The Most Improved Player could be a player who had a disappointing season last year before having a big season in 2007. Or it could be a young player who had a good season last year before taking several big steps forward like Garza and Kevin Slowey did in 2006. One player who must be disappointed with last year is Danny Santiesteban, who after a slow start in spring training remained in Extended Spring Training before spending his entire season at Elizabethton. After a slow start at Elizabethton, this excellent defensive centerfielder began hitting more like the player he was when he had his exciting short stint with the Gulf Coast Twins in 2005. Danny finished his season with only a .250Average, yet was amongst Elizabethton's leaders with 6 home runs, 30 rbi's and a team high 14 doubles. He also had 8 stolen bases in 9 attempts while committing only 2 errors in 64 games. Will Danny begin this year at Beloit or at Ft. Myers if Joe Benson moves up to Beloit?
If he puts together an excellent season for the Miracle he would gain top prospect status and would need to be considered for recognition as one of the most improved in the system. Another member of last year's Elizabethton squad that could make a big move in 2007 is first baseman/third baseman Danny Valencia. This former star from the University of Miami signed with the Twins several weeks after being a major factor in the Hurricane's success in their run to the College World Series. Why Danny was available for the Twins in the 19th round of last season's draft is puzzling, however, Twins fans should be excited because the Twins got a good one. Following a season in which Danny had a .311Average with a team high 8 home runs in only 48 games, Danny has the talent to have a huge season this year.
The Elizabethton Twins also had two pitchers who could take big steps forward. Danny Hernandez was one of the Twins top closers leading the minor league system with 18 saves. Although his 3.81 era was higher than one would like for a top closer, his 1.379 Dominance Ratio (DR=Strikeouts/(hits + walks)) was the third highest in the system behind Jeff Manship (1.692DR, a late signing who pitched only 14.1 innings) and Pat Neshek (1.582DR). Danny should begin 2007 in Beloit and may have the ability to move to Ft. Myers or beyond before the end of summer.
The Twins signed Alex Burnett after selecting him in the twelfth round of the 2005 draft. This young starter didn't turn 19 until last season was nearly over, yet he was one of his teams top starters with a 4-3 record, 4.04era, 1.11WHIP and 0.899DR. Alex wasn't always at his best last season, however, when he was he pitched as well as the best pitchers in the league. Look for Alex to be one of Beloit's top starters this year as he enters his first year in a full season league.
Another 2006 draft pick who has the potential for a huge 2007 was 4th round pick Whit Robbins, who like Valencia joined the Twins following a very successful college career. Robbins was the only member of the 2006 draft class to go directly to A ball when the Twins placed him with the Beloit Snappers. Robbins was nearly impossible to get out his first week with the Snappers, finishing with a .304Average, 26 rbi, 3 home runs and 9 doubles in 32 games with 112 at bats. Robbins joined the entire Snapper infield on the Disabled List last August, yet is another young hitter that could have a break-out 2007 that could see him moving all the way to New Britain before the season ends.
Another Snapper who had a very good year last year was catcher converted to right fielder Eli Tintor. If you have read any of Seth Stohs Q&A's with Eli, you know that this is a young man who is very serious about baseball and works as hard as anyone. After being the Snapper's top hitter in last fall's playoffs, look for Tintor to build upon last season's success when he hit for a .285Average with 12 home runs, 19 doubles and 54 rbi. This former catcher has an excellent arm and should be more comfortable when he begins 2007 manning right field for the Miracle.
The Snappers have a group of four pitchers who all could make the type of moves that Garza and Slowey had last year. The most intriguing of this group may be Yohann Pino who was 14-2 last season (42 games with only 7 starts) and now has a combined record of 33-5 in three seasons with the Twins (Dominican Summer League, Elizabethton and Beloit) with a 1.91 era and 0.95WHIP in 94.0 innings with a 1.112 DR. Pino had a 6-0 record with a 1.67 era and 23K/4BB in 27.0 innings for Aragua in the VWL before pitching 5.1 scoreless innings in the Carribean Series. With this winter's experience, Pino's star continues to rise. He will likely begin this season in Ft. Myers and he could finish the 2007 season anywhere from New Britain to possibly a September call up to the Twins. Pino was joined at Beloit at the start of last season by fellow Venezuelan Oswaldo Sosa.
Sosa, who was only 20 last year, started 20 games for Beloit before moving up to Ft. Myers. Sosa had a 9-7 record with a 2.75 era and 1.17 WHIP in 117.2 innings with the Snappers and a 4-1 record with a 2.08 era and 1.18 HIP in 34.2 innings for the Miracle. He had a combined 0.682 DR for Beloit and Ft. Myers. Sosa, who is from Johan Santana's hometown of Tovar, Venezuela also pitched very well for Aragua this winter, with a 5-0 record with a 2.30 era and 1.064 WHIP in 21 games (4 starts) and 47.0 innings. Sosa will likely also begin his season in the starting rotation for the Miracle and is another pitcher with nearly a limitless future.
Two other Snapper pitchers that are poised for big seasons include Dutch native Alexander Smit. Smit was used as both a reliever and starter for the Snappers, finishing with a 7-2 record with a 2.99 era and 1.20 WHIP in 108.1 innings with a 1.085 DR. It was late in the season when Smit was used exclusively as a starter when he stepped up to another level, compiling a 5-1 record with a 2.43 era with 98K/33BB in 13 starts with 74.0 innings. If Smit continues to pitch as he did late last season for the Snappers, Smit could be a serious candidate to get more than one promotion during the coming summer. Another intriguing young pitcher who also split his season between Beloit's starting rotation and the bullpen is hard throwing Eduardo Morlan.
Morlan finished with a 5-5 record with a 2.29 era and 1.09 WHIP in 106.1 innings with 125K/38BB and a 1.078 DR. Morlan reportedly throws at speeds approaching 100 mph which has excited fans and scouts since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft. Is this the year that Morlan can leave his nagging injuries behind and also make several moves before seasons end?
David Winfree had a much discussed leave of absence last summer, yet still put up good numbers for the Miracle. Winfree finished his season with a .276Average, 13 home runs and 48 rbi's in only 261 at bats. In an effort to get Winfree more experience, the Twins made the unusual move of assigning him to the Arizona Fall League even though he had never played at a level higher than Single A. Winfree did not hit for much of an average in the AFL, .176 in 68 at bats, yet 7 of his 12 hits were for extra bases including 3 home runs while finishing third on the team with 17 rbi's. His experience in the AFL should enable David to make the move this spring to New Britain where there is an excellent chance that he could regain his form of 2005 when he was the Twins Minor League Player of the Year.
Another member of the 2006 Miracle that could have a break-out season in 2007 is centerfielder Brandon Roberts, who was acquired from Cincinnati last season in the Juan Castro trade. Roberts joined the Miracle at the All-Star break, when he was hitting .267 Average in 247 at bats with 23 stolen bases in 30 attempts for Sarasota. Following his appearance in the FSL All-Star game, Roberts became a different player with the Miracle when he hit .316 Average in 285 at bats with 27 stolen bases in 34 attempts. The Twins assigned Roberts to their Fall Instructional League, however, he suffered an ankle injury during their first drill. Look for Roberts to begin 2007 as New Britain's centerfielder.
With all the strong pitching that the Twins have at every level, the player with perhaps the best shot at making a Garza type move this year is 2006 14th round pick, Jeff Manship. Most speculate that Manship lasted until the 14th round because he was thought to be returning to Notre Dame for his senior season. Did the Twins know more about him than other teams? Did he sign primarily because coach Paul Manieri left Notre Dame for LSU last summer? Whatever the reason, Manship signed late last summer appearing in 2 games (5.2 innings) for the GCL Twins before moving across the parking lot to the Miracle where he appeared in 4 games (3 starts) and 8.2 innings. He didn't allow any earned runs for the GCL Twins while striking out 10 with only 1 walk and 3 hits. He had a 2.08 era for the Miracle with 12 strikeouts and 2 walks. Although he appeared in only 14.1 innings, Manship's 1.692 DR was the highest in the system. Manship is another college pitcher who many thought should have been a second or third round pick. Can he put together a year similar to those that Garza or Slowey had last year. He may which is why this talented pitcher should be the leading candidate for this season's Most Improved Player.