Despite opening the year with one of the best minor league systems in baseball, the Minnesota Twins' collection of young talent continues to get stronger. The club's system entered the year as one of the top five systems, according to two different publications: Keith Law of ESPN (2nd out of 30 — subscription required) and Baseball Prospectus (4th). Baseball America had a slightly different opinion and ranked the system 10th overall.
When looking at the three Top 10 lists for those publications (Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America – subscriptions required), a total of 14 players were represented: Oswaldo Arcia, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Danny Santana, Luke Bard, Travis Harrison, Jorge Polanco, Alex Meyer and Trevor May. We can delete both Kepler and Bard because they're in extended spring training and have yet to appear in an official game. Santana appeared on just one list (Baseball America's) and has struggled in Double-A. The highest profile name — outfielder Aaron Hicks — is hitting just .144 in the majors after being touted by some as an early American League Rookie of the Year candidate. The other 10 players are thriving in 2013.
Arcia, called up to the Majors in mid-April, has posted a .746 OPS while helping to compensate for the loss in offense as fellow rookie Hicks finds his footing. Strikeouts have been an issue for Arcia but his three home runs have put him in a four-way tie for third on the team in that category despite appearing in just 28 games.
Both Sano and Buxton were ranked either first or second on each of the three publications' top prospects lists. Sano, age 20, has produced an eye-popping OPS of 1.165 OPS in 42 High-A games. The fourth-year pro has some of the best usable power in the minor leagues and he's slugged 13 home runs, more than any other hitter in the minors. According to a front office contact, the young prospect is not just a one-trick pony. "Miguel learned a lot about patience at the plate last season and that's one of the reasons he's off to a good start," he told MLBTR. "He also has a very strong arm at third base and has made good progress defensively this season."
Buxton, 19, is in his first full pro season after being selected second overall in the 2012 amateur draft. After hitting .392 in April, the center fielder's average has dipped in May but he's flashing five tools and still getting on base at a .420 clip. The talent evaluator that spoke with MLBTR said Buxton's natural skills have helped him get off to a hot start although pitchers have started to make adjustments against him. "He's going through a learning process now since he's been seeing mostly off-speed stuff this month," he explained. "He will need to continue to develop that patience and be selective at the plate."
Meyer was obtained from the Nationals during the offseason trade that sent outfielder Denard Span to the National League. The 6'9'' pitching prospect has produced both above-average strikeout and groundball rates while settling in nicely at the Double-A level. When asked what has stood out about the new Twin, the contact stated, "Coming into a new organization isn't easy but Alex has adjusted quite well. He may have the best fastball and the best curveball in the organization."
Gibson continues to rebuild his prospect value after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late 2011. The injury slowed down his big-league timetable but he's looking good at Triple-A in 2013, averaging almost six innings per start. With three big league starters struggling – Mike Pelfrey, as well as recent demotion victims Vance Worley, and Pedro Hernandez — Gibson could become a key contributor by the second half of the year.
The 32nd overall selection of the 2012 draft, Berrios has produced solid results so far this year despite being one of the younger arms in his league. He has a 2.86 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just five walks in 28 1/3 innings of work. Another offseason acquisition, May was part of the package that the Phillies sent to the Twins for outfielder Ben Revere. He's struggled to retire left-handed hitters in 2013 but he's shown the potential to develop into an innings-eating workhorse.
Converted from outfielder to second baseman in 2012, Rosario has spent the early part of this year making strides at the keystone while continuing to hit for a high average in High-A ball. Harrison, 20, needs to tighten his approach at the plate but the third base prospect has flashed good pop with 21 of his 43 hits going for extra bases at the Low-A level. Just 19, Polanco is already in his fourth pro season but his first in full-season ball. The switch-hitting middle infielder is batting .325 with surprising gap power and solid control of the strike zone.
First baseman Chris Colabello was a surprise promotion to the big league club on May 22nd. He didn't make any Top 10 or Top 100 list this year but he's been an impact player for the Twins at the Triple-A level. Colabello, 29, hit .358 with 29 extra base hits — including 12 homers (the second highest total in the minors) — in 46 games. In his last 10 appearances, Colabello was hitting .500 (19-for-38). Perhaps in preparation of this call-up, he was recently given playing time in the outfield.
Born in Massachusetts, Colabello spent his childhood in Italy and played for that country during the recent World Baseball Classic. He went to a small U.S. college and was never drafted by a Major League Baseball organization. He signed with the Tigers as a non-drafted free agent after impressing the organization during a tryout camp in 2006 but was released less than a month later. He spent seven years playing independent league baseball before agreeing to a deal with the Twins prior to the 2012 season.
A front office contact told MLBTR that he wasn't shocked by the success that Colabello has had since signing with the Twins because of the consistent success he showed in independent baseball. "It was just a matter of someone giving him an opportunity," he said. "He has power to all fields, has a good plan when he goes to the plate, and stays on an even keel. He's a tremendous teammate and he's always working to get better."
Whether or not Colabello truly has the offensive chops to be a big league regular remains to be seen but he should at least be able to provide help off the bench while also backing up at designated hitter, first base and both corner outfield spots. The organization now has roster flexibility with the rookie — both in terms of positions that he can play and with his three option years. Should the need arise, he can be shuttled back and forth between the Majors and the minors for three seasons without the risk of having to pass him through waivers.
In a piece for USA Today, Ray Glier got reaction from Colabello after the prospect learned of his promotion.