There’s trouble brewing down on the farm. Usually when a team is in “wait ’til next year” mode by June, it helps to know that there will be some help from the farm system in the near future. But while the Twins have plenty of talent in the organization, a lot of their best prospects seem to be taking some big steps backward. A combination of debilitating injuries and plain old slumps has wreaked havoc on the organization.
Last week, Puckett’s Pond’s own Shawn Berg shared his post-draft list of the top Twins’ prospects. In order, his top 10 were: Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Liam Hendriks, Eddie Rosario, Joe Benson, J.O. Berrios, Aaron Hicks, Kyle Gibson, and Adrian Salcedo. Buxton and Berrios were just drafted, so we won’t be able to judge them for a while. Hendriks pitched well at AAA, though he has not quite figured out MLB hitters yet. But the news about the other seven has looked pretty bad lately.
Sano is one of the most talented baseball players on planet Earth, and we all expect him to smash long homers on a regular basis for the Twins by about 2015. But after a scorching start to this season at low-A Beloit, opposing pitchers seem to have gained an edge on Sano. In the last six games before the Midwest League All Star break, Sano went a paltry 3-19 with nine strikeouts, bringing his June batting average down to .203 and his season average to .237. He still has 15 homers on the season, and his power is unquestioned. But Sano has to get on track again and make more contact.
All things considered, Arcia may be having a better season than Sano. His homer total (seven) is much lower, but he has made contact on a consistent basis for the Fort Myers Miracle, to the point where he received a well-deserved promotion to AA New Britain. Arcia does not quite deserve the “slump” designation, it’s interesting to note that he went 3-22 in his last seven games before the promotion, lowering his average from over .330 to .309. He went 0-4 in his debut at New Britain Tuesday before doubling Wednesday night.
Rosario was doing just fine until about a week ago when he took a line drive to the face. He’ll miss about six weeks recovering from that injury; hopefully his hitting won’t suffer with the downtime. Benson is also an injury victim, suffering from a broken hamate bone. But Benson, who reached the Major Leagues last season, has been troubled by more than the injury. His weak hitting at AAA Rochester earned him a demotion to New Britain, where he is hitting just .156 in 32 at bats. Benson is far too talented a hitter to stay at that low level, but the injury will delay his return to prominence. Gibson falls in the same category as these two, but his injury “slump” is the deepest of all, as he’s missing nearly this entire season after elbow surgery. Salcedo is the fourth member of the top 10 dealing with an injury. Elbow problems have kept him out since May 10, when he gave up five runs in a third of an inning for Fort Myers. His ERA for the season is 5.64.
Hicks is not hurt, but he has put up disappointing numbers since his minor league career began, and this year is no different. He’s a potential five tool player, but the hitting tools haven’t been evident in the statline. This season, Hicks has a .244 batting average and six homers for New Britain. Since the end of April, he’s hitting just .220. The conventional wisdom (at least among Twins’ fans on the internet) is that Hicks’ slump would end if he just gave up switch-hitting. He is a much better hitter from the right side. That approach has not been tested, though.
Even aside from the team’s top 10, there are plenty of injuries and slumps to be found. Alex Wimmers was drafted in the first round a year after Gibson, and he suffered a severe elbow injury a year after Gibson did. Early indications are that he won’t need Tommy John surgery, but with the Twins, early indications are often wrong. Last year’s first round pick Levi Michael was considered far enough along in his development to debut at Fort Myers this season, but Florida State League pitchers are proving pretty tough for him. He is hitting just .216/.317/.293 through 57 games. That’s nothing compared to the struggles of second round pick Madison Boer, though. Boer earned a promotion to Fort Myers in early May, but since then he has been battered to an ERA of 8.41 in nine starts.
Add it all up, and that’s an inordinate amount of slumps and injuries. None of these players should be considered a bust at this point, and there’s not reason to think that most of them won’t snap out of their slumps. But it sure is disappointing to see so many promising players faring so poorly all at once, especially since the Twins need to look to their youngsters as part of the team’s rebuilding process. Don’t worry so much about what happens to the Twins in the second half of the 2012 season – keep a closer eye on what happens to these prospects. If several of them can bust out of these slumps it will be an encouraging sign for the future.