There are a few items that need to be mentioned prior to reviewing the Top Ten First Basemen in the organization.
The big news this week was the signing of Miguel Sano for a reported $3,150,000 bonus. The signing is subject to Sano obtaining the necessary visas and the Twins have indicated that Sano would begin his career next summer in Ft. Myers with the GCL Twins. In what is a surprise to many, the Twins will not be bringing back Rochester Manager Stan Cliburn and coach Rich Miller. There has been numerous other hints that further changes in the minor league organization will be coming this winter. Finally, we are only ten days away from the first games in the Arizona Fall League where seven Twins prospects will be playing with many of the top prospects in baseball. I also want to thank Rosterman for posting the Fall Instructional League rosters earlier this week.
In the championship round of the World Cup, Australia beat the Netherlands, 4-1, for fifth place. Luke Hughes and James Beresford were both 1 for 3 with a walk and 1 RBI. Canada beat Puerto Rico, 6-2. Nelven Fuentes pitched 1.1 shutout inning for Puerto Rico with a strikeout and walk. Rene Tosoni was 0-2, however, had 2 walks and scored 2 runs. Trevor Plouffe was hitless (0-5) in the championship game as the USA beat Cuba, 10-5. Plouffe had a very good tournemant and did have a key at bat getting on base with an error as the lead run scored after Cuba had tied the game.
Today I will review the Top Ten First Basemen in the organization. It is important to note that these rankings are based on their play this season and not necessarily a "prospect ranking." The discussion of each player will include their preliminary ranking amongst all position players in 2009.
The tenth ranked first baseman in the organization this season was a young man from Puerto Rico who was new to the organization this year. Kennys Vargas broke into the organization as the GCL Twins regular first baseman, hitting .257/.369/.404 in 109 at bats, ranking him the 54th best position player.
Jonathan Waltenbury was ranked #35 last season following his big season for the Elizabethton Twins where he hit .319/.382/.540 in 263 at bats. The Twins seventh round pick in the 2006 draft was one of several Appy League stars from last year who struggled at Beloit this year, hitting only .236/.306/.326 in 402 at bats with 17 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs and 38 RBI. Waltenbury's ranking dropped seventeen spots to #52 making him my ninth ranked first baseman in the organization.
The eighth ranked first baseman is also the only first baseman signed from this year's draft, 49th round pick Paul Klingsberg who was my 43rd ranked player. Klingsberg began his career in the Appy League where his .320/.384/.500 would have been amongst the league leaders, however his 100 at bats where not enough to qualify. Can Klingsberg's career mirror that of Brock Peterson who also was selected in the 49th round in 2002?
In 2004 the Twins signed Rene Leveret as a minor league free agent from the tiny Caribbean Island of Saint Maartin. Since his big 2006 season in the DSL where he hit for a .331 Average, Leveret has continuously put up excellent numbers in stops at Elizabethton, Beloit and Ft. Myers. Last year Leveret returned to ETon to start his season, however, moved up to Beloit in early July where he hit .286/.351/.385 in 182 at bats, making him my 39th ranked player. Leveret moved up to Ft. Myers this year where he split time between first base and designated hitter, hitting .286/.363/.399 in 301 at bats. Leveret's performance this summer moved him up three spots to my #36 ranking and the seventh best first baseman in the organization.
After a huge season in the GCL last year the Twins 2008 ninth round pick, Michael Gonzalez, repeated his performance this summer with the Elizabethton Twins. Gonzales hit .331/.388/.492 in 130 at bats for the GCL Twins last year to earn my #42 ranking. This year, Gonzales hit .304/.364/.477 which was tenth best in the Appy League. His 8 home runs were tied for eighth best with his 43 RBI fourth best in the league. Gonzales big year at Elizabethton ranked as the 31st best in the organization and the sixth best first baseman.
Moving into the Top Five brings us to Eastern League All-Star Whit Robbins. After being drafted by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2006 draft out of Georgia Tech, Robbins was the only player assigned to a full season team going directly to the Beloit Snappers. Robbins began his professional career hitting like a future star (.304/.421/.482), however, a back injury limited his stay with the Snappers to only 112 at bats. Robbins continued to struggle with his injury which limited his playing time at Ft. Myers in 2007 and again in 2008 when he hit .268/.383/.405 in only 284 at bats, ranking #31. Robbins moved up to New Britain this season where he played more like the player he was prior to his injury. Robbins hit a solid .278/.348/.405 in 425 at bats as the Rock Cats first baseman/DH, moving up 16 spots to the #15 ranked player this season.
Our fourth ranked first baseman is Robbins teammate Erik Lis who split time at first base and designated hitter with a few games in left field. Lis, who was drafted in the ninth round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Evansville, has continously been one of the organization's top hitters, hitting .315 and .326 at his first two stops in Elizabethton and Beloit. Lis moved up to New Britain last year where he hit a respectable .277/.318/.462 in 405 at bats with 11 home runs and 51 RBI to rank #21. This season Lis returned to New Britain, where he was one of the league's top hitters at .283/.353/.462 in 459 at bats. His .462 Slugging percentage was sixth best in the Eastern League with his 29 doubles ranking twelfth best, 17 home runs seventh best and 69 RBI tenth best. His big season for the Rock Cats moved him up eight spots in this year's ranking to #13.
The third ranked first baseman is Ft. Myers Miracle All-Star Chris Parmalee. When the Twins selected Parmalee in the first round of the 2006 draft, many considered him the top high school power hitter in that draft. Parmalee began his career with the GCL Twins where he hit 8 home runs which is more than any other GCL Twins player this decade except Juan Portes who also hit 8 a year earlier. Parmalee's excellent season last year at Beloit was shortened with a mid summer injury that limited him to only 226 at bats in 69 games. Although playing just half a season, Parmalee was one of the organization leaders with 14 home runs. Hitting .239/.385/.496, his power was a major reason he ranked #26 last year. This year Parmalee had a big year for the Miracle, splitting time between right field and first base. Parmalee hit .258/.359/.441 in 422 at bats with 16 home runs that tied for third best in the pitching dominated Florida State League. His 73 RBI were tied for second best while his 65 walks were tied for the league lead moving Parmalee up fourteen spots to my #12 ranking. Parmalee's year isn't over as he is one of two Miracle players who will represent the Twins in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
The second ranked first baseman is also one of the organization's best stories who moved up 19 spots this year to be the #5 ranked player this season. Brock Peterson was the Twins 49th round pick in the 2002 draft. Peterson's career began at Elizabethton where he hit .290 Average with 9 home runs. He moved up a level the following two years without distinguishing himself before having a break-out season his second year at Ft. Myers in 2006, hitting .291/.356/.497 in 447 at bats with a franchise best 21 home runs. That big year earned Peterson a promotion to New Britain in 2007 where he had a solid year, hitting .285/.382/.476 in 389 at bats with 15 home runs. Last year Peterson returned to New Britain, hitting .264/.330/.449 in 421 at bats with 14 home runs to rank #24. Peterson had an excellent season this year at Rochester where he hit .304/.376/.468 in only 316 at bats which were limited because he got off to a terrible start when he hit only .214 in April and .114 in May. After an excellent spring training with the Twins, Peterson's slow start was somewhat surprising and had he had enough at bats to qualify, his numbers would have included him amongst the top ten in several International League hitting categories. Peterson will again be a six year minor league free agent this year. Will he resign with the Twins or with someone else? Wherever he is playing next season, Peterson's rise from a 49th pick to the major leagues should be a special story when he steps into a big league batters box for the first time.
This past winter, the Twins signed minor league free agent Justin Huber shortly before spring training. Huber, who has played briefly with the Kansas City Royals, was their biggest off-season signing intended to supplement a Rochester roster filled with younger prospects. Although he arrived late due to VISA problems, Huber gave Rochester exactly what the organization expected as he led the organization with 22 home runs (fifth best in the IL). Huber hit .273/.356/.482 in 440 at bats with a league seventh best 76 RBI. Huber was added to the Twins 40-man roster following the Red Wings season and called up in September. Unfortunately, Huber had an oblique strain in batting practice after two at bats so we won't get a chance to see more of this prospect who was my top ranked first baseman and #3 ranked player in 2009.
The Twins are fortunate to have one of baseball's best players in first baseman Justin Morneau. They also have a veteran team leader, right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who has proven to be a solid first baseman when needed. Both Brock Peterson and Justin Huber appear to be players capable of being a reserve at the major league level. Whit Robbins and Erik Lis both are players that could work their way into either a major league reserve or AAAA situation. The one player that may become a future major league starter is a step further down the ladder, Chris Parmalee. Parmalee should join the Twins in two to three years as a backup first baseman for Morneau, reserve right fielder and left handed designated hitter with some real power.