Generations ago, knowledge of a team's minor league system wasn't nearly as common knowledge as it is today. The Internet has given those of us who obsess over any given subject a community with which we can share our passions, and that obviously extends to baseball. If you wanted to look into an organization's best prospects in 1972, you had your work cut out for you.
Looking back at the best rookie classes in Twins history, three eras stand out: the teams from the 1960s, the teams from 1987 and 1991, and the teams that led the American League central division for the better part of a decade in the 2000s. Each of these teams had one massive thing in common, which was that in the seasons surrounding those winning years the clubs debuted a large number of very good players who became core members of teams that would make competitive runs at the post-season.
Have a look at those three eras, and the players that made those teams so good, below. I've included debut and rookie seasons so that you can make your own case for what a rookie class really is, but I've chosen to use the season a player's rookie status expired in order to avoid lumping guys into a group just because they had a cup of coffee in a prior season. Players who had any Major League time prior to going to Minnesota aren't included, even if they were a prospect with the Twins.
1987 & 1991
|Player - Wave 1||Debut||Rookie Season||Player - Wave 2||Debut||Rookie Season|
|David Ortiz||1997||1998||Justin Morneau||2003||2004|
|Eric Milton||1998||1998||Joe Mauer||2004||2004|
|Torii Hunter||1997||1999||Jason Barltett||2004||2005|
|Jacque Jones||1999||1999||Jesse Crain||2004||2005|
|Doug Mientkiewicz||1998||1999||Scott Baker||2005||2005|
|Cristian Guzman||1999||1999||Matt Guerrier||2004||2005|
|Corey Koskie||1998||1999||Francisco Liriano||2005||2006|
|Joe Mays||1999||1999||Jason Kubel||2004||2006|
Look at some of those rookie classes. Going by the years in which a player's rookie status was exceeded, the 1982 Twins rookie class featured Hrbek, Gaetti, Laudner, Brunanski, and Viola. The 1999 rookie class featured Hunter, Jones, Mientkiewicz, Guzman, Koskie, and Mays. That's all pretty incredible. Mauer and Morneau in 2004 isn't a half-bad class on their own.
I've included debut and rookie seasons so that you can make your own case for what a rookie class really is. I've chosen to use the season a player's rookie status expired in order to avoid lumping guys into a group just because they had a cup of coffee in a prior season.
Can the 2015 class live up to any of those standards? Certainly the Twins are debuting a great number of really talented players, but we're also judging success at opposite ends of the spectrum. We're looking at the 2015 class as a set of prospects, each with an impressive ceiling and lots of potential. Those three eras above aren't being judged by their statuses as prospects; they're judged by their careers and the winning seasons they brought to Minnesota.
It's interesting if you break down the '87 and '91 list, because only three players were on the '91 team: Scott Erickson, Mark Guthrie, and Chuck Knoblauch. But if you go back to 1990, the very first season that Baseball America put together a Top 100 list, can you guess which Twins were on the list?
Willie Banks (13), Johnny Ard (46), Kevin Tapani (88, played with the Mets in '89 and so wasn't eligible for my list), and Paul Sorrento (91). Apart from Tapani, none of them made an impact on the '91 squad...much less the squad of any other winning Twins team. We can only hope that this year's crop has a better rate of success for contributing to success than did that foursome from BA's top 100 in 1990.
Regardless of how you want to order your rookie classes, each of the most successful eras in Minnesota Twins history was a direct result of a massive influx of talent from the minor league system. This year we've seen Byron Buxton, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas, Michael Tonkin, Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia, Jorge Polanco, Josmil Pinto could be in the cards at some point, as could Jose Berrios, and we're just about to see the debut of Miguel Sano.
There's no guarantee that these players will lead the Twins to another run of division titles (or something greater), but the quality and the quantity is there as the groundwork for what could become a very, very good team for a very, very long time. Who knows, maybe in twenty years we'll be looking at the mid 2010s in the same light as the three groups above.