has plus-plus speed and good baserunning instincts that should improve with experience. He glides to balls in the outfield and has a top-of-the-scale throwing arm that would play in any outfield spot or on the mound if necessary. In the unlikely event he doesn't hit, he can try to make it as a pitcher. Mostly, Hicks just needs experience facing quality breaking balls. His hands are good enough that he should be able to trust them and stay back on pitches that spin. The game comes so easily to him that at time he has concentration lapses. He's still learning to be a pro in terms of handling the grind of a long season, when to show he's having fun and when to have more of a game face. Some organizations had doubts about Hicks' bat and preferred him on the mound, and one GCL stint doesn't quite answer all those questions. Hicks' tools resemble those of departed Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, though he should move more quickly through the minors than Hunter did and have better plate discipline. He's the rare combination of athleticism with a fairly polished hitting approach who also plays a premium position. Minnesota is deep in young outfielders in the majors and minors, but Hicks' combination of tools, skills and athletic ability stands out. He'll head to low Class A Beloit for his first full pro season and should make a steady climb to the majors, arriving in 2011.
Revere was far from a consensus first-round talent in 2007, but Minnesota special assistant Joe McIlvane got on him early as a potential first-round bat. The Twins took him 28th overall and signed him for a below-slot $750,000 bonus. He justified their faith by leading the minors in batting (.379) and winning low Class A Midwest League MVP honors in 2008. The Twins drafted Revere because of a strong conviction he would hit, and he's the system's best hitter. He has surprising gap power in his compact, muscular frame and lashes line drives to all fields. He has explosive speed and steals infield hits. While he has room for improvement at small ball, he's a solid bunter and improving basestealer. Revere started 2008 in extended spring training to work on his short game, which still needs polish. He also started on a throwing program that improved his arm strength, though it remains below average. He'll be an asset in center field but is still working on his reads and jumps. While he has fast-track hitting ability, Revere has work to do smoothing out some of his rough edges and the Twins like to preach patience. Fully recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery in August, he'll be part of a prospect-laden high Class A Fort Myers outfield in 2009, along with Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee and Rene Tosoni.
Ramos has acquired a reputation for being a slow starter. He didn't earn a spot on a full-season team to open 2007 and he batted .203 in April last season. He rallied to hit safely in his last 15 games and lead Fort Myers in homers (13) and RBIs (78) while earning Florida State League all-star honors. Ramos has learned to translate his raw power into games and projects to hit 20-25 homers annually down the line. With excellent size and strength in his compact, athletic frame, he's built to catch. He has a very strong arm and led the FSL by throwing out 43 percent of basestealers. He has improved to be an average receiver and blocker behind the plate. A free swinger, Ramos would hit for even more power if he became more selective. He's a slow runner who's prone to hitting into double plays. His poor starts have included playing with a lack of energy, which the Twins hope improves as he matures. He's getting better at learning English, which will help him lead pitching staffs more effectively. Added to the 40-man roster this fall, Ramos should jump to Double-A in 2009. With 25-year-old Joe Mauer ahead of him, however, he seems destined to be a backup or trade bait rather than a regular for Minnesota.
Held back by inconsistent commitment to the game and conditioning, Mijares was making progress on both fronts last winter in the Venezuelan League when he was involved in a one-car crash in January. He broke a bone in his elbow and injured his shoulder but recovered to pitch by the end of June. Called to the majors in September, he became the Twins' most reliable middle reliever down the stretch. Mijares has reached as high as 98 mph with his lively fastball in the past and sat at 92-94 mph in September. He backs his fastball with a low-80s slider and has flashed a power curveball as well. The mix has made him as effective against lefties and righties throughout his career. Mijares must continue to watch his weight carefully. If he's in shape, he'll improve both his command and durability, his two greatest liabilities. A mature, dependable Mijares should be the Twins' top setup man in 2009, filling a need made more acute by Pat Neshek's Tommy John surgery. He could succeed Joe Nathan as Minnesota's closer when Nathan's contract expires after 2011.
The Twins have been searching for an everyday third baseman since Corey Koskie left as a free agent after the 2004 season, and Valencia is the latest heir to the throne. He was a Florida State League all-star in 2008 and finished strongly at Double-A New Britain. Valencia's bat speed ranks among the best in the organization. He has good hand-eye coordination and can turn on good fastballs and drive them out of the park. He's strong enough to hit for power from pole to pole. He has improved his pitch recognition and can punish hanging breaking balls. He's a good athlete with first-step quickness and an above-average arm at third base. Consistency, in terms of concentration and execution, would propel Valencia from average to plus defensively. He'd also benefit from more patience at the plate. He rubs some teammates and club officials the wrong way with bouts of immaturity, including taking bad at-bats with him into the field and showing up umpires. He has below-average speed but isn't a liability on the bases. The Twins were looking outside--again--for a third baseman, but a more mature, focused Valencia could provide an internal answer. He's expected to get his first Triple-A test sometime in 2009.
The third prep pitcher Minnesota drafted in 2004, Swarzak has stayed healthy, unlike the two selected before him (Kyle Waldrop, Jay Rainville). Swarzak's career hit a bump when he drew a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a recreational drug in 2007. He struggled in Double-A in 2008 before finishing with a flourish after his first promotion to Triple-A. Swarzak has the best combination of stuff, youth and experience of any Twins starter in the minors. He has two plus pitches in his 91-93 mph fastball that touches 95 and his high-70s curveball with 12-to-6 break. He has become better at locating his curve. While he threw a solid changeup as an amateur, Swarzak has lost the feel for it as a pro. In Double- A, he struggled locating his fastball down in the zone, a mechanical issue tied to finishing off his pitches, and got hammered as a result. He has improved his mound demeanor but some scouts still question his competitiveness. Swarzak's fastball-curveball combo would make him a prime bullpen candidate, but club officials prefer him in a starting role. He responded positively to his exposure to Triple-A, where he'll return in 2009.
As a New Jersey high schooler, Hunt played catcher and pitched on a scout team coached by Twins area scout John Wilson. After transferring from Virginia, he ranked among the NCAA Division I leaders in ERA and strikeouts in both his seasons at Tulane. He faded down the stretch and fell out of the first round in 2008, but Minnesota happily scooped him up with the first pick of the sandwich round and signed him for $1.08 million. Hunt has premium stuff and reminds Twins scouts of Scott Baker. His fastball sits at 91-94 mph, and his curveball already ranks as the best in the system. It's a two-plane breaker with depth and power that he throws with conviction. Command has vexed Hunt since he became a full-time pitcher as a high school senior. He improved his strike-throwing ability in instructional league by moving his feet closer together, which aided in maintaining his load in his delivery and providing better balance. He lacks confidence and consistency with his changeup, but it does have potential. To start 2009, Hunt will return to low Class A, where he struggled when he tired late in his pro debut. If his improvements from instructional league take hold, he could move rapidly and challenge for a big league rotation spot late in 2010.
The Mets' top draft pick (second round) in 2006, Mulvey outperformed the other two pitchers (Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber) who came to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade. He started and finished strong at Triple-A Rochester, though he won just once in a three-month span in between. At his best, Mulvey competes hard with pitchability and above-average stuff. His fastball can reach 94 mph, though it usually sits at 87-91 with sink. He can vary his plus slider, giving it more tilt and bite or shortening it up to almost a cutter. He throws his curveball and changeup for strikes and has good mound savvy. Mulvey rarely had his best velocity, life or command this season, and his pitches generally were less sharp than they had been when he was a Met. Twins officials theorize the pressure of the trade and a desire to get to the majors prompted him to go for strikeouts, leading to less efficiency, deeper pitch counts and some overthrowing that sapped his stuff. He's not as good fielding his position or holding runners as he needs to be. Mulvey and Humber will compete for a job as a middle reliever/spot starter during spring training. Mulvey projects as a No. 4 starter, but Minnesota needs him more in the bullpen in the short term.
Gutierrez started 17 games as a sophomore at Miami before missing 2007 with Tommy John surgery. He returned as a closer and became one of three Hurricanes drafted in the first round last June, joining Yonder Alonso (Reds) and Jemile Weeks (Athletics). Gutierrez signed for $1.29 million. He has the best fastball in the system when velocity, command and especially movement are factored in. His low-90s sinker has drawn comparisons to Derek Lowe's, and he had a 2.6 groundout/airout ratio and didn't allow a homer in his pro debut. Gutierrez' delivery is so easy that his pitches seem to jump on hitters. He's excellent at holding runners, and despite making a costly error in the College World Series, he's an above-average fielder. At times, Gutierrez shows a plus slider in the mid-80s, but he lacks consistency with it. His changeup is in the rudimentary stages but has flashed some sink. The Twins intend to see if Gutierrez can emulate Lowe as a starter who works off his sinker almost exclusively. They also hope putting him in their high Class A rotation will help him hone his fastball command. If the need arises, Minnesota could shift him back to the bullpen and put him on the fast track.
Morales emerged as Puerto Rico's top prospect for the 2007 draft at a winter showcase, creating some first-round buzz, but he fell to the third round after an up-and-down spring. The Twins kept him in extended spring training to start 2008. Once he got on the diamond, he led the Rookie-level Appalachian League in homers (15) and slugging percentage (.623). Morales has wicked raw power, with plenty of leverage and strength in his swing. He's more than a one-dimensional slugger, as only Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson have more tools and raw ability in the system. Morales has plus speed and plays a quality center field, though he's expected to slow down some as he fills out and eventually wind up in right. His plus arm plays at either spot. Hicks and Benson are raw, but Morales is behind them in terms of his tools translating into games. He struck out in 39 percent of his at-bats last season because he doesn't recognize or handle breaking balls well. He employs a dead-pull approach despite having the strength to hit for power to all fields. Morales' upside is prodigious and the Twins will be extremely patient with him. He'll head to low Class A in 2009, part of an anticipated one-step-at-a-time climb to the majors.
The Twins have several pitchers of similar ability at the upper levels of their system, and Manship could yet wind up being the best of a group that includes Brian Duensing, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Anthony Swarzak. Manship has physically matured as a pro, adding two inches and 35 pounds, and has the stuff to be a big league starter. He has become more comfortable pitching off his fastball to both sides of the plate and has good control of the pitch, which sits at 88-91 mph with solid sink. He touches 93 with his fastball but could stand to command it better, having sacrificed a bit of command for more power. To do that, he'll need to become more efficient in his delivery. His mid-70s curveball remains Manship's best pitch, and he has a feel for the strike zone with it. When he got his first taste of Double-A last year, he learned that his curve alone wasn't enough for him to dominate, and he was homer-prone when made mistakes with his offspeed stuff. His changeup and slider give him two more pitches he can throw for strikes, though neither stands out. Scouts commend Manship's ability to compete without his best stuff and adjust within games when his plan of attack isn't working. He has answered questions about his durability--which stem in part from Tommy John surgery he had in 2003--by surpassing 180 innings last year (including a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League). He'll return to Double- A to start 2009.
Robertson thrived in low Class A in 2007, and the son of Rangers scout Jay Robertson seemed primed to break out further last season. Instead, his velocity dropped all spring, to the point where he was throwing in the low 80s. Diagnosed with shoulder tendinitis, he didn't pitch after July 7 and hadn't regained sufficient arm strength to get back on the mound in instructional league. At his best, Robertson throws four pitches for strikes, including an average 88-92 mph fastball, a plus slider, a solid-average curveball and an average changeup. He's a student of the game and hard worker who knows how to use his stuff better than most pitchers his age. Robertson's stiff arm action has concerned scouts since high school, and his tendinitis this summer won't quiet that chorus. Even the Twins admit his arm action limits his projection despite his big, physical body. At best, he has lost development time. At worst, there's no guarantee his arm strength will return to its previous peak. Eric Rasmussen was his pitching coach at Fort Myers in 2008, and now he's in charge of getting Robertson back up to speed as the organization's pitching coordinator. A healthy Robertson would be the Twins' top starting pitching prospect, and he could move to Double-A if he shows his old stuff.
Scouts still remember Plouffe fondly as a prep pitching prospect, and he would have played both ways at Southern California had he not signed for $1.5 million as a first-round pick. He has grinded his way to the doorstep of the majors, reaching Triple-A for the first time in 2008. He played more third base there and added experience at second base in addition to playing shortstop. However, the Twins don't think of him as a utilityman, seeing him instead as a slugging middle infielder in the Khalil Greene mold. Plouffe's hands and throwing arm made him a first-round pick. He still has a cannon for an arm that plays well on the left side of the infield, and his hands work at the plate and in the field. He has the hand-eye coordination to get the barrel of the bat to the ball and has average power, especially to the gaps. Club officials project he could hit 15-20 homers annually in the majors once he learns which pitches to lay off and which to drive. As with Greene, poor pitch recognition continues to depress Plouffe's offensive production. He's an aggressive, early-count hitter who tries to hit the first fastball he sees, in part because he lacks confidence or a consistent approach when faced with offspeed pitches or two-strike counts. He's a fringe-average runner who's fast becoming below average. His power will determine whether or not Plouffe becomes a big league regular or not. He could fit sooner than later as a utility player in Minnesota but will have to play with energy to earn a spot on manager Ron Gardenhire's bench. More likely, he's headed back to Triple-A Rochester after being added to the 40-man roster in November.
Parmelee and Joe Benson were Minnesota's top two picks in the 2006 draft--Parmelee went 20th overall and signed for $1.5 million--and they've played together ever since. Their ties include an unfortunate coincidence from 2008, when both played just 69 games at Beloit because to injuries. Parmelee got hurt playing first base, crashing into the wall in foul ground to make a catch and breaking his left wrist. Prior to the injury, he had continued his evolution into a power threat, more likely a first baseman in an organization loaded with outfielders with more well-rounded tools. Parmelee has more power, especially usable power, than any Twins farmhand, and he's also one of the system's more selective hitters. He significantly increased his walk rate in 2008, drawing more bases on balls in a half-season than he did in all of 2007. Putting himself in more good hitter's counts, he also unlocked his power more, falling one home run short of his '07 total. Parmelee has strength and a nice natural loft to his swing to produce power, though the Twins believe his numbers will fall next year while he recovers from his wrist injury and deals with more spacious ballparks in the Florida State League. With all those deep counts come strikeouts, and Parmelee will have to make more consistent contact at higher levels for his power to play. Some scouts question his bat speed and ability to catch up to good velocity. He still needs to improve at first base to avoid becoming a DH down the line, and he's a below-average runner. All of Parmelee's value is in his bat, a rarity among Twins prospects, but he has started to perform.
Benson could have played football and baseball at Purdue, a testament to his strength, athleticism and tools. He was making strong progress in 2008, but he tried to play through a back injury sustained by an offseason car accident. His performance suffered, and doctors eventually diagnosed a fractured vertebra. He finally shut it down in late June and wasn't healthy enough to play in instructional league. A healthy Benson has better raw tools than any player in the system save Aaron Hicks, with excellent bat speed, raw power and premium strength. He's fast (4.0 seconds to first base from the right side) and has true center-field range. Unlike many football players, he has an excellent throwing arm, and he ranked second in the Midwest League in outfield assists (14 in just 69 games) despite his injury. Despite his tools, hitting hasn't come easy to Benson, who seemed to be thinking more at the plate this year instead of reacting, especially in trying to combat breaking balls. He's going to need plenty of at-bats to improve his instincts, pitch recognition and hitting skills. Back injuries can be troublesome, but the Twins have had players return from them with tools intact, such as former all-star Chuck Knoblauch. Benson is in the right organization for a raw, toolsy prep player who will need to make up for lost time. Minnesota is patient and loaded with outfielders, and Benson could conceivably return to low Class A for a third season, though a promotion is possible.
Like Jeff Manship, Duensing had Tommy John surgery in college, and like Manship, he's an organization favorite because of his ability to throw four pitches for strikes. However, his command wasn't as sharp in 2008 as it had been previously, and he had his worst season as a pro. Duensing's best trait is his ability to manipulate his pitches. His fastball sits at 88-90 mph, but he can run it up to 94, particularly when working out of the bullpen, as he did for the bronze-medal U.S. Olympic team in Beijing. He also throws a slow curveball, a hard slider that he can shorten to a cutter or slow down into a slurve, and a changeup that remains his best pitch. The Twins don't pinpoint one reason for his lack of sharpness last season but he couldn't put opponents away when he was ahead in the count. His versatility and outstanding makeup could make Duensing more valuable as a middle reliever, and one club official sees him as a lefthanded version of Matt Guerrier. Middle-relief roles are readily available in Minnesota while the rotation looks less open. Duensing will compete for a bullpen job in spring training after getting added to the 40-man roster in November.
The Twins' international efforts are as wide-ranging as any team, with Hughes the latest Australian to make waves as a prospect. (Grant Balfour, who found success with the Rays in 2008, has been the best product of the Twins' efforts Down Under.) Protected on the 40-man roster in November, Hughes never has been considered a top prospect in the past because of a litany of minor injuries and an inability to garner consistent playing time. His 99 games played and 391 at-bats in 2007 were both career highs. He missed time in 2008 with a hamstring pull that kept him out of most of June. He was healthy enough to play in both the Double-A Eastern League all-star game and the Futures Game, where he put on a power display in batting practice on par with anyone on hand. Hughes has true plus power. He came to spring camp stronger and in better shape than ever before, and when he squares a ball up, it flies. He doesn't have a pure swing or approach--he's a front-foot hitter and lacks patience--but generates above-average bat speed and can kill good fastballs. Hughes came up as a middle infielder and hasn't found a position he can play regularly at an average level. He's not smooth defensively with stiff hands, and the Twins sent him to Venezuela for winter ball to get more reps at third base, but Aragua soon shifted him to left field. If Hughes can't play infield well, he likely won't be a regular and fits better as a utility player. He logged time at second base and played briefly at all three outfield spots in 2008. He's likely headed to Triple-A in 2009, where he may have to compete with Danny Valencia for playing time at third base.
While Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson were early-round picks, Minnesota had them repeat the Midwest League in 2008 while sending Tosoni, a 36th-round draft-and-follow, to high Class A though he had just 11 at-bats above Rookie ball. Tosoni was batting .325 and making the Twins look smart when he fouled a pitch off his left foot on May 16. He broke a bone on the top of his foot and missed three months. He was rusty when he returned, with one hit in 14 at-bats. Tosoni has a sweet, short swing, and only Ben Revere projects to hit for a better average among Twins farmhands. Tosoni is patient, keeps the bat in the hitting zone for a long time and stings the ball to all fields. He's not one-dimensional, either. He's an average runner who's a capable center fielder, and his arm plays above-average with accuracy, strength and a quick release. Despite his lack of experience, Tosoni has added polish on the fundamentals, such as running the bases, hitting cutoff men and grinding through at-bats. Unlike Benson and Parmelee, he lacks the above-average raw power normally associated with a corner outfielder, which is probably what he'll be in the long run. Tosoni will return to the Florida State League, hardly a power-hitting haven, in hopes of staying healthy and having his first full season in 2009.
Several scouts liked Bromberg's power potential when he was a high schooler in Malibu, but he instead has found success as a pitcher since signing as a draft-and-follow for $40,000. He led the minor leagues with 177 strikeouts in 2008, thanks to a finishing kick that included 50 whiffs in 35 innings over his final six starts. Bromberg is still making adjustments to being a full-time pitcher and learned to pace himself through a full season in low Class A, holding the velocity on his 88-92 mph fastball all season. He touches 95 at times with his four-seamer but pitches off the two-seamer, more notable for its sink than its run. He varies the velocity and shape of his curveball, his strikeout pitch. It really came around in the second half as he got a better handle on his mechanics. Former pitching coordinator Rick Knapp used planter stands to rig a directional training drill that got Bromberg to stop over-rotating in his delivery. His changeup is solid average, and he improved in quickening his time to the plate and handling the running game. Better fastball command will be crucial for Bromberg to keep getting strikeouts at higher levels, and he'll have to work to maintain his body, as he's not particularly athletic. He led the Midwest League in hit batters (19) and wild pitches (16). He projects as an innings-eating mid-rotation starter as he learns to be more efficient and not go for swinging strikes on every pitch. He's ticketed for high Class A this year.
Guerra was the biggest pitching prospect (physically and in terms of reputation) to come from the Mets in the Johan Santana deal. Signed out of Venezuela in 2005 for $700,000, Guerra was on the fast-track with New York. In 2007, he hit 95 mph with his fastball and showed a plus changeup as an 18-year-old in high Class A. He even pitched in the Futures Game in San Francisco. But he was far from the same pitcher after the trade, enduring a difficult season with his new organization. Whether Twins coaches altered Guerra or he altered himself is a matter of debate in the organization, but something changed with Guerra, who lost any consistency in his delivery. He threw different pitches from different release points and showed a stiff, stabbing arm action that Minnesota scouts didn't see in 2007. He topped out at 90 mph and sat in the mid- to upper 80s for most of 2008. His changeup still showed signs of being a plus pitch, and club officials do believe he can spin a breaking ball, which was a concern earlier in his career. Most distressing, one Twins official described him as having a "low-energy" body, and he'll have to get in better shape. Two things salvaged the year for Guerra. He threw a career-high 130 innings, and he made adjustments in instructional league that brought back most of his velocity. Minnesota will see which Guerra shows up in spring training, though he's expected to a make a fourth trip to high Class A in any case.
The Twins had hoped Romero would begin to emerge as a third-base option for them this season after he made a run at the Appalachian League triple crown and a successful cameo at Beloit in 2007. He returned to the Snappers in 2008 but as with Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee, injuries short-circuited his season. Robinson needed minor left knee surgery in late April, sidelining him for nearly two months (and opening a roster spot for Ben Revere). When he returned in mid-June, Romero got hot, showing his bat speed, quick stroke and raw power. However, he went out for the season on July 18 when he broke his right leg falling into the dugout while making a running catch. He'll have to prove he can regain the agility to stay in the infield, and he wasn't scheduled to begin workouts until January 2009, an indication of the severity of injury. His hands can be a bit hard, but he has an above-average arm and all the tools to fit the profile of a regular third baseman--if he can stay healthy. Minnesota showed its faith in Romero by placing him on its 40-man roster, and he could earn a spot in high Class A with a strong spring.
A four-year starter at Mississippi, Tolbert was known much more for his glove than his bat. He batted just .288 for the Rebels and rarely drove the ball. As a pro, however, he has retained his reputation for hard-nosed play and good defense while adding a respectable bat. Tolbert surprised the Twins by making the Opening Day roster last April and wound up spending most of 2008 in the majors, though he missed nearly four months with torn ligaments in his left thumb. He doesn't hit enough to profile as a regular on a championship team, but Tolbert stays within himself offensively and does all the little things, such as making contact, hitting behind runners and bunting. He doesn't hit for any power but recognizes his limitations. His energy and defensive versatility makes him a favorite of manager Ron Gardenhire, and his best tool--his speed--makes him an excellent late-inning option as a pinchrunner and defensive replacement. Mostly a second baseman coming up through the minors, he shuttled between second, third base and shortstop last season. He has reliable range, soft hands and a solid arm. Tolbert essentially is a younger, cheaper, bigger version of Nick Punto and could take Punto's utility role in 2009.
Tollseon is the son of ex-big leaguer Wayne Tolleson, who spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors as a lighthitting utility infielder. Tolleson is more physical than his father and projects to be a better hitter, thriving in 2008 despite missing time with a broken index finger. His tools grade out as average across the board except for his power, which is below average. However, he can drive some balls into the gaps and stayed strong through the Arizona Fall League, where he ranked among the league batting leaders. Of more concern are Tolleson's range and hands at shortstop, as they both grade out a bit short to play everyday. He's a better fit at second base and also has seen time in center field. His best-case scenario would be a career akin to Ryan Freel's. Tolleson hits more than the typical Twins utility infielder (such as Nick Punto or Matt Tolbert), but defense and speed often garner more time in that role for Minnesota. Added to the 40-man roster during the offseason, Tolleson will work on his defense and try to keep his offensive momentum in Triple-A in 2009.
Delaney was the setup man for 2005 Red Sox first-rounder Craig Hansen for two seasons at St. John's and then started 15 games as a redshirt junior in 2006. After Delaney went undrafted that June, Twins area scout John Wilson snapped him up as a free agent for $500. Delaney has done nothing but pound the strike zone since, with great success. He formed an impressive bullpen tandem with Anthony Slama at Fort Myers in the first half of 2008, then moved up to Double-A. Delaney's fastball has average velocity, sitting at 90-91 mph and touching 92, and he throws a heavy ball with excellent sink and surprising armside run. He has above-average command of his fastball as well and pitches to both sides of the plate with it. His slider is his second-best offering, suiting his low three-quarters arm slot, and he added tilt to it. He has been death to righthanders, limiting them to a .150 average last season. Delaney tired a bit in the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2008, and he was trying too hard to throw hard, costing him movement. His lack of an effective changeup or splitter to combat lefthanders is his biggest weakness, but his fastball command may be enough to make him a capable middle reliever.
The Twins drafted Slama in the 39th round in 2006 after his fourth year at San Diego. After he pitched as a fifth-year senior, they signed him before the 2007 draft for $4,000. He made a quick impact in his 2007 debut before tearing up high Class A last season, first as Rob Delaney's setup man, then as a closer after Delaney's promotion. Slama ranked third among minor league relievers with 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He lacks closer stuff but gets results with a low-90s fastball that tops out at 93 mph. It has solid sink, and he also gets groundballs with his average slider, which he throws for strikes. While he doesn't have Delaney's command, he has good control, rarely elevates his pitches and didn't give up his first home run as a pro until the Florida State League playoffs. Slama has plenty of deception, from a front arm that flashes out during his delivery to a lower arm slot and somewhat herky-jerky motion. The combination leaves scouts a bit skeptical, despite undeniable results. Slama will be 25 in 2009, and it's time to see if his deception and solid stuff can play above Class A. His spring performance will dictate his assignment, but he could jump a level or two.
The third overall choice in the 2004 draft and recipient of a $3 million bonus, Humber had an opportunity after the Mets included him in the Johan Santana trade. He pitched well in spring training, striking out nine and giving up just two runs in 14 innings in big league camp. However, he didn't make Minnesota's staff and didn't pitch well at chilly Rochester. He was demoted to the bullpen twice but finally got hot in late July, winning six of his last seven decisions, and he pitched well in relief during a September callup. While he hasn't had No. 3 overall pick stuff since Tommy John surgery in 2005, Humber still runs his 88-91 mph fastball up to 93-94 in shorter stints, and when he's right, he drives the ball downhill. His curveball remains a plus pitch, thrown with power in the upper 80s. He throws a solid changeup with some sink, but his fastball and change flatten out when he elevates them, leaving him vulnerable to home runs. Humber is out of options, which could help his cause in trying to earn a long-relief role in Minnesota in 2009.
McCardell gives the Twins yet another pitchability righthander, and he has a plus offering in his curveball, one of the best in the system. He added another solid offspeed pitch by throwing his changeup a mandated 10 percent of the time this year, and it made significant progress to become a solid-average weapon. A college third baseman who also pitched for NCAA Division II power Kutztown (Pa.), McCardell offers projection despite being 23 due to a good frame and clean, easy arm action. He wore down in his first year as a full-time pitcher in a full-season league, missing time with bone spurs in his elbow in late April and early May. Fatigue caused him to occasionally fly open with a shoulder and drag his arm behind, causing his fastball velocity to dip. He touched 90 and sat in the upper 80s most of the season after reaching 93 in 2007. With his size, solid delivery and increased experience, the Twins expect his fastball to maintain average velocity in the future. More strength and stamina also would add power to his curve, which at times can get soft. A solid athlete, McCardell competes well and earns plaudits for his toughness. He'll head to high Class A and help David Bromberg anchor the Fort Myers rotation in 2009.
Righthanded power is getting harder to find, and the Twins have been patient with Winfree, who has as much as anyone in the system except for Angel Morales. They waited through his 2006 season, when he went home for a spell while questioning his commitment to the game. He has become a better competitor the last two seasons and slowly is unlocking his power. A solid run producer with a knack for situational hitting, Winfree finished third in the Eastern League in RBIs (87) and sixth in homers (19) last season. Never particularly selective, he cut down on his strikeouts while increasing his power numbers and walk rate while repeating Double-A. His power comes from his strength, especially in his forearms and hands. He generates leverage and bat speed and can drive the ball out to all fields. A solid athlete, Winfree seemed freed up by a move to right field, where his above-average arm strength played better than at third base. He's still learning some nuances of the outfield. He's passed through the Rule 5 draft twice now, but the Twins believe in his power. Winfree should get his first shot at Triple-A in 2009.
Scouts remain intrigued by Van Mil, who's atypical in just about every way. He signed when he was 20 years old after Twins scouts worked with him while he was a teen, trying to get a 7-footer to pitch like one. Van Mil threw almost sidearm as an amateur, and he has evolved into a overhand power pitcher with a chance to be a legitimate factor in a big league bullpen. Van Mil has shown a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider, and both are plus pitches at times. He's coordinated and has a sound delivery with a clean arm action when all the parts work together. That's harder to do at his size, leading to periodic bouts of wildness. Van Mil left Beloit in July to pitch for the Dutch Olympic team, and when he arrived in Beijing he quickly emerged as a team leader. However, in a side session prior to the tournament, he overthrew and felt a pop in his elbow. Though he has a partial ligament tear, Minnesota opted against immediate Tommy John surgery in hopes rehabilitation would return him to full health. He appeared headed for surgery in December, though. Van Mil passed through the Rule 5 draft and may miss the entire 2009 season if he has surgery, further delaying his progress.
Tonkin has ties to the Twins before they drafted him last June, as his sister is married to Jason Kubel. He dropped to the 30th round because teams thought it would be difficult to sign him away from a commitment to Southern California, but he spurned the Trojans for a $230,000 bonus. Tonkin gets good sinking life and armside run on his two-seam fastball from a low three-quarters arm slot, sitting at 89-91 mph and touching 94 consistently. He also has shown a feel for a changeup, which has above-average potential with good sinking movement that mirrors his fastball. Tonkin threw a curveball with tilt and some sweep as an amateur, but his slot lends itself more to a slider down the line. He'll need some time to develop, as he's still growing into his lanky 6-foot-6 frame. He could earn a rotation spot in low Class A this year, but but a numbers crunch could hold him back in extended spring training.
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