Youth being served in Twins system

Organization bolstered by Santana trade, Elizabethton pipeline

(Kevin Pataky/

By Lisa Winston / | March 16, 2008 6:00 AM ET

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

Given the almost dynastic dominance of the Appalachian League champion Elizabethton Twins, who went 50-18 last season (after going 42-16 in 2006 and 48-19 in 2005), it's probably not surprising that youth is being served in our Twins' Top 10, with three members of the Draft Class of 2006 and one more from 2007. Several others from the '07 E-Twins appear in our draft recap highlights as well.

The Twins also remain slightly pitching-skewed when it comes to prominent talent, and the addition of three top-tier pitchers acquired from the New York Mets in the Johan Santana trade continues that trend.

But not everyone is as far away from the big leagues as the aforementioned E-Twins, and for that matter, much of the core of the Twins' staff is not that far removed from its Minor League days.

While the club may not be among the favorites in the American League Central, there is plenty to look forward to when it comes to young talent.

10 Spot
Ten prospects to watch out for in 2008:

Joe Benson, OF:
A 2006 second-round pick out of high school in Illinois, Benson is an outstanding athlete who will be just 19 to start the season. In his first full season at Class A Beloit last year, he hit .255 with five homers, 38 RBIs and 18 steals, starting slowly but rallying in the second half.

Benson has power to all fields with solid speed and good defensive abilities, but he struck out 124 times, something he's still working on.

"Of course, he's still a very young kid, but he's really a five-tool guy, the kind of guy we're always looking for that's a complete package," noted farm director Jim Rantz. "I think his progress has been fine."
Audio: Benson goes yard

Brian Duensing, LHP:
A member of the Team USA club that traveled to Taiwan last fall, the 2005 third-rounder out of Nebraska has impressed with a plus changeup that is complemented by a fastball around 90, slider, curve and good control.

Between New Britain and Rochester, he combined for 15 wins to lead the organization, fanning 124 over 165 innings, and will start the season back in the Red Wings rotation after seeing time in big league camp as a non-roster invitee.
Audio: Duensing gets his fourth K

Here are a few players on the brink of breaking into the Major Leagues:

Brian Bass, RHP -- Out of options, Bass could be a valuable addition to the Twins' bullpen after posting a 3.48 ERA at Rochester and showing he could work in long or middle relief as well as start when needed. This would be his big league debut if he makes the club as a non-roster invitee.

Nick Blackburn, RHP -- Talk about a breakthrough player, Blackburn emerged as a top prospect after being drafted in the 19th round in 2001 out of junior college in Oklahoma. Between New Britain and Rochester, he combined to go 10-4 with a 2.36 ERA and walked only 19 batters in 148 2/3 innings. He finished with a taste of the big leagues in September and could break camp as the fifth starter.

Carlos Gomez, OF -- The only member of the three-horse race for the starting center-field job with big league time, the 22-year-old came over from the Mets in the Santana deal. He has all the tools but is still a little raw and inconsistent. A broken hamate bone suffered in July kept his rookie eligibility intact. At this point, he appears to be battling it out with Denard Span for the starting job. His best tool is his blazing speed, but he has the upside to do it all, except hit for power.

Philip Humber, RHP -- A No. 1 pick by the Mets out of Rice in 2004, Humber underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2005 and is still looking to regain that pre-surgery form. Also acquired in the Santana deal, he could start the year in the bigs, either starting or relieving, or land back at Rochester to continue his comeback.

Jason Pridie, OF -- A Rule 5 pick by the Twins from Tampa Bay two years ago when he didn't stick, they got him back for keeps in the Matt Garza-Delmon Young deal. Pridie came into camp as the third contender for the center-field job. At this point, however, he is more likely to stick as a fourth or fifth outfielder. He has good tools across the board and is an excellent defensive outfielder, combining for 14 homers and 26 steals between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham last year.

. • Denard Span, OF -- The lone homegrown center-field candidate, the 2002 first-round pick has battled hard to keep his spot in the competition and remains in the mix. He hit over .300 in the second half of 2007 at Rochester to continue to show what he can do, is strong defensively and has the wheels.

Deolis Guerra, RHP:
The youngest of the four prospects acquired from the Mets for Santana, Guerra may turn out to be the best in the long run. The 6-foot-5 future ace from Venezuela won't turn 19 until next month.

He comes off a 2007 campaign in which he battled some minor shoulder woes but still appeared in the Futures Game and posted a 4.01 ERA over 90 innings of Florida State League action. He returns to that league as a key starter for Fort Myers as he refines his overall game.
Audio: Guerra rings up another

Jeff Manship, RHP:
Manship, a 2006 14th-round pick out of Notre Dame, made quite the impression in his first full season, combining to go 15-6 with a 2.30 ERA between Beloit and Fort Myers. Over 148 innings, he struck out 135 while walking only 34.

He streaked to a 1.51 ERA in 13 starts for the Snappers before the promotion. With a fastball around 90, an outstanding curveball and slider, Manship led the organization in strikeouts while tying for first in wins.

"He's competed very well at every level we've put him and has the pitches you're looking for," Rantz said. "He doesn't beat himself, he puts the ball in play and comes right at you with good stuff."
Audio: Eight K's for Manship

Kevin Mulvey, RHP:
Mulvey was the Mets' Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 11-10 with a 3.32 ERA at Double-A Binghamton. He moves up to Rochester's rotation with the Twins, putting him just a call away from the big leagues.

The Villanova product, selected in the second round in 2006, mixes four solid pitches, highlighted by a slider.
Audio: Mulvey fans another

Chris Parmelee, OF:
The power-hitting prospect was the Twins' top pick in 2006, and though his overall package is still rough around the edges, he's just 19 and has time to develop.

In the meantime, in his first full season at Beloit, he finished fourth in the system in homers and RBIs, hitting .239 with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs for the Snappers, to whom he is likely to return to start 2008. The Twins like his sweet left-handed swing and long ball potential but would like to see him cut down on his 137 strikeouts.

"He has what we're looking for -- tremendous power," Rantz said. "But he'll have to stay focused on keeping his body in shape because that could get out of control if he's not careful."
Audio: Parmelee cranks a grand slam

Wilson Ramos, C:
The 20-year-old Venezuelan is an outstanding catching prospect who mixes good defense with offensive power potential.

His 2007 campaign at Beloit was cut short by a thumb injury, but he hit .291 with eight homers and 42 RBIs and has caught the eye of many who look forward to seeing what he can do in '08.

"He's got a good strong body and we think he's going to be special," Rantz said. "He just needs to play."
Audio: Ramos rips a two-run homer

Ben Revere, OF:
Some questioned the Twins' selection of the Kentucky high school star with a first-round pick, but he made his doubters look silly as he hit .325 in the Gulf Coast League to lead the organization, adding 21 steals.

Just 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, the 19-year-old Revere combines good speed and a solid bat with great makeup and defensive skills in center field.

"He's got a little pop for his size, is very aggressive at the plate and can steal some bases," Rantz said. "He has a high ceiling."

Tyler Robertson, LHP:
The son of legendary scout (and now special assistant to the Texas Rangers general manager) Jay Robertson, this left-hander went 9-5 with a 2.29 ERA in his first full season after being drafted in the third round in 2006 out of high school. He struck out 123 over 102 innings, walking only 33 and followed that up with a strong postseason showing.

Armed with a fastball, slider and great makeup, the 6-foot-5 Robertson was a midseason addition to Beloit out of extended spring training but more than held his own in the Midwest League.

"He's got size and good stuff and will be in the mix at Fort Myers," Rantz said. "He's going to be on a fast pace."
Audio: Robertson's career-high 10th K

Anthony Swarzak, RHP: A 2004 second-round pick out of high school in Florida, Swarzak missed two months with a non-performance-enhancing substance suspension but made up for lost time with a 3.23 ERA in 15 games at New Britain and a strong Arizona Fall League showing. Armed with two plus pitches in his fastball and curve, he's combined for a 3.37 ERA over four pro seasons.

"He did what he had to do and was accountable for his actions, then worked hard and didn't walk around moping," Rantz said. "He's a kid who's on a pretty good fast track after missing half of the year."
Audio: Swarzak strikes out the side

Under the Radar

Robert Delaney, RHP:
A non-drafted free agent signed in 2006 out of St. John's, his 35 saves between Beloit and Fort Myers led the organization. He went 28-for-28 in save opportunities with the Snappers, posting an 0.77 ERA before his June promotion. Delaney combined between the two spots to strike out 83 in 70 innings while walking 16.

"He's not a 'junk' guy or a finesse guy but makes them put the ball in play," Rantz explained. "He'll come right at the hitter, challenge him with a sinker, and is a good competitor."
Audio: Delaney gets a K and a save

Deibinson Romero, 3B:
Romero is a strong-armed solid defender who hit .316 with nine homers and 52 RBIs at Elizabethton. The Twins think all he needs is playing time and also project that he will add power as he matures.
Audio: Romero cranks a three-run homer
Audio: Romero's six-RBI night

Loek Van Mil, RHP:
While it's hard for a 7-foot-1 guy to fly under any radar without bumping his head, Van Mil is more than just a novelty act. He posted a 2.63 ERA in 13 relief appearances for the E-Twins, striking out 23 over 24 innings while limiting opponents to a .171 average.

With a plus fastball in the mid-90s, a slider, changeup and curveball, the Twins think if he continues to improve at the rate he did in 2007, he could turn into something special.
Audio: Van Mil strikes out the side

2007 Draft Recap

C/1B Danny Rams (second round) was considered one of the top power prospects in the draft. ... OF Angel Morales (third round) is a good defensive center fielder with a plus arm and hit .256 with 11 steals in the Gulf Coast League. ... RHP Mike McCardell (fifth round) out of Division II Kutztown had a great debut, going 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA at Elizabethton and limiting Appy League hitters to a .179 average. ... RHP Daniel Berlind (seventh round) was 6-2 with a 1.93 ERA in the Gulf Coast League. The converted catcher limited hitters to a .186 average. ... RHP Blair Erickson (10th round) had an NCAA-record 53 career saves at Cal-Irvine and continued that success in his debut at Elizabethton, going 11-for-11 in save opportunities and posting a 1.53 ERA in 18 games. He walked only three and struck out 17 over 17 2/3 innings. ... Appy League MVP OF Ozzie Lewis (21st round) hit .323 with nine homers and 50 RBIs for the league champs.

Audio: McCardell strikes out his 10th
Audio: Erickson registers a save
Audio: Lewis launches a grand slam


Organizational Player of the Year: Ben Revere
Something of a surprise pick in the first round, he put up numbers in the Gulf Coast League to start silencing some of the doubting Thomases. Look for him to continue to do so in his full-season debut.

Organizational Pitcher of the Year: Deolis Guerra
The furthest away of the four prospects acquired for ace Johan Santana, the big teenager could put up even bigger numbers this year as he shows why he was a key to the deal.

Comeback Player of the Year: Anthony Swarzak
Swarzak missed half the season due to a suspension but showed upon his brief return why he has been so well-regarded in the organization. With his lesson learned and a full season ahead of him, there is no reason to think he will do anything but continue to rise in the system.

Top Candidate for AL Rookie of the Year: Whoever wins the center field job between Carlos Gomez and Denard Span. Both have potential to be the spark plug atop the lineup and either would know there's talent waiting in the wings for extra incentive.


"I think that just one of the three will stick because they all need to play every day and they all have options left." -- Rantz on the center field competition

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

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