ASG Weekend Reflections

The big All-Star bash in Minneapolis is behind us now and by most accounts, it was somewhere between very successful and close to perfect.

I saw the Futures Game/Celebrity Softball Game in person on Sunday and watched the Home Run Derby and ASG on the tube. My conclusion is that, while I wouldn’t say it was all perfectly staged and performed, the Twin Cities and those from MLB and the Twins who were involved all did themselves proud.

It was the kind of event that could make us feel proud to call ourselves Twins fans (and there haven’t been many events like that over the past few years).

A list of the things I didn’t like would be short. Too much Jeter (but we knew there would be) and too little Gwynn (none at all, really). I also really didn’t like the special caps for the ASG. That just seems like an over-the-top money grab by MLB to sell more stuff. I’d rather see the players in some version of their regular uniforms, including the cap.

The rain delay at the HR Derby on Monday sucked. But the rainbow over the Plaza almost made the rain delay worthwhile in itself. I’m sure there were a few people moaning about the lack of a roof, but I think most of us stopped listening to those idiots years ago.

The new HR Derby format didn’t exactly work the way people thought (or hoped) it would. Oh well, try something different next time.

I had some family with me this trip and that meant visits to the Mall of America on Friday night and Saturday.

I know a lot of people roll their eyes at going to MOA, but I’ve never been too averse to it. Walking around the Mall brings back some memories of visits there when our kids were young and it was a bit of an adventure.

I tire quicker these days, of course, but I’ve never had trouble finding an open bar stool for a rest and I rested at the Sky Deck Grille and Kokomos for quite a bit of my time at MOA.

Sunday, the family got in some pool time at the hotel before we hopped on the light rail to Target Field for the Futures Game. It was my 11-month old grandson’s first venture in to a swimming pool and his first time at a Big League ballpark. So that was cool.

grandson Jack

grandson Jack in the hotel pool

We pretty much took over the first row of Section C in the Legends Club for the Sunday activities. Getting through a full Futures Game, a half hour or more “intermission” and a six-inning softball game with various interviews slowing things down between innings was a bit much for me, so I have no idea how an 11-month old endured it, but he did.

My grandson's first trip to Target Field. Kind of gave "Futures Game" a different meaning to me.

My grandson’s first trip to Target Field. Kind of gave “Futures Game” a different meaning to me.

I enjoyed watching Kennys Vargas and Alex Meyer and I was really excited to see Jose Berrios start for the World team.

When the Twins announced their affiliation with the Cedar Rapids Kernels starting in 2013, I started looking forward to being able to see guys I’d been watching in Kernels uniforms play in Target Field.

Berrios was the first of the 2013 crop of Kernels I got to see there and it just has me even more anxious to see the arrival of a few of his Kernels teammates with the Twins in coming years.

All three of the Twins prospects did just fine in the game. Nobody “starred,” but that’s OK. Let’s not forget, these three guys aren’t the organization’s top 3 prospects, but they held their own (or better).

The future is bright for the Twins, if I can just manage to live long enough to see it.

Jose Berrios, former CR Kernel, future Minnesota Twin

Jose Berrios, former CR Kernel, future Minnesota Twin

The cramped rail-ride back to Bloomington was probably the worst part of the day, but at least I could collapse at the hotel when it was over.

Monday morning, we packed up and headed back to Cedar Rapids, getting there well before the HR Derby’s scheduled start. Of course, it turned out the actual start was delayed about an hour by rain anyway.

The ovations for Justin Morneau and Brian Dozier were terrific and I thought the crowd did a nice job of showing appreciation for all the participants.

I felt a bit bad for Yasiel Puig. I’m not sure if he just was too amped up or what. And did nobody tell him he should enlist his favorite BP pitcher to throw to him? Odd. Anyway, I suspect he’ll do better in a future Derby.

If I’m being completely honest, I was just really glad it wasn’t Morneau or Dozier that got shutout.

I watched the first couple innings of the All-Star Game itself at my favorite local bar. They had music playing, so I was spared the need to mute the TV. Of course, that meant I missed what most seem to think was a pretty good National Anthem (though FOX totally blew off the Canadian Anthem, which I thought was tacky on their part).

Looked like a great flyover, too. I love those.

I guess I have to give my thoughts on the Jeter-fest.

I’d like to get a real good case of Jeter-hate up, but I just can’t.

Yes, I hate the Yankees and that’s largely because of Yankee fans, so it’s usually pretty easy for me to really dislike individual Yankee players. But I reserve most of my dislike for the mercenaries who grab the Yankee dough after spending their best years elsewhere.

Jeter didn’t do that. And, at least at the ballpark, from what I can tell, he’s conducted himself in a pretty honorable manner through the years. I can appreciate that, even in a Yankee.

Is he over-rated? Oh yeah, definitely. But playing for the Yankees isn’t always easy, as others have found out, so maybe a guy who plays there and plays very well for 20 years should get a little credit for that.

That said, I would agree that his career warranted an ASG send off closer to the one Chipper Jones got. It just wasn’t realistic to expect that would happen.

So, I thought he, MLB, the Twins and the Target Field crowd did about the best job that could have been expected of balancing proper appreciation with he inevitable ESPN/FOX overkill of the situation.

I admit, too, that I was pleasantly surprised that Mike Trout got the ASG MVP award, rather than Jeter. Again, some bias there at seeing another former Kernels player out-do the “face of baseball.”

By the way, that whole “face of baseball” thing is a crock. First, there IS no face of baseball. This isn’t the NBA and we don’t need hyped up media megastars to survive.

Trout is the best player in the game and he’s only 22 years old (for about another month), but the media will never allow him to reach the hype level of Jeter – because he’s not a Yankee. It’s really that simple.

There will be no more “face of baseball” hype until the next time there’s a Yankee with the pedigree to allow Yankee fans, MLB and ESPN to bang the drum loud enough to proclaim him as such.

Hopefully, that will take a REALLY long time. Like forever.

It was good to see Pat Neshek participating. You can’t help but feel just how important this unimportant game was to him after all he’s been through.

Sure, there were more deserving pitchers that could have been selected (but not as many as some people think), but as long as you’re going to give the ASG manager some latitude on picks, you’re going to get some picks based on his emotions and if that’s going to happen, I’d rather see it happen to guys like Neshek than some others.

I did think he could have done without the bit of Twins front office-bashing he did to the media over the weekend, but he probably has good reason to feel the way he does. Heck, I really wish I could complain that letting Neshek go was the worst decision the Twins have made the last few years.

It’s too bad Neshek got saddled with the loss. His 3B (I don’t even remember who it was) sure didn’t do him any favors with his defense on Trout’s double down the left field line.

The game was at least interesting. Plenty of stars performed well under the spotlight. Some did not (I’m looking at you Robinson Cano).

All in all, as I said, it was an event Twins fans can be proud of.

I took a few pictures on Sunday, so I’ll share some of them here. – JC

Best thing about Budweiser beer

Best thing about Budweiser beer

Alex Meyer

Alex Meyer

Tony Oliva with the first pitch before Futures Game

Tony Oliva with the first pitch before Futures Game

Tony Oliva threw out the first pitch to Kennys Vargas

Tony Oliva threw out the first pitch to Kennys Vargas

Vargas FG

Kennys Vargas

The self serve beer machines seemed to really clog up the concourse. Not sure if it was the people using them or the people gawking at them.

The self serve beer machines seemed to really clog up the concourse. Not sure if it was the people using them or the people gawking at them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rollie Fingers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Larry Fitzgerald

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mike Piazza and Ricky Henderson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Zach Parise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Adrian Peterson

 

Hu’s on first? No, he’s pitching (for the Kernels)

The merry-go-round that is a minor league team’s roster continued to spin over the weekend in Cedar Rapids as the Kernels saw two pitchers promoted to high-A Fort Myers, one infielder put on the 7-Day Disabled list and two new pitchers arrive from Elizabethton.

The new pitchers, right handed starting pitcher Chih-Wei Hu and righty bullpen arm Jake Reed, were in uniform for Tuesday night’s series opener with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, won by the Kernels, 15-5.

The two will replace starter Ethan Mildren and co-closer Todd Van Steensel on the Kernels’ pitching staff.

Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga and pitcher Ethan Mildren

Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga and pitcher Ethan Mildren

Mildren has been dominant through his most recent pair of starts, throwing seven shutout innings against Clinton on June 29 and duplicating that feat on Independence Day against Beloit. He allowed just seven hits and three walks over that 14-inning stretch.

Van Steensel had not been charged with allowing a run, earned or otherwise, in his last seven appearances for Cedar Rapids. Overall, he put up a 1.30 ERA covering 34.2 innings of work in 23 appearances in a Kernels uniform.

If early impressions mean anything, Reed will be a capable replacement for Van Steensel in the Kernels bullpen.

The 21-year old righty, drafted in the 5th round out of the University of Oregon last month, threw nothing but shutout innings for the E-Twins in his first six innings of work this season. He struck out eight batters and held opponents to a .053 batting average.against him.

That scoreless streak, however, came to an end in Reed’s first appearance in a Cedar Rapids uniform on Tuesday night. Reed gave up one unearned run in an inning of work on Tuesday night when the first batter he faced reached on a two-base error and came around to score on a subsequent single.

Reed recorded his first strikeout as a Kernel to finish the eighth inning.

The man with the biggest shoes to fill with the Kernels, perhaps, will be Hu.

Cedar Rapids has struggled to find consistency from their rotation and Mildren was just beginning to provide much needed leadership in that area.

Hu will get Mildren’s spot in the rotation and should get his first start for the Kernels on Thursday against the Rattlers, in front of the home crowd.

Like Reed, Hu was off to a strong start for Elizabethton.

The Taichung, Taiwan, native had time to make just three starts for the E-Twins before being promoted. He was 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA. He threw six shutout innings of two-hit baseball in his last start, striking out nine batters in the process.

After watching Hu throw a bullpen session on Tuesday, Kernels pitching coach Ivan Arteaga pronounced the 20-year old Hu, “ready to go.”

“His fastball moves a lot and his slider’s got good rotation,” Arteaga added. “He really competes, according to the reports we got.”

The Kernels played Tuesday a man short on their roster as shortstop Engelb Vielma has been placed on the 7-day DL with concussion symptoms and no corresponding roster move was immediately announced.

Manager Jake Mauer indicated to media after the game that infielder Logan Wade would be re-activated from the DL on Wednesday to replace Vielma. – JC

GameChat – Twins # Mariners, 9:10

Another late night series, as the Twins visit the Mariners.

Twins have had almost no luck vs Iwakuma in the past, but hey, you never know, right?

A bit late getting the chat up. Sorry about that.

Minnesota Seattle
Dozier, 2B Saunders, M, RF
Escobar, E, SS Jones, J, CF
Plouffe, 3B Cano, 2B
Morales, K, 1B Hart, DH
Willingham, LF Seager, 3B
Arcia, O, RF Morrison, 1B
Colabello, DH Zunino, C
Fuld, CF Ackley, LF
Fryer, C Miller, B, SS
  Correia, P   Iwakuma, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0
Seattle 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 x 2 5 1

When Kevin Correia gives you a start like that, you really need to take advantage of it and the Twins did not do that. Not sure what it is about Iwakuma that makes him totally unhittable by anyone in a Twins uniform.

From Kernel to Twin: Jorge Polanco

A little over a year ago, I sat in the Cedar Rapids Kernels dugout before a Sunday game and did an interview with then-Kernels infielder Jorge Polanco – the same Jorge Polanco that just spent the past weekend wearing number 11 for the Minnesota Twins.

I’d been told that, of the Kernels’ Latin American players, Polanco was one of those most familiar with the English language. Since the only familiarization I have with a foreign language comes from the two years of high school French class that I nearly flunked out of over 40 years ago, it seemed like a good idea to interview a player who knew my language better than I knew his.

Jorge Polanco as a Cedar Rapids Kernel

Jorge Polanco as a Cedar Rapids Kernel

Polanco was very accommodating. I approached him after the team worked out that day and asked if he had some time to talk. He said he did, but asked if we could do it after the brief chapel service players have on Sundays. After chapel, we met and sat in the dugout for the interview.

The interview didn’t go particularly well and, unfortunately, I didn’t feel I had enough material to turn it in to something I could post at the time.

I had only been covering the Kernels for a couple of months at that time and, frankly, my interviewing skills weren’t very strong. I’m not sure I’d say they’re particularly strong now, either, but I’m better at it than I was that Sunday afternoon with Polanco.

I asked him what he felt the biggest difference was between his experience at Elizabethton (TN) with the Twins’ short-season rookie level team the year before and his season in Cedar Rapids.

“More fans,” Polanco responded. “A lot of fans.”

Neither of us knew then, of course, that just over a year later, he’d be playing ball in front of a crowd ten times larger than what he was seeing in the Cedar Rapids stands.

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

We talked some about his home town, San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. A “good town to live there,” according to Polanco, and about his favorite Major League player.

“Robinson Cano,” Polanco replied immediately. “I like the way he plays. I would like to be like him. He’s a good person.”

I also found out during the conversation that the then-19 year old spent his time away from the ballpark in much the same way other 19 year olds spend their idle time.

“I like to watch TV and play Playstation3 video games,” he said.

Then he added, “I like to play pool.”

Asked if he was any good at it, he smiled and simply said, “Yes.”

Unfortunately, he added that he had not yet found a place to play pool in Cedar Rapids. I imagine that probably didn’t change much during the summer, since it might be difficult for a 19 year old to get in to most public establishments with pool tables around here.

Toward the end of our conversation, we talked about the adjustments that he and other Latino players have to make to play ball in a place like Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The food, he said, was probably one of the most difficult adjustments, but we also talked about the language barrier.

Polanco clearly was working hard on learning English and wanted to get better.

“I like it because all the people here – most all the people – speak English, so I try to do it.”

That’s when I made one of those off the cuff comments that I may come to regret.

I went back to the audio recording of the interview this weekend, with the hope that perhaps my memory of what I said next was not quite accurate.

I told Polanco I was starting to try to learn some Spanish. I should have left it at that.

But no, I continued with, “When you’re in Target Field with the Twins in a couple of years, I’m going to come to a Twins game and we’ll talk in your language. Is that a deal?”

He smiled and said, “Yes, alright.”

Last week, just about 13 months after my conversation with Polanco, he was called up to the Twins, who found themselves in need of a versatile infielder after a series of injuries to their infield corps. Fortunately, those games were all in Anaheim, California, and Arlington, Texas, and not in Target Field.

I’m using that technicality as an excuse to conclude I still have some time before making good on my poorly thought out promise to Polanco.

(I’ve learned my lesson, by the way. I’m NOT going to promise any of this year’s crop of Kernels players from “down under” that I’ll learn to speak Australian before they wear a Twins uniform.)

It turned out to be just four games in The Show for Polanco, including one start on Sunday against the Rangers, before infielders Eduardo Nunez and Trevor Plouffe came off the Disabled List on Monday and Polanco was sent back to the Fort Myers Miracle.

I don’t think anyone would have been surprised if Polanco had shown some jitters during his time with the Twins, but from all accounts, he looked like he belonged there.

He had two hits (a double and a triple) in five at-bats, he scored two runs and drove in three more. He turned three double plays and, yes, he had a mental lapse on defense in a rundown situation. He’s not the first Twins player to have a mental lapse in the field this season.

He also handled himself well with the media, as is clear from a video clip the St. Paul Pioneer-Press’ Mike Berardino posted over the weekend (click here to view) after Polanco recorded his first Major League hit.

Over the first season and a half of the affiliation between the Twins and Kernels, we’ve seen several players that have legitimate Major League potential and Polanco was no doubt one of those guys.

Fans in Cedar Rapids couldn’t be happier for Polanco, as the first Kernels player since the new affiliation agreement to reach the Big Leagues. Still, it’s unlikely that anyone thought he’d get even this kind of “cup of coffee” with the Twins this soon.

But as one of this year’s Kernels told me recently, “Baseball is a goofy game.”

Indeed it is.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for my next Spanish lesson. It seems I may need to accelerate my learning curve a bit. – JC

Spanish

GameChat – Royals @ Twins, 7:10

Eduardo Nunez and Trevor Plouffe are back from the DL and in the Twins line up. Pedro Florimon is back with Rochester and Jorge Polanco is back in Ft. Myers.

And there’s a pretty fair chance this will be Yohan Pino’s final start for the Twins before he’s sent back to Rochester, as well.

If so, make it a good one, Yohan. – JC

Kansas City
Minnesota
Cain, L, RF Dozier, 2B
Hosmer, 1B Suzuki, K, C
Butler, B, DH Mauer, 1B
Gordon, A, LF Willingham, LF
Perez, S, C Morales, K, DH
Infante, 2B Plouffe, 3B
Moustakas, 3B Parmelee, RF
Escobar, A, SS Nunez, SS
Dyson, J, CF Fuld, CF
  Duffy, P    Pino, P

GameChat – Twins @ Angels #2, 9:05

Another late night game and another chance to start a new winning streak.

Let’s see what Yohan Pino can do for an encore. – JC

Minnesota @ LA Angels
Santana, D, SS Calhoun, RF
Dozier, 2B Trout, CF
Mauer, 1B Pujols, 1B
Willingham, LF Hamilton, LF
Morales, K, DH Aybar, SS
Arcia, O, RF Kendrick, H, 2B
Escobar, E, 3B Cron, DH
Fryer, C Green, G, 3B
Fuld, CF Iannetta, C
  Pino, P   Richards, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 5 0
LA Angels 0 3 2 0 0 0 0 1 x 6 10 1

let’s face it, if you’re checking here for a post game report, you didn’t make it to the end of the game either… Sadly, Pino did not have a great outing. I didn’t get to catch any of the game on TV and only caught brief segments on the radio. I actually got HOME before the game was over but was too exhausted and not enthused by the score to watch.

That being said, it appears that the bullpen actually came in and did a great job of halting the Angels offense but it appears that the Twins bats didn’t really ever get swinging to any benefit. Can’t win if you don’t score…

Few Silver Linings for Kernels

June has not been kind to the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

As a team, they’ve lost a dozen games this month and won just six. The first half of the season mercifully drew to a close a week ago, but the Kernels started off their second half season by dropping three of four road games to the Midwest League’s Western Division champions, the Kane County Cougars.

Silver linings are a little difficult to come by for a team that most people expected to be led by their pitching when the season opened, only to find themselves with the 15th ranked team ERA (4.83) in the 16-team Midwest League.

There are a handful of bright spots as the Kernels begin the race for a postseason spot that would come with finishing as one of the top two teams in the MWL Western Division among the six teams that have not already qualified for postseason play.

The brightest of those bright spots might be catcher Mitch Garver. So far in June, Garver is batting .364, has an on-base percentage of .500 and an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.045.

Mitch Garver

Mitch Garver

According to TwinsDaily.com’s Seth Stohs, heading in to this week’s series in Peoria, Garver is among the Twins minor league organizational leaders in batting average (2nd), on-base percentage (1st), slugging percentage (3rd), OPS (2nd) and home runs (tied for 4th with teammate Bryan Haar).

Cedar Rapids native Chad Christensen has also shown he can handle Class A work. He is hitting .323 in June and has a .963 OPS. He’s had eight extra-base hits in the month, including four home runs.

Chad Christensen

Chad Christensen

Christensen’s .299 batting average ties him for fourth among all Twins minor leaguers.

But Garver and Christensen can’t win games by themselves. Most of the rest of the Kernels’ batting order have seen their hitting numbers drop considerably in June.

The Kernels could get some offensive help as some of the hitters that have been idled by injuries begin to return.

That process has begun already as outfielder J.D. Williams was activated from the Disabled List on Tuesday.

Zach Larson, Logan Wade and Jeremias Pineda remain on the club’s DL for now. Larson, in particular, could provide an offensive boost if he can get healthy and return to a level of productivity he demonstrated in April when he hit .307 for the Kernels.

Unless you’re a fan who worships gaudy strikeout numbers for pitchers, there has been nothing to complain about in starting pitcher Kohl Stewart’s performance thus far.

Kohl Stewart

Kohl Stewart

Stewart’s 2.44 ERA on the season would be good enough for fourth best in the league if he had enough innings to qualify (he’s one inning short, which should be more than met in his next scheduled start on Wednesday).

Stewart has continued to lead the rotation with a 1.13 ERA in three June starts, with batters putting up just a .236 batting average against him this month.

To find anything else resembling “bright” among the Cedar Rapids pitching corps, it’s necessary to turn to the bullpen, which has had its own share of ups and downs through the first half of the season.

Todd Van Steensel perhaps represents the best of the “ups” for the bullpen corps recently.

Todd Van Steensel

Todd Van Steensel

Van Steensel has put up a 1.67 ERA since joining the Kernels at the end of April. He has struck out 35 batters in 27 innings of work and opponents are hitting just .179 off the right hander.

Alex Muren has been among the team’s most consistent bullpen arms, assembling a 3.43 ERA on the year and a similar 3.48 ERA so far in June.

This month, hitters are batting just .171 against Muren. He’s thrown 10.1 innings in five June appearances. All four runs surrendered this month came in one forgettable appearance on June 15.

Alex Muren

Alex Muren

Brandon Bixler had two good months in April and May, but has been less consistent in June. He has a 3.13 ERA on the year and hitters have just a .201 batting average against him. He’s struck out 39 batters in 40.1 innings.

Jared Wilson’s year has been similar to Bixler’s. Since joining the Kernels in mid May, Wilson has put up a 2.49 ERA and a .197 BAA (batting average against), while striking out over one batter per inning pitched. He’s been somewhat inconsistent in June, with three outings where he was almost unhittable and three others where he gave up almost an earned run per inning.

The Kernels bullpen could be in for a boost, however.

On Tuesday, the Twins announced that they had signed Nick Burdi, their second round pick in the 2014 draft, and that Burdi will be joining Cedar Rapids on Friday.

Burdi, the closer for a University of Louisville squad that qualified for the College World Series, reportedly throws in the 96-98 mph range and is capable of regularly topping 100 mph with his fastball.

Expectations for the Kernels coming in to the season were modest, but a seventh place finish in the MWL Western Division first-half standings was a disappointment.

Garver and Christensen will need some of their teammates to step up their games and the Kernels rotation will need to start contributing more than three or four innings of solid pitching on a regular basis if the team expects to contend for a postseason berth in the second half of the year.

- JC

GameChat – White Sox @ Twins, 7:10 (Maybe)

The radar in the Twin Cities area reportedly is making some folks doubt whether tonight’s series opener with the White Sox will actually get played, but if it does, it will be Yohan Pino’s MLB debut.

It would be a real shame (for me) if it isn’t played since it’s being televised on CSN (the Sox network), making it one of the rare times I would actually get to see a Twins game on TV. Yes I know it would be a shame for Pino, too, but it’s all about me.

I’ll be heading up toward Target Field about noon tomorrow to catch the Friday and Saturday games and I’m looking forward to that. – JC

Chicago @ Minnesota
Eaton, CF Santana, D, SS
Beckham, G, 2B Dozier, 2B
Gillaspie, 3B Mauer, 1B
Abreu, 1B Willingham, LF
Dunn, A, DH Morales, K, DH
Ramirez, Al, SS Suzuki, K, C
Viciedo, RF Parmelee, RF
De Aza, LF Escobar, E, 3B
Flowers, C Fuld, CF
  Quintana, P   Pino, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 0
Minnesota 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 x 4 9 0

Let’s give the rookie and the vet co-BOD awards, shall we? Of course, in this case, the rookie pitcher, Yohan Pino, and the vet, Joe Mauer, aren’t all that far apart age-wise.

Pino started out by striking out the first two batters he faced and other than a couple hiccups in the 3rd inning, he pretty much cruised through his first seven innings of work as a Big Leaguer.

Mauer had a pair of hits and, more importantly, a pair of RBI. Kind of reminded you of a guy who used to catch for the Twins the last few years. – JC

Yohan Pino

Yohan Pino

Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer

Twins Prez Interested in Move from Cedar Rapids to St. Paul?

In September of 2012, the Minnesota Twins announced a four-year affiliation agreement with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, with the Twins’ then-Senior Director of Minor Leagues Jim Rantz telling the media, “We are confident that this relationship will grow into one of the strongest affiliations in minor league baseball.”

Less than two years later, the Twins organization appears to be flirting with another minor league ownership group with an eye toward moving their Class A Midwest League affiliation to nearby St. Paul, Minnesota, and potentially leaving the Kernels to shop for another new Major League affiliate when their current Player Development Contract expires following the 2016 season.

According to a story Tuesday in the Business Journal, Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter and Derek Sharrer, the General Manager the St. Paul Saints, an independent minor league team, expressed mutual interest in a future affiliation agreement between the two teams.

Their comments were made at the Business Journal’s Business of Sports Power Breakfast Tuesday morning.

But what about 2017 and beyond? (Image: Kernels.com)

But what about 2017 and beyond? (Image: Kernels.com)

“Long-term, there are aspects that make a lot of sense,” St. Peter is quoted as telling the group. “Short-term, it’s more challenging. We have a tremendous partnership with Cedar Rapids and the Kernels. It’s been a home run for the Twins. It’s been strategic for the Twins relative to marketing in the state of Iowa.

“I think it’s something that will require some additional discussions and I’m guessing that dialogue will take place.”

The Twins President did point out that the potential arrangement comes with challenges.

“It’s a bus league, and when you’re in St. Paul and there are teams east of Cleveland, that’s a tough bus trip for your players,” St. Peter said. “Things like that need to be addressed long-term.”

The Saints are in the process of building a new 7.000 seat stadium in St. Paul that’s being built to meet or exceed standards required by baseball for Class AA and lower affiliated teams. The stadium is scheduled to open in 2015.

The Saints are owned by a group that recently agreed to sell the Twins’ Class high-A affiliate in Fort Myers, Florida.

“Our organization has a tremendous amount of respect for Derek and his team,” St. Peter said of the Twins’ relationship with the Saints organization. “We’ve worked very closely with the Saints’ ownership … for 20 years.”

As the Twins President alluded to, there are a number of obstacles that the Twins and Saints would need to overcome before placing an affiliate in St. Paul.

The most likely arrangement would be for the Twins to place their Class A Midwest League affiliate in St. Paul. There are no high-A or AA leagues located in the Midwest and the new Saints stadium is not being built up to AAA standards.

However, putting a Midwest League team in St. Paul would not be a simple matter, either.

For the Twins and Saints to make the plan work, they would need to either seek to have the Midwest League expand by two teams (to keep the number of league teams at an even number for scheduling purposes) or acquire an existing MWL team and move it to St. Paul.

Every Major League team already has a full season Class A affiliate, which would seem to make expansion unlikely.

Acquiring a team and moving it would only be somewhat easier.

Under the current Professional Baseball Agreement between the Major and Minor League governing bodies, every current affiliated minor league team is guaranteed an affiliation. Baseball can’t just tell an existing affiliated team that they’re being kicked out of affiliated minor league baseball.

The Saints ownership would likely need to acquire an existing Midwest League team and relocate it to St. Paul, rather than looking to acquire a team currently competing in another Class A league.

While it would not be totally unheard of for a team to move from one minor league to another, the same scheduling issues that affect expansion would also require any movement between leagues to result in each affected league retaining an even number of teams.

With the eastward migration of Midwest League teams over the past two decades, virtually every club in the Eastern Division of the league is playing in relatively new ballparks and before generally larger crowds than is the case among their Western Division brethren. This would make it much more likely that a current Western Division club would be targeted.

With relatively new or recently renovated ballparks in Appleton WI, Kane County IL, Peoria IL and Iowa clubs in the Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids, it would be unlikely that the teams in those communities would go on the sale block.

That leaves Beloit WI, Clinton IA and Burlington IA, three teams with, perhaps, the most difficult stadium situations left among potential MWL targets.

However, all three of those teams are, like the Kernels, long-time MWL members. More importantly, also like the Kernels, all three clubs are community owned. Prying ownership away from those communities would likely be no easy task.

Finally, even if an existing ownership group were made an offer they can’t refuse, the team would need approval of the other members of the MWL to relocate. That hurdle might not be so easy to overcome, either.

St. Paul is well outside the current MWL footprint. Cedar Rapids is the closest current league city and it’s a good 250 miles from the Twin Cities. Every other MWL community, except Appleton (270 miles) is at least 300 miles from St. Paul.

South Bend IN, at 495 miles, would be the only MWL Eastern Division location less than 500 miles away.

That’s an important consideration for the league, too, because under the terms of the Professional Baseball Agreement rules, players must be given an off day any time they are bused 500 miles or more. Having a team that far outside the league’s current footprint could present a nightmare for MWL schedule-makers.

It also would increase travel costs, not only for the team that relocates, but for every other team in the league that would have to send teams to St. Paul on road trips. Those travel costs are primarily the responsibility of the local team, not their Big League affiliate.

St. Peter is certainly correct in cautioning Twin Cities fans that putting an affiliate in St. Paul would be difficult to arrange, but if the Twins were to decide to make such a move a priority, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they could throw enough weight around to get what they want. It remains to be seen whether the Twins and Saints are truly interested enough in a marriage to overcome the obstacles.

The agreement between the Kernels and Twins will have young Twins prospects calling Cedar Rapids their summer home for two more years after the current season.

Nevertheless, it’s no doubt disappointing to Twins fans in Eastern Iowa to learn that at least one Twins executive may no longer be interested in seeing the relationship between the Twins and Kernels, “grow into one of the strongest affiliations in minor league baseball.”

Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson, reached Tuesday afternoon while in Comstock Park MI for the Midwest League All-Star game, was asked for his reaction to St. Peter’s statements to the Business Journal.

“The Kernels view our affiliation with the Twins as a long term partnership,” stated Nelson via email.

It is less clear whether the Twins continue to share that view.

- JC

Kernels’ Jason Kanzler Keeps Proving Himself

Go ahead and underestimate Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder Jason Kanzler. He’s used to it. Having to show people they’re wrong about him is nothing new.

”I think I’ve done that my whole life, pretty much,” Kanzler said. “I was never really at the top on anyone’s priority list. I wasn’t recruited out of high school. I tried to walk on at Northeastern University and I was cut after two weeks.

Jason Kanzler

Jason Kanzler

“Then I went to Buffalo as kind of a recruited walk-on and I didn’t play. I guess my red-shirt freshman year, I got 10 at-bats.Then I platooned a little in left and right my sophomore year.”

That’s not exactly the kind of start to a college baseball career that you’d expect for a guy with hopes of playing ball professionally.

Things turned around for Kanzler his next two seasons at the University of Buffalo, however.

“I started in center field my junior and senior year and won two gold gloves so I kind of shoved it up in everyone’s faces.”

If you think it sounds like Kanzler has a little chip on his shoulder over people underestimating him, you would be correct.

Kanzler spent spring training with the Class A group, but got the word the last week of camp that he would not be heading north to Cedar Rapids with the others.

Asked how he felt about being one of the final cuts to the Kernels’ roster as spring training drew to a close in March, he quickly corrected the questioner and didn’t hesitate to say exactly how he felt about it.

”I was the last guy,” he said. And he said it without a trace of a smile.

“I was angry, I was really angry,” he admitted. “The coaches down in extended (spring training) told me to cool it and I’ll get my chance eventually.”

You get the sense from Kanzler that “cooling it” isn’t something that comes very natural to him on a baseball field. In fact, in the game the evening after giving the interview, Kanzler was ejected for arguing a called third strike late in the game.

In any event, he didn’t have to cool it for very long this spring before he was given a plane ticket for Cedar Rapids. Four games in to the season, Kernels center fielder Zack Granite was injured and Kanzler got the call.

Jason Kanzler

Jason Kanzler

Granite rejoined the Kernels last week, but it wasn’t Kanzler’s roster spot he took. Instead, Ivory Thomas was given his unconditional release by the Twins to make room for Granite and Kanzler in the same outfield.

At the Midwest League’s All-Star break, the halfway point of the Kernels’ season, Kanzler is hitting .293 with an .813 OPS. He has five doubles, five triples and one night after his ejection he hit his seventh home run of the year. He has also stolen 10 bases.

Kanzler was utilized as a top-of-the order hitter when he first arrived in Cedar Rapids, but the power he’s demonstrated has resulted in a move toward the middle of the lineup.

How could power go unnoticed?

“I’m not a ‘guy’ really. Just an ‘extended guy’,” Kanzler explained. “I was hurt for 14 days during spring training with a hamstring, so I really only got to play like ten spring training games.”

The pop in his bat may have surprised others, but not Kanzler. “I knew I had it. I think it makes me even more mad that no one else really knew,” he said.

Kanzler has let his play convince others he’s more than just a defensive specialist and slap hitter.

“I guess I could show it off in BP a little bit,” he said, “but they kind of figured I was just a speed guy with good defense and once you get pigeon-holed, it’s hard to kind of climb your way out.”

Kernels hitting coach Tommy Watkins knows Kanzler has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and that the player uses it to his advantage.

“I think that’s one thing that motivated him, being the last guy left off the team,” Watkins said. “From talking to him since he’s been here and in spring training, I think he’s been a guy that people have always told him he couldn’t do it, so he set himself out to prove everybody wrong.

“If you tell him he can’t do it, he’s going to work 10 times harder to prove you wrong.”

Asked about his goals for this season before the year started and whether they have changed at all with his performance in Cedar Rapids, Kanzler was thoughtful with his responses.

“I think my goals are just to play my game,” he responded initially. “I think if I play my game, everything will kind of work itself out. I guess my main goal is to play excellent defense and kind of be a spark plug. I kind of like to do a little bit of everything. So whether it’s hit a home run or steal a base or make a diving catch, I just like to play the game hard.”

Watkins thinks Kanzler’s on the right track with that goal.

“I think for him just to work on his overall game,” Watkins said. “He’s a guy that has tremendous tools, all of them. He can hit, hit with power, he can run, he can throw. He’s got all the tools, it’s just fine-tuning all of them and have them show in the game.”

Of course, Kanzler has longer term goals, too. “My goal is to get to the Big Leagues, but that’s more like a dream than a goal right now. Still a few too many steps away to be a goal yet.”

A native of upstate New York, Kanzler added another potential goal before he reaches the Big Leagues, “Fill up the Red Wings’ stadium.”

“Maybe my (short term) goal would be to make a post-season all-star team and help the Kernels win the second half and get in the playoffs and win the playoffs.

“I like that. I like to win.”

Jason Kanzler breaking up a double play

Jason Kanzler goes in hard to break up a double play

Kanzler and his team mates aren’t accustomed to looking at the standings and seeing their team near the bottom. They don’t like it much.

“Yeah, I think especially because we have, I think, a lot more talent than a lot of the teams that are above us. We have so many games where we can’t put everything together. One or two things go right instead of all three.”

As intense as Kanzler can be on the field, he’s capable of relaxing and enjoying his time away from the ballpark.

Recently, that included a trip to a local music store with team mate and Cedar Rapids native Chad Christensen.

“He (Christensen) bought a guitar and I bought a ukulele,” Kanzler related. “So I’ve been practicing my ukulele a little bit. Ryan Walker has a banjo and it’s amazing, It’s an instrument I’d like to learn.”

How’s that ukulele coming and does it sound good with Christensen’s guitar?

“No we haven’t tried that. The guitar is too loud and they don’t collaborate well I don’t think.

“Chad’s been learning mostly country songs and I’ve been learning video game songs, like Mario and Zelda. That’s my kind of thing. Just fun little stuff.”

You get the feeling that all it would take for Kanzler to become the best ukulele player ever would be for someone to tell him he can’t do it.

- JC