Before the season, we said:"While Liriano got a cup of tea in 2005, the 2006 season is a huge one for him. He has been used out of the bullpen to start the year, but with the way the Twins' pitching staff is pitching presently, he could be penciled into the rotation very soon. When that happens, it will be a long time until Liriano is not pitching every fifth day. He is a sure-fire Major League talent, and has the ability to win 20 games one day."
Liriano has made us look good this season, as we thought so much of him before the season start. He was absolutely electric in 2005, and since joining the Twins rotation, has given the Twins another great lefty starter. Nicknamed "Franchise" by his teammates, Liriano is a kid who loves to learn, and is only going to get better with each start. In 17 appearances this season, making five starts, Liriano has posted a 2.10 earned run average, and has struck out better than a batter per inning.
Liriano's stellar pitching this season has been a pleasant surprise to the Twins. They had originally wanted to baby him into the starting rotation, but when nearly every starter (with the exception of Johan Santana) struggled, they had no choice but to rush him to the rotation. He has not let them down, and it appears that the Twins pitching staff is back to being the strength of the team. With the way the offense looks sometimes, Liriano living up to the hype is absolutely critical.
2. Matthew Moses, 3B
Before the season, we said:"The third base position is still a question mark at the Major League level, especially after Terry Ryan failed to pull the trigger to get Hank Blalock this past season. It was a good thing that he did not make that trade, because he has a great young prospect in Moses just waiting for his chance in the Minor Leagues. He will be in Triple-A at some point this season, and will fight for the starting third baseman job in 2007.
Moses got off to blazing start to the 2006 season, but has cooled off a bit as the months have wore on. During April, Moses was one of the best hitters in the Eastern League, batting .318 in 18 games. In May, he hit five home runs, but batted only .257 during his 25 games. However, June has been terrible for the young slugger, which is surprising some scouts.
Moses is batting only .161 in nine games this month, a month that should have been the one in which he tunes up for the International League. His stats have been reflected on the Rock Cats' play, as they have now dropped eight straight games after losing to the Binghamton Mets on Wednesday. If Moses does not get his bat going, then he could be in for a full-season of Double-A ball.
3. Jason Kubel, RF
Before the season, we said:"Kubel was in right field when the Twins opened up their 2006 regular season, but has since been demoted to Rochester of the International League. The slugging rightfielder will be back in Minnesota very soon, as Twins' brass just want to see him play everyday. With the Michael Cuddyer-Lew Ford platoon in right field at the big league level, Rochester is the best fit for Kubel right now. Once he is back at 100%, he should be the man in right field for years to come."
Kubel is starting to look like the player who was the Twins' 2004 Minor League Player of the Year. He is making all the plays, and more importantly, is showing a lot of life with the bat. After his home run on Wednesday, Kubel has homered in two straight, including a game-winning grand slam on Tuesday. The Twins are hoping that this is the player they will see for the rest of the season, and not the player who looked overmatched to open the season.
If you look at his statistics this month, it is clear that he is finding his groove in the batter's box. In 42 at-bats, Jason is batting a whopping .381, and has driven in 11 runs. It is going to be interesting to see what the Twins plan to do with their outfield once Shannon Stewart comes back. The smart move would be to leave Cuddyer, Hunter, and Kubel in the field, and DH Stewart, considering the way Rondell White is hitting this season.
4. Glen Perkins, LHP
Before the season, we said:"Perkins figures to make his Major League debut sometime next season, and most Twins' fans are really getting excited about that. Some figured he would have started in Triple-A this season, and got a call-up during the 2006 season, but it seems the Twins want to give him a little more seasoning. There is no rush to bring him up with Liriano, and Santana up there, and with the emergence of Dennys Reyes as a formidable left-handed pitcher in Triple-A, Perkins will spend the whole 2006 season in the Minors. Still, he will be in Major League camp this spring, and Minnesota fans will get an up-close look at him in 2007."
Perkins is not having a terrible season for the New Britain Rock Cats, but it is not like he is showing why he was ranked so high in our prospect list. After starting out the season hot, posting a 1.76 earned run average in four April starts, Perkins has gradually cooled off. Still, there is a chance that Perkins could make it to Triple-A this season, but he definitely needs to start turning his season around.
In his last start, Perkins was lit up to the tune of eight runs (seven earned) in four innings of work. That start followed his best start of the season, when he tossed seven innings of shutout ball while striking out ten against Bowie on June 4. His statistics are pretty impressive though, ranking fourth in the organization with 73 strikeouts, while walking only 21. In his 62.1 innings of work, he is holding the opposition to a .234 batting average, and has baffled lefties to the tune of a 1.74 earned run average.
5. Denard Span, CF
Before the season, we said: Span will be in Minnesota in 2007, it is just a question as to what capacity. He should make his Triple-A debut in 2006, and who knows, with the way baseball is right now, he could even make his debut this season. He has all the tools to make it as an everyday Major League centerfielder, and if Torii Hunter decides his days in Minnesota are over, than the Twins will not hesitate to give the reigns to Span. He gets better and better everyday, and soon will be introduced to Twins' faithful in Minnesota."
Span is another big-time prospect that is going through some struggles this season. Like Perkins and Moses, Span started off the season is blazing fashion, hitting over .330 during April. Since then, he has seen his numbers get gradually worse, and is now hitting only .229 during the month of June. He has been unproductive in every part of his game this month, failing to get on base, and as a result has not been the kind of leadoff hitter that Twins' fans have gotten used to.
Many figured that Span would begin the season in Rochester, but with the way he is playing now, he may not make it out of the Eastern League. When the Rock Cats began play this season there was a big buzz about the abundance of talent on the roster, but the players need to start living up to their billings. If Span can turn things around, the Cats are definitely going to prosper, because he is the kind of player that can change the outcome of a game.
6. Anthony Swarzak, RHP
Before the season, we said: Swarzak appears to be on the fast-track to the Major Leagues, and while he is in High-A right now, he could make his way up to Double-A New Britain by the time the season is out. In 2007, he should be the ace of the New Britain staff to start the season, but will be in Triple-A before it is out. He will most likely make his first Major League start in 2008, at age 22, and will probably be coddled the way they are doing with Francisco Liriano right now. If he stays healthy, it may be a fast ride for Swarzak, so Twins fans should get to know his name right now."
Swarzak was supposed to be the ace of the Fort Myers staff in 2006, but anyone who follows the Twins Minor Leagues knows that Matt Garza and now Kevin Slowey have taken on that role. Still, Swarzak has seemingly turned his season around after a tough start to the year. He has not lost a game since May 4, and has not allowed more than four earned runs in each of his last six starts. However, if he is to make the jump to New Britain this season, he is going to have to work out a few kinks.
Swarzak has lightening stuff, and it is only a matter of time before he is mowing down Florida State League batters. In his 65 innings of work this season, he has struck out better than a batter per inning, and has only walked 29. His big problem has been getting lefties out, as the right-hander has posted a 5.90 earned run average against them this season.
7. Jay Rainville, RHP
Before the season, we said: I believe that Rainville battles back from this recent injury and is back in the Florida State League in 2007. He will be dominant and will probably join the New Britain Rock Cats by the end of the season. He will be groomed and looked at under a microscope in 2008, as the Twins figure out where he best fits their needs, and makes his Major League debut in 2009. He will only be 24 then. For now, his main goal is to get healthy, and to get back to being the horse that so many experts believe he is."
Some scouts have told us that Rainville reminds them of a young Roger Clemens, so we are all hoping that he can make a fast and healthy return to his baseball career. He has a great arsenal, and when he is healthy, is one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in the Twins organization. He was promoted to Fort Myers last season, and in his nine starts, had an ERA under 3.00.
8. Trevor Plouffe, SS
Before the season, we said: "With the way that the Twins are in not really having a shortstop of the future, Plouffe may be pushed to advance sooner than later. He is still very young, but he could make a Joe Mauer-type rise through the organization, considering Jason Bartlett was not able to hold down shortstop and now the Twins are relying on guys who should have been utility infielders this season. He'll have a full year in 2006 in High-A, and should be in Double-A in 2007. From there it is really how much they push him. The safe play is 2009, but he could make his debut as early as 2008."
For the second straight season, Plouffe has struggled, and it is starting to worry some higher-ups in the Twins organization. Plouffe has all the ability in the world, but for some odd reason, he cannot put a good season together lately. Still, he is the top middle infield prospect in the Twins organization, and though he is only batting .206 this season, he has shown signs of life lately.
The fact that Bartlett looks to be playing a confident shortstop now is a relief for the Twins, who were planning on fast-tracking Plouffe. Plouffe is not ready for anything more than the Florida State League right now, and he is going to stay there until he can turn things around. He turns 20 this week, so he still has the most important thing on his side, time.
9. Kyle Waldrop, RHP
Before the season, we said: "The key for Kyle Waldrop will be locking in during his second season in the Midwest League, and proving that 2005 was just a lack of experience. It is tough to go from playing high school ball one year, to full-season baseball the next, so this year will be a good barometer at where he is at in his development. He could reach High-A this season, and some even think he could reach Double-A by the end of the season. While I do not agree with that, I think he should reach Double-A in 2007, and will need only a year of International League play to be ready for the show by the 2008 season."
Waldrop is on the brink of that promotion we were talking about before the season, as he has been almost unhittable during his last eight starts. In fact, he has been one of the better pitchers in the Midwest League in that span, posting wins in five of those starts. He has shown unbelievable control this season, walking only 12 batters in 79.1 innings of work, while striking out 48. He may be promoted after the All-Star festivities next week.
Waldrop has a rough season in 2005, and this was really a year for him to get back to pitching the way he is capable. He has done that and more, and now has put himself in a position to really start making moves within the organization. In June, he has posted a 1.80 ERA in his three starts, winning three of them. Last month, he went 2-0 in his five starts, posting a 2.73 ERA.
10. Alexander Romero, LF
Before the season, we said: " Romero will open the 2006 season as a member of the Rochester Red Wings, and should have a successful season in the International League. With Shannon Stewart in left field, there is really no rush to bring Romero up too fast, and the Twins will let him get a good taste of AAA ball before they bring him up to the show. However, he taking over in left field is inevitable, and he should get a call-up at sometime during the 2006 season. A switch-hitter with gap power, Romero will be a welcome addition to any lineup."
OK, Romero's stint in Triple-A was not a good one, but he has taken the demotion back to Double-A in stride, and seems to have added the speed dimension back to his game. In May, Romero put together one of the better months of any prospect in the organization, showing a nice blend of speed and power. Currently, he is batting .281 for the Rock Cats, though he has been slumping a bit lately.
Romero is only 22-years old, and will be back in Rochester this season. Though it may be off the wall to say that he'll get a call-up this season, Romero should be in contention for a spot on the roster in 2007. For now, he is doing what he has been doing for the last two season, which is terrorizing Eastern League pitchers.
11. Adam Harben, RHP
Before the season, we said: " Harben is going to need a full year of Double-A ball, and if he struggles, may be back in New Britain to start the 2007 season. He is still young, and we all saw what an extra year in the Midwest League did for him. I expect him to do very well this season, and he will be one of the bigger draws for Rock Cats fans. He'll be ready for Triple-A by the time the 2007 season rolls around, and should make his Major League debut the following year. A member of the Twins' 40-man roster, it is clear they have Harben in mind when they think about the future of the Minnesota Twins ballclub."
Harben got off to a blazing start for New Britain this season, and like his teammates on this list, has tailed off a bit as the season has worn on. However, his overall statistics have not been bad, and he currently has a 3.61 ERA in 13 appearances. In fact, he has not allowed more than four earned runs in any of his appearances this season, and has even made two appearances out of the bullpen for the Rock Cats.
The main problem for Harben has been control problems, which often lead him to leave the game earlier than planned. In his 52.1 innings of work, he has walked 33 batters compared to only 24 strikeouts, and has thrown nine wild pitches. He will stay in Double-A this season, but I expect him to finish the season strong, and be ready for the International League next season.
12. Matt Garza, RHP
Before the season, we said: "Garza is the kind of prospect that could move very quickly through the organization, so and estimated time of arrival is hard to gauge. He will be 22 when the season opens, so he shouldn't spend too much time in Low-A ball. He should make it to Fort Myers relatively early this season, and could see some time in Double-A ball if the cards fall a certain way. I believe the safe play is a 2008 arrival, where he'll only be 24 years old, and he'll have three years of Minor League ball under his belt.
Fact is, Garza did not spend any time in Low-A ball, though most scouts told us he would start the season in Beloit. Well, Garza made all the scouts look very wise, as he tore through the Florida State League en-route to a spot on New Britain's pitching staff. Garza was undoubtedly the best pitcher in the Florida State League during his time with Fort Myers, and is currently showing no signs of letting up in his first stint in Double-A ball.
Garza went 5-1 with the Miracle, posted a 1.42 earned run average, and earned a spot on the Western Division roster for the FSL All-Star Game. Through five starts in Double-A, Garza has been the glue of the Rock Cats starting rotation, posting a 1.52 ERA. He has also won three of his five starts, striking out 39 batters in 29.2 innings of work. Against him, batters are hitting only .162, and he has struck out nine or more in three of his five appearances.
13. Kevin Slowey, RHP
Before the season, we said: "Slowey is one of the closest young players to the Major Leagues, and one more dominant season could bring serious consideration to a 2007 call-up. Still, the best money would be on the 2008 season, when he will only be 24 years old. He brings a different commodity to the organization, being a top notch starting pitching prospect, who does not throw in the mid-90s. With his control, and his ability to get people out in any situation, Slowey should have no problem with the move to High-A Fort Myers in 2006."
To say Slowey has not had a problem with the move to High-A would be an understatement, as he has been dominant since day one. Displaying pinpoint control, Slowey has earned a spot on the Florida State League Western All-Star Team, and he could be promoted soon after the festivities. While some people seem to flatten out as the season wears on, Slowey has been the opposite, and has yet to allow an earned run during the month of June, a span of 21 innings.
Still, those stats are just the tip of the iceberg. Sure we said he has the best stuff in the organization before the season started, but this is just ridiculous. In 81.2 innings of work this season, Slowey has struck out 92 batters, and has walked only seven. He has a 1.10 ERA in 13 appearances so far this season, and is holding the opposition to a .166 batting average. Pretty remarkable stuff.
14. David Winfree, 3B
Before the season, we said:" In 2006, Winfree will be in the middle of the Fort Myers lineup, and he should put together a nice season. He'll make his Double-A debut in 2007, and from there it is really about the pieces falling in the right places. All Winfree can do is continue to hit, and the Twins will definitely find a spot for him in their Major League lineup someday. He is very young, and at 20 years old, has already been through three levels of Minor League baseball.
Winfree was hit with the injury bug this season, and has not played in a game since April 11. At the time of his injury, Winfree was batting .320, and had driven in six runs in six games. There still is no timetable for his return to the Miracle lineup, but hopefully it should be sometime soon.
15. Justin Jones, LHP
Before the season, we said: "Being one of the top left-handing pitching prospects in the Twins organization, Jones has a pretty high ceiling. As I stated before, he will be in Fort Myers to start the season, but should make his Double-A debut this season. In 2007, he split time between Double-A and Triple-A, as any Minor League team could use a lefty with his arsenal."
Jones began the season with New Britain, but was demoted when they needed to make room for super-prospect Garza. Still, Jones' numbers at New Britain were pretty impressive, as he posted a 3.25 ERA in six starts for the Rock Cats. In his 27.2 innings of work, he struck out better than a batter per inning, while posting a 2-2 record. He has been just as good for the Miracle, posting a 2.96 earned run average during his six starts.
Jones should make his way back up to Double-A at some point this season. He was pretty good when he was up in New Britain at the beginning of the year, so the Twins will not hesitate to put him back into the Rock Cats rotation. For now, he will join Slowey in leading the Miracle to a Florida State League title.