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The full-season minor league campaigns just got started on Thursday. The Twins affiliates have played four or five games. Little can be made out of the small sample size, but already some stories are jumping to the forefront. So, take any statistics below with a grain of salt. Few players even have 20 at bats yet. However, here are some interesting notes and stories from the season's first handful of games:
Trevor Plouffe was named as the International League Player of the Week. After going 0-4 on Opening Night, Plouffe recorded eight hits (including five extra base hits, three of which were home runs) over the next three games. His second home run in Saturday's game came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and tied the game. Three innings later, Jeff Bailey would end the game with a walk-off home run. With the early struggles of Alexi Casilla, Trevor Plouffe will be a prospect to watch. We saw last year that he can hit for power, but can he get on base, put the ball in play, and maybe most important, can he make the plays with the glove and his arm?
In 2008, the Twins used their third first-round draft pick (first pick of the supplemental first round) on Shooter Hunt. Since a solid debut that year, he has struggled with his control. This has been well documented. In the past two seasons, he has thrown 100 innings and struck out 105 batters. That speaks to his incredible stuff. However, he has walked 142 in that same time. He returns to the Ft. Myers bullpen in 2011 where he has pitched twice so far this year. In 3.2 innings, he has give up four unearned runs on five hits, three walks and has two strikeouts.
Hunt is joined in Ft. Myers this year by 2010 top pick Alex Wimmers. When drafted, some 'experts' deemed Wimmers the pitching prospect from that draft most ready for the big leagues because of his terrific control and a big league changeup. A couple of weeks ago, it was reported to me that Wimmers, too, was experiencing a case of the "yips." He was really struggling with his control in spring training games. I didn't make much of it, hoping that when the regular season started, he would be just fine and there would be nothing to make of it. He was the fifth starter for the Ft. Myers Miracle (Where after signing late last year, he gave up six hits, walked five and struck out 23 in 15.2 innings). Last night, he made his first start of the season. He faced six batters. He walked all six of them and threw three wild pitches before being removed from the game. Hopefully this is a short-term story, but it is one that can't, and won't, be ignored.
Ft. Myers is currently 4-1 on the short season. Chris Herrmann was invited to spring training as a non-roster invite and as a catcher. He has caught one time in the first five games and has played left field three games. Last year, he was described to me as the best defensively left fielder in the Florida State League. He is also a solid, improving catcher. After skipping Beloit last year, Herrmann represented the Miracle at the midseason All-Star game. He is off to a terrific start. He has seven hits in 14 at bats, including a triple. He has walked three times and has not struck out.
2008's first, first-round pick, Aaron Hicks may have experienced some 'struggles' late last week, but has has done well in his adjustment to the Florida State League. He is 7-20 (.350) with a double and a triple. He has walked four times and struck out just once. He has played terrific defense in centerfield. The one area that he really has to improve is his base running. He is 0-2 in stolen base attempts and been picked off twice.
After hitting 27 home runs last year (and 23 of them in AA), Joe Benson returned to New Britain to start the 2011 season. He currently is 8-17 (.471) with two doubles and a home run. The key number to watch, if you're following the progress of Benson, is his strikeout number. At this point, he has three strikeouts in 17 at bats, a rate he will hopefully be able to maintain throughout the year.
Andrei Lobanov is a recently-turned-21-year-old lefty from Moscow who has done a terrific job the last two years in the Twins lower minor league levels. In 109 innings coming into the season, he has walked just 19 batters and struck out 111 while working out of the bullpen. This year, he is going to get an opportunity to start. He made his first start last night for Beloit and gave up two runs in four innings. However, he walked just one and struck out six. Could he be a solid starter, or is he just getting a chance to do that until Pat Dean comes back from his injury?
One thing that is always interesting to me is to see how players adjust from Elizabethton to Beloit. It is a move from the Twins Advanced Rookie League team to the Low A Midwest League. It is always interesting to see how players from the Caribbean or Latin America, or from Florida, Texas, California or other warm-weather states, do in the cold of Beloit's early April. Most often, these players (and their bats) take a month of so to heat up.
Well, through five games, a couple of Snappers are standing out:
The back end of the Ft. Myers bullpen will be very impressive early this season. Hard-throwing Bruce Pugh and Dakota Watts return to the Miracle to start the 2011 after finishing the 2010 season with an appearance (each) in New Britain. Both can throw the fastball in the mid-90s. Recall that Watts was clocked at 99 in Ft. Myers last summer. In his three innings this season, he has three strikeouts and one save. Bruce Pugh has two saves. In his two innings, he has five strikeouts. I'm not certain if there are any good closer options in New Britain, but I would fully expect these two to be promoted at some point.
If you want one guy to cheer for, there are a lot of great choices. I would really, really like to see infielder Paul Kelly stay healthy. The 2005 second-round pick was hurt midway through the 2006 season and it has been one injury after the next ever since. He played in two games in 2007, and seven games in 2008. He missed the entire 2009 season, and he played in just 12 games in 2010. He has played in three games in 2011. He has the world of talent, and despite the missed time, he hasn't given up. Last night, after two at bats, Kelly left the Ft. Myers game after just two at bats. His arm started to get numb, so they toook him out of the game as a precaution. Hopefully it isn't anything serious.
The Rochester Red Wings have started at 2-3 this season. New Britain is 2-2. Both lost a lot of games last year, so it will be interesting to see how the signing of all those minor league veterans will affect the Win-Loss records for those two teams. The Ft. Myers Miracle are 4-1 to start the season. The Beloit Snappers are 3-2.
Finally, there have been some other really good pitching performances to start the season:
On Monday and Thursday nights at 10:00 Central Time, Seth and Travis Aune (Travis Twins Talk) co-host Twins Minor League Weekly. It's a 45 minute show, for now, discussing the Twins minor league system. We talk about who is hot and who is not, and how the teams are doing. Check out last night's episode, if you like.
If you have any question on the Twins minor leagues, please feel free to ask.
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