The Twins' farm system isn't as barren as once believed, with some talent knocking on the majors' door.
FORT MYERS, FLA. - Miguel Sano is a power hitter who will turn 19 in May. He figures to be playing at Beloit, Wis., in the low-A Midwest League in the early portion of this season.
It could be accurate to say you have to go all the way to Sano to find a Twins prospect with the look of future big-league stardom.
It also could be accurate to say the upper reaches of the Twins' farm system are not quite as devoid of potential as many of us have speculated over the past few years.
"We've lost of lot of games in [Class AAA] Rochester the past two years, and we were terrible in [Class AA] New Britain in 2010, and I think that caused a lot of people to go after the farm system," General Manager Terry Ryan said. "I'm not saying we're great at the top levels, but as far as players with a chance to help us, it's not the disaster some people have made it out to be."
The Twins brought several Red Wings and Rock Cats to Minnesota last year, mostly because of injuries and for auditions at the end of a lost season.
Chris Parmelee was the only player to impress. He was awkward at first base, but managed to hit .355 with four home runs and 14 RBI in 76 at-bats. He turned 24 last month, and he's going to be the first baseman if Justin Morneau is waylaid again.
Three players with similar backgrounds -- Parmelee, outfielder Joe Benson and middle infielder Brian Dozier -- were mentioned to Ryan and he said:
"Parmelee has been the best of the three this spring. He's had good at-bats, and he's played a solid first base. He's taken a big jump forward as a player in the last year."
Recently, a few media observers have declared Dozier, who turns 25 in May, to be the best middle infielder in camp. And Benson, 24, clearly brings some dash to a low-excitement team.
Ryan is reserved on Dozier -- "He's doing fine; we'll see what happens in the next week" -- and he's looking farther down the road on Benson.
"He's strong, he can run, he can cover ground," Ryan said. "Joe has all those things you like to see, as long as he's not chasing bad pitches."
Benson will start at Rochester, with Ben Revere, 24 in May, and Trevor Plouffe, 26 in June, expected to share left field in Minnesota. That could change within a few weeks, if Benson flips the switch working with Class AAA hitting coach Tom Brunansky.
Rene Tosoni, 25, was dropped from the outfield competition this week. "Nobody's down on him," Ryan said. "Of the guys you've mentioned, Tosoni probably has the best swing."
Ryan and other Twins evaluators came back from the Arizona Fall League with excellent reviews of two players: catcher Chris Herrmann, 24, and outfielder Aaron Hicks, 22.
Herrmann had only six at-bats in exhibition games and was optioned this week. "Chris can hit and he keeps getting better as a catcher," Ryan said. "He has a lot of ability."
The Twins didn't give Hicks a non-roster invitation to spring training. "He didn't have much of a summer," Ryan said. "We want the young players to understand that you need a good year -- not a few good weeks -- to be rewarded."
Hicks will start at New Britain, with the Twins looking for more than the glimpse of excellence they saw in the Fall League.
Ryan paused, then said: "There's another guy you might want to mention ... [Liam] Hendriks. He was our Pitcher of the Year in the minor leagues for a reason. We have to take a longer look here, in case Scott Baker isn't ready to start the season."
Hendriks, 23, made his first spring start Wednesday against Detroit in Lakeland and held the Tigers to two runs on four hits over four innings. He walked no one and struck out two.
Does Ryan like his stuff?
"Did you like Brad Radke's stuff?" Ryan said. "Hendriks has a limited fastball, like Radke, but also can change speeds on the fastball, mix pitches and work the corners. He'll pitch for us this year; it's a question of when."
Additionally, Parmelee, Dozier, Benson, Tosoni and perhaps Herrmann will be expected to contribute; again, it's a question of when.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • email@example.com
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