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.
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..
The Twins this afternoon are expected to announce a two-year player development contract extension with Class AAA Rochester of the International League. (Hat tip to Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, who tweeted it earlier this morning).
There have been rumblings that, after two awful seasons, Rochester would look for another major league team to be affiliated with. But this year's Red Wings team has played well under first-year manager Gene Glynn and are on the fringe of the wild card race.
The Twins still have to hammer out an extension with Class A Beloit, but there are indications that the Twins are pressing for some upgrades of the facilities there.
WHAT'S DOZIER DOING?
When Alexi Casilla struggled last week, Twins followers wondered if there was an opening for infield prospect Brian Dozier to be called up.
Dozier is playing second base and shortstop at Class AAA Rochester - more short recently with Tsuyoshi Nishioka injured. After impressing in spring training, it appears to be a matter of time before he joins the major league club.
"He's been doing just fine,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's hanging in there. One report came in where he needed to continue working on coming in and getting the ball, and all the little things like that. But that's just normal reports. Right now, Dozier is the guy we're looking at in the infield. Let him have some more at-bats, and we'll see where we're at."
Dozier got off to a strong start at the plate but went 0-for-4 on Thursday in the first game of a doubleheader, dropping his average to .290 with one homer and 6 RBI. He's made three errors.
GIBSON ON SCHEDULE
Righthander Kyle Gibson is in the middle of a rehabilitation program following Tommy John elbow surgery last year. The goal is to get Gibson on a mound by the first week of June, and indications are that he will be able to start throwing off a mound on June 5.
"I feel good and everything is going on schedule for me to be on the mound on the 5th," Gibson wrote in a text message Thursday.
The Twins want Gibson to pitch in some minor league games before the season is over so he can be ready for major league spring training camp in 2013.
WELCOME JOE THURSTON
The Twins have signed infielder Joe Thurston to a minor league deal and have assigned him to Class AAA Rochester. The Red Wings have been shorthanded of late, and Thurston, 32, can help them in the infield and outfield. He played 11 games with Lehigh Valley, batting .207 before being released recently.
Thurston has appeared in 184 major league games, including 124 with the Cardinals in 2009. He's a career .226 hitter. He's a longshot to be called up.
"He was signed because we like him,'' Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. "You never know about a guy’s future but we were very thin at 3A in the infield plus, Thurston can play the outfield as well."
Thurston debuted today for Rochester in the first game of a doubleheader, going 2-for-3.
ROSARIO LIKES SECOND BASE
Eddie Rosario made an appearance in center field for Class A Beloit last week. Rosario, one of the top hitting prospects in the system, is being moved to second but will make occasional appearances in the outfield.
Rosario, who spent spring training working on his second base skills with Paul Molitor and Tom Kelly, already has committed five errors this season, but the Twins did not expect him to flash Gold Glove ability right away.
"The good thing is that he likes playing it and he wants to learn,'' Rantz said. "If the player is on board, that's half the battle."
MRI FOR WIMMERS
New Britain righthander Alex Wimmers, on the disabled list with a sore elbow, will have a MRI exam on Friday. He's been diagnosed with flexor tendon soreness but the Twins want to make sure nothing else is going on in the elbow.
Rochester infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka has a high ankle sprain, is wearing a boot and is not expected back any time soon.
Rochester utilityman Brian Dinkelman is wearing a splint as he deals with a, "wrist issue" Rantz said. Dinkelman is in Fort Myers for rehab and is out indefinitely.
Rochester catcher J.R. Towles had to leave Rochester this week to join his pregnant wife for the birth of their first child.
Beloit third baseman Miguel Sano (15) and Rosario (11) entered Thursday 1-2 in the Midwest League in walks. Sano had 23 walks in 66 games last year at short-season Elizabethton. Sano also leads with 26 strikeouts but is third in OPS at 1.021.
Rochester outfielder Rene Tosoni, out since the first week of the season with a lacerated finger, is expected to return to action next week.
When you bring 67 players to major league camp, that means as many as 42 could be cut. And the cut players have to go somewhere. And there has to be room for them.
So the Twins have been releasing minor leaguers over the last several days.
I mentioned some a few days ago, and the pink slips were flying this morning.
Here's the list:
We began the week debating the Twins farm system. We might as well end the week doing the same thing.
ESPN has taken a look at farm systems across the league and has ranked them based on the WAR of every player teams have selected over the last ten drafts. The results aren't cut and dry. There are teams that have drafted rather well but haven't won recently. But if you look at the bottom of the list, it's full of scuffling teams - like the Mariners, Mets, Astros and White Sox.
(We must acknowledge that the White Sox did win a title in 2005, but Chicago has since drafted poorly and traded away some of the decent prospects they've had).
The Yankees are in the bottom third of the list, but they can make up for farm system failures with $$$$$$$.
And the rise of the Rays makes sense when you see them near the top of the list.
The Twins are ranked 14th, kind of odd for a team that has won six division titles since 2002. But keep in mind that the rankings are over the last 10 drafts. That's 2002-11. Joe Mauer was drafted in 2001 and Justin Morneau was drafted in 1999. Actually, I wonder if ESPN should have focused on 2000-2009, because how many draftees from 2010-11 have reached the bigs?
Oh, here's the answer: Four - pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Chris Sale, Addison Reed and Chance Ruffin. All were drafted in 2010.
Now let's look at how the Twins have drafted during that time.
The Twins selected Denard Span in the first round in 2002. Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek were selected in later rounds that year. Since then:
2003: Matt Moses - 48 games at Class AAA Rochester was as high as he got.
Other pick: Scott Baker (second round)
2004: Trevor Plouffe, Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, This was the draft the Twins needed to cash in on. While Perkins has found his niche, Plouffe and Waldrop are trying to establish themselves. Twins drafted Jay Rainville and Matt Fox in the supplemental round, but both suffered injuries. Rainville had nerve damage in his shoulder and had to quit. Fox had shoulder problems in 2005 and was never the same. At the time, the Twins were praised throughout the league for this draft. Look what happened.
Other picks: Anthony Swarzak (second). Matt Tolbert (16th). Rene Tosoni (34th)
2005: Matt Garza. Has developed into a solid pitcher and is missed by Twins fans. The Twins had a sandwich pick that year and used it on prep power hitting prospect Henry Sanchez. Ugh. What's worse is that Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie went a few picks later. Ugh.;
Other picks: Kevin Slowey (second). Brian Duensing (third), Steven Tolleson (fifth). Alex Burnett (12th). Rene Tosoni (36th).
2006: Chris Parmelee. The first baseman showed promise during a September call up.
Other picks: Joe Benson (second). Brian Dinkelman (eighth). Jeff Manship (14th). Danny Valencia (19th). Anthony Slama (39th).
2007: Ben Revere. No pop, Little arm. But look at what he CAN do. He has blazing speed and projects to be a good contact hitter. Once he learns how to bunt for hits and learns the pitchers, he'll take off.
2008: Aaron Hicks. Still has upside, but the switch-hitting outfielder needs to start putting it all together. The Twins had a second first round pick in this draft and selected - - - - - righthander Shooter Hunt. Ugh.
2009: Kyle Gibson, Matt Bashore: Both pitchers have had Tommy John surgeries. For Bashore, it was his SECOND. Ugh.
2010: Alex Wimmers: Looks to have recovered from extreme wildness early last season. The righthander should start the season at Fort Myers..
2011: Levi Michael, Travis Harrison, Hudson Boyd. Michael, a shortstop, was so banged up after the college season he was shut down for the rest of the summer and limited during fall instructional league. He let ankle, groin and hip injuries heal up and spent the offseason working out in Tampa at a facility owned by his agency, CAA. Harrison's YouTube workouts and batting practices are very impressive. Twins hope he can stick at third base. Boyd, a righthander, was throwing in the low 90's out of high school but showed up to instructional league a little heavy and was given a workout plan. It will be a while before we can determine if this draft sailed or failed.
Things that strike me:
1. Where are the bats? The jury is still out from 2006 on but, man, that's quite a gap between Span and Valencia when it comes to drafting and developing position players. And I don't know how to categorize Plouffe, who's being moved to the outfield and will report to camp out of options but not a lock to start.
2. The 2004 and 2005 drafts have really set this franchise back. Those drafts should have added to the core of this team. Instead, there have been injuries, underachievement and trades of Garza and Slowey.
3. They have to cross their fingers. Can Gibson become the Twins' ace that some feel he can be? Can Bashore get his career going after two Tommy John surgeries. Is Wimmers ready to fly through the system like some thought he would?.
4. The 2009 draft: In addition to Gibson and Bashore, reliever Ben Tootle (third round) was throwing in the upper 90's but has been slowed by shoulder surgery. Sixth-round pick Chris Hermann, an outfielder drafted as a catcher, is starting to come on. Shortstop Brian Dozier (eighth) could debut this year. Left-handed reliever Dakota Watts (16th) throws 95-97 mph. This could turn out to be a productive class for the Twins.
I think the state of the Twins farm system will be constant topic of conversation as we close in on the June draft, where the Twins have the second overall pick. This is meant to give you an idea of where the Twins stand before they begin focusing in on top prospects to draft. The Twins have had their swings and misses in the draft (all teams do) and I don't think their system is barren (see White Sox and Astros). But it's definitely a system that could use some top-end talent. And top-end talent should be coming in June.