So it’s no secret that I love the Twins: more than a normal human being should like a sports team, some might say. I can’t help myself; baseball is the greatest sport, in my opinion, and the Twins are the only professional game in town. My love runs so deep that I follow all four of our minor league teams on a pretty regular basis just to be as informed as I can about my favorite squad. I know this is the second baseball article in as many days—deal with it. All statistics and records are current as of 5/8/08.
AAA—Rochester Red Wings (14-21)
Let’s start this thing off with our AAA team, the Red Wings. For the last few years they have been the toast of the International League. They were simply a dominant force, especially on the pitching front. Well, things have changed and this team is struggling, though through no fault of their own. When the big club is going through as much change as the Twins are, the team that suffers the most is usually the AAA team. Any talent that is major league ready is called up and most of the talent that isn’t ready still needs to prove itself in the lower leagues. Thus is the case with this year’s Rochester team. No where is this more evident than in the lineup, where the only two guys hitting over .300 are Darnell McDonald (you may remember him from his unspectacular call up last fall) and Denard Span (yes, the same guy you have been hearing about for years and has done virtually nothing). That’s it, that’s the list. So what about the rest of the team? TKOT’s boy Brian Buscher? .280 with a very low RBI total (11). Spring training superstar Randy Ruiz? .245 with a team high 37 K’s. The “second baseman of the future” Alexi Casilla? .215 with 2 RBI. Former power hitting prospect Garrett Jones? .176 and no signs of ever becoming a factor with this franchise. Yeah, you could say the team is lacking in the hitting department.
As previously stated, the strongest part of this team used to be the pitching. And even though the Twins have plucked the best that Rochester had to offer, this is still the case. No, there aren’t the gaudy numbers like Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn were putting up last year, but there is still some quality pitching to be found on the Red Wings. Before being called up for a start or two, Glen Perkins was 2-1 with a 2.97 ERA in 6 starts.
Unfortunately, he was the only starting pitcher to be putting up any kind of quality numbers. The other three starters (Brian Duensing and Santana tradee’s Kevin Mulvey and Phil Humber) combined to go 5-11 with an ERA over 4. However, the talent on this team lies in the relievers, who clearly have had to pitch quite a bit. They are led by closer Bobby Korecky, who has 2 wins and 5 saves while posting a 0.68 ERA, prompting his call up to Minnesota a few weeks back. There’s also Casey Daigle (aka Mr. Jennie Finch), Mariano Gomez, and Ricky Barrett, who all have ERA’s under 3. This team is struggling, and will continue to do so until some of the AA players are ready for a promotion. Speaking of which…
AA—New Britain Rock Cats (19-13)
With Casilla’s aforementioned struggles, the most likely candidate to move up is New Britain’s second baseman Luke Hughes. This kid has been on fire this year. You could make the case that he’s the best hitter in the organization right now. Through 31 games, Hughes is hitting .388 with 9 bombs, 20 RBI, and 88 total bases. In case you don’t know, those are unbelievable numbers.
He’s just the tip of the iceberg for a Rock Cat team that is absolutely raking to start this season. There are 6 guys on this team hitting over .280, and that doesn’t include Matt Moses, Eric Lis, and David Winfree, who have combined for 10 HR’s and 51 RBI. One of those big hitters is my personal favorite minor league player, Trevor Plouffe. When you look at the weakness that is the shortstop position for the Twins, it’s really nice to see such a promising prospect making his way through the system. He’s hitting .286 and has a freaking hose for a right arm (don’t let those 4 errors fool you; he’s a legit defensive player). Depending on the Twins position in the playoff race, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this guy get a call up in September to see what he’s got.
This team could be a lot better if the pitching would step up (another domino effect of the big club going with such a young rotation). The only starter worth mentioning is Yohan Pino, who has a 2.32 ERA through his first 5 starts. Otherwise, all of the other starters have an ERA over 4 and have only won a few games because our lineup has carried them. If New Britain can get even a little bit of consistency in their rotation, they should be able to win a league title. Otherwise, the only reason this team will matter is because it’s where Hughes and Plouffe used to play.
High A—Fort Myers Miracle (19-13)
The Miracle is another team that has had some early season success. The tough part about analyzing a single-A team is that you get two types of players. The first is a guy in his mid to late 20’s (or mid 30’s, right Danny Graves?) who is still trying to hold on to the dream for one more year or two. The other one is a kid who is just passing through for a short time on his way to bigger and (hopefully) better things. One example of the latter that currently resides in Fort Myers is Deolis Guerra.
You may remember him as the X factor in the Johan Santana trade. The 6-5, 200 lb righty is only 19 years old and already possesses a mid 90’s fastball, among other potentially dominant pitches. He started off the year impressively, giving up only 3 earned runs in his first 4 starts. It appeared that our phenom had arrived. Then, over his last two starts, the Future has gotten torched to the tune of 11 earned runs in just 8 1/3 innings. So maybe he won’t be in the Bigs by the time he’s 20, but he’s definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
Low A—Beloit Snappers (14-18)
Much like Fort Myers, the Beloit Snappers are a team that is tough to analyze. The one really nice thing about low-A ball is that you don’t have the older guys looking for “one more year in the sun” (copyright Jake Taylor). This league is just for young prospects to get their feet wet in pro ball. Team success means much less down here, which can be unfortunate because that means everyone is likely out to get theirs, which can’t be a fun environment to play in. Nevertheless, there are a couple of names on this squad to keep tabs on this summer. One of those is last year’s #1 pick Ben Revere. Despite less than glowing reviews and even comparisons to Span (yuck), the kid is starting off 2008 hot. After 9 games, he’s hitting .432 with an OPS of 1.043. Not bad for a “light hitting” outfielder, but only time will tell if he can sustain any kind of success. The other name of note is outfielder Chris Parmelee. He’s just 20 years old and has a shot at being a nice hitting prospect for this team in the next couple years.
Ok, so here’s an easy recap of our entire minor league system: Rochester—terrible team but only because the Twins are so young right now. New Britain—great hitting team led by stud prospects Luke Hughes (2B) and Trevor Plouffe (SS). Fort Myers—decent team; player to watch is SP Deolis Guerra. Beloit—watch the progress of OF Chris Parmelee to see if he can start to climb the ladder. Those are the names to know. Track them, use them to impress your friends, forget them, whatever.