Mauer: Kernels Roster Almost Set

The following article was originally posted at MetroSportsReport.com and is re-posted here with permission.

With a week remaining before the Cedar Rapids Kernels take the field for the first time in 2013, a few roster spots are yet to be finalized during the final days of the team’s spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.

“We’re getting close,” Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said Wednesday. “There are probably three or four decisions left to make. A couple of pitchers and a couple of position players.

“Our position players are in good shape. It looks like we should have good team speed,” Mauer said.

Mauer indicated that Byron Buxton, the Twins’ first-round draft pick in last June’s amateur draft (and second pick overall), will be the club’s center fielder. He will be joined in the outfield by two other highly rated Twins prospects, Adam Walker and Romy Jimenez.

Max Kepler, another top prospect, is likely to remain in Fort Myers for a while. “He has some arm issues to work through” before he will join the Kernels, Mauer explained. “There’s still some competition for the fourth outfield spot, but competition always is a good thing,” Mauer said.

Buxton started in center field for the parent Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He led off with a single off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett. Buxton added a walk, two stolen bases and three runs scored for the Twins.

The Kernels’ starting pitching rotation is up in the air. “(Hudson) Boyd should be there, but (Jose) Berrios and (Luke) Bard will probably stay in Fort Myers for one or two weeks,” Mauer said.

Both pitchers, according to their manager, need to stretch out their arms a little more. Berrios pitched for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, but was used in relief and had not been throwing multiple innings until he arrived back in Fort Myers less than two weeks ago.

“We’re still trying to get to know some of our pitchers,” Mauer said. “Some of them have never played in cold weather, so we’ll want to monitor their innings. The important thing is to stay healthy through that first month.”

While many core players from last season’s Appalachian League champions in Elizabethton will be on the Kernels’ Opening Day roster, Mauer confirmed they’ll be joined by several members of last summer’s Beloit Snappers.

Tyler Grimes

Tyler Grimes

Among those players returning for another Midwest League season will be Tyler Grimes. Grimes was an infielder for the Snappers in 2012 but spent the fall learning how to be a catcher. That transition is going well, according to Mauer.

“He throws well and is very athletic. He’s working really hard at learning the details of catching, calling pitches and controlling the running game,” said Mauer. “We plan to use him four or five games a week.”

Players still competing for final roster spots have just three or four more games to impress the decision makers before breaking camp and traveling to Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.

The Kernels are scheduled to open the season on Thursday, April 4, against Beloit at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 6:35 p.m.

- S.D. Buhr, MetroSportsReport.com

Mauer: Possible Kernels “Really Working Hard”

The following article was originally posted late last week at MetroSportsReport.com and is re-posted here with permission.

With local temperatures finally working their way into the 40′s last week in Cedar Rapids, local baseball fans could allow their minds to wander to even warmer days ahead when the Cedar Rapids Kernels open their season April 4 against Beloit.

It’s still a bit chilly for baseball at Veterans Memorial Stadium, but the minor leaguers in the parent Minnesota Twins organization are hard at work in the warm sunshine at the Twins’ spring training site in Fort Myers, Fla.

While there’s plenty of speculation about which young Twins prospects may fill out the Kernels roster, it’s still too early to know with certainty who those players will be.

 BeresfordMauerST11As Kernels Manager Jake Mauer pointed out this week, “It depends on who they keep in Minnesota at a number of positions. Once those decisions are made, the rest takes shape off of that. There’s kind of a trickle down effect.”

While the Major League camp has been humming for about a month, the minor leaguers began official workouts less than two weeks ago and have played only a handful of games. In fact, Mauer himself hasn’t necessarily been working with all the players tentatively earmarked for the Kernels.

With the Major League spring training roster still roughly twice the size it will be during the season, the Twins shift their coaching staffs up a level until more cuts are made by the big league club. As a result, Mauer has spent much of his time working with players likely to spend their season with the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League.

Still, Mauer has had opportunities to work with a number of players widely expected to wear Kernels uniforms this season and he’s well aware that many of those players are among the Twins’ highest rated young prospects. That can certainly lead to some lofty expectations, both for the team and for those players individually.

Mauer’s take on the high expectations is what you might expect from the club’s manager. “It’s the old cliché, you’re not as good as people say and you’re not as bad as people say.

“It’s nice to get recognition, but you’ve got to go out on the field and play. ‘Prospect’ is just a tag,” he remarked.

With the voice of someone who’s seen these things play out first hand, he added, “I played with a lot of guys who were top prospects who never made it. It doesn’t affect how you play. You still have to put in the work.”

JakeMauer2011aMauer believes the players he’s working with are doing just that. He specifically mentioned outfield prospect Max Kepler, the German native who signed with the Twins in 2009 as a 16-year-old.

“Max looks pretty good,” he said. “I saw him down here as a 16-year-old and he has really physically developed.”

Byron Buxton, the Twins’ top draft choice in last June’s amateur draft, also has impressed Mauer. “Buxton looks pretty good. He’s really working hard,” the skipper reported.

Another prospect many Twins fans are anxious to see in action for the Kernels is third baseman Travis Harrison. Harrison’s reputation is one of great offensive potential, with some question concerning his ability to continue playing third base as he progresses up the organizational ladder.

But Mauer likes what he’s seeing so far, pointing out that Harrison is focusing on improving the defensive aspect of his game this spring.

“He came in with a very good attitude,” said Mauer. “He wants to be good on defense and he’s working pretty hard on it.

“He’s not a finished product, without a doubt … We may see some errors, but I think he’ll be OK.”

One top prospect that Mauer hasn’t had an opportunity to see much of thus far is Jose Berrios. Berrios reported with the Major League pitchers and catchers in mid-February to help him prepare to play for his native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

His team survived the first two rounds of the WBC, so Berrios has yet to work out with his minor league teammates in Fort Myers.

While Berrios has been expected to open the season in the Kernels’ starting rotation, there’s some speculation that his participation in the WBC could change those plans. Berrios has been used sparingly out of the bullpen for Puerto Rico, so as long as the team remains in that tournament Berrios won’t be getting his innings stretched out the way a starting pitcher normally would during spring training.

Could that affect the organization’s plans for Berrios to start the season?

“It could,” Mauer admitted. “Obviously he’s not starting (for Puerto Rico). But he’s getting exposed to some intense situations.”

Mauer doesn’t think it would take Berrios long to get ready for the season, noting he pitched in winter leagues during the offseason. Once the WBC is over, Mauer added, “he will come here in shape and just need a tuneup. He came in to camp before the WBC in pretty good shape.”

The next week or so will go a long way in determining who will be wearing a Kernels uniform on Opening Day.

“We’ll probably start to see our roster take shape with about 10 days left. There are a few pitchers who are a little tender, so that could affect which pitchers start with us,” said Mauer.

- S.D. Buhr, MetroSportsReport.com

Kernels 2013 Giveaways Announced

The Cedar Rapids Kernels, Class A affiliate of the Twins, have announced their 2013 Giveaways. From their website (kernels.com):

The season starts with a double giveaway on Friday, April 5th as the first 500 fans through the gates receive a free Kernels cap, thanks to the Best Western Longbranch, and 2013 Magnet Schedules will be passed out, thanks to MercyCare Community Physicians.

Other gate giveaways include (first 1,000 fans unless indicated):

Friday, April 26th – Copyworks Team Photo Night #1 (first 500 fans)
Thursday, May 30th – Iowa Wrestling T-Shirts (part of Iowa Wrestling Night)
Friday, June 7th – Mr. Shucks/TC Bear Bobbleheads
Friday, June 14th – Superman/Kernels T-Shirts (part of Superman Movie Night)
Friday, June 28th – Kernels Snow Globes (part of Halfway to Christmas Night)
Friday, July 5th – Perfect Game USA Kernels Baseball Card Sets
Friday, July 12th – Copyworks Team Photo Night #2
Friday, July 26th – Twins Youth Baseball Jerseys (first 800 kids 12-under)
Friday, August 16th – Kernels Black & Gold T-Shirts (part of Hawkeye Sports Night)
Friday, August 30th – Fan Appreciation Night

Wait… did that say a Mr. Shucks/TC Bear bobblehead night? Why… yes it did! You know you all want one of those! Check it out!

kernelsgiveaways

(image: kernels.com)

A New Site For Kernels News!

(Image: Kernels.com)

(Image: Kernels.com)

On April 4, the Cedar Rapids Kernels will take the field for the first time as the Class A Midwest League affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. For the first time in several generations, the CR minor league baseball club will be fielding prospects from a Major League organization with a significant fanbase locally. And now those Twins and Kernels fans, near and far, will have a new source for daily information about the young Twins prospects that call Cedar Rapids their summer home.

MetroSportsReport.com, which has provided coverage for a broad range of local sports in the Cedar Rapids area, has announced that they’re also adding Kernels coverage to the site. According to their announcement (read it by clicking here), MSR will have reporters covering all 70 Kernels home games and the 26 road games in Clinton, Burlington and the Quad Cities, while providing stories on the remaining 44 road games based on information provided by the Kernels and other sources.

Many of the Kernels stories will appear on the MSR home page. However, the Kernels also will have their own dedicated page on the website that can be found by clicking on “Kernels” at the top of the home page (or just click the MetroSportsReport.com Kernels site here  and bookmark it).

If some of the writing style seems familiar, well… yes… there may be a reason for that. As the great former Twins blogger, “Batgirl,” would say, one of the MSR writers assigned to the Kernels beat this season is a “close personal friend” of one of the co-founders here at Knuckleballs (hmmm I wonder who that might be).

By the way… the Kernels’ Opening Day is just a little over three weeks away!

- JC

P.S. Check out MSR’s story on the “Great Expectations” for the Kernels this summer by clicking here.

Berrios Stock Rising?

In the days following last June’s MLB Amateur Draft, most of the chatter among Twins fans seemed focused on two subjects: Byron Buxton, the high school outfielder that the Twins selected with the second overall pick of the draft; and the number of hard throwing college-age relief pitchers that the team selected in first couple of rounds.

Everyone wanted to discuss just how good Buxton might become and whether or not the Twins would be able to successfully convert any of those strong college arms in to starting pitchers. Almost overlooked in the discussions was Jose Berrios, a young high school pitcher the Twins drafted used a supplemental first round pick to select out of Papa Juan XXIII High School in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

It’s understandable, perhaps. Buxton was the near-consensus “best athlete in the draft” and the college pitchers all seemed to be at least 6′ 4″ 210 pound men with mid 90s fastballs who had proven themselves with some of the premier college baseball programs in the country. Berrios, on the other hand, appeared to have to stretch to reach six feet in height and reportedly packed on about 20 pounds during his senior year of high school just to get up near 185.

Some even suggested that the Twins had reached a bit in selecting Berrios where they did. ESPN’s Keith Law had the young righty pegged as the 73rd best ballplayer available in the draft, but the Twins used the 32nd overall pick to select him. Almost immediately, there was speculation that Berrios’ size and mechanics indicated he’d likely need to convert to a bullpen role.

Berrios pitched at both Rookie League levels in the Twins organization after inking a deal with the Twins for a $1.55 million signing bonus. He threw 30.2 innings across 11 games (four of them starts) and put up a combined 1.17 ERA. That’s nice, but here are the real eye-popping numbers: Berrios struck out 49 batters in those 30.2 innings, while walking just four. No matter what level of minor league ball you’re at, those are impressive stats!

His effort didn’t go unnoticed outside the Twins organization either. In January, Berrios was named to Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic pitching staff. That honor also got the young pitcher an invitation to the Twins’ Major League Spring Training, where he would not only get much needed work in preparation for the WBC tournament, but would also have the opportunity to get in front of the eyes of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the big club’s coaching staff.

While Berrios has not pitched in any of the Twins’ “official” Spring Training games, he has pitched in the ‘B’ games and intersquad games that the team has scheduled over the past week or so in order to get enough work in for the expanded roster they’ve got in camp this year.

Even without taking the mound for an official Spring Training game, however, he’s made an impression. Gardenhire observed after Berrios took one of his turns throwing live batting practice to the Big Leaguers, “He can throw it. He can wing it.” Star-Tribune Twins beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III has also been impressed with Berrios, writing, “I can’t believe he’s just 18. His stuff is live and he goes after people.”

In what’s likely to have been his final game experience prior to leaving to join his team mates for the WBC in Puerto Rico, Berrios threw two innings against a team of Red Sox prospects in a ‘B’ game on Thursday and retired all six hitters he faced.

Puerto Rico opens their WBC play against Spain this coming Friday. They’ll have their work cut out for them to advance beyond the first round, however, as traditional powers Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are both also in Puerto Rico’s pool.

It will be interesting to see how the Twins handle Berrios once the WBC wraps up and the minor league season gets underway. The Twins are not an organization known for overtaxing the arms of their young pitching prospects and ordinarily it wouldn’t have been surprising to see an 18 year old like Berrios stay back in extended spring training for a few weeks rather than subjecting him to the chilly Iowa weather in April. But with his early start and the WBC work, they may be more likely to send him north to Cedar Rapids for Opening Day.

In any event, it’s not so much a matter of “if” but “when” we’ll see Berrios on the mound in Cedar Rapids this season. Hopefully, he’ll show fans of the Kernels and Twins in Eastern Iowa a bit of what has been impressing everyone in Ft. Myers this spring.

In parting, click here to take a look at a great, emotional video taken on draft day last June, when Berrios and his family & friends learned he’d been drafted by the Twins.

- JC

A Bigger View of the Kernels’ Action

How desperate am I for good baseball news?

Suffice to say I’m really excited to see the Cedar Rapids Kernels new video board go up!

The old video board was installed when the current stadium was opened over a decade ago… here’s a picture from last summer:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And here’s the new board!

KernelsNewBoard3

The new video board replaces not only the space that the old video board took up, but also one column of advertisements to the right of the old board, as well as the old electronic “line score” section of the scoreboard. Of course, it also takes up the space at the bottom of the old line score section where the “pitch speed” was found. Sure hope they find a spot for that somewhere!

Now… I can’t wait until there’s actually some baseball highlights being shown on that board!

- JC

All Is Well

AllIsWellIt has been pointed out to me more than once that I’m a bit bipolar when it comes to my feelings with regard to the Minnesota Twins and they way they’re operated. That’s probably a fair observation. I can sometimes seemingly blow off steam about a decision by the Twins one moment and then turn around and be really excited about the team and chastise someone else for going too far in their negativity toward the organization. I never claimed to be the most consistent person in the world.

Like most fans (and, it seems, almost all bloggers), I’m quick to point out what I think the decision-makers are doing wrong and what I believe they should do to fix things. This is particularly true at specific times of the year: during spring training when the final roster spots are being filled; at or near trade deadlines in July and August; and during the first couple of months after the season when, presumably, the front office is making and executing their plans to revise their roster for the following season.

When I go on a rant about how Terry Ryan isn’t doing this right or should do that instead, it may even seem like I’m angry. I may, indeed, be frustrated, but I don’t think it often reaches the point of anger. In fact, I’m actually having fun. Putting myself in the General Manager’s role is just one part of what’s fun about being a Twins fan, for me. If you think I come down hard on Terry Ryan at times, you should have been around me during Calvin Griffith’s days of (mis)running the team. Yet Griffith, like Ryan, managed to assemble some of the most talented teams in the franchise’s history.

You may have noticed that I haven’t ranted much lately. Sure, I’d like to see Ryan throw a few bucks at Joe Saunders and add him to the rotation for the next couple of years and, like almost everyone else, I’m less than enthusiastic about Kevin Correia being the Twins’ “big free agent” signing for their rotation (at least measuring by contract size).

But, for all intents, I’ve turned the page. This time of year, I move in to, “I can’t wait for baseball season to start!” mode. I don’t care if it’s Little League or Major League, I want to see somebody playing some baseball and I want to see it NOW!

I’ve been writing about the coming season for a few weeks now. I contributed a piece about the addition of Cedar Rapids to the Twins family for Seth Stohs’ 2013 Twins Prospect Handbook and that certainly put me in the mood to look forward to this season. I researched and wrote a few posts about Twins prospects we could see playing in Cedar Rapids for the Kernels and that genuinely got me excited for baseball to start. I attended the Twins Caravan/Kernels Hot Stove Banquet event last week and seeing over 500 people celebrating the new relationship and hearing the Twins representatives on stage talk about how they looked forward to 2013 just added fuel to my baseball fire.

This weekend, it’s TwinsFest at the Metrodome. I’m only going to make it for a bit on Saturday (and hopefully across the street to Hubert’s to sit on the periphery of the gathering of Twins bloggers taking place there Saturday night), but I’m pretty sure that’s all I’ll need to bring my fandom to a boil. I don’t really get heavily in to autographs or pictures with players, but I enjoy watching the people who do. It’s a celebration of baseball… and of being a Twins fan.

So I hope everyone will understand if I don’t keep piling on Terry Ryan at this point. I think there’s been enough of that, at least for now.

There seems to be a prevailing opinion out there that the signing of Correia and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of signings of any of the more statistically successful free agent pitching options, indicates that Ryan and the front office are now in full-blown “rebuild” mode. This, despite early offseason assurances from Ryan and others that the Twins were intent on making significant improvements to the rotation and the general competitive level of the Twins in 2013. I have to admit that, for a while, I was bordering on being convinced that was the case.

But I really don’t think so.

From various recent media accounts and interviews with the Twins’ GM, I think it’s pretty clear that it has been, is, and continues to be his intent to put a far better product on the field in 2013 than we’ve seen the past two seasons. He believes Correia will be a significantly better pitcher than almost all of the guys the Twins trotted out to start games last year. He believes Vance Worley will be, as well. Likewise Mike Pelfrey.

It’s fair, of course, to question the basis on which Ryan and his organization came to some of those conclusions.  As 1500ESPN’s Phil Mackey pointed out this week, Ryan is clearly sticking his neck out with Correia and saying he and his scouts believe the former Pirates pitcher will be better than his numbers indicate he has been in the past. In retrospect, while it’s reasonable to question how wise relying so entirely on “old school” scouting is in this case, I’m not sure why any of us should be surprised by that.

But right now, I just don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, Correia, Worley, Pelfrey and the other new arrivals are now Minnesota Twins and that makes them our guys. I say we welcome them aboard and wish them all the best.

I want to SEE whether the right decisions were made or not. I want to see the new pitchers pitch and I want to see if Trevor Plouffe can hold down third base and, hopefully, hit like he did for a couple of months in the middle of last year. I want to see if Chris Parmelee can establish himself as a legitimate Major League hitter and I want to see young outfielders, who probably thought their paths to the Big Leagues might be blocked by not one but two centerfielders in front of them, compete to break camp in the starting outfield of a Major League baseball team. And I want to see familiar faces like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau hit baseballs.

And I want to see a bunch of kids put on Cedar Rapids Kernels uniforms and show us whether they’re as good as we all seem to think they will be. Some day, some of those guys will wear Twins uniforms and someone will ask me whether I remember them when they played for the Kernels. And I will remember. I’m just so anxious to get started burning those memories in to my mind right now.

My opinions about what woulda-coulda-shoulda been done this offseason haven’t changed. But I’m ready to move on.

I spend nine or ten hours a day working so I can spend a few hours with family and friends at a ballpark or in a bar watching baseball or even just talking about it. I do that because I just wasn’t good enough at anything that would allow me to make my living at a ballpark, but there are still very few things I’d rather do than watch baseball.

In a few weeks, we’ll all get to start doing that again. As long as that’s the case, I’m going to try to remain calm… all is well.

- JC

Kernels Hot Stove & Twins Caravan!

What a great night for baseball fans in Eastern Iowa!

In celebration of the new affiliation agreement between the Twins and the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the organizations combined to put on a terrific event Thursday night.

Every winter, the Kernels put on a Hot Stove banquet with proceeds going to their own charitable foundation. The event combines dinner, a silent auction and induction of the new Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame members. Tonight’s event, however, also included a local stop by the Twins Caravan.

The combination brought out a record crowed for the Hot Stove event. The banquet sold out and standing room only tickets were sold at a discount to give even more Twins fans an opportunity to attend the Caravan.

Media members (including this humble blogger) were invited to come in starting at 4:30 to interview some of the participants. I had a chance to visit a bit with Twins pitching prospect, BJ Hermsen. He will be heading to the Twin Cities next week where he’ll receive his Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year award and then attend TwinsFest. Not long after, he’ll be on the road to Fort Myers for his first Major League Spring Training.

I asked whether Hermsen has any sense of where he’ll start the 2013 season (he doesn’t) and talked a bit about the offseason training work he’s been doing. He was asked by another person if he was going to be speaking during the Caravan portion of the program and he indicated he didn’t think so (he was wrong… emcee Dick Bremer had a number of questions for Hermsen during the program).

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Steinbach also were made available for interviews with the media, as was new Kernels manager Jake Mauer. Naturally, the local media had questions for Gardy that alluded to the new Cedar Rapids affiliation and he was appropriately complimentary in his responses.

Gardenhire did bring up the fact that his managerial debut was with Kenosha in the Midwest League in 1988 and that his team had their “butts beaten” by Cedar Rapids in the playoffs to end that season.

The Hall of Fame induction was sandwiched between dinner and the formal part of the Caravan program. The CR Hall inducted former players Trevor Hoffman and Casey Kotchman, along with longtime Kernels groundskeeper Jim Curran and Pat Harmon, one of the people credited with bringing minor league ball back to Cedar Rapids in the 1940s. But the highlight, for me, of the ceremony was the induction of former Cedar Rapids manager Alex Monchak.

Alex Monchak

Alex Monchak

I’m sure most of you have no idea who Monchak is, but this man epitomizes the career baseball man. He had a cup of coffee with the Phillies, but his career was interrupted by World War II. While he never returned to the Big Leagues as a player, that didn’t stop him from spending the rest of his life teaching others to play the game the right way.

He was inducted in to the CR HoF specifically for managing the 1958 Cedar Rapids Braves to the Three-I League championship, but after leaving our little town, he spent about a decade as a scout and almost 20 years as a coach on manager Chuck Tanner’s staffs with the White Sox, A’s, Pirates and Braves. In fact, he was a coach on the Pirates’ Championship team that also included pitcher Bert Blyleven.

Hoffman and Kotchman had other commitments that kept them from attending the event, but Monchak, who will be 96 years old in March, was in attendance to accept his award and address the crowd.

Dick Bremer did a professional job of emceeing the Caravan program. It’s no small task, I’m sure, to do that job in a way that comes across as fresh to every crowd, despite the fact that they’ve been essentially going through the process multiple times per day for about a week. Bremer did sports for the local CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids before moving on to Minnesota, so he was able to blend in some anecdotes from his days here.

Everyone on the dais did a good job of fielding the questions Bremer has no-doubt asked them several times over the past week, as well as a number from the crowd. Obviously, Gardy got the lion’s share of the questions from fans and he handled them with his typical combination of optimism and humor.

Of course, there are causes for concern from Twins fans after the past two seasons, but this event was all about generating interest and enthusiasm among the fan bases of the Twins and Kernels, as well as celebrating the upcoming inaugural season of this relationship. Based on the attendance and enthusiastic support from the crowd, it was an overwhelming success at doing just that.

I’ll wrap up this post with a few pictures from the evening. – JC

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

The CR Marriott Ballroom set up and ready for a big crowd

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

Ron Gardenhire with what passes as the media hoard in Cedar Rapids (including a voice recorder held by a local blogger who shall remain nameless)

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach

New Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach prepares for a TV interview

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer has a chat with Gardy before the event gets started

The Twins Caravan dias in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Manager Ron Gardenhire, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The Twins Caravan dais in Cedar Rapids was shared by (from L to R): Manager Ron Gardenhire, Twins Director of Minor League Operations Brad Steil, Infielder Brian Dozier, Broadcaster Dick Bremer, Bench Coach Terry Steinbach, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, Minor League Pitcher of the Year B.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, N.J. Hermsen

The autograph line: TC Bear, Jake Mauer, Ron Gardenhire, Brian Dozier, Terry Steinbach, B.J. Hermsen

Prospects and Projects: Projecting the 2013 Kernels, Part 6

This is the last of this six-part series examining the players in the Twins organization that likely will spend part of the upcoming summer in Cedar Rapids during the Kernels first year as the Twins Class A Midwest League affiliate.

(Image: Kernels.com)

(Image: Kernels.com)

In the first five parts, we’ve covered all of the position players and the pitchers most likely to fill starting pitching roles. We wrap things up now by looking at a rather lengthy list of relief pitchers.

In the 2012 amateur draft, the Twins had 15 picks in the first 12 rounds and they used nine of those picks to select college age relief pitchers. As a result, the organization starts 2013 with a lot of guys who have one year of rookie league level experience, but who are about 22 years old and therefore really need to get moving up the full season organizational ladder. That means a lot of the descriptions below will sound pretty similar.

The draft class of 2012 should be joined by some pretty talented pitchers that have already been in the organization a couple of years and, together, they should make the Kernels bullpen pretty darn good this season.

Luke Bard – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Fort Myers (Rookie – GCL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
7 1 3.86 7.0 1.714 7 6.4 9.0 9.0

Bard, the brother of Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard, was chosen by the Twins as a Supplemental 1st round pick (42nd pick overall) out of Georgia Tech. Like a number of others on this list, Bard was a relief pitcher in college who very possibly will get some opportunities to start in the Twins organization. Bard was a late signee and had a minor injury or two during the year. As a result, he got very little work in at the professional level in 2012, though he did make a handful of appearances at both Rookie League levels and actually pitched better at Elizabethton than he did during his time with the GCL Twins.

If the Twins do want to see what he can do as a starting pitcher, I could see them working with him on the transition in extended spring training and then getting a few starts at Elizabethton in June. He reportedly throws his fastball in the mid 90s, has a strong slider and decent change up, as well. If they’re as good as reported, he’ll be up with the Kernels in 2013, either in their bullpen or their rotation.

(EDIT: If you haven’t already, you should check out Seth Stohs’ interview with Bard over at TwinsDaily.com.)

Mason Melotakis – Age 21 – Throws Left

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy) and Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
20 0 1.88 24.0 0.958 34 6.4 12.8 2.2
Mason Melotakis

Mason Melotakis

Melotakis was a 2nd round pick in 2012 out of Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He made 20 appearances (all in relief) for Elizabethton and Beloit, combined. Melotakis pretty much cut right through hitters at both levels of competition, though hitters had more success making contact off of him in Beloit.

Melotakis could justifiably start the season in Fort Myers, based on the way he dominated hitters at both Rookie and Class A levels in 2012. At the same time, he didn’t spend enough time in Class A to be 100% positive he’s ready to face high-A hitters.

If Melotakis does start the season with the Kernels, don’t expect him to be in town too long. I would guess he’ll be on a fast track with the organization, as long as he continues to dominate the way he has so far.

J.T. Chargois – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
12 0 1.69 16.0 0.938 22 5.6 12.4 2.8

Chargois was also a 2nd round pick of the Twins in the 2012 draft, coming out of Rice University. JT hits the mid 90s with his fastball and has a good slider to go with it.

Chargois was too much for Rookie league hitters to handle and while he could probably be held in extended spring training, I’d expect him to come north with Cedar Rapids unless there simply isn’t room for him on the roster. He has a lot of potential and I just think the Twins will want to challenge him with Midwest League hitting to see whether he could move up the ladder sooner rather than later.

Zack Jones – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy) and Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
18 0 2.25 20.0 1.100 34 5.0 15.3 5.0
Zack Jones

Zack Jones

The Twins used their 4th round pick in the 2012 to draft Jones out of San Jose State University. At just 6’1”, Zack is not as big as many of the other relief pitchers the team drafted, but his stature doesn’t prevent him from hitting the upper 90s with his fastball.

Jones stayed in Elizabethton only long enough to pitch six innings and he left town with a perfect 0.00 ERA. The Midwest League was more challenging, in terms of giving up runs, but his strikeout rate actually increased at the higher level, where he struck out 16.1 hitters per nine innings. He does walk a few hitters, but if he can work on the control, Jones could fly up the organizational ladder. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Twins decided he showed enough in Beloit to warrant starting 2013 at high-A in Fort Myers.

Tyler Duffey – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
12 0 1.42 19.0 0.632 27 4.7 12.8 0.9

Duffey was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2012 draft out of Rice University. Unlike many of the other relief pitchers drafted in the 2012 class, Duffey did not pitch at both Rookie league levels after signing. He got all of his regular season work with the GCL Twins in Fort Myers and certainly put up impressive numbers there. (See correction below.)

Tyler demonstrated terrific control, walking just two hitters over the course of his 19 innings of work. On the other hand, he struck out 27 hitters. Of course, as a college-age draftee, he was older than most of the hitters he faced, so we have to consider that factor in looking at his numbers.

Ordinarily, I’d say a guy like Duffey is likely to start the season in Cedar Rapids, but there’s room for only so many pitchers on the Kernels roster and there may just be too many guys ahead of him who did get work at Elizabethton last year. If that’s the case, Duffey would stay behind in extended spring training and go to E’town in June, but look for him to arrive in CR later in the summer.

(Correction: All of Duffey’s regular season numbers were put up in Elizabethton, not the GCL, and he got called up to Beloit for their playoff series and was actually credited with the W in their sole postseason win over Clinton. This clearly makes Duffey likely to be Cedar Rapids bound to start the season. Thanks for the correction in the comments section, Wild Rice.)

Christian Powell – Age 21 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
10 0 5.74 15.2 1.596 20 10.3 11.5 4.0

The Twins selected the 6’5” Powell in the 8th round of the 2012 draft out of the College of Charlston and he made just 10 relief appearances for Elizabethton during the summer. Powell had limited success, giving up more than a hit per inning and not demonstrating terrific control. Christian did demonstrate his ability to miss bats, however, as he struck out 20 hitters in just 15.2 innings of work.

Powell could be held back in extended spring training, rather than coming north with the Kernels and could well start his season back in Elizabethton in June, but I’d guess he’s likely to make a Kernels debut before the end of the season.

D.J. Baxendale – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy) and Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
17 0 0.96 18.2 0.804 31 6.3 14.9 1.0

Baxendale was drafted in the 10th round of the 2012 amateur draft out of the University of Arkansas and worked his way through two levels of the Twins system after signing his contract. He clearly outclassed the competition in Elizabethton, striking out more than two hitters per inning in his six appearances there. He gave up exactly one hit before being promoted to Beloit.

DJ pitched well with the Snappers, also, but hitters did make more consistent contact off him. In fact, Baxendale gave up more than a hit per inning while pitching for the Snappers. He continued to strike out a lot of hitters, however. He only walked one batter while in Beloit, which is one more batter than he allowed to hit a home run off him.

It’s possible the Twins could have him jump straight to high-A ball to start 2013 in Fort Myers, but he only pitched 18.2 innings total after signing with the Twins last season, so I would think he would start the year in Cedar Rapids. It’s also quite possible the Twins might consider seeing if Baxendale might be a candidate to convert to a starting pitcher and, if so, it would seem doing so in Class A would make the most sense.

Dallas Gallant – Age 23 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy) and Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
14 0 1.62 16.2 1.020 22 4.9 11.9 4.3

Gallant was selected by the Twins in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft out of Sam Houston State University and was sent to Elizabethton to finish out the summer of 2010 after signing. He pitched well in his handful of games there, striking out 15 batters in 13.1 innings. 2011 was a lost season to Dallas as he underwent Tommy John surgery that spring.

As you would expect, the Twins started Gallant off slowly in 2012, keeping him in extended spring training and giving him five appearances with Elizabethton, where he was fairly dominant (as a 23-year-old pitcher should be), before promoting him to Beloit for the rest of the summer. He also pitched well for the Snappers, striking out almost 12 batters per nine innings, but walked a few hitters, as well.

I hesitated to include Gallant on this list. Given the bottleneck of younger pitchers behind him, it just seems to me that he’s likely to start the season at high-A Fort Myers. He turns 24 years old later in January, so he’s a bit older than the other pitchers on this list, but given the year lost to injury and the Twins’ methodical approach to advancement, he certainly could at least start the season with the Kernels.

Joshua Burris – Age 21 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
18 0 1.75 36.0 1.250 40 6.0 10.0 5.2

Considering that the Twins drafted Burris out of LSU-Eunice in the 17th round back in 2011, he’s actually relatively young and will be just 21 throughout the 2013 season. He didn’t sign in time to get any innings in the summer he was drafted, but averaged two innings per relief appearance for Elizabethton in 2012.

Josh’s name can be found in many Twins top prospects lists as he’s demonstrated both a solid mid 90s fastball and an effective curve. Like many of his peers at this level, he’s had no trouble striking out Rookie level hitters, but has also walked a few, too. Since he was routinely used for multiple innings last season, there is speculation that Burris could be considered for a switch to a starting pitcher role at some point this season.

Chris Mazza – Age 23 – Throws Right

2012: Fort Myers (Rookie – GCL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
18 0 2.05 30.2 0.946 28 7.9 8.2 0.6

Mazza didn’t sign soon enough following being drafted by the Twins in the 27th round of the 2011 draft to get any work in that summer, but he did pitch at both Rookie league levels in 2012. At 6’4” and just 175 pounds, Mazza has plenty of room to grow in to his frame, but he did get off to a good start in his first professional season.

Chris split his innings almost equally between the GCL Twins and Elizabethton, with similar results. He did give up more runs at Elizabethton, but most importantly he maintained his outstanding strikeout/walk ratio (13.00 K/BB at FtM and 15.00 K/BB at E’town). Mazza has excellent control and misses bats and that’s a combination that will move him up the ladder with the Twins.

There are other pitchers that will likely spend time in Cedar Rapids this summer, though it’s hard to say right now what role(s) they may fill on the Kernels’ pitching staff.

Brett Lee is 22 and was drafted in the 10th round in 2011. He threw 43.2 innings for Elizabethton in 2012 over 16 games. Four of his 16 appearances were starts. He struck out 48 hitters and walked 12.

Andrew Ferreira is a 22 year-old lefty the Twins drafted in the 32nd round last year out of Harvard. He struck out 13 hitters and walked seven in his 10 innings of work for Elizabethton in 2012.

Kaleb Merck is also 22 and was drafted out of TCU by the Twins one round after Ferreira last year. Merck struck out 28 hitters in his 24.1 innings at Elizabethton. Obviously, both pitchers could easily spend time in Cedar Rapids this summer.

The 2013 Kernels bullpen should be a real strength and could easily include several future Big League pitchers. Some of these guys could be on fast tracks through the organization, however, so don’t be too surprised if they’re promoted relatively quickly.

That’s a wrap for this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these young men and that you join me in looking forward to the 2013 season of the Cedar Rapids Kernels!

If you missed any of the first five parts of the series, you can click back via the links below:

- JC

P.S. Seth Stohs’ 2013 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook is now available for order! If you want to know more about the prospects we’ve profiled in this series, Seth and his fellow writers annually provide statistics and write-ups on pretty much every Twins prospect at all levels of the organization. You can order your copy of the Handbook by clicking here.

Prospects and Prospects: Projecting the 2013 Kernels, Part 5

It’s no secret that the Minnesota Twins have issues these days with regard to their starting pitching rotation, but is there any hope for the future? The Twins acquired a couple of legitimate starting pitching prospects in trades this offseason, which bodes well for New Britain’s 2013 rotation, but what about here in Cedar Rapids?

(Image: Kernels.com)

(Image: Kernels.com)

After checking out the position players likely to spend time with the 2013 Kernels in Parts 1 through 4 of this series, in Part 5 we’ll take a look at a number of pitchers that Kernels fans are likely to see in the team’s starting rotation during 2013.

One of the challenges in projecting starting pitching vs. bullpen pitching is that, at this level, organizations tend to ask many of their pitchers to spend time in both roles. Nobody really knows for sure which pitchers have a Big League future as a starter and which will eventually find a role in the bullpen. In addition, the Twins will want to limit the number of innings many of their pitching prospects put on their arms during each minor league season. One way to accomplish that is to have even those pitchers clearly earmarked for rotation roles spend a chunk of each minor league season in the pen.

For our purposes, we’ll try to identify a number of pitchers that the Twins clearly are looking at developing as starting pitchers and then, in Part 6, we’ll include those that appear most likely to have futures working in relief.

David Hurlbut – Age 23 – Throws Left

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
25 15 2.76 111.0 1.171 85 8.5 6.9 2.0

The Twins liked Hurlbut so much, they drafted him twice! Originally picked by the Twins as a junior college pitcher in the 35th round of the 2009 draft, Hurlbut chose to go to Cal State – Fullerton rather than sign with the Twins at that time. In 2011, the Twins used their 28th round pick to choose Hurlbut again and the lefty threw 66 innings in Elizabethton after signing that summer.

David Hurlbut

David Hurlbut

Hurlbut is one example of where the Twins have drafted a college relief pitcher and given him an opportunity to start. He pitched a full season at Beloit in 2012, racking up 111 innings in 25 games, 15 of them as a starter. He doesn’t have overpowering velocity, but his numbers at Beloit improved considerably over his Appy League season. His ERA dropped to 2.76 and his WHIP to 1.171, largely due to allowing almost three fewer hits per nine innings, compared to his Rookie level season.

So after a respectable year at Beloit, why wouldn’t the Twins promote David to Fort Myers in 2013? That’s a fair question and they may well do exactly that. This is simply one of those situations where it looks to me like the rotation in Fort Myers may be pretty crowded to start the year and Hurlbut may be the odd man out for a while. Of course, he could also start out in the Fort Myers bullpen. Even if he does start in CR, he certainly should be one of the first pitchers moved up when pitching spots open up for with the Miracle.

Tyler Jones – Age 23 – Throws Right

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
18 16 4.67 86.2 1.442 102 9.3 10.6 3.6

Jones was drafted by the Twins in the 11th round of the 2011 draft out of LSU in time to get just four appearances in for Elizabethton that summer. It’s probably just as well he didn’t get more work in because his seven innings there did not go well at all. He spent the entire season in 2012 at Beloit, where things went much better, but there’s still much room for improvement.

One thing Tyler continues to do is rack up a good number of strikeouts. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, he also gave up better than a hit per inning of work and it wouldn’t hurt for him to figure out how to cut his walks a little, too. Jones throws two different fastballs and can touch the mid-90s, but reports are that his other pitches need to improve.

It’s possible that Jones could open the season in Fort Myers, but I doubt it. It would be tough to say he demonstrated the ability to consistently get outs in the MWL last year and the Twins should have no shortage of rotation options at the high-A level that are more advanced than Jones at this point. If he does start the season in CR, however, don’t expect him to stick around all summer. He’s got the talent to move up quickly if he can cut down on the baserunners he allows.

Taylor Rogers – Age 22 – Throws Left

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy) and Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
15 10 2.27 63.1 1.105 74 7.5 10.5 2.4
Taylor Rogers

Taylor Rogers

Rogers was picked up by the Twins in the 11th round of 2012′s amateur draft out of the University of Kentucky and pitched his way through two levels in his first partial year of professional baseball. Rogers dominated hitters in six starts (covering 30 innings) at Elizabethton, striking out 11.7 hitters per nine innings. He continued to pitch well for Beloit, though, as you’d expect, hitters had more success against him at the higher level. Still, he continued to strike out more than a hitter per inning with Beloit.

Rogers isn’t overpowering with his fastball, but he’s obviously doing something right. The jury is probably still out on whether he’ll end up as a starter or reliever, but as long as his secondary pitches continue to be effective, you have to imagine the Twins will continue giving him opportunities to prove he belongs in future rotations.

Tim Shibuya – Age 23 – Throws Right

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
17 15 5.59 74.0 1.392 56 10.7 6.8 1.8
Tim Shibuya

Tim Shibuya

Shibuya will be starting his third season in the Twins organization after being drafted in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft out of the University of California, San Diego. He has dealt with some injuries in both of his professional seasons, so it will be interesting to see if he can stay healthy all summer and, if so, what kind of numbers he can put up.

Shibuya seemed to run a little hot and cold in 2012. He had some very good outings, but too many that weren’t so good. In the end, over 74 innings of work, he racked up a pretty ugly 5.59 ERA and gave up 10.7 hits per nine innings. He had much better numbers in 2011 at Elizabethton, so he’s demonstrated some talent, but at 23, he’ll need to step up his game a bit in 2013. Staying healthy all season would be a good start.

Hudson Boyd – Age 20 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
13 13 2.95 58.0 1.483 36 9.8 5.6 3.6

Boyd was a Supplemental 1st round pick (55th overall) by the Twins in the 2011 draft out of his Fort Myers FL high school, but didn’t sign with the Twins until just before the deadline that summer. As a result, 2012 was his first year of professional baseball. Rather than starting his career in his hometown with the GCL Twins, the big rightie went to Elizabethton after extended spring training.

Hudson didn’t exactly set the league on fire last summer and part of me thinks it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for the Twins to hold him back a bit and promote him to Cedar Rapids later. For a guy who reportedly has a high-90s fastball, he certainly didn’t miss all that many bats in E’town. His K/9 rate needs to be higher and he should not be giving up more than a hit per inning. Still, he didn’t give up all that many runs, so he’s doing something right.

The Twins historically push their top pitching prospects up the organizational ladder faster than they do their hitters. That being the case, I suspect we’ll see Hudson with the Kernels to start the season. Since he threw just 58 innings in 2012, he’s one of the guys we could see spend time both as a starter and in the bullpen during the course of the season. In fact, it’s quite possible he’ll project as a closer as he moves higher up the ladder.

Even after his mediocre first season, he’s still ranked among the Twins top 25 prospects on most such lists. That and his velocity should make him a fun pitcher for Kernels fans to watch.

Jose (J.O.) Berrios – Age 18 – Throws Right

2012: Fort Myers (Rookie – GCL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
11 4 1.17 30.2 0.620 49 4.4 14.41.2 1.2

Berrios’ name appears very high on a number of Twins Top Prospects lists, as you’d expect for a pitcher drafted with a Supplemental 1st round pick in 2012 (32nd overall). JO was drafted out of his high school in Puerto Rico and spent most of the summer with the GCL Twins. He did, however, earn a promotion to Elizabethton toward the end of the year, where he got three starts in to help E’town finish off their championship season.

Berrios only started in half of his 14 appearances during the season, however, and as a result he only pitched a total of 30.2 innings. The 18-year-old struck out an amazing 14.4 hitters per nine innings (exceeding 14/9 at both levels) and barely walked more than one batter per nine innings. It’s hard to imagine the Twins pushing him too aggressively this season, so nobody will be surprised if he stays behind in extended spring training and perhaps even heads back to Elizabethton when they start their season in June. At the same time, if he pitches anything like he did last year, there’s little doubt he’ll be wearing a Kernels uniform before the end of the season.

Berrios is a legitimate top-of-the-rotation prospect… something the Twins have very few of in their organization. He won’t turn 19 until May, so the Twins won’t risk overworking the young man’s arm, but I also don’t see them hesitating to promote him to the next level as soon as he shows he can dominate hitters where he’s at. Enjoy him when you get to watch him, Kernels fans. He’s got a chance to be very special.

Angel Mata – Age 20 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
13 13 3.38 53.1 1.219 55 5.2 9.3 5.7

After signing with the Twins as a teenager out of his native Venezuela, Mata spent 2010 in the Dominican Summer League and 2011 with the GCL Twins. At Elizabethton in 2012, he gave up slightly fewer hits per nine innings than he had been previously and even increased his strikeout rate by a full 2 Ks per 9. On the other hand, his walk rate also rose and, at 5.7 per nine innings, that’s a potential concern.

At just 20 years old, however, Mata has time to work on his control and the Twins organization can certainly use all the pitchers capable of missing bats that it can get. Mata has been almost exclusively used as a starting pitcher, thus far, but assuming he opens the season in Cedar Rapids, 2013 will be his first year of “full season” baseball. It will be interesting to see if the Twins limit his innings somewhat by having him spend at least part of the year working out of the bullpen.

That’s just seven names and we all know there will be more starting pitchers toeing the rubber for the Kernels in 2013. Some of the others will be covered in Part 6 when we look at guys that profile primarily as relievers. In addition, the following two pitchers are likely to get looks in Cedar Rapids this season, perhaps even to start the year.

Ricardo Arevalo was signed out of Venezuela in 2009. In three Rookie level seasons, he’s continued to rack up a lot of strikeouts (9.2 K/9 in 2012), but has also given up too many walks. Ricardo will be 22 years old by Opening Day and will probably need to show the organization some progress in the control department this year in Cedar Rapids.

I’m not sure how much of the US Hein Robb has seen during his three summers in Rookie level ball for the Twins organization, but the South Africa native has certainly seen a lot of the world. He played for South Africa’s entry in the World Baseball Classic as a 16-year-old and has continued to be active in international competition. The Twins signed the lefty in 2008 and he put up a 3.73 ERA for Elizabethton in 2012, starting eight games out of 13 appearances and striking out a respectable 8.3 hitters per nine innings.

Quite a list, isn’t it? There’s definitely pitching talent at this level in the Twins organization and we’ll see a lot of it this summer.

Next: We wrap up this series with a look at those pitchers most likely to spend most of their time pitching in relief for the Kernels in 2013.

- JC

P.S. Seth Stohs’ 2013 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook is now available for order! If you want to know more about the prospects we’ve profiled in this series, Seth and his fellow writers annually provide statistics and write-ups on pretty much every Twins prospect at all levels of the organization. You can order your copy of the Handbook by clicking here.