A few months ago, I started diving into the Twins’ draft history in an effort to find out just how good the organization has really been at developing talent. Since it’s an off day, and it is the deadline for signing this year’s draft picks, I thought this might be a good time to finish it.
For a team that has been as historically cash-strapped as the Twins to remain competitive, it is important to develop a strong core of young, cheap talent, and drafting well is the best way of doing that*. I decided the easiest way to analyze their success in the draft was to simply go through each amateur draft since 1965 and look for players worth at least one win above replacement over their careers (I am using baseball-reference.com’s draft search tool, and thus their WAR data). Obviously, no single statistic can perfectly measure a player’s true talent level, and WAR does have its problems (particularly when it comes to comparing players at different positions across different eras), but it is good enough for my purposes. I’m not making any sort of definitive list of best players in franchise history or anything like that; I am just trying to get an overview of the organization’s overall effectiveness at developing talent.
This list obviously only includes players who have actually reached the major leagues, so I couldn’t include any players taken after 2005. The Twins have actually done well in the past three drafts, but, as promising as all these prospects might look, I can’t include them until they become everyday players in the major leagues. I also made note of players who did not sign and anything else interesting about a particular draft:
*Of course, it is also important to make smart trades, but that is almost impossible to do without any assets of value. This is why drafting well is so important for any organization on a budget.
1965: 2 (one did not sign)
1966: 2 (one did not sign)
1967: 4 (one did not sign)
1969: 2 (one did not sign)
1972: 3 (two did not sign)
1973: 4 (none of which signed)
1974: 2 (one did not sign)
1978: 2 (one did not sign)
1982: 2 (one did not sign)
1983: 2 (neither one signed)
1984: 3 (one did not sign)
1987: 3 (one did not sign)
1988: 1 (Aaron Sele, who did not sign)
1989: 5 (Chuck Knoblauch, Denny Naegle, Scott Erickson, Marty Cordova, and Mike Trombley; best draft in franchise history)
1991: 3 (Brad Radke, The Hawk, and Matt Lawton; despite taking David McCarty over Manny Ramirez, this was still a pretty decent draft)
1993: 5 (three did not sign)
1994: 4 (one did not sign)
1996: 4 (two did not sign)
1997: 3 (including Nick Punto, who did not sign)
1998: 2 (one did not sign)
1999: 2 (including Pat Neshek, who did not sign at that time)
2002: 4 (including Pat Neshek, who finally signed, and Adam Lind, who did not)
Highlighting the importance for smaller-payroll teams to draft well, some of the worst periods in franchise history were preceded by a series of horrible drafts. After whiffing on three straight drafts from 1975-1978, the Twins finished the season with a losing record for six years between 1980-1987, with their lone winning season coming in 1984, when they just barely missed the postseason. After another series of mediocre drafts from the mid-80s to the late-90s, the Twins suffered eight straight losing seasons from 1993-2000. Not surprisingly, the 1987 and 1991 world-championship teams were comprised of mostly homegrown players. Eight.players on the active roster for the ’87 team, and six of the ’91 squad, were drafted and developed within the organization (most others came via trade or the Rule V draft; only a combined seven players were acquired via free agency). It’s also no coincidence that the current era of Twinkie dominance (five division titles, five postseason appearances, and only one losing season since 2000) follows more than a decade of strong drafts.
So, that’s all well and good that the Twins have drafted a bunch of useful players, but what about superstars? Here are all of the players (both pitchers and position players) worth at least 15 WAR during their time in Minnesota:
(click to enlarge)
Each player in the top ten was at least a very good everyday player, and seven of them are legitimate superstars. There is one hall-of-famer on this list, one who really should be in the hall-of-fame, and one who probably will be when he retires. As I mentioned earlier, the Twins have had a number of high-profile misses in the draft, and signability has a lot to do it. Calvin Griffith was a notorious skinflint who didn’t want to invest in his club at either the major or minor-league level (given the number of poor drafts and unsigned picks, I’m certain the lack of money was what hurt the club the most). Carl Pohlad understood the value of investing in young talent, but he wasn’t willing to break the bank in order to do so, either. Another problem, of course, is that the Twins tended to draft low-risk, lower-upside players who fit their system rather than the best talent available. They tended to draft more for athleticism than power in position players, and preferred college pitchers with good control over power pitchers with higher upside (but much more difficult to develop and a greater risk of being a bust). While it’s hard to argue with their results, especially over the past decade, this strategy has left the big club with some major holes, particularly at every infield position other than first base and at the top of the starting rotation. This may have kept the Twins from becoming legitimate pennant contenders; instead they’ve had to settle for being the marginally best team in a weak division.
Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can follow her on twitter, or email her at erinm725[at]gmail[dot]com.