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Hicks is a product of Long Beach's Wilson High, alma mater of such baseball luminaries as Hall of Famer Bob Lemon, 1974 American League MVP Jeff Burroughs and all-stars Bud Daley and Bobby Grich. Focusing on baseball after showing tremendous talent as a teenager golfer, Hicks was a two-way star at Wilson. He ran his fastball up to 97 mph and could have been a first-round pick as a pitcher. However, the Twins considered him the best athlete available in the 2008 draft and liked his competitiveness, as he led Wilson to a No. 1 national ranking and its first California district title in 50 years as a junior. They drafted him 14th overall--their highest first-round pick since Joe Mauer went No. 1 in 2001--and signed him for $1.78 million. Hicks ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his pro debut, then started 2009 in extended spring training. One he was assigned to low Class A Beloit in mid-June, he overcame a slow start to establish himself as the Midwest League's No. 1 prospect as well. Hicks combines five-tool athleticism with a surprisingly advanced approach at the plate. He has dynamic tools, starting with an arm that some scouts rate as an 80 on the 20-80 scale. His speed rates at least above-average if not better, and he has the tools to be a premium defender in center field. His hitting tools are in some ways similar to those of top Phillies prospect Domonic Brown, though Hicks has more explosiveness in his hands and may have more raw power. Like Brown, Hicks is more patient than most young, developing five-tool players. He repeats his swing and he recognizes pitches fairly well. He has good bat speed, especially from the left side of the plate. The questions with Hicks revolve more around how high the ceiling will be, and how quickly he arrives there. At times he was too patient for his own good last year, letting pitches he could drive go by in hitter's counts. However, it's easier to learn to unload on those pitches than to learn patience, and he has the leverage in his swing and wiry strength to take advantage in the future. He's inexperienced in baserunning and basestealing, as well as other subtle aspects of the game. He's stronger from the left side than from the right, like most switch-hitters, and his swing tends to get long from the right side. Denard Span taught the Twins some lessons. First, they want all of their center fielders to experience playing the corners in the minors, rather than learning in the majors as Span did. Expect Hicks to work in all three spots in 2010. Second, Span's development reiterated the lesson that power is often the last tool to develop. With his patience and aptitude, Hicks could move quicker than Span but come into his power down the line, perhaps like Span's predecessor, Torii Hunter. Hicks won't challenge Span anytime soon, and he may even return to low Class A to start this season. But when his skills and experience level catch up to his tools, he could take off, making his big league ETA of 2012 look conservative.
When he wasn't hurt in 2009, Ramos was Double-A New Britain's best player, but he missed a month with a broken tip of his left middle finger and nearly two months with a hamstring injury. He hit .341 (including the playoffs) after he returned, then made up for lost time with another strong showing in winter ball. After helping Venezuela to the Caribbean Series championship in 2009, he was leading the Venezuelan League in RBIs and slugging in mid-December. Ramos fits the catcher profile almost perfectly. He is physical and strong, with plus raw power and the ability to get the barrel to the ball. He's aggressive but covers the plate well, has natural hitting actions and shows power to all fields. He's agile for his size, receives well and has a cannon for an arm, throwing out 42 percent of basestealers last year. His hamstring injury and physical maturity have left Ramos a below-average runner, and he's on his way to being a baseclogger if he's not careful. He gained weight during his layoff but was getting back in shape in winter ball, where he also improved his pedestrian walk rate. He's a slow starter who doesn't always play with energy, though that improved in 2009. Ramos is insurance in case the Twins can't re-sign Joe Mauer. If Mauer locks up a long-term deal, though, Ramos becomes a valuable trade chip as a catcher who's almost big league-ready and has significant upside. He's likely headed for Triple-A Rochester in 2010.
Gibson was the third Missouri pitcher drafted in the first round of the last four drafts, joining Max Scherzer (2006) and Aaron Crow (2008). In his final college start, an NCAA regional game against Monmouth, his fastball velocity dipped into the mid-80s. Doctors diagnosed a stress fracture in his right forearm, which dropped him down many draft boards. The Twins snagged him with the 22nd overall pick and signed him for an aboveslot $1.85 million bonus. Gibson has premium secondary stuff that sometimes diverts attention from how good his fastball can be. He pitches at 91-92 mph with sinking life and commands his fastball to both sides of the plate. He'll run his four-seamer up to 94 mph, and scouts think there's more velocity to come. Minnesota believes his fastball will be a swing-and-miss pitch, as his plus slider already is. It sits at 82-85 mph when he's at his best and has sharp movement and good depth. His changeup gives him a third pitch with plus potential, and at times it's as good as his slider. The forearm injury scared off some clubs, as it's often a precursor to elbow damage. Some scouts thought Gibson trusted his offspeed stuff so much that he didn't learn to pitch off his fastball, so the Twins will emphasize that in his first pro season. Gibson threw well in instructional league, airing it out for four innings in his last start, and reported no problems. Minnesota is bullish on his health and will start his career at high Class A Fort Myers, putting him on a fast track. A strong, healthy season would put him in the mix for the big league rotation in 2011, and his upside is as a true No. 1 starter.
Sano was the consensus top prospect available in the international amateur signing period last summer. While the Pirates were considered the leader to sign him for most of the summer, the Twins landed him for $3.15 million in September. It was the second-largest bonus in franchise history, trailing only Joe Mauer's $5.15 million as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2001. Sano's tools fit perfectly with the profile major league clubs look for at third base. He's a physical, aggressive hitter who should hit for average and power. He has thunder in his hands and forearms and could hit 30 homers annually down the line. His arm strength is well above-average, and he has the hands to stay in the infield. Sano is already too big for shortstop, and it's possible he could outgrow the infield altogether and end up in right field. He has no obvious physical limitations, so he'll just have to prove that his obvious tools will play against pro competition. The last significant hurdle for Sano was to get his work visa, which he did in December. After getting the stamp of approval from Major League Baseball's investigations unit, he's cleared to play. The Twins like to handle prospects conservatively and likely will keep him in extended spring training before starting his career in Rookie ball.
Revere's father John was a 19th-round pick in 1972, and his brother J.R. was a 49thround pick of the Rockies in 2001. Ben was the first Revere to ink a contract, though, signing for $750,000, the second-lowest first-round bonus of the decade. Since signing, he has made the Twins look smart, batting .337 with nearly as many walks (80) as strikeouts (85). Revere is the best pure hitter in the organization and one of the best in the minors. He lashes line drives from pole to pole when he's locked in, and handles lefthanded pitchers well. His hand-eye coordination and plus-plus speed allow him to make contact and beat out even routine grounders for infield hits, and he also has shown gap power. He can be a disruptive force on the basepaths and has plus range in the outfield. Revere's power and arm grade out as below average, and his arm has had to improve to even get to that point. He may have a well below-average arm when all is said and done. His power is strictly to the gaps, and he'll have to keep proving he can handle hard stuff in. His routes and jumps in the outfield are rough, though he has the speed to make up for them. He has had left knee problems, missing two weeks after getting fluid drained last July. His overall game still needs polish, but Revere has a chance to be an impact leadoff hitter. With Denard Span ahead of him and Aaron Hicks behind him, the Twins have other center-field options, making him possible trade bait. He'll advance to Double-A this year.
The Twins started four different third basemen for at least 20 games in 2009 and have used 17 players at the position since Corey Koskie left following the 2004 season. Valencia has evolved into their best in-house option, reaching Triple-A last June and earning a spot on the 40-man roster in November. With good strength in his hands and wrists plus leverage in his swing, Valencia has plus raw power and tied for the organization lead with 38 doubles in 2009. He has the bat speed to get to good fastballs and trusts his hands, staying back on breaking balls and using the whole field. He has the defensive tools to play third base, with average hands, solid first-step quickness and plus arm strength. Valencia committed 20 errors in 124 games last year, which scouts attribute to his subpar concentration and footwork. He's just not consistent defensively. His plate discipline regressed in Triple-A, which bears watching. His brash, cocky demeanor has turned off some club officials and teammates in the past, but he has matured in the last year. He's a below-average runner. Now 25, Valencia will challenge for the third-base job in Minnesota in 2010. Defense will be the determining factor for a team that started Matt Tolbert twice at the hot corner in the playoffs.
Gutierrez helped lead Miami to the 2008 College World Series and was one of three Hurricanes first-rounders in 2008, along with Yonder Alonso and Jemile Weeks. His younger brother David, a righthander, still pitches for the Hurricanes. Carlos closed for the 2008 club, but the Twins liked him as a starter and used him in that role for most of 2009, until he reached his innings limit. Gutierrez's hard sinker delivers groundouts by the bushel. It's a 92-94 mph bowling ball that produced a 3.45 groundout/airout ratio, the best of any minor leaguer with 100 innings last year. He's difficult to elevate when he commands his sinker, and it helps his average changeup and slider both play up. He's athletic, controls the running game and fields his position well. The Twins were cautious with Gutierrez's workload after he had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and pitched just 80 innings between college and pro ball in 2008. He'll need to get stretched out even more to be ready to start in the majors. Command is his other big obstacle, as his ball moves too much for him to keep it in the strike zone at times. If Gutierrez can improve his command, he has a chance to make good on the Derek Lowe comparisons he has earned. He's headed back to Double-A as a starter, but if he falters in that role, he should be able to make a big league impact as a setup man or possibly a closer.
Morales dazzled scouts with his tools prior to the 2007 draft, then led the Rookie-level Appalachian League with 15 homers in 2008. He led Beloit in homers (13), RBIs (62) and steals (19) in his full-season debut last year, despite missing time with several nagging injuries. With more than a dozen Twins farmhands in Europe for the World Cup, Morales moved up for the Eastern League playoffs, going 0-for-5 with an error. Only Aaron Hicks and Max Kepler rival Morales for raw five-tool ability in the system. He has four plus tools now, with his arm and speed grading out the highest. He's athletic enough to play center field and may stay there, though as he fills out he's more likely to move to right, where he should be a strong defender. His raw power also grades out as above-average. Morales has an aggressive approach that has led to contact issues. He ranked second in the system with 104 strikeouts last season, though he trimmed his whiff rate to 28 percent of his at-bats from 39 percent in 2008. The twin culprits are pitch recognition--he doesn't identify breaking balls early enough--and a two-part swing. While he's lowered his hands and gets through the zone quicker, he doesn't have a classic swing path and has holes that even Class A pitchers have been able to exploit. Morales has an all-star ceiling if he continues to cut down his strikeouts. He'll advance to high Class A in 2010.
Signed for $40,000 as a draft-and-follow in 2006, Bromberg already has given the Twins value. In his last three seasons, he has led three leagues in strikeouts and topped the minors with 177 in 2008. Last year, he started the high Class A Florida State League all-star game and was Minnesota's minor league pitcher of the year. Bromberg chews up innings with a durable body and four pitches he can throw for strikes. He usually uses a two-seam fastball that sits at 89-92 mph, but he can run a four-seamer up to 95 when needed. He keeps the ball in the ballpark and pitches downhill. His curveball is his next-best pitch, and at times it has sharp downward break. He has confidence in his changeup and slider and pitches with a good tempo. He stays poised when in a jam, minimizing damage. His fastball command comes and goes, as Bromberg finished third in the FSL with 63 walks. He's not a great athlete, which can get his delivery out of whack. Because he doesn't command his fastball and his curve is a bit slurvy, he doesn't own a true plus pitch. Bromberg profiles as a No. 3 to No. 5 starter who will eat innings. He's headed for Double-A this year.
The Twins long have scouted Europe more actively than most clubs, and that groundwork paid off with Kepler, whose $800,000 bonus is the largest ever for a European position player. His Polish father and American mother met as ballet dancers in Berlin. He attended instructional league in September and enrolled at Fort Myers (Fla.) High, across the street from the Twins' Florida facility. Kepler has fast-twitch athleticism and graceful actions in the field. He does everything easily--running with plus speed, swinging the bat with authority and gliding after balls in the outfield. He has good hand-eye coordination and excellent size, projecting as every bit the five-tool athlete. He has plus raw power and the makings of a sound swing. Projecting 16-year-olds already is tough, and there's no precedent for Kepler, who's trying to become the first German amateur to reach the major leagues. The Twins' track record with European players has hits and misses, but their experience should help them ease Kepler's adjustment to the United States. He'll have to prove he can hit much better pitching than he saw in Germany. The Twins didn't sign many athletes in the 2009 draft, so the door is open for Miguel Sano and Kapler to establish themselves in Rookie ball in 2010. Kepler will report to extended spring training and play in the Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old until high school starts again in the fall. He probably won't make it to full-season ball until after he graduates from high school in 2011.
The Twins have become prolific winners in Rookie ball, thanks in part to their ability to get their pitchers to throw strikes. Ivan Arteaga, their Gulf Coast League pitching coach the last five seasons, has fashioned impressive pitching staffs that pound the zone. His 2009 staff averaged 2.2 walks per nine innings and led the GCL with a 2.47 ERA, and had four starters who pitched at least 50 innings and walked fewer than 10 batters. Salcedo had the best ratios, with just three walks and 58 strikeouts in his first season in the United States. He also has the highest upside of the group, which also included B.J. Hermsen, Michael Tonkin and Blayne Weller. It's hard not to get excited about Salcedo, who has a projectable build at 6-foot-4 at 175 pounds, as well as a 90-94 mph fastball. He flashes a power curveball with plus potential that reaches 84-85 mph at times. He shows the makings of solid changeup as well. Salcedo has a loose, quick arm and a sound delivery that accounted for his miniscule walk total. He's a workout monster who outruns and outworks many of his peers. Salcedo has yet to make the jump to full-season ball and hold up over the course of 100-plus innings. He'll get that chance in 2010 in low Class A.
A Canadian who followed the path of countrymen such as Russell Martin and Adam Loewen to Chipola (Fla.) JC, Tosoni has impressed the Twins with his hitting skills and solid tools. He missed time after signing in 2006 because of visa restrictions (he worked out at the Twins' Dominican complex instead), and in 2008 with a broken left foot. He had the game-winning hit in the 2009 Futures Game and was named MVP of the prospect showcase, and he led Canada to a bronze medal in the World Cup, batting .357 with 11 extra-base hits in 56 at-bats. Tosoni has one of the system's best swings and should hit for average. He's short to the ball and long through the hitting zone, and he has the patience to get into good hitter's counts. Tosoni's other tools all grade out as solidaverage, and his power emerged in 2009 for the first time. He has enough speed and savvy to play center field, and enough arm to fit into right field. He's a grinder who plays hard and earns praise for his makeup. Nothing Tosoni does stands out, however. His average speed won't play on the bases at higher levels, and he doesn't have the profile power for a corner. He seemed gassed in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit just .218. He struggles against lefthanders and hit just .185/.293/.315 against them in 2009, compared to .308/.389/.515 against righthanders. Tosoni may not be more than a second-division regular or a quality fourth outfielder, but he could fit in soon in Minnesota, which could use his lefty bat and defensive versatility. He'll start 2010 in Triple-A.
Ranked as high as No. 2 on this list in 2008, Benson still has the potential for five plus tools. His problem remains staying healthy. He had a fractured vertebra in 2008, then missed two months last year when he broke his right hand punching a wall. Benson returned to help Fort Myers to the Florida State League playoffs and stayed hot with a 4-for-11 postseason showing and strong instructional league. He has improved his hitting ability, trusting his quick hands and waiting on pitches more often. While his strikeout rate remains a steady 28 percent--he has an all-out swing and problems with pitch recognition--he nearly set a career high in walks last season. Benson's power is still raw, as he has size, bat speed and strength but hasn't learned to loft the ball yet. He's a plus-plus runner who goes home to first in 4.0 seconds, allowing him to play a capable center field. His plus arm makes right field his likely future home. Benson's injuries haven't hurt his athleticism, but they have cost him development time. He's a cold-weather kid who committed to play football at Purdue before the Twins signed him for $575,000 as secondround pick in 2006. His strong instructional league likely will push him to Double-A in 2010.
Parmelee and Joe Benson have been linked since the Twins drafted them in the first two rounds of the 2006 draft. The 20th overall pick that year and recipient of a $1.5 million bonus, Parmelee is an atypical Twins prospect in that he's not well-rounded and most of his value is tied up in his bat. He had his best season as a pro last year, considering he was coming off a broken left wrist and moved up to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He was one of the league's better sluggers, ranking first in walks (65), second in RBIs (73) and third in homers (16). He has strength and has worked hard to shorten his swing and make more contact. Parmelee can hit homers to all fields and has done a better job of using the opposite field. He made more progress in the Arizona Fall League, where he was among the league's younger players and continued to hit for power. Some scouts maintain that his bat speed is insufficient for him to catch up to good fastballs. Parmelee has a plus arm, but his below-average speed and range make him a better fit at first base than on an outfield corner. He'll get his first exposure to Double-A in 2010.
The Twins have had success of late drafting college relievers, getting big league contributions from the likes of Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain, and strong early returns from 2008 first-rounder Carlos Gutierrez. Bullock is a bit different, with a physical 6-foot-6 frame and a bigger fastball. He was a tease throughout his college career and didn't have consistent success until his junior season, when Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan--a former Twins minor league pitching coach--shifted him into the closer role. Bullock led the Gators to the NCAA super-regionals, where he lost a lead to Southern Mississippi. He gathered himself and had a strong pro debut after signing for $522,000 as a second-round pick. Bullocke's fastball sits at 93-95 mph, peaks at 97-98 and can have explosive late life up in the zone when he's at his best. He changes hitters' eye level with a hard slider that made significant progress in 2009, as he added depth and tilt to the pitch. Both could be plus-plus pitches, though his command would have to improve markedly for that to happen. Bullock was homer-prone in college but overwhelmed lower-level hitters in his debut. He was gassed in instructional league, when his velocity dipped to around 90 mph. His fastball is one of the system's best in terms of velocity, giving him a chance to rocket through the system. He'll start his first full pro season in Fort Myers, about two hours south of where he went to high school in the Tampa area.
The Twins' pitching-development philosophy was bound to change with Rick Knapp leaving to become the Tigers' big league pitching coach. His replacement, Eric Rasmussen, is more flexible about long-toss programs, which is music to Robertson's ears. His father Jay brought new pitching ideas to the Rangers as a scout before moving on to work as a special assistant to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, and Tyler was a long-toss devotee as an amateur. Keeping to Minnesota's 120-foot dictum as a pro, his arm strength has dipped a bit, though one club official says Robertson never was expected to have plus velocity. He has adjusted, creating angle on his fastball and pitching downhill from his 6-foot-5 frame. His funky arm action scares off some scouts but also creates deception. He sits at 85-88 mph and touches 90-91 with his fastball, pounding the bottom of the strike zone. His curveball is his best pitch and baffles lefthanders, who batted just .197/.292/.268 against him in 2009. His slider is more of a cutter and helps him work inside. He also throws a changeup, which would have greater effect if it had more separation from his fastball. Robertson emade every start at Fort Myers last year. He'll move up to Double-A for 2010, and the Twins will see if long-tossing will bring back some of Robertson's lost velocity.
After making solid progress through the low minors, Burnett hit a speed bump in 2008 and the Twins responded by shifting the smallish righthander to the bullpen. He responded with the best season of his pro career in 2009, earning a trip to the Arizona Fall League and a spot on the 40-man roster. Burnett had average fastball velocity and decent life as a starter, and he cranked his heater up coming out of the bullpen, sitting at 93-94 mph and reaching 95 consistently. He gets strikeouts by going up the ladder with his heater. Burnett still uses his average straight changeup out of the pen and has success with it against lefthandeders. They hit .150 off him during the 2009 regular season, then went 1-for-18 in the AFL. Burnett will become a big league bullpen factor when he improves his breaking ball command. He has thrown a hard, slurvy breaking ball, a true curveball with a bit less power and a big, slow curve in the past. He ditched the slow curve as a reliever and focused on the harder version, which is a strikeout pitch. Burnett's ability to retire lefthanders gives him a chance to be a future closer, but he must refine his fastball command and his breaking ball first. He's in line to close at New Britain in 2010 if Anthony Slama advances to Rochester, and Burnett's changeup could give him an edge over Slama in the long term.
The Twins don't have a great track record of developing players from the Dominican Republic, but they've had their share of success in Venezuela, from Luis Rivas to Jose Mijares to top catching prospect Wilson Ramos. Their latest find is Arcia, a strong hitter who could wind up fitting the right-field profile. Arcia thrived in the Gulf Coast League, as he's physically mature and has a fairly advanced hitting approach. He has plus raw power and current usable power but still was the third-toughest GCL regular to strike out. He has shown the ability to use the whole field, though he can get pull-happy. He impressed Twins coaches by adjusting as the season went along to constantly getting pitched away, hitting the ball with authority to the opposite field. Club officials laud his makeup. Arcia is an average runner with good instincts in the outfield. He has played center field on occasion, though he should slow down as he ages and wind up in right. His arm grades out as above average. He struggled in his first exposure to professional-quality lefthanded pitching, hitting just .194. Arcia has five average or better tools, and his hitting is advanced enough for the Twins to have high expectations. He could be the system's breakout player in 2010, when he's slated for low Class A.
The Twins got 107 excellent innings over parts of two seasons out of Pat Neshek, a low-angle righthander who relied as much on deception as on stuff. Slama is his heir, putting up great minor league numbers and reaching Triple-A in his second full pro season. He has 68 saves in 140 career appearances, and he's the rare minor league closer who actually is a prospect. Slama's recipe for success has remained consistent. He pounds the bottom of the strike zone with two average pitches, an 89-92 mph sinker that tops out at 93, and a slider that he can throw for strikes or bury. Neither pitch has exceptional velocity, but he has above-average late life, throws strikes and misses down when he misses. Better hitters chased his pitches less and he made a few more mistakes in the strike zone last year. He gave up his first five regular-season homers of his career, and his strikeout rate dipped from 14.9 per nine innings in 2008 (best among minor league relievers that season) to 12.4 last year. He set a career best and ranked second in the minors with 62 appearances, proving his durability. Slama could use a better changeup or a splitter to combat lefthanders, who hit .292 with four homers in 120 at-bats against him in 2009. The Twins have moved him slowly, but few other minor league relievers have done more to earn a chance. He'll open 2010 as Rochester's closer.
Manship made his major league debut in 2009, becoming yet another success story for Tommy John surgery and the Twins' pitching-development program. He had the operation back in 2003, prior to his first college season at Notre Dame, and has proved his durability every year as a pro. He pitched at least 149 innings for the third straight season and maintained his success in the minors before running into trouble in Minnesota. Manship is a fairly finished product who has a good curveball and has continued to improve his sinker, which sits at 89-91 mph. He runs his four-seamer up to 94 in shorter stints. He has yielded just 20 homers in his last 430 minor league innings, and he gets his share of groundballs. He throws a solid changeup and fringe-average slider, and both pitches are at their best down in the strike zone. In the majors, though, Manship's average stuff and fringy command proved insufficient. He lacks true fastball command and has found big league hitters less apt to chase. He doesn't have swing-and-miss stuff in the zone, so he must be more precise to succeed as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Minnesota bolstered the depth of its rotation by bringing Carl Pavano back, and Manship has little chance to earn a starting role in 2010. Instead, he'll head back to Triple-A as insurance and could contribute to the Twins as a middle reliever later in the year.
Hermsen was the top pitching prospect in Iowa in 2008, despite breaking his collarbone the previous fall while playing quarterback for his high school football team. Iowa has no spring baseball at the high school level, so the Twins followed him through the summer after drafting him in the sixth round, buying him away from Oregon State for a $650,000 bonus. He pitched in instructional league and then had to wait until June 2009 to make his pro debut as part of a talented Gulf Coast League rotation. Some club officials say Hermsen had the most upside on the GCL staff, including Adrian Salcedo. Hermsen's fastball velocity is just average, as he sat in the upper 80s and touched the low 90s last season. But he throws downhill with good plane and pounds the bottom of the strike zone, helping him finish second in the GCL by allowing 7.4 baserunners per nine innings and fifth with a 1.35 ERA. He projects to have plus command if he continues his low-maintenance delivery, which will require staying in good shape and not getting too big. He repeats his mechanics well for a young 6-foot-6, 230-pounder, leading to his excellent 42-4 K-BB ratio. His slider is another pitch geared to get early contact, and he has made progress adding a changeup. Hermson has earned Nick Blackburn comparisons for his durable build and ability to work off his fastball. He should join Salcedo in the Beloit rotation this year.
The most notable product of the Johan Santana trade for the Twins has been more trades. Minnesota got Kevin Mulvey, whom they traded to the Diamondbacks for Jon Rauch; and Carlos Gomez, whom they traded to the Brewers for J.J. Hardy in November. Philip Humber departed as a minor league free agent, leaving Guerra the last player from the deal still with the Twins. He signed with the Mets for $700,000 in 2005, but some scouts and managers who saw him last year can't get past the fact that a big, physical righty is essentially a finesse pitcher. Guerra has one plus pitch, a changeup with sink and good arm speed. His fastball is fringy, sitting at 89-90 mph and touching 92 with modest life, and his curveball is no better. His heater reached 94-95 mph in the Mets system but he didn't command it, and now he has lost life and velocity, with the Twins unsure if they'll come back. They say he uses his fastball and curve enough, but admit he gets predictable and leans on the changeup as an out pitch. He retires lefthanders (.234 opponent average in 2009) much more easily than righthanders (.305), evidence of just how much stronger his changeup is than his fastball and curve. He has improved his control but needs better fastball command to become more than just a piece of trade trivia. Added to the 40-man roster in November, Guerra will return to Double-A in 2010 after pitching in the Venezuelan League over the winter.
De los Santos has battled injuries over the last two seasons but showed the Twins enough to merit inclusion on the 40-man roster in the offseason. An elbow injury that didn't require surgery sidelined him until June in 2008, and a stress fracture in his leg kept him out of the lineup for two months last year. The leg injury cost him speed and upside, as he now projects more as a bottom-of-the-lineup hitter rather than as a tablesetting leadoff hitter. He lacks the patience for such a role anyway. De los Santos does have a quick bat and a line-drive swing, and he's still an above-average runner with the range, hands and plus-plus arm to play shortstop at the big league level. He's the best of the system's shortstops who have reached the full-season level. A switch-hitter, he has performed better from the right side. He needs to improve his consistency in the field and his short game (basestealing, bunting, etc.), and could evolve into an effective utility player. He already plays second base well enough, and the outfield and third base shouldn't be a stretch considering his tools and arm strength. His solid start to winter ball in the Dominican cemented his 40-man spot. Now de los Santos will try to stay healthy for a full season, likely at Double-A.
The Twins had six of the first 61 selections in the 2004 draft, and a group that included pitchers Glen Perkins and Anthony Swarzak, who have reached the majors. Plouffe was Minnesota's top choice that year, signing for $1.5 million as the No. 20 overall pick, but he has yet to make the big leagues.. He was on the 40-man roster in 2009, but instead of getting a September callup, the Twins allowed Plouffe to play for the U.S. national team in the World Cup. Team USA won 14 straight games and the gold medal, and manager Eddie Rodriguez praised Plouffe's steady defensive play as a key to victory. His shortstop defense hasn't been good enough as a pro, despite a plus-plus arm that remains his best tool. He made 26 errors last year at Rochester, consistent with the 29 he made in Fort Myers in 2006 and 32 in '07 at New Britain. He was more of a utility infielder in 2008, but he lacks the energy or speed to play that role in the majors. His supporters in the organization believe in his power, and Plouffe made more contact while driving the ball with more regularity last year. He lacks the patience and the leverage in his swing, though, to ever hit for more than average power. Plouffe still could be a second-division regular, but now he's blocked by J.J. Hardy. He'll go back for another stint at Triple-A.
Santana is one of several young shortstops who excite the Twins, a group that includes Australian James Beresford and 2009 Dominican signee Jorge Polanco. Santana has performed the best so far, showing impressive tools in the Gulf Coast League last summer. One club official said he had the highest ceiling of any middle infielder the club has had since acquiring Cristian Guzman from the Yankees in the Chuck Knoblauch trade in 1998. Santana is raw in terms of his approach at the plate, but he has electric ability. He has registered top-of-the-line 3.6-3.7 second times to first on drag bunts and hit grand slams in back-to-back games in August--one over the center-field fence, the other an inside-the-park job. His defensive ability also helps him stand out, as he has soft hands to go with above-average arm strength and range. While he has a feel for making contact, Santana is too aggressive at the plate and needs overall refinement and polish. His emergence and the system's overall depth at the position enabled the Twins to trade 2008 second-round pick Tyler Ladendorf to the Athletics for Orlando Cabrera, a key acquisition for last year's playoff drive. Santana has a chance to earn the Beloit shortstop job in 2010, provided Beresford moves up to Fort Myers.
The Twins have had success developing college pitchers in recent years, from Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins to more recent picks such as Carlos Gutierrez. They took four more college arms with their first four draft picks in 2009, starting with Kyle Gibson and followed by Bashore, one of the top lefthanded starters available. He signed for $751,500 as a sandwich pick. Bashore was a three-year starter for Indiana and teamed with Brewers first-rounder Eric Arnett to lead the Hoosiers to their second-ever regional appearance last spring. After flashing a 94-mph fastball as a sophomore, Bashore pitched more at 88-91 mph at the beginning of his junior season. His velocity perked back up late in the season and he touched 94-95 at times. The Twins grade his fastball as slightly above average because of its movement, velocity and control. Bashore throws both a plus curveball and an average slider, and he tends to blend the two when he got in trouble. His arm action and sound delivery should allow him to pound the strike zone once he makes some refinements. He's physical and resembles Perkins, a fellow Big 10 Conference alum, in size and repertoire, though he has a better body than Perkins had at a similar stage. Bashore wound up having bone chips removed from his elbow after his brief pro debut but is expected to be ready for spring training. He may start in extended spring to ease his way back from surgery.
Morales' patience was rewarded in 2009. He made it to the major leagues in his ninth season in the organization, and it looks like he'll stay as Joe Mauer's backup. Morales earned significant playing time in the September stretch run and got a spot on the playoff roster, six years after the move that made his career--switching from infielder to catcher. His defensive shortcomings have kept him off prospect lists in the past, and he's still not an ideal backup from a defensive standpoint. He's a solid receiver with a fringy arm that produces 2.0-2.1 second pop times. He used to run OK for a catcher before left ankle injuries that ended his 2007 and 2008 seasons. Morales stands out more at the plate. In his three seasons in Triple-A, he hit .319 in 861 at-bats. He continued to make contact in the majors, batting .311 and drawing walks as well. He has good hands, trusts them and isn't afraid to let the ball get deep. He uses the whole field and has the bat speed to keep pitchers honest when they try to come inside. He doesn't have a lot of power, though he can drive some balls to the gaps. Morales is cheap and has useful skills as a switch-hitter who can contribute offensively.
Tootle is trying to top Todd Jones as the best Jacksonville State alumnus in major league history. He was the Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the year in 2008 and then ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Cape Cod League that summer, showing a fastball that reached 98 mph regularly. However, he missed a month last spring with a stomach virus that caused him to lose at least 10 pounds. He was never at his best, allowing Minnesota to grab him in the fourth round and sign him for $324,900. Tootle is a hard worker and long-toss fan with a quick arm who holds his above-average velocity deep into games when he's physically right. It took him a couple of starts last spring to get his velocity back, and he still couldn't maintain more than 92-96 mph velocity past the fifth inning. Pitching in relief and using his fastball almost exclusively, Tootle racked up groundouts in his brief pro debut. His fastball is far ahead of his secondary pitches, so he may be destined for the bullpen anyway. His slider is average at best, and he slows his arm noticeably when he throws his below-average changeup. The Twins plan to have him start in 2010 to further develop his secondary stuff, but even Tootle told club officials that he sees himself as a reliever in the long term.
Every bit of 7-foot-1, Van Mil remains both a curiosity and a potential impact reliever. The Twins have invested a lot of time in him, working with before he signed at age 20, and added him to the 40-man roster for the first time after the 2009 season. Van Mil passed through the Rule 5 draft unprotected in 2008, thanks in part to an elbow injury. He heard a pop in his elbow while warming up to pitch for the Netherlands in the Beijing Olympics. He wound up passing on surgery and rehabbed the ligament strain, sat out the World Baseball Classic in the spring and got back into game action by the end of May. Van Mil remains inconsistent with his stuff and delivery, as might be expected with his size. While he's coordinated and has a sound delivery, it's still hard to repeat. At his best, Van Mil sits in the mid-90s and touches 97 mph with his fastball. At times his slider is the best in the system (before Kyle Gibson's arrival), reaching as high as 88 mph. He doesn't command either pitch but really doesn't need pinpoint accuracy. He does need to throw more strikes to reach the big leagues, though. In a sign of his dedication, Van Mil skipped the World Cup at the end of last summer even though it was an opportunity to play in his homeland and more than 20 current and former Twins were involved. He finished up the season Double-A and figures to return there for 2010, though he could start in the warmer weather of Fort Myers if his elbow gives him any trouble.
The Twins loaded up on young infielders in 2009, from international signees Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco to fifth-round pick Derek McCallum. Beresford, signed in 2005 to a contract that allowed him to stay home to finish high school, remains a factor in the organization because of his tools and makeup. He started for Australia during the World Baseball Classic and showcased his sound, fundamental swing by lashing a double to left field off flamethrowing Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman. Beresford has good hands that work at the plate, giving him feel for the barrel of the bat, and with the glove. He's a capable defender at either position up the middle. Also scouted as a pitcher as an amateur, Beresford has had shoulder surgery and doesn't throw quite like he used to. He still has enough arm for shortstop, and it would be above average at second base. He has a rail-thin body, but Twins scouts believe there's projection left, especially considering how physical his father and older siblings are. He's a plus runner who needs work on his jumps to become a better basestealer. Beresford's makeup sets him apart, as he has leadership qualities and competitiveness that endear him to coaches, teammates and frontoffice officials. Beresford likely will repeat Beloit in 2010, teaming with McCallum and 2009 draft sleeper Brian Dozier in the middle infield.
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