2010 Twinkie Town Top 50 Review...16 thru 20

As we reach the end of our Top 20 we find another solid group of prospects including the player who improved more than anyone in 2010, the Twins Player of the Year Joe Benson. Benson was our 16th prospect, followed by Alex Burnett, Jeff Manship, B. J. Hermsen and Tyler Robertson.

Will all of this group be in our Top 20 next year? Will Benson move into the Top 10? Or maybe, the Top 5?

16 - Joe Benson

Benson was the Twins second round pick in 2006. He has often been compared to Torii Hunter, who was also a highly recruited football player out of high school with limited baseball experience. Benson's first three years with the organization weren't special, yet, we contually heard comments about his raw athletic ability. He had somewhat of a break-out year in 2009 for the Ft. Myers Miracle when he hit .285/.414/.403 with 14 stolen bases and 5 home runs. After missing part of the previous two years to injuries, Benson again missed nearly two months of the season after breaking his hand when he attempted to prove his fist was harder than a concrete dugout wall.

I had the pleasure of seeing Benson play a game with the Twins last spring. During that game I saw him make a defensive play on a ball hit down the right field line that very few outfielders would make, cutting it off and making a strong accurate throw to second. I also saw his excellent speed while going from first to third. That game was my first exposure to his raw physical ability which clearly is special.

He began this season in a slump in New Britain, joining two others on a May return to Ft. Myers. He was back in AA a month later and would go on to become one of the top power hitters in the Eastern League. Benson finished his Rock Cat season hitting .251/.336/.527 in 374 at bats. He had 20 doubles, 7 triples, 14 stolen bases and 23 home runs, which were fourth most in the league although he had 135 less at bats than the leader who had 33. Benson's 27 home runs (including 4 at Ft. Myers) led the organization as he became the first Twin to hit over 25 in several years.

Benson is now playing in the Arizona Fall League where he has seen less playing time than his two Twin teammates (Ben Revere and Chris Parmelee). After a very slow first few weeks, Benson has his average up to .233/.283/.372 in 43 at bats with six doubles.

Benson has one aspect of his game that needs to improve, reducing his strikeouts. He struck out 115 times in 374 at bats at New Britain (30.7%). Reducing that number to twenty percent would likely increase his batting average about .30 points. Twenty-seven home runs with a batting average of .285 would put Benson at or near the top of many prospect lists. I look for him to begin his 2011 season in Rochester. Will he make the needed adjustments to take that final step? If he does, he will be a future star with the Twins as early as 2012.

17 - Alex Burnett

At the end of 2008 the Twins decided to convert Alex Burnett to a reliever. He went to the Fall Instructional League, then returned to Ft. Myers for the start of the 2009 season. Although he had been a successful starter the previous four years, Benson excelled out of the bullpen. He had an excellent 1.99 ERA in 18 games (22.2 innings) at Ft. Myers with 26 strikeouts and 7 walks. He was even better after his promotion to AA where he appeared in 40 games (55.1 innings) with a 1.79 ERA, 52 strikeouts and 19 walks. Burnett was so good that I had his season ranked as the best season of any pitcher in the organization.

With the results of his first year working out of the bullpen behind him, it is clear to see why the Twins invited him to spring training. Burnett was set to begin the 2010 season in AAA when the Twins learned that Clay Condrey would begin his season on the disabled list. Although it was a surprise move to some, Alex Burnett got the call to join the Twins in Anaheim for opening day. After being used little during the first few weeks, Burnett earned Gardenhire and Anderson's confidence as he became one of the Twins most effective relievers for the first few months of the season. As he began to be used in more critical situations, it appeared that the stress and workload wore on him and he became less effective. Burnett was eventually optioned to Rochester, however, the 22 year old had a solid first exposure to the major leagues with a 0-2 record, 5.29 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 23 walks in 41 games (47.2 innings).

After Burnett was sent back to Rochester, he was never able to regain the form he had earlier in the year with the Twins. The result was that he didn't help the Red Wings who were enduring one of their worst seasons in franchise history. Burnett appeared in 14 games (19.2 innings) in AAA where he had a 5.49 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 8 walks.

The biggest question the Twins have entering 2011 is their bullpen. Whether or not Burnett begins the season with the Twins is unknown. What is known is that he is capable of becomming a very good late inning set-up man, one who will likely finish next season with the Twins.

18 - Jeff Manship

Manship was a player many were surprised was available when the Twins drafted him out of Notre Dame in the fourteenth round of the 2006 draft. He quickly moved through the organization receiving all-star recognition at Beloit (2007) and Ft. Myers (2008) with Pitcher of the Week awards in the Eastern and Arizona Fall Leagues. Manship got his first call to the Twins in 2009 when he appeared in 11 games, making five starts with a 1-1 record and 5.68 ERA. We all will remember his first major league win against Kansas City the last weekend of the year when the Twins were fighting for a playoff spot.

As expected, Manship began this past season in Rochester where he would be a valuable sixth starter when needed by the Twins. And he would be needed as he made several brief trips to Minnesota and other cities when the Twins starting staff broke down or their bullpen was beaten down from short starts. What was puzzling this year was that Manship pitched well for the Twins, yet put up disappointing numbers while in Rochester. He finished his oft interrupted AAA season with a 3-8 record and 5.13 ERA in 18 starts (98.1 innings). While with the Twins, Jeff had a 2-1 record with a 5.28 ERA in 13 games (29.0 innings) that included a huge start in Philadelphia and several key relief appearances that saved a tired bullpen valuable innings.

Manship provides the Twins pitching staff with valuable depth. Whether used out of the bullpen in long relief or as a spot or fifth starter, he isn't going to embarrass himself or his team. Manship has options remaining and very likely will again start his 2011 season in Rochester, joining the Twins when they need a long reliever or starter.

19 - B. J. Hermsen

The Twins were ecstatic when they signed their sixth round pick following his summer Iowa high school season in 2008. Hermsen made his professional debut the following spring in the Gulf Coast League where he would become Baseball America's 11th best GCL prospect following a year where he compiled a 6-2 record with a 1.35 ERA and 0.68 WHIP.

Hermsen split this past year between Beloit and Elizabethon, making reasonable progress. Hermsen had a good 3.32 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 38.0 innings with a 2-2 record in Elizabethton. While with the Snappers earlier in the season, he had a competitive 4-6 record with a 5.00 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 12 games (72.0 innings).

Hermsen is young man who many consider has a strong chance of making it all the way to the Twins. He likely will begin next spring in Beloit where he will be expected to be a front of the roation starter.

20 - Tyler Robertson

Tyler Robertson is a tall lefty with an unusual delivery who the Twins drafted in the third round of the 2006 draft. Robertson progressed rapidly, having an excellent sophomore season with the Twins at Beloit in 2007 where he was 9-5 with a 2.29 ERA. Entering the 2008 season, Baseball American had him ranked as the Twins fourth best prospect with the best slider in the system. If I recall correctly, Seth Stohs had Robertson ranked as his top prospect.

Unfortunately, Robertson would develop left shoulder tendinitus which would cut his 2008 season short at Ft. Myers. He appeared in 15 games (82.2 innings) with a 5-3 record and 2.72 ERA. Robertson returned to Ft. Myers in 2009 where he had an 8-8 record in 143.1 innings with a 3.33 ERA.

Entering the 2010 season, Baseball America again honored Robertson as they ranked him as having the best curveball in the system. Robertson would lead the Rock Cats staff in starts (27) as the Cats endured a season no one wants to remember. He pitched 144.2 innings with a 5.41 ERA and 4-13 record. Late in the season, the Twins moved him up to Rochester where he made one start, pitching 5.0 innings with three earned runs.

The Twins have a glaring need for left handed relievers in the upper levels of the organizaiton. Several sources have mentioned that they see Robertson as a lefty ideally suited to the bullpen. Thus, Robertson is now getting valuable experience working out of the Peoria Saguaros bullpen in the Arizona Fall League. In what is clearly a hitters league, Robertson has been very good with a 4.91 ERA in nine games (11.0 innings). Look for Robertson to begin the 2011 season as one of the lefties in the Rochester bullpen. With this fall's experience behind him, Robertson could be ready to help the Twins as early as next summer.

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