The minors


Live from Chicago

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I’m here for Thanksgiving with the family and, I must admit, the last thing on my mind is the Bears-Vikings game this weekend. All everyone here is talking about is if Lovie Smith will get fired or will Mike Martz be the offensive coordinator next year – and if the 11-point spread on Sunday is too low.

Know what I’m looking forward to? Marian Hossa debuts for the Blackhawks tonight, and he’ll be on the same line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Wild fans might not want to read this, but you might be better off rooting for a bad year or two so you can draft high enough to get top young talent then add a Hossa. The Hawks have won seven straight games going into tonight’s throwdown at San Jose.

Now that Mauer-palooza has died down (until he signs a contract extension), I wanted to pass along some tidbits from brother Jake Mauer, whom I chatted up at his brother’s press conference on Monday.

Jake will manage Class A Fort Myers next season but just finished running the Twins’ rookie league team. One player he’s really high on is righthander Adrian Salcedo, an 18-year old out of the Dominican Republic who was 4-4 with a 1.65 ERA for GCL. He walked just three batters and struck out 58 in 61.2 innings.

Salcedo has touched 93-94 on the gun but stays in the low 90′s and has very good movement on his fastball. “He’s got a great arm,” Mauer said. “And he works hard. He’s the type of kid who will go home at the end of the day and keep working.”

I’ve heard of Salcedo, but Mauer then tossed out a name I didn’t recognize: Manuel Soliman.

Soliman originally a third baseman but hit .189 in two seasons in the Dominican League. So the Twins have turned him into a pitcher. He was 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA in DSL play this year with 20 walks and 55 strikeouts in 71 innings. The numbers scream that he’s new to pitching, but Mauer thinks Soliman has a live arm and a lot of potential.

So I’ll be tracking Solimon during the season. I’m guessing he’s learning how to throw other pitches than a fastball.

Mauer also saw Kyle Gibson during instructional league play and, like everyone else who has seen him, he came away raving about the top-shelf talent the Twins first-round pick showed.

“The first couple (innings) he was just kind of feeling his way,” Mauer said. “The last inning, he dominated.”

Our whole conversation started with Mauer talking about how his younger brother will (he used the word, `absolutely’) improve on his 2009 season. Then I asked him how things were in the minors.

“La Velle, Kyle Gibson is going to be good,” Mauer started. I would have loved to ask him about more players but I had other interviews to conduct.

Jake should have an interesting team at Fort Myers next season. In addition to Gibson, he should eventually have outfielders Aaron Hicks and Jose Morales and infielder Ramon Santana - if those guys don’t make Fort Myers out of spring training.

That’s all for now. Next week will be busy as I zero in on Twins targets heading into the winter meetings Dec. 7-11 in Indianapolis. Enjoy the holiday!

Update: Here’s the lastest from Pat Neshek about his rehab.

Instructional league ends. AFL kicks off

Friday, October 16th, 2009

The Twins’ annual fall instructional league wrapped up today. For two-plus weeks, Twins prospects worked on their skills at the club’s year-round headquarters in Fort Myers, Florida.

It also marked the professional debut (sort of) of righthander Kyle Gibson, the Twins’ first-round pick who was an injury concern during the draft. The Twins, however, checked him out, determined that his forearm problem was a stress fracture and not a strain (which can lead to elbow ligament problems),  drafted him and signed him for a $1.85 million bonus.

Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said Gibson threw four innings and looked good,

“The last two innings he threw really well,” Johnson said. “Threw strikes. Kept the ball down. Showed his full assortment of pitches. His slider is his money pitch.”

The Twins hope Gibson can start at Class A Fort Myers next year,  which gives him a chance to get on the fast track to the majors.

Johnson also was impressed with German outfielder Max Kepler, who is attending South Fort Myers high school while working out with at the Twins’ facility across the street.

“Looks like he’s going to be good,” Johnson said. “Good body. Good swing. Runs well for his size.”

I was  on the phone with Johnson for just five minutes (he was about to chow down on a Five Guys burger). But he made a point of bringing up sixth-round pick Chris Hermann, who played all 59 games in the outfield for rookie league Elizabethton but is being switched to catcher.

Hermann, Johnson said, looks like he’ll be able to handle the move. It’s an interesting move because Hermann’s bat looks promising. He hit .297 with 7 homers and 30 and was third in the Appalachian League with 33 walks.  

AFL begins

Seven Twins players – infielders Steve Singleton, Chris Parmelee, outfielder Rene Tosoni and pitchers Mike McCardell, Steve Hirschfeld, Alex Burnett and Spencer Steedley are playing with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. AFL action  runs until just before Thanksgiving.

Bill Smith & Co. will remain in Fort Myers this week for organizational meetings before returning to the Twin Cities.

I’m still working on my top ten prospects list for 2009. This year has been harder than usual. Part of the reason is the additions of Kyle Gibson, Max Kepler and Miguel Angel Sano. They haven’t played a game as pros, but, if you go on potential, they’re all big prospects.

The other part is, the Twins didn’t have many big seasons. Aaron Hicks, arguably, still is the top prospect but didn’t play well until the end of the Class A season. Wilson Ramos was slowed by injuries.

I’ve swapped e-mails about the Twins farm system with Baseball America’s John Manuel and will include some of his thoughts next week when I finally have the guts to post my list.

Update: Wilson Ramos has jumped into winter ball with a hot bat. He’s batting .393 with 2 homers and 7 RBI in seven games for Aragua of the Venezuelan Winter League. You know, he’s going to be the best Venezuelan prospect the Twins have produced, not that there’s a lot of competition.

Thoughts on Gibson, other Twins-related notes

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Hit the breakfast buffet this morning. Dropped two pieces of bread in the toaster, then went to acquire other items. I head for the toaster when it pops – but some guy pulls my toast out and gives it to his kid.

Didn’t know toast-poaching was allowed in these parts….

Haven’t heard who’s coming off the 40-man roster for Francisco Liriano. But let me clear up one thing I didn’t mention in today’s coverage: Today was Phil Humber’s day to start for Class AAA Rochester. The Twins needed a rested arm to join their pitching staff, which is gasping for breath. Armado Gabino pitched Sunday, so he wasn’t what they needed right now.

I had both guns loaded and ready to fire today if the Twins didn’t sign Kyle Gibson. I’m fully aware that the draft is a crapshoot, and if you believe a player is THE guy and can get him for less, fine. The Twins did that with Ben Revere in 2007. Revere is now one of their top prospects, and a tradeable commodity (hint, hint!) to get quality major league talent.

But that went out the window once they drafted Gibson. He’s a top five talent who slid to No. 22 because of injury concerns, concerns that the Twins checked out and are confident won’t develop into elbow problems.

They should have been prepared to pay Gibson a bonus over the league-suggested slot, which is $1.287 million. And by over, I’m not talking about $100,000.

Joe C. did a great job of keeping up with the developments. While things didn’t look good a few days ago, I wasn’t too concerned. Mainly because I know how deliberate the Twins can be during negotiations (dozens of conversations with exasperated agents through the years proves that) and that several first-rounders were unsigned.

But there were times yesterday when I thought they weren’t going to sign him. The Twins hadn’t moved much past $1.3 million, and Gibson’s adviser was pushing for $2.5 million.

Not only did the Twins sign Gibson for $1.85M – $563,000 over slot – they looked a lot better than several clubs that went over the league-suggested slot. Some examples:

Pick   Name                           Team        Bonus                 Recommended  Difference

6        Zack Wheeler, RHP     SF            $3,300,000      $2,340,000        $960,000
11      Tyler Matzek, LHP       COL        $3,900,000      $1,791,000         $2,109,000
13      Grant Green, SS           OAK        $2,750,000      $1,656,000        $1,094,000
29      Slade Heathcott,OF      NYY       $2,200,000      $1,107,000        $1,093,000
58      Andrew Oliver, LHP     DET        $1,495,000      $624,600           $870,400
76      J.R. Murphy, C             NYY         $1,250,000       $477,900           $772,100
91      Wil Myers, C/3B             KC         $2,000,000      $380,700          $1,619,300
122    Chris Dwyer, LHP          KC         $1,450,000      $240,300          $1,209,700
123    Max Stassi, C              OAK          $1,500,000     $236,700           $1,263,300

(Note: This doesn’t count major league deals or two-sport athlete deals, which can be spread over four years. And I don’t know if there are any special circumstances with the ones I listed).

The system needs to be addressed, no doubt. Tim Lincecum signed for just over $2 million in 2006. Eight unproven pitchers are getting more than that this season, a couple of them are getting much, much more. But if the Twins stick to the principles and say, “we’re not going to pay what we feel is too much,” they and a few other teams will be part of the world’s greatest band playing on the Titanic.

There are plenty of rounds to strike gold in but what’s the point if you can’t sign a player who is projected to be a difference-maker? The Twins needed Gibson. One of the reasons they are in the situation they are in now is because of their 2003 and 2004 drafts and, to an extent, the 2005 draft too.

Now the Twins have Gibson, Matt Bashore, Bill Bullock and Ben Tootle – their first four pick this year – signed. Props to them for getting top talent in the organization this year. All four should move through the system at a pretty good pace. Scouts believe that of the Missouri pitchers in recent years – Max Scherzer (D-Backs), Aaron Crow (Royals draftee) and Gibson – Gibson might be the best of the three.

“I want to make a good impression and I want to show the Twins they made a good  investment,” Gibson said. 

Gibson’s slider is the real deal, he might end up with a plus changeup and has very good command. Don’t expect him to pitch for the Twins next season, that’s just not how this organization rolls with prospects. But a spot in the 2011 rotation isn’t out of the question.

On a sad note, just learned that former Twins prospect Brent Schoening has passed away after a bout with leukemia. Here’s the story. Class A Fort Myers manager Jeff Smith played with Schoening.

Pino to Rochester. Kepler in America

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Heard this morning that righthander Johan Pino has been promoted to Class AAA Rochester. Pino, who has spent most of the season in the bullpen but was in the rotation recently, was 5-1, 3.19 at Class AA New Britain. As you can see here, he’s been on a pretty good run lately.

Max Kepler, the German outfielder the Twins signed earlier this month, was in Fort Myers, Fla. last week to meet the staff and look for a place to go to school. Kepler is only 16, and his parents (his mother is from Texas) are looking for the best situation for him. Kepler returned to Germany while his mother remained in the area,

South Fort Myers High, which opened a few years ago, is right across the street from the Twins complex (that’s where Wilson Ramos’ blast landed a couple years ago) but the Keplers are combing through the whole school system. He’ll probably return in the fall and debut during instructional league play.

The Twins, by the way, were expected to meet with first-round pick Kyle Gibson this week to try to get a contract hammered out. Sounds like Gibson wants to be paid closer to where he was ranked vs where he was selected. The Twins might have to go over slot to get this one done but I suspect they will. 

Minor Details: A midweek look at the Twins farm system

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

It’s been a busy week already – and not just because the short-season leagues have started

Danny Valencia, the Twins’ top third base prospect, and righthander Jeff Manship have been promoted to Class AAA Rochester. Valencia batted .284 with 7 homers and 29 RBI at Class AA New Britian while Manship was 6-4 with a 4.28 ERA.

Valencia, the favorite to open 2010 at third base for the Twins, is steady with the glove and projects to hit for some power. He made a good impression with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire during spring training.

He’s improved a little since joining New Britain:

             G         AB      2B    3B    HR    RBI    BB    SO       AVG    OBP    SLG

2008:  69      266       18     2      10       32     18     70       .289     .334    .485

2009    57      218        14   4        7        29     31     40       .284     .373    .482

He struggled when he first got to New Britain last year but finished well and carried that into this season. The increase in walks and decrease in strikeouts is noteoworthy.

Manship struggled some early this season but had reeled off five straight quality starts when promoted. In three June starts, Manship was 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA.

WHAT ABOUT HUGHES?

It will be interesting to see what the Twins will do with third baseman Luke Hughes when he returns from a strained oblique muscle. He injured himself in late May then aggravated the injury on June 6. He’s currently rehabbing in Fort Myers Fla.

Jim Rantz, the Twins minor league director, said the plan all along was to get Valencia to Rochester before the year ended. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire thinks Hughes looks better at second base. But that’s where Alexi Casilla is.

Casilla, by the way, has missed a few games with a groin muscle strain. 

OTHER MOVES

Righthander Kyle Waldrop and infielder Daniel Berg have been moved  to New Britain to replace Manship and Valencia. Juan Portes, whose bat has come alive this year, will move to third base. Portes is batting .333 at New Britain. He’s played various positions in his career, but Rantz said Portes can hold his own in the field and is not a DH prospect.

OTHER STUFF

The numbers don’t show it, but Rantz said righthander Deolis Guerra is making some progress after changing his delivery and dealing with a drop in velocity. Rantz said Guerra’s velocity is up to around 90-91 miles an hour and could get better. Guerra hit 95 on the gun as an 18-year old but had no movement, leading to the change in his delivery.

A few Class A Fort Myers players left Tuesday’s game because of the heat. The temperature was 96 with a heat index of 110. Rantz said an umpire had to leave the Gulf Cost League game.

Shortstop Tyler Ladendorf was 4 for 4 on Tuesday in Elizabethton’s season opener. He was a second-round pick in last year’s draft after a prolific junior college career but batted .204 for the Gulf Coast League Twins. “Sometimes you have to give them a mulligan that first year when they are getting used to wood bats,” Rantz said. Ladendorf could end up at Class A Beloit for the season is over.

FINALLY

There continue to be whispers that Ben Revere will be moved to second base – but Rantz shot it down. “I don’t know who is talking about that but it ain’t us,”  Rantz said.