Twins offer successful plan to duplicate

Quality farm system, front office stability help small-market team stay competitive

September 07, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles weren't the only team at Camden Yards yesterday facing a slew of offseason questions.

The Minnesota Twins have issues, too, even as they coast toward their third consecutive American League Central title. Five of the core players who made this run possible may not return.

Starting pitcher Brad Radke and third baseman Corey Koskie are approaching free agency. Outfielder Jacque Jones could make upward of $6 million through arbitration, so the team will likely look to trade him or non-tender his contract.

Second baseman Luis Rivas is another arbitration headache, and the Twins are likely to decline shortstop Cristian Guzman's $5.25 million option, forcing a renegotiation.

But here's the difference: When Twins general manager Terry Ryan looks to address these potential holes, he has a stockpile of young players waiting to fill them. In fact, that's part of his challenge, clearing way for the next crop of talent.

The Orioles? They're clearly a work in progress. With no impact positional prospects at the ready, any offensive upgrades this winter will have to come through free agency or a trade.

Their starting lineup yesterday included three players drafted and developed in their own system: Brian Roberts, Larry Bigbie and Tim Raines. Other homegrown talents on the roster or disabled list include Daniel Cabrera (yesterday's winning pitcher), Erik Bedard, Matt Riley, John Parrish, Jerry Hairston, Luis Matos and Val Majewski.

"I do see improvement, but it takes time," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said.

Beattie knows the Orioles have a long way to go to become the player development machine the Twins have become.

Minnesota's lineup yesterday included five homegrown players: Jones, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, Terry Tiffee and Michael Cuddyer.

But in the sixth inning, when the Orioles finally chased 41-year-old starting pitcher Terry Mulholland from the game, the Twins turned to Jesse Crain, Minnesota's second-round pick in the 2002 draft, and the Orioles didn't score for two innings against his 95-mph fastball.

Still trailing in the eighth, the Twins sent their top prospect to the plate as a pinch hitter. Jason Kubel, who hit .377 this year in Double-A and .343 at Triple-A, drew a leadoff walk against Cabrera.

Kubel was Minnesota's 12th-round pick in the 2000 draft.

"What the Twins do, I think it's really just good scouting," Beattie said. "I mean, Terry [Ryan's] a scout at heart. He has that over a lot of people in the game, and he does a good job with the scouting department. The other thing is they've been very stable. They've had the same guys in place year after year after year, and so that stability helps."

Ryan has been the Twins' GM since 1994, and he's been with the organization since 1986. His baseball operations department is filled with longtime employees, including Jim Rantz, who has been with the organization since its inception in 1961, making the move with the former Washington Senators as a player.

"There is a lot of trust there," Ryan said. "There's a certain amount of chemistry, not only with the players but with the staff."

The scary thing about the Twins is they may actually be better next year.

Joe Mauer, the first overall pick in the 2001 draft, has been out with knee injuries most of the season, but when healthy, he's a legitimate No. 3 hitter.

Morneau (17 home runs in 209 at-bats) has so much promise as a cleanup hitter, the Twins made room for him this summer by trading Doug Mientkiewicz to the Boston Red Sox.

Kubel will almost surely replace Jones in the outfield next year. Cuddyer, their first-round pick in the 1997 draft, could easily replace Rivas or Koskie, if he drives a hard bargain.

Throw in top pitching prospect J.D. Durbin, who is set to arrive tonight from Triple-A, the list seems to go on and on. But with typical Midwest modesty, Ryan refuses to heap too much praise on these prospects.

"They've had a nice start, and it's rewarding to have guys come through your system, and obviously we've got some depth with the injuries we've had," Ryan said. "We certainly have high expectations for a number of those guys, but you've got to be careful about anointing them before they get established for a couple of years."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' Brad Radke (10-7, 3.59) vs. Orioles' Matt Riley (1-3, 8.39)

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