Thursday, April 30, 2009

April in Review: Minor Leagues

Minor League Hitter of the Month: Danny Valencia, 3B, New Britain (AA)
81 PA, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 0/1 SB, 13 BB, 14 K, .269/.395/.463/.858
Valencia has hit at every step in the minors, posting an OPS over .800 at each stop despite playing in pitchers' parks. As a now 24-year old college hitter, this was not exactly awe-inspiring or even unexpected. What got Valencia the top spot this month, though, was the improvement in his plate discipline. His strikeout rate has not changed significantly from his career average, but in April he walked in 16% of his plate appearances, a huge jump from the 6.3% walk rate he posted at New Britain in the second half of last season. The question now becomes whether this is a sustainable change or just the result of a small sample size, but either way it was enough for him to be the Twins' top minor league hitter in April.

Honorable Mentions: Ramon Santana, SS, Beloit (A); Rene Leveret, 1B, Fort Myers (A+)

Minor League Pitcher of the Month: Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Fort Myers (A+)
4 G, 18 IP, 9 K, 2 BB, 8 H, 1 ER, 5.14 GO/AO
One of the Twins' two first round picks in the 2008 draft, Gutierrez did not impress those of us who subsequently watched his poor pitching performance in the College World Series. His performance out of the Fort Myers bullpen last season was impressive and then the Twins decided to turn Gutierrez into a starter; the early results could not be better. Known as a sinkerballer, Gutierrez has coaxed 5.14 ground outs for every air out, while only walking 1 batter per nine innings. Sure, his strikeout numbers have not been great, but if he can continue to force the ball into the ground that won't matter, as shown by his sparkling 0.50 ERA in April (due to some luck, as his FIP is "only" 2.70, but still very good).

Honorable Mentions: Rob Delaney, RHP, New Britain (AA); Anthony Slama, RHP, New Britain (AA)

Minor League Disappointment of the Month: Shooter Hunt, RHP, Beloit (A)
4 G, 11.2 IP, 10 K, 23 BB, 9 H, 14 ER, 0.85 GO/AO
Shooter Hunt got off to about the best start possible in his professional debut at Elizabethtown after the Twins chose him at #31 in the 2008 draft. Unfortunately, the whispers about his struggles with his control showed up when he moved up to Beloit, and those whispers have turned into shouts this season. Taking a quick glance at his statistics, it's not hard to figure out what Hunt's problem has been: the 23 walks in only 11.2 frames, nearly 2 per inning. There's not much else to say other than that if Hunt can't throw the ball over the plate, he'll never be a useful pitcher at any level.

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