Please see the new post regarding Rene Tosoni — it may make the discussion of Tosoni in this post rather premature.
My last silly season post covered the question of which players the Twins should remove from the 40-man roster (or at least, the players that the team should think about removing). The roster space cleared up by these maneuvers will help the team create space for free agent signings and possible trade additions — but more immediately, it will also make room for the Twins to protect a number of promising young players from December’s Rule 5 draft, which will take place on December 10 in Indianapolis. The team needs to get those players on the roster by November 20 in order to protect them, and the Twins usually wait until close to that date to make their additions.
If you’d like to see a complete list of the players eligible to be taken in the upcoming draft, you can check out my new page on Rule 5 Eligibles (accessible anytime by clicking on the page link on the right side of the screen). There are far too many to comment on all of them, but the rest of this post has a few thoughts on players who I think should get at least some consideration for protection by being added to the 40-man roster. Unfortunately, the Twins face a bit of a tough challenge this year, as there are more players who arguably merit protection than there are going to be spaces available on the roster. As a result, this could be an ugly December for fans of the minor league system.
Very Likely to Be Protected
Anthony Slama – RHP Not eligible until 2010 — I forgot he was a draft-and-follow (thanks to Seth for pointing that out)
Many Twins fans were clamoring for the right-handed Slama to be promoted to the Twins during the season, and for good reason. In 51 games with the New Britain Rock Cats, Slama posted a 2.48 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 12.8 K/9 and an overall 93-32 K-BB ratio. While the Twins were hesitant to bring him up all the way to the big leagues from AA ball, he did win a promotion to Rochester, where he posted a still respectable 3.45 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 10.9 K/9 and a 19-8 K-BB ratio in 11 games. Slama may not be quite ready for the big leagues mentally (the Twins apparently didn’t think so), but he seems the perfect candidate for a Rule 5 selection by a team like the Nationals or Pirates, who could always use quality arms.
Danny Valencia – 3B
Valencia’s name, like Slama’s, surfaced a lot in late August and early September as a possible September callup. The chatter wasn’t all that surprising — the Twins will need to protect the promising third baseman from the Rule 5 draft this year, and if he was going to find his way onto the 40-man roster anyway, why not put him on in September and give him some big league seasoning? Frankly, he would have made more sense on the roster than Justin Huber (who, let me remind you, got 2 whole AB’s in September). The Twins decided, for whatever reason, to go in another direction in September. It would be highly surprising for them to expose Valencia to the draft this December, however. His .284/855 in 218 AB’s for New Britain showed his promise, and he backed it up (mostly) with a .286/758 in 269 AB’s for the Red Wings after earning his promotion. The difference in OPS, by the way, was almost entirely the result of Valencia’s hugely diminished walk totals (he drew just 8 in Rochester, as opposed to 31 in 51 fewer AB’s for New Britain). Look for Valencia to get on the 40-man, and to get a long look in Spring Training (even if the Twins pick up a free agent third sacker on the free agent market).
Strong Candidates for Protection
Alex Burnett – RHP
Burnett had an outstanding season, split between Ft. Myers and New Britain. A 1.99 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, coupled with a 10.3 K/9 and 26-7 K-BB ratio compiled in 18 games for the Miracle led to a promotion. Burnett backed it up impressively, with a 1.79 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, and 52-19 K-BB ratio in 40 games with New Britain. That performance earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League — a sure sign that the team has faith in Burnett. The only reason I don’t have him in my “Very Likely” list is that he’s spent only slightly more than half a season at the AA level, and so is still a bit raw. That might make him less likely to be selected in the draft, or to be returned to the Twins if he were selected, and therefore could increase the likelihood that the team will take a chance on sliding him through the draft unprotected for another year. I suspect that a strong performance over the next month in the AFL would force the Twins hand a bit — it’s hard to keep a guy a secret if he has success in a showcase league that GM’s are paying a lot of attention to.
Rob Delaney – RHP
Since 2007, Delaney has been one of the outstanding pitching prospects in the Twins systems. That continued at the beginning of the 2009 season, when Delaney posted a 2.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, 10.0 K/9 and 40-6 K-BB ratio in 36 innings with the Rock Cats. His solid performance earned him a promotion to Rochester, and 47.2 innings later Delaney had a 4.53 ERA. Other categories, however, suggest that Delaney was a bit unlucky — his 1.22 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, and 38-15 K-BB were still at pretty acceptable levels. I would think, therefore, that the Twins won’t place too much emphasis on the increased number of earned runs. His performance to this point has been strong enough to warrant protection, and he’ll probably get it. There’s just enough of a question, however, that I can’t put him in my “very likely” list.
Brian Dinkelman – 2B
Given the Twins lack of middle infield depth in the organization, it seems prudent to protect solid players like Dinkelman. The left-handed-hitting Dinkelman hit .296/823 for New Britain this year in 459 AB’s — a marked improvement from the .247/668 he put up for the Rock Cats in 198 AB’s for the last half of 2008. Dinkelman doesn’t seem ready for the big leagues yet, however, and while the Twins probably would like to protect him, the fact that he’s never performed above AA might make them confident in their ability to carry him through this year’s draft unprotected, giving them another year to evaluate him.
Steven Singleton – 2B
Singleton was given a chance to play in the AFL over Brian Dinkelman, which may suggest that he is a stronger candidate to get a spot on the 40-man roster than Dinkelman is. Personally, however, I don’t quite see it that way. There are a number of possibilities for why Singleton and not Dinkelman may have gotten the nod. For instance, the Twins could have decided that they already know whether they want to protect Dinkelman or not, but want to further evaluate Singleton. Dinkelman may have been hurting after a long season, and needed a break. Maybe the Twins just wanted Singleton to get more work. My point is that I feel justified in including Dinkelman in a higher category despite his absence from the AFL and Singleton’s inclusion in it. Singleton’s numbers with New Britain (.291/737 in 158 AB’s) were not as strong as Dinkelman’s, and he has less experience at the AA level. To me, that makes Dinkelman a more likely candidate — but a strong AFL season for Singleton could perhaps change my (and possibly the Twins) way of thinking.
Rene Tosoni – OF
Tosoni is another AFL player who could potentially earn his way onto the roster with a solid winter league season — although it seems like nothing more than a slight possibility. His numbers for New Britain this season (.271/814/15 HR) were reasonably strong, but I’m not sure if he fits a need in the Twins 40-man roster right now. It may be better off for everybody to leave him off the roster and give him a chance to catch on somewhere if he has a chance to do so. A monster AFL season, however, could change the calculus and convince the Twins to exchange him for Jason Pridie on the roster. His way forward just seems awfully limited in Minnesota, so we’ll see what happens.
Erik Lis – 1B/OF
Speaking of players who are blocked with the Twins! Lis had a nice season with New Britain, hitting .283/815/17 HR in 459 AB’s. Where can he be expected to play, however? Justin Morneau is obviously the team’s 1B. Jason Kubel fits nicely as the DH. Lis has never played above AA. Yes, they could protect him and see if a spot opens up for him (and, just as importantly, if he plays well enough at AAA to even warrant a shot at the big leagues) — but while I see it as a possibility I think it’s more likely that he’ll be left off again this year.
Matthew Fox – RHP
Fox was a 1st round pick back in 2004, and has made steady progress through the organization since missing the 2005 season. His 3.58 ERA/1.32 WHIP for New Britain (coupled with a 7.2 K/9 and 120-56 K-BB ratio) were reasonably solid, and he’s now had 4 solid seasons in a row. But how much should the Twins value solid (but not exactly spectacular) seasons at the AA level and lower? Is he worth a roster spot? While I think it’s possible I also think the answer is probably no, at least for another year.
Deolis Guerra – RHP
What role will pride play in Bill Smith’s decision making? Guerra is, of course, best known as a part of the Johan Santana trade — and at the time many pundits thought that Guerra would make or break the deal. He was (and is!) very young, with a great deal of potential. Two seasons later, Guerra has yet to develop into the type of pitcher the Twins were hoping they were getting, although there are some positive signs. Guerra was, to put it kindly, downright bad in 2008 with Ft. Myers. His 5.47 ERA and 1.61 WHIP were dreadful, his 4.9 K/9 was nothing special, and his 71-71 K-BB was cause for considerable concern. While his 2009 numbers were far from gaudy, they nonetheless showed decisive improvement. First, in Ft. Myers, he put up a 4.69 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. His K/9 jumped to 5.9, and his control improved, improving his K-BB to 57-25. That was enough for the Twins to move him up to AA, where he posted a higher ERA (5.17), but improved his WHIP to 1.26, his K/9 to 7.0, and his K-BB to 49-17. He seems far, far away from MLB ready — but he is still incredibly young, and has shown enough signs of improvement that a team may be very willing to snatch him up in the Rule 5 draft. Protect him? I’m leaning towards yes, but I think it’s far from a clear case.
There are other intriguing players that could find themselves on the roster. For instance, it’s intriguing to think what Loek Van Mil could do if he put it all together — but he seemingly remains nothing more than a project at this point. David Winfree had a nice season for Rochester — but probably not anything that will get him serious consideration for the 40-man. Kyle Waldrop is a former first round pick who had a 1.46 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 55.2 innings for New Britain — but his K-BB and K/9 numbers aren’t that strong, making me wonder how strong a prospect he really is. Is he worthy of a roster spot? Are any of the other players I didn’t mention? We’ll find out in about a month what the Twins think.