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Aaron Hicks is the most talked about Twins prospect these days as he is making the strong case that he should be the Minnesota Twins Opening Day leadoff hitter and centerfielder. Hicks was the Twins first 1st round draft pick that year. Some of the other the other top picks didn’t pan out, but there are still ten in the organization.
Let’s take a look:
Aaron Hicks was taken with the 14th overall pick. He slowly worked through the lower levels of the Twins minor league system, but after filling out the stat line thoroughly at AA New Britain in 2012, he looks to be the favorite for the Twins centerfield job. When he was drafted, many believed that he would be better as a starting pitcher due to a mid-90s fastball. However, Hicks said he wanted to hit, and the Twins believed he could become a five-tool talent. In 2013, the team will find out how many of those tools are going to show in the big leagues. On defense, Hicks has very good range and a strong arm. On offense, he has the ability to get on base at a good clip with his patient approach. He may never hit 30 home runs, but the switch-hitter could hit as many as 20 homers. His strikeout totals may keep him from ever hitting for a real high average, but with the way he progressed in 2013, it is very possible he will continue to improve upon that. He also stole a career-high 31 bases last year for the Rock Cats. No question, Hicks is in a good position to be the Twins centerfielder for many years.
Carlos Gutierrez (27th overall) and Shooter Hunt (31st overall) were two college pitchers, expected to move fast, that the Twins acquired as compensation for having lost Torii Hunter via free agency. The Twins decided to give Gutierrez an opportunity to start. The thinking was that he would be more valuable as a starter, and if it didn’t work out, he could always move to the bullpen. In the end, he was a one-pitch pitcher who couldn’t throw strikes. The other part of starting was that he would have more innings to work on the secondary pitches, but it just didn’t help. He was taken off of the 40 man roster after the 2012 season and claimed by the Cubs. The Cubs took him off of their 40 man roster and he went unclaimed.
Shooter Hunt was the type of pitching prospect that screamed top of the rotation. He threw hard and had a tremendous, sharp breaking pitch. In his junior year at Tulane, he walked more than he had previously, but not enough to become alarming. However, in 2009, he completely lost any semblance of control. He could not throw strikes. The Twins tried everything from moving him to the bullpen, to putting him on the DL. Nothing worked. He was claimed by the Cardinals in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, but he never pitched in a regular game in the organization.
Often people like to look back and see which players were drafted after picks that didn’t work out. To the point, there has been little minor league success for the players taken between Gutierrez at 27 and Conor Gillaspie at 37:
ALSO ON THE 40 MAN ROSTER
High school players selected in the 2008 draft (and college players taken in 2007 had to be protected for the Rule 5 draft or potentially be lost. Along with Hicks, these two players were added:
BJ Hermsen was taken in the 6th round from West Delaware High School in Manchester, Iowa. He had accepted a scholarship to pitch at Oregon State, but then the Twins went well over slot, he signed. He has pitched well ever since then. In 2011, between Beloit and Ft. Myers, he went 13-8 with a 3.33 ERA. In 2012, he was the Twins minor league pitcher of the year. He made four starts in Ft. Myers before moving up to New Britain for 22 starts. Combined, he went 12-6 with a 2.88 ERA. Hermsen doesn’t throw hard and relies on impeccable control and good movement.
Michael Tonkin was drafted out of his California high school in the 30th round. He received a $230,000 bonus to convince him to sign. He pitched in Beloit in 2010, 2011 and that’s where he started in 2012. It proved to be a great decision as he finally figured things out. He also developed from being an average fastball, slow curve type of pitcher into a guy with a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider. After a slow rise to this point, he is ready to move quickly. It may not be long before people refer to Jason Kubel as his brother-in-law.
Bobby Lanigan (3-92) was drafted out of Adelphi University in New York. He moved fairly quickly early in his career as a starting pitcher, reaching AA for the second half of the 2010 season. He remained with the Rock Cats until the second half of the 2012 season when he was promoted to Rochester. When drafted, many believed that he had a great slider that could be an asset out of the bullpen. In 2012, he was finally moved to the bullpen where he experienced some success in the new role. He will likely pitch with the Red Wings in 2013.
Daniel Ortiz (4-126) is a native of Puerto Rico. This winter, he played on the same team as Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas, and it was Ortiz that hit in the third spot. The outfielder can play all three positions well. Not blessed with great size, he can still pack a punch. He missed the entire 2009 season due to a knee injury. He played well in the 2nd half of the 2010 season in Elizabethton. He got off to a great start in Beloit in 2011, but he really struggled in the season’s final four months. He returned to the Snappers to start the 2012 season, but he moved up to Ft. Myers after just a month and played much better. With the Miracle, he hit .269/.313/.424 with 24 doubles, five triples and eight home runs, re-establishing himself as a prospect.
Michael Gonzales (9-276) is a big (6-6, 250), powerful first baseman who was drafted out of Diablo Valley College. He moved up one level a year until 2011 when he repeated at Beloit. But he did use that year to make some big improvements in his game, speeding up his swing and losing weight to become a much better first baseman. He struggled in Ft. Myers in 2012 thanks in part to a condition with dehydration. He was unable to play nine innings or often in back-to-back games. He could head to New Britain in 2013.
Evan Bigley (10-306) was drafted from Lew Ford’s alma mater, Dallas Baptist. He moved quickly up to AA New Britain late in the 2010 season. He then stayed with the Rock Cats through the first half of the 2012 season when he moved up to Rochester. He played in the Arizona Fall League following the 2012 season and will likely return to Rochester in 2013.
Blake Martin (17-516) was drafted out of LSU. He is a good example of a left-hander who is breathing continuing to get opportunities. He has certainly shown signs of being good at times. He split 2012 between the bullpen and the starting rotation and struckout 73 in 77 innings. He could return to New Britain, where he has pitched in at least parts of the past three seasons.
Bruce Pugh (19-576) was drafted after one year of junior college. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, Pugh pitched in both Ft. Myers and in New Britain. However, something clicked for him in 2012. He posted a 2.60 ERA in 27.2 innings in Ft. Myers. Then, he posted a 1.50 ERA in 42 innings in New Britain. He struckout 48. If he can throw strikes, he can have dominant stuff, including a mid-90s fastball.
Nate Hanson (28-846) went to high school in Eden Prairie and then played at the University of Minnesota. When the hometown Twins drafted him, he signed quickly and has gradually moved up the farm system since. He spent all of 2012 in New Britain where he started the season in a utility role, but he really took off when he moved to second base full time. If he were to make the big league roster, it would likely be in utility role.
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
With their 16th round pick, the Twins took a high school second baseman named Kolten Wong out of his high school in Hawaii. Wong chose to play for the University of Hawaii, and it proved to be a good decision. In 2011, he was the 22nd overall pick, by the St. Louis Cardinals. Baseball America ranked him as the #84 prospect in baseball.
THE ONE THEY TRADED AWAY
In the 2nd round, the Twins took a very athletic shortstop named Tyler Ladendorf out of Howard College. He was playing well in 2009 at Elizabethton and promoted to Beloit where he played in just 15 games. You see, at the July trade deadline, he was sent to the Oakland A’s in exchange for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera helped lead the Twins to an unlikely and thrilling run to the playoffs. Ladendorf has slowly progressed through the A’s system. He played in High-A ball in 2010 (and four games in AAA). In 2011, he hit .225/.308/.319 in AA (And had four more games in AAA). Last year at AA, he hit .240/.324/.358 with 20 doubles, a triple and nine home runs.
The success of the Twins 2008 draft is largely dependent upon how Aaron Hicks adapts to the big leagues and how good he becomes. That is generally the expectation for a pick from the first half of the first round. It doesn’t always come to fruition. The other high-impact pick in this group could be Michael Tonkin. He will likely start the season in New Britain and could rise quickly. He could be a strong, dominant late-game bullpen arm for many years. And if he continues to pitch well, Hermsen has a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation type of starter.
Others may find themselves getting an opportunity and that’s always a good thing. For there to still be ten players drafted in 2008 in the organization is unusual. Here is a quick look at how many players drafted by the Twins are still in the organization since the 2004 draft:
I think this is a good illustration of how difficult the draft can be. However, if any draft gives you one key starter and a possible starting pitcher and a potentially dominant reliever, the draft is a tremendous success. We still won’t know the success of the Twins 2008 draft for a few years, but right now, it looks pretty successful.
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