Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Soul Patrol: Back with a Vengeance

When the Minnesota Twins were coming back into relevance in the early 2000s, there was a group of outfielders at the core of the team's success. Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and Matt Lawton roamed the outfield and they were given a unique nickname, "The Soul Patrol."

Lawton would only make it part of that first season as part of the "Soul Patrol," as he was traded in a deadline deal to the New York Mets. This left the team a member short when it came to the "Soul Patrol" until Shannon Stewart joined the club in 2003.

This became the second version of the "Soul Patrol." Jones would leave in 2005, Stewart left after the 2006 season, and Hunter became a free agent one year later. The "Soul Patrol" was spread out throughout baseball and it was tough to know if the Twins would ever see it again.

A new group of outfielders in the Twins farm system has taken on the mantra of the "Soul Patrol." JD Williams, Byron Buxton, and Adam Walker have put together strong starts to their seasons for Cedar Rapids. The Kernels have come out of the gate hot so there might be a little more magic in the "Soul Patrol" name.

"Soul Patrol" Center Fielder: Torii Hunter to Byron Buxton
Both players were first round picks but Buxton is putting together a season unlike anything Hunter ever had in the minor leagues. Through 41 games, Buxton is hitting .317/.420/.559 with seven home runs, four triples, and 10 doubles. His 19 stolen bases are also more than Hunter ever had in the minors.

Hunter has put together quite the major league career after never being ranked higher than 79th on Baseball America's Top Prospect List. Buxton enters his first full season already in the top 10 and he could be at the top of the list by the end of the year.

Throughout the history of the Twins organization, the club has turned to their center fielder for leadership. Hunter was a leader on the resurgent Twins teams of the 2000s. Buxton might have to be a leader as the team tries to erase the memories from the last couple of poor seasons and get back to playing winning baseball.

"Soul Patrol" Left Fielder: Jacque Jones to JD Williams
The Twins took Jones in the second round of the draft so there were some high expectations from the start. Williams was a tenth round pick and he has been a surprise so far with his ability to hit for power. Both men can play multiple outfield positions but Williams has been sent to left so Buxton could be in CF and Walker could be in RF.

Williams has struck out 29 times this season in 36 games but his OBP is still over .400. This comes from his ability to draw walks. Jones improved on his ability to draw walks during his Minnesota days but he never had an OBP of higher than .335.

So far this year, Williams is hitting .255/.406/.500 with four home runs, two triples, and eight doubles. He has eight steals in four attempts so he can take an extra base when the time is right. This is his second trip through the Midwest League and his numbers are improving. Last year, he hit .234/.311/.340 with Beloit.

"Soul Patrol" Right Fielder: Matt Lawton to Shannon Stewart to Adam Walker
Lawton joined the Twins organization as a 13th round pick and he went on to a decent career as a big leaguer. Stewart joined the Twins on a trade that would help push the team toward the playoffs. In 2012, Walker was a third round pick so there have been some expectations for him to succeed.

Last year, he played 58 games for the E-Twins and hit .250/.310/.496 with 14 home runs and 11 other extra-base hits. The power swing was there but some of his other numbers were lower than the club would have liked. He would still be advanced to Cedar Rapids this year and he is off to a very good start.

Through 41 games, he is hitting .284/.333/.594 with 10 home runs, 10 doubles, and four triples. He has three steals to his name and he has yet to be thrown out. His 45 RBI already match his total from last year and he did this in 83 less plate appearances.

It would be a very cool story if all three of these minor league outfielders made it to the Twins outfield at some point in their careers. There is a good chance that one or more of them won't be able to make it all the way through to the MLB level.

It's still a very exciting group of players to watch and the future could be bright for the newest edition of the "Soul Patrol."

No comments: