Q&A With Kernels’ JD Williams

Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder JaDamion (J.D.) Williams is in his fourth season with the Minnesota Twins organization. He was drafted by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2010 amateur draft.

JD WIlliams with some pregame stretching

JD WIlliams with some pregame stretching

After a very productive 2011 season at Rookie League level Elizabethton, where he hit .324, Williams hit only .237 for the Beloit Snappers a year ago and accumulated an on-base percentage of .311.

In his second year in the Midwest League, Williams is off to a much better start for the Kernels.

Hitting out of the ninth spot in Manager Jake Mauer’s batting order, Williams spent most of the first three weeks of the season with a batting average approaching .300. While he’s dropped to .250 through Tuesday’s game, he’s sporting an impressive .446 on-base percentage. He’s also hit four doubles and three home runs, leading to a  slugging percentage sufficient to put his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) up to .946. Those numbers may not be sustainable, but they reflect a new approach to hitting this season.

Williams sat down for an interview over the weekend to discuss his first few weeks in Cedar Rapids and his role, thus far, with the Kernels.

Knuckleballs: This is your second season in the Midwest League. Is there anything specifically different about how you feel going in to this year as opposed to starting last year in Beloit?

J.D. Williams: Just the fact that I’ve had a year here in this league and I’ve learned a lot more. I’m more of a mature player, mature of a hitter and fielder. Learning from different guys. Our hitting coach Tommy Watkins, this is my second year working with him. Guys such as (Twins minor league hitting coordinator) Bill Springman, those guys just teaching me not necessarily the athletic side of the game but baseball mentality. Just learning to be a baseball player, not just running around.

Knuckleballs: Was it disappointing to find out you were going to be coming back to the Midwest League or was that something you were pretty much prepared for happening this year?

JDW: I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but like they say, as long as you got a jersey on, somebody likes you. I didn’t do what I wanted to do here (in the Midwest League) last year, so it doesn’t bother me that I’m back here. I’m playing a lot better this year, so it is what it is.

Williams1Knuckleballs: Did the Twins give you anything specific to work on? Did they say, “this is what we really want you to work on going in to the season. That’s what you’re going to have to do to advance.”?

JDW: Basically, they wanted me to cut down on my strikeouts; put the ball in play a lot more because I can run but you cant steal first base, like they say. I think I’m doing a lot better at that this year. I’m walking a lot more, not just going up there swinging at every pitch I see, opposed to like I was doing last year.

WilliamsBuxton

JD Williams waits his turn for batting practice as Byron Buxton gets his swings

Knuckleballs: They probably don’t exactly encourage you to run a lot with Byron Buxton coming up behind you, though.

JDW: (Laughs) He talks to me a lot. He tells me he’s going to give me a few pitches to run. We’ve got our little sign for when I’m gonna run and whatnot. So we work on that a lot, try to get each other a couple of bases.

Knuckleballs: Growing up, did you have a favorite player, someone you wanted to be like?

JDW: Growing up I liked to watch Brandon Phillips. That was back when I was an infielder and I’m an outfielder now. Of course, I like Denard Span and those guys. Michael Bourne, Juan Pierre, those guys that can run, get on base, steal a couple of bases. I want to be just like those guys.

Knuckleballs: Is there anything about coming to Cedar Rapids that you’ve found different than what you expected it to be?

JDW: Yeah, I love the atmosphere here, the stadium, the people. It’s a lot bigger than Beloit, obviously. Just a lot louder atmosphere. It’s fun playing here. Much more fun team this year, the guys, everything is different this year.

Knuckleballs: You’re making a statement at the bottom of the order. There’s a cliché about the number nine guy being a second leadoff hitter, but that’s not just a cliché with the way you’re getting on base.

JDW: That’s what Jake told me at the beginning of the season. He told me I was probably going to bat ninth and I told him that didn’t bother me at all. If Buxton’s doing a great job at the top of the order, I’ll score a bunch of runs batting in front of Buxton so I’m not gonna argue with that at all. Basically, like I said, we’re just having fun, man. I enjoy hitting in the nine hole in front of those guys.

Knuckleballs: Is there anything that Twins fans and Kernels fans don’t know about you that you’d like the fans to know about you?

JDW: I’m not sure what they know about me yet (laughs), probably not a lot, yet. I’m going to try to change that in the future though, you know? Let these guys know who I am. Not many people know who I am.

Williams and his Kernels team mates are off to a very good start, leading the Midwest League’s Western Division by three games over Quad Cities and riding a nine game winning streak, through Tuesday. If they keep it up, Kernels fans will be getting to know him much better.

GameChat – Twins @ Tigers #2, 6:08

[Because of the Wild playoff game, the Twins game is being broadcast on FSN+]

Maybe Justin Verlander will be really bad tonight, right?

OK, probably not, but he hasn’t been quite as dominant this season as he has been in the past, so maybe we’ll see something unusual, like a Twins win over Verlander.

Apparently, Gardy has decided Aaron Hicks has seen Verlander enough already and he’s getting tonight off.

Then again, maybe there are other reasons and I’ve just been totally out of touch all day and have no idea what I’m talking about. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I’ve got a business dinner tonight so I won’t be in chat until late, if at all. For those who do make it, enjoy! – JC

TWINS

@

TIGERS
Escobar, E,   2B Jackson, A, CF
Mauer,   C Hunter, To, RF
Willingham,   DH Cabrera, M, 3B
Morneau,   1B Fielder, 1B
Parmelee,   RF Martinez, V, DH
Plouffe,   3B Dirks, LF
Arcia,   LF Peralta, Jh, SS
Ramirez, W,   CF Avila, C
Florimon,   SS Infante, 2B
 _ Worley,   P Verlander,   P

 

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4

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6

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8

9

R

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Minnesota

0

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0

0

0

0

0

1

6

0

Detroit

2

1

0

0

3

0

0

0

x

6

13

0

Gotta admit, that game really wasn’t much fun to watch. Nothing HORRIBLE but nothing really good. Again, Worley gives up a rough first inning. Again, Worley can’t go deep in the game. Again, the Twins can’t seem to string enough hits together to get RUNS.

I think we have figured out though that while the Tigers defense has definitely improved this year, their base-running most definitely has not.

GameChat – Twins at Tigers, 6:08pm

The Twins start their second series of the season against the Detroit Tigers just a single game behind MoTown in the AL Central standings.  The Twins took two of three in the season opening series with Tigers despite dropping the Opening Day game against Verlander.  The Twins get off a little lighter tonight facing Max Scherzer.  The Twins will counter with the wildly ineffective Mike Pelfrey who is still less than one year removed from Tommy John surgery.

The Twins will need to get the bats going tonight in order to pick up a victory.

Twins

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Tigers
Dozier, 2B Jackson, A, CF
Mauer, C Dirks, LF
Willingham, DH Cabrera, M, 3B
Morneau, 1B Fielder, 1B
Parmelee, RF Martinez, V, DH
Plouffe, 3B Peralta, Jh, SS
Arcia, LF Avila, C
Hicks, CF Infante, 2B
Florimon, SS Kelly, D, RF
_Pelfrey, P _Scherzer, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 6 0
Detroit 0 0 1 0 0 3 0 0 x 4 7 0

One really bad inning and it’s a loss to the Tigers. Not really much more to say about it than that. Pelfrey looked pretty good two times through the Detroit order, but that wasn’t good enough.

GameChat – Rangers @ Twins #4, 1:10pm

[apologies for the lack of gamechat yesterday - apparently all Knuckleballers were off busy elsewhere - not that hard to believe actually]

The final game of the series – I would love it if we could SPLIT it. Yesterday’s win was a nice come back after going down in the first two games. I would like to continue to enjoy this phenomenal spring weather with another Twins win!

Texas

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Minnesota
Kinsler, 2B Dozier, 2B
Andrus, SS Mauer, C
Berkman, DH Willingham, DH
Beltre, A, 3B Morneau, 1B
Pierzynski, C Parmelee, RF
Cruz, N, RF Arcia, LF
Murphy, Dv, LF Hicks, CF
Moreland, 1B Escobar, E, SS
Martin, L, CF Carroll, 3B
  Ogando, P   Correia, P

1

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9

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Texas

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0

0

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7

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Minnesota

0

0

0

1

0

2

2

0

x

5

9

0

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a jinx. The two games that I am not able to watch are the ones in which the Twins manage to have towering victories over the Rangers. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it. I just wish I had been able to actually SEE it. But it’s a great way to finish the homestand and send the boys off on a long road trip.

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 35

Episode 35 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Episode 35 is a Minor League/Prospect heavy podcast, something we haven’t done for a while.  We talk specifically about Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Adam Walker, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, and then finally go Down on the Pond with Kennys Vargas.  Lots of good stuff in there.  We also discuss the Twins recent performance against the Marlins and Rangers, pick out the Twins hitter and pitcher of the week, and then do a little bit of baseball chatter when we look Around the League.

Enjoy!

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find me on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read my writing here at Knuckleballs!

- ERolfPleiss

Crazy Ending Results in Kernels Grand Slam “Single”

The Cedar Rapids Kernels beat the Great Lakes Loons Saturday night in dramatic, extra-inning fashion.

Adam Brett Walker hit a game-tying three-run home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the game in to extra innings.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, the Kernels loaded the bases and Manager Jake Mauer sent Travis Harrison to the plate to pinch hit. If you’ll pardon the quality of the video from my phone, I’ll share what happened next:

Niko Goodrum, the runner on third base, trotted in to score the winning run, but did you notice the two runners immediate ahead of Harrison? Dalton Hicks and Adam Brett Walker appear to peel off their paths after rounding third base and run toward the infield to join the celebration. Eventually, it appears they may have returned to the baseline and found their ways to home plate ahead of Harrison.

In the end, however, the umpires ruled that while Goodrum scored the winning run, Harrison and the other two runners abandoned their efforts to advance. The result is that Harrison was credited with a walk-off RBI single and the Kernels won 8-7.

- JC

GameChat – Rangers @ Twins #2, 7:10 pm

Again, out running around – stole my brother’s computer actually to put this up because I brought the dog over to their house for a visit with the kiddos – so I’m likely to miss the first inning while sitting in god-awful traffic.

BUT IT’S FREAKING 70+ DEGREES OUTSIDE SO I DON’T CARE ABOUT ANYTHING!

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Texas 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 4 13 2
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 3 8 1

I don’t know any more about what happened in this game than what I can read in the boxscore, but what I can read there is that Oswaldo Arcia took Twitchy Joe Nathan yard in the 9th inning to pull the Twins within one run of the Rangers.

Of course, that would have been a lot cooler if someone had figured out how to score another couple of runs. – JC

GameChat – Rangers @ Twins, 7:10pm

Running around like a crazy woman today so getting this put up and then hopefully I’ll be back for the first pitch – in a state that was over 50 degrees today!! woohooo!

Texas

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Minnesota
Kinsler, 2B Dozier, 2B
Andrus, SS Mauer, C
Berkman, DH Willingham, LF
Beltre, A, 3B Morneau, 1B
Pierzynski, C Parmelee, RF
Cruz, N, RF Plouffe, 3B
Murphy, Dv, LF Arcia, DH
Moreland, 1B Hicks, CF
Martin, L, CF Florimon, SS
  Tepesch, P   Worley, P

 

 

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9

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Texas

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1

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10

0

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

8

0

Well that wasn’t as much fun as I would have liked although the weather was certainly MUCH better than we have had up to this point. Of COURSE the baseball gods made sure I had to watch Joe Nathan come out and do his Nathanest to nail the one run lead to the scoreboard. Things I noticed tonight overall? Duensing was right on target, Escobar was doing his best to say “no really, I could be a starter here”, Dozier keeps proving how much better he is at EVERYTHING when he’s a 2B and Willy brought his hammer again – so glad when he doesn’t have the flu.

Kernels: Hot Starts in Cold Weather

I don’t know who to see about this, but the Twins and Kernels should NOT be allowed to have off-days on the same day! That’s what happened yesterday. So, without anything really “new” to write about either team, I’m posting the following article on the Kernels’ hot start. Under an agreement with MetroSportsReport.com, my alter ego, SD Buhr, writes a weekly “Kernels Update” for TwinsDaily.com. The following is a slightly updated version of what was posted yesterday on both sites and is republished here with permission of MSR. – JC

By SD Buhr

There is no shortage of great story lines through the first three weeks of the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ inaugural season as the Minnesota Twins Class A affiliate in the Midwest League.

To begin with, the Kernels (12-5) sit atop the MWL Western Division standings, with a one-game lead over the Quad City River Bandits (Astros). Cedar Rapids has had success both at home (5-2) and on the road (7-3).

The biggest story of the first three weeks of the MWL season has undoubtedly been the weather. The Kernels have played only 17 games at this point and that’s more than seven of the other 15 MWL teams have played. Yesterday (Wednesday, April 24) was supposed to be the first scheduled off-day of the Kernels’ season. With all of the weather-related postponements and cancellations, it was instead the seventh day Kernels players will have not played baseball since Opening Day.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Understandably, the early attention on the field has been focused on center fielder Byron Buxton, the Twins’ #1 draft pick a year ago. Buxton got off to an amazing start with the bat, but it was inevitable that he would cool off. He has just three hits in his last 15 At-Bats over the Kernels most recent four games. That’s dropped his Batting Average all the way down to… .404. He’s reached base at a .514 rate and has two doubles, two triples and two home runs to assemble a 1.128 On-Base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS). He also has seven stolen bases. If this is the worst “slump” Buxton has to go through, he’s going to have a fun season.

But Buxton isn’t the only Kernels hitter putting up impressive numbers.

First baseman Dalton Hicks has put together a pretty good start of his own, as well. His .310 Batting Average is backed up by seven doubles and a team-leading three home runs.

Drew Leachman went hitless in five At-Bats on on Opening Night and spent the next couple of weeks on the Disabled List after banging up his shoulder in that first game. Leachman has nine hits in 21 At-Bats for a .429 average since being reactivated, with a double, a triple and four RBI in five games. (Leachman received some congratulatory tweets from teammates late Tuesday night and early Wednesday indicating he may have gotten called up to Fort Myers. As of Wednesday afternoon, a source with the Kernels indicated they had not received any official word from the Twins on the move.)

In addition to Buxton, Hicks and Leachman, there are five additional Kernels hitting at .270 or better:

Niko Goodrum is hitting at a .288 clip with five doubles and a .383 On-Base Percentage (OBP).

Jorge Polanco has four doubles and a home run, along with 11 RBI, to go with his .281 Batting Average.

Adam Walker also has a .281 average and 11 RBI to go with his two doubles, one triple and two home runs.

Travis Harrison shares the team lead in doubles with Hicks at seven and has a pair of home runs, as well. He’s hitting .271 on the season.

J. D. Williams is hitting .270, but he’s parlayed three doubles and a pair of home runs, along with 11 walks, in to a .429 OBP and an OPS of .942. That’s some pretty good work, especially coming from the guy who’s held down the #9 spot in the batting order most of the young season.

Perhaps the biggest Kernels news this week was the debut of Jose Berrios, one of the top starting pitching prospects in the Twins organization. Berrios threw five innings on Monday night against the Burlington Bees. He struck out five Bees hitters, but also gave up seven hits and walked a pair.

Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios

If Berrios, who will still be just 18 years old for another month, was a bit over-excited for his first start, it would be understandable. He had trouble getting his fastball down in the strike zone the first couple of innings, but finished strong enough to be credited with the Win in the Kernels’ 8-4 win over Burlington.

Berrios’ fastball reportedly hit 96 mph early in the game, but one scout’s radar gun consistently recorded it at 91-93 mph during his last two innings of work. However, it’s possible that his breaking ball was more impressive. It had a late, sharp, break that buckled more than one set of Bees’ knees.

In the end, Berrios may turn out to be the biggest pitching story this season for the Kernels, but a number of his fellow pitchers are setting a pretty high standard for him to meet.

Tyler Duffey hasn’t been able to repeat the seven-perfect-innings performance of his first start of the season, but he’s continued to pitch well. Through 19.2 innings of work covering three starts, he’s put up a 2.29 ERA, striking out 17 while walking only three hitters. He’s also put up a 0.661 WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched).

Mason Melotakis has put up a 2.84 ERA in his three starts, racking up 11 strikeouts in just 12. 2 innings of work and Hudson Boyd, while struggling with control at times, has also managed to miss bats. Boyd has struck out a dozen hitters in 14 innings during his three starts.

David Hurlbut appears to be the pitcher bumped from the rotation to the bullpen to make room for Berrios (though that could change with the promotion of Taylor Rogers to Fort Myers this week). Hurlbut has put up a 3.00 ERA and a 0.933 WHIP in 15 innings of work during four appearances (two of them starts).

The weather situation has left Brett Lee, who started the season penciled in as the Kernels sixth starting pitcher in a six-man rotation, with just one start in the first three weeks of the season. He’s made two other appearances in relief roles. Regardless of how he’s entered the game, however, Lee has kept his opponents from scoring. He’s sporting a perfect 0.00 ERA over eight innings of work, while striking out seven hitters without surrendering a walk.

Steven Gruver has posted a 0.64 ERA in his four appearances, three of which came out of the bullpen, while the other came as an emergency starter. That start was necessitated by weather forcing the Kernels to play seven games in a period of just four days. Gruver has struck out 16 hitters and walked just two in 14 innings.

Gruver, along with Tyler Jones, Tim Atherton, Manuel Soliman and Chris Mazza, have anchored a very effective Kernels bullpen. Gruver, Jones, Atherton and Mazza have all struck out more than a hitter per inning of work.

Manager Jake Mauer’s group of Kernels are off to a very good start, made even more impressive by the conditions in which they’ve had to play and the effect the weather has had on their schedule. It should be really interesting to see how things come together when the weather turns warm and the fans start to fill up the ballpark.

The Kernels open up a six game homestand tonight with a 6:35 game against the Dodgers’ MWL affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons.