The Twins have a terminology problem.
The phrase “top prospect” is used so indiscriminately that their fan base has become confused.
Aaron Hicks was considered one of the “top prospects” in the organization for a few years, at a time when the Twins farm system offered little promise. Trevor May arrived in the big leagues ahead of “top prospect” Alex Meyer, creating unrealistic expectations for a young pitcher who projects to be a bottom-of-the-rotation starter.
Hicks and May were not true top prospects. Neither projected to be a star.
Because of the struggles and failures of so many first-round draft picks and prospects, too many Twins fans have come to question the legitimacy of true “top prospects,” such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Meyer. The fractured logic seems to be: “If Hicks failed, why should we have any faith in Buxton?”
That’s like asking why, if your 1973 AMC Gremlin imploded after 25,000 miles, you should ever trust a brand-new Mercedes.
Buxton is the top prospect in baseball. He is in the same “probably-can’t-miss” category as other former No. 1 prospects Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. Sano is a true “top prospect,” as one of the five best power-hitting prospects in baseball.
First-round draft picks fail frequently in baseball. Pitchers often fail because of arm problems. True top position-playing prospects rarely fail.
What is most encouraging for the Twins is that Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana were not nationally renowned prospects, yet both look like future All-Stars.
Even with Buxton and Sano injured, the Twins can do more to show us their best team of the future. Here’s what they should do before the waiver-required trading deadline today:
1. Move Santana to shortstop: Santana is this team’s best center fielder, but that’s more an indictment of the team’s handling of the position than an indication that Santana should continue to play there.
Santana is the Twins’ shortstop of the future. He should be acclimating himself to playing the position in the big leagues and working with second baseman Brian Dozier, now.
Of course, Santana can play shortstop only if the Twins make room for him, which means they should …
2. Trade Trevor Plouffe: If the Twins play Santana at shortstop, that will mean moving Eduardo Escobar out of the starting role.
Plouffe is 28. He has not turned himself into an accomplished third baseman. He has produced power in flashes, yet he and Escobar have virtually the same OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) this season.
Escobar, at 25, is younger, and a better and more versatile fielder than Plouffe.
The Twins kept Plouffe around to provide a bridge to Sano taking over third base. Escobar can be that bridge.
Plouffe shouldn’t be given away, though. If the Twins can’t find a trade partner, then they should let Plouffe start playing left field — his future position if he remains with the Twins.
3. Call up Hicks: Buxton’s injuries have slowed his rise. That leaves a void In centerfield.
Now that Hicks has experienced success at Double A and Triple A since his demotion, it’s time to give him one last tryout in the big leagues. Let him play centerfield until Buxton is ready. As poorly as Hicks has performed in the majors, he remains a talented player, and we all know what happens when the Twins give up on talented players too early.
4. Call up … never mind: The Twins’ projected rotation for the first week of the 2015 season is: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Alex Meyer and May.
The Twins have kept Meyer on an innings limit. On Saturday night, he was pulled from a start after suffering a loss of velocity.
If Meyer is injured, then the Twins’ three true top prospects — Meyer, Buxton and Sano — all would have suffered key injuries during the season in which the Twins hoped they would reach the majors.
Meyer would have benefited from pitching in the majors this season, but the Twins won’t call him up if he’s hurt or hurting.
May dominated Class AAA hitters, then came to the big leagues and got pelted. The same may happen eventually to Meyer.
With Santana, Dozier, Oswaldo Arcia, Vargas, Gibson and May in the majors, the Twins have begun assembling a team that could be worth watching sometime next summer.
There’s no reason to stop the transformation now.