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Continued: Next-gen Twins are beginning to grow up

  • Article by: LA VELLE. NEAL III , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 25, 2012 - 11:23 AM

FORT MYERS, FLA. - If Twins fans in the Twin Cities need an infusion of hope this summer, they can hop in their cars and drive 315 miles.

That's the distance to Beloit, Wis., the likely summer home for the Twins' best minor league prospects since Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hit the scene in the mid-2000s.

Third baseman Miguel Sano and second baseman Eddie Rosario are invariably the first names mentioned when the Twins farm system is discussed. The two put on a show in rookie ball last year in Elizabethton, Tenn., and now are taking their talents to Class A Beloit for their first full-season experience.

If they come close to what they did at E-Town, Twins fans might find the drive well worth it. And keep this in mind: One of Beloit's opponents in the Midwest League, Cedar Rapids, is only 275 miles away in Iowa.

"I'm not going to lie to you," the 18-year-old Sano, a native of the Dominican Republic, said through an interpreter. "I don't know what to expect because I've never played in the cold before. [But] I am 100 percent ready to go to Beloit."

There's a chance -- albeit a diminishing one -- that shortstop Levi Michael, the Twins' top pick in last year's draft, will join Sano and Rosario. That would give the Snappers a true infield of the future.

But Michael has the advantage of being a three-year college starter at North Carolina, and he is being ticketed for Class A Fort Myers after impressing the Twins this month in workouts.

Sano's power potential

Several publications list Sano as the Twins' top prospect. Baseball America ranks him as the 18th-best prospect in all of baseball. It's a lofty status for someone with only a half-season of experience. But in 66 games at Elizabethton, Sano batted .292 with 20 homers and 59 RBI.

"The power is unbelievable," said Jim Rantz, Twins longtime director of minor leagues.

The Twins signed Sano as a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic for $3.15 million in 2009 after a lengthy process to verify his age. Sano has a boyish face but is filling out like Cam Newton. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 244 pounds, up 19 pounds from last year. The Twins knew he was going to get too big to play shortstop but still had him play there last year to learn the game. Now at third, there are concerns that he could outgrow that position, too, and end up in the outfield or at first base.

The Twins don't want that to happen. Sano has shown good speed and agility as a pro and has a strong arm. He committed 26 errors last year, a huge total in a short season. The Twins say that many of them came from attempting unmakeable plays, which is something they expect him to cut down on with experience.

But the power is legit. How he adjusts to better breaking pitches as he moves up the ladder remains to be seen. He struck out 77 times last season, more than once a game.

"My goal is to cut down on strikeouts," Sano said.

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan is more concerned about Sano's adjustments in the field than at the plate at this stage.

"He's got a skill set that fits beautifully at third base," Ryan said. "If you talk about what a prototypical third baseman is, he has the hands, he certainly has the arm. He's athletic enough. He's got the bat. He's got the power.

"I suspect we'll have to make sure he does not outgrow the position. I don't have any interest in seeing Sano at first or the outfield. He looks like a third baseman and should stay there."

Rosario's position switch

Sano didn't even lead his team in home runs last year. Rosario batted .337 with 21 homers and 60 RBI and shared the Appalachian League player of the year award. Rosario, 20, was considered the best hitting prospect in Puerto Rico when the Twins selected him in the fourth round in 2010.

They hoped he would develop power as he matured, and he has surpassed expectations. He led the league in runs (71), triples (nine), homers, total bases (181) and slugging percentage (.670).

He's a good outfielder with a solid arm and has the ability to play center field -- but he's no longer an outfielder.

With Joe Benson at Class AAA Rochester, Aaron Hicks at Class AA New Britain and Oswaldo Arcia at Class A Fort Myers, Twins officials believe they are well-stocked in the outfield, so they decided to move Rosario to second base.

The move could be a coup for an organization that has struggled to develop offensive middle infielders. The hope is that Rosario could become the Twins' best offensive second baseman since Chuck Knoblauch in the 1990s.

Hall of Famer Paul Molitor has been working with Rosario on his footwork around the bag during spring training, with occasional assistance from former Twins manager Tom Kelly.

"So far I'm feeling great," Rosario said, also speaking through an interpreter. "The transition is going smooth, and I would like to learn how to play several positions. That way my value will increase."

Rosario's bigger test will come at Beloit. Like Sano, he has never played in cold weather, so the first few weeks might be an adjustment.

And, like Sano, Rosario will have to watch his walk-to-strikeout totals (27 walks and 60 strikeouts in 67 games last year) while facing pitchers with better stuff and command.

"I'll be interested in seeing what Eddie Rosario does at Beloit, moving him to second base," Ryan said. "There aren't many guys who go through the Appalachian League and hit 21 home runs, with how many triples he had."

Other help on the way

The Twins maintain they have quality prospects at every level, although the organization has been ranked everywhere from the middle of the pack to the bottom third in Major League Baseball. Baseball America ranks them 20th.

Sano and Rosario are being counted on to change that perception. And the Twins believes Michael also has a chance to develop into a solid middle infielder.

"He's a guy that stands out when you are starting the drills," Rantz said. "You can tell he's gone through a program."

Michael played while injured for most of his final season at North Carolina. Injuries to his ankle, groin and hip needed time to heal, so last year he did little more than drills during fall instructional league. He is considered a good base stealer and potential table-setter, and he could move up quickly through the farm system.

The Twins have been criticized for lacking talent at AAA and AA, but they believe there is immediate help available when needed. Benson, first baseman Chris Parmelee and shortstop Brian Dozier -- all of whom were at New Britain last season -- have played well in spring training.

Their top pitching prospect, Kyle Gibson, will miss the season because of Tommy John elbow surgery. Fellow righthander Alex Wimmers appears to have licked severe control problems of a year ago, and the first-round pick from 2010 is prepared to move quickly through the system.

Although all eyes will be on the Sano and Rosario show at Beloit, Twins officials say fans should not discount the AAA and AA talent.

"Those [top-100] prospect lists are beautiful, especially when you've got a bunch of guys on there," Ryan said. "I'm not sure if Eddie Guardado or Torii Hunter ever appeared on any prospect list, but they were good players for us.

"I'm all for prospect lists, and that's exactly what they are. They give people hope, and they like to read about all the up-and-comers, and we've got a couple on that top 100. I think we have more than what some of you give us credit for."

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Minnesota 16 FINAL
Buffalo 17
Atlanta 7 FINAL
Baltimore 29
Tennessee 17 FINAL
Washington 19
Seattle 26 FINAL
St. Louis 28
Cleveland 6 FINAL
Jacksonville 24
Cincinnati 0 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Miami 27 FINAL
Chicago 14
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Detroit 24
Carolina 17 FINAL
Green Bay 38
Kansas City 23 FINAL
San Diego 20
Arizona 24 FINAL
Oakland 13
NY Giants 21 FINAL
Dallas 31
San Francisco 17 FINAL
Denver 42
Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Boston 95 FINAL
Brooklyn 90
Minnesota 112 FINAL
Oklahoma City 94
Golden State 83 FINAL
Houston 90
Charlotte 96 FINAL
Chicago 101
Utah 91 FINAL
LA Lakers 98
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
San Jose 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Calgary 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
St. Louis 0 FINAL
Anaheim 3
TX-San Antonio 20 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 27
Syracuse 30 FINAL
Wake Forest 7
Purdue 38 FINAL
Minnesota 39
Western Ky 38 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 45
(12) Baylor 27 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 41
(11) Kansas State 31 FINAL
(17) Oklahoma 30
Iowa 31 FINAL
Maryland 38
So Florida 38 FINAL
Tulsa 30
Tulane 13 FINAL
UCF 20
Virginia 13 FINAL
Duke 20
Akron 20 FINAL
Ohio U 23
Western Mich 26 FINAL
Bowling Green 14
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
Massachusetts 36
Appalachian St 53 FINAL
Troy 14
(25) UCLA 36 FINAL
California 34
Texas A&M 0 FINAL
(4) Alabama 59
Army 17 FINAL
Kent State 39
Kansas 21 FINAL
Texas Tech 34
UAB 22 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 34
Rutgers 17 FINAL
(13) Ohio State 56
(8) Michigan State 56 FINAL
Indiana 17
New Mexico 31 FINAL
Air Force 35
NC State 18 FINAL
Louisville 30
(21) Clemson 17 FINAL
Boston College 13
Ball State 32 FINAL
Central Mich 29
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
SMU 3
(9) Georgia 45 FINAL
Arkansas 32
Oklahoma State 9 FINAL
(10) TCU 42
San Jose St 27 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Miami-Ohio 41 FINAL
Northern Ill 51
New Mexico St 17 FINAL
Idaho 29
Colorado 28 FINAL
(20) USC 56
(23) Marshall 45 FINAL
FIU 13
Southern Miss 30 FINAL
North Texas 20
Georgia Tech 43 FINAL
North Carolina 48
Tennessee 3 FINAL
(3) Ole Miss 34
Utah State 13 FINAL
Colorado State 16
Missouri 42 FINAL
Florida 13
Kentucky 3 FINAL
(24) LSU 41
(16) Nebraska 38 FINAL
Northwestern 17
Georgia State 27 FINAL
South Alabama 30
Washington 20 FINAL
(6) Oregon 45
Iowa State 45 FINAL
Texas 48
(7) Notre Dame 27 FINAL
(2) Florida State 31
Nevada 42 FINAL
BYU 35
Stanford 10 FINAL
(14) Arizona State 26
Hawaii 10 FINAL
San Diego St 20
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Columbus 3 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19
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