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.
Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
Righthander Trevor May on Friday had his best outing of the year, pitching seven shutout innings for Class AA New Britain in a 2-0 win over Portland.
May, who came over with Vance Worley in the Ben Revere trade, held Portland to two singles and one walk while striking out 10. He's allowed one earn run over his last 14 innings. He's the first Rock Cats pitcher to strike out ten in a game since Kyle Gibson in 2010.
And he had some good stuff to say to milb.com about the groove he's in:
Besides a rough outing against Harrisburg at the end of April, he's hallowed two runs or fewer in each of his other six starts. He's struck out 37 and walked 19 over 39 1/3 innings in his first season with the Twins.
``The biggest thing was finding out what was keeping me struggling. As a whole, I was not happy [with last season], it was a step back," May said. "It's very similar [in New Britain], pretty much pitching is the same anywhere, and for me it was finding out what worked for me mentally and keeping on a routine and a program and making sure my focus is where it needs to be.
``I've done a lot of work. Last year, I was throwing well at the end, and with the program I have, I've evolved from Spring Training and into this season and it's paying off. I'm able to kind of get myself where I need to be mentally. It's all come along, so I'm definitely happy with the progress.''
Thomas still out
Outfielder Clete Thomas' return from a sore quad has been pushed back to Monday. The Twins have been consistent in saying that Aaron Hicks will be given chances to get his game going with the big league club. Thomas got off to a fine start at Rochester, hitting .346 in 25 games. He loomed as the best option if the Twins changed their minds about Hicks, but now he's banged up.
Check out the latest installment of the minor league report. Wrote a litte about Jorge Polanco, who was part of the international signing class with Miguel Sano and Max Kepler. Polanco signed or $750,000 out of the Dominican Republic. After a couple of years, he's starting to come on.
On Monday, ESPN's Keith Law ranked the Twins' farm system the second best in baseball, trailing only the Cardinals. On Tuesday, he showed why.
In his annual top 100 prospect list, Law included seven Twins minor leaguers. I haven't seen every list out there but that number of Twins are the most I've seen in a top 100. The Twins super seven are as follows:
11. Miguel Sano, 3B
22. Byron Buxton, OF
41. Kyle Gibson, RHP
49. Aaron Hicks, OF
59. Oswaldo Arcia, OF
61. Alex Meyer, RHP
65. Eddie Rosario, 2B/OF
So not just seven of the top 100, but seven of the top 65. It's another reason why the Twins future looks so promising. And six of the seven players are homegrown, with Meyer joining the organization in an offseason trade in exchange for Denard Span.
Law has scouting reports on every member of his top ten list, but a subscription is required to read them. Here's a link to his list of the top farm systems.
Not trying to send you folks away from this wonderful website, but it will be worth checking mlb.com today for the release of its top 100 prospects in baseball. Jonathan Mayo does a great job covering prospects, and has plenty of content to read.
For instance, mlb.com has released the top ten prospects by position. Miguel Sano is the top prospect at third base. Byron Buxton is fifth among outfielders. Eddie Rosario is sixth among second basemen.
This also is the time of year when prospects who aren't on the radar pop up. I was looking at someone's top 20 list of Twins prospects over the weekend and ran across a name I was not familiar with: Righthander Felix Jose. He posted a 2.34 ERA in 12 games (seven starts) for the Twins' Gulf Coast rookie team last season. In 34 innings, he walked 12 and struck out 37. He has a long way to go.
But I did fire off an e-mail to Twins director of minor league Brad Steil and asked, 'who in the heck is this kid?'
"Felix is skinny right-hander with a good arm and a pretty good feel for pitching for a young guy," Steil wrote back.
Great. Another kid to check out when I head over to the minor league complex this spring.
The 21st edition of the Arizona Fall League is underway, a league designed to give prospects from every organization a chance to face good competition and showcase their skills in front of a bevy of scouts.
It's not a league of top prospects, but a large percentage of players in the league end up in the majors. The year I flew out to Arizona to pick up a couple of stories, the Twins' contingent was Jason Bartlett, Jesse Crain, J.D. Durbin, Scott Baker, Rob Bowen and Kevin West. West was the only player of that group to not make it to the bigs. And West was a replacement for Jason Kubel, who had injured his knee earlier in league play.
This year's group offers the same potential. You'll be seeing most of the Twins players in the majors as soon as next year, so it's worth following AFL action.
Kyle Gibson. RHP: Gibson has moved on from Tommy John surgery and is building up innings in preparation for next season. His fastball sits around 92 mph. Before the injury, he had an excellent sinker that he could throw at the hip of a left-handed hitter and watch it break back over the plate. He also had a good slider and very good change up. He's trying to sharpen his pitches, so this is good competition for him.
Logan Darnell, LHP: He's not really on the prospect watch list. He went 11-12 with a 5.08 ERA for Class AA New Britain. Touches 90 mph with a good breaking ball. He did make all 28 starts this season, so he's durable.
Caleb Thielbar, LHP: The reliever began the season at Class A Fort Myers and ended up at Class AAA Rochester. Another lefty who throws in the low 90's with a good breaking ball, but he attacks hitters. He walked just five batters between Fort Myers and New Britain before running into more resistance at Rochester, but he's one to watch next season as the Twins could use another lefty reliever.
Michael Tonkin, RHP: Can't wait to see how Tonkin does. He started to come into his own this season. Hitting 95 on the gun and averaging 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings during stops at Fort Myers and Beloit. A former 30th round pick who could turn out to be a find.
Chris Herrmann, C/OF: Twins had a chance to see Herrmann play late this season during a late call up. There's some sock in his bat but he still needs development. I'm curious to see how much playing time he gets because Seattle first-round pick Mike Zunino also is on the team.
Evan Bigley, OF: Bigley finally reached Rochester late this season after spending two-plus years at New Britain. Has a good arm and can play all three outfield positions. While providing occasional pop.
Nate Roberts, OF: One of the more interesting prospects in the Twins system, Roberts could be a good top-of-the-order hitter in the majors - if he survives. Roberts will do anything to get on base, including being hit by pitches. In 179 career minor league games, Roberts has been hit by pitches 56 times. He did it while in college at High Point and continues to do it now. He's hit .307 in three years in the system with a .439 on base percentage. Injuries have slowed him in each of the last seasons. At 23, he needs to start climbing the ladder.
Baseball America has released it's minor league All-Star selections, and two Twins prospects made the list.
Class A Beloit third baseman Miguel Sano was named to BA's second team after slugging 28 homers and driving in 100 runs for the Snappers. His batting average and errors at third are concerns, but this was Sano's first full season in the minors, and he's only 19. So he has a very bright future. Rangers third baseman Mike Olt was named to the first team.
Oswaldo Arcia joined Sano on the second team - and could be coming to major league stadium near you sometime next season. He hit .309-7-31 in 55 games at Class A Fort Myers, got promoted to Class AA New Britain, then went .328-10-67 in 69 games. He improved when many prospects struggle making the tough jump to Class AA. He's 21 and should debut sometime next season.
BA also named All-Stars at every level. Chris Parmelee is the DH on the Class AAA All-Stars; Aaron Hicks is the centerfielder on the Class AA All-Stars; Josmil Pinto is the catcher on the High Class A All-Stars; Sano is the third baseman on the Low-A All-Stars and Max Kepler is an outfielder on the short-season league All-Stars.
It's that time of year to start tracking which Twins players are headed to offseason leagues.
The Arizona Fall League is expected to announce its rosters sometime this afternoon, and at least six Twins prospects will be headed west during the offseason.
At the top of the list is righthander Kyle Gibson, who is on the comeback trail following Tommy John elbow surgery last year. The Twins are tying to get Gibson to throw as many innings as possible before spring training, and this will allow him to get plenty of work.
Between rookie ball, Class A Fort Myers and Class AAA Rochester, Gibson has thrown 24.2 innings so far. He should get at least one more outing with Rochester. He could get another 25 innings or so in Arizona then prepare for spring training.
Other Twins prospects expected to play in the league include catcher Chris Hermann, outfielder Evan Bigley and pitchers Logan Darnell, Caleb Thielbar and Michael Tonkin. It's another good development for Thielbar, who was pitching for the Saints when the Twins signed him. Tonkin is the brother-in-law of former Twin Jason Kubel.
The Twins are holding a spot open for outfielder Joe Benson. Benson had surgery on his left knee on Monday to clean out loose bodies. They hope he can rehab for a few weeks then participate in the league. They want him to finish the year on a positive note after an awful minor league season in which he struggled and missed several weeks because of wrist surgery.
Some other notes from around the system:
HICKS FINISHING WELL: Class AA New Britain outfielder Aaron Hicks is scheduled to play winter ball in Venezuela. It's chance for him to face pretty good competition in advance of next season. Hicks, Twins' first round pick in 2008, is beginning to come around, with a .287/.385/.450 slash line at New Britain with 12 homers and 31 stolen bases. He's batting .359 in August. The Twins give out a, "Man of Steal" award to the prospect with the most stolen bases, and Hicks currently has the edge.
HU ARE YOU?: Earlier this month, the Twins signed Taiwanese righthander Chih-Wei Hu for around $200,000. Hu, 18, throws a fastball, change up and curveball, His fastball sits from 88-91 but has hit 94 at times. And here's some video of him (the third one). Apparently, he touched 95 in this game.
SANO WATCH: Miguel Sano is batting .260 with 42 errors at Beloit. But everyone swoons over his potential because his 28 doubles, 27 homers and 98 RBI. Sano has a chance to become the first player at Class A Beloit to drive in 100 runs since David Winfree drove in 101 in 2005.
GIVES NO GROUND: One of my favorite Twins prospects to track is Beloit outfielder Nate Roberts, who doesn't mind taking one for the team. In 71 games (he was injured early in the season), Roberts has been hit by a pitch 20 times. He's batting .306 but has a .440 on base percentage. He was hit 29 times in 68 games last season, and 29 times in 59 games in 2010, his last year at High Point University. And Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor leagues, said Roberts is improving as an outfielder. It will be interesting to see how his 'approach,' works as he moves up the chain. Roberts is batting .395 with four steals over the last 10 games. He has 26 stolen bases and could challenge Hicks for the Man of Steal title..
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