OF Aaron Hicks: Can the former first-rounder break camp as the team's center fielder?
Headed into the 2012 season, the Minnesota Twins’ farm system was arguably among the worst in the game.
What a difference a year can make. Entering spring training, the organization houses five top-100 prospects with more on the way.
The team netted two of their top-10 prospects in the first round of the 2012 draft in outfielder Byron Buxton and right-hander Jose Berrios. Furthermore, numerous prospects enjoyed breakout seasons at the plate in Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler.
More importantly, the Twins finally have a few legitimate pitching prospects in recently acquired right-handers Alex Meyer (from the Nationals) and Trevor May (from the Phillies). Furthermore, last year marked the return of former No. 1-pick Kyle Gibson, who missed most of the previous season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Expect all three pitchers to play a crucial role in the team’s starting rotation as early as late 2013.
Here’s a look at the Minnesota Twins’ top-10 prospects headed into spring training.
DOB: 2/10/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 207
Drafted/Signed: July, 2009 (Germany)
Scouting Notes: An international free agent signed out of Germany, Kepler posted a .714 OPS with 15 extra-base hits as an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League in 2011. He mastered the level last season, batting .287/.387/.539 with 31 extra-base hits (10 home runs) and 33/27 K/BB in 59 games.
Kepler has a highly projectable 6’4” frame; beefed up to 207 pounds this offseason; still room to add strength; high-level athlete who passes the eye test; good speed but is not a base-stealer; has a solid swing from the left side; bat yields hard contact; swing can get too long, but he’s exhibited the ability to make adjustments; hit and power tools both flash above-average potential.
Speed plays well in the outfield; average range; average arm strength profiles best in left field; lots of upside, but it may take him some time to get there; could struggle at times in his full-season debut; still very young.
Spring Training Forecast: Kepler will participate in minor league spring training before making his full season debut as a 20-year-old.
2013 Outlook: After three seasons in the complex leagues, Kepler is finally ready to make his full-season debut at Low-A, where he’ll likely play left field alongside Byron Buxton and Adam Brett Walker.
DOB: 5/27/1994 (Age: 18)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 187
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Papa Juan HS, P.R.)
Scouting Notes: This right-hander didn’t get as many looks as most other Puerto Rican draft picks, but showed enough upside to be picked in the first round. Berrios enjoyed an exceptional professional debut across two levels after signing, registering a 1.08 ERA with 27/3 K/BB in 16.2 innings in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, followed by 1.29 ERA with 22/1 K/BB in 14 innings in the Appalachian League. He finished his pro debut with 49/4 K/BB in 30.2 innings, showing the ability to miss bats with ease.
Berrios has a very quick arm; lacks physical projection at 6’0", 187 pounds; fastball sits at 92-94 mph, but projects for a few ticks extra as he adds strength; pitch has late life; secondary arsenal is far more advanced than anyone expected; curveball is a sharp breaker but lacks consistency; pace and shape improving quickly; slurvy at times.
He turns over his changeup well; good feel for the pitch at a young age; isn’t afraid to attack hitters with his full arsenal; genuine arm strength should evolve as he develops.
Spring Training Forecast: Berrios will log a few innings early in the spring as he prepares to join Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
2013 Outlook: He’s only 18 years old, but the right-hander is good enough to open the season at Low-A and likely reach High-A. However, it’ll be interesting to see how the Twins manage his workload following the WBC.
DOB: 9/23/1989 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 215
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2008 (Kelso HS, Wash.)
Scouting Notes: May finally made the jump to Double-A after three years up and down at Low and High-A; 6’5” right-hander has a power pitcher’s frame and projectable arsenal; took a step back with his command after a highly successful 2011 campaign; has a tendency to overthrow; can lose a feel for his natural arm slot.
His fastball sits at a very heavy 90-95 mph; can reach back for a few more when needed; throws the pitch on a solid downward plane; locating it is key to setting up his secondary offerings.
His curveball is a hammer when he doesn’t over-grip and spike it; changeup has the potential to be an average pitch in the low-80s; throws it with inconsistent arm speed; slider gives the tall right-hander a fourth potentially average pitch.
Spring Training Forecast: In his first spring training with the Twins, May will audition for a late-season promotion to the major leagues, as well as a spot in the 2014 rotation.
2013 Outlook: Due to his season-long struggle at Double-A in 2012 (with the Phillies), the Twins will likely ask him to repeat the level this year. However, if he can regain his 2011 form, the right-hander could get to the major leagues in a hurry.
DOB: 9/28/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 178
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2010 (Puerto Rico)
Scouting Notes: Rosario made his full-season debut as a 20-year-old at Low-A Beloit in the Midwest League. A left-handed hitter, he batted .296/.345/.490 with 48 extra-base hits in 95 games. He spent time on the disabled list after a line drive to the face during batting practice required surgery.
He has excellent athleticism and surprising strength in his 6’0", 180-pound frame; projectable hit tool with impressive bat-to-ball ability; has a plan at the plate; makes adjustments; compact, fluid swing. Slightly above-average power potential; starting to emerge in games; he has above-average speed but is a sloppy, unrefined base-stealer; on-base skills have room to grow.
Rosario moved from the outfield to second base prior to the 2012 season; endured a challenging transition; has the athleticism and arm strength, but his footwork and hands are still a work-in-progress. Regardless, his hit tool and sneaky power will be what gets him to the major leagues; offensive profile of a No. 2 hitter.
Spring Training Forecast: After an impressive season at Low-A in 2012, Rosario enters his first spring training with the chance to make a strong impression with the organization.
2013 Outlook: The Twins will continue to challenge Rosario and his impressive left-handed bat with an Opening Day assignment to Low-A.
DOB: 10/23/1987 (Age: 25)
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 210
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009 (Missouri)
Scouting Notes: Gibson missed the end of 2011 and most of the 2012 season after his elbow required Tommy John surgery. He returned to pitch at three levels, including Triple-A Rochester, and showcased the same advanced command and moderate strikeout potential as he did before the surgery. He followed with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time.
The 6’6” right-hander’s fastball works in the 88-94 mph range; will sometimes scrape a few ticks higher; size allows him to throw on a solid downhill plane; commands the pitch to both sides of the plate; needs to live down in the zone to be successful.
Throws his slider with consistent tilt; above-average offering; changeup gives him another secondary weapon; has speed differential; sells it with arm speed; ceiling is as a No. 3 or 4 starter.
Spring Training Forecast: Gibson enters spring training with a legitimate shot to break camp as part of the Twins’ starting rotation.
2013 Outlook: After coming back from Tommy John surgery last season to reach Triple-A and pitch in the Arizona Fall League, Gibson will likely establish himself as one of the team’s better starting pitchers by the end of the 2013 season.
DOB: 5/9/1991 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6’0", 210
Drafted/Signed: July, 2007 (Venezuela)
Scouting Notes: Arcia’s bat busted out in a big way last season, as he hit for both average and power at two advanced levels. He batted .309/.376/.517 with 26 extra-base hits in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (High-A), and followed that with a .328/.398/.557 slash line with 35 extra-base hits (10 home runs) in 69 games for Double-A New Britain.
He showed improved on-base skills with 107 strikeouts and 51 walks between both levels; left-handed hitter with a strong swing who consistently gets the bat head to the ball; has a feel for the strike zone; raw power to all fields; hit tool has potential; mashes right-handed pitching.
Arcia’s defense is only average; enough for either corner outfield position; present athleticism but speed is fringy; won’t need to be great defensively if his bat translates; on-base skills may be challenged at a higher levels.
Spring Training Forecast: Participating in his first major league camp, Arcia will likely audition for a big league promotion at some point after the All-Star break.
2013 Outlook: After raking at Double-A to finish the 2012 season, Arcia could move up to Triple-A to open the year with the potential to debut in the major leagues later towards the end of the season.
DOB: 10/2/1989 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 185
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2008 (Woodrow HS, Calif.)
Scouting Notes: Hicks improved across the board last season, his first at Double-A, as he narrowed the gap between his athleticism and baseball skills. Overall, he batted .286/.384/.460 with 45 extra-base hits and 32 stolen bases in 129 games.
Toolsy switch-hitter with above-average raw power; solid on-base skills; present gap-power more than home-run power; bat speed from both sides of the plate; left-handed swing is more vulnerable to velocity.
His hit tool is the biggest question; may only be average in the major leagues; above-average speed makes him a consistent base stealer; approach lacks aggression and hinders his power.
Athleticism and speed profile favorably in center field; plus arm strength that’s an absolute cannon; plenty of range; overall plus defender who can stick at the position.
Spring Training Forecast: Hicks will battle Joe Benson and Darin Mastroianni to break camp as the Twins’ Opening Day center fielder. Of the three, he easily has the most upside.
2013 Outlook: Whether he opens the 2013 season with the Twins or at Triple-A, Hicks figures to spend a majority of the upcoming season in the major leagues.
DOB: 1/3/1990 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’9”, 220
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 by Nationals (Kentucky)
Scouting Notes: This 6’9” right-hander has a massive frame and long limbs; shows body control and repeatable mechanics uncommon in players his size; throws everything on a steep downhill plane; showed more command than expected in full-season debut in 2012; registered a 3.10 ERA with 107/34 K/BB in 90 innings at Low-A Hagerstown, followed by 2.31 ERA with 32/11 K/BB at High-A Potomac before reaching innings limit. Traded to the Twins during the offseason in the deal that sent Denard Span to Washington.
Fastball is difficult to barrel; registers between 93-97 mph and can flirt with triple-digits in shorter stints; plus slider has a sharp, wipeout break; changeup showed signs of being at least average last season; third pitch will need to continue to develop to remain a starter.
Spring Training Forecast: Unlikely to make the Opening Day rotation, Meyer will head to big league spring training with this new team, and could make a case for late-season call-up with an impressive showing.
2013 Outlook: Now a key arm in the Twins’ future starting rotation, Meyer will make the jump to Double-A to open the 2013 season with the potential for a big league debut later in the year.
DOB: 12/18/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 190
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Appling County HS, Ga.)
Scouting Notes: The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2012, Buxton had a good, but not great professional debut across two rookie levels, as he batted .248/.344/.448 with 19 extra-base hits, 11 stolen bases and 41/19 K/BB in 48 games. However, he still showcased a potentially elite collection of tools.
6’2”, 190-pounder has tapered build with wiry strength; strong wrists; plus bat speed; above-average raw power potential; quick-twitch muscles; approach and hit tool are both raw; may need a few additional years of experience in the low minors; he’ll have to simplify his swing to handle better velocity and sequencing.
Plus-plus speed gives him excellent range; safe bet to stick in center field; plus arm strength is more than enough for the position; above-average defensive profile in center; reads and routes are still raw; lauded for his makeup; needs experience
Spring Training Forecast: Still a very raw prospect, Buxton will participate in his first minor league camp as he continues develop his potentially elite skills.
2013 Outlook: The Twins will likely hold Buxton in extended spring training before deploying him for a full-season at Low-A.
DOB: 5/11/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 232
Drafted/Signed: Oct., 2009 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: In his full-season debut at Low-A Beloit, Sano batted .258/.373/.521 in 129 games as a 19-year-old. Of his 118 hits, 60 were for extra bases, including 28 home runs. Even though he struck out 144 times, he also demonstrated on-base skills with 80 walks.
Best raw power in the minor leagues and present power frequency; powerful swing generates backspin carry to all fields; has some holes and results in too many swings-and-misses; has the bat speed and strength to still be successful; sketchy hit tool projection; vulnerable to sequence; utility will depend upon development of plate discipline and pitch recognition.
His defense at the hot corner is rough; present athleticism despite his 6’3”, 230-pound frame; will likely lose a step as he fills out; glove and footwork will have to vastly improve to stick at the hot corner; should ultimately settle in right field or first base; slow, choppy feet; stiff actions; limited range; plus arm strength; footwork impedes accuracy; too many lazy throwing errors.
Spring Training Forecast: Sano will head to minor league spring training where he will likely work to improve his defense at the hot corner.
2013 Outlook: After pacing the Midwest League with 28 home runes last season, Sano will move up a level to High-A to open the 2013 season.