As you have seen, Danny Valencia graces the cover of my Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2011. Under his picture reads, "Danny Valencia arrived in 2010 and helped the Twins to the A. L. Central Title." Under four pictures of Twins minor leaguers, the question is asked, "Which Prospect(s) will help the Twins in 2011?"
Now, as you know, there are over 160 profiles of Twins minor leaguers in the book. How many of them could we see in Minnesota, and under what circumstance would we see them? Here are some names (alphabetically) to keep in the back of your mind heading into spring training.
Let's start with the prospects that we have already seen play for the Twins.
Luke Hughes - We didn't get to see a lot of Hughes in 2010, but what we saw was positive. I mean, he became the first Twins player since 1984 to hit a home run in his first at bat. Hughes struggles defensively, but at least he can play multiple positions, and most important, he is right-handed and has a lot of power in his bat. His role with the Twins could be a right-handed bench bat and designated hitter who can fill in from time to time around the field.
Trevor Plouffe - Plouffe was back and forth between Rochester and the Twins throughout last summer. He struggled late in the Triple-A season, but he displayed power and improved his defense. I think he'll compete with Alexi Casilla for the starting shortstop job. As this is his final option season, I would anticipate that he will play more at 3B and 2B in 2011 than he did in 2010 as he could potentially be a utility infielder as well.
Ben Revere - We got a glimpse of Revere in September, and I think that his role then is what we will see him fill in 2011 as well. If Denard Span is hurt, Revere could replace him for a couple of weeks in centerfield and in the leadoff spot. Some think he should be a fourth outfielder already, but he is just 22, hasn't spent a day in AAA, and despite hitting .300 yet again and having game-changing speed, he still has parts of his game that need to improve, specifically defense.
Next, there are two guys that we haven't seen yet, but we know we will hear a lot about this spring:
Scott Diamond - The Twins Rule 5 pick from the Atlanta Braves organization has to spend the season with the Twins or go through waivers and be offered back to the Braves. It is likely he would be claimed or the Braves would take him back, so the Twins will likely give the left-hander every opportunity to make the team.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka - The Twins made big news last Thanksgiving when they won the bid to negotiate exclusively with Nishioka. The two sides agreed to a three year contract with an option for a fourth year. It's almost a given that Nishioka will be with the Twins and playing at 2B, although he will also see time at shortstop in spring.
The following are Twins minor leaguers that I think have at least some chance of debuting with the Twins in 2011:
Joe Benson - The Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year hit 31 doubles and 27 home runs in 2010. He is an excellent defender with Revere-like speed and a Cuddyer-like arm. He has work to do before he's ready for a full-time big league job. It would be great if he could spend the year at Double-A. He has to work on putting the ball in play more consistently, but if he does, he could get a September call-up.
David Bromberg - After leading three minor league levels in strikeouts from 2007 to 2009, his strikeout rate was down at Double-A last year. However, he ended the season with nine starts and AAA where he struck out just over eight per nine innings. He will start the season in the Rochester rotation, and if the Twins have a need for a starter, and Bromberg is pitching well, he very easily could be the one promoted for a spot start, or even a long-relief role.
Billy Bullock - Bullock throws gas. The 2nd round pick from 2009 consistently throws around 95 mph with a very good slider. He began the 2010 season by striking out 45 in 37.1 innings at Ft. Myers. After being promoted to Double-A, he struck out an incredible 60 batters in 36.2 innings. Of course, he also walked 24. If he can display any semblance of control in 2010 in the upper levels of the minor leagues, he becomes very intriguing for the Twins in the second half of the season.
Tony Davis - Bullock's college teammate is a left-hander who also pitched well in his first full season. He began the season by posting a 2.87 ERA in Ft. Myers and followed it up with a 2.64 ERA in New Britain. Control is also his issue. He walked 46 batters and struck out 45 batters in 2010. The Twins added some left-handed veterans this offseason, so it would take improved control and some breaks for Davis to debut in 2011.
Kyle Gibson - The 2009 top pick is clearly the Twins top pitching prospect. He moved from Ft. Myers to New Britain and ended the season with three starts for Rochester. Gibson is certainly going to be a starter for the Twins at some point. The question is whether it is in June, August, or if they can wait for him to debut until 2012. If he pitches well early in the 2011 season, he should be starting for the Twins by June. If he's pitching well later in the season, but the Twins starters are doing their part, there is also an opportunity for him to debut later in the summer in the bullpen.
Carlos Gutierrez - The Twins second first-round pick in 2008 throws hard and induces a lot of ground balls because he gets a lot of sink on his pitches. He has struggled as a starter, and he thrives in the bullpen. He has a chance to contribute to the Twins in the second half of the 2011 season if he is pitching well.
Chris Parmelee - The Twins 2006 first-round pick had always shown an ability to take a walk and hit for some power. In 2010, he made major strides in putting the ball in play and hitting for average. Hopefully in 2011, he can put it all together and become a big-time, all-around hitting prospect. It would be great if he could spend the full season in AA, but if he's hitting well and (the worst-case scenario occurs and) Justin Morneau needs to miss extended time, Parmelee becomes an option for the big league club.
Chris Province - Province came to the Twins last year in spring training from the Red Sox in exchange for Boof Bonser. He is a reliever, although he made several starts a year ago between Double-A and Triple-A. A lot would need to happen for him to debut with the Twins, but he has a fastball that darts in on a right-hander's hands. If he's pitching well at a given time when there is a need, he has an outside shot.
Brandon Roberts - Roberts has generally played well throughout the four years he has been in the Twins organization. The problem is that he has been hurt so much. Last year, he finally remained healthy enough to work up to AAA where the CF hit over .300. He has had some knee problems, but speed is his game. It is a smaller chance, but if he stays healthy and produces like he did last year, you never know.
Steve Singleton - After a slow start in 2010, he came on strong late in the season. He led the organization with 43 doubles, and had 54 extra base hits on the year. He puts the ball in play and plays solid defense at 2B. He has also played 3B and shortstop. He has a lot of pop in his bat for a second baseman, and if he can continue to play well, he deserves an opportunity.
Rene Tosoni - Tosoni is just a solid all-around player. The only weak part of his game has been an inability to hit left-handed pitching. He tried to play in 2010, but his shoulder was experiencing too much pain, so his season ended with surgery. He profiles similarly to Jason Kubel in terms of hitting. He is a little better defensively, has a little bit more speed, and has a strong arm. It will be interesting to see how he returns from missing so much time last year.
Kyle Waldrop - He had an absolutely incredible first half of the season a year ago. It started with a great spring training before being sent to Rochester. Prior to the AAA All-Star game, he had posted both an ERA and a WHIP of under 1.00. He struggled some in the second half. He is not a strikeout pitcher, but he gets a lot of movement and sink on the fastball and could be a groundball reliever option sometime this season.
Dakota Watts - Maybe the biggest long-shot on the list, the Twins 16th round pick in 2009 pitched at Beloit, Ft. Myers and New Britain in 2010. He was clocked at 99 mph while in Ft. Myers. That alone makes him worth watching. He can get a strikeout, probably walks too many, but is intriguing. He could be a long-shot for a September call-up.
Finally, there are some more veteran minor leaguers that the Twins brought in for the 2010 season that are worth noting:
Justin Huber is back after a year in Japan. Consider the day that Michael Cuddyer took over at 1B for an injured Justin Morneau in September of 2009, Huber was initially supposed to play 1B, but an oblique injury took him out of the lineup the rest of the season. Jeff Bailey spent parts of three seasons with the Red Sox from 2007 to 2009 and showed power. He can play 1B and the corner outfield positions. Chase Lambin was an International League All Star a year ago. He can play 3B, 2B and 1B. Matt Brown has spent a little bit of time in the big leagues and can play the four infield positions and spent time in the OF last year. Ray Chang is an option at 3B and 2B. Rene Rivera and Steve Holm are backup catcher options with big league service time.
Yorman Bazardo has always pitched well in the minor leagues. Still just 26, it hasn't transferred to success in the big leagues. He pitched well in Venezuela this winter despite incredibly low strikeout totals. Chuck James pitched well for the Braves for a couple of years before he was injured. The lefty went 10-1 between AA and AAA with the Nationals organization in 2011. Phil Dumatrait is a lefty-reliever option with big league time. Eric Hacker had a decent 2010 with the Giants AAA team and got a 40 man roster spot from the Twins for it.
In a typical year, the Twins will promote between 12 and 18 players from Rochester throughout a season . Sometimes it is a straight promotion. Sometimes it is an injury fill-in. There are various reasons. I mentioned 18 names above before discussing the minor league veterans that the organization added. We will likely see several of them in 2011.
How many of these guys will come up and contribute in some way? Who will be surprise candidates not even mentioned above? Can any of them have an impact in 2011 the way that Danny Valencia did in 2010? That is the fun part about following prospects. We can guess, but once the season gets started, you never know how it will play out.
John and the TwinsCentric guys helped put together the Maple Street Press Twins Annual 2011, and it has been quite the project. However, the results are tremendous. The magazine is 128 pages of Twins content, with no advertisements. Just pure Twins talk. The TwinsCentric crew wrote player profiles on the Twins roster, and we each wrote an additional article or two.
I wrote one article on the success that the Twins Advanced-Rookie League team in Elizabethton, Tennessee, has had over the last 25 years and the role that consistency has played. Their manager, Ray Smith, signed with the Twins as a non-drafted free agent in 1978 and debuted with the team in the strike-shortened 1981 season. He spent parts of three years with the Twins. When his playing career ended in 1987, he became the Elizabethton Twins manager. Twenty-five years later, he has won a lot of games and a lot of championships, but more important, he has helped a lot of young men begin their path up the Twins system. His pitching coach, Jim Shellenbeck, and his hitting coach, Jeff Reed, have both played in the Major Leagues and have plenty of coaching experience. It was a really fun article to research and write, and I think it turned out very well.
The other article I wrote was essentially an organizational depth chart. In the article, as I did last year, I broke out the Twins prospects into Infielders, Outfielders, Catchers, Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers, and gave my top five prospects in each category along with a Sleeper and One to Watch. There are also charts with 2011 roster projections.
There is a lot of Twins information in the magazine. There is information on the current roster, Target Field, the minor leagues, several historical articles and much, much more.
The magazine is now available for pre-order at the Maple Street Press website. The magazine will be available on news stands around Minnesota starting March 1. However, if you pre-order, the magazines are set to ship out on February 17, so you can get it before it hits the news stands. For those of you outside the Minnesota area, it will not be available in your market, so ordering online is the way to go if you are interested.