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January 26, 2007

Future Shock

Minnesota Twins Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Matt Garza, rhp
Very Good Prospects
2. Glen Perkins, lhp
Good Prospects
3. Chris Parmelee, of/1b
4. Kevin Slowey, rhp
5. Alexi Casilla, ss/2b
Average Prospects
6. Anthony Swarzak, rhp
7. Eduardo Morlan, rhp
8. Paul Kelly, ss
9. Alexander Smit, lhp
10. David Winfree, 3b

1. Matt Garza, rhp
DOB: 11/26/83
Height/Weight: 6-4185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Fresno State University
What he did in 2006: 1.42 ERA at High A (44.1-27-11-53), 2.51 ERA at AA (57.1-40-14-68), 1.85 ERA at AAA (34-20-7-33), 5.76 ERA at MLB (50-62-23-38)
The Good: Everything came together for 2005 first-round pick that rocketed from High A to the majors in his full-season debut. Fastball gained a few ticks, moving to a 92-95 mph plus offering that touches 97, breaking balls gained bite, changeup came around, and command took a big step forward. All of these improvements added up to one massive step forward and a ranking among the best pitching prospects in the game.
The Bad: Garza's tough big-league debut was attributed to a tired arm as the workload from his first full season took its toll. He's still learning how to mix in all of his pitches, particularly in hitters' counts.
The Irrelevant: Just three years ago, Garza went 1-6 with a 9.55 ERA as a freshman at Fresno State, getting torched for a .558 slugging percentage, including eight home runs in 43.1 innings.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Everything is there for Garza to become an All-Star.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - While the signing of Ramon Ortiz gives the Twins a fallback plan, there are still available jobs in the Twins' 2007 rotation, and Garza is likely to earn one.

2. Glen Perkins, lhp
DOB: 3/2/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, University of Minnesota
What he did in 2006: 3.91 ERA at AA (117.1-109-45-131), 2.08 ERA at AAA (4.1-6-5-3), 1.59 ERA at MLB (5.2-3-0-6)
The Good: Local product has established himself as a an excellent power lefthander, sitting at 90-94 mph and striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings, as hard curveball gives him a second out pitch. Big-bodied and durable.
The Bad: Perkins' size can work against him at times, as he doesn't get a lot of movement on his fastball and it lacks much of a downward plane. He still struggles at times to throw strikes, particularly with his breaking ball. He's an extreme flyball pitcher.
The Irrelevant: Of the 11 home runs Perkins surrendered in the minor leagues last season, five of them came in the fourth inning, despite the fact that opposing hitters batted just .178 (14-for-75) against him in that frame.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - While Garza is more likely than Perkins to earn a starting role in Spring Training, Perkins also has a legitimate shot at the No. 5 job.

3. Chris Parmelee, of/1b
DOB: 2/24/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, California HS
What he did in 2006: 279/369/532 (179 PA), 227/370/273 at Low A (27 PA)
The Good: Considered one of the best high school power prospects in the draft, Parmelee surprised even the Twins with his quick ability to transform his plus-plus raw power into game power. Smooth swing mechanics, natural loft and a mature ability to recognize pitches he can drive instantly makes him the top offensive prospect in the system.
The Bad: Parmelee needs his bat to carry him, as other than a decent arm, most of his other tools are pedestrian. He's not especially athletic and is a pretty bad outfielder - with an expected move to first base wasting a good arm.
The Irrelevant: In seven pro at-bats with the bases loaded, Parmelee had three hits - a pair of triples and a grand slam.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-of-the-order slugger.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - With highly regarded first-round picks Matt Moses and Denard Span hitting a wall of late, Parmelee becomes the system's next hope at developing an impact bat to join Mauer and Morneau. He'll make his full-season debut at Low Class-A Beloit.

4. Kevin Slowey, rhp
DOB: 5/4/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2005, Winthrop University
What he did in 2006: 1.01 ERA at High A (89.1-52-9-99), 3.19 ERA at AA (59.1-50-13-52)
The Good: The best command-and-control artist in the minors, as evidenced by a strikeout-to-walk ratio of greater than 7-to-1. Has the ability to place his 88-91 mph rising fastball with laser-guided precision, while also keeping batters off balance by taking a bit off of it without any change in movement or location. Mixes in a curveball and changeup, both of which are average offerings brought up a notch due to pinpoint accuracy.
The Bad: Slowey's pure stuff is middle-of-the-road, which already ran him into occasional trouble in Double-A, and leaves many observers wondering what his major league out pitch will be.
The Irrelevant: Slowey's final college game of his career was a memorable 13-strkeout performance in which he outdueled Mets prospect Mike Pelfrey in a NCAA Regional 2-1 win over Wichita State.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A very good No. 3 starter, though scouts' projections on him range wildly from future star to back-of-the-rotation starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Slowey has little room for projection, but also has little room for a big league job in 2007. He'll likely start the year at Triple-A, but should make his big-league debut at some point in the season.

5. Alexi Casilla, ss/2b
DOB: 7/20/84
Height/Weight: 5-9/160
Bats/Throws: S/R
Signed: 2003, Dominican Republic (Angels)
What he did in 2006: 331/390/406 at High A (359 PA), 294/375/382 at AA (199 PA), 250/500/250 at MLB (6 PA)
The Good: Luis Castillo clone offensively burned his way from High Class A to the majors. Slappy hitter who focuses on contact and is a dangerous base stealer once aboard due to plus-plus speed. Unlike Castillo, Casilla can play on the left side of the infield, and is very good there with above-average range, soft hands and a solid arm.
The Bad: Casilla has no power and none is coming. He needs to hit over .300 to have offensive value unless his improving plate discipline continues its upward trend.
The Irrelevant: While splitting time between the two middle-infield positions at High Class A Fort Myers, Casilla hit .392 as a shortstop, but just .280 as a second baseman.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: We've been over this. He's pretty much Luis Castillo with shortstop skills.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Casilla will play the majority of the year at Triple-A, but can fill in immediately at either shortstop or second base should the opportunity present itself.

6. Anthony Swarzak, rhp
DOB: 9/10/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2004, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: 3.27 ERA at High A (145.2-131-60-131)
The Good: Physical righty rebounded from tough first half to go 8-2, 1.64 in last 11 starts. Prototypical power pitcher sits at 89-93 mph, touches 96 and projects to improve velocity as he fills out. Curveball is plus offering at the least, but earned some even higher grades during his second-half surge.
The Bad: Consistency has been Swarzak's bugaboo since signing. He needs to throw more strikes, as he's consistently finding himself behind in the count and forced to groove fastballs. Like many Twins prospects, he's not a groundball pitcher.
The Irrelevant: Swarzak attended Nova High School, the same school that graduated comedian Jeff Garlin, of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting pitcher for sure, but we're just not sure where in the rotation yet.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Swarzak has the ability to make the same kind of great leaps forward that Garza and Slowey did in 2006, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll do it. Double-A will be a big test in 2007.

7. Eduardo Morlan, rhp
DOB: 3/1/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2004, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: 2.29 ERA at Low A (106.1-78-38-125)
The Good: Cuban refugee had outstanding full-season debut, pitching very well as a starter and downright dominating in shorter stints out of the bullpen. 90-95 mph fastball touched 98 and sat more consistently at 93-95 in relief appearances. Slider is an average pitch with nice potential, and Morlan has clean mechanics and plus control.
The Bad: Morlan is a two-pitch pitcher who has had problems with his changeup since signing. To sound like a broken record, he's a flyball pitcher.
The Irrelevant: Born in Havana, Morlan's family escaped from Cuba in the late 1990s and originally settled in Spain before going to Florida so Eduardo could pursue baseball.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A power big-league arm. Whether that's as a starter or late-innings reliever is still an unknown, though most scouts lean towards a future bullpen role.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Morlan had a breakout campaign in 2006, and should have little trouble finding more success in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 2007.

8. Paul Kelly, ss
DOB: 10/19/86
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2005, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: 280/352/384 at Low A (423 PA)
The Good: Scouts like Kelly much more than his numbers would suggest. He makes consistent contact and his existing gap power projects for more down the line. He has smooth infield actions, outstanding fundamentals, turns the double play well and features a plus arm.
The Bad: Kelly is not especially athletic, and his value at short depends more on his ability to make the play on every ball he gets to, as opposed to an ability to make the spectacular play. He needs to improve his plate discipline.
The Irrelevant: The second-round of the 2005 Draft featured two players from Flower Mound High School, as righty Craig Italiano and Kelly went back-to-back with the 53rd and 54th selections.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An everyday big-league shortstop.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Kelly's season was cut short by minor knee surgery, but he should be 100% for spring training and ready for a season in the Florida State League.

9. Alexander Smit, lhp
DOB: 10/2/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Signed: 2002, Netherlands
What he did in 2006: 2.99 ERA at Low A (108.1-77-53-141)
The Good: Dutch import's career had been a series of stops and starts, but he finally stayed in one place and exploded in the second half, with a 2.43 ERA in 13 starts and 98 strikeouts in 74 innings. His primary weapon is a low-90s fastball that features cutting action. He effortlessly adds and subtracts from it and commands it well. His changeup has made great strides, now featuring nice tumbling action, and he is smooth mechanically.
The Bad: Smit has struggled with his breaking pitch since signing. He's tried a number of different grips and releases, finally settling on a standard overhand curve that he occasionally gets decent break on but has problems throwing for strikes.
The Irrelevant: In the first three innings of his starts, Smit had a 1.37 ERA with 57 strikeouts and just 15 hits allowed in 39.1 innings.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A guy who misses bats, but more likely in a relief role.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - More than four years after signing, Smit finally has everything going in the right direction, and he'll begin 2007 in High Class A.

10. David Winfree, 3b
DOB: 8/5/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 13th round, 2003, Virginia HS
What he did in 2006: 200/250/267 at Rookie-Level (16 PA), 276/328/490 at High A (287 PA)
The Good: Returned from self-imposed exile to put up outstanding numbers in half a season at Fort Myers. Looks the part of a power hitter and has tremendous strength, but is a good hitter as well, with surprisingly solid contact skill for his home run approach. Solid arm and good footwork at third base.
The Bad: Winfree needs to refine his approach at the plate, working on both improving his patience and recognizing which strikes it might be better for him to lay off of. He's a below-average runner and his first-step quickness at third base is lacking. The two-and-a-half months spent away from the game while he questioned his commitment will hang over him for a while.
The Irrelevant: As a third baseman, Winfree hit .333 (37-for-111) with a .604 slugging percentage. When put at first base or designated hitter, he batted .235 (35-for-149) while slugging just .409.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A power-hitting corner infielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - In a system short on power prospects, Winfree will need to bear the weight of some high expectations at Double-A.

The Sleeper

2006 second-round pick Joe Benson is an outstanding athlete with tools to spare who, like Parmelee, was much more baseball-ready than initially expected. His full-season debut at Beloit is definitely one to watch.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Joe Mauer, c
2. Justin Morneau, 1b
3. Francisco Liriano, lhp
4. Matt Garza, rhp
5. Boof Bonser, rhp
6. Glen Perkins, lhp
7. Chris Parmelee, of/1b
8. Kevin Slowey, rhp
9. Jason Kubel, of
10. Alexi Casilla, ss/2b

That's a massive 1-2-3 combination, with the reigning American League MVP, the guy who should have been the MVP, and a pitcher who might have ranked ahead of both had his elbow not went kablooey. Bonser had been consistently underrated, but is guaranteed of a rotation slot, while the organization remains optimistic for a return to form for Kubel.

The Twins system is a lopsided one, with an impressive group of arms, yet very few hitters. They hope to have addressed that by taking bats with eight of their first nine picks last year, with Parmelee, Benson and fourth round pick Whit Robbins all looking like they could be on this list next year.

Next: I clear out my index in preparation for the response to the New York Yankees Top 10.

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

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