The cream eventually rises to the top
By and large, the Twins have done a very good job of drafting, signing, and acquiring talent in this decade. But, like every other organization, there are some apparent flops. Take Henry Sanchez--a sandwich pick in 2005 (compensation for Corey Koskie's free agency)--who has been injured and ineffective in parts of four minor league seasons. To cap it off, he just received a 50-game suspension for testing positive to a drug of abuse.
At this point, Sanchez is a very long shot to ever do anything in the major leagues. Many executives in other organizations might have been inclined to say, "This is the last straw, just release him and move on." The Twins are a bit different than the average organization, though. They will send him to counseling and give him another chance to show his talent this year before making a decision.
In part because of an abundance of high draft choices from free-agent compensation, the Twins have a lot of apparent flops playing for redemption this year. I focus on two of them in this post: Matt Moses, and Deolis Guerra. Both have a different story of being a highly touted prospect, falling from grace, and beginning the long road back to redemption.
The team's patience has paid off over the years. Take Torii Hunter, who was caught with pot as a recent draft choice. The Twins believed his story--that the pipe was his fathers'--and gave him a second chance. They also showed incredible patience as he gradually developed baseball skills in a football star's body. But they were eventually rewarded with an all-star talent for their patience and development work.
Will either Moses or Guerra return to the lofty prospect status that made on a first-round draft choice and the other a keystone of the Santana trade? Early 2009 results show promise. Those of us who follow prospects like farmers follow the weather will be looking at the box scores daily for signs of life from those two former top prospects. Read on for this prospect hound's analysis.
Moses was the Twins first-round draft choice (21st overall) in the 2003 draft. He was a powerful third base prospect coming from being named the Virginia High School Player of the Year for Mills Goodwin High School in Richmond Virginia. The thought when he was drafted was he would become a power bat in the mold of Jason Kubel and eventually take over for Cory Koskie at third base.
A couple of things happened along the way to derail his career, however. The first and most devastating was the back injury that took most of his second season from him. A stress fracture that he suffered in high school (and somehow was not picked up by scout John Wilson, who signed him). As we've seen with other Twins prospects (e.g. Whit Robbins and Drew Thompson), stress fractures in the back are slow to heal and hard to manage. Moses' back problem seems to have gotten worse that last couple of years. The other issue that affected his play early on was a heart defect. A tiny hole in his heart (also not picked up by scout John Wilson) had to be surgically repaired in 2005. The Twins hoped the combination of a stronger back and heart would help him. But he has mostly struggled since having heart surgery.
The lone bright spot of Moses' career occurred in 2005, when he lit up the Florida State League, hitting .306/.376/.453 and making the FSL All-Star team. But he has struggled since his promotion to New Britain that year, and has found himself back at New Britain for his fifth year in AA in 2009. Along the way, he's endured a position change from third base to left field (he just does not have the agility to play in the infield). In Seth Stoh's 2009 Twins Prospect Handbook, none of the prospect followers who ranked Twins prospects still had Moses on their radars (including me). He's been exposed to the Rule 5 draft for two years in a row without any takers, and for many, that says "roster filler."
If you were looking at the Twins organization without knowing that background, you might come to a different conclusion just looking at Moses' number this year. It's early, but he is currently hitting .281/324/.531 with 2 home runs. At 24 years old in AA, he still has a chance to become a decent bench bat or DH at the major league level. I'll be rooting for his redemption, as unlikely as it might seem.
Of the four players the Twins received in the Johan Santana trade, none were hyped as much as Guerra, who had spent the year prior to the trade holding his own as an 18 year old in the Florida State League. When the Twins acquired him, he was a tall, raw-boned right hander with a herky-jerky delivery, a live fastball and a very good change-up.
It is no exaggeration to say that Guerra had the most disappointing season of any Twins prospect in 2008, going 11-9 with a 5.47 ERA, 71 Ks, 71 BBs and 12 HRs in his second season in this extreme pitchers' league. More troubling than the numbers were the scouting reports. When the Twins acquired him, the reports had him sitting at 95 miles an hour with the fastball. Last year, he sat at 85 and topped out at 90. Prospect hounds like me were wondering what all the hype was about. His ranking on my list dropped from top five when we acquired him to mid-20s on the list of Twins prospects after last year. And the only thing propping him up was his extreme youth. Did the Mets pull a bait-and-switch on us?
Fortunately, most of Guerra's struggles had a logical explanation. The Twins tinkered with his mechanics in all of 2008, and he never really got into a groove with the new approach. Like a certain lefthander in the Twins' rotation right now, when you stop throwing as hard as you can on every pitch, it sometimes takes time learn how to generate power. But at 6-6, he ought to be able to throw hard again with smoothed out mechanics. And he'll be less susceptible to injury long term.
Again it's early, but the signs are good that he's on track to make the successful transformation from a thrower to a pitcher. He's 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA and only 3 BBs and 8Ks with 1 HR in 13 innings of pitching. I'll be watching Roger's weekly minor league report with extra interest looking for Guerra's name this season. I'm still crossing my fingers that some semblance of the power will return, but it's a good sign that his control is better. If he can keep this up as the youngest pitcher in A ball, he should jump back into the Twins top 10 and return to his rightful place as the prize of the Santana trade.
Patience is one of the things that distinguishes the Twins organization from many others. When it comes to consensus top talent, the cream usually rises to the top. It's just a matter of time and continued development. It may never happen with Henry Sanchez, or even Matt Moses for that matter. But patience will pay off with a few of these top prospects eventually. It's one of the things that makes the Twins farm system fun to watch.