Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Road to Rebuild: Switching Draft Strategies

The road back to the top of the AL Central isn't going to be easy for the Twins and the organization has already started their rebuilding process. Players have been traded away, some of the top minor league players are getting closer to making their big league debuts, and new coaches have been brought in to provide a fresh voice.

Over the last couple of days, I have taken a look at a few of the different topics that will help the Twins on the road to rebuild. Kyle Gibson could be a key figure in the starting rotation of the future. Minnesota also could have a couple of tough decisions to make when it comes to the expiring contracts of Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham.

There are going to be plenty of things that need to break right for the Twins to find success in the next couple of years. That's the same story for many teams in the baseball world. No one thought the Orioles would make it into the playoffs last season with their run differential being negative for most of the year.

The game of baseball is filled with quirks and this can allow for some surprises on the way to the top. The Twins are trying to get back to their winning ways and it is going to take a little luck along with some better performances on the field.

Last season, the Twins had one of the most important drafts in the history of the franchise. The team switched their draft strategy and there could be a big payoff in a couple of seasons.

Something needed to change because the draft strategy for the Twins had left the organization without many pitchers with upside in their system. The team got in the habit of taking the same kind of pitcher, college arms that threw strikes.

Out of the five pitchers to throw the most innings last season, Nick Blackburn was the only player to be drafted by the Twins and brought up through the organization. The pitch-to-contact formula wasn't working for the organization.

Minnesota had three first round picks in 2012 and one of those picks was the second player in the draft. The team needed to find a way to get some arms with more upside into the organization. One way to do this is by trading away major league players but eventually a team will run out of big league talent. So something needed to change on draft day.

On draft night, the Twins were lucky enough to get the player many considered the best in the draft with the number two overall pick. Byron Buxton is already considered one of the top prospects in baseball and his selection wasn't all that different for Minnesota. The team is known for taking toolsy high school outfielders but the picks that followed Buxton would be a change for the franchise.

For most of the rest of the draft, Minnesota would load up on pitching. The team had 43 selections in the draft and 24 of them were used on pitchers. In 2011, the Twins had 52 picks and 35 of them were used on pitching. The team knows this is a major weakness for the organization and it will be very important for the club to stockpile young arms for the future.

Of the 24 pitchers taken by the Twins in 2012, 20 of them were college arms. The team was adding arms with a lot of potential for what seemed like the first time in quite awhile. JO Berrios and Luke Bard were Minnesota's other two first round picks and both men can hit in the mid-90's with their fastball.

Mike Radcliff, vice president of player personnel, told after the draft, "I know everybody says we're the pitch-to-contact Twins and all that, but that's really not our preference at all. It's how it played out over time with all the different pitchers we drafted, signed, and brought in."

He went on to say, "But we have just as much preference and desire to sign guys that throw hard as anybody else. It just hasn't played out that way. We did take a lot of guys with some arm strength, some power to their pitches."

Even outside scouts and prospect writers took note of the switch for Minnesota in last year's draft. ESPN's Keith Law is the main prospect writer for that company and earlier this week he ranked the Twins as the second best farm system in baseball.

Law also had good things to say about the switch for the Twins in last year's draft. In his farm system overview, he said, "They're stacked, with center fielders, athletes, power bats and, in a new development for the Twins, a few power arms sprinkled in there as well -- this ain't your father's Twins system, packed with college command-and-control pitchers with 45-grade fastballs."

He went on to add, "They went for upside in the 2012 MLB draft more than they'd done in the previous few seasons.

It will be a couple of seasons before the Twins know if this new draft strategy worked for the club. Most of these players, especially the starting pitchers, won't be making their debuts in 2013 or even 2014.

The organization had to make a switch and last year's draft might be one of the steps that helps the club to rebound on the road to rebuild.

No comments: