1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Miguel Jean (Sano), SS
3. Ben Revere, OF
4. Wilson Ramos, C
5. Kyle Gibson, RHP
6. Angel Morales, OF
7. David Bromberg, RHP
8. Carlos Gutierrez, RHP
9. Danny Valencia, 3B
10. Joe Benson, OF
11. Billy Bullock, RHP
12. Jeff Manship, RHP: This heady pitcher’s skill set works better in long relief.
13. Tyler Robertson, LHP: A command-and-control lefty, he succeeds more on guile than stuff.
14. Adrian Salcedo, RHP: The Dominican product is long in size, command, and projection.
15. Rene Tosoni, OF: Hailing from Canada, Tosoni showed surprising pop in ’09, but he profiles best as a fourth outfielder.
Year in Review: Hicks was their top pick in 2008, but was held back in extended spring training; scouts fell in love with him despite mediocre numbers.
The Good: Hicks has the potential to be a five-tool monster. His athletic build shows plenty of raw power, he’s a plus runner who covers a ton of ground in center field, and he features one of the minor leagues’ best arms. Unlike many raw toolsy players, he has a keen understanding of the strike zone and knows how to get himself into hitter’s counts.
The Bad: Hicks still needs refinement in his swing, which can get loopy at times and has a bit of a trigger mechanism. He can become an even better outfielder with improved routes. More than anything, he just needs playing time to grow into his tools.
Ephemera: More than a quarter of Hicks’ 63 hits (16) and half of his home runs came in the third inning of games in 2009.
Perfect World Projection: Hicks looks to be a well above-average defensive center fielder with an outside shot at putting up 30-30 seasons.
Path to the Big Leagues: It’s hard to see anything the Twins have now at either the major- or minor-league level blocking him.
Timetable: Hicks will begin 2010 at High-A Fort Myers, a difficult park and a difficult league for him to have a statistical breakout in.
Year in Review: He was the best player on the international talent market, but he took his time to sign and surprised many by going to Minnesota for a $3.15 million bonus.
The Good: One scouting official said that he’s never seen a 16-year-old Dominican with Sano’s combination of the ability to hit for average and power. His swing is quick and simple, with plus raw power now and the projection for plenty more down the road. He has good reactions at shortstop, a plus arm, and is at least an average runner.
The Bad: His chances of staying at shortstop lie somewhere between slim and none. Already big for 16, he’s expected to grow out of the position, though his tools should work fine at third base or right field. His process for getting a visa and confirming his birth date were long and drawn out, leaving some still questioning his age, but others claim that the size of the investigation and ultimate approval is even more evidence that his age is legit.
Ephemera: His nickname is “Bocaton,” or “big mouth.”
Perfect World Projection: The ceiling is sky high, but it’s likely he winds up as a middle-of-the-order right fielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: How about we get him at least one professional at-bat first?
Timetable: There is no need to rush Sano, who will likely start 2010 in extended spring training before getting his first taste of games in the Gulf Coast League.
Year in Review: The Twins’ top prospect coming into the year, Revere had a perfectly fine season at High-A, but it was without the growth some expected.
The Good: Revere is an absolute burner who knows how to use his speed at the plate, as he rarely strikes out, bunts well, and turns any ground ball on the left side into a potential single. Despite his size, he puts a surprising charge into the ball, and some scouts think he can develop double-digit power down the road. He’s made slow but steady gains with his plate discipline.
The Bad: Revere needs to improve his defense, as he often needs his speed to make up for slow jumps, while his arm is well below-average. Scouts would like to see him let the bat fly a bit more, as sometimes he seems to over-focus on contact. As fast as he is, he’s yet to develop into a good basestealer, as his jumps from first are a bit slow.
Ephemera: Revere hit .336 when playing center field, but just .257 in 148 at-bats as a corner outfielder or designated hitter.
Perfect World Projection: He projects to be an old school top-of-the-order leadoff hitter.
Path to the Big Leagues: With Hicks coming up behind him and in light of Revere’s weak arm, he could move to left, which will require some more offensive progress.
Timetable:Revere will stay in center for now, and he’ll get his first taste of the upper levels in 2010, beginning at Double-A.
4. Wilson Ramos, C
Drafted/Signed: Valencia, Venezuela, 2004
2009 Stats: .316/.316/.947 at Rookie-level (5 G); .317/.341/.454 at Double-A (54 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 5
Year in Review: A broken finger and hamstring issues led to an injury-plagued 2009, but the Venezuelan catcher played well when healthy, and he really turned it on in Venezuela over the winter.
The Good: Ramos offers above-average skills both at the plate and behind it. He has consistently shown the ability to hit for average with an outstanding contact rate, and there’s raw power in his hitting mechanics as well. He’s agile defensively with a plus arm, and he works well with a pitching stuff.
The Bad: Ramos’ aggressive, contact-focused approach leads to few walks, so he’ll have to keep his batting average up. He’s played more than 100 games in a season just once, so the injury history is a matter of ongoing concern. He runs like a catcher.
Ephemera: After hitting four home runs in 54 games for New Britain, Ramos needed just 10 contests to reach that mark with Aragua in Venezuela.
Perfect World Projection: He’ll be an above-average everyday big-league catcher.
Path to the Big Leagues: If Joe Mauer departs via free agency, Ramos is the catcher of the future in Minnesota. If Mauer signs an extension, Ramos becomes one of the better trade chips in baseball.
Timetable: Ramos suffered a minor knee injury in Venezuela, but he’s played through it by playing primarily as a designated hitter. He’ll begin 2010 in Triple-A.
Year in Review: One of the top college pitchers in the draft, Gibson had a late-season slide, and a pre-draft physical revealed a stress fracture in his forearm, dropping him to the second half of the first round.
The Good: Everything about Gibson’s game is above-average across the board. When healthy, his 91-94 mph fastball plays up due to plus-plus command and the downward plane on the pitch created by his height. Gibson’s slider gives him a second plus offering, and his changeup is at least average with potential to be more than that. His command and velocity are as good in the ninth inning as they are in the first.
The Bad: Gibson’s velocity dipped to the 85-88 range late in the spring, but some feel that his ability to still get hitters out with lesser stuff speaks to his makeup and poise, while there are few long-term concerns for his health. He lacks a true plus-plus offering to project as an impact starter.
Ephemera: Gibson and Arizona’s Max Scherzer should have a nice competition for becoming the winningest pitcher drafted out of the University of Missouri, as Scherzer’s nine wins are currently one behind Dave Otto for the all-time lead.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a solid third starter in the big leagues.
Path to the Big Leagues: If he’s 100 percent this spring, he could rocket through the system.
Timetable: Gibson will begin 2010 at High-A Fort Myers, but he could be in Double-A once things warm up on the East Coast.
6. Angel Morales, OF
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2007, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy
2009 Stats: .266/.329/.455 at Low-A (115 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 4
Year in Review: This toolsy outfielder got off to a slow start at Low-A Beloit, but he was among the Midwest League’s best hitters in the second half, batting .317/.372/.533 after the All-Star break.
The Good: Morales packs considerable tools and athleticism into a compact package. The balls fly off his bat, showing easy plus power potential, and he’s a 60 runner on the 20-80 scale-maybe even a bit faster once he gets going. He hits lefties and righties with equal efficiency, and he plays with a lot of fire.
The Bad: Morales’ play is a bit unbridled. He needs to improve his pitch recognition, especially with breaking balls, which he is prone to chasing. He needs to learn how to utilize his speed better both in the field and as a basestealer.
Ephemera: The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy is for students from 10th to 12th grade and provides a full high school curriculum, including a class on baseball history. All students are also baseball players with the possibility of getting drafted or earning a college scholarship. The school is the brainchild of former Rangers pitcher Edwin Correa.
Perfect World Projection: Morales has the tools to be a 20/20 outfielder who probably profiles better in right than center.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Twins’ system is packed with young, high-ceiling outfielders, so it could get complicated.
Timetable: Morales will move up with Hicks to High-A Fort Myers in 2010.
7. David Bromberg, RHP
Drafted/Signed: 32nd round, 2005, Palisades HS (CA)
2009 Stats: 2.70 ERA (153.1-125-63-148) at High-A (27 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Year in Review: The big, beefy righty made it three-for-three, as he’s now led the Appalachian, Midwest, and Florida State League in strikeouts over the last three years.
The Good: Bromberg is a bit of a mismatch, as he’s a giant righty with a finesse pitcher’s stuff. His fastball does have average velocity, ranging from 88-92 with a bit of boring action, and he uses the pitch to set up two quality offerings in his curveball and changeup, both of which rate as a tick above average. He has an advanced understanding of how to set up hitters, and he has confidence in all of his offerings at any point in the count.
The Bad: Bromberg doesn’t have a single put-away pitch, and despite his success, scouts still wonder is his stuff will play at the upper levels. He’s beefy to the point of being soft, and conditioning is a long-term concern.
Ephemera: No player drafted 975th overall has ever reached the big leagues.
Perfect World Projection: He looks to be a back-end rotation workhorse.
Path to the Big Leagues: Even if starting doesn’t work out, most scouts believe his floor is that of a useful middle reliever.
Timetable: Bromberg is one of those prospects that needs to prove himself at every level. An assignment to Double-A in 2010 will be his biggest test yet.
8. Carlos Gutierrez, RHP
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of Miami
2009 Stats: 1.32 ERA (54.2-37-22-33) at High-A (11 G); 6.19 ERA (52.1-62-24-32) at Double-A (22 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 9
Year in Review: Gutierrez is a ground-ball specialist who was the talk of the Florida State League early in the year, but he collapsed following a promotion to Double-A
The Good: When Joe Mauer caught Gutierrez during a rehab stint at Fort Myers, he called Gutierrez’s sinker among the best he’d ever caught or seen. The pitch sits in the low 90s and has tremendous downward spin, as evidenced by his ridiculous ground-ball rate of nearly 4.5-to-1 with the Miracle. A closer throughout his college career, he pitches aggressively within the strike zone and believes in his stuff enough to consistently challenge hitters and trust his defense.
The Bad: Gutierrez just didn’t work well as a starter. He was clearly gassed late in the season, losing both velocity and movement on his go-to pitch. Both his slider and changeup flash as average offerings (at best), and scouts are nearly unanimous in seeing his future in the bullpen.
Ephemera: The only Florida State League hitter to hit a home run off Gutierrez in 2009 was Yankee masher Jesus Montero.
Perfect World Projection: He won’t be a closer, but he may be the best ground-ball specialist around.
Path to the Big Leagues: With a move back to relieving, he could come quickly.
Timetable: Gutierrez will get a second crack at Double-A in 2010, only this time he’ll start the year fresh.
9. Danny Valencia, 3B
Drafted/Signed: 19th round, 2006, University of Miami
2009 Stats: .284/.373/.482 at Double-A (57 G); .286/.305/.454 at Triple-A (71 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 3
Year in Review: Drafted originally as an organizational player, Valencia did enough at the upper levels to stake his claim on Minnesota’s third-base job in the near future.
The Good: Valencia is a mature product who is nearly big league-ready. He rifles balls into both gaps with his quick swing, and he has enough power to hit 15 home runs annually. He’s a solid defender at the hot corner with a plus arm.
The Bad: Valencia has no standout tools. His power is bit below average for the position, and his approach at the plate can get impatient at times. He’s no more than an average runner. His intensity gets the better of him at times, as he presses and is prone to slumps.
Ephemera: With New Britain, Valencia hit .350/.398/.618 in 123 at-bats out of the clean-up slot, but just .253 with two home runs in 75 at-bats elsewhere in the lineup.
Perfect World Projection: Valencia profiles as a second-division everyday third baseman.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Twins are considering another one-year deal, at a much cheaper price, for incumbent Joe Crede.
Timetable: Valencia will either get a long look this spring in an open competition for the hot corner, or he’ll be sent to begin 2010 back in Triple-A.
10. Joe Benson, OF
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2006, Catholic HS (IL)
2009 Stats: .200/.429/.200 at Rookie-level (2 G); .285/.414/.403 at High-A (80 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not ranked
Year in Review: The athletic outfielder showed great strides when he was healthy.
The Good: On tools alone, Benson ranks with nearly any outfielder in a system rich with them. He has above-average raw power, plus-plus speed, covers more ground in center field than Ben Revere, and his arm also rates as plus. A former football star in high school, he brings that gridiron mentality to every plate appearance while maintaining good plate discipline.
The Bad: The biggest questions about Benson focus on his bat, as there are plenty of holes in his swing and he’s prone to chasing bad pitches against right-handers. Injuries have limited him to just 151 games over the last two seasons, with 2009’s malady being a broken hand suffered when he lost a fight with a dugout wall.
Ephemera: In 2009, Benson’s batting average was 40 points higher at home, but his slugging was 45 points higher in road games.
Perfect World Projection: The tools are certainly there for him to develop into an everyday outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: With so many high-ceiling outfielders behind him, Benson needs to get going, or else risk being passed up.
Timetable: Benson faces a bit of a make-or-break year at Double-A New Britain, with equal chances of a boom or bust campaign.
11. Billy Bullock, RHP
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2009, University of Florida
2009 Stats: 1.23 ERA (7.1-3-1-10) at Rookie-level (7 G); 2.73 ERA (26.1-25-12-35) at Low-A (26 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: Did not qualify
Year in Review: Seen as a minor prospect entering the spring, Bullock exploded in a relief role, and he continued to miss bats in his pro debut.
The Good: Bullock is a classic power righty, with a 91-94 mph fastball that can touch 95 and a true plus slider that generates some silly-looking swings. He even has a changeup from his days as a starter, one that is much more than a show-me pitch. He’s a big, intimidating presence on the mound with an aggressiveness that fits well in the bullpen.
The Bad: Bullock’s mechanics are violent and ugly, leading to inconsistent velocity and control. His stuff is short of closer-worthy, limiting his ceiling a bit.
Ephemera: Midwest League batters facing Bullock with runners on base and two outs went 1-for-24 with 13 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He’ll be a good set-up man.
Path to the Big Leagues: Bullock has little chance of getting much better, but he has the now abilities to move quickly through the system.
Timetable: Bullock will begin the year at High-A, but should get to Double-A in short order.
The Sleeper: Nobody throws more downhill that seven-foot-one Dutch lefty Loek Van Mil, who made a successful return from Tommy John surgery and could reach the big leagues as a middle reliever by the end of the year.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)
1. Delmon Young, LF
2. Aaron Hicks, OF
3. Miguel Jean (Sano), SS
4. Kevin Slowey, RHP
5. Ben Revere, OF
6. Wilson Ramos, C
7. Kyle Gibson, RHP
8. Anthony Swarzak, RHP
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B
10. Jose Mijares, LHP
I know I’m going way out on a limb here, but I believe that the Delmon Young we saw over the final two months of the year will be the Delmon Young we see for all of 2010-a .300 hitter with power, and a future star. Slowey is the ultimate finesse pitcher, and he should reach his ceiling as a third starter. Swarzak has been inconsistent for two years, but he still has the frame and ability to eat up innings. In Casilla’s case, the Game 163 hero has been given plenty of chances at second base with few results; scouts always think he should be better, and so do the Twins, who will give him another shot next year. Mijares is a very good situational lefty, but that’s also where his ceiling ends.
Summary: The Twins have a long history of creating winning teams with a small budget through scouting and player development, and this year’s squad is no different. It’s interesting to note the dichotomous philosophy however, as on the mound, they focus on command and control, while with position players, nearly everything is a high-upside tools bet.
Next up: the New York Yankees.