While I've been constructing the Twins' 25-man roster based on the players headed to spring training next week, I've had to leave a few notable names behind. Here a few of the guys who should start the season in Rochester, but could make some contribution to the Twins before the end of the season.
CF - Carlos Gomez
Arguably the most promising Mets prospect to come over in the Santana trade, Gomez was pushed very quickly through the Minors before making his MLB debut last summer. He lost a couple of months to a broken hammet bone in his left hand. That shortened season leaves him with only about 300 career plate appearances above AA. He got off to a nice start in 2007 at AAA New Orleans, batting .286/.363/.414 in 36 games. I'd like to see if he can build on that for the first 2-3 months of 2008 at Rochester. This has the added benefit of holding down his MLB service time, ensuring that he won't be eligible for Super-Two arbitration in 2010. When he does get the call, he'll immediately upgrade the Twins' center field defense from the projected Pridie/Monroe platoon, and he'll be a huge threat on the bases. If he's matured enough as a hitter by then, he has the potential to be an upgrade at the plate as well.
Predicted arrival date: July
OF - Denard Span
This year is likely Span's last shot to prove that he can be a part of the Twins' future. Because Gomez immediately leapt to the top of the prospect list, he's the long-term solution in CF. His development doesn't need to be rushed or disrupted this year. If one of the Twins' outfielders goes down early in the year, it should be Span who gets the first call-up. He'll be able to get his feet wet as a bench player, and will be especially useful for his defensive abilities. He needs to improve his stolen-base efficiency this season to be a complete threat as a baserunner, but he runs the bases well enough to be a solid pinch-runner as well.
Predicted arrival date: when Cuddyer, Young, Kubel, Pridie, or Monroe gets hurt.
IF - Alexi Casilla
Until 2007, Casilla had been a steady performer throughout his short professional career. He walks nearly as often as he strikes out, has a high minor-league OBP of .370, succeeds in over 75% of his stolen base attempts, and plays good defense up the middle. So his struggles with the Twins last season were a bit surprising, and he seemed to carry them back to Rochester with him. He made a ton of mistakes in every facet of the game. Basically, he showed that he hadn't reached a maturity level that would enable him to thrive in the majors yet. The signing of Adam Everett allows the Twins to give Casilla as much time in 2008 as he needs to fine-tune his game at AAA. Hopefully, he'll be more confident and reliable when he makes his next appearance.
Predicted arrival date: when Harris, Everett, or Punto gets hurt, or late summer.
3B - Brian Buscher
Buscher hadn't had a particularly note-worthy career before the Twins took him from the Giants in the minor-league Rule 5 draft last season. He'd shown a pretty good eye at the plate, but his power hadn't been anything special for a corner infielder. At 26, he was starting to be a little old for a prospect. But he absolutely exploded in 2007, shattering his career highs for average, slugging, and OPS. He went from AA to the majors while earning the organization's Minor-League Player-of-the-Year award. But the Twins signed Mike Lamb anyway. If Buscher can maintain his offensive production while improving his defense, he has a chance to displace Lamb at some point. In any event, we can expect to see him when corner infield depth is needed.
Predicted arrival date: when Lamb gets hurt.
1B - Brock Peterson
Peterson has been making a deliberate, steady climb through the Twins' system. After posting disappointing batting averages in 2004 and 2005 at class A, he remained in Fort Myers for 2006. His numbers improved tremendously, and he was able to mirror that success in New Britain last year. He's earned a trip to AAA, and if he can maintain those numbers at that level, he will have to be on the Twins' radar as a bench/DH candidate for 2009 and beyond. This year, he has a chance to see some time if the Twins expand their bench and want a left-handed slugger, or, heaven forbid, something happens to Morneau.
Predicted arrival date: September (or when Morneau gets hurt).
LHP - Brian Duensing
Duensing has flown through the system since being drafted in 2005. He posted a sensational 38/7 K/BB ratio and 1.07 WHIP in 9 starts at New Britain last year, earning a call-up to Rochester in June. In 19 starts he went 11-5 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of nearly 3/1. If his first 9 starts at Rochester this year mirror the start to his 2007, he'll be an excellent candidate to take a spot in the Twins' rotation should anyone falter.
Predicted arrival date: June
RHP - Philip Humber
Another component of the Santana trade, Humber was the 3rd overall pick in 2004 after dominating for Rice in the College World Series. He managed just 15 starts between A+ and AA in 2005 before needing Tommy John surgery. He returned for 13 starts in late 2006 and looked terrific, putting up ERAs in the mid 2.00s with a WHIP under 1.00 and about a K/IP at those same levels. His 2007 numbers in the PCL don't seem terribly impressive on the surface, but that league tends to be unfriendly to pitchers, and Humber's 1.24 WHIP actually lead the league. Mets Geek gave a nicely detailed analysis of Humber's career so far last fall. As good as he looks overall, he still had some endurance issues last year, and has thrown just 184.1 innings above Class A. I'd like to see what he can do in the more pitcher-friendly International League, especially now that he's more than 2 full years beyond his surgery. While he's by no means a lock, his progress so far suggests that he could be ready to join the rotation by early summer. Or, as Nick and Nick suggest, he could be an effective weapon in the bullpen as well.
Predicted arrival date: June
RHP - Nick Blackburn
Like Buscher, Blackburn's numbers in 2007 far exceeded his career averages. He'd had a pattern of struggling initially at each level, and needing an extra half year or so there before moving up. The additional time resulted in a substantial improvement in WHIP and ERA, showing that he needs time to figure out how to adapt to the improved competition at each stage of his development. That all changed at Rochester last summer, thanks mostly to a remarkable string of 41.1 consecutive scoreless innings. He had a similar episode during his first, 7-start stint at AA in 2005, but wasn't able to sustain that success into 2006. While it's possible that something clicked with him in 2007, I think he was just hot last summer, and that he's not as MLB ready as some people believe. If he does keep it rolling, however, it will be hard to keep him in Rochester for long.
Projected arrival date: late summer.
LHP - Carmen Cali
Cali was terrific at Rochester last season, posting a 2.45 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while allowing just one homer in 47.1 innings. He was OK in his time with the Twins (for a rookie). The biggest difference was control: 2.46 BB/9 at Rochester vs. 6.86 in Minnesota. He's never had great control, and, at 29, may be too old to learn it. However, with Dennys Reyes an uncertain commodity, and Jose Mijares out until at least mid-summer with a broken elbow, Cali may prove to be the best option out of the Twins' pen when they want a lefty-lefty matchup. And, as questionable as Cali's resume may be, that is a situation which certainly puts him in a position to succeed. If he'll just throw stirkes.
Predicted arrival date: when Reyes is injured/ineffective.
RHP - Julio DePaula
DePaula also had a terrific season at Rochester - how remarkable (though not relevant) that he went 12-5 as a reliever! His K/9 was up, while his BB/9 was down, resulting in a 1.11 WHIP. He got lit up pretty badly in 20 innings with the Twins, and with the bullpen set up pretty much like it was in late 2006, I don't think he'll get to move up right away. But, at this point, he should get consideration should anyone get injured or prove ineffective. One major concern - his HR rate went through the roof last year. He gave up as many homers (8) in 2007 as he had in his first 5 pro seasons combined. Hopefully, that was just a fluke, but it's a number I'll be paying close attention to this year.
Projected arrival date: when somebody in the bullpen gets hurt.
So those are the guys I expect to see with the Twins before September. Understanding more about the tendencies of the PCL vs. the IL, I feel a little better about Span and a lot better about Humber. Hopefully, by mid-season, half of the talent acquired in the Santana trade will be on display for Twins fans, and we can start to feel like the deal wasn't as lop-sided as initially thought.