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Minnesota Twins: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Bill Smith
Farm Director: Jim Rantz
Scouting Director: Deron Johnson

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included)

Aaron Hicks has the potential to be a massive star, if he can round his game into form. There are some other interesting bats in the upper levels of the Top 10 list, but they’re all raw in many facets of their games. There is some solid pitching in the latter half of the list, but their ceilings are limited. Minnesota drafted a number of power arms in ’09, which could help infuse some helium into the pitching side of the system. If all goes well in 2010, this organization could see a real rise in value from its prospects.

1. Aaron Hicks, OF, Low-A
DOB: October 1989 Bats: B Throws: R
Signed: 2008 1st round – California HS
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Even after an outstanding debut in ’08, the organization was patient with Hicks, who began the ’09 season in extended spring training before moving up to low-A at mid-season. The outfielder hit a respectable .251/.353/.382 in 251 at-bats. With his speed, he should see an increase in his BABIP (.307) in 2010, which will help his overall numbers. He showed a willingness to take a free pass in his first season and that continued last year with a walk rate of 13.7%. Hicks’ strikeout rate was rather high at 21.9%, especially for someone who posted an ISO rate of just .131, but he has raw power. The outfielder did not run as much in ’09 and Hicks showed inexperience on the base paths by getting gunned down eight times in 18 attempts. He is a gifted fielder with a canon for an arm, that can hit the mid-to-high 90s on the mound (He was an amateur pitcher, as well as a hitter).

2. Wilson Ramos, C, Double-A
DOB: August 1987 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2004 non-drafted international free agent (Venezuela)
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2

With reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer behind the dish, the last thing the Twins organization needs is a top prospect at the catching position. But the club certainly won’t complain, as Mauer could eventually move off the position to save his knees, or Ramos could end up being a valuable trade commodity. Either way, the Venezuela native isn’t far from being MLB-ready after hitting .317/.341/.454 in ’09 at double-A. Ramos has always hit for a solid average, but he’s also consistently produced healthy BABIPs, although many catchers suffer from chronically-low numbers in that area (due to a lack of foot speed). A catcher with raw power, he has nonetheless failed to post an ISO above .149 in his four-year career. Ramos also posted a walk rate of just 2.8% in ’09, so that obviously has to improve and he typically walks about 7.0%. His strikeout rate plummeted from 22.8% in ’08 to 11.2% in ’09, but injuries took a chunk out of his season and he had just 214 plate appearances. We’ll have to wait for 2010 to see if that was a true adjustment, or a small-sample-size blip. Behind the dish, Ramos has thrown out +40% in each of the past three seasons.

3. Danny Valencia, 3B, Triple-A
DOB: September 1984 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 19th round – University of Miami
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3

It’s not often that you see a low-drafted college player end up on a team’s Top 10 list, but Valencia has shown a lot of improvements since turning pro. His .285 average in ’09 was a career low (split between double-A and triple-A), so the third baseman can certainly swing the bat. He hit .284/.373/.482 in 218 double-A at-bats, before moving up to triple-A, where he hit .286/.305/.454 in 269 at-bats. Valencia’s numbers took a hit after the promotion – especially his on-base percentage – because his walk rate plummeted from 12.4 to 2.9%. If we’re looking for a positive, though, his strikeout rate also dropped – from 18.3 to 13.8%. Valencia has shown some power in the minors, but he’s never broken the magic .200 ISO mark, which suggests he’ll probably top out in the 15-20 homer range in the Majors.

4. Angel Morales, OF, Low-A
DOB: November 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 3rd round – Puerto Rico HS
MLB ETA: Late-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

When he was drafted, Morales was about as raw as they come. But he also has some of the best power potential of any hitter in the minors; he just needs to make more contact. The Puerto Rican outfielder posted an otherworldly .322 ISO at rookie ball in ’08 and he followed that up with a rate of .189 at low-A in ’09. Despite the drop in power, Morales showed some improvements with his bat control, as his strikeout rate dropped from 39.3 to 27.7%. Overall, he hit .266/.329/.455 in 376 at-bats with 19 steals in 25 tries. He could eventually turn into a 20-20 (or even 30-30) player, once he sharpens his base running. Defensively, he has a strong arm and has played both center and right field in the minors. Considering that Morales is just scratching the surface of his potential and he posted a .361 wOBA in ’09 at the age of 19, it’s not hard to be excited about his future.

5. Ben Revere, OF, High-A
DOB: May 1988 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2007 1st round – Kentucky HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Revere has a fun skill set, and he’s certainly not your typical No. 1 draft pick. The outfielder is just 5’9” and he possesses little-to-no power (.058 ISO in ’09), which is a bit of an issue considering that it’s dropped with each promotion in the minors. There is some concern that Revere could have the bat knocked out of his hands at the MLB level. What he does do well, though, is hit for average (.311 is his career low) and steal bases (89 bases in the past two seasons, caught 30 times). Revere does a nice job of playing “small ball,” as he posted a BB/K rate of 1.18 in high-A ball this past season. He certainly does not have to worry about being platooned, with a career line against southpaws of .365/.425/.430. The speedy outfielder has a good defensive reputation in center, although his weak arm could eventually require a move to left field.

6. Joe Benson, OF, High-A
DOB: March 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 2nd round – Illinois HS
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

The first six prospects on the Top 10 list are all hitters, and Benson makes it four outfielders in the Top 6 picks, so it’s obvious where the organization’s strengths lie. The former prep football player has taken some time to develop his skills on the diamond, but the organization’s patience is starting to pay off. Benson spent the season in high-A ball where he hit .285/.414/.403 as a 21 year old. Injuries limited the outfielder to just 327 plate appearances. In the past, Benson has struggled to get his average above .260 so we must be cautious in our optimism considering that his ’09 BABIP was rather high at .380. The right-handed hitter showed improvements in his walk rate, which rose from 8.6 to 14.9%. His strikeout rate remained high, though, at 28.1% and it was not justifiable by the .118 ISO rate. Durability is also a concern with Benson, who has appeared in just 149 games over the past two minor league seasons.

7. Jeff Manship, RHP, Majors
DOB: January 1985 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 14th round – Notre Dame
MLB ETA: Now 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-92 mph fastball, plus curveball, slider, change-up

Manship made his MLB debut in ’09 and proved to be a valuable arm for the club, as he made five starts and six relief appearances. Overall, he allowed a few too many hits with 39 in 31.2 innings, and he struggled with his control by posting an unusually-high walk rate of 4.26 BB/9. Manship began the season by making 13 starts in double-A before moving up to triple-A, where he started another eight games. With a four-pitch mix and a plus breaking ball, Manship has the potential to be a No. 4 starter for the Twins, but he’ll have to improve his high-80s fastball (-1.87 runs above average per 100). He also needs to throw a few more first-pitch strikes, as his rate of 52.7% was 6% below the league average.

8. David Bromberg, RHP, High-A
DOB: September 1987 Bats: L Throws: R
Signed: 2005 32nd round – Santa Ana College
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-92 FB, CB, CH

Despite some inconsistent command of his pitches, Bromberg does a number of things well. He misses his fair share of bats (8.69 K/9 rate in high-A), he keeps the ball in the yard (0.35 HR/9) and he has never posted a FIP above 3.56. This past season, he also allowed just 125 hits in 153.1 innings. The right-hander limited left-handed batters to a .210 batting average and posted a strikeout rate of 9.36 against them. At 6’5”, 230 lbs, Bromberg has the chance to be a durable No. 3 or 4 starter for the Twins.

9. Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Double-A
DOB: September 1986 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 1st round – University of Miami
MLB ETA: Late-2010 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, slider, change-up

Gutierrez’ future role – starter or reliever – is still up in the air. The right-hander is a ground-ball machine and he posted a worm-burning rate of 62.7% in ’09. If he can miss a few more bats and increase his strikeout rate from 5.08 K/9, then Gutierrez could certainly be something special. It was a tale of two seasons for the right-hander in ’09, as he posted a 3.55 FIP and 0.16 HR/9 rate in high-A, before moving up to double-A where his FIP was 5.02 and his home-run rate jumped to 1.03 HR/9. The main culprit for the FIP increase was Gutierrez’ BABIP, which went from an incredibly-low .229 to .326. Struggles with his command led to the increase in homers. Commanding his sinking fastball in 2010 will be key, as Gutierrez has yet to improve his secondary pitches to the point where they can miss bats on a regular basis (The slider has the most promise).

10. Tyler Robertson, LHP, High-A
DOB: December 1987 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2006 3rd round – California HS
MLB ETA: Late-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-93 mph fastball, plus slider, change-up

Robertson sneaks on to the back-end of the Top 10 list thanks to his youthfulness (22), his handedness (southpaw) and his ground-ball tendencies (career 52.6%). The young left-hander needs to miss a few more bats, though, to truly take his game to the next level; he posted a strikeout rate of just 6.47 K/9 in high-A. He does a nice job of keeping the ball in the park and posted a home-run rate of 0.44 HR/9. Interestingly, his BABIP has decreased each season since his debut year of ’06, and it reached a low of .305 in ’09. Robertson has had some pretty extreme splits over the past two seasons. This past season, left-handed batters hit .200 with a strikeout rate of 7.33, compared to right-handers with a .300 average and 5.61 K/9 rate.

A special thanks to Aaron Gleeman of Circling The Bases for his insight.

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