Monday, May 13, 2013

Minnesota Twins Minor League Update - Hitters

We're a little more than a month into the minor league season and already there's been a ton of action. The 'stars' of the system have outperformed everybody's expectations and are attracting national attention. There have also been plenty of breakout performances but very few disappointing ones. The Twins organization is so stacked with young talent I'm going to have to break this into two posts. The first will be a look at the hitters that are garnering buzz.

The headliners of the system are Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and both have far exceeded even the most optimistic projections.

Buxton's full season debut in A-ball has shown he not only has all the physical tools, but the baseball skills to translate his tools into production. In 148 plate appearances, he's hit .339/.452/.585 with 5 home runs and 13 steals. It's hard to pick one part of his game that's been the most encouraging, because he's done everything well. He's making good contact, showing real power and impressive patience. Buxton's hot start has prospect experts wondering if he'll be the #1 prospect in all of baseball next year. The Twins would have been comfortable with keeping Byron in Cedar Rapids all season, but he could force himself onto the Hi-A Fort Myers roster by July.

Miguel Sano has put up the most impressive stat line in all of minor league ball, sitting at .377/.462/.713 with 9 doubles, 1 triple and 10 home runs. The most impressive part, however, is that he's done all this in the Florida State League where the spacious parks and heavy humidity depress hitting much more than in any other league. For reference, the league leader in home runs last season hit 24 balls out of the park -- Sano could could do that by the end of July. Of some concern are his 37 strikeouts (25.8% of his plate appearances). However, we always knew that he'd have some swing-and-miss in his game that would limit his potential to hit for a high batting average. On the positive side, scouts and analysts have been encouraged by his defense at third base; I'd be surprised if he moved off the position before he gets a shot in the major leagues. Predicting when and if Sano will be promoted is tricky, his bat warrants the 2012 Oswaldo Arcia track from and go to AA New Britain by the end of May, but a lot of this will depend on his defense which we can't track in a box score.

The next tier of Twins' prospects is essentially Eddie Rosario and nobody else. Rosario, a second baseman, has hit at each stop up the developmental ladder and hasn't stopped in Hi-A Fort Myers posting a .351/.381/.545 line in 147 plate appearances. Like Sano, the questions about Rosario revolve around his glove and whether or not he can stay in the infield. He's raised his fielding percentage from .957 last year to .983 this season, although I admit that the metric doesn't tell much of a story. There aren't any signs that Rosario will stop hitting and this time next year he could be in the same position as Oswaldo Arcia is today, if his defense can continue to progress.

Buxton, Sano and Rosario are the pure prospects that the internet absolutely loves: young and toolsy. But the Twins have plenty other young guns who are making a name for themselves in 2013.

Chris Colabello is one of those players, but he's not especially young at 29 years old. However, he's probably the most interesting story in the organization. Colabello spent 7 years playing independent ball before signing on with the Twins before 2012. Although he's from Massachusetts he played for team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He hit .284/.358/.478 with 19 home runs in AA that season and has continued to rake in 2013 at AAA to the tune of .319/.374/.565 along with 8 homers in 155 plate appearances. With Morneau entrenched at first base and Mauer and Parmelee spending some time at the position, there isn't much room for Colabello at the major league level. An injury could open up a spot for him but needless to say he's a guy I'll be rooting for to have success.

Josmil Pinto has been in the Twins organization for 8 seasons (although he's still just 24) and is finally breaking out in AA New Britain. The catcher is hitting .333/.410/.558 with a team leading 7 home runs. By all accounts Pinto is a decent receiver with an above average arm. Good hitting catchers are rare, so Pinto will get an opportunity at the big league level by the end of 2014.

Adam Brett Walker II could be my favorite player in the Twins system and he's been fantastic so far in 2013. I remember watching him play for Jacksonville University in the NCAA tournament in 2011 where he first caught my attention, since then I've written about him in a draft review and a minor league season preview. I guess you could say he's 'my guy' in the Twins organization. As of now, I feel really good about including him in those posts as he's hit .321/.369/.664 with 23 extra base hits and 40 RBI (I don't like RBI as a stat, but this is impressive) in 141 plate appearances. His numbers are out of this world, as his power tool. I'd be surprised if we don't see him in Fort Myers by the end of the season where the college product will be tested by better pitching.

Niko Goodrum is an interesting case. The numbers so far from the big shortstop aren't all that impressive, but the scouting reports are. Especially those coming from Baseball Prospectus' prospect guru Jason Parks. He notes that Goodrum is a toolshed with a great arm and potential to hit with power.  I'm starting to wonder whether he'll ever reach that potential, but people more informed than me (i.e. Parks) believe in him.

The last guy I would to comment on is Travis Harrison. Harrison was the 50th overall pick in 2011 out of a California high school with the promise of being a very good hitter. He's shown impressive power hitting .271/.333/.508 with 13 doubles and 5 homers. This line doesn't really stick out compared with the obscene stats put up by the aforementioned prospects, however, it's good to see a young player with a potentially big league bat produce in his first taste of full-season ball. He'll spend all year in Cedar Rapids and we should have a good idea of what he is by the end of the season.

I've neglected to mention plenty of other worthy prospects like Kennys Vargas, DJ Hicks and Danny Santana, but these are the most interesting hitters in the Twins' system by my estimation.

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