Twins boast formidable farm system
By Hayden Goethe
Forum News Service
FARGO — Working out under the sun in late February at the Minnesota Twins’ spring-training complex in Fort Myers, Fla., was a third baseman who hit 35 homers last season.
And there was a 6-foot-9 left-handed pitcher who posted a 2.99 ERA and struck out 11½ batters per nine innings in 2013 thanks to a fastball that touches 100 mph and a devastating curveball.
And the cream of the crop was a fleet-footed center fielder considered to be the best prospect in baseball, who some scouts feel his floor — not his ceiling, but his floor — as a major leaguer is an MVP.
Twins fans won’t see these three players — Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Byron Buxton, respectively — or many of the team’s best prospects as Minnesota opens its season this afternoon against the Chicago White Sox.
But they could see them in a Minnesota uniform soon, possibly by the end of this season.
Rob Antony, who is the Twins’ assistant general manager, has worked for the team since 1987. He can’t remember a time when the team’s farm system has received this much attention.
And Antony doesn’t mind it, even though at times it seems like the formidable farm system is overshadowing what has been a struggling major league team.
“I think it can be a positive,” Antony said earlier this month. “In spring training this year, the guys can come in, and the major leaguers have heard about Buxton, they’ve heard about (infield prospect Jorge) Polanco, they’ve heard about (outfield prospect Max) Kepler. They see those guys aren’t just hype (and think), ‘If I don’t get going, they could take my job.’ ”
Baseball America, which covers the game with an emphasis on high school, college and the minor leagues, put Minnesota as third-best among farm systems in its December publication, behind only Pittsburgh and Boston.
At the head of the class within the Twins organization is Buxton, who is ranked as the game’s best prospect by both Baseball America and MLB.com.
“We have scouts telling me his floor is (Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder and 2013 NL MVP) Andrew McCutchen,” said John Manuel, who is Baseball America’s editor in chief. “His floor is MVP. That’s pretty ridiculous. It’s very hard to find holes in his game.”
Buxton, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, hit .334 with 12 homers and 55 steals in Class A last season. The 20-year-old will open this season at Double-A New Britain.
“He’s a legitimate five-tool guy who can impact a game offensively and defensively,” Antony said. “There aren’t a lot of legitimate five-tool guys.”
When asked which prospects could be in the big leagues this season, both Antony and Manuel pointed to Meyer and fellow starting pitcher Trevor May as the most likely.
Meyer is rated as the third-best Twins prospect by Baseball America behind only Buxton and Sano. May is rated eighth. Both were acquired in offseason trades prior to the 2013 season.
Antony and Manuel also agree that Sano would have had a good chance, too. But the Twins were dealt an early spring-training blow at the end of February when it was determined that Sano would need to undergo Tommy John surgery after tweaking his elbow in an intrasquad game.
That type of surgery is season-ending for pitchers, but Antony said he wouldn’t rule out Sano returning before the end of this season.
“If the doctors say he can DH in games … continue his throwing program without impacting anything, we would not be opposed to it,” Antony said.
Fortunately for the Twins, Tommy John surgery shouldn’t impact Sano as much as it would if he were a pitcher.
“Sano’s injury isn’t a great thing,” Manuel said. “But it doesn’t really affect him long term (in terms of projection). The track record for Tommy John is solid. I don’t think it should preclude him from being an elite offensive player.”
Hayden Goethe is the Assistant Sports Editor at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.