Tuesday Afternoon in Scottsdale

I never make a list of everything I want to pack when I travel. I should, but I don’t.

I usually remember pretty much everything and I remembered pretty much everything I intended to take with me to Arizona for my little Arizona Fall League adventure this week. Pretty much.

What I did not remember was the cable to upload photos from my camera to my computer. If I had, you would all be enjoying some pictures of the Twins prospects that saw action in today’s Scottsdale Scorpions 4-0 loss. The best I can do is share a couple pictures I took with my phone and three short videos I shot with said phone.

Before I get to those, though, let me just say that I don’t care that the temperatures in Cedar Rapids this week are roughly the same as what I’m experiencing in Scottsdale. Really. I’m happy for my friends and family back home.

I’m getting to watch more baseball and I wouldn’t be able to do that in Cedar Rapids this week – and you’re not.

The only Twins prospect in the Scottsdale lineup today was catcher Mitch Garver. Fellow catcher Stuaart Turner and outfielder Adam Brett Walker had the day off and I missed starting pitcher Taylor Rogers’ start by one day. He threw four good innings on Monday, so I won’t get to see him while I’m here this week.

Garver caught all nine innings and had one hit (a double) in two official at-bats. He walked twice and struck out once. He’s hitting .417 for Scottsdale with three doubles and one home run among his 10 hits in 24 at-bats this fall.

Twins relief pitching prospects Trevor Hildenberger and Jake Reed both worked one inning on Tuesday afternoon. Hildenberger gave up one run on two hits in his inning, with the run coming on a solo home run off the bat of Royals prospect Bubba Starling. Reed worked a perfect 1-2-3 inning, striking out one.

Reed has yet to give up a run in the AFL this fall and has not given up a run in his 5.1 innings. He’s struck out 4 and walked 3 in his five appearances.

Arizona apparently agrees with Reed. He gave up just one run in 12.2 innings of relief work for Salt River during the 2014 Arizona Fall League and has been equally effective this fall.

Hildenberger carried a 3.68 ERA out of Tuesday’s game. He’s thrown 7.1 innings over five games, surrendering 10 hits and striking out five batters. He has not given up a walk this fall.season.

Hildenberger pitched for the Cedar Rapids Kernels this past summer, while Reed and Gaver were teammates in Cedar Rapids during the 2014 season.

After I get home on Friday, I’ll upload all the pictures I take with my camera this week and post a photo-heavy final article. For now, if you’ll pardon the questionable quality, here’s what I can give you from Arizona.

Here’s a picture of Scottsdale Stadium

Scottsdale Stadium

The backdrop behind the batters eye is not quite the same thing we see in Cedar Rapids.

Backdrop

I got to speak briefly with Garver while he was stretching prior to the game and took this after we caught up.

GarverStretchingHere’s Garver’s double to right-center.

And a few pitches from Hildenberger.

Finally, a look at a few of Reed’s tosses.

Halloween Frights and Flights

The New York Mets and Minnesota Gophers had frightening nights on Saturday. The only thing more frustrating than being a Mets or Gophers fan on Sunday morning would have to be if you have some sort of allegiance toward Duke University because what happened to the Blue Devils on Halloween is several levels of hell worse than “frightening.”

Sport-Jack-O-LanternsAfter scoring a touchdown to pull ahead of the Miami Hurricanes with just seconds left in the game, Duke kicked off and eight laterals later, Miami crossed the goal line to snatch the win from the Blue Devils. Sure, you could say one of the Miami players’ knee was on the ground when he contributed his lateral and, yes, there appeared to be at least one block in the back, but, hey, it’s Duke and we all hate Duke, so who cares? Right? (Not that many of us love Miami, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

(Late edit: The ACC announced Sunday morning that the entire officiating crew, including the replay official, that worked the Duke-Miami game has been suspended for two games.)

So let’s move on to Saturday Shenanigans that at least some of us care about.

The Mets stare into the abyss

Daniel Murphy’s life has been interesting the past two weeks, hasn’t it?

You remember Murphy. He’s the guy that set a new Major League record for consecutive playoff games with a home run, jacking dingers in six straight postseason games while almost single-handedly providing the necessary offensive punch to propel the New York Mets in to the World Series.

Murphy has not had a good Fall Classic, however. Not only has he thudded back to earth with his bat against Kansas City pitching, but on Saturday he chose the worst time possible to perform his Bill Buckner imitation and allow a slow ground ball to get beneath his glove. The Royals tied the game on Murphy’s error and went on to score two more runs in the same inning, ultimately beating the Mets 5-3 and taking a 3-1 lead in the Series.

Aside from Murphy’s “oops” and a few other defensive faux pas by his teammates, the most intriguing thing about Saturday’s game was New York manager Terry Collins’ bullpen management. (Or is that mismanagement?)

Collins inexplicably chose to use his closer, Jeurys Familia, in Friday night’s blowout win over the Royals in Game 3.

The few pitches he threw in the game Friday certainly weren’t enough to keep him from being effective 24 hours later and you can’t blame Familia for Murphy’s booted grounder. After all, the reliever got the ground ball you would have wanted him to get if you are a Mets fan.

But I had two thoughts about this situation that still make me wonder whether using Familia on Friday may end up costing the Mets the Series and perhaps may have cost them Game 4.

The first thought is relatively obvious. If Collins ends up needing Familia again on Sunday night, he’ll be making not his second, but his third straight appearance. Yes, his number of pitches on Friday were minimal, but you have to take into account the pitches thrown to warm up in addition to those that actually count.

If Familia is called on to close out Game 5 and blows another save, Collins is going to get a lot of heat for how he handled his top bullpen asset, and it will be warranted.

Even if you feel Familia was not too tired to pitch effectively Saturday after throwing on Friday or even that he actually threw perfectly fine (and those are both perfectly valid views, I believe), that’s not really the point.

You see, the Royals had a couple runners on base already when Familia entered the game in the eighth inning because Collins elected to have Tyler Clippard start that inning on the mound for the Mets.

If Familia had not pitched on Friday, would Collins have called on his closer to begin the eighth inning, instead of Clippard? If so, would the Royals have had the same scoring opportunity?

We’ll never know, of course. But the question of whether Collins chose Clippard, rather than Familia, to begin the eighth is a perfectly fair question to pose.

If that was a factor, then the decision on Friday has quite possibly already cost the Mets one game. And if the fact that Familia would be working three consecutive nights affects how Collins uses his closer on Sunday, as well, that would just add to the magnitude of the blunder.

The Gophers’ brainfart

I didn’t see a lot of the Minnesota-Michigan football game Saturday night because I was primarily focused on the World Series game, but from the bits and pieces I saw, it looked to me like Minnesota outplayed the Wolverines most of the game and deserved a win.

And then the final 19 seconds of the game happened.

After replay determined that the pass originally ruled to be what would have been the winning touchdown for the Gophers had actually ended a half-yard short of the goal line, Minnesota had 19 seconds and one time-out to manage to get that final 18 inches of fake turf.

The clock started as soon as the ball was deemed by the officials to be ready for play.

After reading postgame quotes and seeing video of interim coach Claeys’ meeting with the media, it’s still unclear to me whether nobody on the field or on the sideline for Minnesota knew that clock was ticking or whether they knew and didn’t care. Regardless, at least half of their remaining time expired before the Gophers got off one snap.

As a result, Minnesota ran one play before facing the decision of whether to kick a game-tying field goal with just two seconds on the clock, to send the game in to overtime, or run one final play and go for the win.

Claeys elected the latter and, while I don’t personally fault that particular decision, I’m sure plenty of others do.

In any event, whether you believe the final 19 seconds reflected panic, miscommunication or simple ineptitude, the results didn’t do anything to help Claeys’ case for removing the “interim” label on his coaching position with the Gophers. There’s absolutely no reason Minnesota shouldn’t have had time to run at least three plays, and possibly four, in those final 19 seconds. That wouldn’t have made victory certain, but I think four plays would give you approximately twice as good a chance of scoring as two plays did.

The Perfect Iowa Hawkeyes

Perfect! As in, 8-0 record.

A lot has been made about Iowa’s “soft” schedule and I’m not going to argue that the Hawkeyes have been beating top-tier teams this season. There are reasons I did not renew my Iowa season tickets this year and one of those reasons was that I didn’t feel the home schedule was worth the time or money necessary to go to seven games at Kinnick Stadium.

The non-conference schedule that Iowa typically puts together leaves something to be desired, as a fan. They play Iowa State every year. They schedule one other major conference opponent. The other two non-conference games are almost always cupcakes. This year, that included Texas State and Illinois State, a couple of squads typical of teams the Hawkeyes usually bring in to take a beating for a payday.

If it turns out that Iowa runs the table, finds a way to upset the B1G’s East Division champion in the conference championship game, and still ends up on the outside of the NCAA playoff bracket, so be it. The football program can do nothing other than learn the same lesson their men’s hoops program learned a couple years ago: schedule stronger opponents or expect to be left out of the dance.

That said…

The first College Football Playoff rankings are due to be released this Tuesday and if what we’re told is true – that these weekly rankings are based on what teams have accomplished against the strength of the schedule they’ve played to this point, not the strength of the teams that remain on their schedule – then Iowa should be ranked ahead of defending national champion Ohio State.

This season, Iowa defeated Pitt at home and both Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road, en route to their 8-0 record.

Here are the teams that Ohio State has vanquished so far:

@ Virginia Tech (4-5, 6th of 7 teams in ACC, Coastal Division)

Hawaii (2-7, 6th of 6 teams in Mountain West, West Division)

Northern Illinois (5-3, 4th of 6 teams in MAC, West Division)

Western Michigan (5-3, 2nd of 6 teams in MAC, West Division)

@ Indiana (4-4, 0-4 in B1G games)

Maryland (2-6, 0-4 in B1G games)

Penn State (7-2, 4-1 in B1G games)

@ Rutgers (3-5, 1-4 in B1G games)

Both Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) and Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) are arguably as strong as Penn State, the one respectable conference win so far for the Buckeyes and Pitt has proven stronger than any non-conference foe on Ohio State’s schedule.

Indeed, all of that is about to change. OSU should have no problem with Minnesota and Illinois the next two weeks, but finishes up with Michigan State and Michigan. But at the time the College Football Playoff committee announces their first rankings this Tuesday, Iowa will have the better resume of the two.

In fact, if you look at Michigan State’s schedule, you’ll find a similar story. Their big win, so far, was over an Oregon team that is no longer ranked among the top 25 teams in college football.

The story could be very different by December, but it will be interesting to see what the playoff committee’s view will be on Tuesday. Nobody in the Big Ten should be in the top 4 teams of the country at this point.

-JC

Canadian (will be) Mist

You may or may not have noticed this, but Minnesota Twins fans tend to complain a bit.

We complain about home grown players who have MVP and batting titles to their credit.

We complain about managers and coaches who don’t guide the team the way we think they should.

We complain about General Managers because we don’t like the deals they make and, even more, don’t like that they don’t make the deals we think they should.

And we complain about owners. We complained about Calvin Griffith and Carl Pohlad. We still complain about Jim Pohlad.

But if the information being reported out of Toronto is accurate, it’s quite possible we should embrace Mr. Pohlad and thank the baseball gods that our Twins are not in the hands of Rogers Communication, owners of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Blue JaysOn Thursday, Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was announced that his fellow baseball executives had voted him the winner of Sporting News’ Baseball Executive of the Year Award for the work he did before and during the season to assemble the best team Toronto has seen in over 20 years. It was well-deserved.

The timing of the announcement was more than a little ironic, however, given that it came shortly after Anthopoulos announced he would not be continuing to serve as the Toronto GM.

Anthopoulos has not been perfect. He’s made good deals and bad deals, just like every Major League GM. But he’s certainly been on a roll over the past year.

He added Marco Estrada, Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson last offseason. He traded for Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere and David Price before the trade deadline this season.

Did he pay too much, in money, years and/or talent, for some of those guys? It’s certainly possible that, over time, we will concluded that he did. We just don’t know, yet.

What we do know is that the Toronto Blue Jays roster he put together was 40-18 after the calendar tuned to August and came within a whisker of being the American League representative in the World Series.

The owners hired Mark Shapiro to be their new team president and, it appears, Shapiro isn’t a fan of some of the deals that the GM he inherited made and envisions his role as more than just running the business side of the team the way he had been doing with Cleveland since their ownership bounced him upstairs and took away most, if not all, of his authority to make player personnel decisions for the Indians.

Now, say what you will about Anthropolous’ wins and losses at the bargaining table, but I’m pretty sure any objective observer would tell you his record stacks up pretty favorably against his new boss’ record.

So the Jays made Anthopoulos an insulting low-ball extension offer they knew he wouldn’t accept. Then, after they torched the relationship and he told them to take a hike, they came back with a five-year offer – again knowing very well there was no way Anthropoulos would forgive and forget and accept that offer.

To top it all off, when everyone in the game is trashing them publicly (everyone EXCEPT Anthropoulos, who has remained above that kind of behavior), the Jays go to the media to make sure everyone knows their GM turned down a five year extension (without mentioning any of the other pertinent details, of course).

I don’t agree with everything the Twins ownership and front office does but, yeah, right now I certainly would not trade my team’s group with those still in Toronto.

-JC

 

Rebooting

Welcome back, Knuckleballs readers. Long time-no see.

My contributions here have been sparse, at best, lately. I’m hoping that’s about to change.

I took a little time off, for a couple of reasons. I think they were good reasons, but then I’m biased, obviously.

After completing my third season of covering the Cedar Rapids Kernels for MetroSportsReport.com and contributing articles to TwinsDaily.com, I simply needed time away from writing on a regular basis.

Oh, I also lost my “day job,” so that’s taken a bit of getting used to, too.

RebootI got a decent “separation pay” deal from my employer and by officially “retiring,” I’m also able to keep most of the most important benefits (health insurance, etc.), so there are certainly worse ways to lose your job.

I’m not looking for sympathy here. I was ready to move on and, as it turns out, my employer was ready enough to have me move on that they’re willing to pay me for quite some time NOT to work for them. Not a bad situation, at all.

Still, it leaves me in a position to essentially reboot my life, or at least significant aspects of my future. I make a lot of “old man” jokes at my own expense, but I’m really not all that old. I haven’t reached the big six-oh yet, though I’m certainly closing in on it. The point is, I feel like it’s far too early for me to simply do nothing with my day.

The nice thing is that my financial situation allows me to take some time to examine my options and find something that I feel I’ll really enjoy doing with my time going forward. That will be a nice change.

In the meantime, I think I’m ready to get back at the keyboard on a more regular basis. For now, that means, hopefully, posting more frequently here. I realize that, when you take the kind of hiatus I’ve taken, it will be difficult (and, possibly, impossible) to get readership levels back to what they used to be.

That’s OK (for now, anyway).

I couldn’t decide on one topic to write about today, so I’m going to just touch on a number of issues.

World Series Game 1

Wow. How are they going to top that?

Game 1 had all the usual stuff (good pitching, good defense, good hitting) and then some:

  • Human interest (Volquez pitching after his father passed away earlier in the day)
  • Network difficulties (What the hell, FOX?)
  • A totally unexpected defensive lapse that threatened to cost the Royals the game.
  • A deep home run in the 9th inning off a shut-down closer to tie the game.
  • Five extra innings, before the guy who made the aforementioned error drove in the walk-off run with a sacrifice fly.

On Twitter, I went on record as picking the Royals to win the Series in seven games.

That’s probably less of a prediction than it is a hope. I’m an American League guy so, as long as it’s not the Yankees in the Series, I’m almost always going to be pulling for the AL representative. Mostly, though, I just want to see a great Series and that would include a deciding seventh game.

Torii Hunter’s Retirement

Hunter made the right call. There’s no way to look at his work on the field this season and objectively say that it looks like he still has enough in the tank to be a regular contributor on a team that expects to be a contender and, let’s face it, Torii Hunter is not cut out to play a reserve role. It’s not in his personality.

I give credit where I believe it’s due, however. His presence on the team was a net-positive for the Twins and, without him, I do not believe they have as much success in 2015 as they did.

It sounds like he’ll get an opportunity to join the Twins’ front office in some capacity. I have mixed feelings about that and I suppose where I come down on the subject will depend on what role he’s given.

On the one hand, clearly Major League Baseball needs more African-Americans in front office positions and Torii Hunter has the background and personality that one would think might make him successful in some kind of front office role.

On the other hand, given some of Hunter’s stated views on certain social issues, I would have a difficult time trusting him to make any sort of personnel decisions that call for inclusion of staff from diverse backgrounds and beliefs.

In the end, nobody really should care all that much what a professional baseball player believes, with regard to racial, religious or any other social issue. I know I don’t. But if/when that player is being considered for a position in a professional business organization (which is what the front office is), now we can and should care about those views because they can impact who that team hires and how employees are treated in the workplace.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. In the meantime, I would congratulate Hunter on a terrific Major League career and thank him for what he contributed to my enjoyment of Minnesota Twins baseball during his years in a Twins uniform.

Big Ten Football

Yeah, I know this has been primarily a baseball blog since we opened the doors here going on six years ago. It will probably stay that way, for the most part, but I do have interests outside of baseball, so sometimes I’m going to write about those things. This is one of those times.

I gave up my Iowa Hawkeyes football season tickets this season for a number of reasons. I’m not sorry I did so. Surprisingly, even though I now have a lot more free time on my hands, it would have been very difficult for me to make it to many games at Kinnick Stadium this year and the home schedule, frankly, was not something to get too excited about.

I'll be there Nov 14 when Floyd comes home.
I’ll be there Nov 14 when Floyd comes home.

Fortunately, the Hawkeyes have rewarded my lack of financial support by going 7-0 so far this season and, thanks to a pretty weak B1G West, they have a reasonable shot at being undefeated in the regular season and heading to Indianapolis for the conference Championship Game.

I have probably jinxed the Hawkeyes, however. I bought Championship Game tickets on Stubhub last week.

I also have tickets for the November 14 game against Minnesota.

That should be an interesting day, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a night game at Kinnick and that’s always a good time. The Hawkeyes and Gophers usually battle one another pretty hard, so it shapes up as being perhaps one of the few really good games left on the home schedule.

Iowa will also finally join the “alternate uniform” trend that night with all-black uniforms on tap for the game with the Gophers.

As a warm-up for the game, Hawkeye wrestling has a meet with Oklahoma State scheduled for 11 am that Saturday – in Kinnick Stadium. Yes, an outdoor college wrestling meet in Iowa in November. What could possibly go wrong?

The plan is to break the college wrestling meet attendance record set at Penn State last season. Based on initial demand for tickets, the old record won’t just be broken, it will be obliterated.

So on the 14th, I’ll need to get to Kinnick for wrestling by 11, then tailgate a few hours before the Hawks and Gophers tee it up at 7 pm. It’s quite possible that I’m too old for that, but we’ll see how it goes.

On a much less pleasant note, I think everyone who’s a fan of college football was sad to see Minnesota coach Jerry Kill step down from his job with the Gophers for health reasons. It’s impossible to watch the video of his press conference and not feel heartbroken for the man, his family and, by extension, the U of M Community.

Despite seeming to take a bit of step backwards this season, Kill appeared to have the Gopher football program moving in a positive direction, but regardless of what you feel about the program, he has always come across to me as a genuinely good man with his heart in the right place.

I’m confident he will successfully transition in to other roles that he will find fulfilling, eventually. I wish him all the best.

That’s it for today.

I’ll do my best to be back with more regular postings and you can look forward to on-site reports (and photos) next week from the Arizona Fall League in Phoenix. I’m looking forward to spending a few days down there because there are several Twins prospects (most of them also former Kernels) playing and – well – it’s Arizona in November.

JC

Sunday Morning Comic Relief

I really couldn’t be happier by what the Twins were actually able to pull together this year – it was an amazing season accomplished by a bunch of mostly young guys that makes you really look forward to next spring..

But I can’t deny that there is a part of me very sad that this is the last day of our season.. (which wouldn’t be true if it had sucked ..)

charliebrown1

What if…?

Here we are in the final week of the 2015 MLB season and the Twins are still in contention for a playoff spot. All things considered, that’s pretty incredible. Virtually none of us expected this when the season began.

what if questionHoped for it? Sure. We all hope for it. We’ve hoped for it for the past four years, too, but show me someone who went on record in April that the Twins would have a .500 record locked down and still be pushing for a wild card berth, then I’ll believe someone actually expected this to happen.

The Twins front office, their manager and coaching staff, and particularly the players, deserve a lot of credit for putting the team in this unlikely circumstance. Twins fans should all appreciate the hard work that has produced the most encouraging Twins season in at least five years.

And yet…

It’s really hard for me not to play a little “what if?” game. If the Twins are not able to overcome both the Astros and Angels to capture the coveted final American League wild card spot, they’ll almost certainly finish within a couple of games of doing so.

A couple of games.

That makes it pretty easy to go back and look for opportunities that were lost to turn enough losses into wins to put the Twins in the playoffs.

The easy part is looking at late game leads that were blown by a failed relief pitching, by a late error, by a baserunning mistake or by failing to capitalize on runners in scoring position. Those examples are easy to come by.

Then again, you can say that about literally every team that finishes just short of the postseason, every year.

Similarly, though to a lesser extent, fans of any team that falls just short can come up with strategic managing/coaching decisions that failed and, ultimately, led to enough losses to make a difference. Not every decision made by a team’s manager is going to work and when a decision ends up in a loss, second-guessing is easy and, with Paul Molitor in his first season as a manager at any level, there have been plenty of second-guess-worthy decisions to choose from if you want to find a couple of games that could have had better outcomes.

And then there’s the front office.

On August 3, I wrote about my disappointment with the lack of results from the Twins at the non-waiver trade deadline.

To demonstrate that none of us are above being second-guessed, I obviously undervalued the addition of Kevin Jepsen at that time. Despite being underwhelmed with the Jepsen trade, my biggest problem wasn’t the trade itself or the prospects that were given up for the reliever. My problem with it was that it was the only deal made.

It seemed to me that either General Manager Terry Ryan should have acquired more help for his manager to take in to the final two months of the season than just an additional bullpen arm or he shouldn’t have bothered going out to get even that much.

Clearly, Jepsen has been a life-saver in light of the free-fall we’ve seen from closer Glen Perkins. Without Jepsen, the Twins would have almost certainly been eliminated before now, so kudos to the front office for that deal. I was wrong about Jepsen.

Terry Ryan must feel it's lonely at the top at times (Photo: SD Buhr)
Terry Ryan must feel it’s lonely at the top at times (Photo: SD Buhr)

I’m still playing coulda-shoulda-woulda, however, on the question of whether there might not have been one or two other deals that “coulda-shoulda” been made in July that “woulda” made more than a couple games’ difference in the Twins fortunes this year.

It’s an impossible question to answer, of course. And, to be fair, you can’t just throw out a name and say, “if the Twins had gone out and gotten this guy, they’d be playoff bound by now.” There’s no way to know that.

The primary positions most people talked about upgrading were shortstop and catcher.

But would any of the shortstops available at the time done better at solidifying the position than Eduardo Escobar has? That’s a debate we could have, but it’s certainly not a given that any addition would have been a net-gain over Escobar for the Twins in the win column.

Kurt Suzuki has struggled to control opponents’ running games, but catching is about so much more than throw-out rates that I think it’s impossible to say whether a change at the starting catcher position would have had a positive effect on the team over the final two months. We simply don’t know what effects that would have had on the effectiveness of the pitching staff.

Could the Twins have added a starting pitcher at the deadline? Sure. But you have to ask who would have been the likely odd man out of the rotation to make room for a newcomer. It doesn’t take much imagination to consider that it might have been rookie Tyler Duffey. The same Tyler Duffey who has been arguably the most consistent starter in the rotation over the final two months.

If the Twins end up falling short of the playoffs this week, it will be almost impossible for us not to ask, “what if?” I know I’ll do plenty of that.

Sure, we can pretty much all agree that this Twins roster doesn’t look like it’s built for a deep playoff run this season, anyway. With the young talent in the pipeline, maybe 2016 or 2017 will be more likely seasons for legitimate title contention.

But, as Twins fans have learned, you can’t for granted any opportunity you get to qualify for the postseason. You can’t assume other opportunities are just around the corner. Stuff happens and that stuff isn’t always good stuff.

So I’ll continue to ask, “what if?” I’ll continue to maintain that more help should have been brought on in July; that Molitor was not given the tools to make a legitimate playoff run this season.

I’ll also acknowledge, however, that it wouldn’t have been easy and that there’s no assurance that any such additional “help” would have necessarily improved the results. I’m smart enough to know that any additional “help” that would have been brought in might have actually ended up resulting in fewer wins, rather than more (see: Nationals, Washington).

In the end, I’m glad it was Terry Ryan making those decisions in July, rather than me. Ryan may not have done everything right and he’s certainly accustomed to second-guessing from people like me. It all goes with the GM job.

And we are still paying attention to the Twins during the final two series of the season. I’d almost forgotten how much fun that is.

Kernels’ Sean Miller is Moving Up Fast

If you go to the web site of the baseball program at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, you’ll find a link listing all of the Pacer ballplayers who are playing professional baseball.

Well, not quite all of them.

Sean Miller (Photo: SD Buhr)
Sean Miller (Photo: SD Buhr)

Cedar Rapids Kernels infielder Sean Miller spent three years in a Pacers uniform and he’s now played for two minor league teams, but South Carolina-Aiken’s webmaster hasn’t updated the list since last September and Miller just wrapped up his college career this past spring.

Miller, the first of the Minnesota Twins’ 2015 draft class to suit up for the Kernels this season (Chris Paul joined Cedar Rapids later), was a “young junior,” to use Kernels manager Jake Mauer’s words. He was just 20 years old throughout his junior year of college and won’t turn 21 until after the current season ends.

That may have been one factor that the Twins found attractive about Miller, whom they selected in the 10th round of the 2015 draft. The Twins sent the middle infielder to their Appalachian League affiliate in Elizabethton, Tennessee, just about a four hour drive north of his college campus in Aiken, immediately after signing him to a contract that included a reported $125,000 bonus.

It was a short stay for Miller in Tennessee. On July 11, he was promoted to the Kernels.

The quick promotion caught Miller a bit by surprise.

“Actually, it did. Kind of a lot,” Miller admitted. “Because I was only in Etown for two or three weeks, I guess. I played in 12 or 13 games (it was officially 11 games). So it was definitely surprising, but it was really exciting.

“I was playing good defense there and I was hitting okay. I was hitting balls hard but I didn’t have a great average or numbers, like that.”

Short as it was, Miller said he enjoyed getting his first taste of professional ball in Elizabethton.

“It was exactly what I was expecting. It was awesome to get a chance to play and be on your own and just get the whole experience of it.”

In truth, Miller was hitting just .209 in Elizabethton when he was promoted to Cedar Rapids. But his numbers since joining the Kernels have been much more encouraging. He’s not showing a lot of power, but he carried a .303 batting average with the Kernels through this past weekend.

“Sean’s put the ball in play and gives us a little bit of speed that, obviously with (Tanner) English gone, we’ve been lacking a little bit,” Mauer said of Miller.

Miller played high school ball in Maryland for his father, Steve Miller, who had his own five-year minor league career after being the 13th round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 1983 June Amateur Draft.

Having a dad with that kind of background comes with both advantages and disadvantages.

“It’s always hard with him being your dad,” Miller conceded. “You don’t want to listen to him, but you have to because you know he’s been there. He’s been through the same stuff you’re going through.

“It’s definitely (a battle), always arguing about something, but you’ve just got to realize that he knows more than you do.”

Sean Miller (Photo: SD Buhr)
Sean Miller (Photo: SD Buhr)

The elder Miller has made two trips to see his son in his first minor league season, one to Tennessee and the other to Cedar Rapids.

The Kernels infielder said his dad’s advice has remained on the practical side from the beginning.

“He always kind of told me it’s not as glamorous as everyone makes it out to be. It’s more of a job than a game now. And it’s kind of how he described it. He was pretty right on it.”

Miller is finding that to be true as he nears the end of a year that began in the Peach Belt Conference and is concluding in the Class A Midwest League. He’s found there’s a pretty significant difference in the quality of the pitchers he’s now facing.

“It’s definitely a lot better, more consistent” Miller acknowledged.  “Night in, night out, you face guys that are definitely a lot better. Position players, too. A lot of the outfielders, if they get a chance, they’re going to run it down and catch it. They’re not going to allow a hit there. It takes some getting used to.”

As you’d expect, Miller is happy with the success he’s had thus far with the Kernels.

“Definitely,” he confirmed. “I’m just trying to come in every day and have fun and just play ball.”

So far, Miller has found the biggest challenge in pro ball to be just maintaining an even keel over the course of a long season.

Sean Miller
Sean Miller (Photo: SD Buhr)

“I think getting too high, sometimes you have a good game and you’re kind of up here,” Miller said, lifting his hand toward the top of his head. “And you come up the next night and go 0 for 4 or something like that. I mean it sucks, but you’ve got to find a happy medium there and kind of stay consistent with your attitude. Can’t get too excited when you have a good game and can’t get too upset about a bad game.”

His manager concurs, but feels the Miller is off to a good start.

“He’s handled himself good,” Mauer added, of Miller. “He needs to learn what it takes to play every day and maintain his strength. It’s going to be a big offseason for him to get bigger and stronger and continue to improve his speed, but he’s been very good for us.

“He’s been doing a pretty nice job in the middle of the infield, mostly just shortstop is all that he’s played. He’s learning how to play second and handled himself pretty good there.”

Off the field, you are likely to find Miller on a golf course.

“I like to play golf,” he said. “I haven’t really got a chance to play too much, lately, but hopefully I’ll get a chance in the offseason.”

Miller said he’ll make South Carolina his primary home once the season ends.

“I’ll be back and forth between Maryland and South Carolina, but I just kind of wanted to get started and be on my own a little bit.”