Martin shortens swing, sees results
A look at Twins prospects in the Arizona Fall League
PHOENIX -- Stan Cliburn would be the first to admit that as a manager in the Arizona Fall League, being objective and serving everyone's needs is paramount. But it would only be natural that he has a twinge of bias toward the Minnesota Twins prospects who are dotting the Phoenix roster this fall.
Cliburn is in his eighth season with Minnesota, the last three of which have been spent managing the club's Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. So he is more than a little familiar with what the Twins have in their system. That includes outfielder Dustin Martin, who, according to Cliburn, has made tremendous strides this fall.
"I think he's matured more than any player we have here," Cliburn said. "He had a good year at Double-A and now he's in this elite league and he's handling it well. I like his mental approach. I've challenged him by playing him every day at times and he's responded. Being here is a big stepping stone for a lot of players and he's fit right in.
"He's played left field and right field and he has a good mental approach. His swing sometimes gets a little long because he's trying to lift the ball instead of drive it, so we're trying to get him in a consistent place with that. Defensively, he has a good arm, too, and I think he has a good chance to break camp with the Triple-A club next year."
Martin, whom the Twins acquired in 2007 from the Mets in the Luis Castillo deal, hit .290 with 10 homers and 72 RBIs for New Britain in the Eastern League. He collected 52 extra-base hits and proved he can play the outfield every day.
The Sam Houston State product -- he was a 26th-round pick in 2006 -- was hitting .307 with a homer and 10 RBIs through his first 75 AFL at-bats. Martin says he'd like to cut down on his strikeouts -- 125 during the regular season and another 24 in Arizona -- but otherwise, things have been going well.
Martin struggled early with the Desert Dogs, but after shortening his swing during his second week in Phoenix he began to see results.
"I'm seeing the ball longer now," he said. "And it helps a lot having Stan here. He knows exactly what I need to work on and has helped me with staying back in my swing. I'll see him in the third base box and he'll give me some hand signals about what's coming and what to do. It helps."
RHP Rob Delaney was named MLB.com's Minor League Reliever of the Year after dominating at Fort Myers of the Florida State League and New Britain. Though he had a modest 3-3 record, he collected 18 saves and posted a combined 1.23 ERA in 66 innings. He fanned 72 and walked only 11 but has not enjoyed similar success in Arizona. Through his first six games (5 2/3 innings), Delaney is 0-1 with a 9.53 ERA, allowing nine hits and three walks.
"He's a guy that was non-drafted, but size-wise [6-foot-3 and 235] he's got what you're looking for in a pitcher and a closer," said Jim Rantz, Minnesota's director of Minor League operations. "He's got real good command if you look at his numbers. He's moved every year he's played, he throws strikes and he's a heck of a competitor. And after pitching in the Arizona Fall League, he might show us that he's ready for Triple-A."
RHP Anthony Slama also was a MiLBY recipient this year, earning the Class A Advanced Reliever of the Year Award after going 4-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 25 saves in 71 innings at Fort Myers. He struck out 110 and walked only 24, but he, too, has not been as sharp with Phoenix. He's appeared in seven games (5 1/3 innings), allowed seven hits and walked four.
"If you look at the numbers, it's kind of unbelievable," Rantz said. "He doesn't give up hits or walk a lot of people. He's a very durable guy whose arm bounces back. He has three pitches, but he hasn't used his off-speed stuff much. When he comes into a game and it's on the line, he's not going to get beat with his third-best pitch.
"If you look at his numbers, his walks might even be a little high, but his strikeouts make up for it. When the game is on the line, he'll battle for you."
RHP Tim Lahey appeared in all but two of his 50 games for Rochester this season, going 5-5 with a 5.43 ERA. He also had eight saves and made a spot start, the first of his career. He's looked very sharp through nine AFL appearances, posting a 1.04 ERA over 8 2/3 innings.
RHP Jeff Manship was 10-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 27 combined starts at Fort Myers and New Britain. Through his first five appearances in Arizona, he was 2-1 with a 5.14 ERA over 21 innings.
2B Steve Tolleson employed a pair of contact lenses this year to overcome the eye problems that bothered him in the past and wound up batting .300 at New Britain. He had nine homers and 50 RBIs and has been tearing up the AFL, hitting .439 with two homers and 17 RBIs through 66 at-bats.
"He's been especially good out here," Cliburn said. "I think he's a guy that needs to be added to the 40-man [roster] from what I've seen here. This is the first time I've been able to see him on a daily basis and he reminds me of Matt Tolbert."
3B Danny Valencia split the season between Fort Myers and New Britain and batted .311 with 15 homers, but he has struggled in Arizona, hitting .218 with four RBIs through 78 at-bats.
"He's made some adjustments, but his mental approach needs to be stronger," Cliburn said. "He experiments a lot with how he holds his hands and sets up in the box. He's got to find one consistent way he likes. I see him moving around a lot, and that tells me he's not comfortable."
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.