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Twins select best talent with picks

Twins select best talent with picks

MINNEAPOLIS -- With three of the first 31 picks in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Twins scouting director Deron Johnson entered his first Draft under the helm with a little more flexibility than usual.

So many early picks in the Draft provided Johnson and the Twins with what they felt was an opportunity to perhaps take a few more gambles. In a Draft that seemed heavy with college hitters, it seemed like an ideal situation for the club to boost a system that currently lacks positional prospects -- particularly in the infield.

However, on Thursday, the Twins found themselves sticking with the same philosophy of choosing the best player available. And that meant that the Twins followed a similar path as their recent Drafts, selecting young high school hitters with some upside as well as talented pitching arms.

The Twins continued their trend of drafting high school outfielders with their top pick, choosing Aaron Hicks of Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., with the 14th overall pick.

Minnesota then selected right-hander Carlos Gutierrez from the University of Miami No. 27 overall, and then took right-handed pitcher Shooter Hunt from the University of Tulane as a "sandwich" pick at No. 31.

"We wanted to get some ceiling, but we also didn't want to go out of line," Johnson said of the Twins' approach to the Draft. "We thought about taking a gamble and maybe taking a college hitter at 31. But in all honesty, those three picks were high on our board. And you can never have enough pitching."

Hicks, 18, had been considered to be an early-to-mid first-round pick after being mentioned as one of the finest outfield/pitching prep prospects in the Los Angeles area since Darryl Strawberry in the early 1980s.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Hicks was a 2007 Aflac All-American in his junior year of high school. A switch-hitter, he batted .473 with 50 runs scored and 37 stolen bases in 34 games in '08. But he spent the majority of his senior season pitching. The right-hander had an 8-2 record with a 1.16 ERA over 72 1/3 innings.

While Major Leagues teams were split as to whether Hicks should pitch or play the field, the Twins always felt that Hicks was suited to be an outfielder.

"For us, it was tough to not have that type of athlete play every day," Johnson said. "We thought it was a waste for him to be a pitcher, even though he has a special arm and might have one of the better curveballs in the Draft. But we love him as a center fielder."

And that's exactly what Hicks wanted to hear from the team taking him as well.

"I personally think I'm a position player all the way because I can do power and speed," Hicks said. "I'm more of an exciting player doing the small things like stealing bags."

Hicks, whom the Twins began scouting during his sophomore year, is reminiscent of the Twins' recent reliance on speed in their top Draft selections. Such was the case last year when the team took high school outfielder Ben Revere with its 28th overall pick, based in large part on his natural speed and baserunning ability.

Former scouting director Mike Radcliff, who is currently the vice president of player personnel, has indicated that the Twins feel there will be a shift in the game in coming years, focusing more on athletic, speedy players rather than the bulked-up power hitters seen during the "boom or bust" days of the past 10-15 years. The Twins have tried to adjust their thinking to that when obtaining players, and perhaps center fielder Carlos Gomez is one of the best examples of that trend.

And that's why Johnson and the rest of the team's scouting staff were excited to get a guy like Hicks -- someone who they feel possesses all five tools and who they compare to Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.

"He plays the game so easy, so effortless," Johnson said. "He can do it all. He's got a plus arm, he's a plus runner and he's got raw power. He's a good outfielder, and in my mind, he was one of the best -- if not the best -- baserunner in the Draft for me."

Gutierrez, 22, is currently closing for Miami during the team's postseason run and posted a 2.70 ERA over 43 1/3 innings in the regular season. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander impressed the Twins with his trademark sinker, a pitch that he can run up to as much as 95 mph but consistently throws around 92-93 mph.

Twins' top five selections
Pick
POS
Name
School
14.OFAaron HicksWoodrow Wilson HS (Calif.)
27.RHPCarlos GutierrezU of Miami
31.RHPSteven HuntTulane U
60.SSTyler LadendorfHoward Col
92.RHPRobert LaniganAdelphi U
Complete Twins Draft results >

"It's a special pitch," Johnson said. "He can pretty much pitch with that pitch alone. But he also has a good slider."

Gutierrez is just two years removed from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He redshirted in 2007, but Johnson said that the organization is convinced that he's past the surgery. And while he's pitching at the end of the bullpen now, the Twins plan to move Gutierrez back into a starting role.

"I'm all for it," Gutierrez said of the switch. "I've been a starter my entire life. I actually just moved to closing this year, just because my coaches approached me, and they thought they could really use me in the back end of the bullpen with my experience and my velocity and my movement."

The Twins will also keep Hunt as a starter. The 6-foot-3 and 200-pound righty was named second-team Louisville Slugger All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine after posting a 2.48 ERA and recording 126 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings. He was projected to be taken higher, but the Twins were happy that he was still available at No. 31. Johnson compared Hunt to current Twins pitcher Scott Baker in terms of his makeup.

"The curveball is his best pitch, and he's another good makeup kid," Johnson said. "He's aggressive and a good competitor."

Prior to the start of this year's Draft, the Twins selected left-handed pitcher Billy "Lefty" Bell in a ceremonial Draft to honor the surviving players from the Negro Leagues. Bell, who was renowned for working the corners of the plate, pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs and the Birmingham Black Barons, beginning in 1949.

Round 1 (No. 14) -- OF Aaron Hicks -- Woodrow Wilson H.S. (Long Beach, Calif.)
One of the most athletic players in the Draft, Hicks is a five-tool high schooler out of California who has elicited comparisons to current Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. He's a switch-hitter with speed, pop and a cannon arm. An arm so good, in fact, that some clubs were split on whether he should hit or pitch. The Twins wanted him as an outfielder. He batted .473 with 50 runs scored and 37 stolen bases in 34 games in '08, while compiling an 8-2 record on the mound with a 1.16 ERA over 72 1/3 innings.

Round 1 (No. 27) -- RHP Carlos Gutierrez -- University of Miami
Just two years removed from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Gutierrez is the current closer for Miami. He has posted a 2.70 ERA over 43 1/3 innings in the regular season. Gutierrez, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander, impressed the Twins with his sinker, a pitch already considered to be above average for the Major Leagues. He didn't begin playing baseball until just prior to his senior year in high school. Gutierrez redshirted at Miami in 2007 while recovering from surgery. The Twins are convinced that Gutierrez is past the surgery, and they plan to move him back into a starting role.

Compensation Round A: (No. 31) -- RHP Steven Hunt -- Tulane University
Hunt was named second-team Louisville Slugger All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine after posting a 2.48 ERA and recording 126 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-3 and 200-pound righty was projected to be taken higher -- he was Baseball America's No. 11 prospect in the Draft -- but the Twins were happy that he was still available at No. 31. Hunt has terrific stuff, but at times, he struggles with command.

Round 2 (No. 60) -- SS Tyler Ladendorf -- Howard College
Ladendorf returned to school after being drafted by the Giants in the 34th round last year. It turned out to be a good decision. He can run, has pop and can field his position. Scouts differ as to whether he is a shortstop for the long term. He has size (6-foot-2 and 210 pounds) and is athletic, however, most believe he could make the switch to any position.

Round 3 (No. 92) -- RHP Robert Lanigan -- Adelphi University
Lanigan was 4-4 with a 1.94 ERA in 13 games last year for Adelphi. The 21-year-old hits 93 mph on the radar gun and also has an above-average slider. He is big (6-foot-5 and 190 pounds), and he spent the past season as the ace on his Division II team.

Round 4 (No. 126) -- CF Daniel Ortiz -- Benjamin Harrison H.S.
Ortiz is small (5-foot-11 and 166 pounds), but he has a quick bat. His game is rife with speed and fits with the organization's philosophy.

Round 5 (No. 156) -- 3B Nicholas Romero -- San Diego State University
Romero is a 6-foot-1 and 200-pound switch-hitter. He was a first-team all-Mountain West Conference selection in 2008 after hitting .333 in league play with seven homers, 32 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 24 games. Romero was also a first-team all-MWC selection as a sophomore and a second-team selection as a sophomore.

Round 6 (No. 186) -- RHP Brett Hermsen -- West Delaware H.S.
A big, young righty with good stuff, Hermsen was rated as the 26th-best high school player by Rise Magazine. The 6-foot-6 and 230-pound youngster committed to Oregon State University out of high school.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }
{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }