While the Royals get all the hype as the bigtime future AL Central powerhouse, both Cleveland and Minnesota also have strong systems. Since I’ve looked at the other four AL Central teams, it’s time to look at Minnesota’s juggernaut.
Unlike Cleveland and Kansas City, of course, Minnesota already has a good MLB team, so if their farm system can be anywhere in the same neighborhood as Cleveland’s and Kansas City’s, they should remain a powerhouse in the division for years to come. There’s little question that the Twins are better prepared for the future than either the White Sox or Tigers.
System Overview: This system’s a bit thin on the infield (with one very notable exception), and although there are a few interesting catchers, all the backstops have significant warts.
Other than that, it’s great. Few teams can rival Minnesota’s outfield depth, and that’s coming from me, who’s more down on Aaron Hicks than almost anyone out there. The pitching is very solid, with four guys who could pitch in the first three spots of a big league rotation.
Catcher, first base, second base, and shortstop were all struggles for me to pick, as I was basically breaking ties at most of those. I’m lower on Hicks but higher on rookie-ball studs Oswaldo Arcia and Adrian Salcedo than most, so that makes my list a bit different from most, but it’s not that far out of the ordinary.
Catcher: Daniel Rams. The stereotypical power-and-arm-strength backstop, Rams slugged .452 in the Midwest League as a 21-year-old, posting an ISO over .200. He threw out 48% of basestealers as well. Unfortunately, a 145/31 K/BB in 110 games is a major hurdle that he’ll need to get past. He did improve his walks over the course of the year, walking just eight times before the All-Star Break and 23 after, but cutting down on the strikeouts will be a must.
Upside: 7.9, Downside: 3.0
First base: Lance Ray. Straight out of college, Ray posted an even 28/28 K/BB in Low-A at age 20, which is a great sign. Like all of the Twins’ first base prospects, he has yet to show huge power, but his .279/.377/.418 line was certainly solid given his age and lack of pro experience. A plus defender at first base, Ray could find his way to the bigs if he shows more pop.
Upside: 7.1, Downside: 3.2
Second base: Brian Dinkelman. I really didn’t know where to go here, so I picked a 27-year-old utilityman. Dinkelman’s long been a favorite of mine, as he’s got some offensive skills and defensive versatility. The minor league vet hit .265/.336/.379 with 32 doubles in Triple-A, his first year at the level. Dinkelman could be a solid utility player in the majors, but is unlikely to ever be worth a starting gig.
Upside: 6.7, Downside: 6.0
Shortstop: Brian Dozier. Like Ray and Dinkelman, Dozier shows good patience at the plate, walking 60 times and striking out just 57 last year. He hit .274/.352/.354 in High-A at age 23 (in a tough environment), so while he’s not going to be a power guy, his contact-and-patience blend could work well. A plus defender at shortstop, Dozier has the look of a productive bottom-of-the-order player if he can keep up his batting eye at higher levels.
Upside: 7.6, Downside: 3.7
Third base: Miguel Sano. I’m unusual in my ranking of Sano, rating him the #1 prospect in the system and #16 overall:
Sano, like [Yankees catching prospect and #18 overall on my list Gary] Sanchez, is so young that just about anything can go wrong with him. Still, he was given a huge bonus as the crown jewel of the 2009 Latin American market, and promptly went out and hit .307/.379/.491 across two Rookie ball levels just a month after turning 17. Sano has light-tower power, but does need to refine his approach, which is still fairly raw. Still, he’s well ahead of his age—consider that he could struggle for five straight years and still be just 22—and his ceiling is enormous.
Upside: 9.8, Downside: 2.8
Outfielder #1: Oswaldo Arcia. I’m also high on Arcia, ambitiously ranking him 25th:
Man, this guy can hit—witness his .373/.423/.667 line this season, even though he was just 19. Arcia still has to work on his K/BB if he’s going to keep hitting north of .300, but he’s a plus defensive right fielder as well, so we’re not talking about a one-dimensional slugger here. A month after making the list, I wonder if I was pushing it a bit here—he did whiff 67 times in 63 games, and he’s a long way from the majors—but Arcia could be an MVP if it all breaks exactly right.
Upside: 9.8, Downside: 2.9
Outfielder #2: Aaron Hicks. Hicks came in at #67:
It seems as though just about every list of prospects out there has Hicks much higher than this; he and Dustin Ackley are probably the two farmhands who I rank lowest compared to the mainstream opinion.
Hicks didn’t even make my top 100 last year thanks to mediocre Low-A numbers that didn’t jive with his scouting reports at all. He repeated the level this year and hit .279/.401/.428, which certainly puts him on the list—I believe in the guy much more than I did last year. Still, it’s telling that Hicks was the rare top prospect to repeat a level, and at 21 and just heading into High-A, he’s not some sort of prodigy.
Hicks is a gifted center fielder with good patience at the plate who could regularly put up upper-.300s OBPs in the majors, but the rest of his game is a work in progress. He struck out 26.5% of the time last year, and only hit eight homers; either the power needs to come or the strikeouts need to come down. Hicks also was just 21-for-32 in steals and doesn’t seem to be the sort to be a huge threat in that area either.
This isn’t to be too negative on Hicks: he’s a fine prospect and a potential .280/.380/.420 hitter with Gold Glove defense; I just feel like it’s important to point out what makes my opinion of him differ so much from many others. Scouts love the guy, so maybe there’s a breakout in here, but it’s worrisome that he’s struggled in so many facets of the game despite so much ability. And hey, if he goes out and rips the cover off the ball, I’ll be more than happy to admit my mistake (see Freeman, Freddie).
Upside: 9.2, Downside: 4.9
Outfielder #3: Ben Revere. Like Hicks, Revere has yet to show much power, and at this point, it’s unlikely he ever will. Unlike Hicks, most people never thought Revere was going to get much pop (although I occasionally hear people say he will), and his game is most speed-centric. Revere hit .305/.371/.363 as a 22-year-old in Double-A, striking out just 41 times in 94 games. His arm precludes him from being a fantastic defender in center field, but he’s okay there, and if he can develop any power or walk more, he could be a well-above-average center fielder overall.
Upside: 8.3, Downside: 5.9
Starting Pitcher #1: Adrian Salcedo. So apparently I’m all over Twins Rookie ball players, between Sano, Arcia, and Salcedo. It’s not like I jump on every Rookie ball guy with good numbers–the Twins have just done a great job finding Latin American talent in the last couple of years, and the scouting reports are glowing. Salcedo was #40 on my Top 100:
The sort of guy whom everyone could be discussing a year from now, Salcedo dominated Appalachian League competition in 2010. We’re talking about a guy 15 months younger than I, and yet he’s posting absurd numbers like a 65/10 K/BB ratio. Not only is his command nearly unparalleled among 19-year-olds, Salcedo also boasts two knockout pitches in his fastball and curveball. He’s a true ace-in-the-making, and would rank much higher if he had significant full-season experience.
Upside: 9.6, Downside: 4.2
Starting Pitcher #2: Kyle Gibson. Gibson ranked #45:
From the moment Gibson stepped on a professional mound, he dominated, straight out of college, working his way to Triple-A in his first professional season. The righthander has a deadly slider that he sets up with a nice fastball-changeup combination, and pounds the zone with all three pitches. He doesn’t have elite strikeout numbers, but keeps the ball in the park and limits free passes. Gibson isn’t likely to become a perennial All-Star, but he could be the AL’s answer to Matt Cain.
Upside: 8.9, Downside: 6.5
Starting Pitcher #3: Liam Hendriks. Hendriks was 59th:
The antithesis of [Rays righthander and #60 prospect Alex] Colome, Hendriks is an extreme control artist who walked just 12 batters in 108 2/3 innings across two levels this year. He managed to whiff 105, so he’s not just a throw-strikes-and-hope-for-the-best type a la Doug Fister. Not surprisingly, that sort of command led to sub-2.00 ERAs at both Low-A and High-A at age 21 for Hendriks. He’s the sort of pitcher who throws a ton of different pitches to keep hitters guessing rather than leaning on one knockout offering, a la Jered Weaver. With his polish, Hendriks is less likely to bust than just about any A-ball prospect out there, although he probably has less upside than most of the players on this list.
Upside: 8.6, Downside: 4.7
Starting Pitcher #4: Alex Wimmers. The Twins’ first-rounder in this year’s draft, Wimmers completely dominated and was one of the last cuts from the Top 100; if he had more experience, he would’ve made it for sure. The fastball/changeup artist posted a 23/5 K/BB in High-A in 15 2/3 innings straight out of college, which is extremely impressive. There are some questions about his ceiling, much like many of the typical control-oriented Twins prospects, but he’s a virtual lock to pitch in a big league rotation, barring injury.
Upside: 8.7, Downside: 4.4
Starting Pitcher #5: David Bromberg. Long a strikeout artist in the low minors, Bromberg’s average-across-the-board stuff has long had scouts predicting an upper-level dropoff. It came in 2010, but Bromberg continued to pitch fairly effectively in the upper minors at age 22. He projects as a good fourth starter, similar to former Twin Kyle Lohse.
Upside: 7.6, Downside: 5.7
Relief Pitcher #1: Anthony Slama. The deceptive Slama posted video-game numbers in the minors; the only thing left for him to do is conquer the big leagues. With his velocity only in the 90-93 range, and occasionally spotty control, he may not become an upper-tier reliever, but he’s a lock to have a solid career.
Upside: 8.5, Downside: 6.6
Relief Pitcher #2: Billy Bullock. A favorite of scouts, Bullock whiffed 60 batters in 36 2/3 Double-A innings at age 22. He’s got much higher upside than Slama, but his control issues (24 walks in those 36 2/3 innings) and general rawness make him far less of a sure bet. He’s still one of the better relief prospects in baseball, however, and would rank #1 on over half the teams in MLB.
Upside: 9.2, Downside: 4.8