Before I reveal my top five prospects in the Twins farm system, a few words about pitching.
This top ten list would look much different if not for three starting pitchers dealing with setbacks.
Kyle Gibson is in Florida to try to rehab a partially torn elbow ligament. If it works, he'll be able to pitch in 2012. If it doesn't, then he could be looking at surgery.
Alex Wimmers had a chance to make a Gibson-like run up the farm system, but he began the season with no idea of where the strike zone was. There were no signs of control issues during four impressive starts late last season. After consulting a specialist and taking several baby steps, Wimmers has returned to Class A Fort Myers and has had some success. He's walked just two over his last 12 innings, and it looks like he's going to get a start.
Matt Bashore also had a chance to move through the system at a good clip, but he had to have a SECOND Tommy John surgery on his elbow (the first one was in high school).
Gibson, a first rounder in 2009, was getting close to the majors. Bashore the 46th overall pick that year, could have been at Rochester by now. And Wimmers, their first-round pick in 2010, could have been knocking on the door there.
And all three probably would have been in the top ten, making this list look a lot different. And, if things break the right way, they all could be back in the top ten next year.
Now, on to the top five!!!
5. Liam Hendriks, RHP, Rochester. Pre-season ranking: 7
After going 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA at New Britain, Hendricks was promoted to Rochester for a spot start. He did well enough that the Twins decided to leave him there and see how he adjusts. Hendriks currently in adjustment mode, giving up seven earned runs in his last outing. He's the Twins' command-type pitcher who's considered a good competitor with above average stuff. With Kyle Gibson injured, Hendriks now is the Twins' top starting pitching prospect.
4. Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Fort Myers, Pre-season ranking: 10
Arcia missed a chunk of the season because of elbow surgery. After putting up ridiculous numbers at Elizabethton last year, Arcia batted .352 in 20 games at Beloit this year before he was shut down. When he returned, he was sent to Fort Myers. He's slumped some but hit a grand slam on Monday and was 3-for-5 with a home run on Tuesday. He's done enough to earn attention from national writers who follow the minors. Those who have seen him play feel he will be a solid corner outfielder with decent pop but who can really hit. I'm sure the lack of walks are a concern. I've heard comparisons from Jason Kubel to Bob Abreu, so we need to watch his development over the next couple of years.
3. Joe Benson, OF, New Britain. Pre-season ranking: 3
Another toolsy prep outfielder, Benson has been limited to 85 games because of a knee injury. He's hit 10 home runs, which is a slower power pace than last year, when he hit 23 homers at New Britain. Then again, he already has 25 doubles, which is more than he had with the Rock Cats last season. He has shown good plate discipline (.387 on base percentage), has a strong arm and is a very good athlete. He's also committed just one error this year. He should have a chance to open next season at Class AAA Rochester and could be knocking on the door to the majors sometime in 2012. The power-speed combo always intrigues teams, and Benson looks to be in that category. What impresses the Twins is that there has been noticeable improvement in his game during his second year at New Britain.
2. Aaron Hicks, OF, Fort Myers. Pre-season ranking: 1
Hicks is having a bad second half. After batting .337 in June he hit .162 in July and .136 through six games in August. He's still working on his left-handed swing (he batting .212 v righthanders) and the Twins have no intention of ending his switch-hitting career. Hicks is still loaded with tools. He can run, has a cannon arm and the Twins still feel power will develop. The toolsy high school outfielders - the Twins have drafted many through the years - sometimes need moire time to develop. The Twins remember how Torii Hunter didn't start to put things together offensively until he was 22 - his sixth pro season - and didn't show power until 24. Hicks is about to turn 22 and is in his fourth year as pro. Has Hicks played himself out of the No. 1 spot on this list, A little. The change at the top is mainly because the Twins are still trying to figure out if there's a ceiling on the fellow who now is No. 1.
1. Miguel Sano, 3B, Elizabethton. Pre-season ranking; 4
The Twins realize that short-season success it not much to go on, but those who have seen Sano play rave about his skills. He has a very strong arm and good range, enough that the organization feels he'll stick as a third baseman. His power in undeniable. Recently, he spoke with someone about the importance of on base percentage, and went out and drew seven walks over the next six games. One Twins official was skeptical about signing him to a $3.15 million contract out of the Dominican Republic. That person recently saw Sano play and now is totally on board.
He has a couple things to work on. Defensively, he's made a ton of errors, many on plays he had no business trying to pull off. But that's what young pros do (Michael Cuddyer committed 60-plus errors in A-ball one year). He's striking out more than once a game - but with his power potential, some strikeouts are expected. Ranking him as the top prospect a little bit of a reach because of the level he's at. But his ceiling is high. Very high. Very, very high.
I predict that national publications will have Sano in the top ten prospects in all of baseball by the end of next year. I've met Sano and watched him play during spring training. Someone has taught the kid how to swing a bat.