Saturday, January 31, 2009

Minor League All-Stars

Other guys, notably Aaron Gleeman and Josh's Thoughts, are doing an admirable job of ranking Twins prospects. I'm enjoying learning about some of the guys in the Twins' system via these brief write-ups. Since they've got the rankings covered, I want to do something a little different with the minor leaguers. I looked over the numbers from last season in order to try and put together a complete team of All-Stars from the 4 full-season teams. I leave out the Rookie ball teams because the dominance some players show there could just be the result of small sample size. The lack of extensive numbers leaves me too dependent upon the scouts, who may not be looking for the same things I am. So I'll just pick from guys who played at Beloit, Fort Myers, New Britain and Rochester in 2008.

My hope was that the Twins' system would yield at least one compelling standout at each position, a few reserves, plus a 5-man rotation and a 6-man bullpen. That would show that there is at least someone on the way at every potential slot the Twins could need. As you'll see, reality came up a bit short, so some of these picks are, admittedly, a stretch to call All-Stars. But they're the best the Twins have right now.

When looking at the minor league statistics, it's important to remember the context. These leagues are more pitcher-friendly than the AL, so numbers that look outstanding for a pitcher may be just average, and numbers that look middling for a hitter may be quite good. Here are the averages for each league in 2008:

Midwest (Beloit): .252/.322/.371; 3.68 ERA
Florida State (Fort Myers): 256/.329/.376; 3.81 ERA
Eastern (New Britain): .264/.338/.403; 4.22 ERA
International (Rochester): .263/.331/.404; 4.10 ERA
American League (Twins): .267/.335/.420; 4.35 ERA

With those in mind, here are my picks:

Starting Lineup

Catcher: Wilson Ramos
.288/.346/.434, 462 AB, 13 HR, 37 BB, 103 K at A+ Fort Myers
The only catcher in the system with significant playing time who was able to outperform his league's averages at the plate. Interestingly, he's posted essentially the same line at each stop in the system so far (.286/.339/.435 in Rookie ball, .291/.345/.438 at A-). That gets less impressive the further he goes, so I hope he'll be able to improve upon it soon. He also threw out 43% of base stealers.

First Base: Chris Parmelee
.239/.385/.496, 226 AB, 14 HR, 52 BB, 83 K at A- Beloit
Though his batting average remained at .239 and he continued to strike out at a vigorous rate, Parmelee drastically improved in his second year at Beloit. He nearly matched his 2007 HR total in about half the AB, and was able to exceed his walk total in just over half the games before his season was cut short by injury. If he sustains that kind of OBP and power, he'll be in Adam Dunn territory.

Second Base: Steve Tolleson
.300/.382/.466, 343 AB, 9 HR, 44 BB, 74 K for AA New Britain
Always a high OBP hitter, Tolleson put up full-season career highs in BA and SLG% this season, then backed it up with a terrific performance in the Arizona Fall League.

Shortstop: Trevor Plouffe
.269/.325/.410, 227 AB, 3 HR, 16 BB, 43 K for AA New Britain
.256/.292/.420, 250 AB, 6 HR, 14 BB, 47 K for AAA Rochester
Here's our first disappointment. Plouffe's almost league average performance was actually by far the best among regular SS in the system. He's only 22, so he can get comfortable in Rochester for awhile.

Third Base: Danny Valencia
.336/.402/.518, 220 AB, 5 HR, 27 BB, 43 K for A+ Fort Myers
.289/.334/.485, 266 AB, 10 HR, 18 BB, 70 K for AA New Britain
Valencia demolished A+ pitching for the first half of the season, then finished up strongly above average in the Eastern League. His poor showing in the AFL probably keeps him in New Britain to start the season, but he still looks to be on track for a 2010 arrival in the Majors. (He's the reason the Twins wouldn't go to 3 years for Casey Blake.)

Left Field: Edward Ovalle
.284/.351/.412, 447 AB, 7 HR, 34 BB, 112 K for A+ Fort Myers
Like Plouffe, Ovalle sort of gets this spot by default. He certainly improved his hitting line in his second season in Fort Myers, but his K/BB ratio showed no signs of progress. I'm sure he'll start 2009 in New Britain, but he may not get much further than that.

Center Field: Ben Revere
.379/.433/.497, 340 AB, 1 HR, 27 BB, 31 K for A- Beloit
This was the most spectacular performance of any of the position players on this list. Revere exceeded the Midwest League average OPS by well over .200 points and went 44/57 stealing bases in just 83 games. He only had a .943 fielding percentage, though. Something to work on in Fort Myers this year.

Right Field: David Winfree
.252/.319/.450, 453 AB, 19 HR, 41 BB, 87 K for AA New Britain
One of the 3B prospects who's had to move to the outfield, Winfree was asked to repeat AA after his 2007 performance was merely average. His OPS improvement wasn't huge (thanks to a big drop in BABIP), but he significantly improved his K/BB rate while showing much greater power. At 23, that keeps him on the prospect radar as he moves to Rochester for 2009.

Designated Hitter: Randy Ruiz
.320/.366/.526, 416 AB, 17 HR, 23 BB, 116 K for AAA Rochester
The journeyman minor-leaguer won the International League batting title and finished the season with the Twins. But those accomplishments weren't enough to overcome a dismal K/BB ratio and no defensive value, so the Twins let him go earlier this winter.


Outfield: Dustin Martin
.290/.355/.447, 510 AB, 10 HR, 49 BB, 125 K for AA New Britain
The Rock Cats' CF has been above average by a healthy margin at every stop throughout his progression, including a solid showing in the AFL last fall.

Outfield: Darnell McDonald
.268/.334/.447, 369 AB, 11 HR, 36 BB, 81 K for AAA Rochester
Not a prospect, but McDonald outperformed all the other full-season OF in the Twins' system. Now with the Reds, he should have a chance to earn a spot on their bench this spring.

Infield: Steven Singleton
.302/.348/.421, 235 AB, 6 HR, 13 BB, 29 K for A- Beloit
.295/.371/.452, 241 AB, 5 HR, 26 BB, 24 K for A+ Fort Myers
Tough call whether to start him or Tolleson. Despite having a similarly excellent season, Singleton is less of a running threat, and wasn't as sure a fielder as Tolleson this year. But he's certainly ready to take over 2B for the Rock Cats in 2009.

Infield: Luke Hughes
.319/.385/.551, 285 AB, 15 HR, 28 BB, 70 K for AA New Britain
.283/.325/.453, 106 AB, 3 HR, 7 BB, 30 K for AAA Rochester
Hughes enjoyed a breakout season in 2008, clobbering Eastern League pitching and more than holding his own at AAA. Yet another reason why the Twins didn't need to splurge on Casey Blake or Ty Wigginton, Hughes should be available to them sometime this summer.

Catcher: Jose Morales
.315/.348/.426, 197 AB, 4 HR, 8 BB, 28 K for AAA Rochester
Morales didn't get to play very long before he re-injured his ankle. But in the time he had, he showed that he's clearly the best-hitting catcher in the system after Ramos. As a high-contact switch-hitter, I'd like to see him get some consideration for a bench spot with the Twins out of spring training - assuming the ankle is OK.

Starting Pitchers

Mike McCardell
2.86 ERA, 135.1 IP, 110 H, 25 BB, 139 K for A- Beloit
A WHIP of about 1.00 and about a strikeout per inning - that's what we want to see!

Francisco Liriano
3.28 ERA, 118 IP, 102 H, 31 BB, 113 K for AAA Rochester
Other than a couple of early-season starts around his woeful April stint with the Twins, Liriano was consistently dominant at AAA. And that was without regaining his pre-Tommy John velocity. If only he'd replaced Livan sooner...

Cole Devries
2.93 ERA, 135.1 IP, 138 H, 38 BB, 105 K for A+ Fort Myers
His 2008 numbers were very similar to those of 2007, with one striking difference: he cut his HR rate by about half.

Jeff Manship
2.86 ERA, 78.2 IP, 68 H, 20 BB, 63 K for A+ Fort Myers
4.46 ERA, 76.2 IP, 90 H, 24 BB, 62 K for AA New Britain
After allowing 0 HR in the first half, Manship gave up 8 once he moved to New Britain. The K/BB rate remained the same between the two levels. His AFL experience was actually encouraging, despite a 5.01 ERA, because he was able to strike out almost a batter per inning and allowed only 1 HR in 32.1 IP in an explosive offensive environment.

Santos Arias
3.27 ERA, 110 IP, 106 H, 29 BB, 91 K for A- Beloit
Arias is another pitcher who maintained his K/BB rate from 2007 while cutting his HR rate by about half. He was moved to the bullpen towards the end of the season, so we'll see whether or not his future is in that role.


Anthony Slama
1.01 ERA, 71 IP, 43 H, 24 BB, 110 K for A+ Fort Myers
The first of the Twins' ludicrously good relievers from 2008, Slama's excellent WHIP and K/BB ratio go with an astounding 0 HR allowed in 71 IP. In fact, he has yet to allow a HR in 102.2 professional innings. Could we put him on the fast track, please? I can think of an MLB team that might need some bullpen help this year...

Rob Delaney
1.42 ERA, 31.2 IP, 24 H, 4 BB, 34 K for A+ Fort Myers
1.05 ERA, 34.1 IP, 20 H, 7 BB, 38 K for AA New Britain
Next is Delaney, who also had a good WHIP and had an amazing K/BB ratio, but allowed 3 HR over the course of the season. He should start 2009 no lower than Rochester, where the Twins can reach him easily if needed.

Jose Mijares
2.45 ERA, 11 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 16 K for Rookie GCL Twins
2.61 ERA, 10.1 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 8 K for A+ Fort Myers
2.93 ERA, 15.1 IP, 16 H, 7 BB, 17 K for AA New Britain
Recovering from a winter car accident that left him with a broken elbow, Mijares didn't get back on the field until the summer. He was solid at every level, earning a September call up with the Twins in which he (too late!) became an effective setup man for Joe Nathan. He added some innings with more of the same in the Venezuelan winter league. Though he has hardly any experience above AA, he'll have every opportunity to break camp with the Twins.

Matthew Williams
2.09 ERA, 38.2 IP, 29 H, 12 BB, 42 K for A- Beloit
3.35 ERA, 45.2 IP, 44 H, 16 BB, 37 K for A+ Fort Myers
Awesome at Beloit, Williams advanced to Fort Myers in June, where he was shelled in his first few appearances. He got it together quickly, though, and finished the season with a 1.01 ERA, 21/6 K/BB ratio and 0 HR allowed over his final 10 appearances (26.2 IP).

Bobby Korecky
2.91 ERA, 74.1 IP, 66 H, 22 BB, 71 K for AAA Rochester
Appearing for his second full season as closer for the Red Wings, Korecky was excellent, striking out nearly a batter per inning while allowing just 3 HR in his 74.1 IP. He should get a serious look from the Twins in spring training.

Charles Nolte
2.05 ERA, 70.1 IP, 63 H, 35 BB, 75 K for A- Beloit
Ricky Barrett's numbers were pretty similar for the Red Wings, but Nolte had a slight edge in K/BB ratio and gets a ton of extra credit for allowing only 1 HR in 44 appearances.

This exercise illustrated a lot about the upper levels of the Twins' system. Very few pitchers in the system performed well in 2008, and only a handful were true standouts. There is precious little depth at catcher, shortstop, first base and the corner outfield positions. Luckily, all of those positions are filled at the Major League level with young players who should be around for a few years. That will give the organization some time to add/develop more depth in these areas. The beginnings of that could be seen in the 2008 draft class - but they won't appear on this list until next year.

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