1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Anthony Swarzak, RHP
3. Jeff Manship, RHP
4. Eduardo Morlan, RHP
5. Tyler Robertson, LHP
6. Nick Blackburn, RHP
7. Brian Duensing, LHP
8. Trevor Plouffe, SS
9. Chris Parmelee, OF
10. David Bromberg, RHP
11. Joe Benson, OF
Just Missing: Angel Morales, OF; Yohan Pino, RHP; Oswaldo Sosa, RHP
Year In Review: A surprising first-round pick, Revere justified the selection with a dazzling showing in the Gulf Coast League, which included 10 triples and 21 stolen bases in 50 games.
The Good: Few players in baseball at any level can match Revere’s game-changing speed. He turns ground-ball outs into singles, singles into doubles, and doubles into triples, and he covers a ton of ground in center field. He’s also an adept hitter with a quick short swing and surprising pop for his size. He gets high praise for his makeup, and brings high energy to every aspect of his game.
The Bad: Small and slightly built, Revere will never develop more than his already-existing gap power. Profiling as a pure leadoff man, Revere needs to develop a more patient approach. His arm is below average.
Fun Fact: Revere’s father was a 19th-round pick in 1972 by the Astros, and his older brother J.R. was a 49th-round selection by the Rockies in 2001.
Perfect World Projection: A dynamic leadoff man who is among the league leaders in triples, stolen bases, and hopefully runs scored on an annual basis.
Timetable: The Twins tend to let a player’s talent dictate his timetable, and Revere’s opening salvo showed the Twins that he’s ready for a full-season league. He’ll begin 2008 in the Midwest League.
Year In Review: The top pitching prospect had an impressive showing at Double-A interrupted by a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a drug of abuse.
The Good: In a system full of command and control specialists, Swarzak brings a power arsenal to the table. He sits in the low 90s with his fastball and can reach back for 94-95 mph at times when he needs a little something extra. His curveball is a plus offering, and his change projects as average. Like most Twins prospects, he throws a lot of strikes and works efficiently.
The Bad: While Swarzak’s suspension is a big ding against him, Twins officials think it was a one-time mistake, and Swarzak did return from the suspension without missing a beat, saying all the right things. He’s more of a player with solid all-around stuff than a guy with any dominant offering. He tends to work high in the zone, and pays the price for it at times.
Fun Fact: Swarzak had a 2.51 ERA at New Britain in 12 starts following his suspension.
Perfect World Projection: Swarzak looks like a classic number three starter.
Timetable: Swarzak will being the year at Triple-A, but with the Twins’ depth in pitching at the upper levels, it will take some breaks for him to reach the big leagues this year.
Year In Review: The former Notre Dame star and Tommy John survivor shined in his full-season debut, making a start in the Midwest League’s all-star game and pitching equally well following a promotion to the Florida State League before running out of gas.
The Good: Manship’s control surpasses anyone’s in the system, and that’s saying quite a bit. His fastball has good enough (90-91 mph) velocity because of its sink and location, and his curveball is a true plus pitch, with both offerings generating plenty of ground balls when contact is made at all. He works very efficiently and quickly, and pitches with a fearlessness that borders on arrogance.
The Bad: Manship isn’t especially big, and his stuff dropped off a bit by August, leaving some to wonder if he can withstand the rigors of a 200 inning workload. It’s hard to project stardom for a pitcher of his caliber, as he lacks a true plus-plus offering.
Fun Fact: As a high school junior in Texas, Manship threw a perfect game with 19 strikeouts. Remember, high school games are seven innings.
Perfect World Projection: A third or fourth starter who is consistently effective, keeping his team in the game every time out.
Timetable: Because one year of his college career was wiped out by surgery, Manship turns 23 in January, so he’ll be moved up to Double-A to begin 2008 despite his relative lack of experience.
Year In Review: Moved permanently to the bullpen, Morlan thrived in the closer role, averaging 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings and reaching Double-A at the end of the season.
The Good: Morlan has both the stuff and command to be an effective late-innings, power-based reliever. He pounds the strike zone with a mid-90s fastball that can touch 98 mph, and his slider is a hard-biting pitch with plenty of tilt. He showed a lot more comfort as a reliever, where he could just grip it and rip it as opposed to the more pace-based approach needed as a starter.
The Bad: Morlan was prone to big innings at times, and needs to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check. When he got into trouble, he sometimes would overthrow, which led into him elevating his pitches, which led to more trouble. His mechanics aren’t dreadful, but they are better suited to short stints.
Fun Fact: During his two Double-A appearances, Morlan faced 11 right-handed batters and struck out six of them.
Perfect World Projection: With a bit of refinement, Morlan could be a future big league closer.
Timetable: Morlan will begin 2008 back in Double-A with the hope that he’ll be ready for the big leagues in 2009, when Joe Nathan will likely be gone via free agency.
Year In Review: Held back in extended spring training to begin the year, Robertson reported to Low-A at the end of May and dominated from day one.
The Good: A six-foot-five lefty who takes advantage of his size, Robertson (like pretty much every Minnesota prospect) has excellent control of his 89-91 mph fastball, which comes in on a downward angle due to Robertson’s arm slot and also features a bit of sink. His slider is a plus pitch that he uses to get strikeouts, and he shows some feel for a changeup.
The Bad: Robertson’s average velocity leaves scouts wondering if his fastball will be enough to set up the slider against more advanced hitters, who will be more likely to lay off the biting pitch. He rarely kept his stuff late into starts, as evidenced statistically by his 3.48 ERA after the third inning, and consequently some see him as a reliever in the end.
Fun Fact: Robertson made a pair of relief appearances for Beloit, during which he struck out 10 over six one-hit innings.
Perfect World Projection: A solid third or fourth starting pitcher.
Timetable: Robertson will begin 2008 at High-A Fort Myers, but pitchers with his type of repertoire are often not challenged until they reach Double-A.
6. Nick Blackburn, RHP
Drafted: 29th round, 2001, Seminole State College
2007 Stats: 3.08 ERA at Double-A (38-36-7-18); 2.11 ERA at Triple-A (110.2-96-12-57); 7.71 ERA at MLB (11.2-19-2-8)
Year In Review: No more than an organizational soldier entering the year, the veteran righty rocketed through the upper levels of the Twins system before spending the final month of the year in the big leagues.
The Good: Everything about Blackburn’s game took a sudden and surprising step forward in 2007. Strong and sturdy, Blackburn hits his spots with a 89-91 mph fastball that features plenty of sink and run, while working in an effective hard curve ball that he prefers to work with low in the zone. His changeup is effective enough to keep hitters off balance. He’s consistent from outing to outing and inning to inning, and maintains his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Blackburn doesn’t miss many bats with his stuff, and will always need defensive support to be effective. For a pitcher without an overpowering fastball, scouts wish that his secondary stuff was more impressive, and some were downright baffled as to how he was so effective this year. Blackburn will turn 26 during spring training, so it’s hard to give him any projection.
Fun Fact: In six June starts, Blackburn had a perfect 0.00 ERA in 39 innings while walking only one batter.
Perfect World Projection: A back-end starter or good long reliever.
Timetable: There’s not an obvious role for Blackburn at the big league level in 2008, though he does have an outside chance of earning a bullpen job. He’ll mostly likely return to Triple-A.
7. Brian Duensing, LHP
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, University of Nebraska
2007 Stats: 2.66 ERA at Double-A (50.2-47-7-38); 3.24 ERA at Triple-A (116.2-115-30-86)
Year In Review: Classic college left-hander was excellent in exposure to upper levels of Twins system.
The Good: Duensing’s great skill is throwing strikes and keeping hitters on their toes, as he mixes in four pitches that he’ll throw at any point in the count. He uses his 89-91 mph fastball effectively, working it in between his solid curveball and slider, and slowing things down with a plus changeup. He adds a little deception in his delivery as well, and his strike-throwing ways had him often reaching his seven-inning limit before his 100-pitch limit.
The Bad: Like many Twins pitching prospects, Duensing doesn’t really have a true out pitch, so it’s easy to see him getting to the majors, but hard to see him being any kind of impact talent.
Fun Fact: Of the 40 pitchers to be drafted out of the University of Nebraska in the last 20 years, only Troy Brohawn, Shane Komine, and Joba Chamberlain have reached the majors.
Perfect World Projection: An occasional starter who can also be an effective bullpen arm who gets lefties out and generates ground balls.
Timetable: Duensing is in a similar spot as Blackburn, but his left-handedness could work to his advantage when it comes to reaching the big leagues quicker.
Year In Review: After two straight disappointing seasons, former first-round pick surprised everyone by finally showing some life with the bat at Double-A.
The Good: Plouffe’s greatest strength is his lack of weaknesses. He tends to make good contact and features gap power at the plate. Defensively, he’s a fundamentally sound player who makes the plays he gets to, and has a very strong arm. He’s a good baserunner whose speed grades out a tick above average once he gets going.
The Bad: Plouffe lacks enough plus tools to profile as more than a fringe regular. Defensively, he’s a little short in the range department, and he needs to add accuracy to his throws. He does far more damage against left-handed pitchers than righties.
Fun Fact: Crespi Carmelite is a small, boys-only, private Catholic school that also produced Rick Dempsey and Jeff Suppan.
Perfect World Projection: Somewhere between a second-division starter and valuable utility player who can be penciled in for any infield position.
Timetable: Plouffe will begin the year at Triple-A and likely make his big league debut at some point in 2008, as the current Twins infield isn’t exactly loaded with stars.
Year In Review: The first-round pick in 2006 showed power and little else in his full-season debut.
The Good: Parmelee’s raw power ranks with anyone’s in the organization. Muscular and broad-shouldered, he puts on a show in batting practice, and occasionally in games, as more than 40 percent of his hits went for extra bases. Seen as more of a first baseman coming out of high school, Parmelee surprised many with his outfield play, showing enough in the way of his reads and routes to project as average there.
The Bad: Parmelee is a pull-conscious, all-or-nothing hitter who struck out once in every 3.3 at-bats, and he can look absolutely lost at times against southpaws. To make up for his current deficiencies, he needs to either draw more walks or shorten his swing to use all fields–or, ideally, both. Some scouts still see him as a first baseman in the end, and if that happens, his bat needs to become more than just one-dimensional.
Fun Fact: Parmelee grounded into just eight double plays in 2007, but four of those came over a four-day stretch in mid-May.
Perfect World Projection: A power-hitting outfielder who hits fifth or sixth, as opposed to third or fourth.
Timetable: As a hitter, things don’t get any easier for Parmelee, as he’s slated to spend 2008 in the Florida State League.
Year In Review: The obscure 32nd-round pick had scouts trying to figure out where he came from by posting a perfect 9-0 record in 13 starts while winning Appy League Pitcher of the Year honors.
The Good: Signed as a big, raw left-hander, the Twins spent the first half of 2007 re-working Bromberg’s mechanics, and he took off. His low-90s sinking fastball comes to the plate on a strong downward angle, and he’s begun to show some feel for both his curveball and changeup, which were both nearly non-existent when he signed.
The Bad: Unlike most Twins prospects, Bromberg has some command issues, and his mechanics, while cleaner, still need to be smoothed out, as Bromberg’s release point is highly inconsistent. His secondary stuff still needs to improve significantly for him to remain a starter.
Fun Fact: Wondering what Bromberg’s alma mater, Palisades High School, looks like? Chances are you’ve already seen it, as the movies Carrie and Old School were shot there, as well as scenes for the television series Saved By The Bell.
Perfect World Projection: A big league pitcher, but it’s too early to determine a role. Scout’s projections of him range all the way from middle reliever to number two starter.
Timetable: Nearly three years after being drafted, Bromberg is finally ready for a full-season assignment, and will begin 2008 in the Midwest League.
Year In Review: Athletic center fielder struggled much of the year at Beloit, but finished on a roll, going 8-for-13 in his final four regular season games, followed by a .289/.341/.579 showing in nine postseason games.
The Good: On a pure tools level, Benson compares with anyone in the system. He has plus raw power and was beginning to show some signs of tapping into it during the last few weeks of the season. He’s also an above-average runner with solid range in center field and good acceleration on the base paths. Despite his overall struggles, he showed a patient approach at the plate as he adjusted to the leadoff role.
The Bad: Benson is still raw in many aspects of the game. He has both a long swing and a hitch in his swing mechanics that combine to limit his ability to make contact. He needs to improve his reads and routes in the outfield, as well as his base-stealing ability.
Fun Fact: In three games where he hit third in the lineup, Benson went 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Benson remains a high-risk/high-reward player with just as much of a chance to star in the majors as of never getting out of A-ball.
Timetable: Benson’s late-season surge was enough to convince Minnesota to start him in High-A next year.
The Sleeper: While many have written him off, don’t quite give up on former first-round pick Denard Span just yet. He made some adjustments at midseason last year, and hit .306/.371/.393 after the All-Star break while showing a more patient approach. If the Twins go into a total rebuilding mode, Span might get a shot at the big league center field job.
The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)
1. Joe Mauer, C
2. Francisco Liriano, LHP
3. Matt Garza, RHP
4. Kevin Slowey, RHP
5. Ben Revere, CF
6. Anthony Swarzak, RHP
7. Jeff Manship, RHP
8. Eduardo Morlan, RHP
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B
10. Tyler Robertson, LHP
Yes, Joe Mauer is still that young, and still that good. One thing, though: we should stop expecting him to become some sort of major power source just because he’s big. His swing and contact-oriented approach just aren’t designed for it. Ranking Liriano second might be a bit optimistic, as he’s not even throwing breaking balls yet, but if he’s even 80 percent of what he was, this rating is justified. Garza and Slowey will both be in the rotation from day one in 2008, and both will be better than they were last year. Casilla is still the second baseman by default; despite a poor showing last year in terms of both production and effort, he’s still a solid talent.
The Twins system is well below the high standard it has set in the past, as recent graduates to the majors have failed to be replaced within the organization’s minors due to a few too many top draft picks failing to pan out. When Trevor Plouffe is your second-best position player, that’s not a good thing.
Next: The New York Yankees.