La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Looking at Twins prospects in the Appalachian League

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III under Twins Farm System, Twins prospects, On the road Updated: October 26, 2010 - 4:25 PM

Getting back into the swing here after the Twins' playoff train sputtered to a halt just a few miles out of the station, forcing me into time off I had hoped wouldn't start until November.

Late in the season, I started sharing Baseball America's rankings of the top prospects in each league. I mentioned the Midwest League prospects here. And Twins prospects in his the Gulf Coast League here. With the Twins' season now over I'll try to finish up.

So now I'll go backwards - because I never mentioned the Appalachian League, where the Twins normally do well and end up with several players among the top prospects. This season was no different.

One player in particular, Oswaldo Celestino Arcia, did so well he hit his way into my Top Ten prospects list late in the regular season -  not too shabby for a short-season player.

Arcia was ranked as the third best prospect in the league.  Here's BA's take:

An easy choice as league player of the year, Arcia led the Appy in nine key categories, including batting (.375), on-base percentage (.424), slugging (.672) and RBIs (51). His slugging percentage was the second-highest in the league in the last 14 seasons, behind only Greeneville's Mitch Einerston's .692 in 2004, and he fell just three homers short of the triple crown.

"He's the best hitter at that age I've seen," Princeton manager Michael Johns said. "Even in lefty-on-lefty situations, he keeps his shoulder in and stays on the pitch."

Despite Elizabethton's inviting right-field porch, Arcia consistently lined the ball up the middle and to left field with authority, showing a mature, all-fields approach. The numbers back this up, as he hit 12 of his 14 homers on the road.

Reviews of the rest of Arcia's game were mixed. He swings and misses a lot, especially against lefthanders, and he struggled at times to maintain balance against breaking balls. He also fought a hitch in his swing where he would drop his hands during his load. Arcia runs and throws OK and profiles best as a run-producing right fielder, though he played mostly center for Elizabethton.

Righthander Adrian Salcedo was ranked eighth. He's the latest command and control guy many people in the organization are high on. Here's BA's take.

The Twins sent Salcedo from extended spring training to high Class A Fort Myers in mid-May to cover for injuries. He ran up a 6.26 ERA, relying mostly on his fastball, while waiting for Elizabethton to begin play at the end of June. In the Appy League, he did a better job of incorporating his secondary pitches.

An exceptional athlete, Salcedo picks things up quickly, works hard and throws strikes. His sinker sits at 90-93 mph and bores down and in on righthanders. His slurvy, low-80s slider shows consistent tilt when he gets on top of the pitch.

With his athleticism and arm strength, Salcedo is a safe bet to reach his potential. Whether he does so as a starter or reliever will depend largely on how well he can fine-tune his changeup.

The 10th best prospect was righthander Manuel Soliman, an interesting case. He used to be a third baseman but was converted to a pitcher. Twins officials told me he's touched 94 miles an hour, so I'm wondering if there's a chance he'll throw more consistently at that speed with more experience. According to BA:

Past Elizabethton clubs relied on high-powered offensive attacks to bludgeon opponents, but this year's Twins were different. Jim Shellenback, in his 14th year as pitching coach, called this year's staff the deepest group he's had in a while. Soliman's performance may have been the most impressive, given that he spent his first three seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, the first two as a third baseman.

Soliman resembles Salcedo as a fastball/slider/changeup righthander who throws boatloads of strikes. He pitches at 90-92 mph and can touch 94, and he led the league with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. His resilient arm and sound delivery should allow him to remain a starter.

Shellenback worked with Soliman to improve his tempo, so he wouldn't jump at hitters, and to maintain his high three-quarters arm slot. When he stays on top of his slurvy breaking ball he gets two-plane break at about 80-82 mph, but he'll need to make continued strides with his changeup
.

Lethander Pat Dean was ranked as the 16th best prospect in his first pro season after being drafted out of Boston College. He seems to be someone who could have opened his career at Beloit. After five scoreless innings for the GCL Twins, Dean was promoted to E-Town. Here's BA's take:

A third-round pick from Boston College, Dean was more advanced than most Appy pitchers and proved too crafty for the league's raw, developing hitters. Counting the playoffs, he had a 40-1 K-BB ratio in 30 innings. He consistently put opponents on the defensive with first- and second-pitch strikes, then finished them off with one of four pitches that grade as fringe-average to average.

Dean's velocity was down when he joined Elizabethton, but he soon found his customary 89-91 mph fastball and topped out at 92. He turns to his 12-to-6 curveball for most of his strikeouts, especially against lefthanders, and keeps hitters guessing with a fringy changeup and small-breaking slider.

Dean missed time with elbow inflammation in the spring, and because the Twins have no short-season affiliate, they opted to take it slow in his debut. Expect him to move quickly once he touches down in full-season ball in 2011.

 

It's so hard to predict how kids in the Appy League will develop. BA pointed out that its top 20 list five years ago included Juan Portes. Alexander Smit and Ryan Mullins. Still, it's good to know who's worth tracking.

Will check back either tomorrow or Thursday with a look at Florida State League prospects. The plan is to build up to my end-of-season Top Ten Twins prospects list.

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