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Lots of stars waiting in the Twins' wings

Lots of stars waiting in the Twins' wings

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A glance at the Twins' Minor League system shows a particular abundance in three areas: promising young arms, up-and-coming outfielders and a fascinating array of passports.

"Every year it fluctuates a little, but I think we have good young arms on the pitching staff, and we backed that up in the Draft, when our first four picks were all big arms," said Jim Rantz, the Twins' director of player development, when asked to name the organization's biggest Minor League strength.


NL East
ATL | FLA | NYM | PHI | WAS

AL East
BAL | BOS | NYY | TB | TOR

NL Central
CHC | CIN | HOU | MIL | PIT | STL

AL Central
CHW | CLE | DET | KC | MIN

NL West
ARI | COL | LAD | SD | SF

AL West
LAA | OAK | SEA | TEX

Of those four Draft picks, the biggest gamble was right-hander Kyle Gibson, who was called at No. 22. The Missouri ace would have likely gone in the top 10 had he not sustained a stress fracture in his right forearm shortly before Draft day.

But the Twins selected him, let him rehab his injury under their watchful eye and were thrilled to see him throw a few innings at the very end of instructional league before sending him home for the winter to rest and condition.

"He looks like he's going to be something special," Rantz said. "He breezed through those few innings, and we're just happy we got him on the hill before the break. He could be a guy on the fast track."

With a young starting rotation in the big leagues that features such home-grown (or developed in-house) names as Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Anthony Swarzak and Francisco Liriano, there is no big rush to bring the top pitching prospects to the big leagues, but it's always nice to know there are players ready should the need arise.

Ditto for the outfield situation, where the Twins boast some serious talent, allowing its top prospects -- such as 2007 first-rounder Ben Revere, the organization's first back-to-back Minor League Player of the Year since LaTroy Hawkins (1993-1994), and 2008 first-rounder Aaron Hicks -- plenty of time to develop.

That depth has also allowed the Twins to make a key deal this offseason, sending the speedy Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee in exchange for shortstop J.J. Hardy, filling one hole in the middle infield.

"We need the most help at middle infield throughout the system, and we're still trying to fill the third-base hole," Rantz said.

Rantz also confirmed that one of the recent additions to the 40-man roster, Danny Valencia, could be the answer but that it may be a little early to make that call.

"Eventually, that's what we're all hoping, that [Valencia will] be that guy," he said of the University of Miami product, who combined to hit .285 with 14 homers, 70 RBIs and 38 doubles between New Britain and Rochester. "But he's only had a half-year at Triple-A so far."

You can't talk about the Twins organization, though, without addressing their continued reputation as being at the forefront when it comes to international scouting and signing.

"We're very proud of that," said Rantz. "I think at last count we had 18 countries represented."

This summer the team added 16-year-old phenoms Max Kepler, an outfielder regarded as the best prospect to ever come from Germany, and Dominican shortstop Miguel Jean (until recently known by the name Miguel Angel Sano), considered the best Dominican shortstop prospect available this summer (and that is saying a lot).

In 2009, Minnesota affiliates compiled a 404-351 record to finish fourth overall among the 30 clubs when it came to Minor League winning percentage. Four clubs finished over .500 and made it to their respective playoffs, tying the Twins with the White Sox and Giants for the most postseason participants in the Minors.

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Aaron Hicks, OF: It was tough picking between Hicks and Revere, but we looked forward to seeing the switch-hitter light it up in his full-season debut. He didn't get to Beloit until midway through the season, but once there, he batted .251 with four homers, 29 RBIs and 10 steals in 67 games. With his power potential, outstanding arm and plus-speed at a premium position, the sky is the limit.

Carlos Gutierrez, RHP: A closer at the University of Miami when taken in the first round of 2008, Gutierrez was assigned right to Advanced A Fort Myers that summer and worked as a starter to get in his innings, posting a 2.10 ERA down the stretch. This year he returned to the Miracle rotation and dominated with a 1.32 ERA in 11 games but struggled a bit in the move to Double-A New Britain, where he posted a 6.19 ERA. He also hit the wall at season's end with the unaccustomed workload and was shifted back to the 'pen just to regulate his innings. But he is very highly regarded by the Twins, who see him as a starter thanks to his heavy sinking fastball and progressing slider and changeup. He combined for a 3.70 ERA in 107 innings, though he still needs to work on his command, with 46 walks versus just 65 strikeouts.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Revere, OF: Though some eyebrows were raised when the Twins took the 5-foot-9 left-handed hitter out of a Kentucky high school with their first pick (and 28th overall) in 2007, Revere may have been a steal. Coming off a Midwest League MVP campaign in 2008, when he batted .379 with 44 stolen bases in just 83 games (missing the beginning of the season following knee surgery), he continued to rake this season, hitting .311 with 45 steals. His gap power should continue to develop, giving him even more value as a genuine top-of-the-order hitter.

David Bromberg, RHP: Not to be confused with the folk singer of the same name, the 22-year-old made sweet music on the mound for Fort Myers, going 13-4 with a 2.70 ERA while striking out 148 in 153 1/3 innings and limiting hitters to a .227 average. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder led the Minors with 177 strikeouts in 150 innings in 2008 at Class A Beloit, and led the Florida State League in strikeouts this season. A draft-and-follow sign in 2006 after being taken in the 32nd round of 2005, he's finally getting some love (and a 40-man roster spot) with his lively low-90s fastball, changeup and curveball, which are his bread and butter. He is a gamer with tremendous poise and mound presence.

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

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