Recently I had the opportunity to interview MLB.com senior writer Jonathan Mayo
about the Minnesota Twins farm system. Since joining MLB.com, heís produced an annual Top 100 prospect list, several shows on MLB radio and Around the Minors, a radio show that is all about prospects. In part one of the three part series, I talk to him about the Twins' farm system as a whole, where certain prospects are on his Top 100 list and whether this year will be different for Kyle Gibson & Aaron Hicks.
CF Ė First off, where do you currently rank the Twins farm system in comparison to all of the other teams in the league?
Jonathan Mayo Ė Well, we donít do an ďofficialĒ organizational ranking. But that being said, I donít think youíre going out on a limb by saying that they are clearly at or near the top of any list if you were going to put one together.
CF Ė The MLB.com Top 100 list that you put together is coming out, I donít know how far into it you are, but how many Twins prospects can we expect to see on there potentially?
JM Ė Ohhhh I canít tell you that. (laughs)
CF Ė I had to try.
JM Ė I think if you were to say that you would see several Twins on the list youíd be fine. I donít know how you define several.
CF Ė I could probably think of three.
JM Ė Three is a few, I can say that there are more than that, but thatís as far as Iíll go.
CF Ė Fair enough. I know that thereís a reveal and a special on the MLB Network coming up soon.
JM- January 23rd Ė 10 pm EST, 9 pm central on the MLB Network, and the entire top 100 will be on the site right afterwards.
CF Ė Do you believe that the struggles that they saw with [Kyle] Gibson in the majors and with [Aaron] Hicks are going to deter rushing guys to the majors? I know that was a big discussion with Hicks jumping from AA to the majors and didnít live up to the expectations people had for him. Will the Twins be more likely to hold guys back because of those experiences, or is it more of a player-by-player basis?
JM Ė I think itís a player-by-player basis. The Twins have always been good at that. There was a lull when they werenít producing many players. I think that Hicks was the head of the group in some respects, and he might have been rushed a little bit because they didnít really have a center fielder. I think they felt that he could handle it, he had handled some failure in the minors, and was just starting to figure things out. With no disrespect to Aaron Hicks, Buxton has already been much more productive than Hicks in his first season, than Hicks ever was in the minors.
I donít think you can let what Aaron Hicks did or what Kyle Gibson - coming off of Tommy Johns surgery - did dictate decisions on other players. If Alex Meyer is throwing strikes at the beginning of the year, heís going to see a lot of big league time. If Sano is lighting up AA and there is a need at third? I think you could see him. I think the situation of the individual is going to dictate it more than anything else.
CF Ė Speaking of Gibson and Hicks, do you think that the potential is still there that made them top prospects? I know they are both relatively young guys, but do you see them starting the 2014 season in Rochester or do they have a real shot at making the opening day roster in Minnesota?
JM Ė Aaron Hicks is going to be 24 for all of the 2014 season, but even if he goes down to AAA for a little while, heís not that old. It gets more difficult for guys who have had struggles at the big league level, to be that guy who was there and then left. Itís not like they have guys to play center field in Minnesota. Alex Presley? Iím from Pittsburgh, so I actually like Alex Presley a little bit. I think heís a very good fourth outfielder, but I donít think you want him playing centerfield every day. I think that there is still the opportunity for Hicks to win that job again; itíll be interesting to see what happens. If he has another really good spring training, and shows that heís made some adjustments with what he struggled with in the big leagues last year I think he wins that job.
As for Gibson, with some of the additions that theyíve brought in with Nolasco and Hughes, heís going to have to work his way in. I still think that he has every chance of being a big league starter, but heís 26; heís no youngster anymore. I mean thatís still young enough, but that prospect clock is ticking. I think he probably goes in and competes for the back end of the rotation, and if he pitches well, then he has a chance. Heís never had the highest ceiling in the world, but he seemed to have a lower floor before he got hurt.
Keep in mind that the learning curve for Tommy John, itís shortened considerably in terms of the recovery time. Not everyone comes back throwing as well as they did before. That happens to some guys it seems, but definitely not everybody. Heís going to be another year removed; he could come back and look like the guy who was about ready to hit the rotation before he got hurt. He certainly can pitch his way into the rotation, and I certainly wouldnít give up hope on either one of them.
Truth be told, Gibson didnít have that much time in the big leagues last season. Itís not like it was this huge resume of work to judge him by. If you really want to be optimistic about it you could say, ďhe was working his way backĒ and was basically rehabbing at the highest level of the minors and pitched his way to the big leagues. It used to be that the first year was almost like a mulligan, you just get your innings in, get your work in, building your arm strength back, get your feel for your pitches back., which is often the last thing that comes. So the fact that he pitched well enough to get up to the big leagues and make 10 starts, thatís pretty good.
Part 2 and Parts 3 of this interview will be published on 1/9 and 1/14.