The calendar has turned to 2010 and it's time for BP Baseball to rank its top 20 Minnesota Twins' prospects as we head to the 2010 season. My approach is to include those who have not accumulated significant time in the Major Leagues already (you will notice that Brian Duensing and Jeff Manship are not on this list, as both are solidly in the mix for starting positions in Minnesota this spring and spent time with the big club last year). There is one exception to this rule, and you'll notice that later in this post.
My aim is to rank the prospects based on their long-term impact in Minnesota. If we measured MLB readiness, the list would be full of AA and AAA-type players. Instead, you'll note plenty of players in the minor leagues' lower rungs. It's a list which will generate some public debate, have many of you questioning my sanity, and will allow readers to compare to the "real" experts like Seth Stohs, Aaron Gleeman, Travis Aune, Josh Johnson, and others.
So, without hearing anything further......
#20: Billy Bullock, RHP - The Twins' second round draft pick (70th overall) in the 2009 MLB Draft, Bullock was selected out of the University of Florida. Bullock made 34 appearances as a junior for the Gators and recorded a 3-3 mark with a 2.64 ERA and 11 saves in 47.2 innings. He recorded an impressive 50:22 strikeout to walk ratio in his final year at Florida. He signed with the Twins and was sent to Elizabethton in the Appalachian League. With the E-Twins, Bullock made seven appearances and pitched 7.1 innings. He allowed just three hits and one earned run (1.23 ERA) and picked up a win and three saves. He fanned ten batters and walked only one. Quickly promoted to Beloit, Bullock continued his solid rookie season performance in 26 games and 26.1 innings. He recorded a 3-0 mark with eight saves and allowed eight earned runs for an ERA of 2.73. The walks were up a bit (12), but he also struck out an impressive 35 batters. It's a bit early to see how he projects as a prospect, but the 6-6 right-hander's future seems clearly at the back end of the bullpen and seems to have a closer make-up.
#19: Anthony Swarzak, RHP - The Twins picked Swarzak in the second round of the 2004 MLB Draft out of high school, and the right-hander signed shortly thereafter. Swarzak started his steady climb through the Twins' minor league ladder and established himself as one of the organization's top pitching prospects. Although suspended for substance abuse in 2007, Swarzak bounced back and recorded a solid 5-4 mark in 102 innings split between Ft. Myers and New Britain. Assigned to New Britain in 2008, Swarzak under-achieved (3-8, 5.67 ERA in 20 starts spanning 101.2 innings, walking 37 batters in the process) but received a questionable promotion to AAA Rochester at age 22. Predictably, Swarzak flourished with the Red Wings, winning five of his seven starts and recording an ERA of 1.80 in 45 innings, walking 14 hitters and striking out 26. Swarzak was sent to Rochester to start the 2009 season and made the AAA All-Star Game. He recorded a mark of 4-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 13 starts and 79.2 innings. Forced to the Major Leagues due to injuries, Swarzak pitched brilliantly in his first start, shutting out the Milwaukee Brewers over seven innings. He would go on to make four more starts before returning to Rochester, capped by a great seven-inning, no-run performance at Wrigley Field to pick up his second win. Returning in July, Swarzak pitched not nearly as effectively as his first stint, and labored through a nightmarish month of August (four starts, four losses, 13.1 IP, 22 ER, 8 HR, 14.85 ERA) and did not receive a September call-up. His overall numbers in the Majors were 3-7 in 12 starts spanning 59 innings, allowing 76 hits, 41 earned runs (6.25 ERA), and 12 home runs. However, Swarzak is only 24 years-old and will be in the mix for the fifth starter's position in spring training. He'll likely receive a ticket to Rochester, but the Twins saw a brief glimpse of what Swarzak can bring in 2009 and will some re-tooling in AAA, should be an effective back-of-the-rotation MLB starter.
#18: Alex Burnett, RHP - The Twins' 12th round pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, Burnett improved steadily throughout his four seasons of pro ball. His 2009 effort was a revelation. The Twins switched him permanently to a relief role, and Burnett starred in both Ft. Myers and New Britain. With the Miracle, Burnett made 18 appearances over 22.2 innings and allowed 14 hits and just five earned runs for an ERA of 1.99. He recorded a 2-1 record with four saves and earned a promotion to AA. In New Britain, Burnett continued his solid season, seeing action in 40 games and pitching 55.1 innings. He allowed just 36 hits and 11 earned runs (1.79 ERA), walking just 19 while striking out 52 men. He notched a 1-2 mark with 9 saves with the Rock Cats. Overall, he pitched in 58 games and 78 innings, allowed just 50 hits and 16 earned runs (1.85 ERA), and struck out 78 batters against 26 walks. The Twins took a gamble in making him a reliever (Burnett was 8-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 25 starts for Ft. Myers last season) and Burnett made the most of his opportunity, earning a spot on the Twins' 40-man roster. He projects as a reliever, and will likely repeat AA as a 22 year-old in 2010.
#17: Joe Benson, OF - The Twins selected Benson in the second round of the 2006 draft out of high school in Joliet, IL, and Benson qestablished himself as of the team's top outfield prospects. As a rookie in 2006, Benson hit .260/.329/.428 in 240 plate appearances, adding 11 doubles, 5 triples, 5 HR, and 29 RBI. He slumped a bit in 2007, batting .255/.347/.368 for Beloit, and was asked to repeat low-A ball in 2008. He battled injuries in '08 and hit just .248/.326/.382 in 69 games. More injuries hampered his 2009 campaign with Ft. Myers, but Benson hit better with the Miracle, batting .285/.414/.403 in 80 games with 5 HR and 29 RBI. He will be just 22 next spring and will likely see another year with Ft. Myers (with an outside shot at starting the year in New Britain), but the Twins have liked Benson's bat for a long time and many scouts have him projected as a potential five-tool guy. He needs a full season of injury-free development to get his career back on track, but the potential is definitely there.
#16: Rene Tosoni, OF - The Twins were persistent in their pursuit of Tosoni, drafting him in the 34th round of the 2004 Draft and in the 36th round of the 2005 Draft. After missing the 2006 season due to visa problems, Tosoni made his pro debut in 2007 and promptly hit .300/.402/.425 in 297 plate appearances between Elizabethton and Beloit. He started the 2008 season in Ft. Myers and played well before breaking his foot and missing 80 games before returning for the stretch run. He hit .300/.408/.414 in 170 plate appearances for the Miracle that season. Convinced he could hit, the Twins started Tosoni in AA New Britain in 2009 and the 22 year-old responded with a huge year. Tosoni made 490 plate appearances and hit .271/.360/.454 with 25 doubles, 4 triples, 15 HR, and 71 RBI. The highlight of his season was his MVP performance in the MLB Futures Game this summer. The Twins may start Tosoni in AAA Rochester in 2010, despite his young age. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch for Tosoni, as the guy can flat-out hit, as evidenced by his .310/.412/.446 career minor league hitting line.