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Minor League Report...Rookie of the Year

Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Your voting for the Pitcher of the Year was a close battle between the Twins selection, B. J. Hermsen, and Liam Hendriks. In our voting, Hendriks edged out Hermsen by two votes, collecting 48 of your 185 votes to be selected as the Twinkie Town Pitcher of the Year. Matt Hauser was comfortably in third place with 27 votes while Bruce Pugh was fourth and A. J. Achter fifth.

Today we will be voting on the organization’s Rookie of the Year. To be eligible, a player must have been playing in his first year of professional ball during the 2012 season. Those eligible will include all of the players signed from the 2012 draft and those from the 2011 draft who didn’t appear in any games last year. It will also include those International free agents who played in their first games this year, most of whom were in the Dominican Summer League. As with the previous two selections, we will be voting for the rookies who had the best year in 2012 not who is the best prospect.

I felt it was important to keep the number of players we will vote on to a dozen or so. As I reviewed all the eligible players, this became a problem as my first list included over 30 first year players. As I began making cuts, it was apparent that there were many who could be included but didn’t have as good of seasons as others. Levi Michael is a first round pick who began his career at Fort Myers, yet a .246 average with a .650 OPS wasn't good enough when compared with the many strong performances by others. D. J. Hicks had a great playoff series with several key hits. However, a .270 average with four home runs doesn’t match others who were so good at both Elizabethton and the GCL Twins. Zach Jones had the big relief appearance in Beloit’s playoffs when he stuck out all five batters he faced, yet, a 3.21 ERA during the Midwest League season means he doesn’t make the list even though he struck out 25 hitters in 14 innings. The result was a group including many exciting young pitchers, most of whom had ERAs under 2.00.

A brief description of the fourteen players and pitchers I have selected follows.

I will begin with the two International free agents who began their careers with the Twins in 2012. Although Jadison Jimenez was the DSL Twins winning most pitcher at 8-3, he is an eighteen year old reliever who had a 3.58 ERA in 37.2 innings. Argenis Silva, who was sixteen and also not included, may end up being the best of this group as he made fourteen starts with a 0-4 record and 4.76 ERA. Although he was 0-4, Damian Defrank finished with a 3.06 ERA in 53.0 innings with 27 strikeouts and 16 walks. Accomplishing this as a seventeen year old gives Defrank my nod as the DSL Twins rookie to be included in our voting.

Moving up to the GCL Twins, International rookies included pitchers such as eighteen year old Sam Gibbons who finished with a 4-1 record and 2.29 ERA in 35.1 innings. As good as that was it doesn’t compare with the Twins top starter, nineteen year old Kuo Hua Lo. Lo finished with the Twins most innings pitched, 39.2, with a 2-0 record, 1.13 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 33 strikeouts and only 7 walks. Will this young native of Taiwan be able to maintain this type of dominance as he moves up the ladder to Elizabethton or Beloit next year?

I included four players from the 2011 draft who began their careers this year. Josh Burris was selected in the seventeenth round out of LSU-Eunice. The twenty year old reliever began his career in Elizabethton where he made eighteen appearances (36.0 innings), finishing with a perfect 7-0 record which were the most wins of any pitcher in the Appalachian League. Burris had an excellent 1.75 ERA and 40 strikeouts with perhaps his only negative, 21 walks.

Jason Wheeler may be the biggest story of any rookie in the organization. The 6’8” lefty taken in the eighth round of the 2011 draft out of Loyola Marymount finished with the most wins of any pitcher in the Midwest League, 14-6, which was also the most wins in the organization. Although Wheeler may or may not have been the Snappers’ Ace, there is no question that he was their anchor. Pitching a team high 156.2 innings in 27 starts, Wheeler finished with a 3.45 ERA, 115 strikeouts and 43 walks.

The remaining two players from the 2011 draft were supplemental round picks Hudson Boyd and Travis Harrison, who both began their seasons at Elizabethton. Hudson Boyd led the team with 58.0 innings pitched in thirteen starts. He posted a 2-5 record with the league’s third best ERA, 2.95, with 36 strikeouts and 23 walks. Travis Harrison is known as a young power hitter who finished with the league’s eighth best batting average, .301. In 219 at bats, Harrison had 12 doubles, 4 triples, 5 home runs and 27 runs batted in. His .845 slugging percentage was also tied for the eighth best in the league. Like a top prospect a level ahead of him who also plays third base, Harrison has work to do on defense as he committed 24 errors in 60 games.

The remaining eight players were all selected in the 2012 draft beginning with the second overall pick, eighteen year old Byron Buxton. Buxton, who was recently selected as the Gulf Coast League’s top prospect by Baseball America, began his professional career in a terrible slump. After a brief stay on the disabled list, Buxton returned to hit so well that after 27 games he earned a promotion to the Appalachian League. While with the GCL Twins, Buxton finished with a .216 average in 88 at bats with four home runs and .789 OPS. At Elizabethton, Buxton hit for a .286 average and .796 OPS in 77 at bats, including six doubles, one triple and one home run. Possibly the fastest player in the organization, Buxton stole seven bases in seven attempts in the Appy League after stealing only four of seven in the GCL.

As good as Buxton was, the honors for the best performance from a high school player selected in this draft may go to Jose Berrios who turned eighteen in late May. Berrios made eight appearances in the GCL where he posted a 1-0 record with a 1.08 ERA and a 0.60 WHIP. He struck out 27 batters in 16.2 innings while walking only three. In a surprising move for the Twins, he was promoted to Elizabethton without any noticeable decline in his level of dominance. Pitching against many college hitters who averaged more than two years older than he was, Berrios had a 2-0 record with a 1.29 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and only one walk in 14.0 innings. He pitched six shutout innings with only one hit in the opening game of the first playoff series against Danville when he struck out seven while allowing one walk. He returned to start the final game of the championship series against Burlington when he threw four innings. He threw three scoreless innings before an ugly fourth inning in which he allowed four unearned runs. Included in that inning were two errors, two passed balls, a wild pitch and an infield single on a line drive hit off Berrios.

The Twins also had two picks in the second round with which they selected two college relievers, Mason Melotakis and J. T. Chargois. Melotakis is a lefty out of Northwestern State-Louisiana who began his career at Elizabethton, where he had a 1-1 record with a 1.35 ERA in 6.2 innings with 10 strikeouts and 2 walks. He moved up to Beloit where he had a 3-1 record in thirteen appearances, pitching 17.1 innings with a 2.08 ERA, 24 strikeouts and 4 walks. Chargois, who is out of Rice Univesity, spent his entire short season with Elizabethton, where he made twelve appearances (16.0 innings) with a 1.69 ERA, 22 strikeouts and 5 walks. Both of these young men, who are likely destined to continue as relievers, appear to have what it takes to move quickly through the organization towards the Twins.

The Twins certainly think a lot of Adam Walker, a big right fielder from Milwaukee who they selected in the third round of this year’s draft out of the University of Jacksonville. Yes, striking out 76 times in 232 at bats in the Appalachian League isn’t good. But tying for the league lead in home runs (14) with the league’s fourth most runs batted in (45) certainly got the attention of the Twins and other teams around eastern Tennessee. Walker hit for a .250 batting average with an impressive .805 OPS before hitting three more home runs in their six playoff games.

Two of the last three pitchers presented for our consideration are Tyler Duffy and Taylor Rogers. Duffy was the Twins fifth round pick who also played his college ball at Rice University. Duffy, who spent his entire year at Elizabethton, had a 2-0 record in twelve appearances with a 1.42 ERA. In 19.0 innings, Duffy struck out 27 batters while walking just two which is why he had a WHIP of only 0.63. After the playoffs with Elizabethton, Duffy joined the Beloit Snappers for their playoff series. He appeared in the opening game at Clinton where he picked up the win after allowing one run and hit in 1.1 innings. Taylor Rogers is another lefty the Twins liked out of the University of Kentucky (other UK lefties with the Twins are Andrew Albers and Logan Darnell), selecting him in the eleventh round of this year’s draft. He also began his season in Elizabethton where he had a 2-1 record in six starts, pitching 30.0 innings with a 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 39 strikeouts and 5 walks. He moved up to Beloit where he appeared in nine games, making four starts. Rogers had a 2-2 record in 33.1 innings with a 2.70 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 12 walks for the Snappers.

Our final candidate for Rookie of the Year is a young man drafted in the tenth round of this year’s draft out of the University of Arkansas. When I think of Arkansas, I see a river. A river that begins in Colorado and flows all the way to the mighty Mississippi.

When I think of Arkansas, I think of an ex-neighbor. A good friend who I miss joining for a burger and malt at the Convention Grill. He often talked about his daughter who lived in Little Rock. I recall his talking about a brilliant young attorney who handled his daughter’s divorce. A young lawyer named Hillary.

When I think of Arkansas, I recall Hillary’s husband pointing into a camera and saying, “I did not have sex with that woman.” With all the problems America is facing today, I kind of wish that past President was back in the White House. Back at that desk he made so famous.

When I think of Arkansas, I think of a New Years Day several years ago. I see one of the best running backs in America break into the clear. I also see a young cornerback from Madison, Wisconsin catch him from behind, saving a near certain touchdown and an ultimate win.

When I think of Arkansas football, I think of a head coach, a young gal who worked in the Athletic Department and a scandal. I think of her riding with him on a motorcycle and an accident that cost him potentially twenty one million dollars.

Like many Twins fans, when I think of Arkansas I think of Torii Hunter. I think of the fire he brought to all those championship teams. I wonder, when will future Twins teams again have that type of fire?

I also wonder, when Twins fans of the future think of Arkansas will they think of D. J. Baxendale? After an excellent year for the Razorbacks in which he had an 8-5 record with a 3.11 ERA, Baxendale picked up the win when Arkansas beat Kent State in the opening game of this year’s College World Series. Following the World Series, Baxendale joined the Elizabethton Twins where he pitched 7.2 scoreless innings while allowing only one hit and one walk with sixteen strikeouts. He was promoted to Beloit in late July where he allowed only two earned runs in eleven innings with twelve hits, one walk and fifteen strikeouts as he posted an excellent 1.64 ERA.

Few players make the journey from rookie ball to major league stardom. Will any of these fourteen be amongst those rare players to do so?