I've been struggling through some baseball withdrawal lately.
It seems I've been without the best sport in the world for years, and I'm hungry for some baseball action. The crack of a bat, the smell of a leather glove, the glances between a pitcher and baserunner... I miss it all. To help break me out of my funk, I turned to Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and the Field of Dreams.
Try listening to this clip and not get excited about the baseball season. I dare you.
"Ray, people will come Ray.
They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.
And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.
People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray.
People will most definitely come."
- Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones, in Field of Dreams
1. Kyle Gibson, 23 years old, starting pitcher
2010 stats: 11-6, 2.96 ERA in 152 innings, with 126/39 K/BB between Fort Myers (A+), New Britain (AA), and Rochester (AAA)
Last year's rank: N/A
Acquired: Drafted by the Twins in the 1st round (22nd overall) of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft
The Twins’ selection of Gibson in the 2009 draft was a microcosm of the successful strategy that has helped them compete over the last decade. Gibson was a problematic draft prospect, with lingering arm problems that caused just about every other team to pass on the starting pitcher from the University of Missouri.
Minnesota, usually one of the most risk-adverse teams in the league, couldn’t pass up Gibson’s polish and four-pitch potential. The Twins deemed his forearm problems were deemed to be a minor concern, and Gibson proved them right by performing very well in 2010.
That Gibson signed late caused him to miss the 2009 season, though the rest was probably exactly what his arm needed to recuperate.
Gibson started the 2010 season in Fort Myers, hoping to adjust to wood bats and work out any mechanical problems the Twins thought should be fixed. After a few months in Florida, Gibson advanced to New Britain, where his dominance continued. He finished the season in Rochester, and remains just a short jump away from MLB action.
With four legitimate “plus” pitches, according to scouts, even the most pessimistic of prognosticators can’t see Gibson as anything less than a mid-rotation starting pitcher in the big leagues. His ceiling isn’t as high as some of Minnesota’s younger prospects, but Gibson earns the top spot on the TwinsTarget Top 15 Prospect list this year because of how certain we are he will be a great starting pitcher.
Ideal Scenario: Gibson will spend a great deal of the 2011 season with the Rochester Red Wings, further showing off his ability to induce ground balls.
Path to the majors: There are plenty of prospects ready and willing to make the jump to the big leagues, but the Twins will only call upon pitchers they feel are ready and completely developed. Gibson highlights that crowd, and should be among the first promoted to help bolster an ailing bullpen or rotation in 2011.no comments
2. Aaron Hicks, OF, 20 years old
2010 stats: .279/.401/.428 with 88/112 BB/K and 21 steals in 33 attempts in 115 games for Beloit. (Low-A)
Last year's rank: 1
Acquired: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins 14th overall in the 2008 June Major League Draft.
Ever since Hicks was drafted out of Wilson High School in Long Beach California, he has been considered one of the Twins top prospects, both nationally and amongst the Twins blogosphere. Many teams saw Hicks' 97 MPH fastball and wanted to draft him as a pitcher. Hicks however wanted to be a center-fielder, which suited the Twins just fine. The Twins, with their history of drafting toosly high school outfielders, saw Hicks as a future five tool stud.
He signed quickly and started hot in rookie ball for the Gulf Coast League Twins. The 18 year old had a .318/.409/.491 line with 12 steals in 204 plate appearances. A great opening act! At 19, he was promoted to low A Beloit Snappers. He went .251/.353/.382 with 10 stolen bases out of 18 tries in 297 plate appearances. A solid first attempt at A ball for a 19 year old, still adjusting to pro ball and growing into his 5 tools.
Coming into the 2010 season, Hicks was atop most blogger prospect lists as well as the Twins top representative on many top minor league prospects lists throughout the league. Here is some of what MLB.com wrote about Hicks in ranking him #29 out of 50:
Scouting report: Hicks has the kind of raw tools scouts love to dream about. He's got terrific speed that he'll be able to use on both sides of the ball (defensively, he already does, but he's got to learn the nuances of base running). He's got great bat speed which should generate plenty of power as he matures. A former pitcher who could crank it up into the upper 90s, Hicks has one of the best outfield arms in the Minors. One thing Hicks has above some other raw, toolsy types is an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. All he needs is experience for the performance to catch up with the tools.
Upside potential: When all is said and done, Hicks could be a franchise type player, a power-speed combination who will provide Gold Glove caliber defense in center field.
Pretty lofty expectations. How did Hicks do in 2010? His line of .279/.401/.428 in 528 plate appearances while repeating at low A was fair, but it was by no means worthy of the gaudy expectations. The fact is, Hicks had an awful May, hitting only .214/.321/.313. Is Hicks streaky? Was he fighting injury? A bad month does not make a bad year and at 20 years old, Hicks is still learning the game. MLB.com is still high on him, ranking him #39 going into 2011. Keith Law had him ranked 10th overall.
Is there anything to worry about? Some Twins fans starting to get a little impatient with Hicks progress. Guys like Jason Heyward (20 years old) and Mike Stanton (also 20) were drafted a year ahead of Hicks and have already made a splash in the major leagues. Joe Mauer made the opening day roster just shy of his 21st birthday and Hicks at 21 will start 2011 in high A ball. While fans will look at how other prospects are moving, Hicks will be worth the wait. Hicks may be a couple years from the majors, but he is still young and all of the talent is there, he just needs a little longer to develop. Better to wait for Hicks than to rush him and have another Lasting Milledge. Is Hicks a lock to be an all star MLB 5 tool player? No. He's the Twins prospect most likely to be a major league star.
Ideal Scenario: Hicks will start the season in Fort Myers with a chance for a mid-season promotion to New Britain. 2011 will be a big year for his development. Ideally, he will cut down on his strikeout rate.
Path to the majors: Hicks is still a couple of years from the majors. With guys like Micheal Cuddyer and Jason Kubel probably leaving for free agency, there will be openings for the guys ahead of Hicks in the system. If Ben Revere and Joe Benson work out, the Twins could use their OF depth to trade for other need areas. Hicks could be the centerpiece in a trade for a stud major leaguer. The Twins have a ton of outfield prospect depth with Hicks being the leader of the group.
3. Miguel Sano, Third Base, 17 years old
2010 stats: .291/.338/.473 with the GCL Twins (Rookie)
Last year's rank: 10
Acquired: Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $3.15 million in September of 2009.
Is there ever an instance where a team's #3 ranked prospect is considered under-rated? Besides the Brewers system of course, which may not have 3 quality prospects. I submit the case of Miguel Sano. Just ask a Twins fan who the Twins top prospect is. Most everyone of them will say its either Kyle Gibson or Aaron Hicks. Spoiler alert: With 2 remaining prospects to rank, this site will have either Kyle Gibson or Aaron Hicks as its #1 prospect.
We'll worry about the top 2 ranked prospects in a bit. #3 is Miguel Sano. You know, the same Sano who got the second largest signing bonus in Minnesota Twins history. The same Sano who got the second largest signing bonus in Dominican Republic history. Keith Law recently ranked him his #29 prospect. In his piece, Law had an interesting take on Sano: "Sano won't turn 18 until May, but his hitting tools would make him a top-five pick if he were just coming out of an American high school, with consideration for the top overall spot." Sano would be in the same league as Bryce Harper!
Sano could be the best Twins prospect right now and perhaps one of the best offensive players in team history. That's a good deal of hyperbole, but when I examined how he is doing early in his professional career, a couple of things really popped out. For one, he hit a HR in his first state-side professional at bat. Not so significant, but it was the kind of arrival that could begin his legend. In his short season stint with the GCL Twins, his OPS was 11th best in the league. A decent year for sure, but even more impressive when you consider that every one in the top 10 was at least 13 months older than Sano.
It is very difficult to project how a 17 year old will perform as a 25 year old major league player. He's so young that it's hard to gauge where he will go from here and how he will develop. He is still a minimum of 3 years away from major league ball and his body has a lot of growing left to do. He was signed as a shortstop, but most scouts predict he will be too big to even stay at 3rd base. He may be a right fielder by the time the Twins call him up. As a young man from a foreign country, his ability to assimilate to American culture is an important, though under-rated factor in his development.
Sano doesn't have the polish and major league readiness of a Kyle Gibson. He is not a 5 tool player who has a couple of professional years under his belt like Aaron Hicks. No, Miguel Sano is just a 17 year old from the Dominican Republic. He's a 17 year old that could be a top 5 prospect in all of baseball next year. A guy who could be in the majors before he is 21. A guy who's hitting skills could make him an all-star. He's young, he's going to be awesome, he's your #3 Twins prospect.... for now!
Ideal Scenario: Sano will probably start the season in the Dominican Summer League, since it's season gets going sooner than the American rookie leagues. Once the Appalachian League season starts, I'd expect Sano to spend the whole season there. He is a long way from the majors and his primary objective in 2011 should be to learn the nuances of 3B (If that is where the organization plans to keep him) and to work on cutting his strike-out rate. He struck out 43 times in 161 plate appearances for the GCL Twins.
Path to the majors: If Sano has decent numbers in 2011, he will start 2012 in Beloit. Once in he makes it to full-season leagues, Sano will be given the opportunity to advance as quickly as his skills and maturity allow. I think the soonest we will see him with the major league club is 2014. The Twins are usually conservative with their young players but, the Twins have not had many prospects this young with Sano's ability or upside. If he performs well, the Twins will have to be careful that they don't push him. Sano is all potential right now, and it will be awesome watching the young man grow into his powers.
4. Joe Benson, OF, 22 years old
2010 stats: .259/.343/.538 with 47/136 BB/K and 27 home runs in 123 games between Fort Myers (A+) and New Britain (AA)
Last year's rank: 9
Acquired: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 2nd round in the 2006 June Major League Draft.
Benson was given the Sherry Robertson Award by the Twins this year, which recognizes the top hitter in the minor leagues. Even though Benson was demoted mid-season, his performance still merits such an award, and the progress he has made in the power department is very encouraging.
Hitting a total of 27 home runs and maintaining a slugging percentage well north of .500, Benson is starting to turn his “raw” power into actual production. His fourth full-season in the minor leagues, this year was the first Benson topped digits in the home run department. In fact, his slugging percentage didn't even top .400 over a full season. This year was clearly a huge step forward for the young outfielder, though there are still aspects that need work.
With a painful 2.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio still to his name, Benson whiffs far too often. He averages .26 strikeouts per plate appearance, which is nearing the range of Arizona's Mark Reynolds. Without more instruction, Benson would be a candidate to break several strikeout records if he were facing major-league pitching.
Plate discipline aside, Benson is excellent in areas other than raw power. His speed is top-notch, as is his defensive range.
Ideal Scenario: Benson spends the 2011 season between New Britain and Rochester, learning to better identify breaking balls and improving that strikeout tendency.
Path to the majors: With Cuddyer leaving after this season, there is a huge hole in the outfield. Benson is the leading candidate to step into the veteran's shoes, and it will be nice to have someone with at least some shred of defensive ability in right field.
5. Alex Wimmers, RHP, 22 years old
2010 stats: 2-0 with a .57 ERA 23/5 K/BB in 15.2 innings for Fort Myers.
Last year's rank: N/A
Acquired: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins 21st overall in the 2010 June Major League Draft.
Alex Wimmers was the Twins top pick in last years draft. Wimmers is the name fans will see on his back, but his uni could just as easily have "stereotypical twins starting pitcher" or "stereotypical pitching draft pick" sewn onto the back. Wimmers was a strike throwing college pitcher, taken high in the draft. Pitchers like Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Kyle Gibson and others fall into the same category. They were all strike throwing college pitchers with decent velocity. It's become clear that the Twins are comfortable using their draft picks on college pitchers that throw strikes.
The above statements aren't meant to diminish Wimmers as a prospect. He is ranked as our #5 Twins prospect for a reason. He was the 2010 National collegiate pitcher of the year. He was also the first Big Ten pitcher to win the conference's pitcher of the year in 2 consecutive years, winning in 2009 and 2010. He has a decent fastball. He hits 91, but it has good movement on his 2-seamer. He also features a good curve and a change up.
Wimmers signed near the deadline, claiming "I miss pitching too much". The Twins sent him to Fort Myers and he made his professional debut 2 weeks later. In 4 starts, he went 2-0 with a .57 ERA. He only gave up 6 hits and 5 walks while striking out 23 in 15.2 innings. He dominated Florida State League hitters. This is a very small sample size, but these numbers are very exciting for this Twins fan.
Ideal Scenario: Wimmers will probably start 2011 back at Fort Myers. Given his brief success there in 2010, it isn't expected that he'll stay there very long. He could follow the model established by Baker, Slowey, Gibson etc... and pitch in three levels in one season. I see him probably spending the bulk of the season in AA New Britain.
Path to the majors: The Twins have a few pitchers ahead of Wimmers in their system. They have 6 viable major league starters as well as Kyle Gibson and David Bromberg in front of him. Wimmers probably won't be ready or won't be needed to make his major league debut until 2012. With the Twins wealth of pitching, Wimmers will have to perform well to force the Twins to advance him to the major leagues sooner. A solid performance from Wimmers could give the Twins the confidence to trade a starter such as Kevin Slowey. A good 2011 by Wimmers leaves the Twins starting pitching depth in a really nice position.
6. Liam Hendriks, RHP, 21 years old
2010 stats: 8-4 with a 1.74 ERA, 105/12 K/BB in 108.2 innings between Beloit and Fort Myers.
Last year's rank: N/A
Acquired: Signed out of Perth, Australia in February 2007.
So, what makes someone a top prospect? Some prospects are more tools than numbers. The guys that scouts just look at and drool over the possibilities. They say, this guy will be the next.... Other guys become top prospects through hard-work and sheer numbers. Liam Hendriks is part of the latter group.
The Australian hurler made his debut in the GCL at 18 years of age, striking out 52 and walking 11 in 44 innings. A nice start to his professional career. In 2008, back surgery derailed his entire season. In 2009, he came back from injury and made the Australian roster in the World Baseball Classic. He was the roster's youngest player. After the WBC, he split the season between Elizabethtown and Beloit. He had a decent year with a 3.55 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 19 walks in 83.2 innings. Not a bad year for such a young guy, especially one who had missed a year of development.
In 2010, Hendriks returned to Beloit and he took off. Total Domination! In 6 starts and 34 innings he struck out 39 and walked 4. He only gave up 16 hits. That's a .59 WHIP! This earned him a quick promotion to Fort Myers. He was almost as dominant after his promotion. In 74.2 innings, he struck out 66 and walked 8. For the season, he had a 1.74 ERA, 8.75 K/BB rate and a .837 WHIP between Beloit and Fort Myers. He only gave up 2 HRs all season.These are crazy, off the charts type numbers.
He has 4 good pitches, but no single dominating pitch. His fastball touches the low 90s and he also features a decent curve and change-up. What made Hendriks so dominant in 2010 was his control. He only walked 12 guys in 108.2 innings. Coincidentally, Cliff Lee walked 12 in 108.2 innings for the Texas Rangers in 2010. While I'm not saying Hendriks can be the next Cliff Lee*, his 2010 numbers and stuff profile out to a similar kind of pitcher, albeit a right-handed one. *Lee only walked 6 in 103.2 innings in Seattle and 2 of his TX walks were intentional.
Hendriks will only be 22 years old in 2011 and it would seem he is just starting to hit his stride. The only thing slowing Hendriks down is injury. He's already had back surgery. Hopefully the nerve issue doesn't lead to something chronic. He was selected to the 2010 All-Star Futures Game but he missed the game due to appendicitis. These are two un-related types of maladies. Hopefully Hendriks is getting through a rash of random injuries early in his career and and is about to settle in for a long healthy career.
Ideal Scenario: Hendriks will probably start where he left off in Fort Myers. If he hits the ground running like he did in 2010, he should see an early New Britain promotion.
Path to the majors: Another good season in 2011 will leave Hendriks on the cusp of an MLB debut in 2012. With guys like Gibson, Bromberg, Wimmers and a decent major league staff all older and more advanced then the 22 year old Hendriks, 2013 is more realistic. If Hendriks has a season in 2011 like he did in 2010 however, the Twins might not be able to hold him back. He has middle of the rotation stuff but if he can keep his walk rate down, he could become an ace.