Minors offer little hope for help with position players
- Article by: La Velle E. Neal III
- Star Tribune
- September 29, 2007 - 3:42 PM
The Twins have quality prospects to fill holes in their pitching staff, but the farm system appears to offer no immediate help among position players.
Third base and designated hitter are the top areas of concern heading into the offseason The possible departure of two-time All-Star center fielder Torii Hunter through free agency would open another huge hole in the lineup. And the midseason trade of Luis Castillo to the Mets leaves the Twins without an accomplished leadoff hitter -- although shortstop Jason Bartlett is expected to fill the role next season.
"Our pitching is very strong in the minors," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Some of the players we thought might be ready right now just aren't ready. That's basically where it's at."
Former first-round draft picks Matt Moses and Denard Span once figured to be cornerstones of the team's future. Both took steps back in 2006.
The Twins have looked for an everyday third baseman since Corey Koskie left after 2004 but have gone through Michael Cuddyer, Tony Batista and Nick Punto since. Things were so dire that, during spring training of 2006, Gardenhire called Moses over to the bench to watch the rangeless Batista take infield.
"You need to get up here," he told Moses, the Twins' first-round pick in 2003.
Moses reported to camp 31 pounds lighter in 2007 but played so badly at Class AAA Rochester that he finished the season at Class AA New Britain with David Winfree, another third base prospect who struggled and was in the Twin Cities last week to have a sore shoulder examined.
Perhaps the best third base prospect in the system is Danny Valencia, who hit a combined .297 with 17 homers and 66 RBI at Class A stops Beloit and Fort Myers. But he was benched for the final week of the season because of attitude problems.
Brian Buscher, a Rule 5 pick last year who debuted in July and needs to improve his defense, appears to be the leading in-house candidate to be the Twins' fourth Opening Day third baseman in four seasons.
Span, a first-round pick in 2002, has long been touted as Hunter's heir apparent in center field. But he batted .267 with three homers and 55 RBI and only 30 extra-base hits in 487 at-bats at Class AAA Rochester this season. The Twins don't believe he's ready for the majors, and some in the organization say they believe Ben Revere, this year's first-round pick, is a better prospect. Revere is the fastest player in the organization and might be a better hitter and slicker outfielder than Span. But Revere is years away from the majors.
The same goes for the best power-hitting prospects in the system. Rantz named outfielder Christopher Parmelee and first baseman Henry Sanchez as the top power prospects -- but both are in A ball. Parmelee, a 2006 first-round pick, hit .239 with 15 homers and 70 RBI for Class A Beloit. Sanchez, a sandwich pick in 2005, has battled wrist and knee problems. He played only 60 games in 2005 and just 10 this year.
The Twins have tried to address the shortage of position prospects in the past two drafts. Four of their first five picks this year and six of their first seven last year were spent on position players. But they will stick to their longtime philosophy of seeking pitching first, because teams can win with pitching and a little offense but it rarely works the other way.
"We all know we have to find some offense," Rantz said. "I'll be doing what I can to add through six-year free agents and so forth. Our strength in the minor leagues is in the pitching department, and we haven't wavered from that at all."
That means the Twins will have to look to free agency and trades to fill lineup holes in the short term. By their accounts, they have an abundance of solid-to-top-line pitching prospects. Righthanders Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Matt Garza, Nick Blackburn, Boof Bonser, Anthony Swarzak and Jeff Manship, and lefthanders Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Ryan Mullins and Tyler Robertson are all highly regarded.
Perhaps the Twins will consider packaging a few of them to fill holes elsewhere.
"Because of the player movement over the last three to four years you get thinned out," Gardenhire said. "It happens in all organizations. When a couple things don't work out -- Moses, we thought he would be ready by now, things like that -- that sets you up where you have to try to find other avenues.
"We're looking at a lot of people. A whole lot of people inside the organization -- and we're going to be looking outside."
La Velle E. Neal III firstname.lastname@example.org
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