During the Twins’ turn-of-the-century renaissance, team marketers produced a campaign targeting their youngest players, called: “Get to Know ’Em.”
Considering the number of Twins players who fail repeatedly before becoming big-league regulars, the next campaign might be called: “Get to Loathe ’Em.”
Glen Perkins was an impending bust of a first-round draft pick relegated to middle relief. The Twins thought about dumping him before he approached them for a heart-to-heart in the spring of 2011, in his eighth season in the organization. Now he’s an All-Star closer with a long-term contract.
Former outfielder Torii Hunter, another first-rounder, spent six years in the minors, getting called up only for one game during that time. After spending a full year in the majors in 1999, he got sent down again. In his ninth year in the organization, he became a starter and Gold Glove winner. In his 10th year, he became an All-Star.
Justin Morneau got called up in his fifth year in the organization, then performed below expectations for two years before becoming the American League MVP in his eighth year as a Twins employee.
A.J. Pierzynski, now catching for the Red Sox, drove the Twins so crazy that they once demoted him from Class AAA to Class AA. It took him eight years in the organization to become a big-league regular. He became an All-Star.
Pierzynski’s buddy Doug Mientkiewicz, a college star who was older than most prospects, got called up in his fourth year in the organization — and sent back down in his sixth. In his seventh season, he finished 14th in the AL MVP voting.
The timing of a prospect’s emergence isn’t an exact science because it isn’t a science at all. Sometimes teams wait too long on prospects. Sometimes they don’t wait long enough. Sometimes they wait because they have no other options.
The Twins won a three-game series against the Red Sox this week because of walk-off, game-winning hits by Chris Parmelee on Tuesday and Aaron Hicks on Thursday.
Parmelee is 26, past the age of promise. After doing little last season to inspire confidence, he did less this spring. He was sent to Class AAA Rochester.
The Twins called up Parmelee last week in part because of his performance, but more so because of the failures or injuries of a handful of other players. Since his return May 9, he has hit .320 with two homers and four RBI. He hit a game-winning homer Tuesday night and hit a two-run shot off the facing of the upper deck in right field Thursday.
The Twins’ unhappiness with Parmelee this spring was mostly implied. With Hicks, this week, it was overt. Wednesday, manager Ron Gardenhire and assistant general manager Rob Antony blasted Hicks, 24, for his lack of preparation and production. Thursday afternoon, Hicks produced what he says was his first walk-off hit since high school, a line single in the 10th that gave the Twins a 4-3 victory.
Parmelee is in his ninth year of pro ball. Hicks is in his seventh. For the moment, they are passing the Twins’ Perpetual Prospect Test.
Here’s the test: Once everyone in Minnesota is sick of the sight of you, you might almost be ready for the big leagues.
“It’s not what you planned,” Parmelee said. “But I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I went down there and got work in and got experience and got confidence as well. I’d say that was a huge thing for me.
“I feel like a more complete hitter, more knowledgeable about the game, about other pitchers, about what I can and can’t get to in certain counts. Some guys take longer to develop than others.”
Most young hitters require thousands of at-bats, and often a few demotions, before they adapt.
Thursday afternoon, as Hicks spoke of his renewed determination to prepare himself, hitting coach Tom Brunansky gave him a fist bump. Rip them or praise them, when you’re a team dedicated to developing prospects, the only sure thing is that you will have to wait for them.