Pitching-heavy Twins try to maintain balance

Garza, Slowey highlight slew of near-ready pitching prospects

(Joy R. Absalon/MLB.com)

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com | March 25, 2007 6:00 AM ET

The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.

The good thing about having so much depth at pitching is ... well, having so much depth at pitching.

The bad thing? Granted there is not really a downside, but it's a challenge to find that fine line between having all of your pitching prospects competing at the right level with a promising future, and creating a logjam.

Fortunately, the Minnesota Twins have found that line.

For now, it would appear that the Twins' mound future starts the season firmly situated in Rochester. Not Rochester, Minnesota, but Rochester, New York, home of the club's Triple-A Red Wings.

With the big club's rotation not yet etched in stone but shaping up to include Johan Santana (yeah, he's etched in stone), Carlos Silva, Ramon Ortiz, Boof Bonser and, yes, Sidney Ponson, at least three future Twins stars will be Red Wings for now.

Matt Garza, MiLB.com's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2006, cruised through three Minor League levels in his first full season and pitched well this spring. But he seems to be the first odd man out.

Southpaw Glen Perkins, a home-grown Minnesota boy who also attended the University of Minnesota, is on the verge, as is finesse-meister Kevin Slowey, who posted a 1.90 ERA in the Minors last year and then got the coveted start against Cuba in the Olympic-qualifying games.

And yes, there is more, much more, where that came from.

Sadly, at least for now, there was a little more room in the mix due to the loss of Francisco Liriano, one of the most impressive rookies in 2006, to Tommy John surgery.

But when he gets back, and you add these young arms to perennial Cy Young-contender Johan Santana? Watch out.

So how do you balance it out?

"That's always a challenge," said farm director Jim Rantz. "Our staff seems to work through this every year and it's nice to know our strength. We'll put these pitchers in a situation this spring where we feel they'll continue to develop but be able to compete at the level they're at."

Climbing the Ladder

Triple-A Rochester

Alexi Casilla, 2B/SS
The Twins acquired Casilla from the Angels during the 2005-2006 offseason for reliever J.C. Romero in what may go down as one of their best trades this decade. He spent the season at Fort Myers and New Britain, finishing up with a taste of the bigs as he earned the organization's Minor League Player of the Year award after hitting a combined .318 and leading the system with 50 steals. An excellent defensive infielder who's hit a career. 306 in four seasons, the 22-year-old stands to inherit the second-base job by next year when incumbent Luis Castillo becomes a free agent. Casilla's game, in fact, closely reflects that of Castillo.

2006 Organizational Record
A (Adv)
New Britain
Fort Myers








"The key word here was professional scouting," said Rantz, explaining that the club got a chance to scout Casilla in 2005 when he played in the Midwest League at Cedar Rapids. "When a player is in a league we're in, our manager there gets a chance to add to the trade talk, so our people are pretty thorough."
Video: Casilla doubles for New Britain

Matt Garza, RHP
Hard to believe we're talking about Garza here in the Minor League preview, since he seemed like a sure bet to break camp with the big-league club before spring, and is actually still on that bubble. But it would appear that the Twins plan to opt (for now, at least) for veteran Sidney Ponson as their No. 5 starter and let Garza get a little more time at Triple-A.

2006 Organizational Leaders
Home Runs
Stolen Bases
Erik Lis
Garrett Jones, Brock Peterson
Garrett Jones
Alexi Casilla
Kevin Slowey
Yohan Pino, Matt Garza
Matt Garza
Danny Hernandez
Complete MiLB statistics

A first-round pick out of Fresno State in 2005, 2006 was his first full season and he cruised through three levels at 14-4 with 174 strikeouts. He is no longer a rookie as he worked 50 innings in Minnesota to cap his remarkable season. His plus fastball and great stuff project him as a front-line starter for many years to come. And for at least the early spring, he heads up a very impressive Red Wings rotation.

Others to watch: Garza will be joined in the rotation by the aforementioned Slowey and Perkins. Slowey, a second-rounder in 2005 out of Winthrop, combined for a 1.90 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 2006 between Fort Myers, where he had a 1.01 ERA before moving up, and New Britain. As the starting pitcher for the West in the Florida State League All-Star Game, he opened the contest by striking out the side on nine fastballs. His command of that pitch ranks among the best in the Minors. In two pro seasons he's posted a 1.96 ERA and has struck out 235 over 221 innings, walking 30 and limiting hitters to a .183 average despite not having a knockout power pitch. He also started for Team USA in the pivotal game against Cuba as well as for Rochester in the playoffs. ... Perkins, a first-rounder in 2004 out of Minnesota, is a home-grown prospect who should be up soon as well. He posted a 3.91 ERA at New Britain last year and limited Eastern League hitters to a .243 average. With Rochester at season's end, he struck out 15 in 13 postseason innings and then had a 1.59 ERA in four big-league starts in the fall. He's posted a 3.36 ERA in three pro seasons. ... CF Denard Span, the club's top pick in 2002 out of high school, is a prototypical leadoff hitter with good speed, stealing 24 bases and hitting .285 at New Britain last year. He is also a plus defender who has hit .287 in four seasons. ... RHP J.D. Durbin was on the bubble at press time as the Twins determined whether to go north with 11 or 12 pitchers. A second-round pick in 2000, the 25-year-old saw seven innings in the bigs in 2004. In his career he's gone 47-22 with a 3.16 ERA and lowered his ERA at Rochester a full two runs last season, 2.33 down from 4.33 in 2005. He's out of options so he may stick with the Twins. ... 3B Matt Moses moves up from New Britain, where the former first-rounder hit .249 with a career-high 15 homers and 72 RBIs.
Video: Span at the Rookie Career Development Program

Double-A New Britain

David Winfree, 1B/3B
The 13th-rounder from 2003 hit .294 with 16 homers and 101 RBIs at Beloit in his first full season in 2005, opening a lot of eyes. He followed that up by batting .276 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs in just 67 games at Fort Myers last year, though he took some time off early on. Though rosters were not final at press time, he is expected to be at New Britain, flashing that power again. Winfree hails from Virginia Beach, which is quckly becoming one of the hotbeds for baseball's top young talent.

Anthony Swarzak, RHP
Yet another top starting prospect in the system, the second-rounder from 2004 has a low-90s fastball and plus poise. He was 11-7 with a 3.27 ERA at Fort Myers last year, leading the Florida State League with 131 strikeouts in 145 2/3 innings. In three pro seasons, the 21-year-old has posted a 3.45 ERA.

Others to watch: LHP Jose Mijares will be in the Rock Cats' bullpen as the Twins hope to see him emerge as a contender for a big-league relief job down the road. He has unquestionable stuff but there have been concerns about his conditioning, makeup and commitment. At Fort Myers in 2006 he struck out 77 batters in 63 innings, posting a 3.57 ERA. ... SS Trevor Plouffe, a first-rounder in 2004, moves up to New Britain after hitting .246 with four homers and 45 RBIs at Fort Myers. The Twins are still high on Plouffe, who came on strong down the stretch and had a strong instructional league. ... RHP Oswaldo Sosa, just 21, throws a fastball in the low 90s and jumps to New Britain after going 9-7 with a 2.75 ERA at Beloit and 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in a brief stay with Fort Myers.

Class A Advanced Fort Myers

Paul Kelly, SS
A second-round pick in 2005, Kelly may have caught up with 2004 first-rounder Plouffe on the shortstop prospect depth chart, though a knee injury cost him instructional league time and will probably force him to sit every few days for rest. He has a very strong arm and hit .280 at Beloit before being grounded by the injury. He can also play third base.

Alexander Smit, LHP
The Netherlands prospect has been a project of the club for awhile and they hope he can build on his breakthrough 2006 with a full season at Fort Myers. He was 7-2 with a 2.99 ERA at Beloit last year, striking out 141 in 108 innings to bring his eye-opening total to 364 strikeouts in 270 career innings. Last year was the first season in which he threw over 100 innings.

Others to watch: RHP Kyle Waldrop lowered his ERA by more than a run in his return to Beloit last year, from 4.98 in 2005 to 3.85 in 18 games last year before moving up to Fort Myers, where he posted a 3.57 mark in eight games. The first-rounder from 2004 returns to the Miracle rotation to start the year as he continues to grow and gain strength and speed on his fastball. ... RHP Eduardo Morlan, a 2004 third-rounder out of high school in Miami, has seen time both starting and relieving. Just 21 years old, he has a fine fastball and good breaking stuff. At Beloit last year he posted a 2.29 ERA in 28 games, 18 starts, striking out 125 in 106 innings. ... RHP Jeff Manship, the club's 14th-rounder last summer out of Notre Dame, returns to Fort Myers where he posted a 2.08 ERA in four games last year. ... The Twins are excited for the return of P Jay Rainville, making a comeback after losing all of 2006 to arm surgery. A first-round pick in 2004 out of Rhode Island, where he was a hockey star as well, he had been 15-7 with a 3.06 ERA in two Class A Short-Season campaigns and has apparently earned a spot in the Fort Myers rotation this spring. He throws a fastball and an excellent 12-to-6 curveball.

Class A Beloit

Chris Parmelee, OF
The club's top pick in 2006 was considered one of the top high school power prospects, and his selection shows the organization's commitment to maintaining the pitching balance down the line. He hit .279 with eight homers and 32 RBIs in his Gulf Coast League debut and moves up to make his full-season debut at Beloit. Probably a right fielder, thanks to his strong arm, he is also a fine defensive first baseman.

"In this case we really wanted a position player with power and Chris definitely shows that," Rantz said.

Danny Hernandez, RHP
Hernandez will move up to Beloit to anchor the bullpen after four Class A Short-Season campaigns in which he improved every season. In 2006 at Elizabethton, he helped lead that club to the Appalachian League finals, collecting an organization-high 18 saves. Just 21, he signed in 2003 out of Venezuela and throws an outstanding slider.

Others to watch: OF Joe Benson will probably see time in both left and center field at Beloit as he again joins Parmelee. An outstanding athlete, the second-round pick from 2006 was a football star in high school as well. He hit .260 with five homers and 28 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League. Though he has great speed, he needs to refine his basestealing as he swiped nine bases but was caught 10 times. He's a converted catcher with a high ceiling. ... RHP Alex Burnett, a 12th-rounder in 2005, posted a 4.04 ERA as one of the aces at Class A Short-Season Elizabethton and the organization is very high on him and his stuff. He struck out 71 and walked 13 in 71 innings. ... 1B/3B Whit Robbins, the club's fourth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, was still on the bubble at Spring Training's end, caught between returning to Beloit and moving up to Fort Myers. An outstanding young hitter, he hit .304 with three homers and 26 RBIs in just 112 at-bats at Beloit before going down with a back injury, which has since completely healed. If at Beloit, he would split time between the two positions, as would 1B/3B Garrett Olso, the team's pick right after him last spring. Olson hit .313 at Elizabethton last year.

Under the Radar

Yohan Pino, RHP
In just his first full season, Pino went 14-2 with a 1.91 ERA at Beloit, seeing time as both a starter and reliever. With a sinking fastball that hovers around 90 and a good collection of offspeed pitches, he struck out 90 in 94 innings and limited Midwest League hitters to a .198 average. In three seasons he's done nothing but win, going 33-5 over his career. He was 10-1 with a 0.53 ERA in his pro debut in the Dominican League in 2004 and 9-2 at Elizabethton in 2005. He'll move up to Fort Myers this spring.

Kyle Aselton, LHP
Something of a forgotten man behind such a wealth of pitchers, the 11th-rounder from 2004 has put up consistently good numbers and moves up to New Britain this year. He was 9-5 with a 3.79 ERA at Fort Myers last year and posted a 2.49 ERA at Beloit in 2005, moving into the rotation from the bullpen in the middle of the season.

Erik Lis, 1B
The 2005 ninth-rounder out of Evanston had a remarkable first full season in 2006, winning the Midwest League batting title at .326, which also led the organization. He also had a .402 on-base percentage and .547 slugging percentage before a broken hamate bone interrupted his season. In 2005 at Elizabethton he hit .315 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs. He moves up to Fort Myers this year.

2006 Draft Recap

OF/1B Chris Parmelee (1) came into the 2006 season as perhaps the top high school power prospect in the draft and he showed why with eight homers in his GCL debut. ... OF Joe Benson (2) was a football star in high school in Illinois but opted to go pro in baseball. ...3B Whit Robbins (4) hit .304 in 32 games at Beloit, drawing 22 walks and striking out just 17 times before his season ended prematurely with back trouble. ... 3B Garrett Olson (4) hit .313 at Elizabethton to help that team to the Appy League playoffs. ... RHP Jeff Manship (14) came back from Tommy John surgery two years ago and got his pro career off to a strong, if brief, start, tossing 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the GCL and posting a 2.08 ERA in four starts at Fort Myers. He walked three and struck out 22 in 14 1/3 total innings. ... 3B Danny Valencia (19) was the star of the Elizabethton squad, batting .311 with a team-best eight homers.


Organizational Player of the Year: IF Alexi Casilla
A steal of a deal from the Angels, he should continue to put up the big numbers when it comes to average and steals in his Triple-A debut at Rochester. But he could get a run, literally, for this honor from his teammate Denard Span.

Organizational Pitcher of the Year: RHP Kevin Slowey
The only thing that kept him from serious consideration for 2006 Minor League Pitcher of the Year was fellow Twins' prospect Matt Garza. The most likely thing to keep him from consideration this year may be joining Garza in the Majors before long.


"I feel that our scouts have done an exceptional job getting us such good young arms and our player development people have brought them along nicely. If you can hit, we'll find a place for you. It's a situation where you have to have a lot of patience with the young hitters. We know we need to develop the young hitters, and consequently we went after them a little more this year than in the past, but it just takes time," Twins director of player development Jim Rantz on the slight disparity in the system of pitching prospects vs. hitting prospects.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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