Down on the farm: Checking in on the Twins’ crop of promising prospects

Shooter Hunt‘s issues throwing strikes after moving from rookie-ball to Single-A last season have unfortunately taken a turn for the worse to begin this year, as he’s walked an astounding 29 batters in 14.2 innings back at Beloit. His per-start walk totals are 4, 7, 6, 6, and 6, so things aren’t improving, and his problems are clearly beyond standard control issues. Asked about Hunt’s situation, Twins director of minor leagues Jim Rantz said: “I don’t know if it’s insecurity, but eventually he has to throw it over.”

What makes Hunt’s control problems so maddening is that he has little reason to be insecure. When he throws the ball over the plate, opponents have hit just .202 this season after batting .172 against him last year, and he’s racked up 82 strikeouts in 65 pro innings. Unfortunately as pitchers like Rick Ankiel and Mark Wohlers have shown on much bigger stages, all the overpowering stuff in the world won’t do any good if you’re simply unable to throw strikes. Hunt has started down a very dangerous path.

So far, the Twins’ plan to make former University of Miami closer Carlos Gutierrez a starter has gone extremely well, despite concerns that spotty secondary pitches made him a better fit out of the bullpen. Working out of the rotation at high Single-A, he has a 0.78 ERA and .135 opponent’s batting average in 23 innings while inducing a ground ball on 74 percent of his balls in play. To put that ground-ball rate into some context, Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks led MLB starters last year at 64 percent.

There are still questions about how his off-speed stuff will play against more experienced competition, but Gutierrez was touted as a “sinker-ball specialist” when the Twins surprisingly made him the 27th overall pick in last year’s draft, and his worm-killing ability is definitely living up to the hype. Between his college experience and 1.05 ERA through 68 pro innings, Gutierrez shouldn’t be long for Single-A, but I’d still bet on him ending up as a reliever by the time he arrives in Minnesota.

Danny Valencia is off to a strong start at Double-A, hitting .276/.396/.500 with three homers and nine total extra-base hits in 20 games. He continues to strike out often, whiffing 17 times in 90 trips to the plate, but has also drawn 14 walks after totaling just 18 walks in 69 games at Double-A last year. As a high-strikeout guy who projects to have good but not great power, he needs to improve plate discipline to develop into a solidly above-average hitter.

Ben Revere has moved up to high Single-A after batting .379 at low Single-A last year and has held his own through 22 games, hitting .286/.369/.341 with 12 steals. He hasn’t shown much gap power yet, although with one homer Revere has already matched his 2008 long-ball total. He continues to make great contact, striking out seven times in 102 plate appearances, and perhaps most encouragingly has drawn 11 walks after totaling just 27 free passes in 374 trips to the plate last season.

On the other hand, Angel Morales has really struggled after making the move from rookie-ball to low Single-A. Morales is hitting just .179/.214/.358 with an ugly 22-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 games, although he does have two homers and six total extra-base hits in 67 at-bats. Handling off-speed stuff and making consistent contact are questions that were raised about Morales even while he clobbered rookie-ball pitchers last season, so struggling in his first taste of full-season ball is a concern.

Robert Delaney and Anthony Slama were an incredible tag team out of Fort Myers’ bullpen last year before Delaney’s midseason promotion up to New Britain, and the duo has been reunited at Double-A. For now, at least. Slama has 2.31 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 11.2 innings while Delaney has a 3.31 ERA and 22-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.1 innings. Ron Gardenhire has started sniffing around Slama as he eyes bullpen help and, at the very least, matching promotions to Triple-A would make sense.

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