1. Aaron Hicks, CF
Acquired: 2008 1st Round (Southern California HS)
2010 Level: Low A
Opening Day Age: 21.6
Notes: Prospect aficionados have a tendency to get a little antsy with highly-touted prospects. When a player doesn’t immediately light the world on fire he can be unfairly criticized, and, to some extent, I think Hicks has been subjected to this. When he was drafted, he was billed as a 5-tool player with solid power and speed highlighting his game, but the returns in those two areas have been just fair so far. In just over 1,000 career plate appearances, Hicks has only hit 16 home runs and has stolen only 42 bases. Those modest returns on top of the Twins’ decision to have him repeat the Midwest league in 2010 have some jumping off the bandwagon, but a look past those counting stats reveals a lot for Twins fans to be excited about.
Hicks has always been a patient hitter, but he took his approach to the next level in 2010, increasing his BB% from 13.5 in 2009 to an impressive 17%. Additionally, he improved his ISO from .131 to .149 while boosting his average from .251 to .279. Those numbers do not scream ‘elite prospect’, but it’s important to keep in mind that the Midwest league is a pitcher-friendly league. In the outfield, Hicks is a plus defender. His above average speed allows him to cover a lot of ground, and his arm rates with any center fielder in the minors. If Hicks starts to tap into his raw power, he could be an absolute monster. Even if he never reaches his offensive potential, he could still turn in a lot of 3+ win seasons on the strength of his on-base skills and above-average defense.
2. Kyle Gibson, RHP
Acquired: 2009 1st Round (Missouri)
2010 Level: Hi A, AA, AAA
Opening Day Age: 23.5
Notes: Just weeks before the 2009 draft, Gibson looked like a lock to go in the top 10, but suddenly his velocity dropped into the mid 80s. He was eventually diagnosed with a forearm injury, and he fell to the Twins with the 22nd pick. Healthy in 2010, Gibson had an impressive season. Over 16 starts in AA he had a 3.08 FIP, and he finished the season in AAA. In many ways, Gibson is a prototypical Twins pitcher. He doesn’t have power stuff, but he succeeds by pounding the strike zone. Gibson had a BB/9 of only 2.3 last year and an equally impressive 58% ground-ball rate. The biggest concern in Gibson’s game is his lack of strikeouts. He posted only a 7.5 K/9 in 2010, and he doesn’t ever figure to be a big strikeout pitcher. Strikeouts certainly aren’t everything, but they are important. With his struggles to miss bats on a consistent basis, Gibson strikes me as a more of a solid starter than a front-of-the-rotation arm some are billing him as.
3. Miguel Sano, 3B
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent 2009 (Dominican Republic)
2010 Level: RC (Gulf Coast League)
Opening Day Age: 17.11
Notes: Widely considered the top available international free agent in 2009, Sano’s signing was delayed by a prolonged investigation that eventually verified his identity but left his age ‘undetermined’. Sano eventually signed for $3.15 million, and was granted a work visa. First assigned to the Dominican Summer League, Sano quickly proved to be a man amongst boys, forcing a promotion to the States after a mere 64 at-bats. In the Gulf Coast League, Sano continued to hit, putting up a 291/338/473 line in 161 plate appearances. At the plate, Sano’s ceiling is immense. While he struck out in almost 30 percent of his at-bats in the GCL, few are concerned that strikeouts will be a persistent problem for him, and he should hit for both average and power down the road. Although he was signed as a short stop, it is all but certain that Sano will have to move to a less-demanding position, perhaps as soon as 2011. The best-case scenario is that he ends up at third, but depending on how his body develops, he might have to move to right.
4. Alex Wimmers, RHP
Acquired: Drafted 1st Round 2010 (Ohio State)
2010 Level: Hi A
Opening Day Age: 20.6
Notes: The 21st overall pick in this year’s draft, Wimmers is another classic ‘Twins’ arm. He doesn’t have top-flight stuff, but he profiles as a solid 3rd starter because of his legitimate three-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but the pitch plays up because his changeup is a legitimate plus pitch that keeps hitters honest. Wimmers also features a curve that figures to be an average offering. After signing, the Twins sent him to the Florida State League, where he threw well, albeit in only 15 innings. The Twins tend to be conservative in player development, so Wimmers will likely begin the year back in Hi A. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him spend much of the year in AA.
5. Ben Revere, CF
Acquired: Drafted 1st Round 2007 (Kentucky HS)
2010 Level: AA
Opening Day Age: 22.11
Notes: Revere was considered by many to be an over-draft when the Twins took him in the first round of the 2007 draft, but the speedy left-handed hitter holds a career .328 average in the minors and hit .305 last year. With a compact swing, quick hands, and an all-fields approach, Revere should continue to hit for solid average. The problem is that Revere doesn’t offer much besides average. In over 1,500 minor league plate appearances, Revere only has 4 home runs, and his ISO has been .058 in each of the past two seasons. He could also stand to draw more walks, especially considering be profiles as a table-setting type hitter. His BB% has never reached 8% at any level, but the fact that he has improved from 7.2 to 7.7 to 7.9 percent over the past three seasons provides some reason for optimism. In the field, Revere’s plus speed allows him to cover a lot of ground, but his arm is extremely weak, grading even worse than guys like Brett Gardner and Juan Pierre to whom he is often compared. The lack of arm strength likely makes Revere a below-average defender in center, and may ultimately push him to left. Despite all the things Revere can’t do, average and speed are always in demand. I don’t anticipate that he’ll have the impact of Brett Gardner did last season, but a typical line of 300/360/358 with maybe a -6 UZR in center seems like a reasonable projection.
6. Adrian Salcedo, RHP
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent 2007 (Dominican Republic)
2010 Level: RC (Appalachian League)/Hi A
Opening Day Age: 19.11
Notes: Salcedo burst on the prospect-scene in 2009 by posting a ridiculous 19.2 K/BB ratio in over 61.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League. The Twins typically promote level-by-level, but when a hole opened in the Ft. Myers rotation (Hi A), they decided to send Salcedo there. In six starts, Salcedo was hit hard, but he rebounded nicely when he was sent back to the Appalachian league in June. In 66 innings with Elizabethton, Salcedo had a solid K/9 of 8.86 and a very good BB/9 of 1.36. Salcedo also generates ground-balls at a 56% rate with a solid, low-90s fastball. The ability to miss bats, limit walks, and keep the ball on the ground is a great recipe for success, and at 6’4″ 175, there is still projection remaining in Salcedo’s frame. Depending upon the progress he makes with his secondary stuff, Salcedo could become a solid 2/3 starter. He’s on track to begin the 2011 in the Midwest league, and in a pitching-friendly league, he could put up big numbers.
7. Liam Hendriks, RHP
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent 2007 (Australia)
2010 Level: Low A/Hi A
Opening Day Age: 22.2
Notes: The Twins have been baseball’s most active franchise in signing players from Australia, but their efforts have failed to produce any major-league contributors thus far. That may change with Hendricks. The 6’1″ right-hander missed all of 2008 with a back injury; but fully healthy in 2010, Hendricks had a breakout year, holding his ERA below 2.00 in both low and Hi A. Like many Twin arms, Hendricks pounds the strike zone. He walked only 12 hitters in 108.2 innings, good for a 1.0 BB/9. Although Hendricks won’t rack up big strikeout totals at higher levels, the ability to locate and keep hitters off-balance by throwing his curve, slider and change for strikes allowed him to post a 8.7 K/9 across two levels. Anytime you have an 8.7 K/BB ratio, you’re going to have great numbers, but Hendricks was also the beneficiary of some good luck. Although he had a solid GB% of 52 percent, he gave up only 2 home runs all year, resulting in a HR/FB% of less than 2 percent! Even with a regression in his home run rate, Hendricks still profiles as a mid-rotation arm that pounds the strike zone.
8. Oswaldo Arcia, OF
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent 2007 (Venezuela)
2010 Level: RC (Appalachian League)
Opening Day Age: 19.11
Notes: After a solid US-debut in 2009, Arcia put together one of, if not the best offensive seasons of 2010. In 297 plate appearances, the left-handed hitter slugged 14 home runs and put up a 373/423/667 line. Despite those numbers, Arcia is not yet an elite prospect. His 2010 line was fueled by a 463 BABIP, and he struck out in 26.3 percent of his at-bats. Just as discouraging, even though pitchers pitched him more carefully throughout the year, he only managed a 6.8 BB%. The number of strikeouts and lack of patience are serious concerns heading forward, as more advanced pitchers feast on impatient hitters. Additionally, Arcia struggles against lefties. While he still managed an 862 OPS against them last year, that is almost 400 points below his OPS against righties. Arcia will need to hit, because although he played center in 2010, his ultimate defensive home will likely be left field. He certainly has the tools to become a middle-of-the-order type bat, but he is a long ways from realizing that potential.
9. Max Kepler-Rozycki, OF
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent 2009 (Germany)
2010 Level: RC (Gulf Coast League)
Opening Day Age: 18.2
Notes: Bryce Harper got a lot of attention for handling junior college pitching during what should have been his junior year of high school. Meanwhile, Kepler-Rozycki was handling professional pitching during his junior year. In addition to heavily scouting Australia, the Twins also have the biggest presence of any team in Europe, so it was no surprise when they landed Kepler-Rozycki for $800,000, the largest bonus ever given to a European. The early returns on that investment have been solid. In 153 plate appearances in the GCL, Kepler-Rozycki held his own, hitting 286/346/343 against the more experienced competition. He also showed an ability to control the strike zone, putting up a BB% of 8.5 and a K% of only 19.3. Currently a center fielder, Kepler-Rozycki may eventually have to move to right as he fills out his 6-foot-4, 180 pound frame. The son of two members of the German ballet, Kepler-Rozycki comes from one of the more unusual backgrounds of any prospect.
10. Joe Benson, CF
Acquired: Drafted 2nd Round 2006 (Illinois HS)
2010 Level: Hi A/AA
Opening Day Age: 23.1
Notes: On tools alone, Benson rates with anyone in the system. He was committed to play running back for Purdue before he signed with the Twins, and as his football background suggests, Benson features both power and speed. But up until last season, Benson had struggled to translate his significant raw power to game situations. He began to do so in 2010, slugging 27 home runs across two levels to lead all Twin farmhands, but he still has a ways to go in polishing the rest of his game. He struggles to make consistent contact, striking out in over 30% of his at-bats in AA. He’ll only be 23 on opening day, so there is still time for Benson to improve his pitch-recognition skills, but I’m not particularly optimistic about that prospect. He already has 1,864 minor league plate appearances, and while he has made the necessary improvements to handle each successive level, he hasn’t yet had the breakthrough many Twin fans have been hoping for. With so much minor league experience already, the prospect for that breakthrough has diminished significantly. Even if Benson fails to cut down on his strikeouts, he still figures to have a career in the big leagues. He is a solid defender in center and a strong arm allows him to play anywhere in the outfield. Plus, he would offer some right-handed pop in a platoon or bench type role.