For a couple of years now, we’ve been hearing that the Twins have a weak farm system, and that there is a major lack of top talent. It’s true that the Twins lack the plethora of prospects they had back in the early 2000s, but things are getting better. Right now, the lower levels of the Twins system are actually quite full of talented young players. It’s just the higher levels that are weak. And time should fix that.
In 2010, the Twins farm teams posted a dismal 298-388 collective record. The worst offenders were AAA Rochester and AA New Britain, who finished 49-95 and 44-98 respectively. Only Low A Beloit (71-65) and Rookie League Elizabethton (41-25) finished above .500. This year the records were better pretty much across the board. New Britain had the biggest improvement, soaring to 72-70 on good years by Joe Benson, Chris Parmelee, Liam Hendriks, and Brian Dozier. Overall, the farm system was still under .500 at 330-361, thanks mostly to Rochester’s second straight 90 loss season. But even Rochester improved a bit, to 53-91. If the Twins hadn’t been dipping into the AAA ranks on a weekly basis to replace injured players, it might have been even better.
Of course, won-loss records are not the best measure of a farm system’s success. AAA teams have rosters full of players who have already cracked the Major Leauges, but many of them are no longer viable as long-term prospects. The lower levels are full of players who have a lot of talent, but haven’t quite learned how to win baseball games. And at all levels, players are concentrating on aspects of their game that don’t show up in the box scores. For example, a AA pitcher might be working on improving his slider; if opposing hitters are teeing off on that pitch it might cost his team some wins even though the process makes him better in the long run.
So if wins aren’t the best measure, let’s look at the top prospects. At the beginning of 2011, the Twins had four prospects on Baseball America’s Top 100 list: #34 Kyle Gibson, #45 Aaron Hicks, #60 Miguel Sano, #100 Joe Benson. By the time next year’s rankings come out, Gibson will probably drop quite a bit due to his injury, and Hicks may fall because of an unimpressive season. But Benson and Sano should climb the list, and players like Eddie Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia, Chris Parmelee, and Adrian Salcedo may all have a legitimate shot to make the top 100. Seedlings to Stars is already a quarter of the way through its Top 100 list, and Liam Hendriks (80) and Brian Dozier (77) have both made the cut on that list, and they’ll probably appear on many more prospect lists in the near future.
Most of those players are at the lower levels of the system, and they’ll be moving up to Ft. Myers, New Britain, and Rochester next year. Rochester may see the same jump in wins that New Britain saw this year, as the Rock Cats’ finest take the field for the Red Wings. And Sano, Rosario, and the rest will be playing for Ft. Myers and New Britain this year.
But the biggest reason for optimism about the farm system is that the Twins have a chance to bring in some major talent in the 2012 draft. They are already assured the second pick in the draft, and depending on what Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel do in free agency, the team could have four of the top 50 or so picks. Even if not all of those picks work out, the organization will receive an influx of projectable young players that should bolster the rosters of the Rookie League squads.
So even if the Twins can’t have a full youth movement in 2012, 2014 is looking great.