But there is no question that two players shined incredibly brightly. Actually, three players did, but one got promoted to the Twins for a couple months and that likely cost him this award. But, The Two. The Big Two. Byron Buxton. Miguel Sano. They both came through with monster seasons in 2013. I promise. I will pick one of them as the Twins minor league hitter of the year and not just go with co-winners. I’ll pick one… And then I’ll most likely say, “If you want to argue for the other one, I won’t disagree at all.”
This should create some debate, to be sure. This ‘award’ is called the Twins Minor League Hitter of the Year. It’s not the Twins minor league player of the year. So, the primary focus should be on their bats. If it was a player of the year award, it would kind of be a Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout type of situation. Which do you pick, and why? But, let’s work our way down the Top 8, and before that, another six players who warrant honorable mention.
Deibinson Romero – Rochester Red Wings (.275/.374/.448 (.822), 17-2B, 1-3B, 13-HR, 56-RBI), Kennys Vargas – Ft. Myers Miracle (.267/.344/.468 (.813), 33-2B, 1-3B, 19-HR, 93-RBI), Reynaldo Rodriguez – New Britain Rock Cats (.231/.305/.482 (.787), 33-2B, 4-3B, 21-HR, 57-RBI), Travis Harrison – Cedar Rapids Kernels (.253/.366/.416 (.782), 28-2B, 0-3B, 15-HR, 59-RBI), Antoan Richardson – New Britain/Rochester (.285/.402/.371 (.773), 20-2B, 8-3B, 0-HR, 43-RBI, 39-SB), JD Williams – Cedar Rapids/Ft. Myers (.265/.372/.403 (.775), 17-2B, 6-3B, 9-HR, 58-RBI, 26-SB)
Hitter of the Year Nominees
There were a lot more good batters up for Hitter of the Year consideration, or at least honorable mention, than there were pitchers for Pitcher of the Year
#8 – Jorge Polanco – Cedar Rapids Kernels (143-465) - .308/.362/.452 (.813), with 32 doubles, 10 triples, 5 HR, 78 RBI, 4 SB)
The Twins signed Polanco out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. He was tiny as a 16-year-old, but he had a great glove. Since then, he has grown and become much stronger. After two seasons of very pedestrian numbers in the GCL, he hit over .300 in Elizabethton in 2012. Was it a result of the small ballparks of the Appy League? Well, in his first at bat of the 2013 season in Cedar Rapids, he homered, and he hit well most of the rest of the season. He was the Kernels #3 hitter for most of the year. He has moved to second base, though many say that he will continue to get some time at shortstop.
#7 – Eddie Rosario – Ft. Myers Miracle / New Britain Rock Cats (150-496) - .302/.350/.460 (.810), with 32 doubles, 8 triples, 10 HR, 73 RBI, 10 SB)
It was a terrific year for Eddie Rosario. He played great in the Puerto Rico Winter League, well enough to be named to the Puerto Rican WBC team. He had a strong showing with the Twins in big league camp. He began the season in Ft. Myers where he hit .329/.377/.527. Once the Miracle clinched the first half title, he was promoted to AA New Britain. His numbers weren’t quite as good, .284/.330/.412, but when you factor in that he is just 21 years old, it was an incredible season. His progress at second base was impressive to those who saw him play. The Twins drafted Rosario in the 4th round out of high school in Puerto Rico in 2010. He does not yet need to be added to the 40 man roster, but he is certain to get an invite to big league camp.
#6 – Adam Walker – Cedar Rapids Kernels (141-508) - .278/.319/.526 (.844), with 31 doubles, seven triples, 27 HR, 109 RBI, 10 SB)
Walker was the Twins 3rd round pick in 2012 out of Jacksonville University. Like yesterday’s relief pitcher of the year, Tyler Jones, Walker is a product of Milwaukee. After signing with the Twins, he hit 14 homers for Elizabethton last year. This year, he led the Midwest League with 27 home runs and 109 RBI. He added a couple of huge home runs in the playoffs as well. Walker has as much power as anyone in the Twins farm system, but he is also a terrific athlete. He did a nice job in right field. He is also a very good base stealer. He was 10-10 this year and has not been caught on a stolen base attempt since high school. Walker strikes out, but the bigger concern is that he just doesn’t take many walks and control the zone. Without some adjustments, he will struggle as he advances. Fortunately, he is still just 21 years old and has plenty of time to keep developing.
#5 – Dalton Hicks – Ft. Myers Miracle / New Britain Rock Cats (145-502) - .289/.358/.468 (.826), with 39 doubles, 0 triples, 17 HR, 110 RBI, 0 SB)
Hicks was the Twins 17th round pick a year ago out of Central Florida. Like Walker, he signed quickly and Hicks came up big for the E-Twins in the playoffs. You’ll recall, he hit the walk-off grand slam in Game 3 of the Appy League championship series. He began this season with the Kernels where he hit .297 (.850) with 31 doubles and 13 home runs before being promoted to the Miracle in mid-July. He ended up leading the organization and all minor league baseball with 100 RBI. The first baseman is a big man with a long, strong swing and great power.
#4 – Josmil Pinto – New Britain Rock Cats / Rochester Red Wings (141-456) - .309/.400/.482 (.882), with 32 doubles, 1 triple, 15 HR, 74 RBI, 0 SB)
To say that Josmil Pinto has put together a nice start to his big league career could be deemed an understatement. He has shown in just a couple weeks many of the traits that have made him an interesting prospect over the past couple seasons. He is a line drive hitter with power. He also has very good strike zone judgment and puts the ball in play. Behind the plate, he has looked better than I expected and shown a very strong arm. During his minor league season, primarily in New Britain, he hit for average, took a lot of walks and had lots of extra base hits. He has made himself a serious prospect with a big future.
#3 – Chris Colabello – Rochester Red Wings (119-338) - .352/.427/.639 (1.066), with 25 doubles, 0 triples, 24 HR, 76 RBI, 2 SB)
Like Andrew Albers, the Colabello story has been incredible. After all those years in independent ball, he got a chance with the Twins. He had a solid 2012 season in New Britain. He got off to an incredible start the first two months of the season and earned his first major league promotion. He went back and forth between the Red Wings and the Twins several times. Although he has struggled with the Twins to some degree, he has absolutely raked in AAA. Despite missing some time, he was named the International League’s Rookie of the Year and MVP. A very aggressive hitter, he got on base most of the games he played. He was an extra base machine. Also, like Albers, if CC had been promoted to the Twins (which would have been a modern-day tragedy), he may have been the clear choice for this award.
#2 – Byron Buxton – Cedar Rapids Kernels (163-488) - .334/.424/.520 (944), with 19 doubles, 18 triples, 12 HR, 77 RBI, 55 SB)
On Wednesday, Baseball America named Buxton the Minor League Player of the Year. And he deserved it! So, why didn’t I pick him as the Twins minor league hitter of the year? Well, that can be found in the next profile. Buxton had an incredible season. The 19 year old started the season in Cedar Rapids, and the expectation was that he would spend the full season there. In 68 games, he hit .341/.431/.559 (.990) with 15 doubles, ten triples and eight home runs. Three games after he played in the Midwest League All Star game, he was promoted to the Miracle. He continued to hit well. In 57 Florida State League games, he hit .326/.415/.472 (.887) with four doubles, eight triples and four home runs.
What’s not to like about Buxton?! In addition to hitting for average, he has some good power (which could develop further in coming years). He has amazing speed. I went to the Kernels first three games this year. I saw him beat out normal ground balls to third base, shortstop and second base. And, those triples. He had 18 of them! Most hitters would have had 16 doubles and two triples on those hits. He also stole 55 bases, although he was also caught 19 times, so that is an area he can improve upon. He is patient at the plate, and like Joe Mauer, he can be successful with two strikes.
Buxton’s speed also makes him a tremendous outfielder with great range. He also has one of the strongest throwing arms in the system.
Listen, if this was the Twins Minor League Player of the Year, I likely would select Byron Buxton. When I do my Twins top prospect rankings, Byron Buxton will be Number One. In fact, when Baseball America (and probably all such publications) puts out their overall prospect rankings before the 2014 season, Buxton will be the #1 prospect in the game (as he was at the midway point of this season). I watched Mike Trout play two games in Beloit (for Cedar Rapids) in 2010. At the time, I had never seen a better prospect. He stood head and shoulders above all of the other players on the field. The Cedar Rapids Kernels roster was full of very good prospects, and Byron Buxton stood head and shoulders above the others. Buxton is an incredible prospect, and if you want me to throw out an ETA for Buxton’s MLB debut, I’ll say late July of 2014. He’s that good.
Hitter of the Year – Miguel Sano – Ft. Myers Miracle / New Britain Rock Cats (125-439) - .280/.382/.610 (.992), with 30 doubles, 5 triples, 35 HR, 103 RBI, 11 SB)
It is almost the Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout debate that we heard in 2012. Mike Trout was the better all-around player and WAR certainly showed that. However, Miguel Cabrera was clearly the best hitter in baseball. As I pointed out above, Byron Buxton is in the Mike Trout category. Miguel Sano? He is in the Miguel Cabrera category.
Don’t get me wrong, Sano has a long way to go to get to that level, but if you want a perfect, all-goes-right-for-the-Twins-and-us-fans scenario, he could become Miguel Cabrera. He has the power. No question about that. At Ft. Myers, he hit .330/.424/.655 (1.079) with 15 homers and 16 home runs in just 56 games with the big league ballpark dimensions. Like Rosario, he was promoted to New Britain the day after the Miracle clinched the first half title. He hit just .236, but he got on base at a .344 clip. And then the power! He hit 15 doubles, three triples and 19 home runs in just 67 games.
Sure, he is going to strikeout quite a bit, and it is something he will need to continue to work on. However, he struck out 144 times in 553 plate appearances in Beloit in 2012. Between Ft. Myers and New Britain this year, he struck out 142 times in 519 plate appearances. A slight increase while playing at two higher levels. He also continues to get a better sense of the strike zone and is more willing to walk. Despite better pitchers with better breaking pitches, he walked at nearly the same rate.
Again, if defense is part of this, Sano would fall to #2 on the list. That said, reports on his defense were that he was much improved. That’s saying something because when I watched him in Beloit early in the 2012 season at third base, it was awful. When I saw him play four more games in August last year, he was pretty solid. If that kind of improvement continues, he can be average or slightly better than average at the position. His arm? Well above average, even for a third baseman.
Miguel Sano is my choice for Twins minor league hitter of the year. Let’s just take a look at how the numbers stack up:
|Miguel Sano||125-439||.280/.382/.610 (.992)||30/5/35/103||11/15||65/142/519|
|Byron Buxton||163-488||.334/424/520 (.944)||19/18/12/77||55/74||76/105/574|
Six of one, half-dozen of the other. Do you like power or do you like speed? For me, I can’t get past Sano’s power. He had an IsoP (SLG – BA) of .330 (compared to Buxton’s 0.186). His IsoD (OBP – BA) was 0.102 to Buxton’s .090.
So there you have it. There were some really terrific offensively performances by Twins minor leaguers in 2012. Now let the debate begin. As a Twins fan, it’s tremendous to see two elite prospects put up numbers and draw national attention. Players become prospects because of tools, and elite tools. But when the minor league prospects backs up the tools with this kind of production, it’s pretty special, and it’s very exciting for Twins fans! Feel free to discuss.