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Minor League Report...January 28, 2012

There is a lot happening in the Twins organization this weekend as the Twins hold their annual Twins Fest. It is a great opportunity for fans to meet and mingle with players, coaches and management.

On the baseball front, it appears that Terry Ryan is likely done signing players with the largest group in recent memory set to report to Ft. Myers in a few weeks. Mr. Ryan certainly didn't surprise anyone with big named signings as he worked within his limited budget to field what he believes can be a competitive team. Now we wait to see if several key players can stay healthy.

Today I want to take a look at seven players who for various reasons need to have a big season.

As somewhat of a surprise pick a few years ago, the Twins drafted Carlos Gutierrez in the first round. He was used as a starter for a few years to develop arm strength and pitches before settling into his role as a reliever. He is known as a ground ball pitcher who was fine early last year at Rochester before battling an injury much of the second half of the season. He is a reliever and the Twins badly need several relievers to step up this spring. He also has been around long enough that it is time for him to contribute, if not on opening day certainly by summer.

Matt Bashore is a lefty who topped out at 96 mph during his career at Indiana. Unfortunately, he pitched only a handful of innings for the Twins before undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the 2010 season. Last year was a rehab year at Elizabethton where he was shutdown after his arm tired in August. The Twins need this former first round pick to get his career back on track. To do so, he needs to be effective while pitching over 100 innings.

Another former first round pick also out of the Big 10 is Alex Wimmers. Wimmers should have been on the fast track last year, however, suffered a setback beginning with a minor injury in spring training followed by a bout of 'Shooter Hunt' disease. After spending much of the summer working at their Ft. Myers facility, Wimmers returned as an effective pitcher late in the season including a seven inning no hitter in his last start. Like Bashore, the Twins need this first round pick to get back on a fast track towards Minnesota.

The lone remaining player from the Santana trade is Deolis Guerra. Although he seems to have been around forever, Guerra is still only 22 years old. For that reason, we should remain hopeful that he will finally get over that last hurdle. A starter throughout his career, Guerra was moved to the bullpen last year at New Britain after an ugly start when he was giving up more than a run an inning. Once in the bullpen, he was a different pitcher as he was as effective as any reliever in the organization. Hopefully, he can build on that positive experience and take that big final step so we see him in Target Field by September at the latest.

One of the most exciting young players in the organization for the last several years has been Angel Morales. It seemed that the only thing he needed was experience and to cut down on his strikeouts. Unfortunately, 2011 was a wasted year that he missed nearly an entire season with an elbow injury. Morales needs to get back on the field this spring so that he can continue his development or he will be passed by several very talented outfielders who are a level or two behind him.

A player I see as a strong candidate for 'break-out player of the year' is Niko Goodrum. A very young man who may have as much raw talent as anyone in the organization, Goodrum's ceiling could be as high as any shortstop in the Twins fifty year history. Goodrum took a huge step forward last year as he improved throughout the season at Elizabethton. If he is to reach his lofty ceiling, he needs to take another big step forward in 2012 at Beloit.

Several years ago the Twins drafted a few power hitting high school prospects. Henry Sanchez was a bust while 2006 first round pick Chris Parmelee has slowly developed into a player who is almost ready for a regular job with the Twins. A third power hitting draft pick was Danny Rams, a Miami native taken in the second round in 2007. Other than a few weeks at Elizabethton when Rams hit well over .300 average, he continues to struggle with too many strikeouts and an average a lot closer to .200 than .300. The exciting part is that he has hit some home runs with half his hits going for extra bases. In an organization desperately needing catchers, Rams needs to get his average up thirty or forty points if he is to have a future with the Twins.

The consensus opinion is that the Twins system has been down the last few years. With Rochester coming off two terrible seasons and New Britain also losing nearly a hundred games in 2010, it is easy to see why people are of this opinion. The Twins have worked hard to sign several young players who could become huge stars, unfortunately, they all were in the lower levels of the organization. Good seasons from these seven players would certainly help turn the perception of the organization around as well as adding some wins to several teams won-loss records.