Saturday, December 29, 2007

The 2007 Minnesota Twins Draft Picks: A Retrospective.

Not too long ago when I was in high school, Michael Lewis had yet to pen Moneyball, and Britney Spears was still a virgin, a student ballplayer from a rival school in my conference happened to be selected in the amateur drafted following my junior year. He was fast, tall and was spoken of by others as if he had all the tools. Frankly, he looked like a ballplayer but many of us were dubious of his skills simply because we were high school boys and generally skeptical of undue praise for other players. In the middle of the hype that brought various college coaches to the games, our pitcher claimed he was going to strike him out in four pitches each at-bat. Sure enough, in two consecutive at-bats, our pitcher set him up with inside fastballs only to get him lunging after two outside offspeed pitches. It was beautiful and this help garrison our notion that scouts were drafting on appearance rather than skill. After spending several seasons on the diamond with him, most of us ended up thinking that we were better than him, regardless of the amount of division one offers he would be receiving.

When he eventually got drafted in a very late round, there was a mini-mutiny from some of the juniors who began to think that our coach was not "repping" us enough to college coaches and scouts. To quell the small riot, in one of the rare nuggets of insight I remember my high school coach expounding on us shortly after the kid from the rival team would have been reporting to a rookie league or instructional camp, the coach gathered us around and hit us with some knowledge. He said "Major League draft picks are like sperm: only one in a billion is ever going to be productive."

Even though this statement did not relieve the idea that none of us would never be drafted (or play for a major college), I carry it with me whenever I review the five-billion rounds of draft picks. Even thought Michael Lewis and Billy Beane have since corrected me regarding the importance of the major league draft, I can't help but use the sperm metaphor (gross, but surprisingly accurate) when considering the most recent draft. After all, the minor league system is like a funnel where the strong advance and the weaker players are discarded back to the towns from whence they came. Some have troubles adapting to stronger pitching and wood bats. Some can't rely on two pitches alone that carried them through high school ball. The Twins Draft Class of '07 has finished jockeying for position in the rookie leagues. Here is a breakdown of picks in rounds one through ten following their first professional season:

r1.28) Ben Revere - 19-years-old - CF

After being questioned for selecting yet another powerless outfielder, the Twins were rewarded when 19-year-old Kentucky native Ben Revere demonstrated the qualities of a respectable draft pick in a half-season in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. In a league that averaged an ops of .691, Revere produced a .849 ops. The pre-draft analysis proved accurate when it came to his power and speed. His inability to hit the long ball (0 home runs) was apparent but he offset this with an isolated power average (isop) of .136 through 16 extra base hits (25.8% xbh%). Revere has the speed as indicated by his 21 stolen bases, however, getting caught stealing nine times ultimately cost team scoring opportunities, netting the team negative run production of -0.17. Overall he finished with a .325/.388/.461 line that earned him a spot on the GCL post-season all-star team. In comparison, Denard Span finished his first season in rookie ball Elizabethton with a paltry line of .271/.343/.319 and a ops that was below the league's average. Span, four years Revere's elder, followed up his first year with a season shared between the GCL and Midwest league and has played himself into a spot where he is no longer the centerfielder of the future. Revere also had a good split between righties and lefties. The left-handed Revere hit .299/.342/.438 in 144 at-bats against righties but handled lefties much better with a .404/.508/.532 line in 47 at-bats. Though 216 plate appearances are not enough to pass judgement, it would seem that Revere has more tools than previously thought and has a better chance of making an ascension to the big club.

r2.92) Daniel Rams - 19-years-old - C/1b

Reporting to GCL Twins in July, Daniel finished the season in typical fashion for a 19-year-old catcher. Displaying no significant power (no home runs, .093 isop), Rams had trouble adapting to the level of pitching that differed from what Gulliver Prep in Miami offered, striking out in 22 of his 107 plate appearances (20.6% k%) and managed to coax walks times (5.6% bb%) against GCL pitching. He finished the season with a middle infielder batting line of .258/.311/.361 but actually slugged better than the GCL average of .359. In 16 games behind the plate, Rams did not commit any errors. He carries great arm strength in his 222-lb frame. One scout told Baseball America that "whatever is the highest grade on your scale, that's what his arm is". Rams's large stature is could hinder his development as a catcher which is why the Twins are giving him reps at first base. Offensive improvement such as pitch recognition is a must for Rams if he expects to move beyond single-A ball.

r3.122) Angel Morales - 18-years-old - rf

Plucked from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Morales was ranked number 198th on the pre-draft rankings by Baseball America when the Twins selected him 122nd overall. In his first season with the GCL Twins he lacked plate discipline as evident by his 30.3% strikeout rate (44 ks in 143 plate appearances). He finished the season with a respectable .256/.357/.405 and two home runs. Morales produced a .762 ops, 71 points higher than the league average which could indicate that he isn't over-matched but in need of more plate appearances. He also slugged 46 points higher than the league average as well. In an organization like the Twins that are hoping for outfield talent to develop, Morales will get all the slack in the world to see if he can develop as a hitter.

r4.152) Reggie Williams - 19-years-old - ss

Signed with the Twins on August 16th, 2007. Williams comes from an fairly athletic lineage which bodes well considering his father, Reggie Sr, was a football player who played for the Houston Oilers in addition to the Arizona Wranglers and LA Express of the USFL. Reggie Jr reported to the Instructional League in Ft. Myers in September.

r6.212) Michael McCardell - 23-years-old - rhp (sp)

Could be the steal-of-the-draft for the Twins at the 212 pick overall. A graduate of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, whose motto is "Continue on...even if she says no" (no joke), McCardell is the first college graduate and pitcher that the Twins drafted which is probably not a coincidence. Currently John Sickel's number 10 Twins prospects, McCardell began 2007 blasting his way through the GCL (and much younger competition). In 67 batters faced, McCardell struck out 44 of them (40.2% k%) in addition to only walking 3 of them (2.9% bb%). Recognizing a need to challenge him, the Twins moved him up the farm system hierarchy having him start 8 games in Elizabethtown where he went 5-1 with a 2.00 era. He treated the offensive in the Appalachian League with the same disrespect, striking out 70 of the 174 batters faced (37.3% k%) while maintaining the same control as demonstrated by his 4.5% walk rate. In October he was deservedly named to Baseball America's Rookie All-Star team. While currently being developed to be a starter, I wouldn't might seeing McCardell be transitioned into the bullpen where he could replace Eduardo Morlan as the organization's future closer.

r7.242) Dan Berlind - 20-years-old - rhp (sp)

This 6'7", 210-lb Los Angeles native reported to the GCL Twins and finished with 56 innings, a 6-1 record and a 2.02 era. Like McCardell selected a round before him, Berlind is slightly older than the competition. But like McCardell before him too, Berlind dispatched the hitters like someone older should. Of 222 batters faced Berlind pined 52 of them (23.4% k%). He may have some control issue to massage (9.0% bb%) but it is more nitpicking on my part. Judging from this YouTube clip of him in junior college, you can see that he uses his size well: he stays tall and does not rush his delivery. His body does fly-open slightly on the pitches low and away. Often pitchers approaching his height have the tendency to rely only on the large arm-whip action. This to me says that he was already a well-groomed pitcher when the Twins spend their 242nd pick on him. A season in Elizabethton will undoubtedly help finesse the remaining raw thrower out of him and hopefully develop into yet another high-caliber Twins pitching prospect.

r8.272) Danny Lehmann - 22-years-old - c

Rice University's Danny Lehmann was the Twins's 272nd pick and the second catcher selected. While not having has many acclimates defensively as Rams, Lehmann put together a so-so year with Elizabethton. Finishing with a batting line of .221/.333/.364, Lehmann slugged 3 homers and bagged 2 doubles leading to a .143 isop. He made decent contact, striking out in only 11.1% of his plate appearances he also had a keen batting eye walking in 10.0% as well. The 5'11" catcher seems to beat the ball into the grass as evident by groundballs in 52.0% of his batted balls and managed to hit line drives in only 9% which resulted in a poor .219 babip. If his contact improves to the point where he is getting more air under the ball, Lehmann could be productive at the plate in the future.

r9.302) Steven Hirschfeld - 22-years-old -rhp (sp)

Yet another large statute pitcher (6'5", 220-lb), Hirschfeld, in his inaugural professional season, finished with Elizabethton 1-2 record with an era slightly higher (4.26) than the 4.17 Appalachian League average in 25.1 innings pitched. While this doesn't look particularly reaffirming, Hirschfeld essentially had one bad month. In June, he pitched 3.0 innings of shut-out ball. July proved more tumultuous where his 17.1 innings resulted in a 6.23 era. His babip was an inflated .308 but he did strikeout 18.3% of his 71 batters faced and walked only 4.3%. It would appear that he was working up in the zone considering his groundball rate was 33%. In his 5.0 innings of work in August, Hirschfeld did not allow a run in 19 batters faced. When they did make contact against him in August 82% of them were groundballs. While his bookend months were solid, the 8.o innings of shut-out ball just isn't enough to pass judgement on a pitcher. If his strikeout rate/walk rate remains consistent next season, Hirschfeld could prove to be a good draft pick in round 9.

r10.332) Blair Erickson - 23-years-old - rhp (rp)

The UC Irvine closer who holds the NCAA record for saves with 53 entered Elizabethton with the same late-innings dominance that he had while with the Anteaters. In 17.2 innings, Erickson struck out 17 (22.5% k%) and surrendered only 14 hits with his very good 68% groundball rate. reports that Erickson's fastball has lost some velocity (now in the 87-91 range) prior to the 2007 season and his slider has lost its bite. Dispite all the initial reports, his first-year results were good. His performance might attributed to being two years older than league average but he still proved to be overpowering. In the wake of the Eduardo Morlan trade and losing Tim Lehay in the Rule 5 draft, Erickson has the opportunity to aggressively advance within the Twins farm system as a closer.

Analysis of picks 11 through 20 forthcoming later this week...