Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Top 15 Prospects

Here's my list of the top 15 prospects in the Twins' organization:

1. CF Ben Revere- 20 (A)
Revere was the Twins’ first round draft pick in 2007, and critics instantly panned the pick of the 5-9 outfielder as a cheap move when he signed for the lowest first-round bonus in years. So far, though, the choice has worked out in the Twins’ favor, whether motivated by money or not. Revere batted .325/.388/.461 with 21 stolen bases (out of 30 attempts) in 50 games for the rookie league GCL Twins after signing, and has put up video game numbers so far this season. In 27 games for Class A Beloit, Revere has hit .418/.468/.589 with a 13:10 K:BB ratio. Revere hasn’t walked much in his brief minor league career, but he’s only struck out 30 times in 332 career at bats. Also, for all the talk of his zero power, a .171 isolated power is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a 20-year old with all the other tools that Revere has. He does need to work on his base running, however, as he’s only 17-27 in stolen base attempts this season. Especially with his 6.28 speed over 60 yards, he should be stealing at a much higher percentage.
If he keeps performing like this, Revere will move quickly through the Twins’ system, but as a 20-year old in Class A, he still won’t be playing in the Metrodome. I could see the Twins promoting him to Fort Myers late in this season if he keeps playing so well at Beloit, but it’s more likely that they’ll stick to their general one-level-a-year rule.

2. RHP Deolis Guerra- 19 (A+)
Guerra came over to the Twins from the Mets in the Santana trade as the high-upside 18-year old minor leaguer. If the Twins had signed him, he would probably still be in EST and playing short-season ball now, but after playing in the FSL last year for the Mets and holding his own there, the Twins decided not to demote him and he started the season in Fort Myers. While his won-loss record looks pretty, he has not been very effective thus far in the season. He has a terrible 32:26 K:BB ratio in 55.1 innings and has given up a ton of fly balls (0.64 GO/FO ratio). The most disappointing thing about those numbers is the decline from last year in the same league. Of course, Guerra is still a 6-5 19-year old who is already in Class A Advanced and has the same fastball and great changeup that scouts loved before the season. It’s weird that much of the #2 prospect’s description was spent on negatives, but that’s because all I have to go on are the stats, which aren’t looking so good this year. With the Twins’ conservative ways, Guerra won’t be heading to New Britain anytime soon (which is unfortunate considering the proximity to my home) unless he truly dominates with Fort Myers.

3. LHP Tyler Robertson- 20 (A+)
Robertson was drafted out of high school as the Twins’ 3rd round pick in 2006. An injury in the Beloit rotation in 2007 gave him his first full season opportunity and he hasn’t looked back since. He dominated the Midwest League as a 19-year old last year with 123 strikeouts in 102.1 innings and a 1.85 GO/FO ratio. So far in Fort Myers, Robertson has picked up right where he left off in 2007. Even though his numbers have dropped across the board, as should be expected for a 20-year old getting his first taste of a new level, he’s been very good in the Fort Myers rotation thus far. He doesn’t have a blazing fastball, but he pairs his average fastball with a great hard slider and of course still has time to improve his fastball as well.

4. RHP Anthony Swarzak- 22 (AA)
After a strong season with Fort Myers in 2006, Swarzak was looking towards continuing his road to Minnesota in New Britain in 2007. However, after two bad starts there, the Twins’ 2nd round pick in 2004 was suspended for violating the league’s (non-performance enhancing) drug policy. Once he came back from the suspension, though, he proved that he was still among the Twins’ best pitching prospects. Swarzak has struck out around 8 batters per 9 innings the last two seasons, and this year so far he has bumped that up to almost a batter per inning. More importantly, he cut his BB/9 rate from 3.7 in 2006 to fewer than 3.0 in 2007 and 2008. Of course, Swarzak has always given up a ton of fly balls, and it has been even worse so far this year, which means that his 4.18 ERA might be a little lucky considering he’s only given up 4 homers in 56 innings. After a great start to the season, Swarzak has struggled lately, but he should still be in line for a promotion to Rochester as soon a spot opens up there.

5. C Wilson Ramos- 20 (A+)
Ramos, signed out of Venezuela in 2004, had a fine season for the Beloit Snappers in ’07, but jolted up prospect lists after his dominant performance in the Venezuelan winter league (I’d post stats if I could find them). The Twins moved him up to High Class A for 2008, and after a slow start he has started picking it up of late. A .236/.289/.421 isn’t very flashy or eye-popping, but it is very solid for a 20-year old catcher in the Florida State League, where his OPS is actually slightly above the league average without even adjusting for the fact that he is a catcher. However, he needs to get more selective at the plate, as his 13:50 BB:K ratio suggests. Baseball America ranked Ramos as the best defensive catcher in the Twins’ minor league system, and scouts rave about his defense as much as his offense. The fact that he’s only 9 for 28 throwing out runners this year disputes that fact somewhat, but I’m willing to trust the scouts who’ve watched him play many, many times over me who’s seen him play for exactly zero seconds, especially when it comes to defense. Ramos should spend the 2008 season in Fort Myers, and possibly even start there next year if he doesn’t get comfortable there this year; he’s still got plenty of time, so there’s no need to rush him unless his play absolutely merits it.

6. RHP Jeff Manship- 23 (A+)
The only reason that Manship is ranked this low is that, at 23 years of age, he is old for the league that he’s playing in. Based on performance alone, the Twins’ 2006 14th round pick out of Notre Dame would possibly be the #1 starter in the system. Manship has been a dominating ground-ball machine since joining the Twins’ system, garnering ground balls at about a 2 to 1 rate over his minor league career. His performance at every level has been exceptional as he has issued only one free pass for about every four strikeouts over the course of his career with an 8.3 K/9 rate. Manship’s ERA this season in Fort Myers dropped to 2.72 after his complete game shutout of Dunedin last night and the ground-ball machine still has yet to allow a home run this season. As soon as Swarzak moves up to Rochester or another spot opens up in New Britain, this college pitcher should move up as he has nothing left to prove at these lower levels.

7. 3B Luke Hughes- 23 (AA)
I had a lot of trouble figuring out where to rank this Twins’ farmhand, and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll end up regretting putting him this high if he turns out to be just another guy a little old for his league who mashes for a couple months after a mediocre minor league career, but he’s turned me into a believer. I simply can’t ignore the ridiculous .335/.407/.618 line he’s put up so far this year that is 37% better than average in the Eastern League, which, for comparison, is the just how far above average Justin Morneau was in his stint at AA New Britain (albeit at a younger age). Of course, I’m not suggesting that Hughes will become anything close to what Morneau is, but it gives an idea of exactly how well Hughes has been playing. Hughes is a versatile player who has played third, second, and all three outfield positions this year. Before this season, he had been primarily a second baseman, but in 2008 he has played 30 out of his 46 games at third. Hughes should be promoted to Rochester as soon as possible, as it’s time to find out if he is for real or just another flash in the pan.

8. RHP Kevin Mulvey- 23 (AAA)
Mulvey is the first prospect on the list to be close to actually helping the Twins, though he still probably won’t be called up anytime soon. The Twins already have an extra starter in Boof Bonser, and with the way he’s been pitching of late, Francisco Liriano is probably ahead of Mulvey if the need for another starter arises. Mulvey has been disappointing thus far in 2008, as his ground ball rate has shrunk and his walk rate has risen 50% from last season (when he pitched mainly in AA). His strikeout rate is very good this year, with 54 K in 61.1 innings, a significant increase from his 113 in 157.2 innings last year in the Mets’ organization. The increase in walk rate and decrease in ground ball rate are hopefully just attributable to his getting adjusted to the new level, and Mulvey still has a good shot of fulfilling his potential as a #3 or #4 starter, though that shot probably won’t come this year (at least as a starter).

9. SS Trevor Plouffe- 21 (AA)
The Twins’ first round pick in 2004 has made his way into a lot of discussions about the Twins’ future shortstop plans, but I’m not as high as him as others are despite his #9 ranking. His youth and decent play in a higher level get him ranked ahead of other, younger prospects like Deibinson Romero and Danny Valencia, but I just don’t think his ceiling is very high. To me, he has a good chance of playing in the majors, but does not have the potential of turning into anything more than an average player that someone like Romero has. So far in 2008, Plouffe has performed remarkably similarly to his play last season, which was also in AA. If he showed some improvement over last year, I would believe in his higher ceiling, but his .274/.326/.410 line is almost exactly the same as the .275/.335/.415 that he’s hitting this year. In addition, his plate discipline has improved only marginally (IsoD increased by 8 points), while his BB:K ratio has decreased slightly from 0.43 to 0.37. Of course, I’m focusing only on the negatives. The positive side is that Plouffe is a soon-to-be 22 year old shortstop who has held his own in AA for two years now, and has a very good chance to play with the Twins by the end of next year, though it may be as a backup or role player rather than starter.

10. 3B Deibinson (D.J.) Romero- 21 (A)
Romero is only three months younger than Plouffe, yet is two levels behind him; this is more of a credit to Plouffe than a knock on Romero. Romero, though, has put up excellent numbers thus far in his minor league career. He led the rookie-league Elizabethton Twins to a 50-18 record with his .316/.406/.506 hitting line. He began 2008 with Beloit, but got injured after playing in 17 games, which is too small of a sample to read anything into (though his .214/.242/.339 line was not very pretty). The driving force behind Romero’s breakout year at Elizabethton was his improved pitch selection and plate discipline. After sporting a 1:3 BB:K ratio and about a .065 isolated discipline in his first two minor league seasons, he cut his BB:K ratio to 1:1.4 and upped his IsoD to .080. Romero plays solid defense at third, and projects to be able to play it all the way to the majors if he makes it there. Right now, let’s just hope that he recovers from his injury so he can get back to the field and continue moving up the prospect list.

11. OF/1B Chris Parmelee- 20 (A)

12. OF Joe Benson- 20 (A)

13. 3B Danny Valencia- 23 (A+)

14. RHP Anthony Slama- 24 (A+)

15. OF Rene Tosoni- 21 (A+)

The MLB draft is Thursday at 2 PM, and I hope to have some sort of preview done by Thursday morning. Luckily for me, I'm sure no one reading this actually cares about the draft, so no one will be dissapointed if I don't do it (I'd be happy if someone actually scrolled down far enough to read this).

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