Sid Hartman: Twins farm system suffering drought

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 29, 2011 - 12:29 AM

Only Denard Span and Danny Valencia have emerged as position players in recent years; no one else is ready.

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Danny Valencia got high-fives after his walkoff single against the Angels on Saturday night.

Photo: Marlin Levison, DML - Star Tribune

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No doubt Twins fans have been spoiled after the team has dominated the division, winning six of the past 10 American League Central titles under manager Ron Gardenhire.

Until this year, a Gardenhire-managed Twins team never had been more than eight games behind the leaders in the division.

However, sooner or later a season like this was going to happen, with the farm system finally running out of talent to feed the big club.

There aren't any players the caliber of a Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer or Jason Kubel ready to come up from the farm system.

A scout recently put it this way, "They ran out of gas after having it their way in the division for so long."

If you want to analyze the Twins' performance this year in posting the worst record in baseball, you will see a combination of untimely injuries and the lack of talented minor leaguers to step in.

Class AAA Rochester and Class AA New Britain, the Twins' top two farm teams, were among the worst teams in all of professional baseball last year. Rochester finished 2010 with a record of 49-95, and New Britain was even worse at 44-98. The two teams combined to be an incredible 100 games below .500.

Callups no help

The lack of offense in the higher levels of the Twins minor league system has been apparent this year as the team has looked for help.

To date, the Twins had elevated six different position players to their 25-man active roster. As a group, they are batting .200 with six home runs and 20 RBI. In a combined 240 at-bats, they have only 13 extra-base hits.

Ben Revere has done the best with a .242 batting average, followed by Trevor Plouffe at .218, Luke Hughes at .211, Rene Rivera at .172, Rene Tosoni at .171 and Steve Holm at .118. Rivera and Plouffe were in the lineup for Saturday night's 1-0, 10-inning victory, hitting eighth and ninth, respectively, against Angels ace Jered Weaver. Revere, Holm, Hughes and Tosoni are back at Rochester, with Holm having been removed from the Twins' 40-man roster.

The Twins minor league system, rated as among the best in the majors over the past 10 years, has failed to contribute much to the major league lineup in recent years. Third baseman Danny Valencia broke into the starting lineup in 2010, and center fielder Denard Span became a full-time regular in 2009. They are the only position players developed in the minor leagues to make significant offensive contributions since joining the parent team in the past five seasons.

Don't count on anyone else being ready to contribute soon. Most of the top performers in Rochester already have received a shot with the Twins this year. The most highly regarded prospects, such as Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia, are all expected to be two or more years away from major league consideration.

Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Kubel all came from the top-rated Twins minor league system of the early 2000s.

Furthermore, General Manager Bill Smith and company are going to have a tough time having a $113 million payroll this year and then also trying to keep free-agents-to-be such as Kubel and Cuddyer, along with reliever Joe Nathan, who has a $12.5 million option with a $2 million buyout.

Add to this the cost of arbitration-eligible players who all figure to get raises, and you see the problem the Twins face in coming years.

Jottings

• You have to salute the Pohlad family for spending the money it did to put on the Harmon Killebrew memorial service Thursday. Not many team ownerships would do something like that. Also credit President Dave St. Peter for authorizing it and Andy Price for doing a great job of directing it.

• Jerry Bell, the retired Twins president who still serves as chairman of the team's executive board, was in New York on Wednesday night to accept the SportsBusiness Journal award naming Target Field the Sports Facility of the Year.

• Twins infielder Alexi Casilla, who was off to a horrible start, was hitting .387 over an 11-game stretch through Friday's game, a game in which he reached base four times with a triple, two doubles and a walk.

• When the Twins acquired lefthander Brian Fuentes late last season from the Angels, they made it clear to him that his role was changing: He would be mainly used to get lefthanded hitters out, and Matt Capps would remain the closer. Well, Fuentes is in Oakland now, and this past week he criticized manager Bob Geren both for his managing and communication skills. Fuentes had been closing in place of the injured Andrew Bailey, but he had entered four games in a row with the score tied and lost them all, starting with a May 18 10th-inning outing vs. the Twins. After losing again Monday, Fuentes called out Geren in the media, leading to a closed-door meeting between pitcher and manager. Maybe Fuentes is available for a bullpen that needs help so bad.

• Hunter had a rough start this year for the Angels, hitting .214 in April with three home runs and 11 RBI. But he has turned things around in May, hitting .261 with two home runs, six doubles, a triple and 15 RBI. The former Twins great is in the fourth year of his five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels. In his first three years with Los Angeles, Hunter hit .285 with an average of 22 homers and 86 RBI per season, not far off his best years with the Twins.

• Kris Humphries is on the cover of this week's People Magazine because of his engagement to Kim Kardashian. In 2010-11, the former Hopkins and Gophers basketball standout averaged 10 points and 10.4 rebounds per game for the New Jersey Nets, making him one of five players in the NBA to average a double-double. It was by far the best of his seven NBA seasons. Besides Humphries, the other players to average a double-double this season were the Timberwolves' Kevin Love, Orlando's Dwight Howard, Memphis' Zach Randolph and the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin, the NBA Rookie of the Year.

• Brian Lawton, the former North Stars forward and local resident who was fired last season as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning team that lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Friday to the Boston Bruins, inherited a team that finished last in 2008. He kept only three players from that team, oversaw the 2008 draft that produced a star in No. 1 overall pick Steven Stamkos and also landed Teddy Purcell in a trade for Jeff Halpern, so Lawton should take some credit for the success of the team this year.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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