In my mind, there are five types of players in the minor leagues.
1.) There are the prospects. They can be at any level, but they are players believed to have a chance at a successful big league career. This category would contain players like Matt Garza, Matt Moses, Glen Perkins, Denard Span and several more.
2.) There are the recent draftees. These players are generally kept around for two to four years just hoping that they were able to find a diamond in the rough with a mid or late round pick. This would consist of the 2006, 2005 and 2004 drafts. It could include top picks like Garza, Kevin Slowey and Chris Parmalee, and it could include later picks like Patrick Bryant or Mark Robinson.
3.) There are players on rehab assignments. Pretty self explanatory, these are major leaguers who are on the Disabled List preparing to return to their big league club. This would include Dave Gassner and Matt Guerrier right now, and Rondell White earlier in the month.
4.) There are the veterans. Sometimes these are the AAAA players. These guys have maybe had varying levels of big league experience, and yet, for whatever reason, they are back in the minor leagues. This is guys such as Jason Tyner or Peter Munro. Glenn Williams could fit into this category as well.
5.) There are the Organizational players. Organizational players are guys that stay with one organization for a long time despite the reality that the team does not view them as a future big leaguer. They may never put up the big numbers to be considered a prospect. Maybe they are excellent leaders that the team views as a good role model, or a future coach.
Of course, there is some gray area between these groups. Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins all fit into the first two categories. I’m sure there are other combinations that players could fit into.
Recently, the Twins purchased the contract of outfielder Josh Rabe. The 27 year old had been in the organization since he was drafted in 2000 out of Quincy University. Although he has always put up solid numbers in his minor league career, and the fact that he has spent parts of the past four seasons at AAA Rochester, he had not been called up. “Prospects” continued to work their way up the system and past him in the eyes of the team. However, he had not been drafted in the Rule V draft, and he continued to sign minor league free agent contracts with the Twins, and the Twins had continued to offer him said contracts. However, it took three Twins outfielders going on the Disabled List within three days of each other for Rabe to finally get the opportunity.
For two or three years, I have been of the impression that given a chance, Rabe could contribute to the Twins in a positive way. Would he ever be a star? Probably not. Like Jason Tyner, I think that Rabe could come in and be a solid replacement level player, a good pinch hit option and fifth outfielder.
That is the situation with many organizational players, especially those playing in AAA. Given the opportunity, they could succeed. These are valuable players to an organization. Not only do they provide more depth, but they allow a team to be more patient with the players it deems to be prospects. Rabe, along with other veteran outfielders in Rochester, have allowed the Twins to be patient with the development of outfielders like Denard Span, Trent Oeltjen and Alex Romero.
Unfortunately, if Organizational players are frequently overlooked within their organization, they are seldom talked about by the fans. So today, I want to mention four players in the Twins organization that I think would be considered Organizational players:
Henry Bonilla - Pitcher - Rochester Red Wings
Bonilla is a right-handed pitcher who will turn 28 years old next month. The Twins drafted the Nevada native in the 8th round in 2000 out of Tulane University. He has slowly and steadily progressed through the Twins system. He started in the Midwest League and then spent his first full season, 2001, there as well as the team’s closer. In 2002, he pitched out of the bullpen in Ft. Myers. That is where he started the 2003 season, but he soon moved up to AA New Britain where he suddenly started again for the first time in three seasons. He spent most of 2004 in New Britain’s starting rotation, making a few spot starts in Rochester. He spent all of 2005 with Rochester where he made 16 starts and 19 relief appearances. He was 6-7 with a 5.11 ERA. He is back with the Red Wings this year and is 3-6 with a 4.08 ERA. He has started seven times in his 26 appearances. I think Bonilla is a great example of an Organizational Player. He has been with the team a long time. He has had a level of success at each stop. He has never been great. He doesn’t put up the flashy numbers. However, his managers keep pitching him in any given situation. He has started when no one else is really available. He can eat innings in blowouts and he has also been asked to pitch in clutch situations. All while prospect after prospect has moved ahead of him. Hats off to Henry!
Kevin West - Outfielder - Rochester Red Wings
West is a 26 year old outfielder from California. The Twins drafted him in the 16th round of the 1999 draft out of Mendocina Junior College. He hit 12 home runs that summer in Elizabethton. He then spent two seasons at Quad Cities in the Midwest League, but he did show great improvement in that second year. He then started showing more and more in Ft. Myers in 2002. He had a solid, but unspectacular 2003 in AA New Britain. He returned to the Eastern League in 2004 and put up monster numbers. In 119 games, he hit .293 with 25 homes and 87 RBI. He moved up to Rochester for the final 19 games and hit four more homers. I was certain he would be lost in the Rule V draft, but he wasn’t. Last year, he hit .271 with 20 homers and 64 RBI with the Red Wings. He posted a very strong .833 OPS. Last offseason, while playing winter ball in Venezuela, he seriously hurt his knee and missed about half of this season. He returned more quickly than expected and although he is not hitting for much average, he does have eight homers and 27 RBI. West has always been a good power hitter whose downfall has been his ability to put the ball in play. However, he really has improved in that category the last few years. Who knows? Maybe if he had not been hurt last offseason, he would be wearing a Twins uniform right now too.
Thomas Watkins - Infielder - Rochester Red Wings
26 year old Tommy Watkins was drafted by the Twins out of his Ft. Myers high school in the 38th round way back in 1998. He has been able to play in Ft. Myers for four of his eight minor league seasons. He spent two years with the GCL Twins. He then spent 2000 in Elizabethton and 2001 in Quad Cities. He was then able to stay home with the Miracle for two seasons. In 2004, Watkins moved up to AA New Britain. He had a career highs of .267/.346/.385 that year including 21 doubles, eight homers and 47 RBI .He also stole 20 bases. And for it, he returned to New Britain in 2005 where he hit just .219. This year, he began the season back in New Britain where he hit .218 in the first 32 games. However, an injury to Gil Velazquez meant an opening for a utility infield role in Rochester, and Watkins made his AAA debut. He has only been in 24 games with the Red Wings, but he is hitting .318/.375/.470 with four doubles, two homers and 12 RBI. Due to other circumstances, he has been in the Red Wings starting lineup much of the last month and is playing the best ball of his career.
Levale Speigner - Pitcher - New Britain Rockcats
25 year old Speigner was drafted by the Twins in the 14th round in 2003 out of Auburn University. In his senior season, he was 10-0 with a 2.42 ERA. He started by pitching out of the bullpen at Elizabethton and doing well. In 2004, he started the season at Quad Cities where he pitched very well in 22 relief appearances. He moved up to Ft. Myers and was even better. In 2005, he suddenly was starting in New Britain. He went 6-10 with a 4.13 ERA. He even made two appearances in Rochester. This season, he is back in New Britain and back in the bullpen. In 34 appearances, he is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA and nine saves. Because the Twins have had no less than eight more highly thought of prospects in their starting rotation, Speigner just gets the job done in whichever role the team puts him in. In the upper levels of the minor leagues, Speigner has become less of a strikeout pitcher, and he never really was one. He will likely remain with the team and move up to Rochester next year. I can see him with the organization for several more years.
So, there are four players in the Twins organization that could be considered Organizational players. They are all very solid at what they do, but likely will just continue to toil in the Twins minor league system unless there is a major need at their position. Prospects will move by them. Prospects will struggle and these guys will help them out, make them look good and probably teach them a lot. Who knows what their future will bring, but I hope that these players get the credit and acknowledgment that they deserve.
I know I named just four Organizational Players. There are more. I am sure there are some like Sam (JR) Taylor and Colby Miller in Ft. Myers . Toby Gardenhire is that type of player in Beloit. Some ‘prospects’ may become Organizational players over the coming seasons. You just never know. And sometimes, the Organizational players end up getting a big league call up. And when they do, it is just as, if not more deserved than the call ups of many top prospects.