Minnesota has turned its minor league system around is short order, thanks to strong drafts, outstanding scouting in the international markets and some trades. The organization now has one of the deepest systems in the game, as well as an enviable collection of power arms and exciting athletes.
Buxton, the second overall selection in the 2012 draft, flashed his five-tool potential during his pro debut. An ultra-athletic player, he currently possesses plus speed with gap power but, according to a contact I spoke with, he should add more home runs as he matures as a hitter thanks, in part, to his incredible bat speed.
Defensively, Buxton is a pure center-fielder who glides through the outfield. A prep two-way player, the Georgia native has a plus arm in the outfield. The young hitter still has work to do in polishing his overall game and he needs to get more experience against quality breaking balls. Howeve, it’s easy to see what made him such a coveted commodity as an amateur. He’ll likely move up to low-A ball in 2013 and is probably about three to four years away from the majors.
There may not be a hitter in the minors with more right-handed power than Sano. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, the third baseman has moved steadily through the minor leagues and slugged 28 home runs in low-A ball last year. Sano will have to trim his strikeout rate (26%) if he’s going to hit for average in the majors. He’s a patient hitter whose strong walk rate helps to compensate for the lower batting average.
Sano, 20, originally signed as a shortstop but grew too big for the position and moved over to third base. His strong arm plays well there and he flashes the potential for solid range. A contact I spoke with said Sano is a “pretty good athlete for being such a big guy.” However, he makes a lot of youthful mistakes. He compiled more than 40 errors at the hot corner in 2012, mainly due to bad actions and poor throws. Sano will move up to the Florida State League in 2013 and is probably two to three years away from reaching Minnesota.
For a long time, Hicks was Minnesota’s best hitting prospect in the minor leagues but some of the pressure has been taken off him thanks to the emergence of Miguel Sano and the signing of Byron Buxton. Hicks has been slow to develop but he continues to flash a high upside and 2012 was his best season to date as he started to harness his tools. The 23-year-old switch-hitter showed some power last year while also hitting for a solid average and stealing more than 30 bases. A talent evaluator I spoke to attributed the new-found success to him maturing as a baseball player. “I think he figured out a routine and an approach that worked for him and [that] provided more consistency at the plate.”
Hicks is a gifted defensive center-fielder with above-average range and a strong arm. The Florida native has a chance to develop into a plus-fielding outfielder capable of hitting .270-.280 with 15 home runs and more than 30 steals at the big league level. He’ll move up to triple-A to begin the 2013 season and could reach the majors by the end of the year. With the recent trades of two big league center-fielders in Ben Revere and Denard Span, the door appears wide open for Hicks.
Yet another talented outfielder in the Twins system, Arcia is a different beast than Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks. His game is built around his left-handed power and he slugged more than 60 extra base hits in 2012, split between high-A and double-A. His improvements against breaking balls, ability to hang in against tough southpaws and good bat speeds all help him hit for average too.
Arcia is a solid player in right field with a strong arm and average, or slightly better, range. After a solid showing in the Venezuelan Winter League, the 21-year-old hitter could jump up to triple-A after just 69 games at the double-A level. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 hitter in the big leagues with the ability to hit for average while slugging 20+ home runs. Arcia could be ready for the majors in the second half of the 2013 season.
The Twins’ 2009 first round draft pick, Gibson’s career was halted by Tommy John surgery in late 2011. He returned to the mound in time to appear in 13 games in 2012, and then finished off his year by making another six starts in the Arizona Fall League. The 25-year-old hurler was rusty in his return but showed glimpses of his old self.
Standing 6’6”, Gibson leverages his height well and generates an outstanding downward plane on his pitches, which leads to well-above-average ground-ball rates. His fastball sits in the low-90s and he backs it up with a plus changeup. His slider should be at least an average offering for him. Gibson has a chance to develop into a solid No. 3 starter at the big league level and a good spring could help him break camp with the Twins. A contact I spoke with agreed that the right-hander could help out during the coming year. “He can be a contributor this year, but it’s hard to say to what extent since he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues and he hasn’t pitched much since coming back from surgery.”
Acquired from Washington in the Denard Span deal, Meyer isn’t a prototypical Twins’ pitching prospect. The 6’9” monster has a mid-90s fastball that hits the upper 90s, a wipeout slider and questionable command. His changeup remains a work in progress but flashes average potential. He uses his height to get a downward plane on his fastball, which generates a plethora of ground-ball outs.
Between Meyer and fellow Twins pitching prospect Kyle Gibson, the eventually big league rotation will features some absolute monsters on the mound and the infielders will be tested with a barrage of ground balls. Meyer has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter but he’s still about two years away from establishing himself in the majors. He should return to high-A ball to open 2013 but, if all goes well, should spend a significant amount of the season in double-A.
Rosario is a talented Puerto Rico native who has spent some time bouncing around the field, playing both second base and center field as a pro. He has yet to establish a permanent position because of continued question marks at both stations. Rosario lacks the range, arm and instincts for center field but he doesn’t project to hit for enough power to be a prototypical corner outfielder.
In the infield, he lacks the feet, hands and quickness for the keystone. I asked a contact about Rosario’s best position and he said, “Well, he’s better in center field right now, because he’s only played one season at second base… Since the position is relatively new to him, he needs to improve in all areas, but he shows a strong arm turning the double-play and enough athletic ability to keep improving.”
At the plate, though, Rosario flashes above-average potential as a left-handed hitter with the ability to hit for average and gap power. In his prime, the prospect could hit 10-15 home runs at the big league level. He doesn’t walk a lot but Rosario makes good contact and doesn’t strike out much. He should move up to high-A ball in 2013 where he’ll look to polish his abilities at second base.
One of my favorite arms available in the 2012 amateur draft, Minnesota nabbed him with one of their two supplemental first round selections. The Puerto Rican high schooler took to pro ball extremely quickly and dominated two short-season levels, albeit in a small-sample size. Berrios, who turns 19 in May, allowed just 15 hits and four walks in 30.2 combined innings. He also struck out 49 batters.
The right-handed pitcher has a power-pitcher’s approach with a low-to-mid-90s heater. He also has a potentially-plus changeup and an inconsistent slider that should be average in time. Berrios has a solid pitcher’s frame and good mechanics. Despite his inexperience, the teenager has shown enough present skill to earn an assignment to low-A ball to begin the 2013 season.
Another international signee on the Top 15 list, Polanco had a breakout year in his third pro season — all coming in short-season leagues. Added strength helped him drive the ball more consistently and he now possesses solid gap pop. The switch-hitter makes good contact and has become a little more patient. He’s also learning to use the whole field on a more regular basis. A talent evaluator I spoke with said, “He has very quick hands and a short swing. He competes every at-bat.”
Polanco has the ability to play both middle infield positions but is better suited to second base. He has a solid arm and good actions. His range is a little short for shortstop but he can play it competently because he handles most of what he reaches. Polanco is finally ready for full-season ball and will move up to the Midwest League to begin 2013. At worst, his versatility, solid offensive approach and good make-up should help him develop into a big league utility player.
Signed out of Europe as a 16-year-old, Minnesota has been very patient and cautious with Kepler. He recently turned 20 and is now ready for a full-season assignment in 2013. He has grown into a 6’4” 200 lbs slugger with outstanding left-handed raw power. Kepler also makes solid contact given his offensive profile and struck out just 33 times in 59 games during the 2012 season.
In the field, the native of Germany has experience at all three outfield positions but his fringe-average arm will likely limit him to left field. His range is solid and his routes to the ball are decent. He’s also seen a little time at first base, which could be his eventual home depending on the club’s needs in about four years.
The Twins organization features a lot of talented prospects in the low levels of the minors and Harrison is yet another potential key piece of the future. The infielder was a supplemental first round pick out of a California high school in 2011. He signed too late to play in his draft year but he had a solid debut in 2012.
He showed both the ability to hit for average and power in rookie ball but has some adjustments to make. He needs to learn to use the whole field a little more while also improving against soft stuff. Harrison has a lot of work to do at the hot corner after making 24 errors in 59 games. He has solid arm strength but needs to improve the accuracy of his throws. Improved foot work could help. His range is average. Harrison should be ready for a low-A ball assignment in 2013.
A former top pitching prospect in the Phillies system, May took a step back in 2012 and was then included in the Ben Revere trade this past off-season. The right-hander still struck out 151 batters in 149.2 innings of work in double-A but he also issued 78 free passes and his lack of command and control needs a significant amount of improvement if he’s going to realize his ceiling as a No. 3, innings-eating starter.
May has a solid repertoire with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a potentially-plus curveball. He also has a slider and a changeup, both of which feature average potential. If he cannot improve his command and control then May could focus on his dominating one-two punch as a high-leverage reliever. He should move up to triple-A in 2013 and, if he shows improvements, could help out in Minnesota’s starting rotation in the second half of the season.
A supplemental first round pick last year, the organization has some decisions to make with Bard, the brother of the Red Sox Daniel Bard. The younger Bard spent time as both a reliever and a starter at Georgia Tech and has tantalizing potential in the latter role. However, his stuff plays up a bit in the ‘pen, he’s already 22 years old, and he’s had durability issues — including an injury that resurfaced during the fall after originally cropping up during the college season.
Bard has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, as well as a potentially-plus slider. His changeup could be an average offering with time, although he likely would not need it as a reliever. The right-hander struggles with both his command and control and needs to become more consistent with his delivery. If healthy, he should open 2013 in low-A ball. Bard could move quickly out of the bullpen and has the ceiling of a high-leverage reliever, or No. 3 starter.
Signed way back in 2007, Santana has been slow to develop but he was another Twins prospect that took a significant step forward in his development in 2012. He has above-average speed — but is still a raw base runner — and his swiftness plays better in the field. His strong arm is well suited to shortstop and he became more consistent at the position last year. He also has experience at second base and in the outfield.
The switch-hitter is too aggressive for his own good, walking just 29 times in 121 high-A ball games in ’12, and it hinders his overall offensive potential. He needs to wait for better pitches to drive. He’ll never be a home run hitter but Santana flashes gap strength. He should reach double-A for the first time in his career and will look to prove that he has a future as a big league regular.
Herrmann has been one of my favorite under-the-radar Twins prospects for a few years now and he’s finally receiving some much-deserved attention. There is talk that the versatile prospect could even break camp with the Twins in 2013, thanks to his ability to play catcher, third base and both corner outfield positions. His competent enough behind the plate to eventually become a starter back there — or at least a solid platoon option. He threw out more than 40% of base stealers at double-A.
Herrmann, a left-handed hitter, has good gap power, takes his fair share of walks and does a nice job of hitting for average because he holds his own against both right- and left-handed pitching. He also doesn’t try to do too much and understands his strengths and limitations as a hitter. If he doesn’t stick with the big league club as a versatile back-up, he’ll be the starting catcher in triple-A.