Twins take a risk, but like chances

In trading for a young minor league pitcher, the team sees a talent who could mature into an ace.

NASHVILLE - The Twins are at baseball's annual winter meetings with a long list of free agent pitchers they are looking at to fill their starting rotation.

None of them has the profile of a staff ace, but the Twins think they have that area covered; it will just take awhile for it to come to fruition.

The team wanted another true No. 1 starter to lead the rotation for the first time since they had Johan Santana. General Manager Terry Ryan knew it would be difficult to pry a front-line pitcher -- either established or nearly ready -- from another team.

That's why he played his best trade chip -- outfielder Denard Span -- last week, sending him to Washington for Alex Meyer, a 6-9 righthander who hasn't pitched above Class A but immediately became the Twins' best pitching prospect.

The trade has been looked upon in the baseball community as one a team that lacks such pitchers needs to make.

"I think the Twins' approach was that they got a match and got the biggest upside guy they could find," said John Hart, a former general manager who is covering the winter meetings for The MLB Network.

Meyer, 22, is ranked as the 50th-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com. If he had reached Class AA and Class AAA with those credentials, it's likely Washington would have been more reluctant to deal him. But the Twins had Span available at a time when the Nationals needed a leadoff hitter and center fielder.

During Ryan's previous tenure as general manager, the Twins made trades involving David Ortiz, Joe Mays, Cristian Guzman, Jason Bartlett and Francisco Liriano when none had played above Class A showing a knack for identifying talent that can reach the majors. Ryan is looking to hit a home run with Meyer.

"If it were a year from now and Meyer was pitching Double-A, Triple-A and maybe knocking on the door, I think fans would have been a little more excited about it," Hart said, "But I think baseball people were able to understand that the Twins were able to get projection. What you look for to lead a rotation. A strong, physical body. Power stuff and, unfortunately, he's pitching in A-ball. Because of the shortage of pitching, I think it's difficult to get fully developed, now-ready guys [that teams] are going to part with."

If everything works out, the Twins eventually will unveil Meyer as their ace of the future. But they know they will need a little luck. Ryan has not seen Meyer pitch, although he likes everything he hears about him.

'Taking a risk'

"All right, we're taking a risk, we all know that," Ryan said. "... But when we got David Ortiz, he was in the Midwest League. We know it's tough to be right on everybody. You're not going to be. As you're talking to him, and some of the things I'm hearing about the interviews, he's been good. Makeup wise, he seems fine. But I'm anxious to see him. Obviously, I haven't seen him."

When Ryan watches Meyer in spring training, he'll see someone who throws from a slightly-below three-quarters arm angle and whose sinker has been clocked in the mid 90s, with a straight fastball that has flirted with 100 (although he doesn't throw it much).

"I like him," Baseball America editor John Manuel wrote in an e-mail. "Has upped his pitchability the last two years. He throws more strikes than he did just as a college sophomore. Always has had swing- and-miss stuff."

It's that swing-and-miss stuff that prompted the Twins to go for Meyer, even if he needs time to develop. Ryan doesn't think more teams will look to make trades like he just did because of the risk involved.

But, in this case, he couldn't pass up the talent.

"We've got a little bit of a history, not afraid to do it," Ryan said. "It's not like it can't be done. It's not the ideal way to go about a trade, there's no doubt. You'd rather have a guy real close, if not there."

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