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Minor League Report...January 8, 2011

There has been little news this week other than the pending signing of Carl Pavano. The only minor league signing that recently became official was the signing of Michael Hollimon. Hollimon is a twenty eight year old infielder who hit .256/.343/.431 for Grand Prairie of the American Association after missing much of 2009 following shoulder surgery. Much like former Twin Matt Macri whom Hollimon may replace, Hollimon played well in the upper levels of the minor leagues (was a Eastern League All-Star in 2007) before making his only big league appearance with Detroit in 2008 when he hit .261 average in 23 at bats.

It was evident last year that the Red Wings' problems began with the failure of their starting rotation. Unlike previous years, the Twins have gone out and signed four minor league free agents who could be starters for the Wings in 2011. Heading into spring training, the Twins have ten starters who will battle for spots in Rochester's starting rotation. With Kyle Gibson and David Bromberg likely filling two of those spots, who will win the remaining three spots?

In addition to looking at a few highlights from winter ball this week, I will discuss all ten of the potential Rochester starting pitchers after the jump.

The caliber of pitching in the Australian Winter League is open to debate, however, Allan de San Miguel is having a big winter hitting .304/.432/.520 with five home runs in 102 at bats. de San Miguel was 3-5 Friday with his second two home run game. Luke Hughes, who recently returned to Australia from Venezuela, was 3-13. James Beresford saw his first action of the winter for Melbourne, while teammate Justin Huber was 4-17. Rory Rhodes is also having a big winter down under, going 3-7 in two games this weekend with his third home run, a triple, three walks and four runs scored. Rhodes is hitting .288/.375/.525 in 80 at bats and is a candidate to put up shocking numbers in Elizabethton this summer.

Alexi Casilla hasn't played for Gigantes of the DWL the last several days. His spot at second base was filled by Estarlin De Los Santos who was 7-9, including a 5-5 game on Wednesday.

Angel Morales is seeing limited action for Ponce in the Puerto Rican League. Morales made a couple pinch hitting appearances while pinch running in two games. He also has been a late inning replacement in left field, replacing Jose Ruiz who hit .272 average in AA last year, then hitting .323 average for the Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League.

With Hughes returning to Australia, Yangervis Solarte was the sole Twin position player seeing action for Aragua, going 3-12 in four games. Our old friend Juan Rincon made two starts for Aragua replacing Cesar Ciurcina in their starting rotation. Jose Mijares made two relief appearances, pitching 1.1 shutout innings with no hits, a strikeout and three walks. Yorman Bazardo started for Aragua on Thursday, pitching 5.0 innings with four hits, three runs (one earned), a walk and strikeout. Andrew Baldwin made two starts for Caribes. They lost 2-0 on Sunday when Baldwin pitched 6.1 innings with four hits, one run, four waks and four strikeouts. They won last night, 4-2, behind a start that can best be described as effective with Baldwin allowing ten hits and a walk in 6.0 innings while allowing only one run.

As of today, the Red Wings have ten pitchers who will battle for five spots in their starting rotation. Included are top prospects Kyle Gibson and David Bromberg who both joined the Red Wings late last season. Returning will be Anthony Swarzak, Ryan Mullins (was on the Red Wings disabled list during the last part of last season), Steve Hirschfeld (made one appearance with the Wings late last year), and Jeff Manship, who will battle for a spot in the Twins bullpen but does have options and could begin his season in Rochester. The four minor league free agents signed are Yorman Bazardo, Andrew Baldwin, Chuck James and Eric Hacker.

Kyle Gibson, who was recently voted Twinkie Town's Top prospect for 2011, is considered by many as the the top prospect in the organization. Gibson began his first season of professional ball at Ft. Myers where he was a FSL Pitcher of the Week and also pitched a complete game, one hit shutout. Gibson won four of five decisions for the Miracle while posting a 1.87 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 43.1 innings with 40 strikeouts and 12 walks. Gibson moved on to New Britain where he became an Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star. Gibson was 7-5 for the Rock Cats with a 3.68 ERA in sixteen starts (93.0 innings) with 77 strikeouts and 22 walks. Gibson took his third step towards the Twins in August when he moved on to AAA Rochester where he had a 1.72 ERA in three starts (15.2 innings) with a 1.09 WHIP, nine strikeouts and five walks. Gibson will anchor the Rochester rotation and could be a candidate for a spot in the Twins rotation by summer should he be needed.

David Bromberg was the Twins Pitcher of the Year in 2008 and 2009 following all-star seasons at Beloit and Ft. Myers (he was the FSL Pitcher of the Year). Bromberg began 2010 in New Britain where he was 5-5 with a 3.62 ERA in 99.1 innings with 65 strikeouts and 35 walks. Bromberg moved up to Rochester in July where he was 1-4 with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts (52.0 innings) with a 1.15 WHIP, 47 strikeouts and 13 walks. After leading all of minor league baseball in strikeouts at Beloit in 2008 and the Florida State League in 2009, Bromberg's strikeouts were down as he worked to become an effective pitcher at the highest levels of minor league ball. Bromberg should be a mainstay in the Rochester rotation before he battles for a spot in the Twins rotation in 2012.

Anthony Swarzak was a second round pick in 2004 who realized his dream when he made twelve starts for the Twins in 2009. Swarzak was 2-7 with a 6.25 ERA for the Twins and 4-5 with a 3.28 ERA in Rochester, giving the Twins reason to expect Swarzak to be a strong starter for the Wings and contender for a spot in their rotation last spring. Swarzak, who was injured early last season, was 5-12 for the Red Wings in 22 starts (111.2 innings) with a 6.21 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 69 strikeouts and 38 walks. That performance is best described as disappointing and one of the reasons the Red Wings finished with one of the worst seasons in their 100+ year history. Can Swarzak recover to become the pitcher he once was? If not, will he remain in the organization when spring training ends?

After a few early season appearances out of the bullpen, Ryan Mullins returned to the starting rotation to become one of the Red Wings most effective starters. Mullins had a 4-7 record and a 4.60 ERA in 90.0 innings, however, his ERA was 4.10 in 83.1 innings as a starter. Assuming the tall lefty returns healthy, Mullins should be a strong candidate to be an effective starter for the Wings in 2011. The bigger question is whether or not Mullins has the stuff to make his first appearance with the Twins sometime in 2011?

Steve Hirschfeld made one start for the Wings at the end of the year, allowing six hits and three runs in six innings. After being a top prospect who the Twins assigned to the Arizona Fall League in 2009, last year was a disappointing one for Hirschfeld as he spent a good part of the season on the disabled list. Hirschfeld got back on the mound late in the year at New Britain, appearing in eleven games (22.0 innings) with a 5.32 ERA, 21 strikeouts and 13 walks. Having split his time in the organization working both as a starter and out of the bullpen, Hirschfeld could win a spot in the Red Wings starting rotation. It is more likely, however, that he will be a reliever for either the Red Wings or Rock Cats.

With several open spots in the Twins bullpen this spring, look for Jeff Manship to begin his 2011 season at Target Field. Should the Twins make a couple late winter moves or other candidates be more effective in spring training, Manship has options remaining and would return to Rochester where he would be one of their five starters. Manship was the guy the Twins turned to when in need last year as he was called up five different times, appearing in thirteen games (29.0 innings) with a 2-1 record, 5.28 ERA, 21 strikeouts and 6 walks. Although he was effective for the Twins, Manship didn't dominate at AAA where he had a 3-8 record with a 5.13 ERA in eighteen starts (98.1 innings) with 83 strikeouts and 22 walks.

With all the Twins playing for Aragua in the Venezuelan League each winter, we are familiar with Yorman Bazardo who was one of the early signings this winter. Bazardo is a 26 year old Venezuelan who has appeared in the big leagues with three different teams, Florida (2005), Detroit (2007 and 2008) and Houston (2009). His combined stats in the major leagues include a 3-4 record with a 6.86 ERA in 60.1 innings with 37 strikeouts and 34 walks. Bazardo spent all of 2010 in the Pacific Coast League where he appeared in 34 games (5 starts) with a 4-5 record and 3.87 ERA in 86.1 innings with 58 strikeouts and 26 walks. Bazardo leads Aragua this winter with seven wins in nine decisions. He has a 2.63 ERA in twelve starts (72.0 innings) with 28 strikeouts and 17 walks. Bazardo, who will battle for a spot in the Twins bullpen, will most likely begin his season at Rochester.

Andrew Baldwin is a 28 year old Duluth native who moved to Oregon and later pitched at Oregon State. A fifth round pick of the Phillies in 2004, Baldwin was traded to the Mariners as part of the trade that brought Jamie Moyer to Philadelphia. A six year minor league free agent, Baldwin signed with the Twins after playing in the Pacific Coast League where he was 9-7 in 32 games (15 starts). Baldwin had a 4.90 ERA in 117.2 innings with 87 strikeouts and 37 walks. Baldwin is pitching for Caribes in the Venezuelan League this winter where he has a 5-2 record in twelve starts (73.2 innings) with a 2.08 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 20 walks. Baldwin, who has yet to make his major league debut, will be another pitcher the Twins will look to fill one of those bullpen spots. It is more likely he will begin his season in Rochester where all players know they are only a phone call away from putting on a Twins uniform, a call that will likely come to nearly half the Red Wings team each year.

Perhaps the most intriguing signing this winter was Chuck James. James is a 29 year old lefty who was once one of the young stars in the Atlanta Braves organization. James started 55 games for the Braves between 2005 and 2008 with his best season 2007 when he made 30 starts, finishing with a 11-10 record and 4.24 ERA in 161.1 innings with 116 strikeouts and 58 walks. James missed all of 2009 before pitching 66.0 innings last year in AA and AAA with a 10-1 record, 2.32 ERA, 69 strikeouts and 11 walks. Look for James to be a serious candidate to be part of the Twins bullpen on opening day. If he isn't he will be a phone call away in Rochester.

Eric Hacker was the lone winter signing who was signed to a major league contract and placed on the 40-man roster. Hacker's lone service in the major league's was in 2009 when he made three appearances for the Pirates, pitching 3.0 innings with a 6.00 ERA. Hacker, who was outrighted off the Pirates 40-man roster following the 2009 season, spent all of 2010 in the Pacific Coast League where he led the league with 16 wins (8 losses) and was named a post-season all-star. In 29 starts (165.2 innings), Hacker had a 4.51 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 62 walks. If Hacker doesn't win a spot in the Twins bullpen, he has at least one option remaining and would become a strong candidate for the Red Wings starting rotation.

Of these ten candidates for the Red Wings starting rotation it is likely that one or two will begin the year with the Twins. Another could begin back at New Britain with another five or six battling for the three open starting spots. Although there always seems to be at least one injury, a couple of this group will either be in the Red Wings bullpen, extended spring training or released at the end of spring training. Which of the eight are most likely to win spots in the Red Wings starting rotation?