Twins' growth rate of prospects is high on the farm

The Twins have retooled their minor league system -- adding both hitting and pitching -- and piled up a talented group of prospects.

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Minnesota Twins first-round draft pick Byron Buxton.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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To get an idea of how far the Twins farm system has come in the past couple of years, take a look at player No. 7 on one slightly husky sportswriter's ranking of the top 10 prospects in the organization.

Outfielder Aaron Hicks, the 14th overall draft pick in 2008, has held the top spot before but is seventh this year. Part of the reason for his drop is that he hasn't had a season of eye-popping numbers that teams like to see from top prospects. But another reason is that, through drafting and trades, the Twins have made their future look promising with more top-end prospects.

Six Twins could be listed among Baseball America's top 100 prospects when rankings are released in the spring -- and that's a lot. Plus, the Twins farm system is a lock to crack the top 10 of all of baseball and could push for a top-five spot. It's a farm system on the rise.

With Hicks, third baseman Miguel Sano, second baseman Eddie Rosario and outfielders Byron Buxton and Oswaldo Arcia, the Twins have several impressive hitting prospects.

Sano's power potential makes him one of the game's top prospects, especially if he can stick at third base. He spent the offseason with Estrellas of the Dominican winter league, batting .265 with four homers and 14 RBI in 20 games.

"To be able to hold his own in that league at his age [19] is encouraging," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.

Rosario could be in for a big season, especially if he can speed up his transition to second base from the outfield. He opened eyes this offseason by batting .338 in the Puerto Rican winter league. It helped Rosario land a spot as an outfielder on the island's World Baseball Classic roster. It won't hurt him to be around Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan and Alex Rios.

Buxton, the No. 3 overall pick last year, is an excellent athlete with big-time speed and a strong outfield arm. The Twins are excited about his potential as he learns how to drive the ball.

And Arcia, who has drawn praise from manager Ron Gardenhire, could bring his smooth swing to the majors sometime this season after batting .320 with 17 homers and 98 RBI between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain last season.

What has really helped the Twins' stock are trades for righthanded pitching prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May.

Meyer, who came from Washington in exchange for Denard Span, was considered the Nationals' second-best prospect before the deal.

May, who came from Philadelphia with Vance Worley in exchange for Ben Revere, was the Phillies' No. 1 prospect, according the Baseball America, before the 2012 season.

Their arrivals have given the Twins a deep and more diverse top 10 -- although their love of toolsy prep outfielders remains evident.

"We like the players that we have," said Brad Steil, the new director of minor leagues for the Twins. "As you mentioned, adding May and Meyer has added a little different spin to our starting pitching situation in the minor leagues.

"Developing these guys, obviously, will be a challenge for us going forward, but we're looking forward to getting them to the big leagues."

For years, the Twins had a reputation for preferring pitchers with polish over power. It's not necessarily true, as they have either traded power arms (Matt Garza), have drafted talented arms that have broken down and failed to develop (Jay Rainville, Matt Fox) or simply have drafted poorly.

But the Twins examined their organization a couple of years ago and decided to stock it with more swing-and-miss pitchers. Last year, they added power and nastiness in relievers such as lefthander Mason Melotakis (has touched 96 miles per hour), righthander J.T. Chargois (has touched 97) and righthander Zack Jones (has touched 100). Jose Berrios is a starter who can reach the mid-90s. Luke Bard doesn't have the 100-mph fastball of his brother, Daniel, but he can throw 93-94 with a good, hard slider.

To move up the ladder, they need to add good secondary pitches -- a couple of them already have -- and show good command. A 97-mph heater, of course, gives them some leeway on the command scale.

Now the Twins have better pitching prospects to go with their position prospects. While fans are fretting over the major league team and its 195 losses over the past two seasons, the farm system is on the verge of pumping out several prospects who could form a talented core of players with whom to move forward.

A wave of new talent is coming.

La Velle E. Neal III • lneal@startribune.com

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