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Long on star potential: my annual list of the Twins’ Top 40 prospects

My annual list of Twins prospects shows strong top-end talent but weak mid-level depth, and that’s clearly preferable to the opposite situation, and the potential shift in organizational strategy is a positive one.

Previous entries in Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2010 series: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40.

My annual series ranking and profiling the Twins’ top 40 prospects concluded last week, so here’s the complete list, along with links to each individual write-up and an overview of the whole system:

1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Kyle Gibson, SP
3. Wilson Ramos, C
4. Miguel Angel Sano, SS
5. Ben Revere, CF
6. Angel Morales, CF
7. David Bromberg, SP
8. Danny Valencia, 3B
9. Matthew Bashore, SP
10. Billy Bullock, RP
11. Rene Tosoni, RF
12. Chris Parmelee, RF
13. Adrian Salcedo, SP
14. Joe Benson, CF
15. Jeff Manship, SP
16. Tyler Robertson, SP
17. Carlos Gutierrez, RP
18. B.J. Hermsen, SP
19. Anthony Slama, RP
20. Max Kepler, CF
21. Alex Burnett, RP
22. Robert Delaney, RP
23. Luke Hughes, 3B
24. Ben Tootle, RP
25. Deolis Guerra, SP
26. Shooter Hunt, SP
27. Trevor Plouffe, SS
28. Michael McCardell, SP
29. Reggie Williams, 2B
30. Estarlin De Los Santos, SS
31. Derek McCallum, 2B
32. Jose Morales, C
33. Chris Herrmann, LF
34. Bobby Lanigan, SP
35. Danny Rams, C
36. Josmil Pinto, C
37. Steven Tolleson, 2B
38. Anderson Hidalgo, 3B
39. Loek Van Mil, RP
40. Joe Testa, RP

Most years at least a handful of significant prospects from my top-40 list exhaust their rookie eligibility or leave the organization via trade, but last season only Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing and Jose Mijares graduated to the majors and only Kevin Mulvey was dealt away. That atypical lack of turnover combined with the addition of high-end talent like Kyle Gibson, Miguel Angel Sano, Matthew Bashore, Billy Bullock, and Max Kepler makes the 2010 list much stronger than the 2009 version. And different.

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For the past few years, the Twins’ minor-league system was long on depth and short on star potential, but the opposite may now be true. While the system still lacks elite MLB-ready talent — Danny Valencia is the only top-10 guy who seems likely to play a big role in the majors this season — the Twins boast four of the top 75 or so prospects in all of baseball, thanks to using their past two first-round picks on Aaron Hicks and Gibson, dropping a record bonus on Sano, and Wilson Ramos‘ continued progress.

On the other hand, the second half of this year’s top 40 seems weaker than previous versions, although certainly that’s a tough thing to accurately gauge. Of course, if given the choice, strong in top-end talent and weak in mid-level depth are clearly preferable to the opposite, and the potential shift in organizational strategy is a positive one. Taking more chances and spending more money on high-upside prospects is absolutely the way to go for a team that may never out-spend the big boys for major-league talent.

As an organization the Twins have long thrived at churning out potential mid-rotation starters, but it now appears to be a relative weakness within the system and instead their minors are flush with outfielders (Hicks, Ben Revere, Angel Morales, Rene Tosoni, Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, Kepler) and relievers (Bullock, Carlos Gutierrez, Anthony Slama, Alex Burnett, Rob Delaney). However, some things never change, and they still haven’t figured out how to develop middle infielders who can field and hit.

Sano was officially signed as a shortstop but has about as much chance of reaching the majors at the position as I do and may not even stick in the infield once his 6-foot-3 frame fills out (sadly my 6-foot-2 frame has already filled out too much). And after that the best SS/2B prospects are Trevor Plouffe (27), Reggie Williams (29), Estarlin De Los Santos (30), and Derek McCallum (31). I’ve blogged about the Twins and their prospects since 2002, and young infielders have been a weakness the entire time.

Last year at this time I described the Twins’ system as “right in the middle of the pack” among all 30 teams, but they’re now safely in the upper half and probably in the 10-12 range. With that said, the main problem with making those team-to-team comparisons is that young non-prospects get totally ignored. In other words, prospects are technically only “prospects” until they play regularly in the big leagues, at which point they simply become “young major-leaguers.”

There aren’t as many lists ranking those guys, but the future of a team is clearly about more than which youngsters retain prospect status by not using up their MLB-defined rookie eligibility. For instance, had Swarzak thrown just nine fewer innings last year, he’d be eligible for this list, but his long-term potential doesn’t change because he’s absent from the top 40. With all that in mind, here’s an organization-wide view of key Twins who are 29 or younger, including both prospects and non-prospects:

Joe Mauer, 27 Justin Morneau, 29 Denard Span, 26
Wilson Ramos, 22 Jason Kubel, 28 Aaron Hicks, 20
Jose Morales, 27 Delmon Young, 24 Ben Revere, 22
Danny Rams, 21 Rene Tosoni, 23 Angel Morales, 20
Josmil Pinto, 21 Chris Parmelee, 22 Joe Benson, 22
  Chris Herrmann, 22 Max Kepler, 17
Alexi Casilla, 26 J.J. Hardy, 27 Brendan Harris, 29
Matt Tolbert, 28 Miguel Angel Sano, 17 Danny Valencia, 25
Reggie Williams, 22 Trevor Plouffe, 24 Luke Hughes, 25
Derek McCallum, 22 E. De Los Santos, 23 Anderson Hidalgo, 21
Steve Tolleson, 26    
Scott Baker, 28 Francisco Liriano, 26 Pat Neshek, 29
Kevin Slowey, 26 Glen Perkins, 27 Jose Mijares, 25
Nick Blackburn, 28 Brian Duensing, 27 Jesse Crain, 28
Anthony Swarzak, 24 Matthew Bashore, 22 Billy Bullock, 22
Kyle Gibson, 22 Tyler Robertson, 22 Carlos Gutierrez, 23
David Bromberg, 22 Anthony Slama, 26  
Adrian Salcedo, 19 Alex Burnett, 22  
Jeff Manship, 25 Robert Delaney, 25  
B.J. Hermsen, 20 Ben Tootle, 22  
Deolis Guerra, 21 Loek Van Mil, 25  
Shooter Hunt, 23 Joe Testa, 24  

Plenty of players aren’t listed above, but that should provide an outline of the Twins’ depth at each spot.