Monday, September 12, 2011

Focus on the future

While most of the season has provided little redeeming quality for Twins fans, there remains at least one positive take away from this horrific year of baseball in Minnesota: a top five draft pick in 2012.

The unfortunate flipside to that is that this upcoming draft class does not have a Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper, players who are expected to have a substantial and immediate impact for their team. In fact, as’s prospect guru Keith Law notes, the next draft class might be one of the thinnest in years.

Right now, many mock draft sites are projecting Stanford’s six-foot-four right-handed starter Mark Appel as the likely number one overall pick in 2012. Unlike the aforementioned Strasburg, Appel does not have the gaudy strikeout totals. Whereas Strasburg maintained strikeout rates well above the 12.0 K/9 mark, Appel has hovered around the 7.0 K/9 mark thus far in his colligate career. Even the Twins more recent high draft picks such as Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson held strikeout rates above 10.0 in their college careers. To fans who have grown tired of pitch-to-contact types the organization has selected, Appel’s selection would likely disappoint.

Still, the lanky-built Appel tosses mid-90’s two-seam fastballs (but was hitting 99 in the spring) and a solid slider that has impressed scouts. Allan Simpson, founder of Baseball America, ranked Appel as the top pitcher in the prestigious Cape Cod League this past summer as he struck out 15 and walked just one in 12 innings of work. In the video clip of him, you will see a long-arm action, a fastball that runs at the last minute and a sharp slider that drops off the table fairly quick:

Another arm that is mentioned within the top five regularly is high school phenom Lucas Giolito. Giolito, a senior at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake (CA), is a six-foot-six, 220 pounds beast and the teenaged right-hander throws 94 while touching 96.3 during the Area Code Games - the midsummer showcase for the nation’s top high school talent.

While the fastball has plenty of life and his 12-to-6 curveball is respectable (he hooks his hand just a bit in the clips potentially giving away the pitch), his deliberate and plodding mechanics could use some polishing. Although they are very repeatable, similar to Kyle Gibson’s mechanics, Giolito has some wasted motion as he lifts his leg and then lowers it almost straight down before driving forward. Engaging his legs more in his delivery would take some pressure off of his arm.

Across the country from Giolito in Tampa, Florida is another touted prep arm in Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers Jr - a six-foot-two, 200 pound righty - had shown a 97 miles-an-hour as a 16 year old and was recently gunned at a Perfect Game event this past August at 100 miles-an-hour.

The problem with McCullers Jr, who currently attends the same high school that the Twins drafted Brad Radke from and is the son of former major league pitcher Lance McCullers, is that although he clearly has a power arm he also has some bumpy mechanics . More specifically, he struggles with landing his front foot consistently which translates into control issues. Because of this, you have to wonder if he would wind up more of a project in the minors with a risk of following the same path as 2008 draft pick, Shooter Hunt.

Meanwhile, in terms of offense, Arizona State shortstop Deven Marrero seems to be the best available among position players. This past draft, the Twins selected North Carolina infielder Levi Michael who, by most metrics, was a slightly better hitter than Marrero.

Player Name

Michael, however, is not nearly the glove man that Marrero is at short. While he played short in his final season at UNC after manning both second and third, at least one scout projects that Michael will shift back to second base. Part of the reason is his arm. During the 2008 Perfect Game competitions, Michael was clocked as throwing 85 miles-per-hour across the diamond. For a comparison, Tsuyoshi Nishioka supposedly throws in the mid-80s from short. At the same event, Marrero was registering 93 on the gun. Aside from his arm, Marrero has been lauded for his overall defense in the field. After being labeled the Cape Cod League’s best prospect by Baseball America, his coach said this about the young man:
“He’s the best defensive player I’ve ever seen at 19, 20 years of age. Walt Weiss was pretty darn good, but this young man –I’ve never seen anybody who could get his feet in the right position almost all the time. If for any reason he doesn’t get his feet in the right position, he has the ability to get his hands in the right place, and understand the speed of the runner. I think he’s Omar Vizquel at 20.”
So even though the Twins drafted a shortstop this season (and two more within the first ten rounds), because of the system’s lack of true shortstop talent combined with this year’s defensive ineptitude, targeting someone like Marrero - who has shown high caliber play at the position - makes plenty of sense.

Another position that the Twins have a need within the system is at catcher. Certainly, with Joe Mauer signed through, you know, infinity, there isn’t a pressing need yet we witnessed the glaring hole created when he was hurt and unable to catch, so the front office should be considering some insurance policy. Florida’s Mike Zunino might be that kind of option. Armed with plenty of pop (19 home runs and a .674 slugging percentage in 2011), if Mauer ever needs to move on a more permanent basis to another position in the next few years, having someone like Zunino ready in 2014 or 2015 may help ease the transition.