Which top Twins prospects are worth giving up to land pitcher Cliff Lee?

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws a pitch in the first inning of the June 29 game against the New York Yankees.
REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine
Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws a pitch in the first inning of the June 29 game against the New York Yankees.

Twins prospects are suddenly a popular topic with everyone wondering what type of package the Mariners may accept for Cliff Lee. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to check back in on my preseason top five prospects to see how they’re faring and how it could affect a potential trade for the ace left-hander. In no particular order …

Miguel Sano is a very, very long way from the majors, but the early returns on last season’s record-breaking $3.15 million investment are looking pretty great for the Twins. Sano debuted weeks after his 17th birthday, homered in his first professional at-bat and hit .344/.463/.547 in 20 games in the Dominican Summer League to earn a quicker-than-expected promotion to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League … where he singled in his first at-bat earlier this week.

Rarely does a 17-year-old making his professional debut show good plate discipline, and hitters from the Dominican Republic are especially known for hacking at everything, yet Sano drew 14 walks in just 80 plate appearances. Now, two of those walks were intentional and given how thoroughly Sano destroyed DSL pitching, several others were probably of the quasi-intentional variety, but his simply not having an immediate aversion to free passes is a pleasant surprise.

• On the other hand, Wilson Ramos has been totally overmatched by Triple-A pitching, posting a hideous 41-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio while hitting just .208/.244/.319 in 52 games. Ramos showed reasonable enough plate discipline in the low minors, but since advancing to Double-A last year, he has 14 walks and 64 strikeouts in 106 games. He’s making contact at a palatable rate, but the total lack of patience is disturbing along with a .427 career slugging percentage.

Ramos remains a very solid prospect as a good defensive catcher, but it was always wishful thinking to assume he was even close to an MLB-ready impact bat, and that notion now looks silly. With that said, he’s still just 22 years old and has fewer than 450 plate appearances above Single-A, so there’s no need to sour on Ramos too much. However, if the Mariners view him as an acceptable centerpiece for a Lee trade, it would be very tempting.

• Much less tempting is a report that the Twins have offered both Ramos and Aaron Hicks for Lee, which is far enough above other rumored offers for Lee and previous midseason hauls for impending free agents that I’ll assume it’s off base. Hicks has been somewhat disappointing since a great debut at rookie-ball in 2008 and his .256 batting average in 143 games at low Single-A is a concern, but he also has 92 walks and 51 extra-base hits in those 143 games.

Few truly excellent prospects have .256 batting averages in the low minors, but his strikeout rate isn’t absurdly high and a speedy 20-year-old center fielder drawing 92 walks in 638 plate appearances qualifies as an exceptional skill from which to build. Even with Hicks’ stock falling a bit, he’s still a notch above the quality of prospect I would feel comfortable parting with for a half-season rental and compensatory draft prospects. His upside is just too high.

Ben Revere led the minors with a .379 batting average when he was at the same level and the same age Hicks is right now, but his OPS has dropped 200 points in the two seasons since then. Even coming back down to earth, Revere has still hit .311/.372/.369 in 121 games at high Single-A last year and .307/.380/.361 in 64 games at Double-A this year, but the difference is that he lacks the patience and power potential to have the same type of room for growth.

In the past two years, Revere has a .375 on-base percentage and .365 slugging percentage, while Hicks has a .363 OBP and .396 SLG. Almost identical, except Revere has done that with a .310 batting average and Hicks has hit .256. Obviously it’s better to hit .310 than .256, but in terms of projecting future value, Revere will have to bat .300 to make a major impact while Hicks could do so at even .275 because he’ll tack on significantly more walks and power.

Kyle Gibson went through a brief rough patch at Double-A last month but has bounced back with three straight impressive starts in which he allowed a total of two runs in 20 innings. He hasn’t been nearly as dominant at Double-A as he was at high Single-A to start the season His ERA has nearly doubled, his strikeouts are down 10 percent, he’s induced 15 percent fewer ground balls, and his opponents’ batting average is up 20 percent.

However, some deterioration is expected as a player moves up the minor-league ladder and that mostly just shows how great Gibson was at high Single-A, because a 3.56 ERA, 51-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 54 percent ground-ball rate in 61 innings at Double-A is still plenty strong from a 22-year-old. It’s tough to project him as a future ace based on his performance so far because his strikeout rate isn’t great, but one step below that seems doable.

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I’d probably shift the order around somewhat, but my preseason top five prospects would still be my midseason top five prospects. In terms of what I’d feel comfortable parting with in a Lee trade, my focus would be trying to sell Seattle on a deal built around either Ramos or Revere. Ramos, because he’s a bigger question mark than widely assumed and probably destined to be traded at some point anyway, and Revere, because his upside is basically Juan Pierre.

If the Mariners are willing to take Ramos or Revere plus a mid-level prospect or two, the Twins would be smart to pull the trigger. And if they’re willing to include underrated reliever Brandon League along with Lee, it would even make sense for the Twins to give up Ramos and Revere. I’d balk at anything beyond that, including a Hicks/Ramos package. Lee is amazing, but getting him for half a season guarantees nothing, and that’s just too much long-term value lost.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/08/2010 - 09:45 am.

    There are NO prospects I would not give up to get Lee. Here’s some reasons why:

    1. The Twins have a sparkling new stadium with full houses. Expectations are high. The “future” for the Twins rests heavily on this year, or they will disappoint
    2. The Twins pitchers with the 3 worst ERAs are 3 starters
    3. The Twins have shown that with their present pitching they cannot compete with elite teams — in any other division they would be way down in the standings, and even now are only third in the Central.
    4. This is still a business in which marketing is needed; Lee would add some excitement to the marketing mix and show committment

  2. Submitted by Bob Hussey on 07/09/2010 - 04:01 pm.

    I’d rather see the Twins spend a little extra money and land Roy Oswalt. True he’s not the shut-down pitcher Cliff Lee is but he’d be under the Twins control through 2012 and is a significant upgrade over Slowey, Blackburn or Baker.

    Renting a player for 3 months rarely works. By trading Ramos and Revere to Houston for Oswalt, the Twins will have a top of the rotation starter for the next several years.

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