Kernels Roster Could Include Familiar Faces

The final week of spring training is a big week for the new batch of Kernels getting ready to head north to Cedar Rapids.

On Thursday, four days before the Kernels will break camp in Fort Myers and head north, the roster for the Kernels still included 29 names. That’s four more than the 25 players that will make up the club’s Opening Day roster.

That means at least four of the current group being managed by Jake Mauer on the back fields of the Lee County Sports Complex will be staying behind for Extended Spring Training in Fort Myers.

On top of that, each of the other levels in the Twins organization, from the Major League club through each of the three minor league levels above the Kernels, all also were a few players over their Opening Day limits. As players at higher levels get “sent down,” they can bump other players down to the next lower level, as well.

After Thursday’s game with the Red Sox’ Class A affiliate, I spoke briefly with a pair of potential Kernels who, while similar in age, demonstrate two different perspectives as they prepare to open the 2014 season.

Catcher Michael Quesada was drafted as a 20-year-old by the Twins in the 24th round of the 2010 Amateur Player Draft out of Sierra College in Rocklin, California. He played only three games in 2010 after signing with the Twins and has spent the past three years moving step-by-step up the organizational ladder.

Michael Quesada

Michael Quesada

Quesada spent most of the 2013 season with the Kernels, getting in to 62 games while sharing catching duties with a number of other backstops that passed through the Kernels roster during the year. He didn’t set the world on fire with the bat, but improved his game-calling behind the plate and showed off a strong arm.

A week ago, Quesada was getting an opportunity to work with the Twins’ Class AA group,. But as catchers on the Major League side of the camp were sent down, setting off the natural chain reaction at the minor league levels, Quesada was likewise destined to drop a rung.

However, instead of dropping one rung, to the Class high-A Miracle, Quesada was returned to the same Kernels roster he was part of last season and where it appears he’s likely to open the season alongside other returning players, such as infielder Joel Licon and pitcher Hudson Boyd, among others.

If the drop bothers Quesada, he doesn’t let it show. Rather, he talks of appreciating the opportunity to see how things are done at a higher level in the organization, while looking forward to starting another season with the Kernels.

“Yeah, it was a good experience just to see more mature players, how they handle themselves,” said Quesada. “I’m just coming back (to Cedar Rapids), looking to play as much as possible and get (at-bats). I had a great time in Cedar Rapids last year, so I’m real excited to come back. It’s going to be a good time.”

Despite being less than a year younger than Quesada, infielder/outfielder Chad Christensen has just started his professional career. Christensen was drafted by the Twins in the 25th round of last year’s Amateur Draft and played just 47 games for the Twins’ lowest rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League following the end of his senior season at the University of Nebraska.

Typically, a player like Christensen would be targeted to spend the next couple of months in Extended Spring Training before joining the Twins’ Appalachian League squad in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Then, depending upon performance, he could work his way up to the Kernels later in the summer.

But Christensen, who attended Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, is still a part of the Kernels group just four days before camp breaks and is squarely in the mix for one of the final spots on the Opening Day roster with the Kernels. That would mean spending 2014 playing before friends and family in his hometown.

Kernels manager Jake Mauer has said he’d like to have the flexibility that a player like Christensen brings to the table. Mauer indicated he’d have no qualms about playing Christensen at either corner outfield position, either corner infield position, or even at shortstop on occasion.

Nonetheless, Christensen is well aware that his roster spot with the Kernels is precarious and he’s still got work to do over the final few days of spring training in order to nail down that spot.

“I’m still trying to do what I can to make this team so that’s kind of where I’m at,” Christensen said on Thursday. “(Playing in Cedar Rapids) would be real exciting, I grew up there and everything. It would be a lot of fun to come home.”

Some athletes have been known to struggle with playing at the professional level in their hometown, but Christensen doesn’t believe he’ll feel an extra pressure from playing in Cedar Rapids, if and when that opportunity arises.

“No, I’m not so concerned about that,” he said. “Just trying to keep focused on the field and separate the baseball from the friends and family. I’ll be excited about it.”

A year ago, the Kernels were at or near the top of the Midwest League in almost every offensive category. But the hitters that made up the heart of the batting order a year ago have all moved up at least one level entering the new season and Quesada allowed that this year’s Kernels will take a different approach to win games.

“We’re not really trying to match (the 2013 Kernels hitters),” acknowledged Quesada. “We’re just trying to put more runs up on the board (than the opponent) that day. Maybe it’s two, maybe it’s one. But no, we don’t have the offense of last year, but our pitching is going to win us ballgames.”

The Kernels pitching corps is expected to include a number of the Twins organization’s top young arms during the course of the 2014 season and Quesada is clearly impressed with the pitchers he’s been working with.

“The pitching staff is going to be less experienced, but with way better stuff. They’re going to have live arms, young guys that are learning how to pitch. It’s our job, myself and (fellow catchers) Mitch Garver, Bo Altobelli and (pitching coach) Ivan Arteaga to teach them. They’re definitely good throwers right now, but they have a big opportunity to turn in to some serious pitchers. I’m really excited to work with them.”

Quesada’s work this spring extends beyond the field, as a number of those young pitchers are from Latin America, which can present a communication challenge for a catcher.

“I’m working with Ivan right now to get my Spanish a little better to where I can go out to the mound and talk to them, so they’re comfortable. I’m trying to make their lives as easy as possible because it’s going to be a fun pitching staff to work with.”

Thursday was likely my final look at the Kernels in spring training. I’m planning to go to the Twins/Red Sox game on Friday afternoon and, alas, my flight home from not-so-sunny-but-warmer-than-home Florida is early Saturday morning.

- JC

Kernels Roster Taking Shape

There was no rain in Fort Myers on Wednesday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it was pretty breezy and high temperatures for the day barely, if at all, reached 70 degrees.

I know that sounds good to a lot of people, but I had to wear long sleeves much of the day at the ballpark and was a bit chilly eating dinner outdoors tonight!

But I toughed it out, because I know my readers expect me to do whatever it takes to get the story.

Today, that story comes from the minor league side of the Twins organization. Rather than watch the Twins and Pirates at Hammond Stadium, I fought the Daniels Parkway traffic toward the Red Sox complex to watch the Twins’ Class A groups take on their Sox counterparts.

After the game, Kernels manager Jake Mauer shared some thoughts about the way his club is shaping up as they enter the final few days of camp. Mauer indicated that just a handful of roster spots are still unresolved.

One player still “on the bubble” with the Kernels as final decisions are being made is Chad Christensen, who prepped at Cedar Rapids Washington High School before playing ball for the University of Nebraska. Christensen was drafted by the Twins last June and played last summer for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League rookie level affiliate in Fort Myers.

Chad Christensen

Chad Christensen

It sounds like the Kernels’ manager would like to bring Christiansen to Cedar Rapids next week.

“Chad’s been working real hard and he’s somebody that gives us some flexibility. He’s played both (corner) outfield positions and both corner infield positions and I wouldn’t be afraid to put him at shortstop once in a while,” said Mauer. “We’ve got about six or seven guys we’ve got to make decisions on and he’s in that mix, but there’s no doubt that he’s somebody we’d like to take north with us.”

Mauer knows his squad of Kernels is going to have to take a different approach than last year’s team, now that last year’s power hitters have moved up the organizational ladder.

“We’re going to have to be real good at the small things right away,” the manager acknowledged. “We’re going to have to run the bases well. We’re going to have to be able to execute the small game, hit and runs, getting bunts down, doing things like that. Try to create runs that way.”

According to Mauer, there should be five or six familiar faces for Kernels fans to welcome back to Cedar Rapids.

Among the likely returnees are catchers Michael Quesada and Bo Altobelli.  Said Mauer, “We plan on taking both those guys north, along with (Mitchell) Garver. We’re probably going to take three (catchers) to start, at least.”

That means flexibility will be key among other position players because, according to the skipper, he expects the final roster to contain just 12 position players, allowing 13 roster spots for the pitching staff that will once again utilize a six-man starting rotation.

It’s that pitching staff that many in the Twins organization, as well as their fans, are anxious to see.

“I think we’ll be starter-heavy. We should have some quality arms, starting-wise,” said Mauer. “We’ve got a lot of young, quality arms. It just depends on how many we decide to bring up with us.”

In particular, there are a number of pitchers that will push their fastballs consistently in to the middle-to-upper 90s on the speed gun, including young Dominican pitchers Yorman Landa, who was hitting 96  mph in Wednesday’s game, and Randy Rosario. In addition, the Twins’ first round pick in 2013 (and second pick overall) Kohl Stewart is a hard throwing 19 year old who is still on the Kernels roster as camp is drawing to a close.

As Kernels fans know, however, the team’s success is not solely determined by the players that start the season with the club. Between injuries and promotions, it’s equally important to have talented players at the lower levels of the organization preparing to join the Kernels as the season develops.

According to Mauer, there’s plenty of potential mid-season help available, as well. “You know we’ve got some young boys down there, too, (Lewis) Thorpe and (Stephen) Gonsalves. Kids that have some pretty good arms that we’ll probably see at some point throughout the year.”

The Kernels will break camp on Monday. There will be a “Meet the Kernels” event open to the public at no charge on April 1 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids and Opening Day  is Thursday, April 3, when the Kernels host the Clinton Lumber Kings.

- JC

Episode 75: The Diamond Anniversary Episode

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

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On Episode 75 the gang talks about Cody’s basketball coaching prowess, the recent rounds of Twins Spring Training cuts that have more solidified the roster, and try and break down any remaining position battles.  Eddie Rosario is still absent from Minor League Spring Training, and Eric is a little worried about what this means about Rosario as a person.  Cody tries to find a downside to Glen Perkin’s contract extension, and then we bring back the long defunct Hitter/Pitcher of the Week segment.  Down on the Pond we take a look at Dan Rohlfing (TEAM ROLF!) and then we talk beer and general baseball news.
Almost 100 minutes of fun.

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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help us land more impressive guests for the show.

Minor Leaguers Deserve Better

I haven’t written much lately. Honestly, I haven’t even read much lately. Not about baseball, anyway. There just isn’t much going on that I’m particularly interested in. Sure, spring training has started, but they haven’t even started playing spring training games, yet, so there just isn’t much going on to capture my interest.

I’m pretty sure I’ll get more interested when the Grapefruit League games get underway. I guarantee I’ll be more than casually interested a month from now when I’ll be actually on site at the Twins’ training complex in Fort Myers.

However, for the past couple of weeks, it’s been really hard for anything baseball-related to capture my interest; difficult, but not impossible.

The story that broke a couple of weeks ago about three former minor league ballplayers filing suit against MLB, the office of the Commissioner, Commissioner Bug Selig and the three MLB organizations that owned their rights interests me.

There were several stories written about the filing, but if you didn’t happen to see any of them, this article from BleacherReport was one of the more thorough articles and former ballplayer (and author) Dirk Hayhurst had a pretty blunt take on the topic, as well.

JusticeBaseball400I know it’s hard for some of us to even fathom how guys who have the talent to play a game we love at a professional level… who have the opportunity to live a dream that so many of us can only imagine getting to live… could possibly not only complain about their working conditions, but even have the gall to file a lawsuit over those conditions.

It’s a cliché you hear often. “I loved baseball so much, I’d have played for free.” Given that so many fans feel that way, it’s pretty tough for us to empathize with these players who dare to clog our court system with a lawsuit that seemingly has little chance of success.

But saying you would have played the game for free and actually doing it for nearly exactly that amount of compensation are two very different things.

The attention fans play to their favorite team’s minor league organization seems to grow every season. Even so, the percentage of baseball fans who give minor leaguers even a casual thought during the summer is pretty small.

Those that do follow the minor leagues focus most of their attention on the early round draft picks and the big money international free agent signings. Those players get signing bonuses in the millions of dollars, so it would be pretty easy for us to just assume that most minor league ballplayers are pretty comfortable financially.

But we would be wrong.

Yes, if you’re among the first 50 or so players selected in the annual first year player draft, you’re likely to pocket a signing bonus upwards of a million dollars. But that’s not even the full first two rounds of a draft that goes on for a total of 40 rounds.

It’s pretty safe to say that most minor league ballplayers are not concerned about who is watching over their investment portfolios. Their “portfolio” can be stashed in to the trunk or back seat of a car they hope will keep running for another year.

Last year, the first year minor league player salary was $1,150 a month and that’s only for the handful of months during the year that they’re actually playing minor league baseball. That’s also before taxes, before food and housing costs. A player reaching AAA might double that salary. Whoopee, huh?

Just to be clear, it’s not the local minor league organization that pays the players, it’s the parent  MLB organization that is responsible for minor league payrolls. In fact, some minor league clubs (including the Twins’ Class A affiliate in Cedar Rapids) arrange host families for players to live with to eliminate the cost of housing during their time with the local ballclub. But not every player across the country has that option.

The players probably should splurge on some insurance, too, because they pretty much have no protection if they happen to incur an injury that precludes them from working. Good thing their work doesn’t often result in that kind of injury, right?

Obviously, they need to get other jobs during the offseason. Of course, for some of them, there is no offseason. Their teams want them playing winter baseball somewhere. They want them to show up for offseason workouts, “fanfests” and other events. At the very least, they have to work out daily to make sure they’re ready to compete for a roster spot in spring training (which, by the way, they don’t get paid for, either).

It takes a pretty understanding employer to hire a guy that has that many demands on his time and will just be leaving in a few months, anyway. But I’m sure there are plenty of those jobs available.

“But wait,” you say. “Don’t those professional baseball players have a union?”

Yes and no. For minor leaguers, it’s mostly no and they’d be better off if it was totally no.

There is a union; the Major League Baseball Players Association. However, the MLBPA’s sole use for minor leaguers appears to be to screw them over any time they can do so as a part of trade-offs to get something better for Major League players.

See, the MLBPA limits its membership to Major League ballplayers. But, for reasons that nobody has ever been able to explain to me in any way that makes sense, the MLBPA is allowed, as part of the collective bargaining process, to negotiate the compensation and working conditions of minor league players, as well.

Isn’t that convenient?

So, if the MLBPA can get a little bit more for the millionaires it represents by allowing teams to implement lower bonus allowances for new draft picks or control their minor leaguers an extra year before they are entitled to free agency, no problem.

Even the drug testing program is uneven, at best. For example, once you’re on a Big League roster, you can test positive for pot regularly and chances are nobody will ever know, because there are no real consequences. If you’re a minor leaguer when you test positive twice, however, plan on sitting out a couple of months’ worth of games… without even that meager minor league paycheck to buy those Pringles chips you have to live on.

But if conditions are so bad, why have minor leaguers never unionized?

The obvious reason is that minor league players all dream of being Major League players and doing anything to antagonize the people who decide which players will and won’t become big leaguers is probably not a wise career move. And if players with U.S. high school and college educations fear challenging baseball’s power, how likely is it that even younger men (boys, really) from impoverished regions of Latin America will do so?

No, since even the Major League players that endured the same conditions on their way to the big leagues have long ago decided they have no interest in making life the least bit easier for the younger players coming up behind them to challenge for their jobs, there’s almost no chance of minor leaguers ever benefiting from collective bargaining. The best they can hope for is for the courts to determine that they should at least not keep getting screwed over by someone else’s collective bargaining.

I’m not a labor lawyer (or a lawyer of any kind, for that matter), so I won’t opine about the chances of success for the plaintiff ballplayers in the suit they’ve filed in a Northern California court.

They claim teams are violating federal and state employment laws. I would imagine that players often work more than 50 hours a week and they are not paid overtime. At many minor league levels, the players are arguably being paid less than minimum wage on an hourly basis.

Logically, I think most of us know that these players are being exploited unfairly. We know the system is wrong. But the people who would benefit from righting that wrong have no power to change things and the people who do have that power benefit the most from keeping the status quo. And unless MLB concludes it is in their own financial best interests to make changes, changes may not happen for a very long time, if ever.

Things could be worse for these young men, though.

What if remarkable athletes like these players got paid nothing at all? What if they weren’t even allowed to accept help from host families and other fans? What if they weren’t allowed to work other jobs to make ends meet?

Those are silly questions, of course. If all of those things were true, these players wouldn’t be working under the rules of minor league professional baseball.

They’d be working under the rules of the NCAA.

But that’s another rant… and another legal matter (or matters)… for another day.

Of course, given the rediculous NCAA restrictions college ballplayers lived under, maybe it’s understandable if they think getting $5-6,000 a year to play minor league baseball is a good deal.

It doesn’t make it right, though.

- JC

Episode 71: Reviewing the Royals

The highlight of this week’s episode is an interview with Josh Duggan (@oldmanduggan) of Royals Review to talk about what’s been happening with our division rival’s over in Kansas City. We review their off-season and make predictions about the future of the division in 2014 and beyond. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

gladden

At one point during the podcast Paul professes the strangest fantasy a man has ever had involving another man’s forearms, Jay Corn predicts the Twins to somehow win 83 games and Eric talks smack about his mother to his twin brother. Twins topics were also covered. Spring has sprung and the Twins are all down in Ft Myers for spring training and everyone is in the best shape of their lives. We discuss some notable signings from around the league take a look at Twins minor leaguer and 2013 draft pick Ryan Walker and course discuss what we’re drinking and recommend traveling to Alaska.

The boys have their potty mouths on this week, so if you’re listening near small children you may want to turn the volume down.

 

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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews will help Jason Bartlett make the 25-man roster.

Episode 70: The Ethan Mildren Fanclub

This week on the podcast we discuss the nature of government work and pushing children at work. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Last week we talked about Ethan Mildren when we went Down on the Pond, this week we talk to Ethan Mildren.  He tells us all about his offseason workouts, his goals for 2014, and what it has been like transitioning from college baseball to Minor League baseball.  We also discuss MiLBer Zach Larson, recent Twins news including Terry Ryan‘s health and the waiver claim of Brooks Raley.  And of course, we talk about all the beer we can drink, and all the news from around the league.  
89 minutes of fun.  


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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews will help Jason Bartlett make the 25-man roster.

Episode 69: Jim Callis talks Minnesota Twins Prospects

This week on the podcast we discuss good Twins related cat names, among other 80 grade banter. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

JC Podcast Image

This highlight of this week’s podcast is an interview with Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) of MLB Pipeline to talk about Twins prospects. Jim answers questions about all of the top prospects in the organization Byron BuxtonMiguel SanoAlex MeyerKohl Stewart and then some. In addition to the interview this week’s show also includes a discussion on what a successful 2014 Twins season means to each of the podcast hosts, the creation of the Ethan Mildren (@Emildren4040) fan club. Ethan was the Minnesota Twins’ 2013 12th round draft pick out of the University of Pittsburgh.

Enjoy the show!

 

 

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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews do nothing for us, we just like talking about them.

Episode 68: Franchise Futures and Twins Fest Review

The Talk to Contact podcast returns after a one week hiatus, and STILL no Alex Rodriguez talk (you’re welcome). You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

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After taking a week off to meet up in person at Twins Fest and the Winter Meltdown, the Talk to Contact boys are back at it again. After discussing some minor happenings in Twins Territory, including Chuck Knoblauch‘s eventual enshrinement in the Twins Hall of Fame, this episode is dominated by prospect talk, specifically a little game called the Franchise Futures Game. We cover most of the top prospects in the Twins system and debate how important each prospect is to the Twins organization as a whole. All that and more on this week’s episode.

 

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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews do nothing for us, we just like talking about them.

EP 67: Trevor May and the 25-man Roster

This week on the Talk to Contact podcast I can promise you no Alex Rodriguez talk, honest. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Trevor May's Mustache, and Trevor May

Trevor May’s Mustache, and Trevor May

This week’s episode is highlighted by a candid interview with Minnesota Twins pitching prospect Trevor May (@trevmay54, or on soundcloud: DJ MAZR). Aside from talking with Trevor, we have a lively discussion concerning who we think will be on the 25-man roster when the Twins break camp and leave Florida this spring (the first, of what will likely be many such discussions as the first game of the season approaches). Also discussed are the non-roster invites to big league camp, listeners from around the globe, and the usual banter and beer talk.

Come for the Trevor May interview, stay for the beer. Or vice versa.

 

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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews do nothing for us, we just like talking about them.

Episode 63: Winter Meetings Edition

Episode 63 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

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This week we delve into the winter meetings, or rather, we get together and speculate wildly about things that may or may not happen. Will Bronson Arroyo or Mike Pelfrey end up in a Twins uniform in 2014? What about Stephen Drew? We also attempt to discuss the moves other teams are making around the league. Later on we attempt to give Joe Mauer a nickname, but despite many great submissions we never settle on something we can all agree on. Finally we take an in depth look at Twins prospect Lewis Thorpe.

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

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which are probably useless.