Minnesota Twins Top Ten Prospects Retro: 2004


Feb 25, 2014; Ft Myers, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman

Joe Mauer

(7) poses during photo day at Hammond Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Progressing through time in sets of a decade is a great way to make up lost time.  In previous weeks, we looked at the 1984 and 1994 Twins top ten prospect lists.  This week, we’ll investigate the 2004 list.  There are seven active MLB players on this list and three current Twins.  Although, only one of those three is actually on the roster right now.  Oooh, I have you hooked, let’s look at the list.

10.  Michael Restovich

Who was he?  I covered Restovich, the prospect, in detail once upon a time.  He was a power-hitting right fielder who the Twins drafted in the second round of the 1997 draft.  Restovich is a local boy, hailing from Rochester.

Highest level reached?  MLB from 2003-2007

Why was he a prospect?  Power.  Restovich had excellent power in the Minors.  In 2002, he slugged .542 and hit 29 home runs.  Why is he tenth on this list?  In 2003, he slugged .465 and hit only 16 bombs.  It’s worth noting that while Restovich was at AAA for most of both seasons, the Twins did move their AAA affiliate from the Pacific Coast League to the International League in 2003.

Fun Fact!  Restovich hit 6 career home runs, one more than Drew Butera hit while with the Twins.  He also hit 6 more than I could ever dream of hitting.

Why didn’t he turn out? Restovich hit .278/.346/.498 in just over 3500 AAA plate appearances.  He hit .239/.313/.377 in just under 300 MLB plate appearances.  So, he couldn’t hit MLB pitching, but he also never got a full season to prove that to be true or false.  His career high in plate appearances was 126 in 2005, when he was still just 26.

9.  Grant Balfour

Who was he?  The Twins signed Balfour as an amateur free agent out of Australia in 1997, when he was 20 years old.  Balfour made his brief MLB debut in 2001, pitching just 2.2 innings.  Clearly, he was still rookie-eligible three years later, as he’s 9th on this list.

Highest level reached?  MLB since 2003.

Why was he a prospect?  Balfour threw really hard.  He still does.  He began his career as a starter, but by 2003, he was a reliever.  He was good too, striking out a ton of batters and limiting his walks in 2003.  He also earned some saves.

Fun Fact!  Balfour is the only MLB player to have attended Glenwood High School in Glenwood, Australia.  Shocking, I know.

Why did he turn out?  For a long time, it looked like he hadn’t.  At age 29, Balfour had a 5.44 ERA and he had walked way too many batters.  He found his command in 2008 and had a ridiculous season with the Rays.  He regressed in 2009, but he’s had an ERA around 2.5 since 2010 and he saved 38 games for the A’s in 2013.

8.  Jason Kubel

Who was he?  Kubel was the Twins’ 12th round selection in the 2000 draft.  The South Dakota native immediately started hitting and walking, emerging as a legitimate prospect by this time.

Highest level reached? MLB for many years

Why was he a prospect?  His 2003 season was a bit disappointing, as he hit just .298/.361/.400.  The contact and OBP were nice, but the missing power was concerning.  However, he had hit well enough in previous seasons to get him onto this list.  He would hit .352/.414/.590 in 2004 and go from 8th on BA’s Twins list in 2004 to 17th on BA’s MLB prospect list in 2005.

Fun Fact!  Jason Kubel looks like my sister’s ex-boyfriend.

Why did he turn out?  It’s a shame he ripped up his knee in 2005 because he was going to be a monster player.  He had power, he could hit for contact and he had some speed, evidenced by his 16 steals in 2004.  He played the outfield well too.  He wasn’t as spry when he returned in 2006, but he had some fine seasons with the Twins in the late 00s.  In 2009, he was particularly good, posting a 137 OPS+.

7.  Denard Span

Who was he?  The Twins selected Span with the 20th pick in the 2002 draft.  If you’ve read Moneyball, you know that Span “screwed” the As by asking for more money from the Rockies, slipping from their 9th slot down to the Twins.  It worked out well for the Twins.

Highest level reached?  MLB since 2008.

Why was he a prospect?  He had a first-round pedigree.  He was a centerfielder with good range.  He hit well in his pro debut at age 19 – .271/.355/.319 with 14 stolen bases.

Fun Fact!  Denard’s first name is Keiunta.

Why did he turn out?  He’s a good baseball player?  For a short while, it seemed that Span was going to be a first-round bust.  Span typically made good contact and often drew walks, but he rarely hit for power.  Then, in 2008, he had an excellent 40 games with Rochester and he’s been in the Majors ever since.  He’s got good OBP skills, decent extra-base power and he plays a solid center field.

6.  Jason Bartlett

Who was he?  The Twins acquired Bartlett from the Padres in July of 2002 in exchange for Brian Buchanan.  The Padres drafted Bartlett in the 13th round of the 2001 draft.  Bartlett was a pure shortstop and would eventually play that position in the Majors.

Highest level reached?  MLB from 2004-2012.

Why was he a prospect?  Pure shortstops are pretty rare and that helped.  Bartlett was no slouch at the plate either, hitting .296/.380/.425 in 139 AA games in 2003.  He had good plate discipline as he drew a lot of walks and didn’t strike out much.

Fun Fact!  Bartlett is related to pears.

Why did he turn out?  Bartlett was a good defender at short and a good enough hitter to stick in the Majors.  He wasn’t a flashy player and he made some errors, but he got to a lot of balls.  He drew a good amount of walks and was generally an underrated player early in his career.  He was famously traded as part of the Delmon Young debacle in 2007.

5.  Jesse Crain

Who was he?  Crain was the Twins’ second round selection in the 2002 draft.  Crain was drafted as a reliever and has been a reliever for his entire career.  On a personal level, I once predicted that Crain would take over the closer role from Joe Nathan.  From that moment on, Nathan saved roughly 5 billion games for the Twins.

Highest level reached?  MLB from 2004 to present. 

Why was he a prospect?  Crain was a flamethrowin’ reliever and he racked up the strikeouts.  Splitting time between High-A Fort Myers and AA New Britain in 2003, Crain threw 84 innings and struck out 114 batters.  He also walked just 25 and saved 19 games.  Not surprisingly, he made his MLB debut in 2004.

Fun Fact!  Crain was born in Toronto, played high school ball in Colorado and college ball at the University of Houston.

Why did he turn out?  Crain didn’t rack up MLB strikeouts, but he got enough to be effective.  In seven seasons with the Twins, Crain had a 3.42 ERA.  He had some elite seasons (2005 and 2010) and some pedestrian seasons (2007 and 2009).  He then left for the hated White Sox and actually got better.  Cool move, Crain.

4.  J.D. Durbin

Who was he?  The Real Deal!  I love cockiness as much as anyone, but you have to back it up.  Durbin was drafted in the second round of the 2000 draft.  He famously dubbed himself “The Real Deal” and that didn’t work out well.  It’s probably what he’s best known for now.     

Highest level reached?  MLB in 2004 and 2007

Why was he a prospect?  He looked like the real deal early on.  Durbin made 55 starts between three levels from 2002-2003.  He threw over 340 innings, struck out 304 and walked just 102.  He posted an ERA just above 3 and generally looked like a future stud.

Fun Fact!  Durbin is still kicking around, as he played for the Lamigo Monkeys in Taiwan last season.

Why didn’t he turn out?  He lost his control during his formative years.  He made his MLB debut in 2004 at age 22.  He wasn’t great, but he only threw 7.1 innings.  His walks per nine innings increased each year from 2004 to 2007, culminating in his disastrous final season in the Majors.  In 2007, he threw 65.1 innings, mostly with the Phillies.  He had a 6.06 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 36 walks.  He never threw in the Majors again.

3.  Matt Moses

Who was he?  Moses was the Twins’ first round selection in the 2003 draft.  He would go down as the worst pick the Twins made in the decade, sandwiched between Joe Mauer in 2001, Denard Span in 2002 and Trevor Plouffe/Glen Perkins in 2004 and Matt Garza in 2005.

Highest level reached?  48 AAA games in 2007.

Why was he a prospect?  He was a high school third baseman with good pop.  In his 2003 pro debut, Moses hit .385/.417/.492 in 18 GCL games.  Besides a slight renaissance in 2005 with Fort Myers, Moses never approached those numbers again.

Fun Fact!  Moses just turned 29, which makes me feel old as crap.

Why didn’t he turn out?  Post-Moneyball thinking puts a lot of importance on walks.  Possibly too much, but I don’t really know.  I do know that Moses didn’t walk much.  Even when he managed to hit in the .260s, he posted OBPs in the low .300s.  That doesn’t cut it in the Minors because those numbers will drop in the Majors.  He also got moved to the outfield later in his career, basically ending his hopes of ever making the Majors.

2.  Justin Morneau

Who was he?  Morneau is a big, strapping Canadian who the Twins selected in the third round of the 1999 draft.    

Highest level reached?  MLB since 2003

Why was he a prospect?  Did you ignore the part about the strapping?  Morneau is a powerful human being and he used that power to hit baseballs very far.  In 2003, Morneau hit 26 home runs, 6 with AA New Britain, 16 with AAA Rochester and 4 with the Twins.  He also made good contact, finishing his Minor League career with a .311 batting average.

Fun Fact!  Morneau is my wife’s favorite player and she once saw him at Lifetime Fitness.

Why did he turn out?  Don’t make me tell you again about the strapping.  Morneau was a powerful hitter from the jump and he evolved into a complete hitter by the time he was 25, winning the AL MVP in 2006.  From 2006-2010, Morneau hit .298/.372/.528, good for a 138 OPS+.  He hit 136 home runs, added 526 RBI and made Canada proud.  He’s one of the best Twins of all-time and it’s a downright shame that concussions took away a good portion of his peak.

1.  Joe Mauer

Who was he?  Joe Mauer is Joe Mauer.  You know who he is.

Highest level reached?  MLB since 2004, Hall of Fame?

Why was he a prospect?  Because he’s Joe Mauer.

Fun Fact!  Joe Mauer is extremely good at baseball.

Why did he turn out?  Because he’s Joe Mauer and he’s extremely good at baseball.

Nine of the ten players on this list played for the Twins and a crazy seven are still active today.  The conversion rate of prospects was one of the biggest reasons why the Twins had so much success in the 2000s and why they have had so little success since then.  Will the current Twins’ top ten bear this much fruit?  I can’t answer that.  However, I can try to project out into 2017, an exercise that means next to nothing but is fun as can be.  I’ll do that next week.  See you then!