Minnesota Twins General Manager Terry Ryan had surgery for squamous cell carcinoma in February and has undergone radiation treatment as well. In the meantime, Assistant General Manager Rob Antony has filled in as the interim GM for the Twins, though Ryan has been in regular contact with Antony and others in the Twins front office.
During the past Cedar Rapids Kernels homestand, Ryan was in town observing the Twins’ young Class A prospects and sat down Sunday for an interview that covered a range of topics.
In Part 1, we covered his return to work, his view of the current state of the Twins at the big league level and his thoughts concerning the upcoming MLB First Year Player Draft.
Today, Ryan shares some thoughts and observations concerning the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Twins’ Class A affiliate in the Midwest League.
Like their parent club, the Kernels have hovered near the .500 mark most of the season. That’s been no small achievement given the number of injuries that manager Jake Mauer’s club has sustained. They currently have seven players on the Disabled List and have others who have been on the DL and come back already.
Ryan acknowledged that it’s a very different club than local fans saw a year ago when top prospects like Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Adam Brett Walker and Travis Harrison were wearing Kernels colors.
“We had a very talented club here last year, you’d like to think we could supply this affiliate with that kind of talent every year, but it’s not going to happen. We’ve got a different looking club this year.
“We’ve got some pitching here. Don’t have the thump. Don’t have the type of line up we had last year, which was a very dangerous line up. We don’t have that type of size. We had monstrous guys here so yeah it’s different.
“But every year is going to be different no matter what you try to do or accomplish at a minor league affiliate. You’re looking for players, you’re trying to develop players. This is a little different lot.
“So you adjust. Jake and Tommy (Watkins, the hitting coach) and Ivan (Arteaga, the pitching coach) are going about their business. It’s a little bigger challenge this year because you don’t have a Buxton here, you don’t have a Walker. You don’t have a Polanco.
“But that comes with the territory. When you’re running a Class A club, you’re going to have different personnel every year. You’ll have a few repeats, but for the most part it’s a different club and a different atmosphere and different results.”
Asked for his observations on specific players, Ryan was reluctant to go in to much detail, given that he had seen just four Kernels games at the time of the interview.
“It’s a little dangerous when you start naming names.
“I haven’t seen Stewart (Kohl Stewart, the Twins first round draft pick a year ago), of course. He’s pitching today. But he’s the most recognizable name on this roster for a lot of reasons. He’s talented and he’s a big draft. I’ll be interested to see how he does today.
“He had a tough outing his last go, I understand, I didn’t see it. He went two or three innings and they had to go get him. I doubt very much that he’s experienced that in his life but this is the ideal spot (to experience that). Alright, let’s see how he handles this. We’ll see if he bounces back today and gets back to his normal self. If he doesn’t then I would be a little concerned. But if he does, which I would expect, it’s just a matter of growth.
For the record, Stewart did indeed bounce back under the watchful eyes of the GM. Stewart threw six innings Sunday, giving up just one earned run, in the Kernels’ win over Burlington.
“He’s an athlete, he’s confident,” continued Ryan. “He’s got the skills that you’re looking for. There’s a reason the guy was picked fourth in the (draft). He was picked up there because he’s got strength, he’s got a body, he’s got mechanics, he’s got stuff, he’s got competitiveness.
“He’s got the kind of mechanics and arm action that would be conducive to pounding strikes, which is good.”
Kernels fans are getting the opportunity to see a native Cedar Rapidian in action with the Kernels this season.
Chad Christensen, the Twins’ 25th round pick a year ago out of the University of Nebraska, played high school ball at Cedar Rapids Washington. He came north with the club out of spring training and is hitting .290 while playing all over the field for the injury-plagued Kernels.
“One of the things that I think we were impressed with when he came out of Nebraska was his ability to have some versatility for a club,” Ryan said of Christensen. “He’s got strength and he’s got speed. He’s got strength in his bat. He can play a number of spots, including centerfield, which is pretty good.
“When he showed up last year after signing, he made a good impression and then in spring training. He’s got the type of make-up that you want to have him on your club. I’m sure Jake was pleased when he did come here and I think he’s even more pleased with what he sees in the results.
“He’s just been a good player on this team, home town or not. That’s a little bit more pressure for a kid to come in here and play in front of your home town. He’s handled it quite well. In fact, he might be the most consistent guy we’ve had on this club. Not that I’ve been around much, but I read those things, the reports and that stuff.”
Ryan is aware that the Kernels have had more than their fair share of injuries, but doesn’t feel they should be keeping the team from performing well on the field.
“It’s no excuse. We’ve got other players.
“(Jason) Kanzler came in because of an injury to Zack Granite. So here comes Kanzler and he’s been quite good here. There are other people that we can go get and hopefully fill in for an injury.
“Now, we’re starting to get healthy. A bunch of these guys are going to get healthy here soon.
“Getting back on the diamond is important for a 21 year old, because they can’t afford to spend a lot of time on the Disabled List. You just can’t do anything with them. There’s no development time, they’re getting bypassed, stuff like that. They’ll get healthy and we’ll get them back here.
“We’ve got some kids with ability but so far it’s been a slow go for them. I’m not so sure the weather was too conducive to what they were trying to do. The thing is, you’re going to have to learn to do that. We play in Cedar Rapids, we play in New Britain (CT), we play in Rochester (NY) and we play in Minnesota. Minnesota is not too much different than Cedar Rapids.”
About a year ago, Twins top prospect Byron Buxton and others were promoted from the Kernels up to Class high-A Fort Myers shortly after the mid-June Midwest League All-Star break. Ryan’s visit shouldn’t be interpreted as a precursor to similar promotions, however.
“When I come in here, I don’t worry about that stuff. That’s Brad Steil (Twins minor league director) and that would be Jake and the minor league coordinators.
“If someone is dominating, as you know, we’ll move them. I don’t know if we’ve got any of that going on here. I don’t think we’re in that position quite yet.
“Although if somebody starts dominating this league in the next month or so and they put up numbers and you say, ‘what more do they have to do?’ That’s about the time you start saying ‘let’s move him up.’”
Ryan was asked for an update on the condition Buxton, who has missed almost the whole season so far with a wrist injury.
“We had him see a specialist with that wrist about two weeks ago and there was no alarm. He re-aggravated that thing and we’re taking our time. It’s getting better. I read that yesterday in a medical report. He’s still not ready to take the field.
“He’s not going to lose a whole year. Unfortunately, April and May are shot, but he certainly played pretty good in March (during spring training). With him going through Major League camp, it was a good experience. He handled himself pretty well. He handled himself with some class. He understood, he listened, was very coachable.
“We’ll get him back up there. We’ll salvage the year, I don’t think there’s any question that we’ll be able to do some things to get him at-bats.”