Last week we looked at several pitchers who have taken big steps forward, therefore improving their prospect status. There are also many position players who have improved their performance on the field, thus positioning themselves as prospects to watch. Following are a few who have taken the biggest strides forward. Please note that all rankings are based on their performance relative to others in the system and do not reflect individual prospect ranking.
Trent Oeltjen (ranked #8 at mid-season 2006/#20 in 2005)
Trent is a 23-year old Australian who has become one of the top prospects in the system. Oeltjen is a speedy outfielder who had a solid 2005 at Ft. Myers (341 a b, .287Ave, 4 home runs, 43 rbi and 21 stolen bases in 30 attempts). His performance this season as New Britain’s leading hitter (275ab, .295Ave, 1 home run, 28 rbi and 21 stolen bases in 28 attempts) led to his recognition as the Twins only player in this year’s Future’s game at the All-Star break.
Matt Tolbert (#7/#35)
A versatile infielder who was the Twins 16th round pick of the 2004 draft out of the University of Mississippi. Tolbert was a solid performer for the Ft. Myers Miracle in 2005 (417 ab, .266Ave, 3 home runs, 46 rbi and 11 stolen bases in 15 attempts). This season Tolbert has moved between New Britain (147 ab, .265Ave, 3 home runs, 20 rbi and 4 stolen bases in 4 attempts) and Ft. Myers (155 ab, .303Ave, 4 home runs, 24 rbi and 7 stolen bases in 9 attempts), putting up excellent numbers at both levels.
Felix Molina (#9/#38)
A slick fielding second baseman who was a 21st round pick in the 2001 draft. Molina split 2005 between Ft. Myers (155 ab, .258Ave, 0 home runs, 9 rbi and 6 errors) and New Britain (122 ab, .287Ave, 2 home runs, 18 rbi and 4 errors). This season Molina has been one of New Britain’s most consistent players (276 ab, .261Ave, 8 home runs, 37 rbi and 19 errors) who has been frequently mentioned by Jim Rantz on his weekly radio spots.
Caleb Moore (#21/#49)
Was one of the top hitters in college baseball prior to his being drafted by the Twins in the 4th round of the 2005 draft. He began his Twins career with Elizabethton (123 ab, .309Ave, 3 home runs and 13 rbi) where he quickly became known as one of the best hitting catchers in the system. He began this season at Beloit (245 ab, .286Ave, 2 home runs and 27 rbi), where his bat earned him a recent promotion to Ft. Myers (21 ab, .190Ave, 0 home runs and 2 rbi). All indications are that Moore is on track to be Joe Mauer’s backup when Mike Redmond‘s contract expires.
Paul Kelly (#18/#40)
May be the top shortstop prospect in the system. A 2nd round pick in last year’s draft out of Flower Mound, Texas High School, Kelly had a solid rookie season with the Gulf Coast League Twins (137 ab, .277Ave, 2 home runs, 20 rbi and 5 errors) prior to being promoted to Beloit (16 ab, .313Ave, 1 home run, 4 rbi and 1 error) for the last few games of the season and all three games of the playoffs which he started at second base. This season Kelly, at the age of 19, has been Beloit’s starting shortstop (378 ab, .280Ave, 3 home runs and 48 rbi). He is amongst the system leaders in rbi and has been excellent defensively as evidenced by his having only 10 errors in 95 games.
Gil Velazquez (#25/#63)
Was a 14th round selection in the 1998 draft by the New York Mets. Velazquez is known as a slick fielding shortstop who the Twins signed as a minor league free agent in November, 2004. Velazquez split the 2005 season between New Britain (286 ab, .231Ave, 1 home run, 28 rbi with 16 errors) and Rochester (34 ab, .265Ave, 0 home runs, 3 rbi and 2 errors). This season Velazquez has also hit well at both New Britain (16 ab, .375Ave, 0 home runs, 3 rbi with 2 errors) and Rochester (122 ab, .287Ave, 0 home runs, 13 rbi with 5 errors) prior to a knee injury that landed him on the disabled list. Velazquez was activated this past weekend and should help Rochester’s chances in its playoff run the last 6 weeks of the season.
Garrett Guzman (#12/DL)
Is the top candidate for comeback player of the year following a 2005 season that he did not play following an auto accident in which he broke his neck. Guzman, who was a 10th round pick in 2001, has always been one of the top rbi men in the system. He began this season at Ft. Myers (259 ab, .274Ave, 8 home runs and 51 rbi) prior to a promotion to New Britain (124 ab, .282Ave, 4 home runs and 10 rbi). His 61 rbi this season are second only to Garrett Jones who has 64 rbi.
Kyle Geiger (#32/#54)
Was a 42nd round pick in the 2002 draft who has steadily moved through the system a level at a time. Geiger was solid at Ft. Myers in 2005 (292 ab, .257Ave, 6 home runs and 33 rbi) earning him an invitation to spring training with the parent club. Geiger began this season at Ft. Myers, where his bat (226 ab, .248Ave, 1 home run and 21 rbi) earned him a spot in the All-Star game prior to his recent promotion to New Britain (35 ab, .143Ave, 1 home run and 9 rbi).
There are also many players who had been expected to have big seasons, however, haven’t performed as expected during the first few months of the season. Kevin West (#20/#9) had been one of Rochester’s better hitters last season, however, an injury this past winter in the Venezuelan Winter League caused him to miss the first half of this season. Likewise, Juan Portes (#48/#8) and David Winfree (#10/#7) were two of last season’s brightest prospects (Winfree was Minor League Player of the Year), however, have seen limited action this year due to various injuries. Matt Moses (#15/#1) had been the top ranked player in the system in 2005. Although at 21 years of age he is young for AA, Moses is batting only .257 with a team leading 19 errors. On a positive note, Moses has 11 home runs and 48 rbi. Danny Matienzo (#17/#6) is one of the top power hitters in the system who also had an excellent average in 2005 (.282). It is likely that Matienzo was disappointed when he was returned to New Britain for a second season as his .247 batting average is not up to previous standards, although his 12 home runs and 58 rbi are amongst the best in the system. Former top pick Trevor Plouffe (#31/#18) is having his second consecutive season where he has struggled to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line (318 ab, .230Ave) at Ft. Myers and again leads the system with 23 errors in 90 games.
As the season enters its last month, will New Britain’s star studded lineup get hot and lead the team into the playoff hunt? Will the top players in the system continue to perform, and will some of those who have yet to perform to prior standards step up these last few weeks?