For years, the Minnesota Twins have thrived off the depth of their minor league system. At no time has this been more the case than in the past decade in which the Twins saw their second-best stretch in franchise history behind the two World Series championships in 1987 and 1991.
However, the Twins have fallen on rough times since then as a majority of the players who have come up through the minor league system have looked lost once coming to the major leagues.
Terry Ryan's philosophy of growing talent took a back seat during the tenure of Bill Smith, and the Twins are currently one of the worst teams in all of baseball.
It seems bizarre to see the Twins in last place in the American League Central, a division that they dominated as recently as 2010. Yet, when you look at the Twins first-round draft picks over the past decade, it's easy to see why the team finds themselves stuck at the moment.
The consensus pick in the 2001 draft was USC pitcher Mark Prior. Prior was supposed to be the pitching god of all pitching gods and the team that selected him would be blessed with success with years to come. However, the Twins didn't heed that advice.
At the time, Prior did not want to play for the Twins who were coming off the abysmal late-90s. Prior also was rumored to be commanding a massive signing bonus and the Twins, lead by stingy owner Carl Pohlad, didn't want any part of that.
So the Twins decided to go local and take a high school catcher by the name of Joe Mauer with the top pick in the 2001 draft.
This is where it gets tricky to grade how the Mauer pick turned out. Does one look at Mauer as the only catcher to win a batting title (let alone three) in American League history, the 2009 Most Valuable Player, and the man who made a $184 million contract seem legit even in the Pohlad's eyes?
Or do you grade Mauer on how he's failed to meet his massive expectations after signing the contract prior to the 2010 season?
I believe that you have to look at the former when thinking about how Mauer has turned out. The Twins dodged a major bullet as Prior flamed out quickly and has been out of the majors since 2006.
Meanwhile, the Twins took the local boy and he turned out to be the game-changer you expect from the number one pick in the draft (well, prior to the contract extension). With that train of thought, it's easy to say that the Twins did their homework by selecting Mauer first overall.
The Twins were able to take another building block toward their success in the 2000's by selecting Denard Span in the 2002 MLB Draft.
After the Twins had stunned many by finishing second in the AL Central in 2001, they still needed some more juice in their minor league system to provide depth to one of the most popular teams in Twins history. That's what made Span a great pick.
Span took a while to develop, but it turned out well because the Twins already had Torii Hunter patrolling center field through the 2007 season.
When Span's time came, he was ready to go and eventually beat out Carlos Gomez (who was acquired in the Johan Santana trade) for the starting center field job. Since then, Span has played solid defense in center field and has become the Twins' leadoff hitter.
The days for Span as the team's center fielder may be numbered with the Twins as they look to reload their farm system, but if this is the end for him it was a solid run.
The Twins decided to go with a high school player for the third year in a row in 2003, and this time they swung and missed horribly.
The Twins selected third baseman Matt Moses and perhaps they were hoping to strike it rich again in Virginia after selecting Michael Cuddyer with the 9th overall pick in 1997.
Instead, they got a player that would never play an inning in the major leagues and had a career average of .249 in seven seasons. The highest Moses would get was in 2007 when he hit .224 with two home runs and 18 runs batted in for Triple-A Rochester.
Moses was demoted to Double-A New Britain later that year and would never make it back to Rochester.
The miss for the Twins was especially painful with names like Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin and Adam Jones still on the board.
With the 20th pick in the 2004 draft, the Twins selected shortstop Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe took a while to get to the major leagues, but may finally be starting to come around with the Twins in the role that Michael Cuddyer used to fill before departing last season.
While Plouffe is hitting .163 on the season entering Saturday night's tilt with the Cleveland Indians, he has shown power in the minors and could be on his way to a hot streak in the near future.
The argument could also be made that Plouffe hasn't had a consistent chance to show he can play in the majors as the Twins quickly pulled the plug on him at shortstop after several throws went into the first baseline at Target Field.
Usually you know what you have with a prospect eight years after you draft him, but there's something about Plouffe that tells me that the Twins shouldn't give up on him. For that, he gets a higher grade than most people would give him.
The Twins took their first collegiate player in the first round (excluding sandwich picks) since 2000 when they selected Glen Perkins out of the University of Minnesota.
If this article were written a couple years ago, the grade on this pick would be much lower. After a couple of decent seasons as a starter, the Twins coaching staff wound up having a rift with Perkins and it seemed like he had one foot out the door.
In 2011, Perkins was one of the lone bright spots in the Twins bullpen as he posted a 2.48 ERA in 61.2 innings. He was then rewarded with a three-year, $11.85 million contract extension prior to this season and looks to be the Twins closer of the future.
Perkins needs several solid seasons as a set-up man or closer in order to get a higher grade, but the Twins have to be pleased with his development up to this point.
Twins fans were this close to seeing what Kyle Waldrop could do in the bullpen in 2012, but then Waldrop came down with a case of forearm inflammation and had to go on the 15-day disabled list.
It was another rough break for Waldrop who got a cup of coffee with the Twins toward the end of the 2011 season.
While Waldrop isn't going to turn out to be an elite closer, he still has the chance to be a solid relief pitcher thanks to his incredible ground ball to fly ball ratio.
Waldrop recently was activated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Rochester. If Waldrop is able to perform well there, he'll get another shot to stick in the Twins bullpen. Until then, Twins fans will have to sit and wait to see if this pick panned out.
Twins fans normally ask themselves what could have been if the team kept Johan Santana. There may be a better question to ask when thinking about what could have been with Matt Garza on the Twins.
Garza hasn't turned out to be the unstoppable ace that many had predicted when he made his rise through the Twins minor league system, but the trade that sent Garza to Tampa Bay was just as poisonous to the organization as the Santana trade was.
Garza has become a solid top-of-the-rotation starter in the major leagues, and that's something the Twins surely have missed after sending five No. 3 starters to the mound the past five seasons.
The only thing that went awry in this relationship was that Garza could not win at the Metrodome. Over his career, Garza was 1-10 with a 5.91 ERA at the Twins old stadium, but it would have been interesting to see how Garza would have fared at Target Field.
Chris Parmelee was another player that took a while to get going, but he seems to be on the right track after making his major league debut last September.
Parmelee hit the cover off the ball during that stint, and he didn't let up as the Twins reported to spring training in March.
With Justin Morneau on his way back from multiple injuries, Parmelee was the starting first baseman for the Twins through the month of April. However, he struggled and now finds himself back at Triple-A Rochester.
Parmelee shouldn't take that demotion as a knock as it was his first trip to Triple-A in his career. After some seasoning it will be interesting to see if Parmelee can take the next step in his career and become the Twins' first baseman of the future.
Five years after selecting Denard Span, the Twins may have picked his successor in Ben Revere.
Revere may be small at 5' 9", 170 lbs., but he packs blazing speed and has the skill set to be the everyday center fielder for the Minnesota Twins.
While he has a couple of things to work on in the majors, Revere looks to be one of the pieces the Twins will use in their rebuilding process.
Also, as an added bonus the Twins got somebody who can be marketable as Revere has shown the most charisma of anyone on the major league roster. Basically, it's fun to watch him play baseball.
If the Twins choose to trade Denard Span, the Revere could possibly receive a higher grade. Still, for a 24-year-old outfielder, he has a ton of potential to be the Twins' next homegrown All-Star.
There comes a time in a prospect's career when he is too old to be considered a prospect. That's the crossroads that Aaron Hicks' career is at in the Twins farm system.
When Hicks came out of high school, people were not only amazed by his play as an outfielder but as a pitcher as well. Looking back on it, the Twins may have wished that they converted Hicks to a pitcher, but he's starting to turn things around.
Hicks recently got out of the pitcher-friendly Florida State League and up to Double-A New Britain. After getting off to a solid start, Hicks stats have dropped to .247 with six home runs and 28 runs batted in for the Rock Cats.
Twins officials are hopeful that Hicks' development is similar to that of Torii Hunter's. Hunter took four seasons to reach the major leagues, and I'm sure that Twins management and their fans are both happy they didn't give up on him.
Still, the clock is ticking on Aaron Hicks if he doesn't want to become a bust.
Kyle Gibson was supposed to be a top-ten pick in the 2009 MLB draft, but a stress fracture in his forearm scared teams away and he fell to the Twins with the 20th pick.
Gibson is the best pitching prospect in the Twins system for a team that desperately needs them. In his first season of professional baseball, Gibson went 11-6 with a 2.96 earned run average while rising from High-A Fort Myers to Triple-A Rochester.
Gibson was a lock to make his major league debut in 2011, but then the fears of scouts became a reality when Gibson had to be shut down for Tommy John surgery.
While Tommy John surgery has become more routine and has produced quicker recovery times (see Stephen Strasburg) there has to be concern whether Gibson can return to his old form.
I'm betting that he will and the Twins may have their ace in the hole once he returns.
It may be early, but Alex Wimmers is starting to look like a bust for the Twins after a year and a half.
The Twins thought that Wimmers could make a quick climb through the minor league system similar to Matt Garza and Kyle Gibson. Wimmers fit into the Twins ideal pitcher as he pounded the strike zone as the Friday starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Then Wimmers pitched professionally and the wheels came off. During his minor league career, Wimmers has gone 4-3 with a 3.21 earned run average, but has had a hard time pounding the strike zone walking 23 batters in just over 41 innings in 2011.
While Wimmers has advanced to Double-A New Britain, his elbow started to bark early in the season and the Twins have shut him down with a strain of the Ulnar Colleteral Ligament (the one that normally is repaired in Tommy John surgery).
If Wimmers eventually has to have Tommy John surgery, it may be difficult to find his way to the major league roster as quick as the Twins once expected. It may be even more difficult for Wimmers to find his stuff as well.
It's too early to tell what kind of player Levi Michael will become, but if his performance at High-A Fort Myers is any indication, the Twins may want to take a hard look at Carlos Correa with the number two pick in the 2012 draft.
Michael has struggled throughout his brief professional career. After battling hip injuries through his junior season at North Carolina, Michael didn't play at all for the Twins in 2011 and has hit just .213 in 48 games for the Miracle this season.
It's way too early to hit the panic button on Michael, but if any of Bill Smith's decisions are an indication the Twins better think about getting somebody else to fill that middle infielder role.