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.
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..
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.