Sunday, June 06, 2004

2004 Twins Draft Preview

At noon on Monday, the 2004 Major League Amateur Draft gets underway. This year the occasion is extremely noteworthy for Twins fans. The Twins have five of the first 39 picks this year: numbers 20, 22, 25, 35, and 39. No other team has more than three of the first 40 selections; the Twins themselves have never had more than three of the first 50. Four of these picks (each except #20) are compensation selections for the free agent losses of Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins this past winter, including the latter two picks which will take place in the supplemental first round. For an organization that traditionally builds from within, this is a great opportunity for the Twins to ensure the continued success of the franchise.

What I have compiled below contains two parts. Part One quickly reviews the Twins’ recent draft history, and Part Two looks at some possible draft choices for the Twins in the early rounds of 2004. It’s a bit lengthy, but I think it is well worth reading in its entirety.

PART ONE: First of all, let’s take a look at the some early-round draft choices of the last few years for the Twins.

1998: 1st Round (6th overall)
Ryan Mills- A highly-touted lefthander out of Arizona State, Mills has been a complete bust for the Twins. He has struggled with his control at almost every level of the minor leagues, and was recently dropped from the 40-man roster. Mills seems to have found his niche lately as a mediocre AAA reliever. Not exactly worth the $2 million signing bonus the Twins doled out in ’98.

1999: 1st Round (5th overall)
B.J. Garbe- Garbe has been another early-first-round disappointment for the Twins. He has definitely not been the hard-hitting outfielder the Twins envisioned him as, posting an OPS of .508 at AA last year. He has been bad this year also, hitting only .232 through Sunday.
2nd Round (56th)
Rob Bowen- Bowen has done about average for a second-round pick, as he is currently the AA catcher for the Twins and has seen some time in the majors as well in ’03 and ’04. He might still become a serviceable major league player, but the Twins are obviously not the right organization for players at his position (more on that later).

2000: 1st Round (2nd overall)
Adam Johnson- Johnson has been one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory. After a horrific 1999 season, Twins fans everywhere were looking forward to a high draft choice in ’00, but the Twins chose signability over promise when they chose the seemingly-polished Johnson out of Cal-State Fullerton. He rose quickly through the ranks, making his ML debut in ’01, but never recovered from the pounding he took that season. He has been terrible at AAA and in his brief major league time ever since. And who can forget his infamous spring training meltdown of last year…
1st Round Supplemental (31st overall)
Aaron Heilman- The Twins drafted Heilman out of Notre Dame, but were unable to sign him. Heilman signed with the Mets the next year, and has been one of their top pitching prospects, although he has struggled in the majors this year (6.75 ERA).

2001: 1st Round (1st overall)
Joe Mauer- What more can I say about this guy that hasn’t already been said? Mauer has as good as advertised thus far: a patient, high-average hitter who is outstanding behind the dish. There was some controversy when the Twins chose Mauer over Mark Prior, but as Jim Souhan said in the Strib Sunday, the decision was a no-brainer. And hey, don’t look now, but Mauer collected his first ML home run, extra-base hit, and RBIs in Sunday’s game! Hopefully these are the first in what promises to be an illustrious career for the 21 year-old.
2nd Round (45th)
Scott Tyler- The jury is still out on Tyler, as he is only 21 years old. He is a great physical specimen (6’5”, 210) but he hit a little bump on the road last year at Quad Cities after a solid season at Elizabethton in ’02. He has been hurt for much of this season and has only made 4 appearances.

2002: 1st Round (20th overall)
Denard Span- ’02 marked the first time in almost a decade that the Twins did not have a top-10 draft choice. Management knew that Span would most likely take time to develop, as he was a rather raw high school player when drafted. Span, who had a decent season at Elizabethton last year, has struggled at times this season in Quad Cities, although reports say he is making progress. He projects as a lead-off man in the Kenny Lofton mold.
2nd Round (61st)
Jesse Crain- Every Twins fan worth his (or her) weight in off-color Teflon has heard the name Jesse Crain. A closer/shortstop from the University of Houston, Crain absolutely dominated the minor leagues these past two seasons, tearing through the Twins minor league affiliates like paper. He has been merely human this year at Rochester, posting a 3.81 ERA to go along with 12 saves. Crain has 98-mph fastball, a plus changeup, and a devastating breaking ball that Ron Gardenhire referred to as the “curveball from hell.” One of the better draft choices by the Twins over the past few years, he should see time with the Twins at some point this season.

2003: 1st Round (21st overall)
Matt Moses- Last year the Twins drafted the swing-swinging 3B Moses as a high school player. He was good in rookie ball last year, but has struggled somewhat with injuries, including a heart defect and back problems. Hopefully he will be okay, as he’s just 19 years old (actually 5 months younger than me—how weird is that?!).
2nd Round (58th)
Scott Baker- A standout pitcher at Oklahoma State, Baker has limited upside but has performed well thus far in the pros. He was very good at Fort Myers earlier this year (2.40 ERA in 7 starts, with only 6 walks in 45 IP) and earned a promotion to New Britain, where he has gone 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Everything I read says he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues, which isn’t bad for a second-round pick.

Whew! We’ve gone over some recent draft history for our beloved Twinks, and as you can see the results have been somewhat less-than-spectacular. Many people refer to the draft as a “crapshoot,” implying that there is almost no way to know whether or not the player you’ve selected will pan out. But I’m not willing to concede that point just yet, so let’s take a look at some of the players the Twins are considering for their first three selections in this year’s draft.

PART TWO: Collegians

Josh Fields, 3B, Oklahoma State
Fields, who was also OK State’s star QB the past two seasons, probably won’t be around when the Twins pick at #20. If he is, I hope that the Twins draft him. Fields is a great college hitter with good power (12 HRs last year) and shows potential defensively at the hot corner. The Twins organization is sorely lacking in infield depth, and as a relatively advanced college player Fields would help fill a need. Also, he doesn’t project as an NFL quarterback so that can’t be used as bargaining leverage against the Twins (no Drew Hensons here).

Glen Perkins, LHP, University of Minnesota
Perkins and the Twins seem like a match made in heaven. The Twins, as we all know, have always sought to draft hometown kids and Perkins (who is from Stillwater) is extremely talented to boot. His fastball reaches 92 mph, he has a very good changeup, a plus curve, and has good control as well. The only knock on Perkins is that he’s not very big (5’11” 190) but I’m not too concerned with that. His relative lack of stature also means that the Twins will undoubtedly have the opportunity to draft him (probably with their #25 pick) and I would be shocked if they didn’t.

He did get roughed up the other day by Cal State Fullerton in the NCAA Regionals, but in the words of Sir Sidney this morning, that might actually have been a “good” thing because it will hurt his draft status. Leave it to Sid to find the silver lining in every Gophers loss…

B.J. Szymanski, OF, Princeton
I think that the Twins may possibly draft Szymanski only if they choose to go the “best available player” route. It is well publicized that the Twins aren’t hurting for outfield talent, but Szymanski sounds like he might be too good to pass up. Dubbed a 5-tool player by scouts, he’s a 6’5”, 215 switch hitter with a sweet stroke from both sides. His outstanding speed also should help him in the outfield. He hasn’t faced the best competition (playing in the Ivy League) so many scouts are anxious to see how he fares in the Regionals (update: not that well, unfortunately). I haven’t heard much about the Twins in connection with Szymanski, so I doubt that they will draft him. But you never know.

Mike Ferris, 1B, Miami of Ohio
I’m going to stick with the collegiate player theme and profile the Miami sensation Ferris. Ferris is the epitome of a “Moneyball” player: college hitter with very good plate discipline, mediocre fielder with little speed, and great power numbers. Despite the fact that he only emerged as a prospect last year, he sounds like a pretty safe pick (relatively cheap as well). I wouldn’t mind seeing the Twins draft him (despite the fact that we already have Justin Morneau), but it sounds like he will probably be snatched up by another budget-conscious team before the Twins, such as the Royals. If both the Twins and Royals pass, I’m sure Billy Beane will ecstatically draft him at #24.

David Purcey, LHP, Oklahoma
Purcey, also one of the top lefthanders in the draft, is an interesting case. He has been extremely inconsistent throughout his career thus far, which, despite his enormous physical gifts (the lefty is 6’5”, 240 with a 95 mph fastball) has scared some teams off. This spring he appeared to put it all together, sharpening the command of his fastball, curve, and change (he had 54 walks and 130 strikeouts in 118.2 innings this year). He’s a risk, but his talent means that he will go somewhere in the Twins range. I would actually rather the Twins took a high school player, because Purcey has the look of an Adam Johnson about him. But it is definitely possible that the Twins will take Purcey at either #22 or #25.


Scott Elbert, LHP, Seneca, Mo
Elbert is considered one of the top two left-handed pitchers in the draft (the best HS one), and it will be a surprise if he’s still available for the Twins at #20 (let alone 22 or 25). He has a 93 mph sinking fastball, a change that also sinks, and a mid-80s slider (which is extremely impressive I think!). I can’t imagine the Twins could pass on him if he’s still available, but it’s doubtful he will be—he’s projected to go anywhere from #10-17. Mike Radcliff, Twins director of scouting, says that the Twins will continue to go after high school pitching despite the obvious cost concerns.

Jay Rainville, RHP, Bishop Hendricken HS, Pawtucket
Rainville, who comes from the same high school as Rocco Baldelli, put up some absolutely mind-boggling numbers this year: 10-0, 0.18 ERA, 9 walks and 165 strikeouts in 77 innings. It doesn’t get much better than that, even in high school! I’ve seen Rainville and the Twins linked in a couple of articles, so he seems like a pretty likely pick (provided he’s still available). He’s got a 90-94 mph fastball and is 6’3”, 220 lbs—that alone is reason enough to make him a surefire first-rounder. His other pitches are less refined, so it would most likely take him a few years to progress through the minors. I could definitely see the Twins drafting Rainville, although he’s not the safest pick in the world.

Blake DeWitt, SS, Sikeston, Mo.
I have seen the Twins and DeWitt connected numerous times, and it seems very likely that the Twins will draft him (probably in the supplemental round). Dubbed “one of the safest bets to hit among the draft's high school prospects” by Baseball America, DeWitt and the Twins seem like yet another match made in heaven. DeWitt was only ranked the 65th best prospect by BA, so I hope the Twins don’t stretch and use a regular first-round choice on him to save money. He’s also not going to be a shortstop in the pros and will probably be moved to second or third. Despite this, I would be surprised if the Twins didn’t draft him.

Eric Hurley, RHP, Wolfson HS, Jacksonville
In early draft previews, it appeared that the Twins would have a good shot at selecting Hurley with their first pick, but those chances have dwindled significantly as Hurley finished the prep season better than many of his fellow prep stars. Hurley is a scout’s dream: consistent 92-95 mph fastball, 6’4” 192 lbs, with an ability to maintain velocity late in games. I’m sure the Twins would be thrilled if Hurley fell to #20 (I know I would be), but that is looking less and less likely all the time. He will probably go from #10-15.

Trevor Plouffe, SS, Crespi HS, Northridge, Calif.
Plouffe also seems to be a likely pick for the Twins in the supplemental round. He was a great pitcher and shortstop in high school, and could do both if he chooses to honor his commitment to USC. He’s probably the second-best prep shortstop in the draft behind Matt Bush (whom the Padres are considering with the first overall pick) and has been compared to a young Robin Yount. But he could also be a pitcher, as he has a 91 mph fastball. I hope the Twins take Plouffe, as shortstop is a position of major organizational weakness.

Billy Butler, 1B/3B, Wolfson HS, Jacksonville
A budget-conscious first round pick, this kid can flat rake, but doesn’t really have a defensive position.
Chuck Lofgren, OF/P, Serra HS, Burlingame, Calif.
Previously regarded as an outfielder, he struggled at the plate this year and moved to the mound where he has been impressive. Possible supplemental pick.

Well, that’s enough for tonight. I hope all of you found this guide to be interesting, informative, and useful. It was actually kinda fun to write, as I hadn’t really taken the time to study this year’s draft before this weekend (usually I start reading stuff weeks in advance). Throughout the day tomorrow (Monday) I’ll post updates as to where these various players go in the draft and who the Twins get. Also, be sure to check out Twins Chatter each and every weekday for more insightful, thoughtful, and somewhat opinionated Minnesota Twins coverage.

-Ryan M.

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