MINNEAPOLIS — This week’s Major League Baseball draft is an important one for the Minnesota Twins, and the organization knows it.
The Twins hold the No. 2 overall selection, their highest pick since they took a kid named Joe Mauer No. 1 overall in 2001. But holding the second pick isn’t the only reason this year’s draft — especially Monday’s first day – is big for Minnesota. The Twins have two picks in the compensation round (Nos. 32 and 42 overall) as a result of free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel signing elsewhere this past offseason. In addition, Minnesota has the No. 63 and No. 72 picks in Tuesday’s second round.
That’s five selections in the first 72 picks, which could prove vital for a franchise looking to get back on track after a 99-loss season in 2011 and another losing record so far in 2012.
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“It’s got a lot of significance probably in the future of the Twins organization. It’s an important draft,” said Mike Radcliff, Minnesota’s vice president of player personnel. “We know that. We realize that. We spend a lot of time working towards that. We are excited about it. We’re ready for it. We’re confident we’ll get some good players out of this.”
The big question looming over the No. 2 pick is who will be remaining after the Houston Astros make the first overall selection ahead of the Twins. Most mock drafts have the same two players being chosen in the first two picks: Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton and Stanford pitcher Mark Appel. After those two, there’s not as much consensus on which players will go next.
Appel is a 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander who is regarded as the best pitcher and best college player in this year’s draft. Buxton is a five-tool outfielder, measuring 6-foot-1, 175 pounds.
There’s a good chance Minnesota will take whichever of the two Houston doesn’t. In the past three years, though, the Twins have taken college players with their top picks. If Appel goes No. 1, would Minnesota be more inclined to take a different college arm, such as LSU’s Kevin Gausman or San Francisco’s Kyle Zimmer?
Radcliff says the strategy will be to grab the best available player, regardless of position. Minnesota has more outfield depth than it does pitching depth in its system, but Buxton might be tough to pass up at No. 2 if Appel goes first overall.
“We certainly have needs on the major league team and in our organization,” Radcliff said. “But if the best player, the guy that has a chance to be an All-Star player, an impact player, if he’s of the position that we already think we have some talent, you still need to take that guy. Because you go ahead and address your need and then that player turns into be just an ordinary player or doesn’t make it. Meanwhile, you pass on a guy you thought was the best guy but you don’t need him and he plays in 10 All-Star games, well, then you made a bad draft.”
Last year, Minnesota took University of North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael with their first pick (30th overall). The year before that, it was Ohio State pitcher Alex Wimmers with the 21st pick in the first round. In 2009, the Twins took Kyle Gibson in the first round (22nd). Three straight years, three college players.
But before that, it was a run of high schoolers that Minnesota chose in the first rounds. That included outfielder Aaron Hicks in 2008 (No. 14 overall), outfielder Ben Revere in 2007 (No. 28) and Chris Parmelee in 2006 (No. 20).
While it seems there are more college players than high school players ranked in the top tier of this year’s draft, Radcliff said the Twins are comfortable taking either type of player.
“In our humble opinion, you can make a case that the best high school guys every year have no more risk than any college guy,” he said. “We have a couple high school guys that are near the top. We’re not afraid of them. We don’t believe there’s any more risk involved in those guys than there are with any of the college guys that we’re also considering.”
The Twins can’t afford to miss on the No. 2 pick this year. They hit the mark in 2001 when they took the hometown kid Mauer, who went on to win the 2009 MVP and has won three batting titles with Minnesota.
This year’s draft is regarded as perhaps one of the weaker draft classes in recent years — there aren’t any “can’t-miss” prospects, necessarily — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players out there that can help the Twins.
“The consensus is it’s not one of the more talented drafts in recent history, but again, there are good players somewhere,” Radcliff said. “It’s up to each of us, every team, to find them.”