Tonight we will close out the infield with a look at the top ten third basemen in the organization. Like the middle infield spots, third base is another position of immediate need for the Twins. Is there someone in the organization who can be expected to fill that spot in 2010?
The tenth ranked third baseman in the organization is Juan Richardson. A native of the Dominican Republic, Richardson was signed as a 20 year old non-drafted free agent in the winter of 2007. Richardson, who also catches when needed, began his Twins career in the GCL where he hit .317/.364/.401 in 202 at bats. He spent most of 2008 at Elizabethton with a late season callup to Beloit where he hit .206/.268/.230 in 126 at bats to rank as my 89th player in 2008. Richardson spent much of this season on the DL, however, hit .271/.317/.288 in 59 at bats at Beloit before closing out his season by hitting .210/.231/.226 in 62 at bats for the Miracle. Although his play was limited, his solid start at Beloit moved Richardson up nine spots to #80 in this year's ranking.
The ninth ranked third baseman is a young man from Australia who didn't turn 18 until the end of July. Rory Rhodes began his professional career with the GCL Twins as a third baseman, however, at 6'7 there may be some question whether he remains at that position. In a year where everything was a first for this young man, he hit .198/.264/.272 in 116 at bats. The 74th ranked player in the organization will likely return to the GCL for a second season and it is also likely he will be a much improved player in 2010.
The eighth ranked third baseman is former Gopher, Nate Hanson. Hanson began his career with the Twins following the 2008 draft by hitting .215/.348/.344 in 93 at bats for the Elizabethton Twins to rank as my 86th ranked player. This season Nate moved up to Beloit where he showed considerable improvement, hitting .253/.322/.353 in 360 at bats to move up 32 spots to the #54 ranking.
A young man, who would have broken the top 50 had I included players from the DSL Twins, is Wander Guillen. Ranked as the seventh best third baseman in the organization, Guillen didn't begin play for the DSL Twins until shortly after the July 2nd International signing date. This young man didn't turn 17 until late August, yet, led the DSL Twins in Average (.336) while tying all-star Romy Trinidad for a team best .443 OBP. Guillen appeared in 31 games with 110 at bats while showing tremendous discipline for a young player by striking out only 23 times with 19 walks. By comparison, one of the Twins top young prospects for the GCL Twins this year, Oswaldo Arcia, hit .293/.343/.432 for the DSL Twins as a 17 year old in 2008. Although the Twins don't announce who they promote to the GCL each year until after the big league club leaves Ft. Myers, look for this young man to move up to the GCL next spring.
The sixth ranked third baseman is a prospect the Twins added to their 40-man roster following an injury plagued 2008 season at Beloit. After hitting .316/.406/.506 for the Elizabethton Twins in 2007, D.J. Romero moved up to Beloit last year with high expectations. After a slow start, Romero battled several injuries before showing improvement at mid-season when he broke his leg while falling into a dugout going after a foul ball. Romero finished his season at Beloit hitting .268/.309/.396, yet the Twins showed us their opinion by protecting him from the Rule V draft. After a solid spring training with the Twins, Romero was assigned to Ft. Myers where he showed spurts of the player the Twins believe he can be. He too often found himself overmatched by the strong pitching of the FSL however, finishing his season with .222/.308/.314. Although his average wasn't great, he was producteive with 18 doubles, 3 triples and 5 home runs with 56 RBI in 424 at bats. Romero moved up 20 spots in this year's ranking to #47 and likely will return to Ft. Myers in 2010.
The Fifth ranked third baseman is a young man who was the Twins fourth round pick in 2007, Reggie Williams. Although Williams plays several positions, he split time in Elizabethton this year where he hit .250/.316/.462 in 156 at bats with 7 home runs and 25 RBI. Williams moved up 31 spots to a #40 ranking this year after a 2008 season with the GCL Twins where he hit a solid .286/.358/.440 in 84 at bats playing mostly second base. Considered a raw but exciting player when drafted out of the Los Angeles inner city programs, Williams had nearly half of his hits go for extra bases this season.
The Fourth ranked third baseman is the player that Williams shared time with at Elizabethton, Anderson Hidalgo. Signed as a free agent out of Venezuela prior to the 2006 season, Hidalgo hit for averages of .310 and .305 in his first two seasons in the VSL and DSL before leading the 2008 GCL Twins with a .364/.448/.466 season. Unfortunately, his 88 at bats were a few short of the minimum needed to qualify or he would have been the GCL leading hitter. His numbers were good enough however to rank him #38 in my year end rankings. This season Hidalgo moved up to Elizabethton where he hit . 291/.379/.469 in 175 at bats with 6 home runs to again rank as the #38 player in 2009.
A few years ago the Twins acquired a young man from the Colorado Rockies in a late season trade. They had drafted Matt Macri out of high school, however, he chose to attend Notre Dame University. They maintained their interest in him and picked him up in a late 2007 trade. Macri played briefly for the Twins in 2008, hitting .324/.361/.441 in 34 at bats during a season when he would be my 22nd ranked player after hitting .259/.323/.466 for the Red Wings. Matt was one of the players who the Red Wings were counting on this season, however, it wasn't meant to be for either he or the Wings. Macri finished 2009 by hitting .225/.296/.400 in 365 at bats in what had to be a disappointing season and a year that would not have his name called for a return to the Twins. Matt is the 26th ranked player this year and the third ranked third baseman in the organization.
Our second ranked third baseman is Luke Hughes who was the organizaiton's #4 ranked player in 2008 following a season that saw him hit 18 home runs at New Britain and Rochester while missing about a month in the middle of the season. After a torrid start at New Britain, .319/.385/.551 with 15 home runs in 285 at bats, Hughes went on the DL then later moved up to Rochester where he hit .283/.325/.453 in 106 at bats with 3 home runs. Hughes didn't get off to a good start this spring as he missed parts of the first few weeks of spring training then left the Twins for the WBC. When he returned, he was assigned to Rochester where he hit .259/.344/.481 in 135 at bats with 6 home runs. Luke again battled an injury that put him on the DL. The Twins had moved Danny Valencia up to Rochester while Hughes was out so when he returned they assigned him to New Britain where he would be able to play every day. Hughes closed out his season by hitting .250/.320/.445 in 200 at bats with 6 home runs to drop 10 spots in this seasons ranking. There is no question that this young Australian has significant power in his right handed bat. The question has always been about his defense and what his best defensive position is. I have recently read several reports that indicate that his defense at third base isn't as bad as many feared and with his power he certainly should have a major league career ahead of him. The bigger question may be whether or not it will be with the Twins?
The top ranked third baseman is a young man who many still wonder why he was available for the Twins to draft in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. After battling several nagging injuries his first few seasons with the Twins, Danny Valencia made everyone take notice when he was the leading hiter in the FSL at the all-star break last year at .336/.402/.518 in 220 at bats with 5 home runs and 44 RBI. Valencia was promoted to New Britain and after beginning very slowly, finsighed with a respectable .289/.334/.485 in 266 at bats with 10 home runs and 32 RBI to rank as the 6th best player in the organization. This season began back at New Britain where he hit much as he did in 2008, .284/.373/.482 with 7 home runs and 29 RBI in 218 at bats. When Luke Hughes was injured, the Twins promoted Valencia to Rochester where he hit .360/.372/.573 in 75 at bats before the all-star break. That start had everyone clamoring for him to be called up to the Twins to the point that Ron Gardenhire commented on several occassions that he wasn't ready for that final promotion. Valencia cooled and many have been critical of him for doing poorly during the second half. Yet, the truth is that he hit for averages of .287 and .283 in July and August before going into a slump in September when the team played only 8 games. Valencia finished his season by hitting .286/.331/.424 in 269 at bats for the Red Wings with 7 home runs and 41 RBI to drop a spot to the 7th ranked player this year. Danny continued to not strike out to much (37 in 269 at bats), however, the bigger question is why did he draw only 8 walks after having 31 walks compared with 40 strikeouts in 218 at bats in New Britain. Is it the change to a new environment? Was it a different level of pitching? It remains to be seen as are the Twins plans for him in 2010.
Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes are both close to being major league ready and both appear to be hitters who will have some success at that level. Although Valencia is considered a solid defensive third baseman, there are questions about Hughes defensive abilities. Is one of the two ready to man the hot corner full time in 2010? The answer to that is unknown, however, it is unlikely that the Twins will want to pin their hopes on a potential championship season on the performance of an untested rookie. Thus, it is likely the Twins will sign someone over the winter while they take a second look at both of these young players again next spring before sending them out for more seasoning.
A year ago the Twins were telling us they were very high on a third baseman further down in the organizaiton, D. J. Romero. Moved up a level following a low A season at Beloit that he missed much of with injuries may have been to big of a step. Expectations of Romero's future aren't what they were last year, yet, a very good 2010 could put him right back on the Twins radar as a top prospect. The player that I see as someone that we need to watch very closely however, is a young 17 year old who had a tremendous season in the Dominican Republic this year, Wander Guillen. It's a long way from the Twins Dominican academy to Target Field, however, this young man is someone who just might make that journey.