Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can Liriano shine in a contract-year?

In an interview over the weekend with 1500 ESPN, Terry Ryan expressed optimism that the starting rotation has the potential to turn things around very quickly for the Twins in the coming season. He likes the combination of veterans and familiar team players that have been part of the club's success in recent years. There is also the fact of the team only being one season removed from over 90 wins and a trip to the playoffs.

For the Twins to avoid many of the pitfalls of 2011, the starting rotation is going to have to stay healthy and produce on the field. One player who all of Twins Territory will be looking to in 2012 is Francisco Liriano. The left-handed pitcher had his fair share of struggles last season and ended the year with a disappointing ERA of 5.09 and a 1.489 WHIP in 26 games. His no-hitter might have been one of the highlights of last season but his inconsistencies were prevalent during the majority of the year.

Liriano's disappointing 2011 season came on the heels of his best season since returning to the mound from Tommy John surgery. In 2010 Liriano was able to win 14 games, post a 3.62 ERA, throw over 190 innings, and strikeout over 200 batters for the first time in his career. As the Twins headed to the playoffs, it looked like Liriano was close to turning in to the ace the team hoped he would be when they got him from the San Francisco Giants.

Since Liriano pitched the most innings of his professional career in 2010, the Twins gave him the offseason to rest and recover from the riggers of the year. Before the 2010 season, Liriano had pitched in the Dominican Winter League but the team wanted Liriano to prepare himself for 2011. When Liriano showed up to spring training at the beginning of 2011, the team quickly found out that Liriano had not done all of the stretches he needed to as part of his offseason regime. It took Liriano some time to get himself prepared in the spring and the beginning of the 2011 season was rough as he had an ERA of over nine in the first month.

At the beginning of the offseason, the Twins were unsure if Liriano would spend time pitching in the Dominican Winter League. In the end the Twins and Liriano decided to let him make a limited amount of appearances in the winter months. These outings have not gone perfectly as Liriano has faltered to a win-loss record of (0-4) with a 7.36 ERA.

Liriano's team in the DWL made the playoffs and he was asked to take the mound in a pivotal game. The outing got off to a rough start by facing eight batters in the first inning but he was able to escape the mess by only allowing two runs. He would give up a home run in the third and the final straw for Liriano was giving up a 2-run shot to former teammate Carlos Gomez. His final line was 3.2 innings pitched with six hits, five runs, three earned runs, four strikeouts, one walk, and two home runs.

This all leads to pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida in a couple of weeks. The last time Liriano pitched in the winter leagues he was able to gain some confidence and put together a tremendous campaign. The Twins hope a repeat performance will be in order for the 2012 season as he is entering the last year under contract with the club. He needs to show the Twins that he is worthy of an investment for future seasons.

With Liriano turning 28-years old during the offseason, the time could be running out for him to produce on the promise he showed in the past. The organization will give him every opportunity to show his worth in 2012 and the stakes will be high for a man who has not held up well in some pressure situations in the past. The Twins could have plenty of holes to fill in their starting rotation for 2012 and the club needs Liriano to show he wants to be a top of the rotation starter.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A three day adventure at TwinsFest

The annual fan gathering known as TwinsFest was held over the weekend at the Metrodome. This meant thousands of fans headed back to the Twins old stomping grounds to get warmed up for the 2012 season. There are tons of autographs to obtain, any piece of memorabilia a fan could want, and a multitude of other activities for the whole family.

I attended all three days of TwinsFest and I was able to experience everything I wanted to over the weekend. It was a blessing to be back at the Metrodome after being in the cramped quarters of the National Sports Center in Blaine last year. Fans were able to spread out across the floor and there was no waiting out in the cold for autographs.

Here is a look at how I spent my three days at TwinsFest with some of the stories and experiences I had along the way.

Day 1- Friday, January 27
On Friday night, I usually try to get the lay of land when it comes to TwinsFest. I spend time seeing where things are set-up, what kind of booths are new, where the autograph lines are, etc. There is usually not too much change from one year to the next but it is still fun to explore on the first night of the festivities. There is a lot less people roaming about on a Friday after work so this makes it easy to accomplish things.

One of the coolest experiences I had on Friday was finding out the Twins had used a photo of mine in the Target Field showcase area. Fans were asked to send in their best shots of Target Field from the last couple of seasons. Then the organization blew up the pictures and had them on display.
I went through the minor league line once on Friday night to get some of the players to sign next to their profile in the 2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. I was ready for a full day on Saturday at the Dome. 

Day 2- Saturday, January 28
The second day of TwinsFest was full of a variety of events for die-hard fans of the organization. There were plenty of more attendees on Saturday afternoon as fans looked for a fun activity for the weekend. It is a little tougher to navigate through the throngs of strollers, autograph hawks with suitcases of bats, and the other casual fans.

Around lunchtime on Saturday, I heard an interview with Justin Morneau at the 1500 ESPN radio stage. Many fans gave him a standing ovation for all of the hard work he had done over to try and get back for the coming season. Morneau didn't reveal anything big in the interview but he did say all the right things about being prepared for 2012. He has changed his diet and he focused a lot on his core this offseason. Hopefully that translates to better production on the field but his concussion issues are still scary.

Another cool event on Day 2 of TwinsFest was a social media event the Twins call a "Tweet and Greet." Fans who follow the Twins on Twitter were given the location of a secret meeting with current members of the team who are on Twitter. Once the location was announced, fans rushed to the upper levels of the Dome to try and get a good spot for the event. I was one of the first half dozen people to reach the destination so I was able to score a seat at the front of the fans.
The Twins who attended the Saturday version of the "Tweet and Greet" were Danny Valencia, Denard Span, Ben Revere, Brian Duensing, and Drew Butera. Fans who attended the event were able to ask the players and questions they wanted to over the course of the 30-40 minute event. There were not a whole lot of people willing to ask questions so I was able to get two questions answered by the players (Span gave me some grief when I asked my second question because he thought it was the eighth one I had asked).

The first question I asked was about minor league players and who the guys thought could be an impact player this year out of the minor leagues. Revere's first response was a joking response that the outfield is full so there was no room for minor leaguers. He mentioned names like Joe Benson and Brian Dozier. Before the next question was asked, Danny Valencia made sure to tell the crowd to be on the look out for Carlos Gutierrez as an option for the bullpen.

My second question was directly for Brian Duensing and I asked him about his role on the team for next season. He said he would prefer to be a starter but he knows he has had success out of the bullpen in the past. He knew the 2011 season didn't go as planned but he is ready for what ever role he will play on the team for 2012. The goal is to get back to the playoffs and all of the guys had this as their focus for next season. (I know it is sideways but here is a QuickTime video of Butera dancing with a fan who was at the event.)
I was able to score a few more autographs from the minor league players in my prospect handbook before Saturday at the Dome was done. Later in the evening a group of Twins bloggers and fans met at the Old Chicago in Roseville for food and for a lot of nerdy baseball talk about the Twins.

Day 3- Sunday, January 29
A buddy of mine came with me on Sunday for the event and he had the goal of getting a bat signed by Joe MauerMauer signing but after it got started it seemed to go very smooth. I would say I enjoyed the wristband system much more than standing in line for seven hours for a possible chance at getting an autograph.
The only real autograph I was searching for over the weekend was Jack Morris. He is so close to getting into the Hall of Fame and I wanted to snag an autograph from him before he goes up in price for the coming years. I was able to get a nice 11x14 picture of Morris from Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. It is a fun piece of memorabilia to have and it will be fun to tell my kids about the story of Game 7 in the future.

Through out the course of the day, I picked up a few other pictures and minor league signatures to put into my prospect handbook. I listened to a Fan Forum with Terry Ryan, Dave St. Peter, and Jim Pohlad that was full of some tough questions for the leaders of the franchise. There was a variety of questions about the true ages of players from Latin America, making improvements to the batters eye, the use of the designated hitter in NL parks, and some of the impacts of the new CBA. Overall, the three men were very honest and forth coming with their answers to the fans. It was one of the most interesting and informative parts of the weekend.

It was a fun three days back in the Dome and it was exciting to know the players will be reporting to Fort Myers in a couple of weeks. The players, front office, and fans are ready to put last year behind them. It is one step closer to Opening Day of the 2012 season.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks: Minor League Edition

It has been one of the busiest weeks in the history of this blog as I have delved into a variety of topics surrounding the minor league system of the Minnesota Twins. My top 20 Twins prospects were released earlier this week. I looked at some of the age related issues facing players born in Latin America and how it impacts Miguel Sano, the number one prospect in the Twins organization. Yesterday, I shared an excerpt from the 2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook by previewing the 2012 MLB Draft.

This weekend also marks the annual gathering of fans for TwinsFest at the Metrodome. People from across Twins Territory will converge on downtown Minneapolis for autographs, baseball cards and memorabilia. Fans of the organization are eager to turn the page on last season and get prepared with the hope of 2012. I will be attending all three days of TwinsFest and you can look for my full report on festivities in the coming days.

To wrap-up my first "Minor League Appreciation Week," I have compiled a variety of links related to the minor league system of the Twins. Enjoy the links and I look forward to meeting some of you this weekend and getting reacquainted with those I have already met.
Weekly Rundown
Video of the Week: Here is a quick video of Miguel Sano that was put together by MLB.com to accompany their Top 100 Prospect list. Sano was the only Twins player in their top 25 and his transition to a full season league will be watched closely next season by many people across baseball.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Plotting a path through the 2012 MLB Draft

It is Minor League Appreciation Week here at NoDak Twins Fan. That means the entire week's post will be dedicated to the young players who hope to one day take their place in the line-up at Target Field. These young players work tremendously hard to try and reach the ultimate dream of being a big league player and they should be recognized for efforts on the field. This week I will unveil my Top 20 Prospect List and feature some stories around the players who make their living wearing the jersey's of the Twins farm system.

Here is the schedule of posts that will be featured during the next week:
Thursday (Today): Plotting a path through the 2012 MLB Draft
Friday: Minor League Edition of Friday Links-N-Thinks
[The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the "2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook." If you would like to read the entire article, make sure you order a copy of the book by CLICKING HERE]
(Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
After a decade of finishing near the top of the American League Central, the Twins found themselves in a precarious position to end the 2011 season. The team finished in last place in the division and they also had the worst record in the American League. It was a tough season to follow the team but in the end the Twins have “earned” the second pick in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft this coming June.

All of the success of recent years has meant that the Twins were picking in the later half of every round in the draft. Since the draft is the main way a team can replenish their minor league system, it can be tough on the farm clubs to be picking that low for ten consecutive years.

Predicting a path for the Twins in the upcoming draft can be a difficult task since the players who will be selected still have an entire season of games in front of them. The Twins have some glaring weaknesses in the minor leagues and the draft is the best way to remedy those flaws.

The path to the big league team can take multiple routes for those that are selected in June. High school players can spend many seasons in the minor leagues to develop themselves into a mature prospect. College level players could move through the system very fast and start to help the Twins in as little as a year. Each player’s path is different and their road to Target Field is something the Twins have to consider when looking at drafting players.

Here is a look at the areas of need for the Twins and a glace to some of the players that have the possibility of being selected with the second overall pick [Player profiles are exclusively in the
2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook].

Starting Pitcher
Every team in baseball is looking for an ace to steady their rotation for the foreseeable future. The Twins have used a philosophy of finding pitch-to-contact players and it could be time for the organization to look in another direction. The team has claimed to be looking for power arms over the past year but the hurlers brought in have been rejected relief pitchers that were cast off from other organizations. The easiest and cheapest way to address a starting pitching need is to find someone in the draft and develop him in the minor leagues.

In both the 2009 and 2010 Draft, the Twins took college pitchers with their first round pick. One of those pitchers, Kyle Gibson, was on track to make his MLB debut in 2011 before Tommy John surgery forced him to the sidelines for all of next season. The other first round pick, Alex Wimmers, had a rough start to 2011. But after working on some mechanical issues for most of the season, he finished strongly with a seven-inning no-hitter.

Players to watch:
[Exclusive to 2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook]

The Twins have their superstar catcher Joe Mauer locked into a deal for the majority of the next decade. But as this year showed, injuries can always be a problem and Mauer won’t be behind the plate for the entirety of the rest of his career. Chris Herrmann has shown that he deserves a look this spring but the Twins could still use some depth in catching position of their farm system. If the Twins feel this is a big enough need, they could have to make a reach to draft the best available catcher.

The minor league system of the Twins has created a couple of excellent catching prospects over the last decade. Joe Mauer was taken the last time the Twins had a top three pick in the MLB Draft and he worked his way through the system to become a three-time batting champion and the MVP of the American League. Justin Morneau also won an MVP and he started out as a catcher but was moved to first base to make room for Mauer. Wilson Ramos was another player that moved through the Twins farm system and he blossomed into a very good catcher in his rookie season with the Washington Nationals in 2011.

Players to watch:
[Exclusive to 2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook]

Middle Infield
During the 2011 season, the Twins saw what could happen when the players in the middle infield are a little shaky. The team struggled to find stability at shortstop and second base, which translated to some bad defense and weak offensive output. Players such as Trevor Plouffe and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were given ample opportunities to show they belonged in the long-term plans of the organization. Each of these players was very underwhelming in their time with the big league squad.

Last season’s MLB Draft saw the Twins trying to address some of their weakness in these middle infield positions. With their first round pick, the Twins selected Levi Michael from the University of North Carolina. Regardless of whether he is playing shortstop or second base, Michael’s bat projects to be a solid hitter at the MLB level. The emergence of Brian Dozier also adds some stability to the Twins up-and-coming middle infield prospects. His 2011 campaign caught the attention of the big league squad and he could project to be in Minnesota in the very near future.

Players to watch: [Exclusive to 2012 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook]

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How old is Miguel Sano?

It is Minor League Appreciation Week here at NoDak Twins Fan. That means the entire week's post will be dedicated to the young players who hope to one day take their place in the line-up at Target Field. These young players work tremendously hard to try and reach the ultimate dream of being a big league player and they should be recognized for efforts on the field. This week I will unveil my Top 20 Prospect List and feature some stories around the players who make their living wearing the jersey's of the Twins farm system.

Here is the schedule of posts that will be featured during the next week:
Wednesday (Today): Feature story on Miguel Sano
Thursday: Plotting a path through the 2012 Draft
Friday: Minor League Edition of Friday Links-N-Thinks
Sano came into his own in '11 (Photo: Baseball America)
As many lists of the top prospects from each team start to trickle out, it is looking more and more that Miguel Sano is the consensus number one prospect from the Twins organization. The young star from the Dominican Republic had an outstanding season for the Elizabethton Twins. He has begun to show some of the great promise the Twins saw in him when they signed him at age 16 to a $3.15 million signing bonus.

At the time of Sano signing with the Twins, there were many questions swirling about his true age. In 2009, MLB completed an investigation into this issue but the results were inconclusive. Because of the age issues, Sano lowered his asking price to sign and some teams were still scared away by his high price tag. The Twins were the team to pull the trigger and they gave him the second highest signing bonus in team history behind Joe Mauer’s $5.15 million bonus in 2001.

During this offseason, Albert Pujols, the best player to ever come out of the Dominican Republic, received a 10-year $240 million contract with the Angels. There are plenty of reports about teams that were questioning the age of Pujols when it came to contract negotiations. One national writer even suggested that Pujols should produce his birth certificate because of skepticism around his claim to be 31. This still didn't stop the Angels from investing in the best right-handed hitter of the current generation.

The latest age related scandal to come out of the Dominican Republic has surfaced within the last week. Roberto Hernandez Heredia, the Cleveland Indians pitcher known as Fausto Carmona, was arrested for using a false identity to play baseball in the U.S. From the perspective of the Indians, one of the biggest issues, besides Heredia having trouble getting to the US, is the three-year age difference between Carmona's birth certificate and his true age. A 28-year old pitcher with a chance to turn it around is a completely different story when compared to a 31-year old player who might have already passed his prime.

For players from the Dominican, there is plenty of pressure to find some way to lie about their age to escape the poverty they are subject to for all of their lives in their home country. According to Sports Illustrated on average, a 16-year old player brings in about $65,000 with their signing bonus. Add two years to their age and an 18-year old signs for an average of $20,000. That is a big difference in a country where the per capita income is only $8,900. A player who shows any sign of promise is going to try and "adjust" their age to put their family in a better place for the future. 
Sano in the Dominican Republic before he signed (Photo: ESPN)
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are working with their international baseball committee to find a way to solve this crisis with players from Latin America. They continue to stress with these players about the fact that the big money for any player is when they get to the major league level. A big signing bonus will look good at first but the goal should be to make it to the big league level and succeed there to get a big contract. Obviously, only a small portion of these signees are going to make it all the way to the majors so the temptation is still going to be there to change their age. 

For all other players trying to fudge the numbers on their birth certificate, the case around Roberto Hernandez Heredia (a.k.a. Fausto Carmona) could be a benchmark for the consequences they have the potential to face. If the Dominican Republic imposes a harsh penalty on Heredia, other prospects might be scared away from altering their identity in the future. The United States could also make it very tough for Heredia to enter the States in the future. As ridiculous as it seems for a baseball player to be considered a terrorist, the use of an illegal identity to gain entrance to the US could be seen as an act of terrorism.

For the Twins and Sano, he was reported as a 16-year old out of the Dominican Republic when he signed in 2009. This past season he was listed as an 18-year old and the younger players on the roster of the Elizabethton Twins. His young age is a very intriguing part of his prospect status. If the Twins were suddenly to find out that Sano was three years older than originally advertised, how would this change the future of the number one prospect in the organization?

A difference of age by only a couple of years for Sano probably wouldn’t have changed the minor league level he was playing at last season. If he were older, the organization might be forced to rush him through some of the levels of the farm system. There are still some raw parts to his game and the extra time he is going to get in the minor leagues will be a positive for him. If there are any issues with Sano’s age, they shouldn’t impact the Twins until it comes to signing him to a contract extension. This won’t come for many years and not until he has proven himself at the MLB level.
Sano at Twins Spring Training (Photo: Jim Crikket)
In ten years, the Twins could find themselves in a variety of different situations. Sano might not ever pan out in the minor leagues and the possibility is there for him to never make it to the MLB level in a worst-case scenario. With the investment the Twins have made, there is very little chance that he will not get at least a taste of the big leagues. After a few mediocre seasons, the organization could find themselves in a similar situation to the Indians; Sano’s real age could be released and the team might have to think hard about his future. The best situation for Sano and the Twins would be if he were to follow in the footsteps of Pujols and turn into an All-Star caliber player for multiple seasons.

To fans of the Twins, it won't matter what age Sano is if he has a career anywhere close to Pujols. The more prying issue could be if he has been using a false identity to illegally enter the US. Losing a star player in the prime of his career because of visa issues would be a crushing blow to any franchise. Sano might be the best player to come through the Twins minor league system since Joe Mauer and the future of the franchise could be tied to his birth certificate.

If you enjoy learning more about the Twins minor league system, make sure to order a copy of the 2012 Twins Prospect Handbook. This book was put together by Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net and it is a great resource for any fan of the Minnesota Twins. There are over 160 prospect profiles, featured articles by Twins writers, and multiple top prospect lists from Twins bloggers. This is the best way to get to know the players who are the future of the Twins franchise. ORDER HERE

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 Twins Top 20 Prospects: 1-10

It is Minor League Appreciation Week here at NoDak Twins Fan. That means the entire week's post will be dedicated to the young players who hope to one day take their place in the line-up at Target Field. These young players work tremendously hard to try and reach the ultimate dream of being a big league player and they should be recognized for efforts on the field. This week I will unveil my Top 20 Prospect List and feature some stories around the players who make their living wearing the jersey's of the Twins farm system.

Here is the schedule of posts that will be featured during the next week:
Tuesday (Today): 2012 Twins Top 20 Prospects, 1-10
Wednesday: Feature story on Miguel Sano
Thursday: Plotting a path through the 2012 Draft
Friday: Minor League Edition of Friday Links-N-Thinks

1. Miguel Sano, 3B (2011 Rank: 1) Level: Rookie
.292/.352/.637, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 18 DBL, 58 R
Sano burst onto the scene in 2011 and showed some of the raw ability that the Twins were looking for when they gave him a signing bonus of over $3 million as a 16-year old back in 2009. He was 18 this past season and he was in a battle for the home run title in the Appalachian League with his teammate, Eddie Rosario. At the end of the year, he would finish second in home runs and third in OPS, slugging, and RBI in the Appalachian League. By most accounts, he is the consensus number one prospect in the Twins organization and fans are looking forward to what he will be able to do with his first year in a full season league in 2012.

When Sano signed with the Twins, he was coming to the organization as a shortstop. With his body continuing to fill-out, the team allowed him to spend most of his time at third base in 2011. There have been some holes in his defense during his first two years in the system but many prospect evaluators are saying that Sano should be able to stick at the hot corner. If defense continues to be a problem, he could start to see time at first base. The Twins will give him every opportunity to stick at third base as he moves through the system. He should spend all of next year in Beliot but the sky is the limit for young Mr. Sano.

2. Joe Benson, OF (2011 Rank: 4) Level: Rookie, AA, MLB
.284/.387/.491, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 29 DBL, 71 R
Benson entered the Twins organization as a second round pick in the 2006 and since he was drafted, he has moved through the system along with first round pick from that year Chris Parmelee. The extreme athleticism of Benson has helped him to rise toward the top of the Twins prospects. He was the organization's minor league hitter of the year in 2010 and he continued to show promise last season. His batting average and OBP both improved but some of his power numbers decreased. Some of this decline could be from the arthroscopic knee surgery he went through in 2011.

The Twins are still hoping he will develop into a five-tool player at the big league level. He has shown the speed, power, and defensive ability to translate into a very good everyday player with the Twins. His strong defensive rapport allows him to play all three outfield positions and his strong arm plays well in all fields. There are questions about his ability to make consistent contact especially when he is facing some offspeed pitches. He made strides in this area last year and starting next year at Rochester should help him to continue improving his offensive approach at the plate.

3. Eddie Rosario, OF (2011 Rank: 19) Level: Rookie
.337/.397/.670, 21 HR, 60 RBI, 9 DBL, 71 R
An entire book might be able to be written about the tremendous season that was put together by Rosario in 2011. Out of all of the Twins prospects, he could be the one that saw his stock rise the most with his combination of power, offensive approach, and defensive ability for the E-Twins. Rosario was part of a batch of high caliber prospects that played in Elizabethton this season. Their season started at the end of June and Rosario wasted little time getting his offensive explosion off of the ground. In ten games in June, he hit five home runs along with two doubles and a triple. The middle months of the season saw some of Rosario's power slow down as he hit six home runs with 11 other extra-base hits between July 1st and August 16th. From there Rosario went on a rampage down the home stretch to help the E-Twins make their way to the playoffs. In the last 17 games of the season, he mashed 10 home runs to go along with four triples, a double, and an eye-popping .477 batting average. 

The Twins have a lot of promising prospects in the outfield and the organization has decided to try and shift Rosario to second base to help fill an area of weakness in the farm system. With Rosario’s extreme athletic ability, the hope is he can continue his powerful approach at the plate and combine that with good defense up the middle as a second baseman. 2011 was a magical year for Rosario and fans will watch closely as he transitions to Beliot next season.

4. Liam Hendriks, RHP (2011 Rank: 8) Level: AA, AAA, MLB
W-L (12-6), 139.1 IP, 3.36 ERA, 1.134 WHIP, 111 K, 21 BB
With an injury to Kyle Gibson and an up-and-down season from Alex Wimmers, Liam Hendriks emerged as the top pitching prospect in the farm system of the Twins. He moved from New Britain all the way to Minneapolis in 2011 and he made a strong impression along the way. By the time he made his MLB debut in September, Hendriks had already pitched a career high amount of innings. His strong command of the strike zone and his competitive attitude on the mound give him plenty of potential. 

Hendriks showed an unbelievable ability to avoid walks in 2011 by only allowing three walks in 49.1 innings pitched at Rochester. When he made it to the big leagues, he allowed three walks in two out of his four starts for a total of six walks in 23.1 innings. This tremendous walk rate won't be able to translate to the MLB level but he fits the mold of Twins pitchers by pitching to contact. Hendriks needs more time at Rochester and the Twins have a full starting rotation to start the 2012 season. One injury to a starting arm could bring Hendriks back to the Twin Cities. 

5. Oswaldo Arcia, OF (2011 Rank: 7) Level: Rookie, A, A+
.291/.335/.531, 13 HR, 51 RBI, 23 DBL, 18 BB
During this offseason, the Twins had an easy decision to protect Oswaldo Arcia on the team's 40-man roster. The young outfielder has only made it to Fort Myers but he has too many skills for the Twins not to protect him. His power bat has made him one of the top power prospects in the Twins organization. During last season, he had left elbow surgery which kept him out of action for two months. When he returned, he slid nicely into the outfield for the Miracle with his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field.

His inability to draw walks is one of his biggest flaws on the offensive side of the ball. In 213 at-bats with the Miracle, he only managed to coax nine base-on-balls from opposing pitchers. He was only 20-years old this past season so there is still time for him to improve some of his discipline at the plate. As he has added more weight to his frame, he is now projecting to be a corner outfielder. He might need a little more time at Ft. Myers to start next season but he should make his way to Beliot in short order.

6. Aaron Hicks, OF (2011 Rank: 3) Level: A+
.242/.354/.368, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 31 DBL, 78 BB
Out of all of the top prospects in the Twins organization, Hicks might have been the biggest disappointment for his play on the field in 2011. He had a career low batting average and OPS with the Miracle but he did show flashes of brilliance during some middle parts of the season. He has the ability to draw walks but this has not helped with his other offensive numbers. When the Twins took Hicks in the first round of the 2008 draft, he projected to be a five-tool star with a very high ceiling. Those dreams have yet to come to fruition.

Hicks continues to work on his swing from both sides of the plate. He has been a much better hitter from the right side of the plate compared to his at-bats from the left side. After his the completion of the Miracle's season, he was asked to compete in the Arizona Fall League. The AFL was a challenge at first for Hicks but he made subtle improvements along the way. His defense continues to be his biggest strength and he will continue to stick in center field for the Miracle at the start of next season.

7. Adrian Salcedo, RHP (2011 Rank: 12) Level: A
W-L (6-6), 135.0 IP, 2.93 ERA, 1.170 WHIP, 92 K, 27 BB
Injuries and inconsistent play by other pitching prospects in the Twins organization have allowed Salcedo to emerge as one of the top starting pitchers in the farm system. In 2011, Salcedo spent the entire season with the Beliot Snappers of the Midwest League. His first start of the year got the season going with a bang as he struck out ten batters over six innings pitched. Throughout the rest of the season, he would pitch five innings or more in all but two starts on the year. At the end of August, Salcedo was closing in on his innings limit and he was transferred to the bullpen. He was outstanding in his relief role by only allowing one earned run in the 13.2 innings he pitched out of the 'pen. 

In his time with the Twins organization, he has struck out 281 batters and only walked 56 with tow of those walks being intentional. The Twins would like Salcedo to add some weight to his tall frame. But even with his lanky build, he continues to be a hard worker and a bulldog on the mound. Salcedo is passing by other pitching prospects in the organization and all of Twins Territory should keep an eye on this young man as he makes his way toward Target Field. 

8. Travis Harrison, 3B (2011 Rank: NR) Level: NA
No Statistics- Did not play after being drafted
With the 50th pick in last June's MLB Draft, the Twins took Travis Harrison for his tremendous offensive ability. A beefy corner infielder that can add some power to the middle of a line-up with the Twins minor league system. In his senior year, he batted .486 with 13 home runs. He has shown the ability of hitting upper deck shots in major league stadiums and he even hit a home run 504 feet in high school. 

In his younger playing career, he was compared to the first pick in the 2010 draft, Bryce Harper. Like Harper, Harrison will most likely be asked to make the transition from third base to another position such as left field or first base. When the Twins took him in the draft, they were more concerned with his bat than his defensive ability. The Twins would be more than happy to have Harrison develop into the kind of talent that Harper has shown in his first minor league season.

9. Chris Parmelee, 1B (2011 Rank: 17) Level: AA, MLB
.287/.366/.436, 13 HR, 83 RBI, 30 DBL, 76 R
In September, Twins fans got a taste of what Parmelee could mean to the organization. The health of Justin Morneau continues to be a question mark and Parmelee is the top first base prospect in the organization. In his brief time with the big league squad, he was very impressive and he seems to have remedied some of his flaws that have followed him during his minor league career. There have been some issues with strikeouts as Parmelee has worked to master his powerful swing. 

A year after struggling out of the gate, Parmelee made sure that was not an issue in 2011 as he came out of the gate hitting .273/.364/.442 during 20 games in April. As the summer heated up, so did Parmelee’s bat, as he was able to hit over .300 in both July and August. This made his call-up at the end of the year an easy decision for the Twins. Mr. Parmelee continues to be an on-base and doubles machine at each level he stops at along the way. Odds are he will start the year in Rochester but he is only a phone call away from being back on the big league roster.

10. Alex Wimmers, RHP (2011 Rank: 5) Level: Rookie, A+
W-L (2-3), 40.2 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.230 WHIP, 40 K, 23 BB
The 2011 season would become a roller coaster ride for Mr. Wimmers and the rocky ride would start in his first outing of the year. In that rough first start, he did not manage to record an out and he walked in three runs. Overall, he faced six batters, walked them all, and was charged with four earned runs. He threw 28 pitches and only four of them were strikes. There was obviously something not quite right in the mind-set of this young pitcher in his first start of the year.  

He would not return to game action until July and the Twins made sure to ease him back onto the field. There were some bumps along the way but Wimmers slowly increased his workload and he made three starts in the last weeks of the season. The most memorable outing came on September 3rd as the Miracle were close to wrapping their 2011 campaign. Wimmers took the mound and was masterful over the course of the seven-inning game. On this day, he would not allow a hit and he faced the minimum 21 batters. This was quite the change from his first trip to the mound back in April. It will be intriguing to watch the progression of Wimmers in 2012.
If you enjoy learning more about the Twins minor league system, make sure to order a copy of the 2012 Twins Prospect Handbook. This book was put together by Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net and it is a great resource for any fan of the Minnesota Twins. There are over 160 prospect profiles, featured articles by Twins writers, and multiple top prospect lists from Twins bloggers. This is the best way to get to know the players who are the future of the Twins franchise. ORDER HERE

Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 Twins Top 20 Prospects, 11-20

Most people make a list of resolutions to bring hope to the flipping of the calendar from one year to the next. The New Year is full of hope for the good things that will come in future. In the baseball world, the best way to find hope is to examine the minor league system for a person's favorite franchise. After some tough seasons throughout the entire system of the Twins in 2011, there are many players who are looking to bring hope to a group of fans that is thriving for something to cheer about in 2012.

 It is Minor League Appreciation Week, here at NoDak Twins Fan. That means the entire week's post will be dedicated to the young players who hope to one day take their place in the line-up at Target Field. These young players work tremendously hard to try and reach the ultimate dream of being a big league player and they should be recognized for efforts on the field. This week I will unveil my Top 20 Prospect List and feature some stories around the players who make their living wearing the jersey's of the Twins farm system.

Here is the schedule of posts that will be featured during the next week:
Monday (Today): 2012 Twins Top 20 Prospects, 11-20
Tuesday: 2012 Twins Top 20 Prospects, 1-10
Wednesday: Feature story on Miguel Sano
Thursday: Plotting a path through the 2012 Draft
Friday: Minor League Edition of Friday Links-N-Thinks

11. Brian Dozier, SS (2011 Rank: NR) Level: A+/AA
.320/.399/.491, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 33 DBL, 92 R
At the beginning of the season, there were few who thought that Dozier would end the year as the top hitter for the minor league teams of the Twins. Dozier broke onto the scene in 2011 with a fantastic season for the New Britain Rock Cats. The former 8th round pick in 2009 was recently named as the 2011 Twins Minor League Player of the Year. In a farm system that is struggling to produce middle infielders, the Twins needed someone to step-up in a big way. The success that Dozier produced in New Britain carried over to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .296/.358/.454 with three home runs and eight doubles in 26 games. Even though Dozier spent most of his time at shortstop in '11, it seems the Twins might start trying to use him as a shortstop and a second baseman from this point forward. The 5-foot-11, 160 pound player could make his way into the big league line-up as soon as this season.

12. Kyle Gibson, RHP (2011 Rank: 2) Level: AAA
W-L (3-8), 95.1 IP, 4.81 ERA, 1.427 WHIP, 91 K, 27 BB
A year removed from winning the Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year award, Gibson had some injury troubles in 2011. In the beginning of September, Gibson was forced to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery and there is a good chance he will be out for all of next season. In 2010, Gibson flew through three levels of the minor leagues and looked like he was well on his way to being a fixture in the starting rotation at the big league level. The first part to Gibson's 2011 campaign seemed to be off to a decent start as he posted a 3.15 ERA in four starts for the month of April. From that point on, Gibson's ERA would rise in each of the following months. It was clear something was wrong by the end of the year as he failed to pitch more than five innings in each of his last five starts while allowing 21 earned runs. Overall, this is a terrible situation for a player that figured to be part of the Twins plans at some point last season and now he won't be on the mound at Target Field until 2013 at the earliest. 

13. Angel Morales, OF (2011 Rank: 13) Level: Rookie/A+
.259/.314/.400, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 7 DBL, 19 R
The 2007 third round draft pick, Morales was on the sidelines for most of the 2011 season with an elbow injury. In only 37 games on the field, Morales was still able to get decent production while manning left field. His speed helps him while playing defense and during his time on the base-paths. With Aaron Hicks in CF and Morales in LF, the Miracle had quite the defensive setting to end the 2011 season. During the 2010 season, Morales batted .280/.362/.405 in 133 games with the Miracle and the Snappers. For his minor league career, he has shown the ability to hit for a consistent average while combining that with power and speed. If injuries don't become a consistent problem, he has the chance to develop into a five-tool player as he works his way through the farm system of the Twins.  With the time he has played the last two seasons at Fort Myers and the fact he just turned 22 last month, it will be interesting to see if he gets the bump to New Britain for 2012.

14. Manuel Soliman, RHP (2011 Rank: NR) Level: A
W-L (7-11), 136.0 IP, 3.97 ERA, 1.309 WHIP, 120 K, 50 BB
The Twins signed Soliman as a non-drafted free agent in 2007 but he didn't start playing stateside until 2010. He played all of that season for the E-Twins and posted a 3.48 ERA in 64.2 innings pitched with a 1.052 WHIP. He pitched more innings this year than both of the previous years combined in the Dominican Summer League and the Appalachian League. At  6'2" and 185 lbs, Soliman is still a lanky player but he knows how to get some fire behind his pitches. It would nice for him to be able to get a little more control to bring his walk total and WHIP down but that will come with age. He is only in his third season since being converted from third base and that mean he has two good pitches at this point. At 21 years old, he is still relatively young and it will be nice to see how he can continue to develop with more pitching experience.

15. Chris Herrmann, C (2011 Rank: NR) Level: A+/AA
.269/.385/.399, 8 HR, 62 RBI, 19 DBL, 67 R
Herrmann continues to wow with his ability to get on-base at such a high rate and he combines this with a powerful swing. He has the tendency to hit more doubles than home runs. During the 2011 season, he was third in the Eastern League with 64 walks to his name. His defense behind the plate had some holes last season as he had a career high seven errors and four passed balls. His bat is good enough that the Twins have given him time in the outfield and at designated hitter. With Wilson Ramos being traded in 2010, Herrmann is the best catching prospect the Twins have in the organization. His limited time in the 2011 AFL was very productive and the hope will be that he can transition this success to the 2012 season. After his experience in Arizona, odds are that the Twins will give Herrmann a return trip to the Eastern League to start the 2012 season. 

16. Hudson Boyd, RHP (2011 Rank: NR) Level: N/A
No Statistics- Did not play after being drafted
The big 6-foot-2, 235-pound pitcher was selected by the Twins in the supplemental round of this past June's MLB Draft. The native of Ft. Myers, Florida grew up close to the Twins Spring Training complex and he had been closely followed by the organization. In an interview following the draft, Boyd described his pitching style as, "Variety, 90-94, throw strikes, try to work ahead and compete and be around the strike zone." He would go on to say, "Be dependable. Be durable. Just be reliable for my teammates and coaches." The Twins director of scouting Deron Johnson said he had seen Boyd reach 97 with his fastball and he compared him to MLB pitcher Jonathon Broxton. The Twins hope Boyd will develop into a dominant starter but if that plan doesn't work he could be a very reliable relief option.

17. Levi Michael, SS/2B (2011 Rank: NR) Level: N/A
No Statistics- Did not play after being drafted
The Twins saw a need to add depth to the middle infield of the minor leagues by drafting Michael with their first round pick in 2011. In his three-year career at North Carolina, he hit .306 with 183 runs scored, 159 RBI and 81 extra-base hits (43-2B, 11-3B, 27-HR). He also showed the ability to draw walks with 119 for his career which ranked sixth in his school's history. For the 2011 season, Michael batted .289 with a .434 OBP and 22 extra-base hits in 65 games played. On the defensive side of the ball, he started at multiple infield positions in college but the Twins hope he can stick at shortstop. At the time of the draft, it sound like he could be moved to second base in the future. When the Twins signed Michael, their scouting director Deron Johnson said, "Levi is a switch-hitting 20-year old college shortstop with speed and top of the order skills. We like his athleticism on both sides of the ball and he has the defensive skills to play either shortstop or second base. He is a hard worker and hard-nosed player."

18. Madison Boer, RHP (2011 Rank: NR) Level: Rookie/A
W-L (2-1), 25.1 IP, 3.91 ERA, 1.105 WHIP, 43 K, 3 BB
The Twins drafted Boer in the second round of this June's draft so that means the right-handed hurler only had a limited amount of time to show his "stuff" to the organization. Boer, the Eden Prairie native, enters the Twins organization after three years of experience at the University of Oregon. The 6-foot-4 right handed pitcher spent time as a starter and a reliever in college. In his final year of college, he managed a 2.27 ERA in 18 appearances (12 starts) and he held opponents to a .234 batting average. He was used mainly out of the bullpen since he racked up 99 innings during his college season. It is most likely that the Twins will give him a chance to start in 2012 and it will be up to Boer to take the opportunity and run with it.

19. Max Kepler, OF (2011 Rank: 10) Level: Rookie
.262/.347/.366, 1 HR, 24 RBI, 11 DBL, 29 R
When Kepler was signed by the Twins in July of 2009, he was the top prospect coming to the United States out of Europe. The 2010 season was his first in the Twins system and he spent the entire year with the GCL Twins. At 17-years old and as one of the younger players in the GCL, he hit .286/.346/.343 with seven extra-base hits. Kepler spent all of the 2011 campaign with some of the best prospects in the Twins system at Elizabethton. With players like Rosario and Sano having outstanding seasons around him, it was hard for him to follow in their footsteps. He began to see some of his power numbers slowly increase and he was only 18 this past season so his "man muscles" still have time to develop. On the defensive side of the ball, he spent almost all of his time in left field but he has been asked to play the other outfield spots. For the future, the organization is hoping that he will continue to develop some more power as he grows in years in the minor league system. 

20. BJ Hermsen, RHP (2011 Rank: NR) Level: A/A+
W-L (13-8), 151.1 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.335 WHIP, 101 K, 37 BB
The Twins used a sixth round pick to select Hermsen out of high school in 2008 and he has made the most of his opportunities with the organization. 2011 marked his third year in the farm system of the Twins and he made it all the way to starting for the Miracle. To start the season, Hermsen was sent back to Beliot, the place he ended at in 2010. He pitched 124.2 innings for the Snappers and posted a 3.10 ERA with an 81/31 K/BB ratio. His walk total combined with his average of allowing a hit an inning made his WHIP stay higher than the Twins would like. When he was promoted to Ft. Myers at the end of the year, he made five starts and posted a 4.39 ERA in 26.2 innings pitched in the FSL. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound right-hander turned 21 in December and the Twins will be looking for him to take the next step in 2012. 

If you enjoy learning more about the Twins minor league system, make sure to order a copy of the 2012 Twins Prospect Handbook. This book was put together by Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net and it is a great resource for any fan of the Minnesota Twins. There are over 160 prospect profiles, featured articles by Twins writers, and multiple top prospect lists from Twins bloggers. This is the best way to get to know the players who are the future of the Twins franchise. ORDER HERE

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

It is under a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Fort Myers for spring training. The Twins annual Winter Caravan has been making the rounds through different parts of Twins Territory. Next weekend fans of the Twins will gather at the Metrodome for the gathering known as TwinsFest. This means the Twins are getting closer and closer to turning the page on the 2011 season and it is getting close to turning over a new leaf for 2012.

The biggest Twins headline of the week was the addition of Joel Zumaya to the bullpen mix for next season. While he has suffered through plenty of injuries in the past, the Twins are hoping a healthier Zumaya can be an impact player out of the 'pen. There were plenty of other baseball related stories from throughout the week so let's break it all down with "Friday Links-N-Thinks."
Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: Joe Benson explains his rookie season and what the journey to the big leagues was like for him. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Confidence in Morneau could backfire

An interesting interview with Twins General Manager Terry Ryan came out yesterday on the Fox Sports North website. In this piece, Ryan discussed a variety of topics for the Twins as the organization gets ready to head to Fort Myers next month. There were quotes about Joe Mauer's recovery from an injury plagued 2011 and a look at some of the options for the starting rotation but some of the most intriguing quotes were in reference to Justin Morneau.

Last week on this site, I wrote about the three different paths in front of Morneau for next season. In the first part of the "Morneau Chronicles," the focus of the piece was the Twins hoping for the ideal results. Another option for the Twins could be to switch him to being a full-time designated hitter. The final installment of the three part series looked at the possibility of Morneau being pushed towards retirement. In the end, I hoped the Twins would be able to have him split time between first base and designated hitter for the 2012 season with other players taking some time at first base.

In this latest interview with Ryan, the Twins seem to have an interesting strategy for the Morneau situation. Here are a couple of quotes from the FSN article and some thoughts about the Twins plan as they approach spring training.

"I don't even want to talk about a backup plan because right now I'm encouraged with the way he's going about his business."
It is positive to see the Twins having confidence in a player who has not been able to finish a season with the team during the past three years. He will begin swinging a bat this week for the first time since having surgery on his neck and wrist. So until the 30-year old first baseman proves he can't handle baseball activities, the Twins have a right to instill confidence in their former MVP. He has worked with doctors and the training staff to try and fight through some of the nagging concussion related issues. As recently as the end of December, Morneau was still recovering from post-concussion syndrome but he was showing signs of improvement.

"There is no backup plan because we've got a first baseman we're counting on."
Realistically, the Twins have players in place to fill-in at first base if Morneau is unable to play in the field. It is unlikely that this group of players would be able to put up the same production as the healthy Morneau of years past. Mauer could find himself playing first on days when he is not scheduled to be behind the plate. Newly acquired Ryan Doumit has played a handful of games at first base during his career. The Twins used Luke Hughes as a fill-in option at first base with Morneau out at the end of last year. Fans of the team also saw Chris Parmelee show some positive signs during September. The Twins might be saying they don't have a backup plan but the pieces are clearly there if the team needs to make an adjustment.

"I think we're all encouraged that once we get down to spring training, we're going to find out a lot of things."
There will be plenty of questions for the Twins to find answers to when it comes to Morneau at spring training. Will he be able to handle playing first base on a regular basis? Can he regain his offensive prowess after missing significant time in each of the last two seasons? Does the team need to move him to designated hitter in order to protect him from his concussion symptoms? Will it still be dangerous for Morneau to be a standing in the batter's box and running the bases? The list of questions could go on and on...

In the end, it is good that the team and their GM have confidence in the ability of the organization's first baseman to conquer his post-concussion symptoms. There are plenty of fans of the Twins who will be approaching Morneau's situation with a reserved skepticism. Morneau is going to have to prove himself on the field before fans are going to regain confidence in the power-hitting lefty. The start of spring training is a month away and it will be interesting to watch how fast the team's confidence in Morneau might have to switch once the team arrives in Fort Myers.
The 2012 SethSpeaks.net Twins Prospect Handbook is NOW AVAILABLE. This is a great book for every fan of the Twins. There are profiles on over 160 minor league players, top prospect lists from multiple writers, and a variety of featured stories. The Twins had to dig deep into their minor league system last year and it is a great resource to have on hand for reference to these players.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Can Plouffe escape the "4A" mold?

In a piece written by Kevin Goldstein for ESPN (hidden behind their Insider wall), he took a look at the troubles some players have escaping the mold of being a "4A" hitter. He discusses the case of Nelson Cruz and how is one of the few players who has been able to shake the "4A" label and find success in the major leagues.

The Twins have one player on their roster that is looking to shake the same label in 2012. Trevor Plouffe has found reasonable success at the AAA level but his transition to the big leagues has not been entirely smooth. Can Plouffe escape the "4A" mold and find success with the Twins in the coming year? Let's start by looking at what Cruz did become and offensive threat.

Cruz went all the way from the high-A level to the triple-A level in 2004 with the Oakland franchise. By the end of the year, he had put together a batting line of .326/.390/.562 with 26 home runs, 42 doubles and 100 RBI. In 2005 he was shifted over to the Milwaukee organization and found continued success at the Double-A and Triple-A level. He batted .289/.385/.537 with 27 home runs and 32 doubles. The Brewers would call him up for his debut in 2005 but he only got a taste of the big leagues for eight games.

Over the next three seasons, Cruz would continue to see significant time at the AAA level but he could never break through when he got called up to his new organization, the Rangers. His time at the AAA level seemed ridiculous because he was destroying the pitching at that level. In 2007, he batted .352/.428/.698 and he followed that season by hitting .342/.429/.695 with 37 home runs during the 2007 season.

While he had a hot bat for his Triple-A squad, his time spent with the Rangers was lacking some of the luster he had shown in the minor leagues. From 2006-2008, he got 603 plate appearances with Texas and struggled by hitting .252/.311/.431 with 27 doubles and 22 home runs. Something clicked for Cruz from that season going forward. In 2009, he had a breakout year by hitting 33 home runs and being selected to the All-Star Game. Over the last two seasons, the Rangers have won back-to-back American League Championships and Cruz has been an offensive threat for each of those squads.

The Plouffe story line follows some of the same ups and downs that followed Cruz during his younger days. During the 2008 season, Plouffe made it to the Triple-A level and showed the ability to hold his own at 22-years old. He would spend all of the 2009 season with Rochester and he batted .260/.313/.407 with 10 home runs and 23 doubles. Entering the 2010 season, Plouffe was again sent to Triple-A and he struggled to the tune of hitting .244/.300/.430 in 102 games. The 2011 season was a breakout year for Plouffe at the Triple-A level and he should have been able to succeed since it was his fourth season versus pitching at that level. During his 192 at-bats, he hit .313/.384/.635 with 15 home runs and 11 doubles.

During the last two seasons, the Twins have given Plouffe multiple chances to prove himself at the MLB level. In 2010, he floundered in 22 games by hitting an awful .146/.143/.317 with two home runs. The 2011 campaign saw Plouffe show flashes of power but he still struggled at making consistent contact. He finished the year with a batting line of .238/.305/.392 with eight home runs and 18 doubles.

Terry Ryan and the Twins have made it be known this offseason that Plouffe will likely be spending more time in the outfield in 2012. In an interview with the Pioneer Press, Ryan wanted to make sure Plouffe isn't forgotten about as the Twins try to create their line-up for Opening Day. He would go on to compare Plouffe to recently departed outfield Michael Cuddyer who made the same infield to outfield switch. Like Cuddyer, Plouffe's switch to a new defensive position could allow him to break through the mold of the "4A" player in 2012.