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Building the Core

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: March 1, 2010 - 12:28 AM

I have been a huge Twins fan as long as I can remember (which is somewhere between 1982 and 1984). I have also always been intrigued by the minor leagues and player development. At SethSpeaks.net, there is a focus on the Twins minor league system.

Minor league baseball players are doing all the same work that the big leaguers do. They are just doing it with far less fanfare, smaller per diems, less luxurious travel and hotel arrangements, and noticeably lighter wallets due to pay checks with far fewer zeroes. These players deserve to be recognized too!
I have included that in the Introduction of my about-to-be-released Minnesota Twins 2010 Prospect Handbook. Having been trying to follow the Twins minor league system and its trends over the past five or six years, I have found several things that I find interesting. In this space, I will try to promote the Twins minor league system and keep readers updated on the goings on among Twins prospects.
I truly enjoy following the Twins minor leaguers because they build from within. They have promoted several players from AA and AAA that have helped the team each of the last several years. Think about the core of the Twins offense:
  • Leadoff man and center fielder Denard Span was drafted in the 1st round in 2002 out of high school. He progressed slowly through the Twins farm system, and is now one of the best leadoff hitters in the league.
  • Joe Mauer won his third batting title, third silver slugger award, second gold glove award and first AL MVP award in 2009. He is generally considered one of the best all-around players in the game. He was the Twins 1st round pick in 2001 out of Cretin-Derham Hall high school.
  • Clean-up hitter Justin Morneau was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1999 draft out of his Canadian high school. He won the AL MVP award in 2006, is a legitimate power threat and a run producer. He has driven in at least 100 runs each of the past four seasons.
  • Michael Cuddyer was drafted as a shortstop in the 1st round of the 1997 draft out of high school in Virginia. It took a little longer to establish himself, but he had a very strong 2006 season, a good 2007 season, a forgettable 2008 season, and an incredible 2009 season. His performance catapulted the Twins to the playoffs.
  • Jason Kubel was the Twins 12th round pick in 2000 out of his California high school. He moved up the system quickly through the system. In 2004 he dominated in AA before winning the AAA batting title. He then hit .300 in September for the Twins. He was touted as being able to hit for average like Joe Mauer while hitting for power like Justin Morneau. A knee injury at the Arizona Fall League cost him 2005 and more. It all came together in 2009 when he hit .300 with 102 RBI.
That is a core of hitters that most teams in baseball are envious of, and they were all Twins draft picks, selected out of high school.
But what about pitching?
  • Scott Baker was the Twins 2nd round pick in 2003 out of Oklahoma State. He was in the big leagues less than two years later. The last two years, he is a combined 26-13. Despite his 2009 season beginning with an injury, he ended the season with 15 wins and 200 innings pitched.
  • Nick Blackburn was the Twins 29th round pick in 2001 out of Seminole State College. He has been remarkably consistent the last two years as his statistics were nearly identical. What Blackburn has done is shine in big games. He pitched wonderfully in Game 163 against the White Sox in 2008, and he beat Zach Greinke in the final weekend in 2009.
  • Kevin Slowey was the Twins 2nd round pick in 2005 out of Winthrop University. He flew through the minor leagues and debuted with the Twins less than two years later. Based on his impeccable control and intelligence, he is often compared to Brad Radke. When he went down with his wrist injury in 2009, he was leading the American League in Wins and was a possible All-Star.
  • Brian Duensing was the Twins 3rd round pick in 2005 out of the University of Nebraska. He stepped up tremendously in the final six weeks of the 2009 season and helped the Twins to the playoffs.
  • Jeff Manship was the Twins 14th round pick in 2006 out of Notre Dame. He was pushed to the big leagues out of necessity in 2009 and had his ups and downs, but he came up biggest when the team needed him most. He pitched his best game and was credited with his first win on the final weekend of the season.
  • Jesse Crain was the Twins 2nd round pick in 2002 out of the University of Houston, where he was a shortstop and closer. Until his 2007 shoulder surgeries, he was terrific for the Twins, and he did not allow an earned run in September last year.
  • Pat Neshek was the Twins 6th round pick in 2002 out of Butler University. He has missed most of the last two years, but we all saw just how dominating he can be in 2006 and 2007.
Again, many of the core pitchers are Twins draft picks, pitchers that were scouted, drafted and signed out of college, and developed in the Twins farm system.
Now the Twins have greater revenues by moving into Target Field. The Twins have increased their Opening Day roster from less than $70 million in 2009 to almost $95 million in 2010. The Twins have been able to pay their own players and supplement the core players with additions. Additions this year include JJ Hardy, Clay Condrey, Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson in an attempt to win in 2010.
However, the increased revenues should not affect the Twins primary philosophy, and that is clearly to build their core from within. The value of the increased revenues should primarily be in retaining their own players. Joe Mauer will be resigned (come on, we all know that). Arbitration-eligible players will make more next year. Denard Span, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey will all reach arbitration after the 2010 season and will all get huge raises.
The Twins draft high-ceiling high school bats. (see Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales, Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson) The Twins draft sure-thing, strike-throwing college pitchers. (see Kyle Gibson, Carlos Gutierrez, Billy Bullock) They are also able to be a bigger player in the international market (see Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco). They now have increased revenues which will allow them to do two things. First, they will be able to retain more of their own players. Second, they will be able to supplement their team’s other needs on a year-to-year basis.
Twins fans, this is something you should be excited about as it likely ensures the team will be competing for AL Central (and World Series) titles for the foreseeable future.
Here are some other TwinsCentric articles today:
·         The Twins Geek asks, “How big is your baseball addiction?”
·         Over the Baggy posts several Twins Notes including bits on Justin Morneau, Jacque Jones, Jason Kubel and more.
·         At SethSpeaks.net, Seth will be posting a series of Spring Training Question & Answers with several Twins prospects. The first was posted on Sunday afternoon and was an interview with relief pitching prospect Alex Burnett who had an incredible 2009 season in his first year in the bullpen.
·         Seth will be a guest on Sports on Demand on MyFox9.com at 3:00 this afternoon. He will be on air with Jim Rich, Seth Kaplan and Phil Mackey.
·         Be sure to save the date for the March 13th TwinsCentric Viewing Party at Majors in Apple Valley from noon until the end of the Twins/Phillies spring training tilt.

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