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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins plunge into the MLB draft this week with a lot of holes to fill and a lot of ammunition to fill them.
So it’s no wonder why general manager Terry Ryan doesn’t want to hear about this year’s draft class being weaker than recent seasons. With the second overall pick, and three selections in the top 42 choices, Ryan said they have to make the most of their many opportunities to fill needs in the starting rotation and replenish a farm system that has been picked clean and is smarting from some lackluster recent drafts.
Couple the high picks with the current struggles of the big league club on the field, and Twins can’t afford to have another unproductive draft.
“It’s not so much the state of the organization as it is the opportunity with the excess picks that we have to do something with it,” Ryan said. “We have picked up top before back in the ’90s quite often. Every one of those drafts are important.
“This one’s important. We have so many opportunities here to get better, replenish the system and get good players that this is a draft that we need to take advantage of.”
The last time the Twins picked second overall, they missed in a major way in 2000 when they chose Cal State-Fullerton pitcher Adam Johnson, who only appeared in nine big-league games.
Johnson was recommended by Twins scout Deron Johnson, who has been in charge of the Twins draft since 2008. It may be as big a draft for Deron Johnson as it is for the Twins. Since Johnson took over the draft room, the Twins have yet to get much return from their choices. Right-hander Kyle Gibson, chosen in the first round in 2009, appeared to be on his way to the Twins rotation before needing Tommy John surgery last year, 2008 first-rounder Aaron Hicks is highly thought of, but has yet to start producing on a consistent basis in the minor leagues, right-hander Carlos Gutierrez (2008) has been moved to the bullpen full-time and hasn’t been in the big leagues and right-hander Alex Wimmers (2010) struggled mightily with his control before being shut down this season with elbow problems.
Other selections like Shooter Hunt and Matt Bashore fell flat as well, but the Twins have also had some hits in recent seasons with the likes of Denard Span (2002), Matt Garza (2005) and Glen Perkins (2004).
It’s a testament to the difficulty of drafting in baseball, where players chosen often are four or five years away from being ready to come to the majors.
“To me, all their picks have made sense,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said. “The only reach was Gutierrez (27th overall), who was 81st on our board at the time. But they had good reason to take all those guys that high.”
Their biggest need remains in the rotation. This year’s Twins have been stuck at the bottom of the AL Central thanks in large part to a lack of quality starting pitching, and there isn’t much help in the minor leagues, either. The pitch-to-contact preference in the organization hasn’t yielded the desired results, so power arms are a must.
The problem for the Twins seems to be that there is no sure-fire, can’t miss pitching prospect that will be available to them like Washington’s Stephen Strasburg in 2009 or Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole was considered last year.
“That’s a fair way to put it,” Manuel said. “It is bad timing for them to be picking second this year.”
Ryan acknowledges that the talent pool isn’t as deep as it has been in recent years, but that isn’t lowering his expectations for this draft.
“I think I can verify that it’s thinner than some. There’s no excuse, though,” Ryan said. “You’re going to hear about players that come out of this draft and four, five, six years from now, there will be players that are good major league players, that weren’t talked about. Hopefully we can identify those guys and get them.
“I don’t want to hear about thin drafts. Neither do (Deron Johnson and Mike Radcliff), actually, which is a good thing. They aren’t going to use any excuses. If we don’t get any good players out of this draft then shame on us.”
Houston is expected to take Stanford right-hander Mark Appel with the first pick, leaving the Twins with a choice between a host of prospects, including Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton, Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa and pitchers such as San Francisco’s Kyle Zimmer and LSU’s Kevin Gausman.
If they choose a position player with their top pick, expect the Twins to hit pitching hard in the rest of the draft. They have five of the top 72 picks and, thanks to new rules regarding signing players in the draft, the Twins have more than $12.3 million to spend on draft picks this year, which is more than any other team.
“Their focus is on pitching,” Manuel said. “I think that they recognize that the organization’s pitching has fallen. I don’t know if they could say their pitching has fallen into disrepair, but they need to build that back.”
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