J. D. Durbin was having his best season in several years, until again sidelined by injury last summer. After a disappointing 2005, Durbin had a 4-3 record with a 2.33 era and 81 strikeouts in 89.0 innings. Even with his shortened season, Durbin had the fourth best season of all pitchers in the system according to my rating system. Another way of looking at a pitcher is their Dominance Ratio (“DR”), which is total strikeouts divided by total walks and hits allowed. Durbin finished 2006 with a very respectable 0.692 DR. By comparison, Johann Santana led the American League with a 1.052 DR. Jeremy Bonderman was second with a 0.727 DR while the Twins Francisco Liriano had a 1.190 DR in his partial season. The Twins had ten minor league pitchers with DR’s greater than 1.000. This group was led by Jeff Manship (1.692 DR) in his limited innings with the GCL Twins and the Ft. Myers Miracle. Next was Pat Neshek with a 1.582 DR while with Rochester. Top prospects Matt Garza and Kevin Slowy were both in this group with DR’s of 1.294 and 1.218, respectively. Durbin is out of options, therefore, he must make the Twins or he will be lost to another team through waivers, unless he is again injured and retained by going onto the disabled list. After a disappointing 2005 and the injuries of last year, Durbin’s making the Twins in 2007 would put him in strong contention for this season’s Comeback Player of the Year.
New Britain’s Colby Miller was one of the system’s better starting pitchers prior to his injury in the 2005. Miller returned last year to pitch 50.0 innings in Ft. Myers and 17.2 innings with the Rock Cats. His combined record was 4-5 with a 4.52 era which gave him the 62nd best performance of all pitchers last season. Colby had a 0.413 DR and 2007 will likely be his last chance with the Twins. Can he return to the form that made him one of the system’s top prospects prior to 2005?
There were several players on last year’s Ft. Myers roster who could be strong candidates for this award. After being noticed by scouts in 2005, lefty Jose Mijares was placed on the 40-man roster. Mijares began last season as a member of the starting rotation, where he compiled a 0-4 record with a 8.00 era in 18.0 innings. He moved back to the bullpen where he was 3-1 with a 1.80 era in 22 games (45.0 innings). Mijares was the 31st ranked player in the system while compiling a 0.975 DR. He struggled with injuries much of the last half of the season and needs to get back on track this year to justify the Twins keeping him on the 40-man roster. It is likely Mijares will begin 2007 in New Britain’s bullpen and has the ability to move to AAA with a potential September call up not out of the question.
Angel Garcia is a big right handed pitcher who was selected by the Twins in the 4th round of the 2001 draft, three picks after Joe Mauer. Garcia, who was the top Rule 5 pick a few years ago, is an intimidating pitcher who has struggled with injuries missing much of nearly every season he has been in the system. Last year Garcia pitched only 15.1 innings for the Miracle, compiling a 2-1 record with a 2.93 era. Because of his limited innings, he was the 38th ranked pitcher in the system with a 0.650 DR. Like several of the players in this group, this may be Garcia’s last chance to get healthy and become the player the Twins know he can be. Johnny Woodard was the Twins 3rd round selection in 2003. Woodard missed nearly half of 2005 and appeared in only 23 games last year with a .181 Average in 72 at bats. This big first baseman has a lot of ability, however, may be another prospect who will have his last chance at regaining top prospect status.
Juan Portes was one of the leading prospects in the Appalachian League in 2005, leading the Elizabethton Twins all the way to the championship. Portes, who is a player who needs to improve his defense, struggled with injuries last year while hitting only .231 Average in 268 at bats for the Beloit Snappers. Portes is an excellent line drive hitter who may move to the outfield as the Twins try to find the best way of keeping his bat in the lineup. Portes is another player who needs a strong 2007 to resume his trip to the Twins. Henry Sanchez is a big power hitting first baseman who was a first round sandwich pick in 2005. He signed late in the summer and played briefly for the GCL Twins before moving up to Beloit last spring. He struggled at Beloit, hitting only .202 with 4 home runs in 168 at bats. He was only 19 when he was sent down to Elizabethton, where he appeared in only 12 games prior to going onto the disabled list for the remainder of the summer. Sanchez allegedly has tremendous power potential, however, it has been reported that he cannot hit a curve ball. Should he correct this problem he could have a huge season making him a leading candidate for this season’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
One of the most disappointing picks the Twins made the last few year’s was Matt Fox, a second round pick in 2004. Fox joined the team with impressive credentials, however, overuse in college caused the Twins to shut him down immediately after signing in 2004. Fox missed all of 2005 and had his innings limited last year at Elizabethton as the Twins proceeded with caution as he built up his arm strength. Fox had a 4-0 record with a 3.79 era with a 1.022 DR. These stats however, were in only 40.1 innings and one must be skeptical of any results for a 23 year old pitching in a rookie league. Hopefully Fox can come back healthy 2007 so that he can show the Twins that he is the pitcher they thought they were drafting in 2004. Kyle Edlich may have been the top pitcher in the Gulf Coast League in 2005 when he led the league with a 1.70 era in 47.7 innings with a 0.930 DR. This lefty from Australia missed all of 2006 and is another prospect who could impress the Twins if he can return to his level of play of two years ago.
Each of the above players could have a huge season in 2007 and a be strong competitor for the Comeback Player of the Year. The leading candidate however, is right handed pitcher Jay Rainville. Rainville, who has often been compared to a young Roger Clemens, was one of the top young pitchers in the system in 2005 when I had him ranked as the twelfth best pitcher in the system as a 19 year old. Rainville began 2005 at Beloit, where he had an 8-2 record with a 3.77 era in 88.3 innings with a 0.700 DR. At mid-season he moved up to Ft. Myers where he was even better with a 4-3 record with a 2.67 era and a .583 DR. Rainville missed all of 2006 with surgery before participating in the Fall Instructional League. All indications are that Rainville should be 100% this spring, causing Jim Rantz to recently comment that he expects a huge season from this top prospect…making Jay Rainville my top candidate for the 2007 Minnesota Twins System Comeback Player of the Year.