Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Twins Chatter’s Top 10 Prospects: Part Two

Yesterday marked the beginning of prospect week, which I kicked off by naming prospects 6-10 on the Twins Chatter Top 10 prospects list. Today we’ll complete the list, and the choices become a little more controversial (although just a little).

5. Kyle Waldrop - When the Twins drafted Waldrop with the 25th overall pick in last year’s draft, most people (including myself) were very surprised. Because of perceived signability issues, Waldrop was not projected as a very high pick. But Terry Ryan and the Twins’ scouting department did their homework and convinced Waldrop to sign for a fair price (appx. $1 million).

The 19 year-old most definitely did not disappoint in his first pro season. Waldrop displayed amazing poise and control for such a young pitcher at both levels of rookie ball. He posted a 2.14 ERA and walked just seven batters in 63 innings. It looks like the Twins have found another gem where others couldn’t! ETA: 2008

4. Francisco Liriano - When the A.J. Pierzynski trade was announced, Liriano was most definitely the most unknown piece. As it turns out, he may yet prove to be the most valuable. Liriano may not have the raw stats of a Baker or Waldrop, but he has the word “projectable” written all over him. Just 20 years old and in already entering his fifth season of pro ball, Liriano finally dispelled the injury concerns that haunted him in the Giants organization the past few years. He’s a flame-throwing lefty who has actually drawn comparisons to Johan Santana. Sounds like one heck of a pitcher; can’t wait to see him in the Show! ETA: 2007

3. Jason Kubel - Ah, yes. We come to it at last: Jason Kubel, the great unknown. Had I published this list any time between last summer and October 21, Kubel would be a no-brainer at number one. The guy had arguably one of the best minor league seasons in team history, posting a 1.120 OPS at AA and slugging 16 homers with 71 RBIs in just 90 games at AAA. 2004 was the epitome of the “breakout season” for Jason Kubel.

Then came that fateful day in the Arizona Fall League, when Kubel collided with an infielder while trying to make a catch and suffered “a torn anterior cruciate ligament, torn posterior cruciate ligament and torn lateral collateral ligament”—whatever all that means (edit: actually, I do know what an ACL is). In any case, it was some bad [stuff]. Kubel had to have major surgery this winter and will most certainly miss the entire 2005 season. Will he ever be the same player again? Many think that he will make a full recovery, especially given the fact that speed was never a big part of his game. However, you don’t just take a year off and not suffer any consequences. I’m still optimistic that Kubel will turn into the player we all hoped he’d become early last fall, but I’m not entirely sure of myself. ETA: 2006

2. J.D. Durbin - Yes, I know Durbin is having yet another horrible spring, but the fact remains that this guy is very highly regarded prospect. We’ve all heard gobs about his tough demeanor and “makeup” (which coincidentally doesn’t seem to be serving him all that well at the moment) but Durbin’s also got great stuff and throws hard. Plus, he’s proven that he can succeed at every level of the minor leagues. Let’s hope this recent funk is nothing more than a speed bump on the road to greatness. ETA: late 2005

1. Jesse Crain - The Twins are in somewhat of a unique position with their two top “prospects”, Joe Mauer and Jesse Crain. Both played a pretty decent amount in the majors last season, and both experienced considerable success. However, I have chosen to omit Mauer from this list and deny him his “prospect” status (as I’m sure he values my opinion on the subject very much). But Crain is in a little different boat from Mauer. Despite the fact that he was with the team from the trading deadline on, he threw only 27 innings and was used surprisingly little by Gardenhire, which in my mind still makes him somewhat of an unknown.

However that all should change this season. Jesse Crain is now an integral part of what is sure to be on the American League’s best bullpens. He throws absolute gas (95+ mph) and has, as Gardenhire said last spring, a “curveball from hell”. I actually think his best pitch is his slider, but we’re not here to nitpick. Crain is still the best relief prospect in the bigs and is the closest thing to a “sure bet” that exists in the Twins organization today. ETA: 2005

Well, there you have it folks. To recap, here’s the complete list:
10. Trevor Plouffe
9. Adam Harben
8. Jason Bartlett
7. Glen Perkins
6. Scott Baker
5. Kyle Waldrop
4. Francisco Liriano
3. Jason Kubel
2. J.D. Durbin
1. Jesse Crain

As you can see, that list contains an inordinate amount of pitchers (7 in all) and most of them relatively young. That is indeed where the organization’s current strength lies: young pitching. Just you know, that is a very good thing! There are tons of organizations that would love to have the Twins’ surplus of young stud arms, and if Smilin’ Carl decides to open up the checkbook at the trading deadline this year (an annual vain hope in Twins Territory) then we definitely have the chips to bargain with.

Prospect week continues tomorrow with an analysis of the monumental 2004 amateur draft. Until then, take care!

-Ryan M.

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