Top 10 Minor League 1st Half Stories: #10

Now that the Minor League full-season teams have reached the halfway point of their respective seasons, takes a look at the Top-10 performances of the first half. In our #10 selection, we look at the rise of Matt Tolbert, who has batted over .300 in stops at both Fort Myers and New Britain this season.

For the past two years, the Twins have been pretty weak when it comes to talent in the middle infield positions. During the 2004 draft, the Twins made it a point to try and stockpile their farm system with two things: infielders and pitchers. They drafted Trevor Plouffe in the first round, and followed that up by drafted Juan Portes and Matt Tolbert in the 15th and 16th rounds respectively. While Plouffe has struggled, and Portes is in Low-A ball, Tolbert has made a steady rise through the system, and people are starting to notice.

Originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 19th round of the 2003 draft out of high school, Tolbert instead decided to attend the University of Mississippi. The following year, the Twins came calling in the 16th round, and Tolbert made the decision to turn professional. Since then, the switch-hitting infielder has hit well at every level, and is turning himself into one of the top middle infield prospects in the Twins organization.

In his first season with the Twins, he was assigned to Elizabethton of the Appalachian League, and would go on to hit .308 for the season. Playing exclusively as the team's second baseman, Tolbert drove in 18 runs in 33 games, and struck out only 19 times. The Twins felt he would be ready to skip Low-A ball altogether, and the following season he was assigned to High-A Fort Myers.

While hitting in the Florida State League is tough for most any prospect, Tolbert wrapped 111 hits in 111 games for the Miracle, playing both middle infield positions. Showing a little bit of everything, Tolbert stole 11 bases, turned 43 double plays, and drove in a respectable 46 runs. His glove was shaky though, as he committed 22 errors, but that was mostly due to him having to play both positions and not being able to concentrate on one.

This season, Tolbert made the jump to Double-A ball, but he got off to a slow start. Playing in 11 games, Tolbert was batting only .216 at the time of his demotion on May 2, and the Twins felt he needed a little more time in the Florida State League. A true competitor, Tolbert took the demotion in style, and would be a big part of the Fort Myers push to the leagues first-half title.

Tolbert spent 40 games with the Miracle, and showed that this stop in the Florida State League would be a short one. He batted .303 during his time there, which is very impressive in that league, and he drove in 24 runs. At the time of his promotion in June, he was batting .323 for the month, and had wrapped 21 hits in only 17 games.

The Twins felt he was ready to try his hand at Double-A again, and he was promoted alongside Kevin Slowey and Garrett Guzman. The move proved to be a good one, as Tolbert has gone 9-16 since being promoted, and has put together multi-hit games in three of his five starts. He has lifted his average from that love .216 mark all the way up to .321, and he has scored six times since being called back up.

For the Twins, Tolbert's progression is a big one. With Plouffe batting under .220 at press time, and coming off a horrible 2005 season, it was clear that someone needed to step up and put together a good 2006 season. Portes is very raw, and in time will be a big-time prospect, but for now, Tolbert is making a push at legitimately being ready for Triple-A ball in 2007.

Luckily for the Twins, Jason Bartlett looks like he is ready to be a contributor at the Major League level, though that was definitely not the case when the season opened up in April. Tolbert has progressed considerably since he was drafted back in 2004, and he could become a good utility infielder at the Major League level. If he continues to hit, and play solid defense, there is no reason why he can't be consider a true prospect.

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