The Twins started last season 7-21. By early May, all postseason hopes were dashed. But one month later, the team quietly had one of its best days of the 2012 calendar year.
On June 4, the Twins made Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton the No. 2 overall pick in the annual amateur draft. Buxton was widely considered the player with the highest ceiling in the draft.
Then, at No. 32, the Twins added 18-year-old pitcher Jose Berrios, who looked impressive for Puerto Rico this month in the World Baseball Classic. It was the first of several picks that addressed the organization’s lack of pitching depth.
For rebuilding teams, the draft becomes an annual focal point, and that will be the case again this season for the Twins. After finishing with the majors’ fourth-worst record last season (66-96), they hold the No. 4 pick this spring.
So how does this year’s crop of talent compare to last year’s? Twins scouting director Deron Johnson was asked for his assessment in mid-March.
“Well, after Week 4 [of the college season], I can tell you I don’t know who I’m picking,” Johnson said. “Whereas I knew last year after Week 1 who I was picking — if [Buxton] got to us, and we were lucky he did get to us.”
Johnson said the strength of this year’s draft class is “college power arms.”
Stanford’s Mark Appel, who didn’t sign with Pittsburgh last year after falling to No. 8 overall, ranks high on everyone’s list again. And Johnson was at the Metrodome on March 15, watching two of the nation’s top lefthanded pitchers — Indiana State’s Sean Manaea and the Gophers’ Tom Windle.
“You don’t have those high school power arms like last year, with [first-round picks Max Fried and Lucas Giolito] and those names,” Johnson said.
Johnson agreed that this isn’t a great year for college position players, either, but said there are some decent high school position players, particularly catchers. Two names being mentioned nationally are Jonathan Denney (Yukon, Okla.) and Reese McGuire (Covington, Wash.).
“One of our organizational needs is catching,” Johnson said. “We’ve been saying that for the last five years — we need to get catching early in the draft — but it just hasn’t fallen that way.”
Instead of focusing on a specific need, the Twins always try to take the best player available with their first pick, Johnson said. They were desperate for pitching and loaded with outfielders last year and still took Buxton.
This year, there are two more young Georgia outfielders who could go within the first five picks — Austin Meadows (Grayson High School) and Clint Frazier (Loganville High School). Would the Twins hesitate to draft another outfielder?
“Absolutely not,” Johnson said.