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Minor League Report...January 15, 2011

I will be travelling tomorrow so this weeks report will be posted Friday night. The only player news this week was today's signing of Jim Thome. Having him on the roster for another year as he goes for his 600th home run should be good for the Twins and exciting for us fans. Glad to see Thome back with the Twins as they make another run for the playoffs.

Last week I looked at ten potential starting pitchers for the Red Wings. It is the opinion of the readers of Twinkie Town that the most likely three to join Kyle Waldrop and David Bromberg in their opening day starting rotation are Anthony Swarzak, Jeff Manship, and Chuck James or Eric Hacker. With a strong probability that Manship will be in the Twins bullpen, the Red Wings starting five should be Gibson, Bromberg, Swarzak, James and Hacker. That starting five should give the Wings a fighting chance to have a good season after last year's disaster.

With the playoffs under way in the Caribbean, there isn't a lot of news about Twins prospects. After briefly looking at what a few Twins have done, I will take a look at the most likely candidates for the Rochester bullpen. Who knows, one or two may find themselves in Toronto on opening day.

The Perth Heat beat Melbourne earlier today, 13-9. James Beresford was 2-3 with a double while Justin Huber was 1-4 with his seventh home run, a grand slam, for the losing Melbourne squad. Luke Hughes was 2-5 for the winners with his third and fourth home runs, driving in three runs. Hughes, who missed about a month while he was in Venezuela, also had a home run on Sunday when Beresford was 3-6 with a double.

Alexi Casilla missed about a week of games for Gigantes with Estarlin De Los Santos playing second base in his absense. Casilla returned Monday, going 3-5 with a pair of doubles. Yorman Bazardo was the starter in Aragua's win Monday in the Venezuelan Round Robin playoffs. He pitched 5.0 innings with five hits, three runs and four strikeouts. Wilson Ramos was 2-5 with a pair of RBI in that game after finishing his winter season hitting .322/.390/.567 with nine home runs. Jose Mijares got one out in Thursday's 10-4 win without allowing a baserunner. Yangervis Solarte saw his only action of the week in that game, going 2-4 with a double, run scored and walk.

The Twins signed four minor league free agents who are competing for a spot in either the Twins bullpen or the starting rotation in Rochester. In addition to those four who were reviewed last week, the Twins signed three minor league free agent relievers, Phil Dumatrait and Jake Stevens while resigning Kyle Waldrop. Other candidates for the Red Wings bullpen include four players who are on the 40-man roster, Alex Burnett, Rob Delaney, Anthony Slama and Jim Hoey who was acquired in the J. J. Hardy trade. Other relievers who were on the Red Wings roster at the end of the season include Cole DeVries, Carlos Gutierrez and Chris Province. That is ten relievers who are penciled into a Rochester bullpen that will keep seven at the most. Add one or two of the starters who could find their way to the bullpen and the competition for spots in the Red Wings pen should be fierce this spring. The biggest question is which of the twenty pitchers competing for jobs in Rochester will actually begin their season with the Twins?

Kyle Waldrop is well known to both Twins fans and the readers of Twinkie Town who recently selected him as the fifteenth best prospect in the organization. The former first round pick was one of the top relievers in the International League last year, going an entire month without allowing an earned run. Waldrop wore down towards the end of the year as the Red Wings bullpen was seriously overworked, finishing with a 5-3 record and 2.57 ERA in 59 games (87.2 innings) with 60 strikeouts and 20 walks. Waldrop was recently invited to spring training and barring injury should make his debut with the Twins some time this season.

The Twins signed two relievers, Phil Dumatrait and Jake Stevens. Dumatrait is a 29 year old lefty who has pitched in the big leagues in parts of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons. His best season was 2008 when he appeared in twenty one games for the Pirates with a 3-4 record and 5.26 ERA in 78.2 innings. Dumatrait had a 4-1 record for AAA Toledo last year with a 3.16 ERA in eight starts (42.2 innings). Stevens is a 26 year old Ft. Myers native who pitched for Richmond of the AA Eastern League. He is another lefty who had a 4-4 record with a 2.80 ERA in 46 games (64.1 innings) with 45 strikeouts and 27 walks.

The Twins surprised everyone when they recalled Alex Burnett prior to opening day last year. Burnett, who was 22 years old at the time, was converted to a reliever only two years earlier and had yet to pitch at AAA. He would become one of the Twins better relievers early last season before the pressure of pitching in the big leagues got to him. He was sent back to Rochester last July where he appeared in 14 games with a 5.49 ERA. While with the Twins, Burnett appeared in 41 games with a 5.29 ERA in 47.2 innings. Look for Burnett to be a leading candidate to grab one of the Twins hotly contested bullpen jobs this spring.

Rob Delaney was signed as a free agent out of a tryout camp following his graduation from St. John's University in 2006. Since signing, Delaney has been one of the most successful relief pitchers in minor league ball including being named the Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year in 2008. That would be his best season, a season in which he had a 1.23 ERA at Ft. Myers and New Britain. Last season he had a 4.73 ERA and 7-9 record in 61 appearances for the Red Wings. He also made one brief trip to Minnesota where he pitched an inning, allowing two hits, a walk and a run. Delaney is on the 40-man roster and will be a candidate to return to the Twins at some point in 2011.

Like Delaney, Anthony Slama spent time with the Twins last summer. A thirty-ninth round pick in 2006, Slama made five appearances for the Twins, pitching 4.2 innings with five strikeouts, five walks and a 7.71 ERA. While with the Red Wings, Slama had another outstanding season as he put up a 2.20 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 65.1 innings and 17 saves. Slama's only problem is that he is a nibbler who has a history of to many walks (32 last year at Rochester). He will have to find a way to correct that problem if he is to be in serious consideration for a spot in the Twins pen out of spring training. The former Arizona Fall League Rising Star has been an all-star in the Florida State, Eastern, and International Leagues. With credentials like that he appears destined for a job in the big leagues. Will it be with the Twins?

The fourth candidate for the Rochester pen who is on the 40-man roster is Jim Hoey, who was recently acquired from Baltimore. Hoey had been one of the Orioles rising bullpen prospects before an injury cost him all of the 2008 season. He appeared in 35 games for the Orioles in 2006 and 2007, with a 3-5 record and a 7.30 ERA in 2007. He reportedly has his velocity back to the upper 90's following a 2010 season that was split between AA and AAA. He finished this season with a 3.25 ERA and 6-0 record in 42 games (52.2 innings) with 70 strikeouts and 34 walks. Like Slama, Hoey walked to many hitters. It was reported however, that his concern last summer was to get his velocity back and he would work on control this spring. His fastball would certainly look nice coming off the Target Field mound this spring, wouldn't it?

Cole DeVries and Chris Province both spent most of their year in New Britain before moving up to the Red Wings late last season. DeVries compiled a 5.80 ERA in 39 games for New Britain before moving up to Rochester where he appeared in nine games with a 5.79 ERA. Province appeared in 45 games for New Britain, picking up a 6-6 record with five saves and a 5.58 ERA in 80.2 innings. At Rochester he appeared in five games with a 6.06 ERA. Although both were on the Red Wings roster at the end of the season, they will have to have great springs to head north with the Red Wings out of spring training.

The third member of the Rock Cats to move up to Rochester late last year has an excellent chance to begin his season in Rochester and pitching in Minnesota before the season is over. Former first round pick Carlos Gutierrez has been working as a starter since being drafted, however, the Twins have confessed that their plan was for him to be a reliever. They had him starting to get innings and work on his secondary pitches. They also wanted to build his arm strength following surgery while he was at the University of Miami. Gutierrez reportedly has his big league ready sinking fastball up to 95 mph and recently told our friend Seth Stohs that he 'prefers the bullpen.' Gutierrez had a 5-8 record last season for the Rock Cats with a 4.57 ERA in 32 games (16 starts) while striking out 81 and walking 50 in 122.0 innings. He allowed one run in two games (4.0 innings) for the Red Wings.

The question is, which of these ten relievers will be with the Twins on opening day?