The Twins have started winning this month. That recent run of competent baseball started about the same time that several of the team’s younger players started making a contribution to the Big League squad. This is not a coincidence. Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, and Scott Diamond will play a big part in the Twins’ future, and in a year or two they may form the core of the next Twins playoff team.
The emergence of all three comes as something of a surprise. Though two of these players were first round draft picks, none of them has ever appeared near the top of the millions of minor league prospect rankings we see every year. But while they’ve flown under the radar for a long time, there is plenty of reason to believe that their Major League performances are not a fluke, and that they could get even better with a little more MLB experience.
Revere was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft, and at the time the Twins were widely criticized for selecting a player based on signability rather than potential. But once he got to the minor leagues, all he did was hit. And steal bases. Oh, and he played great defense also. At every stage of the minors, Revere proved he could smack enough base hits to make up for his lack of walks: he posted an insane .379 average at Beloit in 2008, and he never hit below .300 at any level of the minors. Despite this, it seems that there is no shortage of critics who are eager to denounce Revere. Some point out his utter lack of power, others complain about his arm in the outfield. Still others spent last season complaining about Revere’s low on-base percentage. But Revere was a 23 year old rookie last year, and there was every reason to expect he would continue to grow and improve. This year he has done just that. In 115 plate appearances, he now owns a nifty .342/.371/.423 line, and his immense range in the outfield more than makes up for his weak throwing arm. After all, would you rather rob a batter of an extra base hit or hold him to a double with a good throw? One gets the impression Revere’s critics will eventually fall silent. He may not ever be an elite leadoff hitter, but his floor is a bottom-of-the-order speed threat and defensive wizard, something that any team would love to have.
Plouffe was also a first round pick, back in 2004, but for a long time he appeared to be lost in the minor league wilderness. Unlike Revere, Plouffe never put up any pretty stat lines in the minors. He chugged along with averages in the .250s and .260s year after year, and he never showed any real power or flashy defense that would make up for the lack of contact. While Revere sipped his first MLB cup of coffee the third year after being drafted, Plouffe had to wait six long years to get his shot. The results weren’t encouraging, as he failed to hit much and made some questionable plays at shortstop. But all the while, something was starting to click. Plouffe’s homer output (minors and Majors) jumped from 10 in 2009 to 17 in 2010 to 23 in 2011, and this year he is on pace for 29. Once he dusted off the cobwebs of a slow start to 2012, the ball started jumping off Plouffe’s bat with alarming regularity. Furthermore, he seems to have settled in quite nicely at third base. He may be a perfect transitional third baseman until Miguel Sano can take the job, at which time Plouffe can be the Twins’ version of Ben Zobrist.
Diamond was not a first round pick. He wasn’t a second, third, 10th, or even 40th round pick. The Braves signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of Binghamton University. Three years later they dealt him to the Twins, who had selected him in the Rule 5 draft, in exchange for reliever Billy Bullock. Twins fans almost universally condemned the move. But it’s starting to look pretty good now. Bullock has only made one appearance above AA, while Diamond is the most reliable starter for the Twins this season. In his first seven starts of the year, Diamond is already 5-1 and boasts an ERA of 1.61. He has struck out seven times as many batters as he has walked, and his groundball rate is an astounding 61.7%. Can he keep those numbers up forever? Probably not. But it proves that Diamond has the ability to avoid baserunners and get groundball outs, which is exactly what a mid-rotation starter needs to do.
None of these players will ever make the Hall of Fame, and it’s probably even doubtful that any of them will ever make it to the All Star game. But all are still young, and all have shown in the past month or two that they have room to grow and that they can handle starting jobs in the Major Leagues. After a couple of years in which it looked like the Twins had little to no help coming from the minor leagues, this is a refreshing surprise.