The Twins farm system just might have the solution to the biggest problem with the major league club.
"Our strength is going to be in the pitching department," said Jim Rantz, the longtime Twins director of minor leagues.
There is a catch.
"But it's going to be two to three years away," Rantz said.
Of course, the Twins would like nothing more than to see rapid advancement from a couple starting prospects or power-arm relievers. It would be a welcome development for an organization whose idea of filling out a rotation through free agency is by signing Ramon Ortiz (2007) or Jason Marquis (2012).
Third baseman Miguel Sano is the Twins' top prospect, and one of the better ones in all of baseball. Outfielders Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia and second baseman Eddie Rosario, along with this year's No. 1 pick, Byron Buxton, likely fill out their top five.
The Twins might not have a pitching prospect in their top five once the experts release their lists next spring. But with minor league seasons now complete, the Twins can look back and see that some talented pitchers are developing. They just have to be patient.
"Our best pitching is low [in the minors], and that's not good," Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.
Especially for a team sorely in need of immediate help.
Gibson is back
The one pitcher Twins fans have been waiting to see is healthy and should make his debut in 2013.
Righthander Kyle Gibson, the Twins' first-round pick in 2009, returned to the mound this season after having reconstructive elbow surgery on Sept. 7, 2011. Before he was injured, some in the organization felt he was more talented than most of the pitchers on the major league roster.
Gibson is working to regain the feel and command of his pitches and throwing as many innings as he can.
Between rookie ball, Class A Fort Myers and Class AAA Rochester, Gibson threw 28 1/3 innings, going 0-2 with a 4.13 ERA. He had to start slowly, pitching one inning a few times as he built his endurance.
Now he's throwing five-inning stints during instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla. On Wednesday, he will report to the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League to pitch against other top prospects for about a month.
"We're trying to get him between 75 and 80 innings by the end of this year," Ryan said.
Gibson will report to spring training in February with a chance to make the major league club, but could start the year at Rochester if he still needs a little more work. Anyone who has watched the Twins for the past couple of seasons knows that if Gibson starts the year at Rochester, he might not be there long.
The farm system hasn't provided the Twins with many flamethrowers in recent seasons. That might be changing down the road.
"We really drafted some good arms this year," Ryan said. "You guys always talk to us about velocity and we drafted velocity this year. There's no doubt about that."
Righthander Jose Berrios, taken with the 32nd overall pick earlier this year, is an 18-year-old who throws 93 miles per hour and has a good feel for pitching. He started with the Twins' rookie team at Fort Myers but was moved to Elizabethton, Tenn., of the Appalachian League, where he was 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in three late-season starts.
Lefthander Mason Melotakis, one of two 2012 second-round picks, has touched 97 with his fastball but averages around 93-94. The other second-rounder, righthander J.T. Chargois, also has thrown as hard as 97.
The Twins had to be careful with the workload of some of the college pitchers they drafted, making them relieve this year after signing. They will meet later this month to determine if Melotakis and some of the other promising arms should be converted to starters.
"We need starters and will continue to look for that," Ryan said.
One pitcher to watch next season is reliever Michael Tonkin. A 30th-round pick in 2008, Tonkin made big strides with his command this season. Between Class A Beloit and Class A Fort Myers, Tonkin, who throws around 95 mph with good movement, averaged 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
The near future
The Twins have several position prospects who figure to be much closer than the young pitchers to making their major league debut. Arcia and Hicks should be next in line, as they both took big steps this season at Class AA New Britain.
Arcia actually began the season at Fort Myers, but kept hitting once he joined the Rock Cats. He batted .328 with 10 homers and 67 RBI in 69 games at New Britain. He could slide into one of the Twins' corner outfield spots as soon as late next year, if all goes well.
Hicks could make the Twins outfield of the near future even more interesting. After getting off to a slow start, the 2008 first-round pick rallied to bat .286 with 13 homers, 61 RBI, 11 triples and 32 stolen bases at New Britain. The switch-hitting Hicks struck out 116 times, but had an on-base percentage of .384 thanks to 79 walks.
"He's got skills, he's got strength, he's got numbers," Ryan said.
More top talent
Outfielder Buxton, the second overall pick in this year's draft, batted .248 with five home runs and 20 RBI in 48 games between the Gulf Coast League Twins and Elizabethton. But the raw talent was obvious. Ryan said Buxton is the fastest player in the organization -- even faster than Ben Revere -- and has good power potential.
"The thing that has come out now that we have gotten to know him is that he's a great teammate, he's a great worker, he prepares, he tries to pay attention to detail," Ryan said. "All those things you can't scout. He knows he's supposed to be a guy and that's a good thing. He doesn't want to mesh into a crowd and not be noticed."
And then there's Sano and Rosario, both of whom played at Beloit. Both have excellent offensive potential but are trying to stick at their positions.
Rosario, who shifted this season to second base from center field, is working on his footwork while turning double plays. He missed several weeks after being hit in the face by a line drive, but hit .296 with 12 homers and 70 RBI in 95 games.
Sano, who is 6-3 and around 230 pounds, hit .258 with 28 homers and 100 RBI. He walked 80 times and struck out 144. He also committed 42 errors at third, and his defense must improve if he's going to remain there.
"His agility is a work in progress," Rantz said. "We're trying to make his agility better through drills. He's a big kid for age 19, but there's no problem with his arm."
|NY Mets - LP: J. Hefner||2||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: S. Feldman||8|
|Seattle - LP: O. Perez||4||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: C. Perez||5|
|Toronto - LP: B. Morrow||2||FINAL|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Phelps||7|
|Cincinnati - WP: B. Arroyo||10||FINAL|
|Philadelphia - LP: K. Kendrick||0|
|Chicago WSox - LP: N. Jones||9||FINAL|
|LA Angels - WP: R. Coello||12|
|Tampa Bay - WP: A. Torres||10||FINAL|
|Baltimore - LP: J. Johnson||6|
|Houston - WP: J. Cisnero||4||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - LP: B. Morris||2|
|Los Angeles - LP: K. Jansen||1||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: C. Gearrin||3|
|Boston - WP: C. Breslow||12||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: S. Diamond||5|
|Arizona - WP: B. McCarthy||1||FINAL|
|Miami - LP: T. Koehler||0|
|Milwaukee - WP: J. Axford||6||FINAL|
|St. Louis - LP: J. Kelly||4|
|Detroit - LP: A. Sanchez||2||FINAL|
|Texas - WP: J. Grimm||7|
|San Francisco - LP: T. Lincecum||2||FINAL|
|Colorado - WP: T. Chatwood||10|
|Washington - LP: J. Zimmermann||1||FINAL|
|San Diego - WP: E. Stults||2|
|Kansas City - LP: E. Santana||1||FINAL|
|Oakland - WP: T. Milone||2|