Minnesota Twins: 5 Most Underrated Prospects in Their System
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The Minnesota Twins have been undergoing changes in the way they treat prospects. In the Bill Smith era, prospects were used to getting more players to help a team that was poised to make a run in the playoffs. As the 2011 season evidenced, this wasn't the best way for the franchise to go.
It led to former Twins general manager Terry Ryan returning to the team on an interim basis. Under Ryan, the team built one of the strongest minor league systems in baseball.
It was such a machine that if an important player got hurt, the Twins could dip into Rochester and plug someone else in.
As the Twins are looking to get back to those days, it's important to look at prospects who may not be the most highly touted in the system. While prospects like Miguel Sano and Kyle Gibson will make an impact, the Twins will need to find lower-level prospects that can contribute.
Here's a look at some of the guys in the Twins' system you may not have heard of but who could start to make some noise in the near future.
Lester Oliveros could develop into a bullpen option for the Twins in 2012.
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Toward the end of the disastrous 2011 season, the Twins finally gave up on Delmon Young. While it may have proved to be a mistake, as Young ripped the cover off the ball in the playoffs for the Detroit Tigers, the Twins might have found something in Lester Oliveros.
Oliveros' best pitch is his fastball, which can get up into the upper 90s. Oliveros made his MLB debut in 2011 with the Tigers, but then performed admirably in a depleted Twins bullpen by the end of the season.
The one thing he will need to work on is keeping runners off the basepaths. Oliveros issued 11 walks in 21.1 innings between Minnesota and Detroit last season, and he gave up too many hits to bring his WHIP up to 1.50.
The good thing is he's still young. The 23-year-old right-hander will get an opportunity to work on some things at Triple-A Rochester to start the season. If the Twins experience more injuries and ineffectiveness, Oliveros could get another opportunity at some point in the 2012 season.
J.D. Williams was named the best baserunner in the Twins organization by Baseball America.
When the Twins moved from the Metrodome to Target Field, they realized that the balls didn't fly off their bats as well as they did in the Metrodome. A team that was built on power suddenly had to rely on hitting the ball into the gaps rather than pulling it out of the park.
Bill Smith realized this and tried to fill the void that the Twins had in the speed department by signing Tsyoshi Nishioka. That experiment failed, but it shows that the Twins are also shifting toward trying to get faster and smarter on the basepaths.
That's where a guy like JaDamion (referred to as J.D.) Williams could come in handy for the Twins.
You've probably never heard of the kid, but he had a solid season at Elizabethton last summer. While super-prospects Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano were getting all the headlines, Williams put together a .324 average with four home runs and 24 runs batted in.
However, Williams' baserunning ability is what scouts love about him. He was able to post a .408 on-base percentage last year and added 10 steals in 14 attempts. His .871 OPS was nothing to laugh about, either.
At best, he could prove to be another Denard Span-type hitter that could anchor the top of the lineup for the Twins. While he isn't the most lauded, it would be wise to keep an eye on Williams in the near future.
B.J. Hermsen may be one of the most advanced arms in the Twins' minor league system.
When it comes to Twins pitching prospects, most of the press will go to Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendriks. However, there are other young arms in the organization that can make an impact, and B.J. Hermsen is one of them.
Hermsen went 13-8 in between Low-A Beloit and High-A Fort Meyers last season. Some scouts have said that he's one of the most physically advanced arms in the Twins' minor league system despite signing out of high school in 2008.
His numbers at High-A Fort Meyers were a little high with a 2-1 record and a 4.38 earned-run average. However, he was able to go deep into games, as three of his five starts for the Miracle were at least six innings.
According to Seth Stohs (who contributes to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website), Hermsen was going to be his choice for Minor League Pitcher of the Year if Hendriks didn't have such a good season.
Basically, Hermsen could find himself in Minnesota a couple years down the road and could climb his way up the prospect chart in the process.
Max Kepler was signed from Germany in 2009, the same year as top Twins prospect Miguel Sano.
Max Kepler had his first year of professional baseball in the United States in 2011. While he didn't put up great numbers (.262 average, one home run and 24 runs batted in at Elizabethton), there's no question that the kid still has the potential to be a major league player.
Kepler has been considered one of the best young players to come out of Europe. However, grabbing prospects from Europe isn't like grabbing prospects from the Dominican Republic or South America.
Instead, Europe doesn't produce a giant number of baseball players, and that's why Kepler has slipped over the past year. It's very hard to tell what Kepler is capable of. While some scouts have compared him to Shawn Green, it's possible that he could be another failed international signing.
So could Kepler be underrated by not being in Baseball America's Top 10 Twins prospects anymore? It's possible. However, it's also possible that Kepler won't turn out to be what people are expecting. Just remember, he's only 19.
After being converted to a reliever, Deolis Guerra could resurrect his once promising future.
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Deolis Guerra was supposed to be one of the key prospects of the Johan Santana trade. While Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey and Phil Humber were much more advertised, Guerra was supposed to be the guy who could pick up the slack for losing Santana for a couple years.
However, Guerra struggled to live up to his top prospect billing. After appearing in the Futures Game in 2008, the Twins decided to slow Guerra's progress through the minor league system. It might have turned out to be the right move, as Guerra began to struggle as a starter as time went on.
The Twins decided last year that Guerra would not be the effective starter that they had hoped for, so they moved him to the bullpen. Then Guerra started to thrive, as he became a much more effective relief pitcher.
So why am I digging up Guerra now when he's not going to be a starter? Because the Twins' bullpen was so bad last year. If the patchwork experiment the Twins are trying doesn't work, we could see Guerra at the major league level.
He still has the stuff to be effective, as Baseball America gave him the honor of having the best changeup in the Twins' system. If the Twins are able to give him a chance, Guerra may prove to be a valuable piece to the team's future after all.