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Exclusive Q&A with John Manuel--editor of Baseball America

I'm pleased to announce that John Manuel has agreed to answer my questions related to prospects in the Twins system. John is the co-editor in chief of Baseball America with Will Lingo, which means he and Will run the editorial department for that publication, including assigning analysts and other editorial resources to teams' and editing all their work. He also covers some of the teams as a regular analyst would, including the Twins. Last year, his Twins coverage was quite controversial, but suffice it to say he got the last laugh. This year he is just about to release his Twins top 20 list. Obviously, he can't pre-announce anything, but you might be able to read between the lines to see how he rates some of Twins prospects I ask about.

Thanks for agreeing to do this Q&A John. I believe you have a better handle
on the Twins system than any other analyst.

Q: Last year you shocked the blogosphere by picking Nick Blackburn as the
top prospect in the system. Most of us liked his numbers, but figured he
was too old and did not have as high of a ceiling as some others, for
example Tyler Robertson. Obviously, you got the last laugh on that one.  Is
there a similar prospect this year--a late bloomer who will ascend the list
because of major league readiness?

A: Blackburn was fun to watch. I was shocked at how much outrage there was, frankly--lots of people calling me crazy. I was quite glad he had the kind of year he had--he was a No. 3/No. 4 starter for a team that just missed winning a division. That's about what his ceiling is, I thought, and he might just be better down the line, which would be nice. I'm happy for him. As for this year, no, I think the Twins have a much more defined line of who their top prospects are and who they are not. I don't think there are any huge surprises in the Twins' system. I like several of their 2008 draftees such as Bobby Lanigan, Michael Tonkin and B.J. Hermsen more than most, but I don't think that's a surprise for BA. Late bloomers? Luke Hughes qualifies, but looks unlikely for the top 10. Matt Tolbert still qualifies but also won't make the top 10; no one fits the same profile this year. Sorry for the lack of drama.

Q: On my list, I have a lot of really young players near the top: Wilson
Ramos, Angel Morales, Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere
, Robertston and Deolis Guerra
are all in my top 10 and all under 20 years old. How do you rank these
young guys? To what extent do you give special treatment to guys who are
young for their level of play? (Editor's note: I have since revised my ranking of Guerra.)

A: I think you're high on several players there. Clearly it's good to be young, young for a level, also nice to have a young guy who hasn't been exposed. But our scouting reports on Robertson, Guerra and Morales aren't glowing enough to put them in the top 10. Robertson's the closest, but he was throwing 83 mph in his second-to-last start. Scouts have long had questions about his arm action (by long I mean since high school, way back in 2006), and perhaps this tendinitis is the manifestation of that rather unorthodox arm action. We'll see. Guerra's scouting reports this year were frankly worse than that, and I did the Mets list last year so I talked to plenty of people on Guerra last year; he was better then than he was this year. Morales has super upside but it super raw. You mentioned teenage sensation Aaron Hicks, whom I will rank quite high. His tools are superior to those of Morales, he's more polished, much more likely to stay in CF . . . he's a lot better, for me, than Angel Morales as a prospect.

Q: Anthony Swarzak seemed to elevate his game after he made the jump to
AAA. I know you're not terribly high on him because he's mostly a two-pitch
pitcher without great fastball (FB) control. Has his stock risen in your eyes? Do you
see him as a starter or reliever in the majors?

A: His stock has risen a bit; he had a weird year in terms of performance. His combination of stuff, age and performance makes him the Twins' best starting pitching prospect in the minors at this time. He still needs better fastball command to thrive as a starter and could factor into the bullpen in '09, which wouldn't be a bad thing.

Q: The Twins have two third base prospects in the high minors who could
make an impact in a couple of years--Luke Hughes and Danny Valencia. What
are your thoughts on these players? Which one do you think is the third
baseman of the future?

A: If Hughes was good enough defensively at 3b, he would have been in Minnesota. Even now, he's just been moved from 3b to LF in the Venezuelan Winter League. (The Twins want him there playing 3b.) I just don't think he's cut out to be a regular in the infield, but it sounds like his power is real. He's a rhythm hitter who stayed healthy, got in a rhythm and crushed the ball in the first half as all his physical maturity, experience and playing time came together. He's just not quite there defensively. Valencia ranks ahead of him for me, he put some things together offensively this year and defensively from a consistency and maturity standpoint. It would be better if he weren't the best prospect in an organization at the upper levels, but that is what he is right now for Minnesota.

Q: Jose Mijares came up late this year and did a phenomenal job in tough
situations for the Twins. Was this a fluke or do you think he has staying
power?

A: He has staying power. He ranked No. 11 coming into the year for BA, pre-Mets trade, and that was before the car wreck that wrecked his offseason. He's got plus-plus stuff at times and he's matured off the field and has become more consistent on and off the field. He's got a chance to be Minnesota's top setup man for the next 3 to 5 years.

Q: This past year, two of the most highly thought of prospects--Robertson
and Guerra--struggled some with injuries or mechanical issues. Did their
stock drop? How do you rate them now?

A: Yes, both dropped a decent amount. Robertson pitched well with less than his best stuff and didn't have surgery, but his injury is frankly troubling nonetheless because he has that funky arm action. I like him better than Guerra right now because Guerra just never showed the velocity he had shown as a Mets farmhand, and it sounds like he's not as athletic as a pitcher his size needs to be to be a stud/ace. He sounds like more of a decent chance to be a starter guy than an ace guy.

Q: Trevor Plouffe has had a couple of solid but not spectacular years as a
youngster in his league. Last year you projected him as a future utility
player. Has your evaluation of him changed at all? If so, how?

A: He's got the power to be a regular; he's got the plate discipline of a second-division regular or utility guy. I think the Twins like him better than I do.

Q: The Twins acquired a couple of top pitching prospects in Philip Humber
and Kevin Mulvey in the Santana trade. Both had disappointing first halves
at Rochester before really turning it around in the second half. How would
you rate them now?

A: Mulvey remains ahead of the more-heralded Humber (Mulvey was ahead last year in our Mets rankings).  However, Mulvey's stuff was a bit down from what he did with New York; perhaps he and Guerra tried too hard to live up to being dealt for Santana. Humber figured things out in terms of commanding the fastball, working off his fastball and putting people away with his curve late in the year. He *could* be valuable as a middle or long reliever, a better version of Brian Bass last year, but there's no room in the rotation for him right now, and he's out of options.

Q: Was Brian Duensing's stock affected by his showing in the Olympics? If
so, how?

A: It was in that it kind of saved a down year for him; he wasn't as sharp with his command. He still has important fans in the Twins organization and ranks ahead of Humber for a rotation spot if there's an opening, and then in Beijing he showed the ability to be a flexible reliever. The Twins like him, quite a lot actually.

Q: Jeff Manship had a disappointing year at AA but still managed to garner
an invite to the AFL. Many scouts predicted that he would struggle in the
high minors and beyond despite dominating A ball. Do you agree with these
guys? How do you rate Manship?

A. I think I reported that, that he was working more off his curve and that's why he dominated at lower levels, but his fastball was better this year. This was a transition year for him. There's a split camp in and out of the org as to who's better -- Manship or Swarzak, Manship or Duensing, Manship or Mulvey. Those four guys are tough to rank. Not sure how I'll rank 'em yet. Working on that right now.

Q: The Twins have a few other prospects at the AFL who are intriguing.
Given the way the bullpen performed this year, I'm especially interested in
a trio relievers: Tim Lahey, Robert Delaney and Anthony Slama. None of
these guys have the draft pedigree that suggests prospects. Do they still
have value?

A: Slama was in our Top 30 last year, hope someone noticed that I ranked them. Our Alan Matthews, who is now a scout with the Rockies, saw Slama in college and loved him, and I trusted him plus our other reports on him, and he had a tremendous, tremendous year. However, Delaney is ahead of him in the Twins' pecking order at this time. Both have fastballs that sink, with Delaney having a heavy, heavy fastball when he's right. Both have solid sliders, Slama's slider is better but Delaney's fastball command is better. Both have a chance to impact the big league bullpen in '09, more likely neither guy has a great career but if one of them becomes a sixth- or seventh-inning option in 2009 or 2010, I would consider that a huge success. Delaney's undrafted, Slama was a 39th round pick. Lahey has more power stuff and also sinks it but for me the other two guys are better bets.

That's plenty of questions for now. Thanks again for your answers!