Monday, February 14, 2011

Twins Non-roster Invitees

The Twins have invited 19 players to spring training who are not on the major league roster. Most of these players are new to the organization, signed as six-year minor league free agents. Because they are free agents, these players often ask for and get an invite as a condition of signing. Even if they are slated to fill out the roster at AAA, this gives them an opportunity to showcase themselves for the major league staff in case an injury or poor performance creates an opening.  There is also a handful of players in the organization who received invitations. The reason for their invitations is often less clear with a mixture of motives for the organization wanting them in the major league camp. Once the minor league camp opens in mid-March, many of these players will be sent over there. But for now, they get  a chance to mix it up with the big guys.

Non-roster catchers are a unique group among the non-roster invites. Because there are almost always a lot of pitchers who are competing for spots, there need to be a lot of catchers to catch them. You can break this year's non-roster invitees into three sets. Rene Rivera and Steve Holm are the two guys you are most likely to see in Twins uniforms this year. They were signed to provide veteran backups in case either Butera or Mauer get hurt. Whether they are competing with one another for a spot at Rochester, or just competing to be first in line for a major league job, one of them is likely to be in major league camp until the final roster cuts

The second tier is made up of Danny Lehman and Jair Fernandez. Lehman was drafted by the Twins, Fernandez came over from Seattle in trade for RA DIckey when the Mariners wanted to send Dickey to the minor leagues after taking him in the rule 5 draft. They are organizational catchers who are in camp to serve as catchers for the pitching competition. Its possible that they would show enough that they would move ahead of Rivera or Holm for a major league job if Butera went down. But I don't think either one's career projection is anything more than a AAA insurance catcher. 

The other two catchers, Danny Rams and Chris Herrmann, are more intriguing. They are both coming out of A ball (Rams had a brief mid-season callup to AA) and neither one is known for their defense. In fact, Herrmann spent as much time in the outfield as he did at catcher last year. Danny Rams was as second round pick in 2007 and was still in low A ball last year. But he hit 16 home runs at Beloit last year and projects to have serious major league power. His defense has always been a question mark. In the past, the Twins have usually taken  defensively polished catchers like Lehman and Fernandez to spring training who will do the best job for the pitchers. These two don't seem to fit that mold. They may be there as much for their own development. They are both guys who significant offensive upsides if they can handle the demands on defense.

Like the catchers, the other position players do not appear to be competing for major league jobs. Jeff Bailey and Justin Huber are both dh/1b guys who will provide veteran bats for Rochester. Ray Chang, Mathew Brown and Chase Lambln are veteran infielders destined for AAA. All of them are hoping to show the major league staff enough that they will be considered if there is an opening. But truthfully, there are players on the roster ahead of all of them even if there is an opening. Brian Dozier and Brian Dinkelman are more intriguing. Dinkelman  started out as an offensive oriented second baseman. He has moved to the outfield the last couple years, playing only sparingly at second. It appeared they had decided his glove does not play at second base. It may be that flexibility, which is often valued a lot more by managers than by fans, that got him the invitation. Dozier is even more intriguing. An 8th round draft choice in 2009, 2010 was his first full professional season. He started at Beloit, but spent most of the season at Fort Myers. His invitation to spring training after playing no higher than A-ball would seem to indicate he is on a fast track.  I don't know if he is a legitimate major league shortstop or not, he played all three infield positions at Fort Myers, but he may be a longshot in the competition for the major league utility role. More likely, they see that role for him in the near future.

While none of the position players project to have a shot at making the roster out of spring training, the opposite is true of the pitchers. With the bullpen competition wide open, almost all of them are in the mix. The exception is Kyle Gibson who was the Twins first pick in the 2009 draft. Gibson may be ready to pitch at the big league level, but with six starters ahead of him he is almost certain to start the year in the rotation at AAA. The first time a starter stumbles, we will hear the "free Kyle Gibson" chants from various bloggers. But Gibson is unlikely to get the call unless he is both dominating at AAA and there is an obvious hole for him to fill. As long as the Twins are in the chase, I suspect Gibson is going to stay at AAA. A September callup is possible, but that requires both using a roster spot and starting the major league service clock. If they need him, those won't matter. But I don't think they will call him up just to give him experience. 

Like their position player counterpart, Yorman Bazardo, Phil Dumtrait  and Chuck James were all given spring training invites for signing as six year free agents. Unlike the position players, all three have a legitimate shot at a bullpen slot if they shine in spring training. James has the most major league success of the three and he is left handed. If he pitches well, he has a legitimate shot. Bazardo is the youngest and probably has more potential than the other two. He has yet to show he can get major league hitters out. He is likely to start the year at AAA unless other pitchers are even less successful. The same is true of Dumtrait. He needs others to fail or he is just depth at AAA. Kyle Waldrop is a bit of a hybrid. He is a former first round draft choice who  who resigned with the Twins when he became a free agent last fall. It is likely that the spring training invite was part of that deal. He will be given a shot at winning a spot in the bullpen, but likely starts the year at AAA.

Carlos Gutierrez is probably the most likely of any of the non-roster invitees to win a spot out of spring training.  A former first round choice, Gutierrez has a devastating sinker and the potential to be a successful major league closer. The Twins had him working as a starter in part to develop his other pitches, but seem to have now settled on him pitching in the bullpen. The only real question is whether he is ready now or needs time at AAA. He is a guy whose successful spring could change the bullpen from a question mark to a strength along with a healthy Nathan. If you need a ground ball, Guttierez is likely going to be able to get one.

With the exception of Gutierrez and Gibson, none of these guys project to be major contributors to the big league club either now or in the future. The exception to that may be a guy like Danny Rams. But they all have skills that could provide important depth.  And its always exciting when a player whose talent only places them at the margin of the major leagues is able to take an opportunity and fulfill their dream.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Five Most Underrated Twins Prospects

Here are five players in the Twins system who I think are currently undervalued by fans. They are in a word "disappointments" because they have not had the immediate success of future stars. I am not sure any of them will ever be stars. But that is really the wrong measure of any prospect. Stardom is something that you can hope for, but most prospects are going to end up with flaws that prevent that kind of success. The real question is can they be productive major league players. 

Trevor Plouffe is top on the list because he is closest to being ready. His status is similar to Denard Span's a couple years ago when the Twins traded for Carlos Gomez. This time the Twins went out to Japan for Tsuyoshi Nishioka  to be Alexi Casillas double play partner. Plouffe lacks outstanding defense, but he is a legitimate major league shortstop. What I think many people miss is that he can be expected to develop a fair amount of power. Not the juiced power of Rodriguez/Tejada etc, but the kind of power you used to be impressed by at shortstop. He is going to end up an offense-oriented shortstop who regularly hits 20 home runs each season.

Chris Parmelee is another first round pick (there is a pattern here). Again he has developed too slowly for impatient fans. But he projects to develop into a major league power hitter. He can play a corner outfield spot, but will probably end up at first base. He isn't going to turn into the next Justin Morneau, but he may be a solid offensive bat in the middle of the lineup.

Deolis Guerra came over with a lot of hype in the Santana trade. He hasn't lived up to it. But he is still very young for his level and very talented. With patience he may end up being that ace Twins fans have longed for since Santana left. But he is at least a year way from the major leagues.

Carlos Guttierez is underrated largely because he projects as a bullpen pitcher. But his sinking fastball could make him a reliable closer who can not only shut down another team, but can come in with guys on base and get a ground ball. He has the potential to be the next pitcher in the Reardon, Aguilera, Nathan legacy of top Twins closers.

Bobby Lanigan is a stretch (I needed a fifth underrated prospect). Lanigan has had some struggles and injuries but he is still a big strong kid with the potential to be a major league starter if he can stay healthy. 

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Top 5 Most Overrated Twins Prospects

This is the time of the year when the prospect lists are out from most sources. So here is an evaluation of who the most overrated prospects are in the Twins system.

Kyle Gibson - Gibson heads this list less because he has been overrated, I think he is a top ten prospect, than because of the expectation that he will help the Twins this year. Its possible, but not very likely. There are at least six pitchers ahead of him for spots in the rotation. Unless performance or injuries create a couple openings, it won't matter how well Gibson does at AAA. Gibson has only faced 621 professional hitters, only 64 at AAA. Even if the Twins have an opening, Gibson is probably not the first choice based on that limited experience. Scott Baker made a similar fast rise through the system in 2004.  Gibson was more dominant than Baker, but Baker faced 241 batters in A ball. It was a couple more years before he was really ready to help at the major league level. And the Twins are unlikely to add Gibson to the roster unless they are convinced he is ready to help immediately.

Joe Benson - Benson has good defensive skills. But on offense he has been an all or nothing hitter. The "all" part of that has impressed a lot of people. But the size of the "nothing" against AA pitching is disturbing. It is only likely to increase as he faces tougher competition. He looks like a fourth outfielder if his defense is as good as advertised. That one dimensional bat will keep him from playing every day. If his defense doesn't play in center field, he is a career minor league player with impressive power numbers.

Oswaldo Arcia - Arcia is one of a long line of players who have had "breakout" seasons at Elizabethton. None of those players lived up to the hype their numbers in the Appalachian League created. The problem is that Appy League players are mostly very young. A player who matures ahead of his peers will be very impressive. But as the other young players mature, that lead disappears. At 19, Arcia is younger than most of those past one-season wonders, but it would still be a good idea to check the enthusiasm until he does something at a higher level. 

Liam Hendricks - Hendricks is another player who had a "breakout" last year. He put up impressive numbers at both Beloit, in his second season, and at high-a ball Fort Myers. Hendricks is a guy who throws a 90 mph fastball. His strikeouts are based on outstanding control. He is fooling A ball hitters. Whether he can fool more experienced hitters remains to be seen. In addition,  Fort Myers is known as a pitchers park in a pitchers league, especially during the hot, humid summer months when Hendricks was pitching there. This is another case of wanting to see him do it again, rather than anointing him a top prospect based on one limited season of success at a low level.

David Bromberg - I hesitate a bit to put him on this list for two reasons. He doesn't have the over-enthusiastic projections of the other four. And he has consistently made his detractors look bad as he moved through the system. Nonetheless, he doesn't look like a major league starting pitcher. Not even at the end of the rotation. And he doesn't look like he has the stuff to be a major league setup guy. That means his upside is as middle-reliever who fills out the bullpen. That may make a career for him somewhere, but probably not in an important role on any really good teams.

To be clear, since most prospects fail, you are likely to be right at least half the time if you just randomly identify five players and say they are overrated.  In other words, it is easier to be right picking losers than picking the winners. So at least three of four of these evaluations need to turn out to be true to say more than "most prospects fail". 

All five of these players are real prospects with a chance to contribute at the major league level. They are all highly rated by someone, in the top ten or close to it. But I think the most enthusiastic projections for them are over-enthusiastic. For instance I will not be totally shocked to see Hendricks or Arcia in the big leagues, but I will be very surprised to see both of them.  And I will be not be surprised if neither one is even on any prospect lists 3 years from now.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Twins Prospect Allstar Team

When evaluating any team's farm system there are probably not enough real major league prospects to fill out a roster. Minor league players often switch positiong in the big leagues. Michael Cuddyer was drafted as a shortstop, but was moved over the third base as he moved up the ladder. Major league second basemen often spend their minor league careers mostly at shortstop. And the bullpen is filled with pitchers who started for most or all of their minor league career. This list limits itself to the positions players actually played. Even there, some players had limited time at the position they are listed at here.
Catcher - Danny Rams 
There aren't really any major league catching prospects in the Twins farm system, but Rams has the kind of power that might get him there. Danny Leatherman is probably the guy most likely to make the major leagues, but it would be as a temporary backup catcher. Rams was taken in the second round of the 2007 draft and has not played a full season above A ball, so even he is a stretch here.

First Base - Chris Parmelee 
Parmelee was the Twins' first round choice in 2008. He really broke out with his bat at New Britain this year. He has been used both in the outfield and at first base. His defense is unlikely to be anything special at either position. But he is a guy whose power is expected to grow as he fills out. He may be ready to help sometime this season, although it will probably be at least a couple more years before we see how well he fulfills his full potential.

Second Base - Niko Goodrum
Goodrum was a second round draft choice this year. He may end up in the outfield, but the Twins seem to be starting him out as an infielder. He played all the infield positions and is probably not going to be a major league shortstop. He has the athletic ability to play second base and he may not really have the bat to be a major force in the outfield. 

Shortstop - Trevor Plouffe 
Plouffe is a controversial player among bloggers. He is a first round draft choice and a lot of people are impatient that he has not yet developed into a star. But he remained one of the youngest players the Twins had at AAA last year. He projects to have good power for a non-juiced shortstop, but that is often late in developing. His glove is solid, but unspectacular, at shortstop. So his bat needs to develop a little for him to be a plus major league player. 

Third Base - Miguel Sano
I have him at third base, but frankly that may be optimistic. Sano projects more as a corner outfielder. But his bat and power will play at any position. If he can stay at third base he projects as a core player for future Twins teams.

Left Field - Ben Revere
Revere's arm is a major question mark, which makes it likely he will end up in left field instead of center. Revere's speed is going to let him play anywhere in the outfield. His bat, speed and base stealing make him look like a top of the order table setter who will be ready to help by the end of this season.

Center Field - Aaron Hicks
Hicks is supposed to be a five-tool star who hits for power and average while playing gold glove center field. Its not clear however that he won't end up more Dave Winfield than Willie Mays. But the fact that comparisons to hall of fame players are not entirely ludicrous tells you a lot about Hicks perceived upside. 

Right Field - Angel Morales
Morales has speed and arm to play any of the three outfield spots. He still strikes out too much and he did not display the same power last season as a couple years ago.The other candidates for this spot were Joe Benson and Rene Tosoni. Benson is older than Morales and he strikes out even more. Like Morales he has the arm and range to play any outfield spot. Unlike Morales, he demonstrated prodigious power last year and was the Twins Minor League Player of the Year. I may just be stubborn, but those strikeouts against AA pitching look like a deal killer. Tosoni is not the defensive player that Morales and Benson are, but he is a more polished hitter. I chose Morales because he has a higher upside than Tosoni if he fully develops all his tools. He younger than Benson, already strikes out less and I think he is far more likely to carry his tools over into big league performance.   

Starting Pitching

This group is really a mixed bag. Gibson and Wimmer are both recent first round draft choices out of college who were projected to be close to major league ready. Whether that translates into major league performance remains a question. Sometimes polished college pitchers shine in the minor leagues but can never make the leap to the big leagues. Bromberg has moved up the ladder more or less unnoticed. He is a prototypical Twins pitcher with decent, not great, stuff and good command. He looks a lot like Wimmer/Gibson only a product of the Twins minor leagues rather than college. Guerra is a different animal. He came over in the Santana trade from the Mets hyped as a young guy who threw in the high 90's. He hasn't shown that velocity. But he still projects as a top of the rotation starter. Salcedo is all projection. Not sure what else to say. He throws hard, is very young and will likely fail. But his upside is staff ace.

Kyle Gibson
Alex Wimmer
Deolis Guerra
David Bromberg
Adrian Salcedo


As I said above, the bullpen is often filled with minor league starters. That means the five guys listed above could end up in that role as well. There are two reasons pitchers get moved to the bullpen. One is that they lack a third solid pitch. The other is that they aren't durable as starters and can throw harder when only pitching short stints.  

It sounds like the Twins have given up on the experiment with Guttierez as a starter and are now grooming him for the bullpen. His outstanding sinker makes him a potential dominating reliever and closer. The starter experiment was, in part, to get him to develop some secondary pitches.  Robertson is a lefty that is moving to the bullpen because he lacks the pitches to start.  Bullock was drafted as a relief pitcher. Pat Dean was drafted in the third round last June. He is a lefty who was striking out a third of the batters he faced this summer.  He will likely be a starter, but he actually pitched a few games out of the bullpen this summer. Swarzak has had a couple chanced with the Twins including a stint as starter. He still has a good arm, but if he is going to make it at the big league level it will likely be as a reliever. Matt Bashore was a supplemental first round pick in 2009 who came up injured after only a few games and missed all of last season. Assuming he is healthy, he projects as another lefty in the bullpen.

Carlos Guttierez
Billy Bullock
Tyler Robertson
Pat Dean
Anthony Swarzak
Matt Bashore

There are other pitchers who have been hyped by various sources that I haven't mentioned above. Liam Hendrick, Manuel Soliman and BJ Hermsen being three examples. There are no doubt a bunch of position players someone thinks will be big league players some day. In some cases they will be right. 

I picked the above list based on two factors. How good COULD these players be. And how lLIKELY they are to be THAT GOOD. Joe Benson is a good example of how this played out. He is a player who has a huge upside if you are an optimist. He has speed, power, arm etc. I just don't think he is very likely to reach that upside. I think he stands a pretty good chance of ending up a fourth outfielder or a AAAA player. His chances of turning into the next 30-30 major league player are remote at best. So he isn't on the list.

On the other hand, Trevor Plouffe is not going to be a major league star. But his upside is a major league shortstop with some pop in his bat. I think he is likely to reach that if he gets a chance. So he is on the list.

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