10 Minnesota Twins Prospects to Watch in 2012

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIIJanuary 12, 2012

10 Minnesota Twins Prospects to Watch in 2012

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    The Minnesota Twins have prided themselves on building a farm system that is loaded with prospects with loads of potential. When Bill Smith took over for Terry Ryan several years ago, the Twins had one of the best farm systems in all of baseball.

    Unfortunately, the Bill Smith era did happen in Minnesota. The result was several quality prospects such as Wilson Ramos being given up for players who could not become major league contributors.

    With Terry Ryan returning to the Twins as interim GM, the Twins system is going to get stronger once again. There have already been several steps in that direction. The Twins will have a slew of picks in the top 100 due to the departures of Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.

    However, those picks won't help the Twins farm system in 2012. At the major league level, the Twins need to reinvent themselves from the team that dominated most of the 2000s. That's going to open the door for many Twins prospects that have not gotten an opportunity to showcase their skills so far.

    Some of these prospects will not make it to Minnesota by the end of the season, but they are definitely worth keeping an eye on as 2012 progresses.

Kyle Gibson

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    The Twins' season was a disappointment in many ways, but perhaps one of the biggest reasons was that Kyle Gibson struggled at Triple-A Rochester as the season progressed.

    Gibson went 0-1 with a 3.15 ERA in April, but his stats got progressively worse to the point where the club was shutting him down for long stretches of time. In July, Gibson made two starts and only lasted nine innings en route to an ERA of 11.

    The Twins shut Gibson down for the rest of the season and later found out that Gibson had torn his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) which meant Tommy John surgery.

    Tommy John surgery has become more common, and the expectation is that Gibson will bounce back after sitting out in 2012. However, any setback could be costly to the best pitching prospect in the organization since Matt Garza.

Miguel Sano

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    It wasn't all doom and gloom during the Bill Smith era. One of the positive things to come out of it was that the Twins decided to spend more money trying to attract international talent. Yes, that led to the signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but it also led to the signing of a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic named Miguel Sano.

    Sano, who will turn 19 in May, is considered to be the best hitting prospect in the Twins organization. In 2010, Sano hit .307 with seven home runs and 29 runs batted in between two rookie-level clubs. However, Sano turned it on in 2011 hitting .292 with 20 HRs and 59 RBI in just 66 games for the Elizabethton Twins.

    The only questions scouts have had about Sano is his ability in the field. Sano projects to be a third baseman or outfielder in the majors. With the glut of outfielders the Twins have in the minors, it would probably benefit them more if Sano did become a legit third baseman.

    For that to happen, Sano will have to cut down on the 26 errors he committed between shortstop and third base last season. If Sano can figure things out defensively, he will be on a fast track to the majors. Just don't expect to see him in 2012 as he is still a project in the making.

Deolis Guerra

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    All is not lost from the Johan Santana trade. Sure, Phil Humber didn't find his stride until getting the opportunity to start in the rival Chicago White Sox organization. Yeah, the trades for J.J. Hardy and Jon Rauch didn't work so well either. However, there is still one piece in the Twins system and he's only 22 years old.

    Deolis Guerra was considered to be the key prospect in the Santana deal. Yes, Humber and Kevin Mulvey were the two pieces that had major league experience and Carlos Gomez was the straw that stirred the drink, but Guerra was supposed to be the diamond in the rough.

    At the time of the trade, Guerra was said to be a phenom in the making as he had just made the Futures Game and the Double-A level in the New York Mets system. Alas, it seemed like every prospect in the Mets system was being rushed to the majors at that time (Carlos Gomez and Lastings Milledge ring a bell?).

    The Twins realized this and had Guerra working in A-ball for a while as a starter. As time went on, Guerra struggled as a starter. Yet, the Twins still sent him to Triple-A Rochester where he got wailed on (0-3, 6.84 ERA in five starts with the Red Wings in 2010).

    After several more bad starts at Double-A New Britain in 2011, the Twins tried moving Guerra to the bullpen. The result was a completely different pitcher who saw his strikeout numbers and effectiveness go up.

    After a solid year in a winter league in Venezuela, it's clear that Guerra is more suited for the bullpen. If he continues to improve, that could be very good news for the Twins who could use a couple more power arms in a unit that struggled mightily last season.

Aaron Hicks

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    When Aaron Hicks was selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 MLB draft, he drew comparisons to Darryl Strawberry. It was a comparison to make some Twins fans think that Hicks could be on a fast track to the majors, but it hasn't worked out that way.

    After starting his career off with an impressive stint in the Gulf Coast League, Hicks has seen his numbers drop as he's moved up the Twins system.

    Last year, Hicks went to High-A Fort Myers where he hit .242 with five home runs and 38 runs batted in. However, he impressed Twins officials with his patience at the plate drawing 78 walks in 528 at-bats, helping him reach a .354 on-base percentage.

    Hicks has all the tools to be a very good center fielder at the major league level. The only thing that has yet to develop is his power. If Hicks can hit some more balls out of the yard, it will be a step in the right direction.

Carlos Gutierrez

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    Carlos Gutierrez was the second of three first-round picks for the Twins in 2008. The closer for the Miami Hurricanes was expected to become a starter with his excellent sinker, but the Twins have since moved him into the bullpen.

    It's an interesting move for the Twins to bring another "pitch to contact" pitcher into a bullpen that is loaded with them. However, the main concern is that Gutierrez may be too wild to be classified as one.

    Since posting a 1.16 WHIP with Single-A Fort Myers in the second half of 2008, Gutierrez has failed to post a WHIP lower than 1.3.

    His main problem is his walk rate. In 62.1 innings at Triple-A Rochester, Gutierrez walked 31 batters. That was good for a BB/9 ratio of 4.5, his highest of his career.

    The Twins need Gutierrez to find his control. If he's able to do that he could be able to be a key contributor, but at age 25 time is running out.

Brian Dozier

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    Brian Dozier was a ninth-round pick in the 2009 MLB draft out of Southern Mississippi. While Dozier wasn't a sure-fire prospect, his performance in 2011 makes it impossible to not take a look at him.

    Dozier plays shortstop, which is the one position the Twins have failed to put a reliable player at since Jason Bartlett was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2009 season.

    As a bonus, Dozier can hit. In two of his three professional seasons, Dozier has hit well over .300 (.349 in 2009 in Rookie Ball, .320 in 2011 between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester) and has a little bit of pop to go with it (nine home runs and 33 doubles combined in 2011), posting an .890 OPS.

    Dozier is also very good in the field, as he made just seven total errors in 93 games in 2011. He can also play second base, third base, as well as shortstop.

    All of these made Dozier the Twins Minor League Player of the Year in 2011, and it will be interesting to see if he can build off of his success in 2012.

Alex Wimmers

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    Alex Wimmers was taken by the Twins out of (The) Ohio State University in the first round of the 2011 draft. Wimmers was projected to have excellent control and be in the mold of most Twins starters in that he "pitches to contact."

    Fast-forward one year later, and Wimmers' stock has fallen dramatically. He was shut down last season after issuing six straight walks in his first start for Single-A Fort Myers. The Twins then sent Wimmers to extended spring training to work on his mechanics.

    Wimmers came back and posted respectable numbers the rest of the season, but this was supposed to be a guy that was on the fast track to the major leagues.

    Can Wimmers regain his control and get his career back on track? It's one of the interesting stories of 2012.

Joe Benson

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    Due to the Twins having a plethora of injuries and nothing to play for, Joe Benson got a cup of coffee at the major league level in 2011. Not only that, Benson started most of the games for the Twins down the stretch. Granted, it wasn't in a pennant race, but the experience still helps.

    The Twins will look to see more improvement for Benson, who is still about a six months to a year at Triple-A away from being a major league contributor. However, the talent is there for Benson to speed up that process.

    Scouts rave about Benson's five tool ability. He plays well in the outfield, can hit for average (.285 average at Double-A New Britain) with a little bit of power (.495 slugging percentage), he can steal bases (13) and has a solid arm (nine assists from center field).

    With the possibility of concussion symptoms lingering for Denard Span, it would benefit the Twins if Benson can play well enough for Triple-A Rochester and earn another call-up late in 2012.

Liam Hendriks

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    Liam Hendriks has rocketed through the Twins system to the point where the 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year could find himself in the major league rotation early in 2012.

    Hendriks was another international prospect signed by the Twins in 2006 and after a solid 2007 season, he had to have back surgery which forced him to miss 2008. Despite the injury, Hendricks still made the Australian roster in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

    Hendriks hasn't looked back since and put together his best season in 2011. Armed with great control, Hendricks put together a 12-6 record with a 3.36 earned run average in 139.1 innings pitched between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester.

    What sets Hendriks apart is his control of his fastball. It's not the nastiest in the history of baseball as it tops out at about 91 mph, but it's that Hendriks can put it where he wants. Hendriks only walked 21 batters last season, and it helped him maintain a WHIP of 1.13.

    Hendriks' performance was good enough for him to earn two starts with the Twins at the end of the season. Although he struggled he could compete for a spot in the rotation if any injuries or poor performance occurs.

Chris Parmalee

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    For those of you who didn't watch the last month of Twins baseball (and I was among those people), let me catch you up on what happened.

    Chris Parmelee, the Twins' first-round pick of the 2006 MLB first-year player draft, made his major league debut. Then he hit...a lot.

    Parmelee got off to a slow start in his minor league career but has really picked it up since. Always a prospect with raw power, Parmalee has hit 74 home runs in the minor league system. What's scary is now Parmelee is starting to hit for average as well.

    2011 was Parmelee's best year of his professional career as he hit .287 with 13 HRs and 83 RBI for Double-A New Britain. His performance was good enough to earn a September call-up and he tore the cover off the ball hitting .355 with four HRs and 14 RBI in just 21 games with the Twins.

    It may have been a mirage, but Parmelee has a big opportunity coming up with the declining health of Justin Morneau. If Morneau continues to suffer from concussion-like symptoms and has to move to designated hitter (or retire altogether), Parmelee could cement himself as the first baseman of the future with another solid season.