Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Arizona Prospects

Two items of note from just before Thanksgiving: The Arizona Fall League concluded its schedule, and Baseball America posted its annual ranking of the Twins' top 10 prospects. There's plenty of overlap between the two, as 3 of the farmhands on the BA list played in the AFL.

The Twins have tended to send less advanced prospects to the AFL than some other teams, and that was the case again this year. Of the 7 players the organization sent to the Peoria Saguaros, only Kyle Waldrop has played more than half a season above AA. This group was mostly comprised of guys who spent the majority of the year in New Britain, where they accumulated a shockingly bad 44-98 record (.310 winning percentage). It was more of the same for them this fall, as the Saguaros finished 9-22 for an even more dreadful .290 W%.

Individually, they were a mixed bag. Bear in mind that the average AFL batter hit .283/.356/.431, while the average pitcher had a 5.10 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.

Named the Twins' 2010 Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .259/.343/.538 between Fort Myers and New Britain with an organization-leading 27 HR in 123 games. BA rated him as the organization's best athlete. In addition to his power, he has good OF range and speed, especially for a corner guy, and he has a very strong arm. The knock on him right now is his high strikeout rate - he fanned in 30.7% of his AB during the regular season.

The Saguaros didn't give him much of a chance to show off his tools. He appeared in just 17 of the team's 31 games and barely made it to 60 PA. At first glance, his .236/.300/.400 line looks like a huge disappointment. It included just 1 HR, his K-rate remained high at 29%, and he drew only 3 BB. However, there is at least a suggestion that he made an adjustment over the course of the season:

First 9 games: 26 PA, .160/.192/.280, 3 2B, 0 HR, 0 BB, 8 K
Last 8 games: 34 PA, .300/.382/.500, 3 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K

Small sample sizes both, but I'll keep my hopes up based on his eventual production. The Twins need Benson to have a good year at Rochester in 2011. Even if his K-rate holds at around 30%, if he can put up another OPS > .850 he'll be someone the they can count on in 2012. He's been added to the 40-man roster, and will be a call-up option should one of the corner guys get hurt. And he's the guy I'm hoping will be ready to take over for Michael Cuddyer after his contract expires next year. Benson has the ability to make us forget about Cuddy pretty quickly.

The Twins' Minor League Player of the Year from 2008 & 2009, Revere was added to the 40-man roster in September and got a cup of coffee with the Twins down the stretch. He has hit .300 or better at every level so far, though this year's .305 was a career low, as was his .371 OBP and .363 SLG%. Those numbers were only incrementally lower than his 2009 numbers from Fort Myers, but they seem to suggest that he's reaching his ceiling as a Juan Pierre-style slapper. His 50-SB speed and weak arm also bring Pierre to mind.

Unlike Benson, Revere got off to a fast start in the AFL. He was hitting .370 with 2 doubles and a triple through his first 18 games. But over his last 10 he went just 6 for 39 without an XBH, dropping his final line to a much less impressive .295/.358/.330. He stole 13 bases without being caught.

Revere strikes me as a poor man's Denard Span. The extra value he gives you in speed and batting average is negated by his lower IsoP and even weaker throwing arm. Add the fact that they're both left-handed, and I just can't see them in the OF together at the same time. Revere should remain at AAA for most of the season in case Span gets injured. Maybe he'll have some utility on the postseason roster as a PR should the Twins get that far again. But they should be looking to move him by this time next year. Somebody needs Revere to be their everyday leadoff man - just not the Twins.

Since making his full-season debut in 2009, Gutierrez has split time as a starter and a reliever. The Twins seem to have plenty of capable young starters and a lot of questions in the bullpen right now, so the bullpen is likely where he'll end up. He's got a tremendous sinker and a more or less average strikeout rate. At the moment, control is his biggest problem, as he's walked over 3.7 batters per 9 innings in each of the last 2 seasons. That all adds up to some rather unimpressive WHIPs and ERAs at the upper levels.

He made 12 appearances in the AFL, all out of the 'pen. The good news: in 11 IP, he struck out 10, and induced 21 groundouts and only 1 fly out. The bad news: he walked 9, leading to an unseemly 2.00 WHIP and 6.55 ERA. He'll have to throw more strikes before the Twins can count on him.

He didn't make BA's list, but Bromberg is in the bottom half of some other top 10 prospects lists. From 2007-2009 he was his league's strikeout leader. That string was broken this year, as he didn't quite make it to 6 K/9 at AA, but he rebounded well with 8.1 K/9 in 9 GS for the Red Wings. As he's moved up the organizational ladder, he's increasingly become a flyball pitcher, but that doesn't seem to be of any concern. He's kept his HR/9 down and would play half his schedule with the Twins at Target Field.

In the AFL, he made 6 starts, maxing out at 4.2 IP. He bookended his season with 2 excellent efforts (combined 8 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 11 K). Sandwiched in between them were 4 rough ones (combined 14.2 IP, 25 H, 15 ER, HR, 6 BB, 14 K). In Bromberg's defense, the H/9 numbers were so lousy for the entire Saguaros staff that one has to conclude that the regular defense was terrible. Overall, his peripherals were quite promising: 0.4 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 9.9 K/9. He'll begin next season back at Rochester, and will make a much more intriguing spot start option than Jeff Manship now that he's on the 40-man roster.

The Twins' 1st-round pick from 2006 has been making a slow climb through the system. He repeated A- in 2008 and was briefly demoted to A+ in the middle of 2010. His game has been improving in some facets, however, as he's raised his BA and lowered his K rate over the last few seasons. What may be of some concern is the sudden drop in power - Parmelee hit half as many HR last season as we would have expected from his career averages.

He was repeating the AFL this year, too. He hit .339/.405/.477 with a 17/12 K/BB ratio, but with no HR, continuing the trends from the regular season. Those numbers are solidly above average for the league, though, so the Twins have to be pleased. Between Fort Myers, New Britain and Peoria, he combined to hit .295/.365/.415 with 38 2B, 5 3B, and 8 HR.

The Saguaros used him at first base, but he's logged a lot of time in the OF corners for the Twins' affiliates. His defense has improved, but it doesn't look as though he's going to be an asset in the field. My guess is that the Twins will start him in Rochester next spring and hope that he'll be able to maintain the high average and OBP while seeing just a few more balls fly over the fence. If Parmelee can pull that off, he'll make a nice minimum-wage replacement for Jason Kubel in 2012.

Everyone was understandably excited about Robertson after 2007. At the age of 19, he picked apart the Midwest League, with a 2.29 ERA, .226 opponents' BA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.9 BB/9, 10.8 K/9 and only 3 HR allowed in 102.1 IP. As a 6'5" lefty, there was a lot to dream on. But his velocity hasn't improved as he's filled out, and his numbers in all of the categories I listed above have been steadily eroding, even while he repeated A+ in 2009. I wasn't surprised to see him fall apart in the Eastern League, with a 5.41 ERA, .307 opponents' BA, 1.64 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 5.8 K/9 and 17 HR allowed in 149.2 IP. Of the 4 pitchers the Twins' sent to the AFL, I expected the least from Robertson.

At first glance, his 4.50 ERA gives the impression that he was effective. But he allowed 14 R in his 14 IP, it's just that half of them were unearned. He still had a .327 opponents' BA, 1.71 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 5.8 K/9 and 2 HR allowed. Certainly no better than he faired over the summer. If there's anything positive to find in this performance, it's that, used entirely in relief by the Saguaros, Robertson faced a disproportionate number of lefties, and handled them to the tune of a .217 BAA, 1.05 WHIP and 9.4 K/9. So he may have a future as a LOOGY. If he can't figure out a way to contain right-handed hitters, that's the only MLB job he can hope for.

The Twins' 3rd 1st-round selection from 2004 (after Trevor Plouffe and Glen Perkins), Waldrop had his progression delayed by a 2008 shoulder surgery. Since his return, he's been used exclusively in the bullpen, and to good effect. In 178.1 IP as a reliever across 3 levels, he's got a 2.32 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and just 7 HR allowed thanks to a G/F rate over 2.3. His 2nd half at Rochester wasn't as impressive as his spring, but a lot of us were expecting him to have a crack at the Matt Guerrier role in 2011.

His AFL experience was a total disaster. His groundball rate remained excellent, so again, I have to cast some aspersions on what must have been a dreadful Saguaros IF. But still, he allowed 24 H in 12.1 IP, including 4 HR, and he walked 6 while striking out just 5. That resulted in a (gulp!) 16.05 ERA. Was he tired after throwing nearly 90 innings out of the 'pen during the regular season? Let's say he was tired. Anyway, his performance was so uninspiring that the Twins chose not to add him to the 40-man roster and nobody selected him in the Rule 5 draft. So he'll come to spring training with as much chance to earn a back-end bullpen spot as several other folks.

Also of Note:

It was at about this time last year that Francisco Liriano's Dominican Winter League numbers first caught my attention. This year's version (in a more subdued way) might be Deolis Guerra. Supposedly one of the premium pieces of the Johan Santana trade after posting a 2.53 ERA in 19 FSL starts in 2007, Guerra has been a mess since joining the Twins' organization. He's been very hittable, with spotty command, and was torched for 19 HR in 127.1 IP in 2010.

However, in his first 7 appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League, he's allowed just 11 ER on 31 H and only 1 HR in 29.2 IP with a stellar 25/3 K/BB ratio. That's a 3.34 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 0.9 BB/9 and 7.6 K/9. All of those are a huge step up from what he was able to do over the last year and a half at the upper levels, against what I would guess is fairly similar competition. It also comes with a vastly improved GB rate of 2.16/FB.

Guerra is still only 21 - almost 6 months younger than 2010 1st round pick Alex Wimmers - and he's already logged 165 IP at AA and 25 at AAA. I'll keep an eye on him. If he's able to maintain those numbers throughout the VWL, he'll come to spring training with a chance to make Rochester's rotation and reassert his relevance on the prospect lists.

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