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February 15, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Minnesota Twins

by Jason Parks

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Prospect #1: 3B Miguel Sano
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: Sano, who has soul-crushing power from the right-side, stands in very elite company when it comes to his raw slugging ability; scouts line up to throw 80s of the future of the tool. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 for a robust $3.15 million, Sano might only have a short-season résumé, but the 18-year-old should be considered one of the top offensive prospects in the game.

In the field, Sano has very little chance of sticking on the left side of the infield. He has good athleticism for his present size and a strong arm, but the teenager is already a very large man and all signs point to him getter even larger during the maturation process. This will push his glove to right field or first base, though he has enough offensive potential to have value regardless of where or how he plays on the field.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Like most power hitters, Sano has a leveraged swing with loft and length, so there is some hit and miss in his game. Sano whiffed 77 times in only 66 games against short-season pitching. He struggled against inside velocity and quality sequence, which is an avenue of exploitation that could continue in full-season ball. Sano is naturally aggressive—which I don’t have a problem with—but he can take himself out of hitter’s counts and can subsequently struggle to adjust his approach.

Sano has all the characteristics of a monster power hitter. He has raw strength you can’t teach, ferociously loud contact that seems very natural, and the necessary loft in the swing and backspin to send balls over the wall. He will need to shorten up a bit in 2012 and work on his sequence adjustments and approach, but he will play the majority of the season as a 19-year-old, so even a statistical step back could be viewed as a developmental step forward.

Prospect #2: OF Eddie Rosario
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: Rosario, a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, exploded in the short-season Appalachian League in 2011, hitting for average and power while showing quality futures for all five tools. He has very good bat speed, electric pop for size, good foot speed, strong arm, and good feel for the game, but he lacks elite-level tools. The Puerto Rican outfielder is set to try his hand at second base in 2012, an experiment that should prove to be mutually beneficial; the Twins are weak at the position in the organization, and Rosario’s skill set could shine at the keystone.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: I haven’t seen Rosario in person, so I had to ask around about his weaknesses in order to project what might go wrong when the 20-year-old makes the move to full-season ball in 2012. A simplified and isolated prognostication would suggest that an assignment to Low-A would prove difficult based on the level of pitching competition Rosario would be facing.

When I asked a scout to expand this basic conclusion, I received a dissertation on Rosario’s pitch-recognition skills, a characteristic I had listed as a positive for the young hitter. The source suggested that Rosario’s quick trigger and bat control often rescued him from poor guesses against average at best pitching. “Look, I really like the player: He can do everything a good five player is supposed to do, and some of the things a good six player is supposed to do. I think his pitch-recognition skills need a lot of refinement, and I think full-season ball will pull back the curtain on some of his other weaknesses.”

There were differing opinions on this statement, and because of my inexperience with the player, I can’t stand next to the report with any conviction. However, with Sano and Rosario (and possibly Kepler) moving to Low-A Beloit in 2012, I’ll need to make the pilgrimage for those prospects so I can see for myself.

Prospect #3: OF Aaron Hicks
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Hicks is one of the more frustrating prospects in the minors. He has crazy-promising tools and a crazy-high ceiling, but his on-field production has been anything but crazy. In 2011, Hicks struggled mightily in the Florida State League, showing weak contact ability and a lifeless approach that led to lots of walks and lots of languid at-bats.

On paper, Hicks is a superstar center fielder in the making, with plus range and a good glove to go along with a legit 80 arm. At the plate, Hicks flashes leadoff skills with above-average power potential. That’s a future seven-grade player right there, but for scouts and fans alike, realizing that future is becoming harder to believe.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Hicks needs to take a step forward at the plate in 2012, upping the intensity of his approach and transitioning his game from flash to fire. I’m assuming he makes the jump to Double-A, and given the level of pitching in the Eastern League, Hicks could get exposed early and often. His swing isn’t bad; he gets into the zone quickly and efficiently from both sides of the plate and shows some bat control once he’s there. The problem is that his game swing doesn’t pack much of a punch against fastballs, and when off-speed offerings are brought into the mix, Hicks is all over the place. This is what we have: a switch-hitter with five o’clock power, good patience but some pitch recognition and sequence adjustment issues, and poor contact rates against High-A pitching.

What could go wrong is that the Hicks of 2012 proves to be the same Hicks as 2011, only facing more advanced competition in a more advanced league. There is still a chance that the toolsy outfielder finds his groove at the plate and becomes the star many scouts suggested was inevitable. Unfortunately, there is a much better chance that 2012 is a rerun of prospect frustrations past, a retelling of the age-old classic, Aaron Hicks’ 2011 season.

Prospect #4: OF Joe Benson
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: After being selected in the second round of the 2006 draft, Benson slowly inched toward the ultimate goal when he received a September callup in 2011. During his Double-A campaign for the New Britain Rock Cats, the soon-to-be 24-year-old outfielder showed off all five tools, hitting for a decent average, game power, game speed, good glove, and a very strong arm, while also flashing a quality smile. Reports are mixed on Benson’s ceiling; some suggest he could be a first-division talent, and others suggest he might not have the stick to start.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Benson will compete for a spot on the 25-man roster in spring training, but he will need to show more at the plate than he offered up in his 71 at-bat sample last fall. The fear here is that Benson isn’t going to make enough contact at the major-league level for his secondary skills to find utility.

Benson’s hit tool is average at best, and his trigger, his path to the ball, and his ability to manipulate the barrel for contact have been a few of his swing’s characteristics that people in the industry have questioned. Against major-league pitching, these flaws are highly exploitable, but Benson’s backers are adamant that he will figure out major-league pitching, becoming a solid-average regular at worst, and possibly a first-division type if everything clicks. Those that lack such optimism suggest Benson’s defensive skill set is better suited for right field, and that his bat won’t have enough thump for a corner spot, making him a candidate for a fourth outfielder role. That’s quite a separation in value.

Prospect #5: SS Levi Michael
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: With the 30th overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Twins popped the North Carolina shortstop and signed him for a $1.175 million bonus. Michael is not a physical specimen with the type of tools to drool over, but he maximizes his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses on the field. He profiles as a solid-average regular at the major-league level. Michael has good hands and bat speed; he shows a smooth, line-drive stroke from both sides of the plate. He can barrel balls and use the gaps, but doesn’t profile as a power threat at the highest level.

In the field, Michael has good actions and a strong arm, but there are already whispers about his limited range at the position and how he might be a better fit at second base. By all accounts, the 21-year-old eats the infield dirt for fuel and snorts the chalk line for inspiration, causing scouts to label this gamer a “gamer,” a player likely to push his physical tools passed their perceived ceiling.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Michael is a mature player with more polish than projection in his game, so what you see is basically what you are going to get. The problem is that some people didn’t see a major-league starter when they watched Michael in college, and those same doubts carry over to the professional ranks, where weakness gets exploited without prejudice.

One source who had eyes on the middle-infield prize last season was very impressed with Michael’s ability to make loud contact and gave me a very glowing report, but did mention that he was much better at barreling 86-90 mph than he was with offerings in the plus velocity range, and that professional pitching is going to present a serious challenge. This is a reductive truth applicable to most offensive prospects in the game, but given Michael’s average secondary skills, the ability to hit (make contact) is what will define the player and ultimately decide his role. If the doubters’ doubts prove to be true and Michael is a better fit for second base, the bat will have to carry a much bigger load, and the likelihood of major-league success slips down another notch. 

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

tlpacker

From a descriptive standpoint, this is your best "What Could Go Wrong in 2012" yet. Great stuff.

Feb 15, 2012 05:51 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Many thanks!

Feb 15, 2012 08:17 AM
 
cdgarosi

Great write up as always Jason. Is there any concern that Eddie Rosario's position switch will impede his development?

Feb 15, 2012 06:19 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

He's young enough and physically gifted enough that it shouldn't be a big issue. That said, defensive struggles often find a way to carry over to the plate, so if he really struggles to adapt to the position (which I doubt), that struggle might spread to his bat. I'm not expecting that, though.

Feb 15, 2012 08:17 AM
 
Behemoth

Would that mean you think he's likely to stick at second? Is it too early to say what sort of defender he might be there?

Feb 15, 2012 08:31 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

From an athletic standpoint, I think he can handle the rigors of the position. It's not going to be an overnight assimilation, but all the physical components are there to play at a high level. I think he can be above-average with the glove.

Feb 15, 2012 08:43 AM
 
bobbygrace

Terminology question: What does it mean to be a "good five player" or a "good six player"?

There are enough context clues that I gather the higher the number, the better. Are these whole-player equivalents to the 20-80 tool grading system?

Feb 15, 2012 07:17 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Yes. Sorry about that. A good five player= average major leaguer (overall); good six player= above-average major leaguer (overall).

Feb 15, 2012 08:00 AM
 
bobbygrace

No apology necessary -- thank you for your answer!

Feb 15, 2012 11:25 AM
rating: 0
 
AaronSF

I know you've never been a fan of Kyle Gibson, but is there a Twins pitcher you considered for the list?

Feb 15, 2012 09:10 AM
rating: 0
 
David Martin

I don't suppose you want to hear that Aaron Hicks is the Twins best pitching prospect? ;-)

Feb 15, 2012 10:31 AM
rating: 6
 
AaronSF

I mean, I don't WANT to hear it, but ... yeah, that's probably true.

Still, it would brighten my day to hear that Jason's a big fan of Madison Boer or Adrien Salcedo or something.

Feb 15, 2012 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Wimmers would have been the first pitcher on my Twins list, but he wasn't really in the running for the top five. Oswaldo Arcia was number six; Wimmers would probably be number seven or eight. It's just hard for me to get excited about average pitchers. That's on me. I prefer the high-ceiling arms with stuff that usually fail to develop over the safer arms with command/control components and average stuff.

Feb 15, 2012 10:38 AM
 
Noel Steere
(965)

I hear Marge Gunderson is extremely underrated. Unimpressive physically, but extremely smart on the fundamentals. Bonus points for playing through a temporary physical condition, which may have surprised some, but not those who have been following her career to this date. Tons and tons of want.

Feb 15, 2012 09:30 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Well played. Do I have to turn in my #want identification card if I admit that I'm not the biggest Coen Brothers fan? I really like some of their movies and I appreciate their overall approach, but the piece-to-piece flavor is a little too similar for me. I could watch the Big Lebowski or Raising Arizona on repeat, but Fargo never tickled my fancy.

Feb 15, 2012 10:17 AM
 
Noel Steere
(965)

Not at all, I find them hit and miss as well, though even the misses are interesting, so I'm willing to watch them again if the opportunity arises. One thing that I like a lot about the Coen Brothers is that their love of movies comes through in every film they make.

I think Fargo and A Serious Man are so specific to location and culture that they may be difficult to get into if you don't have a lot of experience with those cultures. I remember two very strong reactions to Fargo when it came out: Two very idealistic sisters thought it denigrated Minnesotans, and the African-American friend of mine that I went to see the movie with, who went to Carleton, couldn't stop laughing during the entire movie, gasping under his breath: "They're...just...like that!"

Having said that, it probably doesn't require very deep knowledge to get the jokes in Fargo: One or two episodes of A Prarie Home Companion should do the trick.

[A Serious Man, btw, was fantastic. Mischeviously philisophical; honest about their experience with Judaism by simultaneously asking deep moral questions, exposing our inability to answer them, and exploring how we handle the lack of answers ("Accept The Mystery")]

Feb 15, 2012 22:02 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

It is hard for me to say why some Coen Brothers movies don't work for me, while some do, but it has something to do with being able to loose myself in the movie. Usually, their films are just a little too staged over-the-top or something, I just take as light entertainment but not that enthralled feeling I get with a good movie. Fargo did work for me, but Raising Arizona didn't. Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, and No Country for Old Men were the others that did work their magic.

Feb 16, 2012 14:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I really like Miller's Crossing, and to me, it doesn't seem to have the same Coen formula in its DNA like Fargo, et al. It's their only "serious" film that I have watched multiple times. Perhaps that's the issue. I love Raising Arizona and Big Lebowski, and I watch them whenever I'm given an opportunity. The ones I struggle to enjoy don't get a longer (deeper) look.

Looks like I have some Coen movies to watch this weekend.

Feb 16, 2012 15:06 PM
 
R.A.Wagman

Highly, highly recommend Serious Man.

Feb 16, 2012 20:19 PM
rating: 0
 
DeathSpeculum

love the somewhat aggresive rosario ranking. did you see Keith threw a kind of half-assed CarGo comp on him? that surprised me. what kind of power potential do you see with him?

Feb 15, 2012 09:47 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I'm not a fan of forced comps, but perhaps Keith saw similarities between the two players. I don't see it. I think Rosario will develop into a good gap-to-gap hitter, with 10-15 home runs a season at his peak. More of a player that could do a little of everything than a player that will be exceptional in any one regard.

Feb 15, 2012 10:09 AM
 
DeathSpeculum

10-15 is kind of the impression I got, but he did hit more bombs than sano last year. the big lebowski is a classic. Arthur Digby Sellers is an eighty grade cat name and anytime you can work the phrase "bulk of the series" into conversion, the world is a better place for it.

Feb 15, 2012 17:40 PM
rating: 0
 
mstinebrink

"...eats infield dirt for fuel and snorts the chalk line for inspiration?" Original? Beautiful!

Feb 15, 2012 11:03 AM
rating: 0
 
spmcguire

Great work, Jason. Really enjoy the analysis, particularly after BP's top 11. . Where do you see the Twins window? 2016-17? I am afraid that management does not want to admit where they are - and what it will take to get there. After this year, one SP under contract (Blackburn) and one option (Baker). No help in sight. No gloves in the inf. Rough bullpen. Thoughts?

Feb 15, 2012 20:18 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

I agree with you. The good news is that the division is the AL Central and not the AL East. The Tigers and Indians have good teams, and the Royals are slowly inching towards respectability, but I don't think any one team is going to run away with the divisional race. The Twins have some talent at the major league level, so I think they can be competitive in 2012. That said, it's hard to see a future that will find the Twins flush with talent and favored to fly the divisional flag.

Feb 16, 2012 09:55 AM
 
LaBombo

The issue with Hicks isn't rocket science: he's a switch hitter who can't hit left-handed. They need to throw in the towel on that aspect of his game if he's still struggling (.239/.325/.384 at AA New Britain) at midseason.

May 17, 2012 12:39 PM
rating: 0
 
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