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Minor League Report...February 12, 2011

There continues to be little news out of the Twins front office. This week's only activity was that the Twins agreed to split the difference on a one year contract with Francisco Liriano at $4,300,000.

Perth is hosting the Adelaide Bite in this weekends Australian Baseball League finals. The Heat lost game one to the visiting Bite, 4-3, with Luke Hughes getting a double in four at bats. Catcher Allan de San Miguel was four for five with a double and run batted in as he continues to hit better than at any time in his professional career. [Edit: Perth evened their best of three championship series Saturday afternoon, 9-2. Luke Hughes was 2-5 with a run scored and RBI. de San Miguel was 1-5 with a run scored and 2 RBI.] [Sunday: Perth won the Australian League championship today, 7-1. de San Miguel was 0-1 with two walks, finishing the playoffs by hitting .389. Hughes was 2-4 with a double, run scored and RBI. Hughes hit .333]

Last week I asked your opinions regarding how much of an impact Kyle Gibson would have on the Twins this year. Forty-five percent of you believe that he will pitch more than 50 innings with another fourteen percent of the opinion he will exceed 100 innings. Add the four percent that believe he will break camp with the Twins and we had a clear majority (63%) who believe that Gibson will pitch more than 50 innings for the Twins this season. Only six percent of you believe he will not pitch for the Twins at all in 2011.

My question today deals with the young man drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, Billy Bullock. With the Twins most obvious needs in the bullpen, will Bullock make it to the big stage in 2011?

After the jump I will reveal who my pre-season selections are for the organizaiton's Breakout Pitcher of the Year, Comeback Pitcher of the Year, Reliever of the Year and Pitcher of the Year. I will have my pre-season selections for position players next week.

2011 Break-out Pitcher of the Year...

There is a large group of strong candidates, including a young man who was a suprise when he reported to Elizabethton last summer, Manuel Soliman. Soliman is a native of the Dominican Republic who was signed as a seventeen year old in March, 2007. He spent his first two seasons in the organization as a third baseman for the Dominican Summer League Twins. It soon became clear that his strong arm would not overcome his inability to hit much over the Mendoza line as he hit for averages of .189 and .211 during his first two seasons with the Twins.

He remained with the DSL Twins in 2009 when the Twins converted him to a pitcher. As the DSL Twins battled all the way to the championship series, Soliman was the pleasant surprise of a strong pitching staff that included Pedro Guerra and Cesar Ciurcina. In his first season as a pitcher, Soliman pitched 71.0 innings in fourteen starts with a 6-2 record, 2.15 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 55 strikeouts and 20 walks without allowing a home run. That performance certainly earned him a promotion to the States and a likely spot with the GCL Twins in 2010. But that was not to be as the Twins elected to have Soliman skip the Gulf Coast League, sending him to their advanced rookie league team in the Appalachian League. In a league that is filled with players with a year of rookie league ball behind them or older players straight out of college, Soliman was one of the better pitchers in the league. Soliman made twelve starts, pitching 64.1 innings with the league's fourteenth best ERA (3.48) and seventh best WHIP (1.05). He finished with a 5-2 record, 74 strikeouts and 21 walks. Perhaps the only negative one could find is that he had the second most hit batters in the league (10), however, considering his lack of experience that is understandable.

With what we saw from this young man last year, it is likely that he will have a huge 2011. I look for him to begin his season in Beloit with a promotion to Ft. Myers following the all-star break. He should continue to strike out more than a batter an inning and be very high on the Twins radar by the end of the 2011 season.

2011 Comeback Pitcher of the Year...

There are several strong candidates for this recognition including a few who return from injury and another who was a former high draft pick who has had unimaginable control problems. My selection is a young man who prior to last year was on track to join the Twins sometime in 2011, Steven Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld was drafted in the ninth round of the 2007 draft out of San Diego State University. He pitched that summer for Elizabethton before making a name for himself in 2008 at Beloit where he was a Mid-Season All-Star. Hirschfeld led the Snappers staff that year with a 10-5 record. And that was the staff that included the Twins Pitcher of the Year, David Bromberg. While at Beloit, Hirschfeld appeared in 31 games including 16 starts (109.0 innings) with a 3.30 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 38 walks. He would move up to Ft. Myers in 2009 where he would again be an All-Star. Hirschfeld split his time between the bullpen and starting rotation, appearing in 32 games (117.0 innings) with 17 starts, a 7-7 record, 2.23 ERA, 86 strikeouts and 31 walks. His ERA was second best in the league while his 1.06 WHIP was best in the pitching strong Florida State League. That performance earned him a spot in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

This past spring Hirschfeld broke camp with the AA New Britain Rock Cats. He went on the disabled list shortly after the season started and would be limited to eleven appearances following a few rehab outings in Florida. Hirschfeld had a disappointing 5.32 ERA in 22.0 innings with 21 strikeouts and 13 walks. The Twins showed him that they believed in him however, assigning him to Rochester the last week of the season where he made one start, pitching 6.0 innings with six hits and three runs. Considering that he pitched only 32.0 innings last year, Hirschfeld joined several other Twins on the Mayaguez team in this winter's Puerto Rican Winter League. He was a regular starter, appearing in eleven games (48.1 innings) with a 3.72 ERA, 38 strikeouts and 13 walks.

Hirschfeld could begin his 2011 back at New Britain or with Rochester. Whichever the Twins select, look for him to have a big season as he gets his career back on track to joining the Twins sometime in 2012.

2011 Relief Pitcher of the Year...

There are several short relievers/closers who could be looking at exciting seasons this year. Carlos Gutierrez could join the Twins as early as summer. Jose Gonzalez had the fourth best numbers of any pitcher in the organization last year and there is no reason to expect he won't repeat that feat in 2011. The reliever I see as having the biggest year of all is a young man who led the organization with 27 saves, Billy Bullock.

Bullock was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Florida. He appeared in 33 games at Elizabethton and Beloit during his rookie season with eleven saves, a 2.41 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 33.2 innings. He began this past season in Ft. Myers where he would earn Mid-Season All-Star honors with a 3.62 ERA in 28 games (37.1 innings) with 14 saves, 45 strikeouts and 19 walks. He would move on to New Britain where he appeared in 30 games (36.2 innings) with 13 saves, 60 strikeouts and 24 walks. Yes, 43 walks in 74.0 innings is more than the Twins like to see. But 14.7 strikeouts per 9 innings in AA is something the Twins haven't had a lot of in their organization.

Bullock reportedly throws an occasional fastball at 100 miles per hour and only needs to cut down his walks a bit to become a future closer for the Twins. With all the veteran pitchers signed over the winter, I expect Bullock will return to New Britain for the start of the season. Don't be surprised however, if his name is included with that select group of September callups. That is if he isn't already wearing a Twins uniform before next September 1st.

2011 Twins Organization Pitcher of the Year...

Most fans would think this is an easy selection as Kyle Gibson is clearly on track to becomming the second or third man in the Twins rotation. I agree with most of you however, that Gibson will spend a significant part of the 2011 season with the Twins and won't be eligible for a repeat award as the organization's Pitcher of the Year. The young man I see having the type of year that will give him the 2011 award is Adrian Salcedo.

Salcedo was signed by the Twins in November, 2007 when he was sixteen years old. He would spend one season with the DSL Twins, finishing with a 4-4 record, 1.65 ERA, 50 strikeouts and only 8 walks in 65.1 innings. He would move up to the GCL Twins in 2009 where he was one of the top pitchers in the league, finishing with a 3-2 record in eleven games in 61.2 innings (5th most in the league), with a 1.46 ERA (7th best in the league) and 1.02 WHIP (8th best in the league). He did that as an eighteen year old with most of the pitchers ahead of him a year to three years older.

When the Twins needed a starter at Ft. Myers early last season they moved Salcedo across the parking lot from extended spring training. Having just turned nineteen with only a year of GCL rookie ball behind him, Salcedo would be expected to struggle. Yes, he did struggle however, he also made several solid starts finishing with a 1-3 record and 6.26 ERA in six starts (27.1 innings) with 16 strikeouts and 8 walks. When the Appalachian League began play, Salcedo moved to the team he was scheduled to be with. He led the Elizabethton Twins with 66.0 innings with a 4-3 record, 3.27 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 10 walks.

Everything one reads about this young man, who Baseball America ranked as the eighth best prospect in the Appalachian League, says that he is special. As he matures and gains experience, he just may be that next pitcher to come through the organization to pitch at the front end of future Twins rotations. I expect Salcedo will begin this season in Beloit and 2011 will be our first good look of what is to come as he pitches so well that he earns the Twins Pitcher of the Year award.