Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gibson ousts Hicks as Baseball America's Twins top prospect

This morning, Baseball America announced their selection for the Top Ten Twins prospect for the 2011 season:
This shouldn’t be viewed as an affront to Hicks, the previous season’s anointed number one prospect for the Twins. After a rather gruff introduction at low-A Beloit, hitting .251/.350/.382 (732 OPS) in 297 plate appearances, he bounced back in his 20-year-old season at the same level. In 518 plate appearances, Hicks posted a .279/.401/.428 (829 OPS) batting line thanks in part to a bump in his walk rate (13.5% to 17.1%) combined with a significant spike in his BABIP (from .307 to .362) in spite of a slight decline in his line drive rate. Because of his growth in walk rate, it’s not surprising to find that Hicks was deemed the player with the organization’s Best Strike-Zone Discipline in addition to being labeled Best Defensive Outfielder and Best Defensive Arm.

With these kinds of skills, Hicks could be a top three prospect in most organizations across the league. However, with high-A Ft Myers as his next stop in this development process, he is still fairly far away from contributing at the major league-level. Barring any unforeseen acceleration, the earliest we will see him in a Twins uniform is probably 2012.

That may be why Gibson draws an slight advantage over Hicks. Baseball America submits this disclaimer as their basis for their selections:
“Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel.”

John Manuel, editor at Baseball America, frequently has had Major League-ready pitching talent topping his list. In 2008, Manuel surprised many by anointing the 26-year-old Nick Blackburn the team's top prospect. Blackburn, a contact-oriented righty who had finished the ’07 season going 10-6 with an 83/21 K/BB ratio in 160.1 innings split between New Britain, Rochester and the Twins, was hardly universally accepted as a blue-chip talent. In an interview with www.NoMaas.org, Manuel said that he “stuck his neck out” with that selection. When Carlos Silva left via free agency, Blackburn indeed cracked the rotation in the spring, leading the team in starts, innings pitched and was even tapped to start the decisive Game 163 against the White Sox in Chicago. Manuel, rather pleased with his choice’s career thus far, also sponsor’s Blackburn’s Baseball-Reference.com page.

All things considered, Blackburn was the only member of that class of prospect to contribute at the major league-level in '08 while Jeff Manship and Brian Duensing provided some innings in '09. Going back to Baseball America's citation of a player's "long-term worth", Blackburn clearly fulfilled that requisite by leading the Twins in innings pitched for two consecutive seasons and earning a four-year extension. 

Like Blackburn in ’08, Kyle Gibson figures to be a contributor in the near future, possibly by midseason in 2011. 

After being drafted in ’09, the 22-year-old Gibson stormed through the system in his first year of professional ball, rendering hitters at three different levels punchless and finished the season with an 11-6 record with a 2.96 ERA and a 126/39 K/BB ratio in 152 innings pitched. While his strikeout rate declined as he rose in the organization, his penchant for inciting groundballs remained relatively consistent – from 68% in high-A, 54% in AA and 57% in AAA. The right-hander has impressed people with his poise and his polished repertoire including what the folks at Baseball America consider the system’s Best Slider and Best Changeup.

Dropped from the prior year’s top ten rankings are Wilson Ramos (traded to Washington), Danny Valencia (promoted to Minnesota), Angel Morales, David Bromberg and Max Kepler. Meanwhile, added to the list are Liam Hendriks, Alex Wimmers (2010 draft pick), Adrian Salcedo and Oswaldo Arcia.