It’s that time of year. The Major League Baseball first-year players’ draft starting in two weeks. That means that we need to get our pre-draft Top 50 Twins Prospects list out. I’ve always done this before the draft to take a look at where the organization is. Over the next week, we’ll look at my choices for the Top 50 Twins Prospects. People talk a lot about the Twins farm system being weak. Well, I do need to acknowledge that in the past I generally had no idea coming up with the top 30. This time around, I was struggling after the top 8 or 9. Take that for what it’s worth, which may be nothing.
Today, we’ll look at my choices for 41 through 50. There may be an assumption that these ten are not worth knowing or learning about, but I disagree. First, I always believe that minor leaguers deserve to be recognized. Second, as you look through these ten players, you will see a couple of types. There are a couple of potentially dominant bullpen arms working through injuries. There are also a lot of very young, new-to-the-organization types of players who will pay in the short seasons. Some have very good potential but there just isn’t enough data points yet to rank them any higher. By season’s end, they could move up twenty spots… or disappear from the list. It’s the beauty of following the minor leagues.
Let’s get started. Here are my choices for Twins Prospects 41-50
#50 – Trent Higginbotham, RHP
Higginbotham was the Twins 26th
round draft pick in 2011 out of high school in Alabama. He signed on the last possible day for a well-above-slot $195,000. The right-hander is 6-2 and 195 and has a very projectable frame with room to grow. He turned 20 years old last week and already boasts a fastball that touches 94 mph. He also throws a curveball and a changeup. I would guess that he will pitch in Elizabethton starting in June, but it is possible that he will start in the GCL.
#49 – Tyler Jones, RHP
Jones is a Milwaukee native who was a top prep baseball player during his high school career during which he was a part of two state titles. He went to Madison Arch Tech Junior College where he helped them to the World Series in 2010. In 2011, he pitched for LSU before the Twins made him their 11th
round pick. He signed later in the season and pitched seven innings for Elizabethton, which is where he’ll likely return in 2012. Jones is already 22 years old and will turn 23 in September. He is 6-4 and 205 pounds. He throws a 2-seam and a 4-seam fastball and sits 91-94. He has touched 96 mph. His slider is his out-pitch, and he is working on a changeup.
#48 – Hung-yi Chen, RHP
Chen was signed by the Twins in June of 2010 from Taiwan. The 20 year old has a 5-10 stocky frame. He throws 87-91 mph with a fastball. He also throws a sinker, a slider and a fork ball. Last year in the GCL, he was 0-4 with a 4.33 ERA. In 35.1 innings, he walked just five and struck out 38. He may head back to the GCL for 2012. Although he is able to get hitters out, he will need to add some velocity.
#47 – Kenny Vargas, 1B
22 year old Vargas was signed as a free agent in 2009 from Puerto Rico. The powerful switch-hitter is listed at 6-5 and 215 pounds, however, he has fought his weight for years. Last year in Elizabethon, he was off to a great start. He hit .322/.377/.489 with 11 doubles, six home runs and 35 RBI. Unfortunately, that’s when his season ended. He was suspended fifty games for using a banned substance (ironically from a weight-loss supplement). He served 18 games of his suspension in 2011. Unfortunately, the rules of such suspensions say that they need to be served with the same team. That’s why the remaining 32 games of his suspension cannot start until the Elizabethton season starts. When his suspension ends, will he stay in Elizabethton or move up to Beloit?
#46 – Angel Mata, RHP
Mata signed with the Twins in January 2010 out of Venezuela. In 2011, he went 0-1 with a 1.46 ERA in 12 games with the GCL Twins. In 37 innings, he gave up just 23 hits. He walked 19 and struck out 30 while opponents hit just .184 off of him. He is 6-2 and 190 pounds with room to grow. He will be 19 years old throughout the 2012 season.
#45 – James Beresford, SS/2B
Beresford signed with the Twins in August of 2005 out of Australia. He has consistently and gradually worked his way up the Twins farm system. He was the Beloit Snappers team MVP in 2009 and 2010. He was solid in Ft. Myers last year. He was pushed up to AA New Britain this season and he is holding his own. He is hitting .267/.350/.286 with two doubles. Beresford has been a mainstay for Australia’s international teams (playing in WBCs and World Cup events). As you have always heard, Beresford needs to add weight and be able to hit more extra base hits if he wants to be a big league regular. In my opinion, he could be a major league utility infielder today because of his terrific middle infield defense.
#44 – Carlos Gutierrez, RHP
The Twins second first-round draft pick in 2008 had a terrific spring training, but he has had shoulder issues since the season started. He missed significant time in 2011 with injury as well. In 62.1 innings in 2011, he struck out 57, but he walked 31. In spring, we saw that his 96 mph fastball is not easy to hit. However, I don’t believe that we saw him throw a secondary pitch for a strike. If he can figure out a second pitch, he could be a quality late-inning reliever. If not, he may be a back-of-the-bullpen option. The 25-year-old will need to get healthy for us to really find out.
#43 – Austin Malinowski, LHP
Malinowski was the Twins 16th
round pick last year. He was Mr. Baseball last year in Minnesota while pitching for Centennial High School in Circle Pines. Days before the signing deadline, it appeared Malinowski was heading to the University of Arizona on a scholarship. Instead, he and the Twins agreed on a deal. The 6-4 left-hander is long and lanky. He has a very projectable frame and should add velocity. He already has good secondary pitches. He will not turn 20 years old until the end of November. He will likely pitch for the GCL Twins in 2012.
#42 – Dakota Watts, RHP
Watts was the Twins 16th
round pick in 2009 out of Cal State-Stanislaus. In 2011, he split the season between Ft. Myers and New Britain. He walked 33 in 65 innings. He went to the Arizona Fall League after the season and in 14 innings, he gave up 15 hits, walked ten and struck out nine. At 6-5, Watts throws hard. Unfortunately, he is yet to pitch in 2012 due to some shoulder tendonitis. It appears he is close to returning and his velocity is back up into the mid-90s. There are also reports that he has now added a split-finger pitch to his repertoire. It all comes down to strike-throwing with him. That will determine whether he’s a late-inning bullpen guy, or if he even gets beyond AA.
#41 – Lance Ray, OF/1B
Ray was the Twins 8th
round pick in 2010 out of the University of Kentucky. Last year in Beloit, he hit .253/.335/.432 with 34 doubles, a triple, 16 home runs and 74 RBI. At just 6-1 and 195 pounds, he doesn’t profile as a power hitter. That said, he has a very nice swing and great power to all fields. Defensively, he is average. He has OK range and a decent, accurate arm. He is playing with the Ft. Myers Miracle. He has had a rough week since being the Florida State League’s hitter of the week two weeks ago. Although he is hitting just .213/.297/.404, he already has 11 doubles and five home runs on the season.
So, there you have my choices for Twins prospects 41-50. In the next day or two, I’ll be back with my next installment which will be prospects 31-40).
If you have any questions or comments on any of these prospects, please feel free to ask.