The 21st edition of the Arizona Fall League is underway, a league designed to give prospects from every organization a chance to face good competition and showcase their skills in front of a bevy of scouts.
It's not a league of top prospects, but a large percentage of players in the league end up in the majors. The year I flew out to Arizona to pick up a couple of stories, the Twins' contingent was Jason Bartlett, Jesse Crain, J.D. Durbin, Scott Baker, Rob Bowen and Kevin West. West was the only player of that group to not make it to the bigs. And West was a replacement for Jason Kubel, who had injured his knee earlier in league play.
This year's group offers the same potential. You'll be seeing most of the Twins players in the majors as soon as next year, so it's worth following AFL action.
Kyle Gibson. RHP: Gibson has moved on from Tommy John surgery and is building up innings in preparation for next season. His fastball sits around 92 mph. Before the injury, he had an excellent sinker that he could throw at the hip of a left-handed hitter and watch it break back over the plate. He also had a good slider and very good change up. He's trying to sharpen his pitches, so this is good competition for him.
Logan Darnell, LHP: He's not really on the prospect watch list. He went 11-12 with a 5.08 ERA for Class AA New Britain. Touches 90 mph with a good breaking ball. He did make all 28 starts this season, so he's durable.
Caleb Thielbar, LHP: The reliever began the season at Class A Fort Myers and ended up at Class AAA Rochester. Another lefty who throws in the low 90's with a good breaking ball, but he attacks hitters. He walked just five batters between Fort Myers and New Britain before running into more resistance at Rochester, but he's one to watch next season as the Twins could use another lefty reliever.
Michael Tonkin, RHP: Can't wait to see how Tonkin does. He started to come into his own this season. Hitting 95 on the gun and averaging 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings during stops at Fort Myers and Beloit. A former 30th round pick who could turn out to be a find.
Chris Herrmann, C/OF: Twins had a chance to see Herrmann play late this season during a late call up. There's some sock in his bat but he still needs development. I'm curious to see how much playing time he gets because Seattle first-round pick Mike Zunino also is on the team.
Evan Bigley, OF: Bigley finally reached Rochester late this season after spending two-plus years at New Britain. Has a good arm and can play all three outfield positions. While providing occasional pop.
Nate Roberts, OF: One of the more interesting prospects in the Twins system, Roberts could be a good top-of-the-order hitter in the majors - if he survives. Roberts will do anything to get on base, including being hit by pitches. In 179 career minor league games, Roberts has been hit by pitches 56 times. He did it while in college at High Point and continues to do it now. He's hit .307 in three years in the system with a .439 on base percentage. Injuries have slowed him in each of the last seasons. At 23, he needs to start climbing the ladder.