The Minnesota Twins have one of the top-rated farm systems in baseball, according to Baseball America and other publications, and many of those young players are off to sizzling starts this season.
The future is bright.
The Twins also have some under-the-radar prospects to watch as well.
One man to keep an eye on is 24-year-old Venezuelan catcher Josmil Pinto, who is off to a hot start for Double-A New Britain after spending time in major league camp this spring. Pinto is hitting .318/.400/.518 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in 28 games for the Rock Cats -- this after Pinto hit .295/.362/.482 with 14 home runs between High-A and Double-A last year.
Pinto is said to have a strong throwing arm behind the plate, but needs some work on other defensive items (framing, calling a game, etc.). Per Twins minor league director Brad Steil, "Pinto's eventual major league role will depend on how he progresses over the next few years," although his bat might be ready before his defense.
Cedar Rapids Kernels manager Jake Mauer has been blessed, at least temporarily, with Byron Buxton -- more on that in a two-part series later this week -- who has made as much noise as any prospect through the first month of the season, reaching base in every game so far.
Mauer also had praise for hard-throwing left-handed starter Mason Melotakis, righty Tyler Duffey, who he called "probably our most polished pitcher," having pitched some big games in college at Rice University, and particularly 19-year-old Dominican second baseman Jorge Polanco, who is hitting .352/.386/.514 in his first 115 plate appearances of Low-A ball.
"I saw him as a 16-year-old turn Clay Buchholz around for a double in spring training and stand on second base like he's done it a million times," Mauer said, "so he's one that's not really afraid or intimidated by the moment."
Polanco was ranked as the Twins' 14th best prospect prior to last season by Baseball America.
Other news, notes, nuggets:
• In an interview with 1500 ESPN last week, Tom Kelly provided his thoughts on Miguel Sano's third base defense, which Kelly was able to see earlier this spring in Fort Myers, and Sano's strikeouts.
"He caught the ball better, he moved better in the field," Kelly said. "He didn't take any time off like he did last spring. I thought that was good. Remember, he had that tooth thing and he missed like seven, eight days, which was ridiculous. But he didn't miss time this year, and I think that's really benefited him. He certainly can hit, and eliminating the strikeouts, I know you say, 'Well, we don't care if he strikes out a few times,' but as you project things, as you go along, if you're going to strike out there, you're probably going to strike out a few more times when you get to the big leagues. So I would like to see some of the strikeouts get cleaned up and make sure he continues his work at third (base), where he can play defense at the major league level."
• Sano committed 42 errors last year. He has committed just five so far this year.
• Mike Pelfrey appeared to be working at a quicker pace on the mound during Sunday's win over the Cleveland Indians. Pelfrey entered Sunday with an average pace of 27 seconds between pitches, which is 6 seconds slower than his career pace. A big difference. Whether the quicker pace led to Pelfrey pitching better is unknown, but he allowed just one run on four hits and a walk in six innings while striking out seven.
• Trevor Plouffe's two-run homer on Sunday was the 38th of his career -- but just the 10th with at least one runner on base. Yes, 74% of Plouffe's home runs have been solo home runs.
• The Twins have been one of the most patient offensive units in baseball through the first five weeks of the season, although it hasn't translated to many runs scored yet. Entering Sunday, only four teams had seen more pitches per plate appearance than the Twins who, on average, look at 3.96 pitches per trip. The Twins were similarly patient last year, also ranking fifth (3.88). The Twins also entered Sunday with the fifth-highest team walk rate in the major leagues.
Despite the patience and plate discipline, the Twins entered Sunday with only 107 runs scored, which ranked 26th in baseball. The Twins have also played fewer games than most teams due to weather issues, and they've probably played in more cold weather games than most teams as well.
• Samuel Deduno (groin) was activated from the disabled list Sunday by the Rochester Red Wings. He allowed one earned run on five hits in five innings, striking out four while walking four. Deduno threw 89 pitches (51 strikes). To make room for Deduno, the Twins released 30-year-old outfielder Brandon Boggs, who had gotten off to a slow start in Rochester.
Deduno out after 5 innings. His line: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO. 89 PITCHES. 51 strikes.
• J.O. Berrios allowed just two earned runs on six hits in six innings while striking out eight in his third outing for Cedar Rapids on Sunday. The Twins kept Berrios down in extended spring for a couple extra weeks to build up his arm strength and get his pitch counts higher after the World Baseball Classic, where the 19-year-old right-hander didn't get much run. His manager, Jake Mauer, has been impressed.
"Probably raw stuff-wise, Berrios probably does have the best stuff on our staff. I think that's fair to say," Mauer said. "He was awfully tough at our place this last homestand. He moved the ball within the zone, he's got a nice breaking pitch, his changeup is developing. He just looks like a guy. Easy motion, real fluid, has a big breaking ball like I said... He doesn't say a whole lot, but he really gets after it. Body-wise, he's got a good body, good physique."
• With his transition from Fort Myers to Cedar Rapids, Mauer -- barring unforeseen circumstances -- will miss out on managing Sano and Eddie Rosario. "They're putting up some numbers down there, I tell ya," Mauer said. "I saw both of those guys as young kids in instructional league, and to see both of them mature... We always kind of knew Eddie was going to hit, and obviously Miguel had power through the roof, but I think the biggest thing -- and obviously they're putting up huge numbers -- but it sounds like both of them are making a lot of progress defensively, which I think is huge."
• Along with hitting .333/.367/.504 with 12 extra-base hits in 28 games, Rosario has yet to commit an error. He committed 15 in 71 games at second base last year.
• The Twins are 13-14 after Sunday's win. They didn't win their 12th game until May 18th last season (13-26).
• Ron Gardenhire watches Triple-A games on his computer whenever he can, mostly because those are players who might be called up. He mostly just follows boxscores from the lower levels, while also reading the written reports from scouts and coaches.