GameChat – Twins @ Rays, 6:10pm

I hate to start a post with bad news but it seems like something you guys should know but it’s not one of those things that gets a “breaking news” alert, more’s the pity.

Darin Mastrioanni was taken off of waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays.. *sigh* Interestingly enough, that is the team that we claimed him from when we first got him so he’s kind of gone full circle but clearly this was our loss and I can’t help but feel like the whole situation with Jason Bartlett is to blame. I don’t feel very good about Jason right now. :(

Let’s just hope that Gibson can continue his success against Tampa Bay.

Minnesota @ Tampa Bay
Dozier, 2B Zobrist, 2B
Mauer, 1B Jennings, D, CF
Plouffe, 3B Joyce, DH
Colabello, RF Longoria, 3B
Kubel, LF Loney, 1B
Pinto, DH Myers, RF
Suzuki, K, C DeJesus, LF
Hicks, CF Escobar, Y, SS
Florimon, SS Molina, J, C
  Gibson, P   Price, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 3 6 1
Tampa Bay 3 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 x 7 12 0

The good news is there was one inning of offense against Price. The bad news is that Kyle Gibson showed he’s not perfect yet. He didn’t get a ton of support, granted, but Tampa had no problem hitting him either. Ah well. – JC

Getting to Know the Kernels’ Bryan Haar

The Cedar Rapids Kernels sported a 9-7 record as they departed for Peoria Monday for the first of seven road games before returning to Veterans Memorial Stadium on Monday, April 28. They enter the week just two games behind Kane County in the Midwest League’s Western Division standings.

One reason for the success they’ve had thus far has been a power surge in the heart of their batting order.

The Kernels lead the MWL in slugging percentage entering this week’s games largely due to power generated by catcher Mitch Garver and infielder Bryan Haar. Garver leads the league in home runs, with five, and Haar is right on his heals with four round-trippers.

Over the weekend, Haar shared his perspectives on the start to the season that he and his team mates have had, as well as some thoughts about his own experiences moving from college ball, through two levels of Rookie level professional baseball and on to his first month with the Class A level Kernels.

Though Garver and Haar have provided much of the power early on for Cedar Rapids, Haar insists that their offensive success has been a team effort.

“When our team got hot and went on a little winning streak, I think we were all hitting pretty well so that helps,” said Haar. “Hitting is contagious. So I think we all contributed to the good start.”

While the Kernels have kept their record above .500, they haven’t exactly had it easy thus far.

Bryan Haar

Bryan Haar

Haar and many of his team mates have spent their lives playing ball in far warmer climates. Several of the Kernels’ games have been played with temperatures in the 30s and 40s, so they were glad to see things warm up a bit over the past weekend.

“Anything above 50 right now is good for us,” Haar said with a smile on Saturday. “If it’s not 35 and raining, we’re happy.”

You won’t yet find Haar’s name on many of the organizational “top prospect” lists published during the offseason, but the 24 year-old from San Diego is showing power that’s been largely missing to this point in his professional career.

Haar was drafted by the Twins in the 34th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, following his senior year at the University of San Diego.

He hit only one home run in 44 games with the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2012 after signing with the Twins and went deep just six times in 60 games with the Twins’ short-season Appalachian League affiliate in Elizabethton last season.

Haar said it took some time for him to adjust from college pitchers, who generally threw a mix of pitches, to lower levels of professional ball, where he faced a lot of strong young arms who were looking to impress.

“In GCL that first summer, it was just fastballs all day,” recalled Haar. “I actually struggled a little bit because I forgot how to hit a fastball. It was new to me. They were blowing it by me.”

He had to continue working on being able to catch up with the heat a year ago in Elizabethton.

“In E’town, it was rookie ball, so there were a lot of 18 year old pitchers out of high school that maybe thought they threw 95 and really threw 91-92, trying to throw fastballs by me. I got more fastballs then. Jeff Reed (hitting coach at Elizabethton) is a great hitting coach, so he helped me out a lot.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean the pitching he faced in college was superior to what he saw his first two years in the pros, though.

“I’d say not better, but more command of their sliders,” Haar explained. “In E’town it was sliders in the dirt, sliders in the dirt. They never flipped one over for a strike. In college, it was slider for a strike, slider for a strike, now you’re down 0-2. But now (in the MWL), it’s more college guys so I’ve got to readjust to college pitching, I guess.”

Bryan Haar

Bryan Haar

Haar knows he’s largely been feasting on fastballs this season and said he already sees pitchers making adjustments.

“The first game of a series, usually I get some fastballs to hit. If I hit them well, then the next two or three games I get sliders and change-ups and curveballs. Just making that adjustment has been a little harder than I would have thought, but I’ve got to hit the fastball when I get it.”

Kernels hitting coach Tommy Watkins has been working with Haar to keep a step ahead of the adjustments the pitchers are making.

“They’re throwing me off-speed a lot, so I’ve got to start adjusting my swing a little bit towards that,” Haar said. “Tommy and I have been working on that the past couple of days. Not really trying to strike out less, but just put more balls in play hard.

“I’ve hit two home runs off sliders, but I think they were the only hits I’ve had off sliders. We were working on that (Saturday), just kind of letting the ball get a little deeper, seeing it deeper.”

At 24, Haar is a bit older than the average MWL position player, but he’s not feeling any extra anxiety about trying to advance quicker up the Twins organizational ladder because of that.

“I don’t really worry about that. I’m just having a good time in Low-A with my friends,” he said. ”I got drafted in 2012 and pretty much all the guys here were drafted in the 2012 draft, so it’s nice to move up with them, in a sense. I’m just letting my play speak for itself and doing what I can here.”

That includes being versatile in the field. Haar has played both corner infield positions for the Kernels already and that’s fine with him. Haar said he’d play anywhere, “as long as I’m in the lineup.”

Haar played some football and basketball in high school and said his interests include, “pretty much every sport with a ball.” But as a Southern Californian, his interests outside of baseball go beyond what local fans might consider the norm.

“I’m from San Diego, so I surf whenever I can. Usually in September I take some time off from baseball and I go surf. But when I get back in to workouts, I don’t have much time for that.”

There’s obviously neither time nor opportunity for surfing during the season, so Haar is looking for other things to do with his limited down time.

“I do enjoy fishing, so since we’re in Iowa, I’d like to get out and fish a little bit, but it’s tough. Getting back from a long road trip, you want to sleep in, and then you’re at the field.”

Of course, there’s always the standard fallback option for ballplayers: video games.

Haar and team mates Garver and Zach Larson, who live in close proximity to one another this season, “have a little FIFA battle on the X-Box. We’re on that quite a bit.”

GameChat – Twins @ Royals #3, 1:10pm

Happy Easter!

Clearly the holiday has all of us Knuckleballers with our attention focused elsewhere but now that I have services done, brunch with the inlaws and the turkey in the oven, I can actually spend a little time with baseball – and feeding baby.

A quick roster update that happened just before the game started: the Twins have claimed Sam Fuld off of waivers from the A’s and DFA’d Darin Mastrioanni – which leaves the Twins a little short on the bench today but that is what happens when you need room on the 40 man.

Minnesota @ Kansas City
Dozier, 2B Aoki, RF
Mauer, 1B Infante, 2B
Plouffe, 3B Hosmer, 1B
Colabello, RF Perez, S, C
Kubel, LF Gordon, A, LF
Pinto, DH Butler, B, DH
Suzuki, K, C Moustakas, 3B
Hicks, CF Maxwell, CF
Escobar, E, SS Escobar, A, SS
  Hughes, P, P   Ventura, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 0 0 1 2 0 3 0 0 8 13 0
Kansas City 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 3 11 1

I started listening to the game about the time Phil Hughes was exiting, so I’m going to assume his first six innings of work were better than his last 2 hitters in the 7th inning.

In any event, the Twins move back up to .500 on the season with a 9-9 record, so I’ll take that performance from Hughes and the bullpen.

The story of the day looks like it was offense today, anyway, and a brief scan of the boxscore shows Trevor Plouffe with two doubles and a triple, as well as some RBI. Sounds like BOD material to me! – JC

Trevor Plouffe (photo: Jim Crikket)

Trevor Plouffe (photo: Jim Crikket)

GameChat – Twins @ Royals #2, 1:10pm

So the boys are up against Bruce Chen again.. last time it seemed as though we had finally figured out how to hit an 84 mph fastball. I hope they remember what they did because it would be a LOT of fun to do it again.

Minnesota @ Kansas City
Dozier, 2B Aoki, RF
Mauer, 1B Infante, 2B
Plouffe, 3B Hosmer, 1B
Colabello, RF Perez, S, C
Kubel, LF Gordon, A, LF
Pinto, C Butler, B, DH
Suzuki, K, DH Moustakas, 3B
Hicks, CF Maxwell, CF
Florimon, SS Escobar, A, SS
  Correia, P   Chen, B, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 1 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 4 8 1
Kansas City 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 x 5 10 0

this was not a GREAT day for Correia but today was really not his fault.. This loss was all on the Twins defense… absolute crap.

GameChat – Twins @ Royals, 7:10pm

The Twins are a game over .500 for the first time in almost 12 months.  They’re scoring runs in bunches and Kyle Gibson is 3-0 with a super tiny ERA.  Things are going pretty well for the Twins right now.

The Royals were swept a week ago in Minneapolis, let’s hope the Twins take their winning streak against the Royals one game longer, tonight.

**Jason Bartlett has decided to retire***

Minnesota

@

Kansas City
Mastroianni, LF Aoki, RF
Dozier, 2B Infante, 2B
Mauer, 1B Hosmer, 1B
Colabello, RF Perez, S, C
Plouffe, 3B Gordon, A, LF
Pinto, DH Butler, B, DH
Suzuki, K, C Moustakas, 3B
Hicks, CF Maxwell, CF
Florimon, SS Escobar, A, SS
_Nolasco, P _Vargas, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 8 0
Kansas City 0 0 2 0 1 2 0 0 x 5 11 0

KL here. I managed to stay awake for the whole game, but I’m not sure the Twins get the credit for that. It was quiet in the chat room this evening, kind of like the Twins, so I hope you all had a good evening elsewhere.

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins #3, 6:10pm

Ok, here’s our makeup game from last night.. it’s a whole 8 degrees warmer than it was during last night’s game time but at least this time there is no active snow!

Toronto (and even maybe the Twins) is going to feel seriously gypped by this whole circumstance when Minnesota is enjoying weather in the 60’s this weekend after they had to suffer through this ridiculous homestand.

I sure hope that Pelfrey can pull together a good start. *crosses fingers* And Twins fans, let’s welcome Eduardo Nunez who is up just for this evenings game… I’ll be interested to see how he does!

Toronto

@

Minnesota
Cabrera, Me, LF Dozier, 2B
Rasmus, C, DH Mauer, DH
Bautista, RF Colabello, 1B
Encarnacion, 1B Kubel, LF
Navarro, D, C Pinto, C
Lawrie, 3B Herrmann, C, RF
Gose, CF Nunez, 3B
Goins, 2B Hicks, CF
Diaz, J, SS Escobar, E, SS
  McGowan, P   Pelfrey, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Toronto

2

0

0

0

3

0

0

0

0

5

8

0

Minnesota

1

0

0

0

2

0

0

6

x

9

8

2

Ok, that was a mildly odd and sometimes frustrating baseball game – typical Twins … until the 8th inning.

The 8th inning is not something that is easily described.. wow.. simply put, the Blue Jays whole bullpen fell apart: eg 6 runs on one hit, 8 BB’s, 3 consecutive scoring WP’s. Yeah, I can honestly say I have NEVER seen an inning like that. I’m going to give you the MLB Play by Play text for the bottom of the 8th just you can see how it all came down:

THE 8th  
AB# Play String Play Play by Play
73     Pitching Change: Steve Delabar replaces Brett Cecil.
73 ..BBCBCFB W Josmil Pinto walks.
74 .*BBCB*B W.1-2 Chris Herrmann walks. Josmil Pinto to 2nd.
75   Coaching visit to mound.  
75 .LLX 34/SAC/BG.2-3;1-2 Eduardo Nunez out on a sacrifice bunt, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion to second baseman Ryan Goins. Josmil Pinto to 3rd. Chris Herrmann to 2nd.
76     Offensive Substitution: Pinch-hitter Trevor Plouffe replaces Aaron Hicks.
76     Pitching Change: Sergio Santos replaces Steve Delabar.
76   Coaching visit to mound.  
76 …BBBC*B W Trevor Plouffe walks.
77     Offensive Substitution: Pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki replaces Eduardo Escobar.
77 ..B. WP.3-H;2-3;1-2 With Kurt Suzuki batting, wild pitch by Sergio Santos, Josmil Pinto scores. Chris Herrmann to 3rd. Trevor Plouffe to 2nd.
77     Offensive Substitution: Pinch-runner Pedro Florimon replaces Trevor Plouffe.
77 ..B.B.CBB W+WP.3-H;2-3 Kurt Suzuki walks. Wild pitch by pitcher Sergio Santos. Chris Herrmann scores. Pedro Florimon to 3rd.
78     Offensive Substitution: Pinch-runner Darin Mastroianni replaces Kurt Suzuki.
78 ..>B. SB2 With Brian Dozier batting, Darin Mastroianni steals (1) 2nd base.
78 ..>B.S*B*BCB W+WP.3-H;2-3 Brian Dozier walks. Wild pitch by pitcher Sergio Santos. Pedro Florimon scores. Darin Mastroianni to 3rd.
79     Pitching Change: J. A. Happ replaces Sergio Santos.
79   Coaching visit to mound.  
79 ..B>B. SB2 With Joe Mauer batting, Brian Dozier steals (5) 2nd base.
79 ..B>B.BCB W Joe Mauer walks.
80 .BBC*BSB W.3-H;2-3;1-2 Chris Colabello walks. Darin Mastroianni scores. Brian Dozier to 3rd. Joe Mauer to 2nd.
81 .CE S9/L.3-H;2-H;1-3 Jason Kubel singles on a line drive to right fielder Jose Bautista. Brian Dozier scores. Joe Mauer scores. Chris Colabello to 3rd.
82 .SBBBB W.1-2 Josmil Pinto walks. Jason Kubel to 2nd.
83 .SSC K Chris Herrmann called out on strikes.
84 .FSBBX 53/G- Eduardo Nunez grounds out softly, third baseman Brett Lawrie to first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.

Seriously.. I don’t know quite what I would have done if I was that manager..

But given that we can’t exactly give the Blue Jays’ bullpen BOD, it was voted in the room to give it to the red hot Chris Colabello – again. Gotta say I’m liking him a LOT.

Chris Colabello

GameChat – Blue Jays @ Twins #2, 12:10pm

ok, they are actually going to play ball.. no clue how much snow they got at Target Field because the amounts were extremely variable.. I got nothing. I bet they got plenty.

I’m also fairly sure that the rest of the Knuckleballers here are as romantically fond of having a knuckleball pitcher in the game as I am – but especially we would like to welcome R.A. Dickey back to Minnesota! Sorry about the weather, man..

Toronto

@

Minnesota
Cabrera, Me, LF Dozier, 2B
Kawasaki, 2B Mauer, 1B
Bautista, CF Plouffe, 3B
Encarnacion, 1B Colabello, RF
Rasmus, C, DH Kubel, LF
Lawrie, 3B Pinto, DH
Sierra, RF Suzuki, K, C
Thole, C Hicks, CF
Goins, SS Florimon, SS
  Dickey, P   Gibson, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Toronto

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

2

Minnesota

0

0

0

0

5

2

0

0

x

7

10

2

Well that was actually an interesting game – odd, but interesting – to watch, at least on TV.. I don’t think I would have been dying to be in the stands at 32 degrees but a win is a win so for those who were there, I’m glad they got that benefit! RA Dickey didn’t get that benefit. He had the same cold and not nearly as much good feeling about it all. He was pretty pissed.

As for this afternoon’s BOD, wow, that is hard to come up with. The room was empty before I could remind people to vote so .. yeah, today’s decision is unilateral – but still hard. There was so much all-around effort from our boys and a good result that it’s hard to narrow down. But I keep going back to the one thing that I am looking for out of every game and never know if I’m going to get – good starting pitching. Today, we got excellent starting pitching against a team that KNOWS how to hit the ball.. so I grant BOD to Kyle Gibson.. again!

Kyle Gibson (Photo: Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com_

Kyle Gibson (Photo: Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com_

Episode 79: Brian Dozier is Robinson Cano and Other Lies

Happy birthday to our very own Jay Corn!  As a birthday present to Jay, Paul skipped the show!  Without him Eric is free to heap all of the praise in the world on Brian Dozier, and he does. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Dozier at bat

Jay Corn revisits his prediction that Josmil Pinto will hit 25 home runs (which is not looking so bad right now), and we wonder what might happen to Pinto’s playing time when Josh Willingham and/or Oswaldo Arcia return from the DL and Chris Herrmann goes back to AAA.  The jabbering continues with Logan Darnell, one of three AAA Left Handers in the Rochester starting rotation.  Lots of beer talk this week, and Eric is a little over excited about his “bready beer” and then the gang goes Around the League.

Enjoy the show!

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com, and you can find Mr. Jay Corn on Twitter (@Jay__Corn)!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are like syrup for our metaphorical banana walnut pancakes.

Who Are These Guys?

The people who pay attention to such things during professional baseball’s offseason were pretty much in agreement in their expectations for this team coming out of spring training in Fort Myers.

The starting pitching should be quite improved, perhaps the best it has been in a few years. The bullpen should once again be sound. But when the topic turned to the offense, one question was nearly universal, “Where will the runs come from?”

Now, roughly two weeks in to the 2014 season, there have been a couple of surprises. First, the supposed much improved rotation was a little slow getting out of the gate, but now we’re seeing results that look much closer to what we had hoped we would see from some of the starting pitchers.

But the offense is not what was expected. Instead of struggling to score runs consistently, we’re seeing an offense that sits at or near the top of several offensive statistics. Granted, the season is still young, but the rate at which the team is scoring runs is certainly encouraging.

All of which begs the question, “Who are these guys?”

Coincidental or not, that question could be answered in either of two ways and both would be accurate.

We could certainly be talking about the Minnesota Twins, who came through the past weekend’s series sweep of their American League Central Division rival Kansas City Royals averaging 5.6 runs per game, good for a third place tie in all of Major League Baseball. All three of their starting pitchers in the Royals series chalked up quality starts (at least six innings, giving up three runs or less).

But we could equally be describing the Twins’ Class A Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

The Kernels are expected to have one of the top rotations in minor league baseball this season, staffed with several of the organization’s top prospects, including the Twins’ first and second round draft picks a year ago, Kohl Stewart and Ryan Eades, among others.

The Kernels’ pitching certainly has been showing glimpses of their talent and arguably have done a better job of living up to their pre-season expectations than their counterparts with the parent Twins.

Hudson Boyd

Hudson Boyd

Through Tuesday’s games, relievers Brandon Bixler, Josue Montanez, Brandon Peterson and Hudson Boyd have each averaged at least a strikeout per inning pitched and have given up just four earned runs combined, between the four of them.

After struggling a little bit during the season’s chilly opening series at home, the rotation started to find their groove during last week’s eastern road trip, as well. Aaron Slegers has just a 1-0 record to show for his efforts, but he’s racked up 14 strikeouts in just 16 innings of work, while walking only a single batter.

Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga indicated Monday night that he was pleased with the work his starting pitching corps did during their recent 5-1 road trip.

“This early in the season, you hope they give a good effort every night, which they did,” Arteaga said of his rotation arms. “They pretty much took us where we wanted them to take us.”

Arteaga added, “We have a pitch limit, everybody knows that. It’s a team effort. The relievers are giving us a chance every night, we can’t ask for more than that. The bullpen’s doing a great job.”

That swing out east last week also seemed to wake up some of the Kernels’ bats, a fact not lost on hitting coach Tommy Watkins who, while praising catcher Mitch Garver for an outstanding road trip, also saw progress from others.

“It was different guys every night,” said Watkins. “The hitters did a good job having quality at-bats. The main thing is they had a pretty decent approach and they stuck to it.”

That approach is showing up in the offensive statistics.

After Tuesday’s game, the Kernels were second in the MWL in runs scored (60) and at the top of the league in both slugging percentage (.442) and OPS (.777).

Cedar Rapids hitters have notched 11 home runs, tying them for the MWL lead with Lake County and Wisconsin. They also rank fourth in the league in doubles (23) and sit atop the MWL list in triples (8).

The power surge wasn’t something that Kernels manager Jake Mauer expected to see at this point.

“That (the home runs) has been a surprise,” Mauer said Monday night. “We know Garver and (Bryan) Haar have some pop, without a doubt, but I’d say the frequency that they’ve hit them, to this point, has been surprising. But they’ve also had some pretty good at-bats with runners in scoring position and we’ve been able to keep that carousel moving. We were a little concerned early that we’d only be able to score one run (at a time), but we’ve found a way to score multiple runs and that’s encouraging.”

Mitch Garver

Mitch Garver

Garver, the Twins’ 9th round draft pick a year ago, has accounted for nine of the team’s extra-base hits. He has three doubles, a triple and is leading the MWL in home runs with five. The combination has lifted his slugging percentage to a league leading .825 and his OPS to 1.254, good enough for second highest in the league.

Garver and Haar also lead the Kernels with 10 RBI each.

As Watkins pointed out, however, the offensive contributions haven’t been limited to just a couple of guys.

Outfielder Zach Larson’s six doubles have him tied for the MWL lead in that category and, while seeing action in just seven of the Kernels’ 12 games, through Tuesday, infielder Tanner Vavra has made the most of his opportunities to get to the plate and leads the club with a .360 batting average, just a single point above Haar’s .359.

After Monday’s come-from-behind win over South Bend, Mauer summarized his team’s efforts thus far. “The pitching has been really good, really good. The defense, for the most part, has been pretty good. We’ve gotten some big hits. We’re proud of the boys. They really don’t give up.”

Mauer credits the work the hitters have been doing with their hitting coach for their offensive progress early in the year.

“I think that’s what Tommy Watkins has been doing with these guys, just learning how to trust their hands and try see the ball a little bit. He’s got a pretty good plan that I think the boys are starting to buy in to. Overall, the quality of the at-bats has been much better,” Mauer said on Monday.

The season is young and less than 10% of the Kernels’ regular season games are behind them, but if early hitting trends can be maintained and their pitching turns out to be as improved as it was expected to be, this Cedar Rapids club could turn out to be quite competitive.

Of course, you could perhaps say something similar about the Minnesota Twins.

– JC