The Twins inserted Jason Bartlett into their starting lineup late this spring and all indications are that as is the case at catcher and first base, the Twins have another young star who will likely man the position for many years. Considering that Nick Punto will probably stay at third base, the Twins are in need of a player who can capably fill in at short should Bartlett spend any time on the disabled list. Luis Rodriguez will return as a utility player, however, he is better suited for second or third. Therefore, the Twins will be looking for another utility player for their roster or a AAA shortstop that can fill in at short, if needed.
The Rochester Red Wings (AAA) had three shortstops, none of whom are considered top prospects, man the position this season after Bartlett was recalled by the Twins. Gil Velazquez, 26, (#47/#63) was promoted to Rochester to replace Bartlett. Velazquez, who had previously been thought of as a defensive specialist, put up his best offensive numbers in nine minor league seasons with a .375 Average in 16 at bats for New Britain and a .250Ave with 4 doubles, 1 home run, 26 runs scored and 17 rbi in 164 at bats. When Velazquez went on the disabled list, the Twins brought up fan favorite Tommy Watkins, 25+, (#27/#53). Like Velazquez, Watkins had previously been known for his defense and hustle, however, after his promotion to the Red Wings Watkins bat became a plus for the Wings during their run for a championship. Watkins hit only .218Ave in 101 at bats at New Britain. At Rochester, Watkins had the highest batting average of his career when he hit .276Ave with 10 doubles, 4 home runs, 25 runs scored and 23 rbi in 174 at bats. When Watkins was battling injuries late in the season, the Twins signed minor league free agent Donaldo Mendez, 28+, (#22/-) who performed well in his limited time with the Wings, hitting .276Ave in 29 at bats. His #22 ranking is somewhat of an anomaly because of his hitting 3 home runs in only 29 at bats. All three are minor league free agents and if any return to Rochester in 2007, they would be available as a temporary replacement should the need arise in Minnesota.
The New Britain Rock Cats (AA) began the season with Velazquez and Watkins as their shortstops. After both moved up to Rochester, Matt Tolbert, played some shortstop as did J.R. Taylor, 23, (#42/#28) prior to his return to Ft. Myers. While with the Rock Cats, Taylor hit .207Ave with 10 doubles, 1 home run, 20 runs scored and 13 rbi in 203 at bats with 5 stolen bases in 9 attempts. At Ft. Myers, Taylor hit .222Ave with 5 doubles, 17 runs scored and 11 rbi in 126 at bats with 7 stolen bases in 9 attempts. Taylor had more walks (20) than strikeouts (18) at Ft. Myers with 35 walks and 37 strikeouts at New Britain. After the all-star break, the Twins promoted **Alexi Casilla, 21+, (#1/-) to New Britain where he took over as their every day shortstop. Casilla has been discussed with the second basemen based on his play at Ft. Myers during the first half of the season. While at New Britain, Casilla was successful in his first 16 steal attempts finishing with 19 stolen bases in 23 attempts. In 170 at bats for the Rock Cats, Casilla had a .294Ave with 10 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 28 runs scored, 13 rbi, 18 walks versus only 20 strikeouts. Following the season Casilla was called up by the Twins and although he has seen limited action, his call up clearly indicates that he is the front runner for their second base job whenever it opens up.
The Ft. Myers Miracle had J.R. Taylor playing some short following his return from New Britain, however, former first round pick Trevor Plouffe, 19+, (#24/#18) was their primary shortstop. Plouffe has been moving through the system rapidly and at nineteen years old at the beginning of the season was very young for a Hi-A league. Plouffe was coming off a season at Beloit where he struggled offensively and defensively, leading the system with 35 errors. Plouffe again led the system with 29 errors while struggling offensively early in the season when he hit only .226Ave from April through July, before closing strong with a .304Ave in August. Plouffe was the Miracle's hitting star in the playoffs when he hit .500Ave (7 for 14). For the season, Plouffe finished with a .246Ave with 26 doubles, 4 triples, 4 home runs, 60 runs scored and 45 rbi in 455 at bats. Although Plouffe, who is in the Fall Instructional League, needs to work hard on all aspects of his game, he is very young and should begin 2007 at New Britain which places him as a serious candidate for a future role with the Twins.
As discussed previously, the Beloit Snappers (A) lost all of their starting infielders to injury prior to the end of the season. Paul Kelly, 19, (#18/#40), had a tremendous year defensively with only 10 errors in 95 games (compared to Plouffe's 35 errors in 127 games for Beloit in 2005). Kelly also was one of the Snappers' top hitters with a .280Ave with 22 doubles, 4 triples, 3 home runs, 58 runs scored and 48 rbi in 378 at bats. Toby Gardenhire, 23, (#86/#85) had been a utility player, however, following Kelly's injury he became their primary shortstop. Gardenhire hit only .198Ave with 4 doubles, 2 triples, 22 runs scored and 18 rbi in 258 at bats with 1 stolen base in 8 attempts. Kelly, who is playing in the Fall Instructional League, may be the top shortstop prospect in the system and will likely begin 2007 at Ft. Myers.
Yancarlos Ortiz, 21, (#72/#37) began the season with Beloit where he hit .200Ave in 65 at bats before returning to the Elizabethton Twins (Rookie) when the Appalachian season began. He hit .275Ave with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 21 runs scored and 11 rbi in 102 at bats with 13 walks and only 11 strikeouts during his second season at Elizabethton. Ortiz is a solid defensive player who had only 5 errors in 34 games. The Elizabethton Twins top hitter was this season's 11th round pick, Steven Singleton, 20, (#54/-). Singleton hit .340Ave with 9 doubles, 5 triples, 4 home runs, 26 runs scored and 24 rbi in 144 at bats with a .368OBP, .556SLG while striking out 19 times compared with only 5 walks. Singleton will likely move up to the full season Beloit Snappers next year.
The Gulf Coast League Twins (Rookie) had two young Latin players sharing shortstop. Juan Delgado, 19+, (#77/#87) played the most, hitting .228Ave with 4 doubles, 3 triples, 1 home run, 17 runs scored and 15 rbi in 136 at bats with 8 stolen bases in 14 attempts. Delgado also was an emergency replacement for the Miracle in a few games where he got 3 hits in 9 at bats including a home run. Estarlin De Los Santos, 19, (#81/-) saw limited action due to his being on the disabled list for part of the short season. De Los Santos hit .195Ave with 1 double, 2 triples, 12 runs scored and 2 rbi in 82 at bats with 8 stolen bases in 10 attempts.
The shortstops in the system included the highest ranked player in the system, Alexi Casilla. Casilla played second base at Ft. Myers and shortstop at New Britain, therefore is included in this review of shortstops although he likely is the Twins future second baseman. The eleven players playing shortstop this season had an average ranking of #42 out of 88 position players. The top shortstop prospects include:
Alexi Casilla (#1) - New Britain
Paul Kelly (#18) - Beloit
Trevor Plouffe ( #24) - Ft. Myers
Like catcher and first base, the Twins will not be looking for a starting shortstop in the near future. They do need either another utility player who is competent at shortstop or a solid prospect or minor league veteran playing short at Rochester, someone who could be called up if needed because of an injury. Casilla will be playing either second or shortstop at Rochester. Although he may eventually be the Twins second baseman, he would be available to step in at shortstop or a utility role in 2007. Their other top prospects, Kelly and Plouffe, are both very young and were playing in A leagues this season, therefore, both are several years away from being ready for the Twins.