August 1, 2009

Twins Minor League Month in Review: July

First, to take a look at June's Minor League Month in Review, click here.

The short-season leagues finally had a full month under their belts, but both teams remain at the top of their divisions. Many draft picks have signed and some have even moved up levels while other draftees still have until August 15th to sign with the Twins. Although first-round pick Kyle Gibson is still unsigned, the Twins and Gibson are confident a deal will be reached, despite Gibson asking for more money than where his slot suggests.

Several key players have been hit with an injury bug, the latest seems to be Ben Revere who hasn't played in almost two weeks due to the staff having to drain fluid from his banged-up left knee. Revere has had problems with his knee for parts of his career, but nobody would guess after he's now stolen 98 bases in 222 career games.

Aaron Hicks finally had a full month under his sleeve in Beloit, and while many people think he's struggling, I personally think he's doing just fine. Remember, Hicks is just 19-years-old and although a .223 average and .690 OPS don't look good, make sure that you take a look at his plate discipline, which is fantastic. He has struck out 25 times but has walked 23. He has great speed and power and the bat will turn around. As long as he can continue to have quality at bats, everything else will work itself out eventually.

The six affiliates combined for an 81-85 record while scoring 729 runs but gave up 741 runs. The 49% winning percentage is down 6% from June. The teams did combine for more runs scored per game at 4.4 which is down from the 4.9 in May but up from the 4.3 in June. The teams also combined to give up 4.5 runs per game.

Many teams had trouble finding consistency in July which has really been the theme all season.

Rochester Red Wings (50-54, Tied-3rd in International League North)

Despite scoring 26 more runs than they gave up, the Red Wings still had a losing month in July with a 13-14 record. The offense averaged 4.9 runs per game, up from the 4.2 runs per game in June. The pitching also gave up just 3.93 runs per game, the lowest of the season, but sloppy defense and untimely hitting cost the Red Wings from turning in a successful month. They currently sit tied for third place in the International League North, but with the Yankees continuing to control the division, the Red Wings will need a miracle if they want to catch them in August.
Hitter of the Month

After an abysmal start to the season, Jason Pridie finally broke loose in July hitting .288/.330/.481 with 12 extra-base hits including three home runs. Pridie drove in 17 runs while hitting at the top of the Red Wings order which lead the team for the month of July. Pridie also walked six times in July, bringing his season total to 15. While he still has potential as a fourth outfielder, his eye-at-the-plate will probably limit his chances in the Major Leagues.

Honorable Mention: Justin Huber (.386/.3.81/.536, 84 AB, 9 Doubles, 4 HR, 14 RBI)

Pitcher of the Month

With no signs of turning around, it looked as though Reid Santos' time with the Red Wings could be coming to an end if he didn't turn things around after a terrible month of June. But the 26-year-old right-hander came through in July, stepping up as the staff ace while going 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in six games (five starts). He also struck out 18 in the 31 innings he pitched. Santos is not a ground ball pitcher and a .265 average and 1.26 WHIP suggest that he had guys on base quit a bit. But he managed to control the situation and forced teams to leave a lot of men on base.

Honorable Mention: Jeff Manship (3-1, 2.59 ERA, 31 1/3 IP, 5 starts, 14 BB, 15 K)

New Britain Rock Cats (51-54, Tied-3rd in Eastern League Northern)

New Britain, has looked like a completely different team without Danny Valencia in the lineup. The offensive production has plummeted and the rest of their 'bash bros' that were left in New Britain have started looking a lot more mashed as the season goes on. The offense averaged just 3.4 runs per game while the pitching staff also took a step back, allowing 4.9 runs per game. They will be getting some help when Mark Grudzielanek joins the lineup. Hopefully he can help the Rock Cats finish the season off strong after a 12-18 July.
Hitter of the Month

Despite not having a 'home' defensively, many still thought Erik Lis would start the season in Rochester after posting marginally good numbers in New Britain the year before. The Twins felt differently and Lis headed back to New Britain for another year of feasting on Eastern League pitching. Lis got off to somewhat of a disappointing start. While his numbers were fine, they were very reminiscent of his '08 numbers which were good, but they weren't what people were expecting from this big left-hander. But since the start of June has been one of the best hitters in the Eastern League. In July, he hit .305/.377/.552 with 12 extra-base hits including seven home runs. He also drew 12 walks and swiped his first base of the season. Lis performs much better when he is the Designated Hitter than when he's playing first base, so with Brock Peterson and the Red Wings infield in somewhat of a logjam, it's unlikely Lis gets an opportunity to play in the International League this season.

Honorable Mention: Steve Singleton (.385/.429/.538, 6 Doubles, 1 Triple, 4 RBI)

Pitcher of the Month

It sure didn't look good for Ryan Mullins at the beginning of the 2009 season. Despite spending most of the 2007 season and all of the 2008 season with the Rock Cats, Mullins looked clueless on the mound against Eastern League hitters. All of that changed in July when Mullins threw an eight inning gem against the Trenton Thunder on July 5th. That start set Mullins up for his best month of the season. The 25-year-old southpaw went 1-2 with a 3.47 ERA in four starts. The most impressive stat of the month for Mullins was his K/BB ratio. Heading into July, Mullins posted a 2.92 K/BB ratio. But in July, he had a 8.33 K/BB ratio thanks to walking just three batters while striking out 25. The Rock Cats need him to keep it up, especially with the offense performing poorly.

Honorable Mention: Alex Burnett (1-0, 1.42 ERA, 15 innings, 10 BB, 16 K, 1.00 WHIP)

Ft. Myers Miracle (70-44 overall, 17-18 in 2nd Half, 2nd in Florida State League South)

The Miracle rebounded nicely after a poor June. The team scored more runs (4.01) per game than they allowed (4.93) but they still had a .500 record for the month. Even though they lost their best player in Ben Revere to injury, the team rallied to go 8-2 in his absence. Good pitching and improving hitters should help the Miracle in August.
Hitter of the Month

After missing two months with a broken hand, Joe Benson picked up where he left off with the Ft. Myers Miracle which is getting on base at an astonishing rate. While he only picked up three extra-base hits through 64 at-bats in July, Benson walked 15 times while only striking out 16 times. Benson came into the season wanting to improve his approach at the plate, and he's certainly done so. His .421 OBP is the best of his career and (if he qualified) would be the second highest in the Florida State League. Benson broke his hand by punching a cement wall after a frustrating at bat, so perhaps that was a driving force for him. He's having great at-bats all season, but he looked like a completely new guy in July. Now the test is to see if he can repeat it in August.

Honorable Mention: Rene Leverett (.309/.356/.441, 4 Doubles, 1 Triple, 1 HR, 8 RBI)

Pitcher of the Month

Steven Hirschfeld has quietly put up great numbers this season and has become the 2009 version of Cole Devries for the Miracle. Like Devries, many haven't talked much about Hirschfeld this season despite being one of the most consistent pitchers on the staff. Also like Devries, Hirschfeld has been used out of the bullpen as well as the rotation and has been effective in both situations. In July, Hirschfeld was finally put into the rotation full time and delivered with 2.03 ERA in six starts. He was 2-3 but did have a 0.91 WHIP. Hirschfeld (like Devries) is likely viewed as a reliever in the long run, but it's great to see him be successful under both circumstances.

Honorable Mention: Santos Arias (1-1, 1.13 ERA, 9 Games, 3 Starts, 24 IP, 6 BB, 20 K)

Beloit Snappers (39-64 overall, 12-21 in 2nd half, 8th in Midwest League West)

The Snappers continue to plummet this season and are just waiting for the season to be over. The team was 10-17 in July thanks to a struggling pitching staff that gave up 5.63 runs per game. The offense is finding ways to score runs, but the pitching staff isn't giving them a fighting chance.
Hitter of the Month

Angel Morales has had a roller coaster season so far in 2009. After an abysmal April, he put up good numbers in May. He followed May up with an abysmal June before putting up great numbers again in July. But considering he's only 19-years-old, I'm not really disappointed in him at all. Although he's likely to wind back up in Beloit again next season, hopefully he can continue to work on his plate discipline which has improved since last season, but is still unacceptable. But on a plus, he did strikeout for a season low 12 times in July. So any improvement is still improvement, right? Morales hit .361/.375/.541 with eight extra-base hits and 11 RBI. Hopefully he'll break the 'curse' and will finish the season up with strong back-to-back months.

Honorable Mention: Ramon Santana (.293/.354/.444, 6 Doubles, Triple, 2 Home Runs, 20 RBI, 2 BB)

Pitcher of the Month

Another Twins pitching prospect who is quietly putting up great numbers this season is Brad Tippett. The 21-year-old Aussie has an 8-4 record with a 2.46 ERA on a team with a collective ERA of 4.52. While he's not Kevin Slowey, Tippett has been said to have the best control on the farm system. Tippett didn't 'wow' anyone in the Midwest League as a reliever last season but the Twins have stuck with him as a starter this season and it has paid off. In July, he was 3-1 with a 1.57 ERA in five starts. He was hit hard in his last start, but he was 3-0 with a 0.91 ERA in his first four starts in July.

Honorable Mention: Liam Hendriks (1-2, 3.33 ERA, 24 1/3 IP, 4 starts, 4 BB, 23 K)

Elizabethton Twins (26-9, 1st in Appalachian League West)
The Elizabethton Twins continue to lead the way in the Appalachian League and could be en route to another Championship appearance. The Twins pitching staff gave up 4.8 runs per game but when the offense continues to crush the opposition for an average of 6.9 runs per game, that 2+ point differential is the reason the Twins went 18-8 in July. Nobody really stands out in the lineup, but as a team they're a real force.
Hitter of the Month

Josmil Pinto finished off a great season in 2008 with the Gulf Coast League Twins, hitting .385/.429/.667 in August while wrapping up a fantastic professional debut. And he's been on a tear already this season posting a 1.069 OPS through 25 games. In July, the 20-year-old Venezuelan native hit .368/.414/.671 with seven doubles, two triples and four home runs. With the loss of Danny Rams and Tyler Ladendorf, Pinto has filled in nicely as the team's top bat.

Honorable Mention: Michael Gonzalez (.294/.365/.553, 5 Doubles, Triple, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 10 BB)

Pitcher of the Month

For the second straight month, Tom Stuifbergen takes home the honors of being Elizabethton's top pitcher. The 20-year-old Dutch has been one of the best pitchers in the Appalachian League this season and is gearing up for a full-season stint in Beloit for next season. Stuifbergen went 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA in six July starts, striking out 34 while walking just four in 38+ innings. He's shooting up the 'Top Prospect' ranks and has been a great success all year. Remember, he played an integral part to the Netherlands 'Cinderella Story' in the World Baseball Classic.

Honorable Mention: Matt Tone (2-1, 2.12 ERA, 8 games, 17 innings pitched, 1.72 BAA, 14 BB, 22 K)

GCL Twins (17-14, Tied-1st in Gulf Coast League South)

The GCL Twins didn't have the July everyone was hoping for, but at 13-13 on the month they still sit towards the top of the division. The offense was horrid, averaging just over 3 runs per contest but the pitching staff has been impeccable, averaging just 3.77 runs allowed per game. While the pitching staff continues to blossom, the offense needs to start being more productive. Out of 26 games, the offense scored one or less runs in nine of them. The fact that they won even two of them should speak volume of the pitching staff.
Hitter of the Month

With such a horrid offense, you'd think it might be hard to pick a player that stood out as the best hitter. But it's actually not that hard, while he didn't rip the cover off the ball, Jairo Perez was the Twins' best hitter in July. The 21-year-old Venezuelan native hit .265/.354/.368 with four doubles and a home run. He drove in five but did manage to have a great 8/6 BB/K ratio. He's small at 5'10'' and 160 lbs. and doesn't have a ton of potential, but he should continue to lead the way for the GCL Twins in August.

Honorable Mention: Kennys Vargas (.245/.355/.396, 5 Doubles, Home Run, 8 RBI)

Pitcher of the Month

There were three guys I felt deserved this award and I couldn't pick just one...

B.J. Hermsen has been a great pick by the Twins thus far. Selected in the 6th round of the 2008 draft, nobody expected him to sign as he had a scholarship to Oregon State that stood in the way. But the Twins convinced the 6'6'' Iowa native that professional baseball was the right choice and he's backing that decision up this season. In July, Hermsen was 4-1 with a 1.27 ERA in five starts. He walked just three and struck out 18 in 28+ innings. He is climbing up the 'Top Prospect' charts this season and could be considered one of the Twins' top pitching prospects heading into 2010.

Adrian Salcedo had a great season on the Twins' Dominican Summer League last year and is turning heads again this year. He has a great frame at 6'4'' and 175 lbs. and at just 18-years-old, he is quickly becoming one of the better young pitching prospects in the Twins' system. In July, Salcedo was 1-1 with a 1.57 ERA in four starts. He struck out 24 batters in 23 innings and walked just 2. He's an extreme ground ball pitcher getting nearly 60% of his outs via the ground ball. His age, frame and early success could make him a guy to keep an eye on.

Andrei Lobanov, if you don't remember, cracked my Top 50 Twins Prospects list last winter at no. 50. He's a lanky southpaw witih impeccable countrol and despite throwing in the mid-upper 80's, he makes hitters swing and miss due to him being able to throw the any of his pitches wherever/whenever he wants. In 13 July innings, Lobanov allowed just two earned runs and had an insane 71.9 GB%. But the most impressive stat was the fact that the 19-year-old didn't walk a single batter whild striking out 19. He is another player that Twins fans will need to keep an eye on.

Honorable Mention: Jhon Garcia (2-2, 1.96 ERA, 4 GS, 23 innings pitched, 0.91 WHIP, 3 BB, 19 K)