It's hard to believe, but Major League Baseball's annual amateur draft is less than a month away. The Twins have area scouts and cross-checkers all around the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, looking at highly touted players, but also trying to find some diamonds in the rough.
The Major League Baseball draft, by its very nature, is an inexact science. Scouts can look at statistics and box scores, but they also have to look at how a prospect looks, how athletic is he, how big can he get (in a good way or a bad way!), and they try to project how good the player will be at the big league level over the next ten to twenty years. With the Twins, character matters, and yet it is hard to project how character will develop with a 17-21 year old kid as they get money and (hopefully) maturity.
Like every team in baseball, the Twins have had plenty of hits to go with plenty of misses. With the amount of money alloted for first round picks (and really picks in the first five to ten rounds), you hope to find as many hits as possible. However, if you look at teams' draft histories, and draft picks from ten to twenty years ago, you find out just how difficult it is. Teams draft 50-55 players each year, and if one of them becomes a great player, it is a good draft. If you can find three to four players who simply contribute to the big league club, that is a good thing.
Here is a quick review of the Twins past 15 drafts. I will point out who the Twins first round pick (or picks) were, but also name a few other players that the Twins drafted and signed to illustrate that to judge a draft can not be only to look at the first round picks.
1996 - The Twins drafted 1B Travis Lee, who was playing for Team USA in the Olympics. Lee found a loophole and became a free agent, signing for big money elsewhere. However, the Twins signed their 2nd round pick (another Olympian) Jacque Jones. Chad Allen was a fourth round pick. Michael Ryan, who was just promoted to the Angels after not being in the big leagues for the past four seasons, was drafted in the 5th round. Chad Moeller was selected in the 7th round.
1997 - The Twins drafted Michael Cuddyer with the 9th overall pick, and I think it's safe to say this was a great pick. Cuddyer was incredible in the minor leagues and yet took quite some time to become a big league regular. He personifies character and has become a core member of the Twins lineup, a strong middle of the order bat. Matthew Lecroy was a supplemental first round pick. JC Romero was taken in the 21st round. The Twins liked Nick Punto already at this time. They drafted him in the 33rd round out of high school. He didn't sign, and was later drafted by the Phillies.
1998 - Ryan Mills was supposed to be a sure thing. Drafted out of Arizona State, he was known for excellent mechanics and a how-to-pitch video by his dad. He really didn't stay healthy in the Twins system and never did make the big leagues. This wasn't a good draft for the Twins. It could be argued that the best pick was Tommy Watkins in the 38th round.
1999 - BJ Garbe was a good athlete, but he was not much of a baseball player. The Twins took the outfielder in the first round, and he got up to AA, but never hit as a professional. Catcher Rob Bowen was selected in the 2nd round.Terry Tiffee was the team's 26th round pick. The Twins used their 45th round pick on Pat Neshek, who didn't sign and went to Butler. But in the 3rd round, the Twins took a catcher from Canada named Justin Morneau. He was moved to the outfield before settling in at first base. Again, I think it's fair to say that the 2006 MVP who consistently hits 30 home runs and drives in 100 runs a year, was a pretty good draft pick.
2000 - The Twins had drafted Adam Johnson late in an earlier draft out of high school, but he instead went to college. Johnson was rushed to the big leagues and really struggled. A training camp argument with Ron Gardenhire essentially ended his Twins tenure. Aaron Heilman was a supplemental first round pick, but he didn't sign with the Twins, choosing to go back to Notre Dame. "The Real Deal" JD Durbin was the team's 2nd round pick. However, in the 12th round, the Twins took a high school outfielder from California who got to the big leagues after an incredible 2004 minor league season. Jason Kubel had his breakout season in 2009.
2001 - I think it's safe to say that the Twins made the right pick by selecting Joe Mauer with the #1 overall pick. One of the best players in baseball, Mauer has won three batting titles (historic for a catcher), three silver sluggers, two Gold Gloves and the 2009 AL MVP award. Jose Morales was drafted (as a middle infielder) in the 3rd round.
2002 - Denard Span, the team's top pick, took some time to develop, but when he got to the Twins in 2008, he was ready. He has become one of the better leadoff men in baseball. Pat Neshek was drafted in the 2nd round.
2003 - Matt Moses was the team's top pick. He was one of the top high school bats in the draft, but as soon as he was signed, he had to have some heart surgery. That was a sign of things to come as Moses really was unable to hit once he got to AA. Reports indicated that he just didn't care much about baseball. Fortunately, the Twins selected Scott Baker out of Oklahoma State in the 2nd round, and he has become a very good starting pitcher, earning a long-term contract.
2004 - The Twins lost Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins to free agency and gained four extra draft picks. The Twins selected Trevor Plouffe, Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, Matt Fox and Jay Rainville. The first four are currently at AAA Rochester. Perkins has had some big league success but his career is going in the wrong direction. Plouffe should have been promoted instead of Matt Tolbert (the team's 16th round pick in '04) with JJ Hardy out. Waldrop had surgery two years ago and has been terrific out of the bullpen since his return. Fox is currently in the Red Wings starting rotation. Rainville had arm surgery and retired last year. Anthony Swarzak was drafted in the 2nd round.
2005 - The Twins drafted the eccentric Matt Garza in the first round and he quickly worked up the system to the big leagues. He was later dealt to Tampa in exchange for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. Henry Sanchez was the team's supplemental first round pick and as big of a bust as there has been. Immediately following a 50 game suspension, the Twins released him. Kevin Slowey was a 2nd round pick. Brian Duensing and Ryan Mullins (starting for AAA Rochester) were taken in the 3rd round. Alex Burnett was a 12th round pick. Highly thought of prospects David Bromberg (32) and Rene Tosoni (36) were excellent late-round picks.
2006 - The Twins took the patient and powerful Chris Parmelee in the first round. Not a batting average hitter, he has shown glimpses of power throughout his minor league career. Comparisons to Adam Dunn are not fair, but that is the type of player that he could be. Joe Benson was taken in the 2nd round and is in my Top 10 Twins prospects. Tyler Robertson was a 3rd round pick and is already pitching in AA. But three players who should contribute to the Twins sooner than later were also drafted in 2006. Jeff Manship was the team's 14th round pick out of Notre Dame. Danny Valencia was the 19th round pick from Miami. Anthony Slama was the team's 39th round pick out of the University of San Diego (which also produced 2006 11th round pick Steve Singleton). Also, following the draft, the Twins signed Rob Delaney.
2007 - It's too early to judge any draft based on just two full years, but Ben Revere seems to have justified his first round selectoin. Danny Rams has huge power potential. Angel Morales, in my mind, is as good as any prospect in the Twins farm system not named Aaron Hicks. And don't be surprised if 25th round pick Spencer Steedley become a quality left-handed relief pitcher.
2008 - The Twins were thrilled to get Aaron Hicks with their first round pick. Most teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher, but the five-tool outfielder wanted to hit. He has had an interesting and impressive 2010 already with Beloit and is ranked generally among the top 25 prospects in baseball. The Twins received two picks for losing Torii Hunter to the Angels in free agency. They selected pitchers Carlos Gutierrez and Shooter Hunt with picks 27 and 31 in the draft. Gutierrez should be an excellent late-inning reliever, but the Twins have him starting now to work on pitches. Hunt's struggles have been well-documented, but he's doing very well right now in Ft. Myers, giving hope that his incredible stuff will be able to come back well. Also drafted in 2008 were Bobby Lanigan (3), BJ Hermsen (6), Dan Osterbrock (7), Blayne Weller (14), Bruce Pugh (19) and Michael Tonkin (Jason Kubel's brother-in-law, 30).
2009 - Way too early to judge, but Kyle Gibson appears to be a very good pitching prospect that should be fast-tracked to the big leagues. Expect him to be promoted to AA New Britain very soon and he could be in the big leagues sometime in 2011.
So there you have it. Some hits. Some misses, and plenty of diamonds-in-the-rough. The MLB draft is always interesting, and drafts simply can't be judged for at least five years, and more likely ten to fifteen years. But the draft is an important part of building an organization. The Twins have terrific scouts all around the country who deserve a ton of credit for the Twins sustained success the last decade.