MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have long prided themselves on producing successful big leaguers through their farm system, and two of their top prospects could be well on their way, as they were named to MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list for 2012 on Wednesday.
Infielder Miguel Sano was ranked No. 23, and baseball's second-best third-base prospect, while outfielder Aaron Hicks was ranked No. 72.
This year's edition of MLB.com's Top Prospects list has expanded from 50 to 100 players. The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2012.
Sano, 18, is regarded as the Twins' top prospect and he certainly showed why in 2011, when he hit .292 with a .352 on-base percentage and .637 slugging percentage in 66 games with Rookie-level Elizabethton. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder also finished with the second-most homers in the Appalachian League with 20, while adding 59 RBIs, seven triples, 18 doubles and five stolen bases.
"He's progressing as we thought he might, and he had a breakout year last year," Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said. "There's no doubt this guy's an absolute power threat. He does it easy and has all-fields power. He still swings and misses a little too much, but he's a young guy. But he's going to be fine. He's a big, strong kid and looks like a Major Leaguer."
Sano was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 as a shortstop, but is likely to move to third base because he's outgrowing the shortstop position. Sano, however, did see some time at shortstop and is expected to continue to get better as a defender. He's currently slated to start next season at Class A Beloit, with the hope he makes the big leagues by 2014.
"We still have him playing a little bit of short but he'll likely play third base," Johnson said. "He still has a ways to go defensively, but there's no reason to believe he can't play third and be a really good third baseman. He can really throw and his hands are fine, so he really just needs reps."
Hicks, 22, was ranked No. 39 on last year's list, but slipped a bit after hitting .242 with a .354 on-base percentage and .368 slugging percentage in 122 games with Class A Fort Myers. The switch-hitter also hit five homers, five triples and 31 doubles while driving in 38 runs and stealing 17 bases in 26 attempts.
Hicks was a streaky hitter in 2011, as he started off slow before picking it up in midseason, only to cool off at the end of the year. But the switch-hitter fared much better in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .294/.400/.559 with three homers, five triples and five stolen bases in 30 games.
"Midway through he actually did fine and was hitting about .280 in the Florida State League in July, but he hit a wall after the All-Star break," Johnson said. "But he really rebounded in the Fall League. He performed well, and his walk levels were high, as always, while his strikeout numbers weren't too high."
Hicks, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, is also regarded as the organization's best defensive outfield prospect, as he has displayed great range while also showing off a strong arm in center field.
Hicks, the Twins' first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft is expected to start the season with Double-A New Britain.
"He's playing really good defense," Johnson said. "He's really improved defensively, and definitely can be an above-average center fielder, defensively. He can really throw and has the best outfield arm in our system."