Top 10 Minor League 1st Half Stories: #9

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 #9 selection, we look at the excellent performance put on all season by Alexi Casilla, who was the player the Twins got from the Angels for J.C. Romero.

When the Twins shipped out J.C. Romero this off-season, it was a move that was a long time coming. Romero had not seen eye to eye with the Twins higher-ups for some time, and the Twins were happy to get anything for him. What they ended up getting was a middle infielder named Alexi Casilla, who looks like he may turn out to be a steal.

The deal was made on December 9, 2005, and at the time, Romero was one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball. Casilla was a relatively unknown, but this season he is doing everything in his power to change that. Assigned to Fort Myers of the Florida State League, Casilla is one of the biggest parts of the Miracle offense, and is a catalyst at the top of the lineup.

Casilla began his career with the Angels of the Dominican Summer League after being signed as a non-drafted free agent on February 21, 2003. He would go on to show excellent speed on the bases, swiping 28 bases in 33 games. At the plate, Casilla batted .298 as the team's second baseman, and scored 21 times.

The next season, Casilla spent his time between three levels of baseball, making his way all the way to Low-A ball. Even though he batted below .300 for the Angels of the Arizona League, he would go on to hit over that mark in the Pioneer League and the Midwest League, splitting time between Provo and Cedar Rapids. He again showed excellent speed, finishing fourth in the Arizona League with 24 stolen bases.

With a full year of ball under his belt, Casilla has a breakout season in 2005, making his way as a high as Triple-A ball. He spent the majority of the season with Cedar Rapids though, and finished fourth in the league with 47 stolen bases. He also began to play more shortstop in 2005, utilizing his soft hands in both middle infield positions.

Before coming to the Twins organization, Casilla put up a .295 career batting average in the Angels farm system, and stole 103 bases in 189 career games.

This season has been his best year to date, as he has become one of the more feared leadoff hitters in the Florida State League. Finally locked into one team for an extended period of time, Casilla has been the only consistent bat in the Fort Myers lineup this season, and has taken some of the pressure off super-prospect Trevor Plouffe to develop rapidly.

Recently, he was named to the Florida State League All-Star Team, joining fellow Miracle players Kevin Slowey, and Kyle Geiger as participating players. He has kept his batting average above .300 for most of the season in a league where the pitchers usually dominate the hitters. In fact, had it not been for a .286 mark in April, he could be batting well over .320 right now.

Though he started off his career as a second baseman exclusively, Casilla has looked a lot more comfortable at the plate when he is manning the shortstop spot. As the team's shortstop, Casilla is batting .379 on the season, while batting only .261 as a two-bagger. One thing is definitely a fact, he loves to bat leadoff, where he is batting .314 overall.

Casilla also does all the little things that leadoff hitters need to do, batting .355 when leading off an inning, .317 with the bases empty, and he has swiped 24 bags in 29 attempts. He is also a switch-hitter, who hits right-handed and left-handed pitching well, boasting an average above .300 against both of them.

With the way the Rochester Red Wings are hitting, it is only a matter of time before they are going to need players at the Double-A level to move up and produce. If that happens, Casilla could easily make the jump to New Britain, filling in at the leadoff spot if Denard Span gets the call to Rochester. Casilla has been another great find for the Twins, and at 21-years old, is coming into his own as a baseball player.

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