Earlier this winter, together with Roger and a number of other front page writers here at Twinkie Town, a list of questions was compiled for an expert on the Minnesota Twins minor league system. That expert is the one and only Seth Stohs, who I'm sure most of you are already familiar with. If not, I highly recommend stopping by Seth Speaks on a daily basis, because you'll find no better site for daily information on the Twins farm system than his.
Thanks to Seth for taking the time to answer a bunch of questions for us. Be sure to follow the jump and read the rest of our conversation, and we'll follow up with questions on position players on Monday night. Enjoy!
It seems that the Twins organization has a number of #2-3 starters with good to great command and good, but not great stuff. Do you see anyone who has the potential to be a true #1 starter, and considering that John Sickels ranked no one higher than a B+ (I understand, this still means top 50 overall), what do you think the pitcher(s) need to show before you see ace ceilings?
First of all, #2 and #3 pitchers are a good thing to have, so I don't want to minimize that. I see Kyle Gibson as a #2 type only because he doesn't throw 95+. That seems to be what people want to see in order to call them #1s. Cliff Lee is a #1 and he strikes out less than 7 per nine innings.
Also, if they profile as #2s in the minors, most of them will be thrilled if they become Major League #4 and #5, but likewise, every once in a while a #2 becomes a #1. But again, there is nothing wrong with having a bunch of #2 and #3s. I mean, in the last 7-8 years, Francisco Liriano and Matt Garza are the two that profiled closest to that of a #1. I think Liriano can be that when healthy. Garza's actually become a solid #2 or #3.
And finally, not many pitchers come up as aces. Look at Felix Hernandez. He is definitely an "ace" but it took him a couple of years to really earn that role. So, I generally could care less about if a guy is profiled as a 1, a 2, or a 3. They're all needed on a team, and no matter what they do in the minor leagues, the big leagues can be a different story.
The Twins have a lot of strike throwers and not a lot of power arms. Who's the closest to a power starter in the system?
I think what you notice is that most Twins minor league pitchers (and most minor league pitchers in any organization) typically throw between 87 and 91. That number is lower at the lower levels. But by the time they get to AA and AAA, they are all throwing 88-91. A few hit 92. So for me, a power arm is anyone that can hit 94-95 relatively consistently. Again, there aren't a ton of arms in any organization, especially not starters, that consistently throw 95 and have enough control or secondary pitches to be taken seriously.
Bruce Pugh is probably the closest power arm, and he made just a couple of AA starts at the end of last season. There aren't a lot. I think Miguel Munoz touches 94 quite a bit. They're a long way off, but Adrian Salcedo and Manuel Soliman have the capability of becoming that as they gain age, strength and move forward.
Billy Bullock and Carlos Gutierrez are two of the highest ranked bullpen arms. Both appear to have MLB closer potential and could anchor the Twins bullpen long term. Which of the two do you believe is more likely to inherit the closer role from Joe Nathan / Matt Capps, when and why?
I personally am not certain either of them will, but that is in part because they typically wouldn't hand it over to a rookie. So, if we believe that neither Nathan or Capps will be back in 2012 (as of today, I think Capps will be), that would mean that one of the two would need to gain quite a bit of experience in 2011.
I think Gutierrez could be up by July and I think he could have a strong impact on the Twins. I love Bullock's strikeout numbers, but as he moves up, his walk totals are getting to scary levels, and I can't imagine Gardy and Rick Anderson handing it over to someone who doesn't throw strikes in AA.
Who has better stuff--Kyle Gibson or Alex Wimmers?
I'm told that Gibson has four above average pitches, including a really good sinker and a very good slider, and good control of all four pitches. Wimmers is, of course, known for his changeup which is never going to get him credit in the "stuff" department, but in my mind, it's a tremendously important pitch. So, my answer would be Gibson, but I think Wimmers will have a 2011 season that is similar to Gibson's in 2010.
Anthony Slama has fallen out of favor in terms of prospect status. While his 4.5 BB/9 rate the past two years in AA/AAA is concerning, he continues to strike out 10+ and does not give up the long ball. What type of upside do you see from Slama, and what type of contribution do you see from him at the MLB level in 2011?
I guess I haven't seen Slama as a highly ranked prospect since his Ft. Myers season. I've never read a scouting report from any of the experts in and out of the organization that has ever been terribly excited about him as a prospect. He just turned 27. All that said, I don't know what more he can do or prove in Triple-A. He has absolutely earned a shot at a big league job. He probably isn't a closer in terms of stuff, but one important characteristic of a closer (and any reliever, but especially a closer) is mental toughness and a short-term memory. Slama hasn't had a lot of bad moments in the minor leagues, but he has a great mentality, and I think that would help him.
I think he can be a solid 7th inning guy though. And again, if you're the 4th or 5th bullpen guy, you're still going to throw 60 or so innings, and many of them will be high leverage. So to say all that doesn't underestimate the value he can have for the Twins.
What are your thoughts on Shooter Hunt at this point?
He's a terrific guy. He's a huge sports fan, baseball, football, basketball. I really like the guy.
We'll jump to a name people don't hear very often: Sterling Bonilla. How do you rate him?
Roger Dehring certainly follows the DSL Twins much more than I do. In my Prospect Handbook, each year I have done a Top 5 DSL Twins prospects. It's not easy to do because projecting success based on DSL performance is impossible. Age is honestly more important. Two years ago, they had a couple of really young guys who played alright in the DSL, but because they were so young, it meant more. Those two players were Adrian Salcedo and Oswaldo Arcia.
Anyway, that's the long way to getting to your question. Bonilla had some really good numbers. Strong ERA. Great WHIP. Not a lot of strikeouts. But he's only 18. The thing that I thought was most impressive about his 2010 season was his consistency considering being just 18. In 13 starts, he never gave up more than two runs. So, I think he's a guy that comes to the States for spring training and pitches for the GCL Twins for a year or two.
I will tell you that Bonilla is among my Top 5 DSL Twins prospects this year, but he's definitely not #1.
Manuel Soliman converted to pitching in the DSL in 2009. In 2010, he jumped the GCL by going straight to Elizabethton where he was very good. Your thoughts on his future?
Incredible! I mean, he's only been pitching for a year, and in the Appy League, he threw one no-hitter and took a second into the seventh inning. As I mentioned before, he had a very strong arm, and that's why despite being a terrible hitter, the Twins gave him an opportunity to throw. Soliman is another terrific kid. He is excited about pitching and learning new pitches and thinking about it all. It's actually some of the conversations I've tried to have with him that has me excited beyond just his terrific numbers. He's smart, learns quick and is enthusiastic about it all.
Jose Gonzalez had another good year. What do you see for him?
First of all, what a season it was for the little lefty! He absolutely dominated at Elizabethton, but that shouldn't be too surprising because he was incredible in his 15 or so appearances in Ft. Myers as a 20 year old! And, he was terrific the last two years as well, so it's not like it's new. Numbers-wise, just wow! Not sure what more can be said.
Now, in terms of prospect status, it's a good example of numbers versus scouting. First, he's just 5-9 and his body type is often compared to that of Jose Mijares. That might be a warning sign. Right now, his fastball sits between 83 and 86 mph, although I'm told he touched 89 late in the season. So, it's a little difficult to get too excited. Right now, I see a possible big league LOOGY, and since he's left-handed, the velocity isn't as big of a deal. He also has an above average curveball with late break, and it was his changeup that many in Ft. Myers called a terrific swing-and-miss pitch. So, it's hard to get too excited about a potential LOOGY in rookie league ball, but let's just keep watching his numbers as he moves up, particularly against left-handers. He certainly has enough stuff to be solid in a big league role if he gets there.
Is Liam Hendriks as good as it appears he may be? Can he be a front of the rotation starter?
Hendriks throws a 4-seam fastball that touches 93. He also has a two-seamer that has a lot of movement. He has a good curveball and a changeup that he is gaining confidence with. He has very good stuff with great movement, but he has pinpoint control and keeps the ball down in the strike zone and in the park. I think he can be a solid #2 starter if he continues to improve. He's very competitive, but he's also very smart. The guy knows how to pitch. If there is any negative, it can be that he throws too many strikes. But, he should jump to AA sometime in 2011, and that's always a big jump, so we'll see how well he adjusts.