Minor League Report...December 18, 2010

Good morning, what a week of activity for Bill Smith and the Twins. With the winter meetings behind them, the Twins got down to the business of strengthening the organization.

Late yesterday, the Twins announced that they had agreed to a contract with Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The contract is for three years at a reported $9mm with a fourth option year. The Twins also traded Jose Morales to the Rockies for 22 year old left handed reliever Paul Bargas. Bargas played for Asheville in the South Atlantic League (low A) last summer where he had a 5-4 record with a 3.59 ERA in 58 games (67.2 innings). He struck out 64 while walking 19.

This trade was motivated by two reasons including the fact that Morales was out of options. The Twins believe in Drew Butera as their backup catcher, thus, Morales would have been lost for nothing if waived following spring training. The other reason to act now is that prior to yesterday, the Twins had 38 players on their 40-man roster. With the Nishioka signing, they would have only one spot remaining. With the team working to sign Carl Pavano, Jim Thome, a short reliever and perhaps a middle infielder, they were at least two spots short. This trade opened up one spot and they will need another move to open at least one more spot before spring training.

As Rochester and New Britain struggled last summer, Terry Ryan hinted that the Twins would be more active in the minor league free agent market this winter. That was an understatement as the Twins have signed thirteen free agents in addition to three players pickup up in trades and another in the Rule 5 draft.

Following the jump is a glimpse at those seventeen new players.

The Perth Heat continue to lead the Australian League with a 14-10 record. One player obtained in the J.J. Hardy trade, Brett Jacobson, had been with the Heat prior to returning home for Christmas. Jacobson is a hard throwing right handed reliever who had a 0-0 record with a 1.54 ERA in seven games with the Heat. He rang up ten strikeouts with six walks in 11.2 innings. Jacobson was with the Frederick Keys of the Hi-A Carolina League last summer where he had a 8-1 record in 34 games (71.0 innings) with a 2.79 ERA, 67 strikeouts and 24 walks. Jacobson's catcher with the Heat was Allan de San Miguel, who is hitting .288/.447/.479 in 73 at bats with an unusually high number of walks (18). Look for Jacobson to begin the 2011 season in New Britain.

The other player received from the Orioles was hard throwing right hander, James Urban Hoey V. The 28 year old short reliever made it to the Orioles, appearing in 35 games in 2006 and 2007 before missing all of 2008 with an injury. While with the Orioles, Hoey struck out 24 while walking 23 in 33.1 innings. Hoey spent 2010 at Bowie of the Eastern League and Norfolk of the International League (AAA) where he worked on getting his velocity back to over 95. In 52.2 innings, Hoey struck out 70 batters while walking 34 with a 3.25 ERA and 6-0 record. Hoey was added to the Twins 40-man roster and is a candidate to make the Twins bullpen out of spring training. Perhaps the best prospect was twenty-four year old Rule 5 pick-up Scott Diamond. A lefty drafted out of the Braves organization, Diamond was 8-7 with a 3.46 ERA in AA and AAA last summer. He was 4-1 with Gwinnett of the International League with a 3.36 ERA in 56.1 innings.

The one signing with local ties is pitcher Andrew Baldwin, a Duluth native who pitched at Oregon State and is now with Caribes in the Venezuelan Winter League. Baldwin spent 2010 with Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League where he was 9-7 with a 4.90 ERA in 117.2 innings. The 28 year old Baldwin made a start yesterday for Caribes, pitching 4.1 innings with six hits, two runs, a walk and strikeout. He has a 2-0 record this winter in eleven starts with a 2.03 ERA.

Yorman Bazardo (26) made one start for Aragua, picking up his sixth win in eight decisions. Bazardo pitched 6.0 innings with five hits, one run, six strikeouts and a walk. He has a 2.49 ERA in 65.0 innings with 26 strikeouts and 16 walks. Bazardo spent last summer as a long reliever in the Pacific Coast League where he was 4-5 with a 3.87 ERA, 58 strikeouts and 26 walks in 34 games (88.1 innings). The Twins also signed Eric Hacker and added him to their 40-man roster. Hacker, who will turn 28 at the end of spring training, led the AAA Pacific Coast League with 16 wins in 24 decisions while being named a post-season all-star. Hacker had a 4.51 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 62 walks in 29 starts (165.2 innings).

Lefty Phil Dumatrait, 29, is another pitcher signed with major league experience, having pitched a total of 109.2 big league innings in 2007-2009. In 109.2 innings, Dumatrait allowed 86 earned runs (7.11 ERA) with 68 strikeouts and 65 walks. He had a 4-1 record last summer with Toledo of the International League, pitching 42.2 innings in eight starts with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks. Against left handed hitters, he had a 2.63 ERA and .163 batting average with eight strikeouts and two walks in 13.2 innings. Chuck James, 29, is another lefty who split last summer between the Eastern and International Leagues. The former Baseball America Minor League All-Star (2005) has significant major league experience, pitching 310.0 innings in 2006-2008 when he was 24-19 with a 4.52 ERA. After missing all of 2009, James was 10-1 last summer with a 2.32 ERA in 26 games (66.0 innings). The Twins also signed 26 year old lefty, Jake Stevens, who may earn a spot in the Twins bullpen as a LOOGY. He had a miniscule ERA and batting average against left handed hitters last year in AAA.

The Twins announced this week that they had signed two minor league catchers. With Morales off to the Rockies, Rene Rivera, 27, becomes the third catcher in the organization behind Joe Mauer and Drew Butera. Seattle rushed Rivera to the big leagues in 2005 before his 22nd birthday. He would hit .396/.408/.521 in 48 at bats as the Mariners hoped he was their catcher of the future. He would return in 2006 to hit only .152 average in 99 at bats in what would become his last trip to the major leagues. Rivera split last season between the Eastern League, where he hit .319/.369/.585 in 94 at bats, and the International League where he hit .250/.257/.382 in 68 at bats. They also signed Steve Holm, 31, who spent all of 2010 in the PCL where he hit .246/.343/.382 in 228 at bats. A 2007 Eastern League All-Star, Holm also has several brief major league appearances on his resume, the longest in 2008 when he hit .262/.357/.405 in 84 at bats. Rivera and Holm will give the Red Wings a pair of veteran catchers who will provide organizational depth should the Twins need a third catcher. Perhaps more important, they won't be pressed into pushing Jair Fernandez and Danny Lehmann up to Rochester before they are ready.

First baseman Justin Huber returns following a year in Japan. Huber, who is currently hitting .107/.212/.232 in 56 at bats for the Melbourne Aces, hit .273/.356/.482 with 22 home runs for Rochester in 2009. Also signed is former International League MVP, first baseman/corner outfielder Jeff Bailey. Bailey's best season with the Red Sox was 2008 when he hit .280/.390/.460 in 50 at bats. Bailey hit .289/.387/.462 in 478 at bats in the PCL last season with 12 home runs, 33 doubles and 7 triples. Third baseman Chase Lambin, 31, was a 2010 International League all-star while with Syracuse. Lambin hit .288 before the all-star break, finishing with 15 home runs in 488 at bats with a .252 average. Lambin's best season was 2008 in the PCL where he hit .300/.378/.518 in 307 at bats with 14 home runs.

The two other infielders signed were Matt Brown and Ray Chang. Brown, 28, was with Oklahoma City in the PCL in 2010 where he hit .249/.311/.442 in 301 at bats. Like many of the players signed this winter, Brown has limited major league experience going 1-24 in 2007 and 2008. Brown's best season was with Salt Lake City of the PCL in 2008 when he hit .320/.373/.580 with 21 home runs. Chang, 27, was a 2010 Eastern League All-Star who hit .298/.384/.426 in 440 at bats with Portland.

Including those pitchers who finished last season in Rochester, there are twenty pitchers tentatively on the Rochester staff. A few of these may pitch their way into the Twins bullpen. One or two may return to New Britain. The competition will be hot as the rest battle for a dozen spots on the Rochester staff. Depending on injuries, a few will likely be released after a short stay in Extended Spring Training. The same is true with corner infielders as Huber, Bailey, Lambin, Brown and Chang all can't stick, especially with Chris Parmelee also likely moving up to Rochester. What is important is that the Twins have made a commitment to Rochester with these signings which makes it less likely that several prospects won't be moved up to AAA before they are ready.

In other news out of the winter leagues, Cesar Ciurcina made two starts this week for Aragua, pitching 9.0 innings with eight hits and six runs (four earned). Luke Hughes got a hit in five of the six games he played, playing both second and third base while outfielder Dustin Martin was 3-10. Deolis Guerra made a five inning start with eight hits and four runs (three earned). Eddie Rosario, who hadn't played in over a month for last place Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican League, was 1-4 yesterday with a walk. The Dominican Republic-vs-Puerto Rico all-star game was played last Sunday. Second baseman Alexi Casilla was 2-5 with a double, run scored and run batted in for the Dominican Republic. Lefty reliever Nelvin Fuentes got one out for Puerto Rico.

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