When discussing the best, one cannot exclude David Winfree. Following his being named Player of the Year in 2005, Winfree missed part of last season for personal reasons. When he returned to Ft. Myers he put up good numbers with a .276 average including 13 home runs and 48 rbi in only 261 at bats. He will likely move to New Britain this spring and certainly is capable of hitting for a .300 average with 25 homers and more than 100 rbi. If he does, he could be the leading candidate for his second Player of the Year award.
Another future third base candidate who could be amongst the best is Matt Moses. Moses had a phenomenal half season at Ft. Myers in 2005 (.306Average, 7 home runs, 42 rbi in 265 at bats), yet he struggled with a .210Average when promoted to New Britain. He spent all of last season at New Britain doing better than in 2005, however, a .252 batting average and 23 errors aren't what the Twins look for in a future star. Moses was only 21 last season and Twins Executives still believe in his bat. Will he begin this season in Rochester and will this be the year that he develops into the player the Twins expect? If he does, he could be this season's best.
Another candidate is first baseman Erik Lis, who put up better numbers than any other player in the system last year. Lis led the system with a .326 average and 37 doubles while his 16 home runs and 70 rbi were amongst the best in the system even though he missed most of August with an injury. Because he was drafted out of the University of Evansville in 2005, many point out that he was old for low level A ball. Don't be surprised if he repeats his performance from last year with another huge season beginning at Ft. Myers.
The Twins drafted two first basemen/third basemen this past season, Danny Valencia and Whit Robbins. Both players had tremendous starts to their professional careers and should be strong contenders for Most Improved this season. Will they be so good that they also qualify for Player of the Year consideration? The Twins top two picks in last year's draft, Chris Parmalee and Joe Benson were both high school players who also had excellent starts in the Gulf Coast League before brief season ending promotions to Beloit. Will either of these top prospects have a year at Beloit like Winfree did in 2005? If they do, will it be good enough to be recognized as the best in the system?
One player who does not get a lot of exposure is Garrett Guzman, who had to be last season's Comeback Player of the Year. Following a serious auto accident shortly before 2005 spring training in which he broke his neck, Guzman was likely happy just to recover and return in 2006. Guzman began the season hitting .274Average with 8 home runs and 51 rbi in 259 at bats at Ft. Myers, earning a promotion to New Britain. Guzman continued hitting very well for the Rock Cats where he hit .275Average with 7 home runs and 26 rbi in 222 at bats. Look for Guzman to begin the season in New Britain. He should be one of their top hitters which could earn him a midseason promotion to Rochester.
There are certainly many other players who are capable of having season's similar to what Casilla did last year and Winfree the year before. Players such as Trent Oeltjen, Brandon Roberts, Brock Peterson, Paul Kelly and Garrett Olson could all have seasons that qualify for top awards. But who do the Twins need to have a break-out season in 2007? Considering that it is somewhere between questionable and unlikely that Torii Hunter will return next year, the Twins need Denard Span to take that final step in his development.
Many consider Span the fastest player in the system and the heir to Torii's spot in centerfield. On the other hand, some fans criticize him for being a slap hitter who hasn't yet performed to a level that they look for. Span was the Twins top pick in 2002, however didn't play professional ball until 2003 when he played in only 50 games for Elizabethton. In 2004 Span again was limited by injury to only 240 at bats in 64 games at the Quad Cities. In 2005, Span hit for a .339 average at Ft. Myers before being promoted to New Britain where he hit a respectable .285 average. Span has struggled on the bases where he is picked off to often. His 24 stolen bases in 35 attempts last season was an improvement although not yet at a success level one would expect from someone with his tremendous speed. A Twins lineup with Span and Casilla in the top two spots could put tremendous pressure on opposing batteries. Will Span fine tune his base running and begin driving the ball into the gaps at Rochester this year? If he does he will give Mr. Ryan an option when deciding whether or not he should pursue Hunter in free agency next winter. In that case, Twins Management will be the happiest people in baseball to present him with the 2007 Player of the Year award.