It sounds like it may be a pretty damp evening at Target Field and it will be interesting to see how many fans show up, given the weather. I guess there’s some kind of hockey game on TV that a few Minnesotans are interested in later tonight, too.
Kris Johnson, who was acquired from the Pirates in a round-about way for Justin Morneau (more accurately for a guy the Twins got for Morneau but decided they didn’t want so much, after all), has been promoted to be their allowed “26th player” for tomorrow’s scheduled doubleheader with the Dodgers. Johnson’s scheduled Rochester start earlier this week was rained out so he’s rested and got the call to pitch game 2 Thursday.
I’m sure MLB will do whatever it can to get tonight’s game in, since rescheduling later in the year would be a major league pain in the butt. But if the Twins want to win tonight, I strongly suggest they get an early lead and hang on because I could see this game ending as soon as the requisite innings have been played to make the game official. It won’t be easy, though, since they’re facing former Royal Zack Greinke, who hasn’t given up more than 2 runs in a start in something just short of forever.
So, tonight we welcome back former Twin Drew Butera, who will be catching Greinke for the Dodgers.
Heading in to the 2014 season, everyone pretty much had expectations in check with regard to the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The team’s fortunes would likely turn on the performance of a staff of young, highly heralded pitching prospects. The offense, meanwhile, could very well struggle to score enough runs to keep the Minnesota Twins’ Midwest League affiliate competitive.
As they near the end of the first month of the season, however, the Kernels are two games above .500 with a 13-11 record and the hitting is at least as responsible for that success as the pitching staff is.
Infielder Tanner Vavra and outfielder Zack Larson are just two of the Cedar Rapids players making major contributions with their bats. Before Tuesday night’s game with Kane County, Vavra and Larson talked about their season thus far.
Vavra, the son of Twins coach Joe Vavra, spent a few days recently at the very top of the Midwest League’s leader board in batting average and still leads his team with a .344 average. He’s also reaching base at a .391 rate and carries an .829 OPS through Tuesday’s games.
While most fans may not have expected that kind of production out of Vavra, neither he nor his manager seem terribly surprised, either.
“He’s a guy that really obviously has been around the game his whole life, with his dad being a professional baseball guy,” said Jake Mauer of his second baseman. “He’s got a lot of baseball instincts. He knows himself as a player. He knows what he needs to do and he plays to his strengths. He’s a guy that puts together good at-bats. He makes the routine plays. He’s definitely earned his playing time.”
“I’m just trying to put good swings on (the ball) and help the team win,” said Vavra of his hot start to the season. “I’m just trying to stay with the same approach and kind of just get my pitch and get on base for guys like Larson here to drive me in.”
Meanwhile, Larson’s also got a pretty impressive early-season slash line, as well with a .307 batting average, a .351 on-base percentage and an .806 OPS. That’s not a bad start for a 20 year-old in his first year with a full-season affiliate.
“He’s really come on for a younger guy and made some adjustments.” his manager said of Larson. “He was having a little hard time with offspeed pitches, but that’s not the case any more. He’s doing a nice job out in right field. He’s going to hit in the middle of our order and he’s getting even better in the outfield and that’s pretty encouraging to see.”
Larson’s just as humble as Vavra when asked about his contributions, too.
“Like Tanner, I’m just trying to put good swings on it,” said Larson. “That’s my main focus, put a good swing on the ball and hopefully good things happen.”
Both hitters have been particularly productive at the plate with team mates on the bases. In fact, both Vavra and Larson are hitting at a .400 clip with runners on base.
Neither man claims they do anything special in those situations, though.
“I don’t like to get out, so I try to take the same approach with runners on or runners not.” said Vavra, laughing.
Added Larson, “Just barrel it up and put a good swing on it. I try to do that every at-bat; stay focused.”
The two team mates may be making similar contributions to their team’s cause this season, but they come at their tasks from very different backgrounds.
Larson was drafted by the Twins in the 20th round of the 2012 First Year Player Draft out of his Bradenton, Florida high school.
A 24 year-old from Wisconsin, Vavra played college ball at Valparaiso University before being drafted by the Twins in the 30th round of last June’s draft.
A year ago, top Twins prospects Jorge Polanco and Adam Brett Walker were manning the positions that Vavra and Larson are holding down this season. Both guys just smile when asked about trying to live up to the offensive legacy of last year’s Kernels.
“I think we all knew it was going to be tough to follow in the footsteps of the team from last year and we were never trying to do that,” said Vavra. “We’re never trying to live up to what they did last year, because, let’s face it, that’s pretty special what everybody got to see with the number 1 prospect in all of baseball playing (in Cedar Rapids).”
“With that being said, our goal is still the same,” Vavra added, “to get to the playoffs and put good seasons together individually and have a great team season. Hopefully take it one step farther and get that ring.”
And maybe do enough to get a promotion to the next level in the organization?
“Everyone wants that,” acknowledged Larson, “but you can’t control that. You can only control what you do. Can’t worry about that.”
Larson shares the Midwest League lead with 10 doubles already this season, just one shy of his total two-baggers during his 55 games a year ago at both rookie league levels combined. Then again, he had five home runs last season and has just one as a Kernel.
But don’t expect Larson to feel disappointed with his results so far.
“I’m not disappointed at all,” Larson explained. “I’m not worried about hitting home runs. I’m just worried about helping the team win and putting good swings on the ball and if I hit a home run, it’s cool. Whatever I can do to help the team.”
“He’s young.” chimed in Vavra, about his team mate. “He’s still got a lot of manpower to come his way. This is his first full season. You never know, he might catch hot in July once the weather warms up and you’re going to see big things out of him.”
Vavra’s complete story can’t be told without mentioning that he’s blind in his right eye, the result of a fishing accident at age three and a subsequent injury suffered playing football several years later.
His ability to play baseball at a professional level with that limitation inevitably comes up during interviews. That could give a player a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but Vavra said questions about his eyesight don’t bother him much anymore.
“It’s kind of came and gone. That used to be the biggest concern.” said Vavra. “People doubted me.”
“It irritated me for a while and it’s still a little chip,” Vavra continued, “but I’m just trying trying to get rid of the whole, ‘You’re here because of your dad,’ type deal.”
“I haven’t gotten anything like that from the players, they’ve all been great. I haven’t heard that once. It’s from bloggers and those people that somehow send a letter to your house and tell you that you don’t belong. That’s my chip right now. The eye thing is always going to be there, but that’s my new chip.”
While it’s understandable that Vavra would be sensitive to suggestions that he hasn’t earned his place in pro ball, having a father in the game has its benefits.
“This offseason, I got to work with him for 5-6 months. That’s incredible. Going from usually working with him for three or four weeks over Christmas break to five months. It was definitely helpful.”
While Vavra was spending his offseason working out indoors in Wisconsin with his dad, Larson was wintering in a much warmer climate.
“Down in Bradenton, I give lessons at an indoor batting facility and my hitting coach is also there,” said Larson, of his offseason. “I hit with him and work out, try to get in the best shape I can before the season starts. Every day, hitting cage, doing something with baseball.”
Larson arguably seemed to have an edge on non-baseball related activities.
“I go to the beach. Beach is a big thing in Florida,” said Larson. “Just hang out with my friends. I don’t see them that often. They’re in college when I’m back at home.”
Vavra, on the other hand, “did a lot of hunting and fishing. Different fishing though, dropping a line through the ice.”
The look on Larson’s face, hearing that, gave the impression he wasn’t inclined to trade offseasons with his team mate.
Twins baseball is put on hold yet again… They are hoping to still get in tomorrow’s game as scheduled and then a double-header on Thursday in what was an off-day. Not sure if the weather is really going to cooperate with that but it’s still going to be wet and cold.
yeah, it’s pretty much pouring rain right now.. and a wind advisory for that matter.. oh yeah, and it’s not even 40 degrees yet at my house so.. probably pretty cold in Target Field too. So the Tigers game is officially postponed (not sure to when yet).
The sad part is that it’s supposed to be like this pretty much through Wednesday.. could make the Dodgers games a little interesting too. We’ll see how things go.
this is funny! and no, the boys doing PFP didn’t spend a bunch of time learning a new skill (which is good because I think we ALL agree, they should be concentrating on their day job) as they are obviously playing the role of “stunt double”.
Of course it when you’re trying to do something really quick right before a deadline that your computer decides to die and need attention before it will work for you… *sigh* all the more reason to replace it sooner rather than later.. but that is a different issue.
Today it LOOKS quite lovely out but it’s cooler than it appears and the wind isn’t exactly gentle so it could make things interesting for both players and fans – including JC who drove his mom up for her first game since TF officially opened.
Yep, I’m more and more convinced that pitching wins games… Clearly, the Tigers just didn’t have the pitching today and we took advantage of it.
Even without 4 gazillion walks, Hughes pitched FANTASTICALLY! We needed everyone of those innings (although why he uses the first inning for his warm-up, I don’t know) since the bullpen was officially spent. THAT is why he is today’s BOD! Thanks Phil!
Anyone else get nervous when you see opposing lineups that look like the Tigers’ does? I wish I could say that sending Correia out there made me feel any better but I do think I feel more confident about his ability to keep the boys in the game than Pelfrey so there’s that…
In better news, it’s really NICE here in Minnesota which is funny since they are giving away Twins bomber hats today – I really want one so if you’re reading this and there and don’t want yours because it would mess up your hair? yeah, I can help you with that.
this game was long and not terribly satisfying but honestly it wasn’t HORRIBLE…
Dozier and Fuld had pretty great games actually both in the field and at bat. Several other guys hit well too and 6 runs is not a bad offensive total – unless the opposition scored 10. The one who DIDN’T have a good night was Correia. ouch.
so.. it was nice to see Torii and Twitchy? kind of?
you know what? it’s fun to watch baseball when we are able to actually WIN the game! And the series is just bonus.. (Of course coming back to a homestand after some nice road series wins feels pretty good to.)
It was really tough to narrow down a BOD today because this team was doing it’s best to work as a team with a lot of effort up and down the order. It was good to see Sam Fuld have a very good day against his old team and for that, we are awarding him access to the pastry buffet. Mr. Fuld, the donuts are on us!
Today’s BOD came down to the veteran but new Twin, Kurt Suzuki, or the struggling young phenom, Aaron Hicks. I decided that trying to choose was too much work for a rainy afternoon so I went with BOTH! Congrats to Hicks for getting his first homerun of the season and I hope to see his bat continue to warm up. Our thanks to Zuke for holding down the fort with a great outing!
Paul is gone again, but we’re still here! While he’s gone we put pine tar all over our bodies and get ejected in the 2nd inning. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
The Twins won a double header against the Jays, but other than that things have been less than stellar for the team in the pas week. We dive into some stories from the week that was, including the acquisition of Sam Fuld and what it means for Aaron Hicks, the retirement of Jason Bartlett, and what to make of Chris Colabello. It is an exciting time to be a podcast listener because this week Cody runs an interview for the first time in the history of the podcast as we chatted with the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ Hitting Coach, Tommy Watkins. Watkins has coached several of the current Minnesota Twins and shares some of his baseballing knowledge with us. We also take some time to talk about the unhearlded pitcher Yohan Pino who has been pitching in Minors for 10 years without a MLB appearance. Of coure, the usual – beer, baseball and the news to round out the show.
Enjoy the show.
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So I meant to bring this up yesterday but I forgot: looks like GoGo is STILL a fireball and is paying the price with a 3 game suspension – and he’s not alone. There was a pretty good bench clearing brawl a few days ago sparked by a difference of opinion between the pitcher and the hitter about how long it’s appropriate to watch a long ball that isn’t a homerun. It’s still a triple though so.. yeah.