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Written by Shawn Berg | 05 January 2011

12. Angel Morales, Outfielder, 21 years old

2010 stats: .280/.362/.405 with 29 steals in 41 attempts between Beloit Snappers & Fort Myers
Last year's rank: #2
Acquired: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 3rd Round of the 2007 draft, out of Carguas, Puerto Rico.

I'm just going to start with this: I'm more excited to see Angel Morales play than any other prospect in the Minnesota Twins' system. Why? Angel Morales has everything needed to be a 5 tool player, a potential All-Star, & 30-30 man. He has center-field speed with a right field arm.

Morales burst on the prospect scene in 2008. He put up an impressive .301/.413/.623 line at Rookie League Elizabethton in 218 plate appearances. He has great speed but only attempted 9 steals, succeeding on 7. He had an amazing .322 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average). As an 18 year old, he looked like the next big thing. But as I observed in this post, E-Towns stats can prove a bit deceptive.

In 2009, Morales moved up to Beloit, where he hit .266/.329/.455 and stole 19 bases in 25 attempts. He started the year really slow, but came on later in the season. He did lower his strikeout rate from nearly 40% in '08 to 27.7% in 2009.

In 2010, Angel returned to Beloit. After hitting .284/.377/.469 in 60 games, he was promoted to Fort Myers. He struggled following his promotion, going .272/.347/.349 in 73 games. His power was way down. He did, however, manage to steal a total of 29 bases out of 41 attempts in 2010. 

Ideal scenerio: Morales has a monster season at Fort Myers is promoted to New Britain late in the year. At 21, he will still be young for his level and with guys such as Joe Benson and Ben Revere ahead of him, he doesn't need to be rushed. Hopefully his performance will force a promotion.

Path to the majors: He is a potential five-tool athlete that can play center field, but given the glut of high end center-fielders in the system, will be a right-fielder when he reaches the Twins. His plus arm will play well out there. He has a rare combination of speed and power, hits for decent average and can take a walk. He has some work left to do, though, such as cutting his obscene strikeout rate. With hard work and some luck, this guy could be putting up 30-30 numbers someday.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 04 January 2011

13. Manuel Soliman, RH-SP, 21 years old

2010 stats: 5-2, 3.48 ERA 74/21 K/BB in 64.2 innings for Elizabethton Twins (Rookie)
Last year's rank: N/A
Acquired: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007

When the Twins signed Manuel Soliman out of the Dominican Republic back in 2007, I'm sure they weren't expecting much from the 17-year old. Soliman was simply one of dozens of young players to come out of the country every year, and Minnesota grabbed him in hopes he may be one of the few Dominican sluggers to stick in the minor leagues.

Soliman didn't. During two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Soliman hit .199/.318/.288. His high walk total made his on-base average respectable, but this was probably only because the poor kid was afraid to take the bat off his shoulder. If Soliman couldn't hit against teenagers in his own country, there was no chance he would make against it in the United States.

Minnesota noticed the corner infielder's strong arm, however, and decided to give Soliman an opportunity from the mound. Though he was a year older than most other players in the Dominican Summer League last season, Soliman was dominant. The Twins leap-frogged him to the Appalachian League in 2010 in order to gauge him against batters his own age, and the transition appears to be successful.

Soliman may have been miserable offensively, but the young right-hander has a strong arm and the ability to throw strikes. John Manuel of Baseball American claims Soliman has three pitches, which he can throw with high velocity. Soliman averaged a very impressive 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010, and walked just 29.

Ideal scenario: The Twins will send Soliman to the Beloit Snappers for the 2011 season. He is about a year behind most elite pitching prospects, but Soliman started pitching just two years ago and needs time to refine and develop his skills.

Path to the majors: The Midwest League will provide the Twins with a good barometer to measure Soliman's progress. Barring any setbacks, Soliman will likely spend the entire season in Beloit, though he may be eased into his first full season. The Twins will certainly not rush Soliman to the major leagues, and the young right-hander can expect several more years of development.

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Written by Shawn Berg | 01 January 2011

Stuifbergen
(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.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 31 December 2010

Max Kepler
(courtesy spox.com)

15. Max Kepler, OF, 17 years old

2010 stats: .286/.346/.343, 153 PA, 0 HR, 27/13 K/BB at GCL Twins (Rookie)
Last year’s rank: N/A
Acquired: Signed out of Germany in July 2009 for $800,000

After the publishing of 'Moneyball,' the advantage small-market teams gained by placing emphasis on on-base average has slowly decreased. Though the Twins are no longer surviving on small-market resources, they are joining the hunt for the next comparative advantage. It seems they've found it. Over the past couple of years, the Twins have done a phenomenal job of being active on the international market.

Minnesota won the rights to Japanese star Tsuyoshi Nishioka a few weeks ago, the latest in a string of moves that display their international scouting net, which appears to be increasing in size every day. Max Kepler-Rozycki is a young, athletic outfielder the Twins signed out of Germany last summer. While almost nothing is known about him, Kepler does have the raw athleticism Minnesota loves.

Scouts see all five tools in Kepler (power, hitting, throwing, fielding, and running) and think he could be an All-Star outfielder some day. Kepler is still just 17 years old, though, and has a long road to travel before he can even think about becoming the first German amateur to reach MLB.

Last year, Kepler saw far better pitching in the Gulf Coast League than he saw across the Atlantic Ocean. Kepler made good contact against opposing pitchers, and got on base at a great clip, but his power has yet to develop. Of course, Kepler just finished high school and is sure to fill out some as he grows in stature and maturity over the next few years.

Ideal scenario: Kepler will spend the ’11 season in Fort Myers, Florida. He'll receive plenty of individual coaching in extended Spring Training, and will play in the Gulf Coast League once again. If the Twins are feeling especially gutsy, Kepler could see time with the Elizabethton Twins, a team that is usually filled with recently-drafted college draft picks. It will certainly be a challenging step for the young outfielder, and this trial by fire will reveal the strengths and flaw of Kepler's game.

Path to the majors: Like any player with a legitimate claim to all five tools, Kepler has a very high ceiling. He has an extremely long way to go before any projections or comparables can be given, but there is a very real chance Kepler could be a regular in a major-league outfield in a few years.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 30 November 2010

By noon on Wednesday, December 1, several of my favorite baseball bloggers will be posting their answer to this question: "What is baseball's most important position?" The question is purposely vague and open to interpretation. How do you define "importance?"

Tulowitzki
Alex Gallardo | Associated Press (via LA Times)

Here's my take on the question:

Green Valley News: Ranking baseball's most important positions

What is baseball’s most important position?

The answer to this seemingly straightforward question depends entirely which question you ask yourself: No. 1: Which position is most essential for fielding a team on any given day? No. 2: Which position has the greatest impact on any given game? Or, No. 3: Which position would you address first if you were building a team from the ground up?

In terms of skills and abilities, the pitcher would be the toughest position to do without on any given day. A strong outfielder could throw the ball over the plate at a high velocity, but that patchwork solution wouldn’t last long.

The starting pitcher is also the winner of my second question, as he has the greatest influence on the outcome of the game, often pitching six or seven innings.

But the third question is by far the most interesting and subject to debate. In order to be a successful team, which position needs to be given priority?


To read the rest, please visit the Green Valley News' (recently-upgraded as of Wednesday) web site!

Below you can find a compilation of every answer to the question of baseball's most important position. If your blog entry isn't listed below, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and I'll be sure to get it up there!

Knuckleballs - How Do You Score a 10?
K-Bro - Most Important Baseball Position: Starting Pitcher
Platoon Advantage - The Most Important Position in Baseball Today
Twinkie Town - What's the Most Important Position In Baseball?
Off The Mark - The Most Important Position In Baseball

Compare live MLB odds and get winning baseball picks from the experts at BetFirms.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 21 November 2010

Should the Twins bring back JJ Hardy for the 2011 season? On the surface, it seems a no-brainer. Why should a guy who hit .268/.320/.394 and spent much of the year on the disabled list be counted on for another season?

When healthy during the second half of last season, though, Hardy was one of the best shortstops in baseball. Over the last three months of the season, Hardy hit a very impressive .304/.363/.442. If extended over the entire season, that 805 OPS would have been the fourth-highest in the league, putting Hardy in the class of Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, and Stephen Drew.

Considering Hardy was demoted to the minor leagues during a miserable 2009 season, this is a remarkable development. When the Twins traded for Hardy last winter, they were of the belief that the struggling shortstop simply needed change of scenery. Twelve months later, it's obvious that they were correct.

If healthy, Hardy is one of the best offensive shortstops in the league, but the best aspect of his game is by far his defensive range. He doesn't have the quickest feet, and much of his defensive abilities lie in his incredible instincts. Several scouting reports claimed that Hardy's defense would have played at the major-league level even back in 2001, when he was drafted out of high school. He is obviously an exceptional talent in the field.

Hardy knows exactly where to position himself for each pitch, and his strong arm allows him to play a step or two deeper than most shortstops, which increases his range even further. This range cannot be quantified using traditional mainstream statistics, such as fielding percentage, so most don't appreciate how valuable Hardy was to the team last season.

Hardy hasn't compiled quite enough service time during his career to become a free agent, and will spend one last season under team control. Should Minnesota choose to offer the 28-year old a contract for the 2011 season, Hardy has no choice but to play for the Twins.

If a contractual agreement can't be reached, both the player and the team will submit figures to panel of independent arbitrators, which will pick one or the other. Neither party benefits from the risk involved with this arbitration process, so I'm confident a settlement will be reached. It's impossible to know the final value, but I would guess any potential 2011 contract for Hardy to be worth around $6 or $7 million.

But should the Hometown Nine choose to tender Hardy a contract, or allow him to leave as a free agent?

On the free agent market, a team typically spends around $4.5 million per additional win. Hardy was worth 2.4 wins during an injury-plagued 2010; how valuable could he be over the course of a full season? Even if the Twins aren't convinced of Hardy's ability to stay healthy or productive in 2011, it's a gamble they should be willing to take.

Alexi Casilla seems primed to take over the starting duties at second base, but finding a replacement at the shortstop position would be a much tougher task. The only viable internal candidate for the job would be Trevor Plouffe, who struggled in Triple-A last season. If Hardy weren't brought back for the 2011 season, the Twins would almost certainly need to look outside the organization.

Unless the Twins want to pony up for a free agent like Miguel Tejada or rely once again on Orlando Cabrera, Hardy is the only realistic option.

And he's absolutely worth the risk.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 09 November 2010

"Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me /  I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

- The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, 1883

This quote from Emma Lazarus' famous sonnet, etched in bronze in the Statue of Liberty, is the philosophy the Twins will apply to the 2011 offseason. At least to one of their acqusitions.

In baseball, millions of dollars are won and lost every year. A team can award a large contract one day to find the player in line for Tommy John surgery the next. When this happens, most teams are tempted to cut their losses and sever ties with the player. Nobody wants an expensive, long-term project.

But sometimes they should.

Teams can strike gold when taking on reclamation projects. Just look at Rick Ankiel, Josh Hamilton, or even Tommy John himself. There are bargains to be had when dumpster-diving, even though you may get your hands dirty. This season, according to my blueprint, the Twins will take on a reclamation project and hope for the best. We'll get into that later.

What follows is a general outline of the seven steps Minnesota needs to take in order to get back to the postseason in 2011.

Click here to read the rest!

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