The Twins in 2011 played so poorly, they have the opportunity to select one of the top amateur players on Monday. For a team that had a deep farm system, young players on the rise and two of the top hitters in the AL, they fell and fell fast. Next week can be a time for GM Terry Ryan and Scouting Director Deron Johnson to get pieces to put the Twins back at the top. I have three players who I think are candidates for the Twins who pick at number two in the Rule IV draft.
Mark Appel: Standing at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Appel has the body scouts drool over. At 215 he has room to gain weight also. His fastball is typically in the mid 90s and can get up to 99. His offspeed is not as developed as some would like but with maturity and the need for it in pro ball I think it can come along just fine. He has had a solid career at Stanford and pitched in the Pac 12 which is no easy feat. I think a good comparison is Gerritt Cole. I have never been a big fan of Cole because he was never a dominating college pitcher, like Strasburg. I have said before that Appel is like Cole 2.0 so we’ll have to see how that shakes out. Similar stuff and both have shown improvements. Seeing video of him, I like his mechanics and his arm moves very free and easy with the ball exploding out of his hand. I’ve read he has a very good work ethic but at times can be too soft and not have a killer attitude out on the mound.
Byron Buxton: Baseball America said Buxton has drawn comparisons to Matt Kemp, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton. That is a very high ceiling. In watching scouting videos, it’s hard to tell much about his defense in center but scouts say he can cover lots of ground. His arm is well above average. I read he struck out 18 batters in a high school game while topping at 97 mph. Perfect Game has his 60 at 6.57 which is also well above the Major League average of 6.9. The bat is what get scouts giddy. He starts with an open stance and has very calm mechanics. His hands get to the ball well and the ball comes off scorching. Some don’t see the power in the swing and he has only hit two home runs this spring. In a showcase at Wrigley Field though, he finished second in the home run derby and his swing had lots of loft which could produce 15-20 dingers in the future.
Mike Zunino: In 1993, the Twins missed out on one of the best catchers my generation grew up watching in Jason Varitek. This year they have a shot at a Zunino who has been compared to Varitek. His tools project above average as far as power and hitting goes. He could be a .280 guy with 20+ homer power. He combines that with good catching skills. His receiving and blocking are more advanced than his throwing with some of his throws tailing to the second base side of second. Recent college catchers with this much hype include Buster Posey and Matt Wieters and I think Zunino could be just as good as Posey and just a few ticks below Wieters.
What should the Twins do?
Obviously the Twins starting pitching is a joke. Pavano and Liriano remain the only starters from opening day in the rotation with Blackburn on the DL. Many see the Twins needing a college arm because of the lack of depth in the starting pitching. After last years large depth in arms (Cole, Hultzen, Bauer, Jungmann and Bradley were all first round college arms in the top 15 picks) this year lacks in a college pitcher who could turn into a for sure ace or number two.
I believe the Twins are best off with Zunino. A catcher who has the skills he possesses only comes around every now and again. He is a leader on the field and already is calling his own games with a pitching staff who will all go pro within the next two years. With this maturity behind the dish, he can blow through the Twins system very quickly and help make the last six years of a $184 million deal with Mauer look better than the first year and a half. Mauer hit 28 home runs in 2009 and he said his hands felt very fresh after not catching the first month of the season. I think with Zunino, Mauer can move to first full-time (and I’m assuming Morneau is no longer in a Twins uniform) and become an even better hitter than he already is and his body will not be beat up by the end of the contract (when he will be 35).
Buxton is my second favorite for the Twins. I think he can bring excitement to Target Field the way Matt Kemp brings energy to Dodger Stadium and that will rejuvenate a fan base eager for a winning baseball team.