AFL Rosters Announced
It's always exciting to see which players are assigned to the AFL, because it's usually a pretty good indication of who the team believes in for the future. Of course, there's always a curveball somewhere in the roster, and this year is no exception. Here's the list:
Nick Blackburn - RHP - AAA
Brian Duensing - LHP - AAA
Ryan Mullins - LHP - AA
Anthony Swarzak - RHP - AA
Drew Butera - C - AA
Trevor Plouffe - SS - AA
David Winfree - 1B/3B - AA
Here are some thoughts on each of them:
When the year started, Blackburn was a middling pitching prospect at the AA prospect whose odds of making it to the big leagues some day were fairly slim. After all, Blackburn was drafted in the 29th round back in 2001 -- which isn't exactly a place where a lot of top prospects come from. His track record was also spotty -- he would occasionally put up a really nice year (2.77 ERA in 84.1 innings for Quad Cities in 2004; 1.84 ERA in 49 innings for New Britain in 2005), but never for a long enough period of time or at a high enough level to fully sell it. Last year, in his first full season in AA, Blackburn had a 4.42 ERA in 132.1 innings -- not that bad, really, but also not numbers that demonstrated that he was a top talent, either.
Then, this year rolled around and everything changed for Blackburn. He started the season by putting up a 3.08 ERA in 38 innings for New Britain before being promoted to Rochester, where he's been even better -- 2.12 ERA in 97.2 innings. It would appear that Blackburn has arrived. The AFL is a chance for Blackburn to keep up his solid performance and earn himself an invitation to Spring Training '08.
Unlike Blackburn, Duensing was supposed to succeed. The Twins drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2005 draft, and he's mostly had success in his time since then. Duensing's only poor stretch since joining the Twins was a 7 game, 40.1 inning stint with the Miracle in 2006 where he put up a 4.46 ERA -- but other than that, he's been extremely solid at every level. This year has been no exception, as Duensing started off with a 2.66 ERA in 50.2 innings with New Britain before being moved up to Rochester. Since the promotion, Duensing has put up a 2.97 ERA in 103 innings of work. As with Blackburn, a solid performance in the AFL likely means an invite to Spring Training '08 and a chance to try to get himself inserted into the conversation with the likes of Perkins, Garza, Slowey, Baker, Bonser, and Blackburn.
Mullins, like Duensing, was a Twins 3rd round pick -- in fact, he was the next year's 3rd round pick, in 2005. Also like Duensing, Mullins has moved quickly through the Twins organization, generally with a great deal of success at each level. He started off with a 2.18 ERA in 53.2 innings in Elizabethton after signing in 2005. Then, in 2006, Mullins spent the entire season in Beloit and put up a 3.86 ERA in 156.1 innings. This season has been a big one for Mullins, as he started off in Ft. Myers, where in 54.2 innings he had a 1.98 ERA before being promoted to New Britain. Success with the Rock Cats (3.67 ERA in 68.2 innings) earned him another promotion, to Rochester -- but a rather horrifying 10.57 ERA in 15.1 innings of work caused him to be busted back down to New Britain. Even with the poor performance in Rochester, Mullins success everywhere else has him poised to be next year's Duensing -- rising to the AAA level sometime in 2008 and possibly getting into the conversation for a starting spot in the 2009 rotation or thereabouts.
The 2007 season started off poorly for Swarzak after he was suspended for 50 games on April 20 after testing positive for a "drug of abuse." Swarzak said all of the right things about the situation, and returned to action with the Ft. Myers Miracle when his suspension was up. When he returned, the former 2nd round pick pitched as if he hadn't missed a beat, posting a 2.30 ERA in 3 starts with the Miracle before being promoted to New Britain. Since the promotion, Swarzak has put up a 3.23 ERA in 75.1 innings. Hopefully, the suspension will prove to be a minor blip on Swarzak's career history -- certainly, the way he's pitching, it looks like that may be the case. Incidentally, the suspension coupled with Swarzak's strong performance pretty much made him a shoe-in for the AFL -- he missed nearly two months of the season, so extended action seems a perfect fit.
Surprise! I mentioned that there's always a curveball, and this year there's no question that it's Butera. The son of former Twin Sal Butera, Drew was acquired from the Mets in the deadline deal for Luis Castillo. Butera was a 5th round pick in the 2005 draft, but has always been known more for his defensive ability than for his offense. As a matter of fact, Butera has just a career .212 average in the minors so far in his career, and while he's hitting .250 since joining the Twins organization, that's in just 28 AB's. Honestly, I'm not sure why the Twins would choose to send someone like Butera to the AFL rather than, say, Jose Morales -- a much better offensive catcher who seems like a more promising prospect.
Plouffe's career with the Twins has been, shall we say, a bit up and down. Plouffe was a first round pick back in 2004, and he started off solid with Elizabethton by hitting .283 in 237 AB's. Unfortunately, his offense collapsed in 2005 and 2006, when he hit .223 with Beloit and .244 with Ft. Myers respectively. Nonetheless, the Twins have continued to promote Plouffe, and this season Plouffe's offense has recovered a bit with him hitting .277 in 469 AB's with New Britain to this point. While his defense has left something to be desired (reaching the 20 error threshold is . . . well . . . not so good), it's happened in large part because of the (supposedly) sub-par infield in New Britain. To become a legit prospect again, Plouffe needs to continue to improve offensively, and the AFL will hopefully be a significant part of that process.
Winfree is the sole Twins returnee to the AFL from last season, and he's in need of a solid performance this winter after putting up a disappointing year with New Britain. Winfree has hit .256 in 403 AB's for the Rock Cats this season, and while that's not terrible, it's also not particularly good. His power numbers have also declined significantly, from 13 homers in 261 AB's in 2006 with Ft. Myers (roughly 20 AB's per homer) to 9 homers in 403 AB's this season (about 45 AB's per homer). All of this means that the 13th round pick from 2003 needs a pick me up, and maybe the AFL can provide it.