Make no mistake, Twins prospect Joe Benson is grateful for the kind words.
He appreciates that you recognize all of the hard work he has put in and that you like his skills. And no, he doesn't mind being praised for his potential. But at this point of his young career, the outfielder simply wants to be recognized for his performance on the field.
"You hear the 'toolsie' comments, and as much as it's nice to hear those compliments, you hate hearing about having the tools and still being a prospect or having the tools and not being developed yet," Benson, 23, said. "But baseball is a grind and I plan on going into it in Spring Training, getting to the field early, working hard and refining my tools."
The work is paying off. Benson, who was drafted in 2006, had a breakout season in 2010, earning the organization's Minor League Player of the Year, and followed it up with a solid campaign in 2011. Last season, he hit .285 with 16 home runs and 67 RBIs in 111 games at Double-A New Britain. He also played in three games for the club's Gulf Coast League team.
"Since I started playing baseball and since I watched baseball on TV, making it to the Major Leagues has been my dream," he said. "Fighting through injuries and getting out of the Twins' doghouse after punching a wall [in 2009], having some down seasons, demotions and promotions in the Minor Leagues and finally getting there, the best part about it was the self-satisfaction I received. I could not have asked for a better ending to last season."
Benson definitely has something to build on. He had a memorable night against the Indians in September when he went 4-for-4 and finished a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. His four hits were the most for a Twins rookie since Danny Valencia also had four against the Royals on July 27, 2010.
"For me, there is nothing more I want than to wear a Twins uniform and be successful and win wearing a Twins uniform because the pride the coaching staff -- from A-ball to Major Leagues -- and the individual players have is unbelievable," he said. "My ultimate goal is to be a Minnesota Twin sometime this next season and be successful."
Top 10 review
Like Benson, it's hard not to talk about the tools of outfielder Aaron Hicks and infielder Miguel Sano when their names are mentioned. The club's first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Hicks continues to develop and despite lower numbers in 2011, followed a solid campaign in 2010 with more progress.
Hicks hit .242 with 17 stolen bases and 110 strikeouts in 122 games in the Florida State League in 2011, including 31 doubles and tallied five triples. He later shined in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .294 with eight doubles, five triples and 21 RBIs in 30 games for Mesa and should feel confident when he returns to Florida for Spring Training.
Sano, the jewel of the 2009 international signing period, has raw power to all fields, good bat speed and continues to hone his craft at third base and approach at the plate. In his U.S. debut, the infielder hit .292 with 20 home runs with 58 runs and 59 RBIs in 66 games for Elizabethton in the Appalachian League. He also struck out 77 times in 267 at-bats overall but sizzled in August, hitting .309 with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs in 27 games for the E-Twins.
The numbers only tell part of the story for pitching prospects in the organization. Right-hander Kyle Gibson went 3-8 with a 4.81 ERA in 95 1/3 innings for Triple-A Rochester. He struck out 91 batters and walked 27. Gibson's teammate, Carlos Gutierrez, went 2-3 with a 4.62 ERA in 62 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Red Wings.
Left-hander Pat Dean has advanced through the system quickly, moving up three levels in 2011 and finished the season at Double-A. He finished with an overall record of 5-7 with a 5.00 ERA in 108 innings.
Right-hander Liam Hendriks capped off a solid 2011 season in the Minors with a September callup. He went 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA for the Twins, but that didn't spoil a fine campaign last year.
Minnesota's top 10 prospects
|1.||Aaron Hicks, OF||Sano|
|2.||Kyle Gibson, RHP||Hicks|
|3.||Miguel Sano, 3B||Gibson|
|4.||Ben Revere, OF||Arcia|
|5.||Oswaldo Arcia, OF||Benson|
|6.||Joe Benson, OF||Hendriks|
|7.||Tsuyoshi Nishioka, SS||Gutierrez|
|8.||Alex Wimmers, RHP||Adrian Salcedo, RHP|
|9.||Carlos Gutierrez, RHP||Pat Dean, LHP|
|10.||Liam Hendriks, RHP||Wimmers|
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Oswaldo Arcia, OF: The prediction was that the Midwest League wouldn't be a challenge for Arcia and that he'd challenge for the system's triple crown. He did indeed make quick work of the MWL, even with a stint on the DL, hitting .352/.420/.704 in 20 games. That earned him a move up to Class A Advanced Fort Myers, where he held his own as a 20-year-old.
Hendriks, RHP: In 2010, an appendectomy cut short an excellent season. The idea was the Aussie right-hander would be healthy, set a career high in innings and top the organization in ERA. A promotion from Double-A to Triple-A may have cost him, though he still finished fourth in the system with his 3.36 ERA.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Brian Dozier, SS: The 2009 eighth-round pick hit across two levels in 2011, finishing second in the system with his .320 average. He also tied for the organizational lead with 24 steals, while his .399 on-base percentage and .491 slugging percentage make him a very intriguing leadoff hitter/middle infielder of the future.
Hendriks: Along with that nifty ERA, Hendriks struck out 111 (and walked just 21), the second highest strikeout total in the system. He also finished second with his 12 wins. He earned two promotions, finishing the year in the big leagues, as well as an invitation to the Futures Game.