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Surviving...Down on the Farm!

Christian Petersen

Do you remember several exciting Twins prospects, players like David Winfree, Rene Leveret, Deacon Burns, Yohan Pino and Matt Moses? Several of these young men had climbed to the upper echelons of the organization’s prospect rankings. Yet, they all hit a wall and would never make it all the way to become members of the Minnesota Twins.

Winfree was a 2005 Midwest League All-Star after hitting for a .294 average with 16 home runs and 101 runs driven in. He continued to work his way towards Minnesota, earning a spring training invitation in 2009 after hitting 19 home runs for New Britain. That would, however, be his last year in the organization. Winfree would spend three more years bouncing around AAA as a member of the Diamondbacks organization before retiring this past winter.

I will always remember Rene Leveret, who got my attention while at Elizabethton in 2007 where he hit for a .307 average with eight home runs and 65 runs driven in while playing in 66 games. That performance earned him recognition as an Appalachian League All-Star. Leveret was a big young man from the island of St. Maarten. At 6’2” with a listed weight of 269, Leveret was too big which led to a series of nagging injuries. Unable to stay on the field, Leveret’s dream would end two years later.

Many of you will recall Deacon Burns, who was last seen playing in Fort Myers in 2006 after hitting for a .271 average at Beloit in 2005. While with the Snappers, the stocky centerfielder hit 36 doubles, 13 triples and 12 home runs while scoring 90 runs and driving in 78. I know I didn’t expect that twelve months later he would no longer be a member of the Twins organization.

I was amongst those who were disappointed when the Twins traded Yohan Pino as the player to be named later in the Carl Pavano trade. After all, all Pino did was win as he compiled a 46-19 record with a 2.83 ERA in his first five years in the organization. Yet, four years later Pino is still waiting for that first big league call-up while playing in the Reds organization at AAA Louisville.

Finally, there is 2003 first round pick Matt Moses. Moses began his career with the GCL Twins, where he hit for a .385 average in eighteen games. He would hit .306 at Fort Myers two years later before his mid-season promotion to New Britain. From the GCL to AA ball in a bit over two years after being drafted as a high school pick had Moses on a fast track to future stardom. Unfortunately, he hit a wall in AA where he would spend parts of five seasons while hitting for over a .249 average only once. Having played only 48 games in AAA during the 2007 season, where he hit .224/.244/.305, the former first round pick retired following the 2009 season. No one was given a longer opportunity to ‘make it’ than the Twins gave Moses during his seven years in the organization. Yet, draft status and a tremendous start in the lower levels don’t always predict future success.

There are several young men in the organization who have watched their star lose some of its brightness? With a month of this year’s season behind us, how are some of these young men performing on the diamond?

Several remain in Fort Myers in various stages of rehab. This group includes the remaining player from the Johan Santana trade, Deolis Guerra and recent first round pick Alex Wimmers. Also in Fort Myers is Nate Roberts, who won the Arizona Fall League batting title with a .446 average which was the second highest average in the league’s history. Guerra had surgery to remove a rib after doctors found a blood clot while he was in the WBC. Wimmers is on schedule to return from Tommy John surgery later this summer. Will these young men be able to put their injuries behind them and get their careers back on track?

There are several other players who are facing a pivotal year. How have they faired during the first month of their seasons?

Liam Hendriks, who has had a taste of the big leagues the past three years, began this year with the Twins. After two starts that looked a lot like last year, the Twins sent him back to Rochester after allowing five earned runs in 9.2 innings. Last year the former Twins organization Minor League Pitcher of the Year split his time between AAA and with the Twins. While in Rochester, he dominated the International League with a 9-3 record and 2.20 ERA in sixteen starts (106.1 innings). Was not sticking with the Twins too much for Hendriks to handle this year? He certainly isn’t the same pitcher he was last year at Rochester, posting a 4.86 ERA in three starts (16.2 innings) with only seven strikeouts. Hendriks, who is only 24 years old, has the ability to turn his season around and earn his way back to the Twins. The bigger question may be, will he?

Deibinson Romero was a surprise addition to the Twins 40-man roster following a big season at Beloit in 2008, a season that was cut short by a broken leg from falling into a dugout while going after a foul ball. Romero wouldn’t remain on the 40-man roster for over a season and his career appeared to be in trouble. He continued working and surprised many last year when he hit for a .267 average with 19 home runs in AA New Britain. He was named a post-season Eastern League All-Star and earned an invitation to spring training with the Twins where he was expected to provide competition for Trevor Plouffe. Unfortunately, some of the documents he needed for his visa were lost in a fire and he was unable to travel to the U.S. in time for spring training. He worked out at the Twins training facility in the Dominican Republic and recently received a visa so that he could return to extended spring training. Will this situation, which was beyond his control, destroy his chance to take that final step to the big leagues? We will see, however, he needs to first get back on the field and into games.

We all have followed the career of Joe Benson since the Twins drafted him in the second round of the 2006 draft. Benson, who was a star Illinois high school running back, had a scholarship to play football at Purdue and often is compared to Torii Hunter because of his athletism and competitive nature. Benson had a break-out year at New Britain in 2010 when he hit 23 home runs. He would get his first taste of the big leagues in September 2011 before living through a year from hell. Last year began in Rochester where he was in a slump before undergoing two surgeries, one for his wrist/hamate bone and another on his knee. There have been reports that his wrist was still bothering him this spring when he started his year at Rochester by going 8-45 (.177 average). He has picked it up the last few weeks by hitting for a .263 average in his last ten games with two doubles, triples and a home run. Benson certainly has the physical ability to be a big league starter and maybe even a star. The bigger question is whether or not he can get beyond the pressure he puts on himself when he fails while also cutting down on his strikeouts.

Bruce Pugh is the type of hard throwing reliever that the Twins are looking for. After several so-so years in the organization, the former 19th round pick had a break-out year at Fort Myers and New Britain in 2012 where he was a combined 5-5 with a 1.94 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 69.2 innings. He pitched briefly at Rochester this spring, however, was returned to New Britain after posting a 19.80 ERA in five games (5.0 innings) for the Red Wings. In four games with the Rock Cats, Pugh has a 4.76 ERA in 5.2 innings. Pugh, who will turn 25 years old this summer, is at the point in his career where he needs to step-up or he will become another AAAA player who never earns a permanent spot in the Twins bullpen.

A couple years ago many of us had Adrian Salcedo ranked as a top ten prospect as the second best pitcher in the organization. Salcedo was Beloit’s top starter in 2011 when he finished with a 6-6 record with a 2.93 ERA. He began 2012 in Fort Myers, however, was shut down with a shoulder problem after struggling through seven starts. He is back with the Miracle this spring, however, working out of the bullpen where he has a 7.84 ERA in seven appearances (10.1 innings). Salcedo is only 22 years old so he certainly has time to get his career back on track. Although we all would like to see him back as a starter dominating the opposition every five days, his recovery will be a process with those first steps not always pretty. Perhaps the best news is that Salcedo has struck out 1.25 batters per inning pitched this spring.

Speaking of top pitching prospects, Kyle Gibson appears to be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery. He returned to AAA late last summer before making an appearance in the Arizona Fall League. Although he was one of many options for the Twins starting rotation this spring, missing most of last year made him a long-shot at best. Gibson has made five starts for the Red Wings with his last start Saturday his best, pitching 6.2 shutout innings with only two hits, two walks and seven strikeouts. Gibson has a 1-3 record with a 3.33 ERA in 27.0 innings with 26 strikeouts. Although his innings will be limited this year, we should see Gibson at Target Field before the Twins season is over as he appears to be back to the top prospect he was before his injury.

In 2008 Angel Morales was the star of the Appalachian League, hitting for a .301 average with a league best 15 home runs. He would follow that up with another 13 home runs the following year at Beloit, although hitting for only a .266 average with 19 stolen bases. The speedy centerfielder was considered one of the Twins’ prize prospects at the time. He would move up to Fort Myers in 2010 where he would battle both injuries and Florida State pitchers. Morales began his fourth season back with the Miracle last month where he is hitting for a .255 average with two home runs and 29 strikeouts in 94 at bats. Morales, who is now 23 years old, is playing every day and needs some success or his career will go the way of Deacon Burns and Matt Moses.

The Twins surprised many when they selected University of North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael in the first round of the 2011 draft. Michael, who was beat up following the College World Series, did not play in 2011 and was limited during the Fall Instructional League. He began his professional career a year ago in the Florida State League, hitting a disappointing .246 average in 431 at bats. He had to be disappointed this year as he found himself back on the disabled list when the season began. He was added to the Miracle roster recently and is hitting for a .200 average in his first six games. In a bit of a surprise however, all five of his hits have been for extra bases (two doubles, two triples and a home run). As a first round pick, the Twins will get Michael into the Miracle lineup every day to see if he can get his career on track.

Perhaps the best story of anyone playing in the organization today is that of Chris Colabello. After spending seven years with Worcester of the Independent Can-Am Association, where he was named MVP in 2011, Colabello signed with the Twins prior to spring training a year ago. Colabello would go on to lead the Eastern League in doubles (37), second in RBIs (98), fourth in runs scored (78) and home runs (19) in his first year of professional baseball. Since the end of last year, he would rip the cover off the ball in the Mexican Winter League before playing well for Italy in the WBC. He was promoted to Rochester this spring where he is hitting for a .302 average with six home runs in 26 games (96 at bats). With a .358 OBP and .542 SLG, Colabello is an excellent candidate to help the Twins should they need a bench bat later this summer. Colabello, who will turn 30 this fall, never gave up hope of fulfilling his dream of being a big leaguer. I expect many of us are in his corner rooting for him to take that final step.

Finally, there is the story of the Twins tenth round pick in 2008, Evan Bigley. Bigley has hit well at every stop of his career beginning with a .300 average at Elizabethton to a .268 average with 12 home runs last year at New Britain. He spent most of April back at New Britain, where he hit for only a .174 average in 46 at bats before a recent promotion to Rochester. In his first 37 at bats with the Red Wings, Bigley is hitting at a .378 clip with three doubles and a home run. Although it is unlikely he will maintain his current pace, Bigley appears to be a player who someday can fill that fourth or fifth outfielder role. Considering how many young outfield prospects the Twins have, however, Bigley’s future may be with another team.

Whether drafted early in the major league draft or getting an opportunity after spending years in an independent league, everyone has an opportunity to succeed once they step on the same diamond. What they do with that opportunity over a period of years is what makes the difference. And perhaps most important is how they deal with failure, whether during a mid-season slump or for a year or longer.