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Down on the Pond: Arizona Fall League

The Twins sent seven of their minor league players to go play in the Arizona Fall League that kicked off earlier this month. Teams each send a handful of their prospects to play in Arizona and each year several teams join together and field a team for the AFL (6 team league located in, you guessed it, Arizona). The Twins players play for the Peoria Javelinas (a 40-80 pound skunk pig, for those of you who are curious you can check out the wiki page) who join with players from the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners. The AFL is typically offense heavy as teams are fairly stingy when it comes to sending top level arms to get more work and expose them to injury, and if you do see MLB quality arms they are typically coming back from injury and hoping to log some innings, like the Twins’ Kyle Gibson.

This year the Twins sent Evan Bigley (AAA right-fielder), Logan Darnell (AA Left-handed starting pitcher), Kyle Gibson (AAA Right-handed starting pitcher), Chris Herrmann (AA catcher who made his MLB debut late this season), Nate Roberts (Low-A outfielder), Caleb Thielbar (AAA Left-handed reliever) and Michael Tonkin (High-A Right-handed relief pitcher).  Let’s take a closer look at how each of the Twins selections have faired after a couple of weeks in Arizona.

Kyle Gibson has been the most impressive of all the Twins prospects in the AFL, and maybe the most impressive in the AFL. Gibson has made three starts and is 3-0 with a shiny .069 ERA and 19 strike-outs in 13 innings of work. 14 games into the young AFL season Gibson leads the league in innings pitched and strike-outs and of the 35 pitchers who have logged more than 7.0 innings, only Seth Blair (St. Louis) and C.J. Riefenhauser (Tampa Bay) have given up less earned runs. If Gibson continues to pitch like this well and his arm continues to progress from surgery it will be hard to keep him out of the Twins rotation next spring.

Nate Roberts has been the Twins brightest star on the offensive side of the game. Roberts has seen action in 6 games and is 9 for 17 w/ 3 extra-base hits and 5 walks, his slash line is an impressive .529/.640/1.346!!! Obviously this is a small sample size, but things look bright for Nate Roberts who will most likely start next season in high-A Ft Myers after repeating a second season in low-A Beloit.

Chris Herrmann has also done well at the dish down in Arizona, but in an even smaller sample size. Herrmann has only played in 3 games so far, but is 5 for 10 in limited action. Herrmann is hampered by the Javelinas’ roster which also contains uber catching prospect Mike Zunino (SEA) and fellow catcher Tommy Joseph (PHI).

Update: Chris Herrmann has injured his left shoulder and has been replaced by AA catcher  Dan Rohlfing. The injury is to his non-throwing shoulder and is believed to bemild in nature. Rohlfing started the season in Ft Myers before moving up to New Britain and hit .235/.295/.311 across both leagues in 2012. Thanks to Twins prospect guru, Seth Stohs of Twins  Daily, for the news.

Michael Tonkin has had four appearances for the Javelinas this season and has yet to give up a run, earned or otherwise, in his 5.1 innings of work while striking out 4 and walking just a single batter. Tonkin struck out almost 13 batters per 9 between low/high-A in 2012 and his ability to get out high-caliber batters in the AFL is very good news. It will be interesting to see if Tonkin has earned a promotion to AA to start 2013 or if he starts in high-A where he posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 30+ innings.

Logan Darnell has also appeared in 4 games for Peoria and has done well for himself. Darnell spent all of 2012 w/ AA New Britain where he made 28 starts and logged 156 innings but was less than spectacular striking out well under a batter per inning and giving up nearly 1.3 HR/9. In his 6.2 innings of work in the AFL Darnell has given up only 2 runs (both earned) and 7 hits to go with 5 K’s and 2 BB’s.

Caleb Thielbar has been, to be nice, less than spectacular. In 5.1 innings of work Thielbar has given up 8 runs (all earned) and has a fancy 13.50 ERA to show for it. The good news is that although he gave up 4 runs in each of his first 2 appearances, he’s kept batters in check during his last 3 appearances allowing only a single hit and no walks in 3.0 innings of work. Thielbar, who started the year in Ft Myers before getting called up to AA New Britain  and eventually AAA Rochester had a strong season and finished w/ a 2.43 ERA between all three levels, helped in large part to 12.1 innings in Ft Myers where he gave up only 1 run (unearned). It will be interesting to see what Thielbar’s future is with the Twins, who picked up Thielbar from the Saint Paul Saints after the 2011 season.

Evan Bigley rounds out the Twins seven selections to the AFL, and his performance has been unimpressive to date. In 7 games of work Bigley has managed to hit only 5 for 29, has struck out 6 times and has yet to take a walk. His slash like is scary bad, .172/.241/.441. Bigley hit .268 for the Rock Cats before getting moved up to AAA to join the Red Wings where he hit just .251/.289/.409. Bigley will need to turn things around in a big way if he wants to stay in the Twins organization as anything other than an organizational guy, especially as the Twins farm system is full of high-value OF prospects. This may be Bigley’s last big chance to impress the brass in Minnesota.

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