I get asked this question quite a bit and I feel like it is about time I hit people with some truth on the subject. The question that I am asked repeatedly is has the Twins minor league slipped and if so why. I know everyone likes to blame Bill Smith for all the problems with talent as the Twins had a good farm system when Terry Ryan was the General Manager of the Twins. I have even heard Deron Johnson being blamed as he is head of the draft after Mike Radcliff was promoted when Bill Smith took over as General Manager. Some of the criticism is founded, but a great part of it is unfounded.
There is merit for criticism of the lack of top level prospects in the upper levels of the organization. You had misses like not signing Travis Lee, and busts such as Matt Moses, Ryan Mills, Jay Rainville, and Henry Sanchez. That left a vacuum that led to a watering down of the system. Some of these picks were earlier than would be in system right now. Also the Twins have been downright unlucky with some of these guys as former first round picks Matt Fox, Kyle Waldrop, and Matt Bashore were injured. You have had control issues with former first round picks Shooter Hunt and Alex Wimmers that you could not have see coming.
The bottom line is the Twins had a 2-3 year stretch were they did not do well in the draft as guys like Moses, Rainville, and Sanchez were taken early and did not turn out. That left a void as some of those guys would be in the higher levels right now. When you miss on three or four first round picks that will set your organization back a few years. The percentage of early round picks that make it to the pro’s is so small that I feel that Twins fans were spoiled when they went through a stretch when guys like Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Trevor Plouffe, Glen Perkins and Matt Garza became contributers. Twins fans after seeing all those guys come up and contribute forget about guys like Henry Sanchez, Matt Moses, Adam Johnson, B.J. Garbe, Ryan Mills who never even made the big leagues. Then you have guys that even the most adamant Twins fan has never heard of in Kelcey Mucker, Marc Borcelo, Dan Serifini, Scott Stahoviak, Midre Cummings, and Todd Ritchie. What I am trying to say is the draft is such an inaccurate science on who is going to make it and who is not that it is not an easy job for evaluaters. You hear all the time that in every draft you may have 1-2 players make it to the big leagues. So I don’t think it is fair for the evaluaters to get blamed for the lack of talent in the upper levels.
Another reason that expectations for the Twins minor league system are a little bit too much is the Twins in the 90’s were a bad team. From 1994 to 2001 a eight year stretch the Twins picked in the top ten 7 times. Fair or not most draftst have 5-10 blue chip prospects that are considered a high probibilty of making it to the big leagues. So when they were losing 90-100 games per year the odds of getting one of those top prospects was pretty high. Believe it or not that stretch is when the Twins farm system was considered the best in baseball. It is much like how the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals are considered the best farm systems in baseball right now as they have had some bad teams so they got high draft picks. From 2002-2011 the highest the Twins have drafted is 14th in 2008 with Aaron Hicks. I don’t know if its coincidence or not but Aaron Hicks is the number one prospect on my June prospect list. A big thing is when you draft late you need to be smart about who you take and you have to be willing to spend the money to get the guys signed as there is such competition for signing bonuses so the Twins have had to up the ante and they have done just that.
I also take exception that the Twins don’t have a very good farm system because I think the last 2-3 years the Twins have taken the bull by the horns and improved it immensely. It started in 2009 when they went way over slot to sign pitcher Kyle Gibson a starting pitcher who dropped down to the Twins due to a stress fracture in his forearm. The Twins could have sat and said he was too expensive, but they did what was necessary. They spent way over slot to sign BJ Hermsen. Then in 09 they spent over 3 million to sign the top Dominican prospect in years in Miguel Sano for over 3.15 million. This year they doubled slot to sign Corey Williams a hard throwing lefty from Vanderbilit. I know there is not a lot of talent in Rochester, but look at New Britain and below and there are tons of top end talent such as David Bromberg, Joe Benson, Brian Dozier, Chris Parmelee, and Deolis Guerra who has flourished as a reliever this year. In Fort Myers you have big prospects in James Beresford, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, Angel Morales, Alex Wimmers, and BJ Hermsen. Then in Beloit you have huge upside guys like Adrian Salcedo, and Madison Boer. Then in Elizabethton you got guys like Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Niko Goodrum. If anything I would say the Twins minor league system is loaded not the contrary.
Bill Smith gets a lot of guff for not having a lot of top end talent in AAA and I think the Twins need to take responsibility for a few bad drafts that did not produce the type of prospects thatother teams did. However the last 3-4 years have been phenomenal for the Twins minor league system. I believe in the next 2-3 years the Twins will be known as having one of the finest minor league systems in baseball as the lower levels are just loaded with top end prospects. I feel like the Twins should be commended for seeing a problem and fixing it the last few years. For those that feel Bill Smith, Deron Johnson and the whole Twins front office have not done their job producing prospects well I feel you are wrong and the contrary is true as I feel the Twins have just as many top prospects than any other team it is just the Twins do a good job at letting these guys go at their own speed and develop in a way that not only will they make the Twins when they are ready, but will remain with the team for years to come.