After two consecutive playoff runs, can the Miracle make it three straight? Several of the biggest names in the organization will have moved on to AA. With much of the lineup moving up from Beloit following their disappointing season, new Manager Jake Mauer may have a lot of work ahead with this young group of prospects. It appears he will have a solid bullpen and like the past two seasons, his starting rotation must deliver if Jake is to lead the Miracle into post-season play in his rookie season.
Starting Pitchers: Michael Tarsi, Brad Tippett, Dan Osterbrock, Robert Lanigan, Danny Berlind and Kyle Gibson.
After pitching very well in Beloit early last season, Michael Tarsi moved up to Ft. Myers where he made 11 starts with a 3-4 record and 4.14 ERA. Look for Tarsi to improve as he returns to the Miracle to start the 2010 season. Brad Tippett was one of the top starters in the Midwest League and there isn't any reason to suspect he won't be amongst the better starters in the FSL this season. Dan Osterbrock had more innings than any pitcher on the Snappers last season except Tippett. His 5.19 ERA isn't what the organization expected as they look for him to rebound to the level he was pitching at two years ago in Elizabethton. Robert Lanigan was solid at Beloit, earning a late season promotion to the Miracle bullpen. Look for Lanigan to return to the starting rotation as the Miracle's number four or five starter. Danny Berlind was somewhat effective last season at Beloit and should compete for the last spot in the Miracle rotation. The last starter is a young man who will be making his first professional appearance when he makes his first start this April, Kyle Gibson. Everyone talking about the Fall Instructional League indicated that the Twins may have picked a gem from the 2009 draft when Gibson fell to them following an injury while pitching for the U of Missouri. Jake Mauer will need Gibson to step up and be the Ace of this staff if the Miracle is to take another run at the playoffs.
Bullpen: Joe Testa, Michael Allen, Bruce Pugh, Matt Williams, Blake Martin, Steven Blevins and Billy Bullock.
Joe Testa was the Snappers only mid-season all-star last year before a promotion to Ft. Myers. Testa pitched even better following his promotion where he had a 5-0 record, 1.22 ERA and 53K/18BB in 21 appearances (37.0 innings). Look for Testa to return to anchor the Miracle bullpen for at least the first half of the season. Michael Allen also pitched for both the Miracle and Snappers and like Testa, was more effective at Ft. Myers where he had a 3.38 ERA. Bruce Pugh was very effective in long relief for the Snappers, compiling a 4-5 record with a 2.86 ERA in 35 games (8 starts) with 99K/47BB in 85.0 innings. Matt Williams bounced between the Snappers and Miracle with nearly identical ERA's at both stops, 2.88 in Ft. Myers and 2.70 in Beloit. Blake Martin was solid at Beloit, where he had a 3-1 record with a 4.06 ERA in in 31.0 innings. Steven Blevins struggled early last season at Beloit, however, finished strong (3.19 post all-star ERA) which should make him a middle reliever the Miracle can count on. The last candidate for the Miracle bullpen and their potential closer is last season's second round pick, Billy Bullock, who joined the Snappers following a handful of appearances in the Appy League. Bullock proceded to tie Williams for the team lead with 8 saves, while compiling a 3-0 record with a 2.73 ERA and 35K/12BB in 26.1 innings.
Catcher: Danny Rams and Alexander Soto
Danny Rams went 4-13 with 2 doubles for the Miracle in a brief trip across the parking lot last spring before setting the Appy League on fire with 6 home runs with a .355 Average in 62 at bats. Rams' average dropped to .229 when he moved up to Beloit, however, 21 (14 doubles and 7 home runs) of his 40 hits went for extra bases. This year Rams should stay in Ft. Myers when spring training breaks, where he will continue to excite Twins fans of what he may be in a few years. Alexander Soto split last season between the Miracle and Snappers, hitting for averages of .212 and .240, respectively.
First Base: Rene Leveret
Second Base: Nicholas Romero and Matt Gaski
Shortstop: James Beresford and Ramon Santana
Third Base: D.J. Romero and Chris Cates
After splitting duty with Chris Parmelee, Rene Leveret should return to the Miracle as their regular first baseman. Leveret hit a solid .286/.363/.399 in 301 at bats and this big first baseman should provide the Miracle with some power from the middle of the order.
The Twins recently signed minor league free agent Matt Gaski who has a reputation as a "top defensive" second baseman. Nicholas Romero was hitting .222 Average when he was a surprise promotion last summer. He proceded to justify the Twins confidence by hitting .247/.358/.370 in 235 at bats for the Miracle.
James Beresford was one of the top hitters at Beloit where the 20 year old prospect hit .289/.342/.313 in 450 at bats. The top hitter was Ramon Santana, who hit .296/.384/.453 for the Snappers. Santana will turn 24 this summer, so look for the Twins to move him up to AA if an opportunity arises.
Chris Cates gets a lot of publicity for being the shortest player in professional baseball at 5'3". He is also an excellent baseball player who split time at shortstop and third base while hitting .251/.317/.278. Although there is a possibility Cates could move up to New Britain this spring, I look for him to return to Ft. Myers for at least the first half. D.J. Romero was put on the Twins 40-man roster a year ago after an injury filled season at Beloit following his huge season at Elizabethton. After experiencing a solid spring training with the Twins, he had a disappointing season for the Miracle where he hit only .222/.308/.314 in 424 at bats. Romero was removed from the 40-man roster this fall, however, he is only 23 and still has time to redeem his career. If he is going to redeem it, he must start this year with the Miracle.
Outfield: Evan Bigley, Angel Morales, Mike Harrington or Aaron Hicks.
The Twins 2008 tenth round pick, Evan Bigley moved up to Ft. Myers late last spring and proceded to hit a respectable .280/.336/.405. Bigley is on the bubble for moving up to AA, however, I look for him to return to the Miracle to start the season. Angel Morales finished strong at Beloit and played very well in the Puerto Rico Winter League following Christmas. I am of the opinion that this will be the break out season for this young man who I have selected as my pre-season "Twins organization 2010 Player of the Year." Aaron Hicks is Baseball America's selection as the Top Prospect in the organization. There have been some comments from the Twins that indicate he may begin this season back at Beloit. I expect that decision hasn't been made and Hicks' performance in spring training will dictate where he begins the season. If this is going to be his break-out year, look for him to move up to the Miracle out of spring training. If Hicks doesn't start the season with the Miracle, look for Mike Harrington to get his spot. There are also several infielders on the Miracle roster who have spent some time in the outfield and will likely continue to do so this year.
The Miracle should have a solid lineup, however, much depends on the progress three young stars (Rams, Morales and Hicks) make. Even if the three do perform as expected, a third consecutive trip to the playoffs will be dependant upon the quality of their starting staff.