Outlook: Following a franchise record worst 44-98 season in 2010, Jeff Smith has seen improvement in his Rock Cats over the last two seasons. Now, in his fourth season at the helm, the team looks for their first playoff berth in over a decade.
On paper, the names that draw immediate attention fall under the pitching category and start with the two major off-season acquisitions of Trevor May and Alex Meyer. The big strong right handed pitchers rank as top 10 prospects in the Minnesota organization, with Meyer ranked as the top pitching prospect for the Twins by Baseball America.
The staff also returns Brett Hermsen and Logan Darnell. Last season Hermsen, who was added to the Twins 40-man roster, went 11-6 during his time in New Britain and his 2.88 season ERA (between Fort Myers and New Britain) was the best in the organization.
Josmil Pinto will get the bulk of the catching duties after logging 105 games behind the plate a season ago. After hitting .295 in 93 games with High Single-A Fort Myers, he continued to hit on his arrival to New Britain where he batted .298 in 12 games. Pinto is 24 years old, but is more experienced than most his age as he enters his eighth season in professional baseball.
A thin outfield includes the return of Evan Bigley who will be making his fourth tour of duty with the Rock Cats. In 248 games with New Britain he has a .268 batting average with 23 home runs and 137 RBIs.
Thoughts: There seems to be a trend of strong pitching staffs going around the New England area and the Rock Cats fit the bill just the same, although there are some question marks with regards to some of their more highly regarded players.
Infielder Danny Santana is ranked by BA as the 11th best Twins prospect and their best at the shortstop position. However, he is capable of playing other positions, most second base. He had his best season at the plate a year ago, batting .286, but his patience is still lacking as he drew only 29 walks in 547 plate apperances. If he can improve on that aspect of his game, then he could reach his potential.
Pinto is an intruiging player having already put in seven seasons in pro ball. Will his experience pay off for him? With Danny Lehmann and Dan Rohlfing considered more of backup catchers, Pinto will have every chance to prove his worth this year.
Lastly, it will be worth keeping an eye on May and the long ball. In his first season in Double-A last year, he allowed a career high 22 home runs over 149 2/3 innings. In his prior four seasons he allowed only 21 in 375 2/3 innings.
Player to watch: Meyer – The top pitching prospect in any organization is always worth keeping an eye on and Meyer is no exception. Add to that the fact that the last best pitcher to emerge from the Twins farm system was Johan Santana and you can expect that fans already have Meyer in their crosshairs. Acquired in a trade that sent Denard Span to the Washington Nationals, the 6’9” hurler throws heat, hitting and maintaining his fastball in the high-90s. He can work with at least another four pitches, which includes a standout slider. In his debut pro season last year he struck out 139 batters over 129 innings and posted a 10-6 record with a 2.89 ERA.
Strengths: Pitching – See above. With four of the organizations Top 15 pitching prospects (per BA), the Rock Cats will need to keep the opposition bats at bat in order to win ballgames this season.
Weaknesses: Power – Hitting in general is not the strongest suit of the players on this roster, but the lack of power is glaring. Of the 14 positional players, only two had over ten home runs. Second baseman James Beresford has only one in 2113 career at-bats.
The author is solely responsible for the content.