Last year I posted a Top Ten Prospects list for the first time since this blog launched. I'd been hesitant to jump into the fray with a top prospects list in the past since so many other bloggers and writers already create these rankings and I didn't see much need to come up with my own given that they would likely mirror the other ones out there pretty closely.
Yet, I think I found a good way to put the list to use. At the beginning of each month, I would post a "Prospect Rundown," highlighting the performances of each of my top ten prospects during the past month (you can click here for an example). This proved to be a good way for me to keep up with the progress of some of the organization's most prominent up-and-comers, and hopefully everyone else found them useful as well.
So, below is my ranking of the organization's top ten prospects as we enter the 2010 season. If people found the monthly rundowns worthwhile, I'll continue with those this year. (And if you found them worthless, don't hesitate to let me know.) Alongside each prospect's name is their position, the level they finished at last season and where they ranked on last year's list.
10. Joe Benson, OF | Class-A+ Ft. Myers (NR)
When the Twins plucked Benson in the second round of the '06 draft, he was the type of player that warranted immediate excitement. A tremendous high school athlete who excelled in baseball and football, Benson had a well-rounded set of tools that screamed upside. Unfortunately, injuries and a lack of strike zone control bogged down Benson's first few years as a professional. Last year in Ft. Myers, Benson finally started to display the promise that the Twins saw when they drafted him, batting .283 with an excellent .414 on-base percentage. Benson turns 22 next week and will likely open the season in New Britain, where he'll need to ramp up his power in order to transform into a legitimate big-league prospect.
9. Carlos Gutierrez, RP | Class-AA New Britain (NR)
Last year, Gutierrez just missed making this list, as I noted that he'd performed well in an initial stint at Ft. Myers but added that I'd "need to see more from him before I'm willing to call him a Top 10 prospect." Well, Gutierrez showed plenty in his first year with the Miracle, utilizing his boring fastball to induce ground balls 68.6 percent of the time while holding opponents to a measly .196 average and posting a 1.32 ERA and allowing only one home run. Gutierrez stalled after a midseason promotion to Double-A, posting a 6.19 ERA and 1.64 WHIP over 52 1/3 innings, which keeps him from ranking higher on this list, but his sinker is for real and he deserves credit for reaching New Britain in his first year as a pro in the first place.
8. David Bromberg, SP | Class-A+ Ft. Myers (NR)
A tall and burly right-hander who the Twins picked in the 32nd round of the 2005 draft, Bromberg has quietly risen through the ranks at a steady pace while posting surprisingly strong numbers for a guy who lacks dominating stuff. Bromberg has led his respective league in strikeouts for three consecutive years, including last season in the Florida State League when he went 13-4 with a 2.70 ERA and 148-to-63 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Miracle. Bromberg's lack of outstanding velocity and control will be put to the test as he delves into Double-A this year, but you can't argue with his results up to this point.
7. Danny Valencia, 3B | Class-AAA Rochester (5)
After ranking fifth on this list last year, Valencia came out of the gates fast in New Britain with a .284/.373/.482 hitting line that earned him a midseason promotion to Rochester. There, Valencia continued to hit for a strong average (.286) with solid power (.454 SLG, 7 homers and 24 doubles in 282 PA). It was a bit troubling to see Valencia's OBP drop to .305 thanks to a 37-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but it's worth noting that the third baseman posted a 70-to-18 mark in that category after being promoted to Double-A in 2008 only to adjust and post a 40-to-31 ratio there in the first half last year. If he can make those same adjustments in Rochester this year, it'd be no surprise to see him manning the hot corner for the Twins in the second half this season, especially if Brendan Harris and/or Nick Punto struggle in the early months.
6. Angel Morales, OF | Class-A Beloit (9)
Morales seems to be one of those players that steps into the batter's box, closes his eyes and swings as hard as he can. The result is a lot of strikeouts (104 in 418 plate appearances last year for a 24.9 percent rate that was actually an improvement on his 33 percent rate from 2008) and a lot of power. In a league that generally suppresses offensive numbers, Morales ripped 13 homers, 22 doubles and five triples, leading to a .455 slugging percentage in spite of his pedestrian .266 batting average. He also displayed good speed, swiping 19 bases in 25 attempts and continuing to impress scouts with his work in the outfield. Morales' lack of plate discipline raises some major red flags, but it's tough not to get excited about an outfielder with his kind of athleticism and raw power who, by the way, is still only 20 years old.
5. Miguel Angel Sano, SS | N/A (NR)
As far as prospects go, Sano is an interesting case. On the one hand, most of us have never seen him play and we don't even have any professional numbers to work off of in assessing him. On the other hand, he was perhaps the most highly sought international prospect last year and he came to the Twins on a massive $3.15 million signing bonus that easily ranks as the largest in franchise history for a foreign prospect. Additionally, scouts rave about his almost limitless offensive upside. If all the talk is true, Sano could easily shoot to the top of this list very quickly, but first he'll have to show us something. That's why he'll be a very interesting player to follow this season.
4. Ben Revere, OF | Class-A+ Ft. Myers (3)
I've been fairly skittish on Revere for some time now. Last offseason, I made a case that the Twins might be wise to move him while his value was high, as he'd just come off a stellar season in which he'd led all the minors in batting average. While most people ranked him first or second on their preseason prospect lists prior to the '09 campaign, I had him third for fear that if his sky-high batting average come down his overall numbers would start to look rather ordinary. As it would turn out, that's just what happened. Revere's average dropped from .379 to .311, and as a result his OPS dropped from .930 to .741. He's still a highly disciplined hitter with excellent speed on the basepaths and great range in the outfield, but unless Revere can add some semblance of power to his game, he'll project as more Juan Pierre than Carl Crawford in the big leagues.
3. Kyle Gibson, SP | N/A (NR)
With Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and others, the Twins have proven incredibly adept at using high picks to draft polished college starters and moving them quickly through the minors. Gibson looks like he might fall right into this mold. A dominating starter at the University of Missouri, Gibson was projected by many as a top-10 draft pick but he fell to the Twins at No. 22 overall due to questions about a forearm injury suffered during his senior year. Fortunately, he seems to have put the injury behind him and will start the season in Ft. Myers, where he'll seek to follow a similar path to Garza, who went from Single-A to the majors in a single season.
2. Wilson Ramos, C | Class-AA New Britain (2)
Injuries cut Ramos' 2009 season short, limiting him to just 54 games and 214 plate appearances with the Rock Cats, but when he was in the lineup he posted an excellent .317/.341/.454 line while cutting down significantly on his strikeout rate from the previous year and continuing to impress with his work behind the plate. He didn't slow down a big in winter ball, where he carved up opposing pitchers with a .332/.397/.582 hitting line to go along with 12 homers and 49 RBI in 54 games. Still just 22 years old, Ramos is quickly establishing himself as one of the game's best upcoming backstops. Unfortunately, he's in one of the worst organizations to do so.
1. Aaron Hicks, OF | Class-A Beloit (1)
After ranking on top of this list a year ago, Hicks put forth a somewhat underwhelming season in 2009. He spent the first half the year in extended spring training, and when the Twins finally sent him to Beloit the outfielder hit just .251 with four homers in 67 games while going just 10-for-18 on stolen base attempts. Of course, Hicks was also only 19 years old, and he did manage to draw an impressive 40 walks (against 55 strikeouts) in 297 plate appearances, proving that the advanced plate discipline he displayed in his rookie debut was no mirage. Recently ranked as the No. 19 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, Hicks has immense tools and seems poised to unleash them this year as he takes on his first full season of competitive pro baseball.