When I left for vacation a few weeks ago, the Solar Sox were losing four of five. After yesterday's win, they have fought back to .500 at 14-14 and they trail Salt River by only three games. Chris Herrmann is one of Mesa's top hitters at .343/.439/.514 in 35 at bats. Brian Dozier, who continues to hit like someone who envisions himself in a Twins uniform next year, is hitting .302/.351/.442 in 86 at bats. After not being able to buy a hit during his first week, Aaron Hicks has adjusted and is hitting .244/.344/.500 in 78 at bats with three triples and home runs. Unfortunately, he continues to struggle from the left side of the plate with a .184 average.
Cole DeVries is one of Mesa's top starters with a 2.70 ERA in six starts (20.0 innings) with thirteen strikeouts and only three walks. Brett Jacobson has been solid wth a 4.50 ERA in nine games (10.0 innings). Dakota Watts (7.15 ERA in 11.1 innings) and Bruce Pugh (8.18 ERA in 11.0 innings) have pitched somewhat better after rough starts, although both have more walks than strikeouts.
Down in Venezuela, Joe Benson is hitting .229 average in 48 at bats. What is encouraging are his nine walks. Many North American players struggle as they adjust to life in Venezuela and Rene Tosoni is no exception. He is hitting .195 average in 41 at bats.
After the jump, I will take a look at players that the Twins must be thinking of when they finalize their 40-man roster later this month. Next week I will return to my review of the farm clubs with Ft. Myers.
A few weeks ago, catcher Steve Holm and starter Eric Hacker elected to become free agents. Seth Stohs wrote yesterday about a dozen more Twins farm hands who will become free agents. That group includes Yangervis Solarte and two players who saw time with the Twins this year, Dusty Hughes and Chuck James. The Twins made an effort to resign Solarte before he selected free agency. Will this talented hitter return after he tests the free agent market? If he doesn't, was it a mistake for the Twins to not add him to their 40-man roster before he was eligible to select free agency?
Other players on this list who played important roles at Rochester include Andy Baldwin, Jair Fernandez, Jeff Bailey and Toby Gardenhire. Also leaving are Jake Stevens, Allan de San Miguel, Chase Lambin and oft injured Paul Kelly and Brandon Roberts. It is likely that a few of this group will return, however, the Twins will need to be very active in the free agent market if they are to put an improved team on the field in Rochester next season.
The Twins have been up front that one of their major goals this winter is to rebuild their bullpen. With all the changes to their 40-man roster the past few weeks, it currently stands at 37. Included are relievers Matt Maloney and Jeff Gray, however, not Joe Nathan who's option was declined. Although the signing of Maloney and Gray appear to be minor deals, both take up spots on the 40-man roster which may cause the Twins to lose a valuable prospect in the Rule 5 draft.
In addition to Maloney and Gray, the 40-man roster includes relievers Lester Oliveros, Kyle Waldrop, Esmerling Vasquez, Jim Hoey, Jose Mijares, Deolis Guerra and Jeff Manship. Including Waldrop, Oliveros and Guerra who remain as prospects, nearly a quarter of the 40-man roster is used for marginal relievers who at best should be the last man in the bullpen. If the Twins are going to compete in 2012, several of these relievers must be replaced by pitchers you can count on nightly at Target Field. Pitchers like Jesse Crain or Matt Guerrier.
All comments from the Twins indicate they will be active in the free agent market beginning with an attempt to resign Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel, who both elected free-agency. They also are likely to add several players (shortstop, catcher, a front line starting pitcher and at least two quality relief pitchers) via either trades or free agent signings. When Cuddyer, Kubel and several non-tendered players (Matt Capps and Kevin Slowey are most likely) are removed from the roster, the roster should be down to 32-33.
As I look at their minor league rosters, I see three players who must be added or very likely will be lost. They are former first round pick Carlos Gutierrez and top outfield prospects Angel Morales and Oswaldo Arcia. Gutierrez battled an injury late last season or he likely would have seen action with the Twins. With a need to rebuild their bullpen, Gutierrez must be protected. Arcia was one of the most dominant hitters in the minor leagues the past two years and will certainly be lost if left unprotected. Morales was a top prospect before missing much of least year. Considering his strong bat and defensive abilities, will they risk exposing him to the draft?
With the above three players most likely to be added, there won't be a lot of room for more additions. One player who certainly will be looked at by opposing teams if not protected is starter Tom Stuifbergen. Perhaps the biggest reason Stuifbergen may sneak through the draft is his history of injuries. He was solid at Ft. Myers last summer before starring for his Dutch Team in the World Tournament. Cole DeVries was the Twins Pitcher of the Month at New Britain last April and continued to pitch well at Rochester where he had a 3.90 ERA in thirty games (62.1 innings). DeVries has been very good in the AFL and certainly has gotten noticed by scouts. Another pitcher that the Twins must give strong consideration to protect is one of their top relievers, Tyler Robertson. There are many reasons why players may or may not be added to the 40-man roster, however, all three of these pitchers are at risk of being lost if not protected.
Other players for the Twins this past year who could receive consideration by other teams in the Rule 5 draft include Steve Hirschfeld, Brett Jacobson, Bobby Lanigan, Bruce Pugh, Pedro Guerra, Manuel Soliman, Danny Lehmann, Danny Rams, Anderson Hidalgo and Jairo Perez. All are solid players who someday could make it to the big leagues. Hirschfeld is an effective starter who had an excellent year at New Britain. Jacobson and Lanigan were both very good for the Rock Cats. Soliman is an exciting young prospect, however, hasn't pitched beyond A ball. Although old for the Midwest League, Perez had a big season after missing a year. Rams has power, but couldn't maintain an acceptable batting average at high A. Hidalgo has been solid at every stop, yet, doesn't project as a top prospect.
Will any of this last group be selected knowing they have to be kept on a big league roster the entire year is the first question the Twins will likely ask themselves. I would love to be the preverbial fly on the wall when they have these internal discussions about who to protect.
Their 40-man roster today doesn't have the starting talent or depth needed for a contender. Can Bill Smith and his staff change that before February when the pitchers and catchers report?
I look for the Twins to add three or four players to their roster later this month before they begin reworking the roster. How many do you think they will add?