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Top 15 Prospects - #14: Tom Stuifbergen | January

(courtesy mlb.com)

14. Tom Stuifbergen, RH-SP, 22 years old

2010 stats: 6-4 2.98 ERA 88/23 K/BB in 93.2 innings for Beloit Snappers (Low-A)
Last year's rank: N/A
Acquired: Signed out of the Netherlands in August 2006

Recently, TwinsTarget profiled its #15 prospect Max Kepler. The piece detailed how the Twins have recently stepped up their pursuit of international free agents. In the last couple years the Twins have spent $3.25 million on Miguel Sano, won the rights to Japanese star Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and paid $800,000 for Max Kepler.

Kepler was considered the best European prospect hitting prospect of all time. While Nishioka was the team's first foray into the Japanese market, the Twins' activity in Europe is nothing new. In the past Minnesota has signed Andrei Lobanov, a lefty reliever out of Russia. But the Twins' best European prospect is Tom Stuifbergen.

Stuifbergen has a high 80s to low 90s fastball, plus a change-up and a curve. He has struck out about 8+ batters per 9 innings throughout his minor league career and has walked very few. Aside from his minor league numbers is his stellar play in international competition. He stepped up against a Dominican Republic All-Star team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He went 4 innings, striking out 3 and giving up no runs in a winning effort. While this outing wasn't against a major league team, Stuifbergen shut down a lineup of All-Stars as a 21-year-old. This performance came after he'd missed the entire previous season due to injury.

Stuifbergen had a nice season for Beloit last year, striking out 8.46 per 9 innings while walking 2.21 per 9. He's a big guy that has battled through injuries. He has had solid numbers at every level and if he can stay healthy, he is one of the best starters in the Twins system.

Ideal scenario: Stuifbergen will start the season for High-A Fort Myers. If he can stay healthy, Stuifbergen may have an opportunity to move on to AA New Britain mid-season. The Twins have moved him rather slowly and given his injury history, he may be best served to stay in Fort Myers all season.

Path to the majors: Stuifbergen has a ways to go to get to the majors, but if his numbers stay strong in Fort Myers, he should be put on the fast track. He profiles as a middle or back-end starter based on stuff and strikeout rates. The fortitude he showed against the Dominicans and his low walk rate however could elevate him to a #2-type starter.