As the Cedar Rapids Kernels begin a stretch of seven consecutive “commuter” games (those where they bus to the away game and back home again after the game each day/night) this week, they are off to a 7-4 start to their Midwest League Season, good enough for second place in the MWL’s West Division, a half-game behind Kane County.
Early on, the Kernels’ offense was riding on the shoulders of LaMonte Wade and Chris Paul. Paul was promoted to Ft. Myers, but Wade has continued to rake, hitting an even .400 on the season and putting up a 1.119 OPS. The 22-year-old former Maryland Terrapin has hit safely in each of Cedar Rapids’ 11 games this season.
With Paul no longer around, the club needed others to step up their games and Luis Arraez has done exactly that.
Arraez had back-to-back games this week in which he led off the bottom half of the first inning with a home run. That’s remarkable enough, but then consider that they were the first two round-trippers of the infielder’s career. He has raised his batting average to .346 and his OPS to 1.008.
As the starting pitchers complete their second time through the rotation, Sam Clay has led the crew with a perfect 0.00 ERA, while striking out 13 batters in 11 innings of work. Relievers C.K Irby and John Curtiss have equaled that perfect 0.00 ERA out of the bullpen. Curtiss had K’d 8 in 4 innings on the mound and Irby has set down 7 batters in 6 2/3 innings.
The first home series of the season last week was more than a little chilly, though that did make for a couple of interesting pictures. With a couple of sunny day games this past weekend, there were more opportunities for decent photo shooting. I wish I had at least one of every player, but I didn’t quite manage that. I’ll get there eventually.
Let’s start with a photo of Veterans Memorial Stadium, home of the Kernels.
With the kind of week Arraez had, he deserves a couple of pictures, don’t you think? Let’s add one of the infielder at the plate.
And, in case you’re now wondering whether Bryant actually made contact with that pitch, yes, yes he did.
If anyone has earned getting two pictures in this post, it’s LaMonte Wade.
That’s what I’ve got uploaded so far. I thought I had a few more, but can’t put my fingers on them at the moment, anyway. I’ll load up some more next homestand.
I had planned to wait to write something about the Minnesota Twins’ ugly start to the 2016 until there was something – anything – positive to write about, but I finally decided that leaving things that open-ended could mean a very long hiatus from blogging.
The Twins have completed their third three-game series of the season and they have yet to record a win, currently sitting with an 0-9 record. On top of that, the team’s top young prospect, Byron Buxton, was been pulled from today’s game after getting hit on the hand by a pitch.
Of course, it’s also not good that the team’s closer, Glen Perkins, is on the shelf, having been placed on the Disabled List with a strain in his throwing shoulder. Then again, one could argue that a winless team has little need of a closer, anyway.
It would be nice to be able to say that the Twins’ losing streak is due to such injuries, but it would also be very inaccurate.
If you had told me as Spring Training closed that the Twins would be winless this late in the season, I’d have probably shook my head and assumed that my fears about the potential ineffectiveness of their pitching staff probably had been realized quicker than expected. That, too, would have been inaccurate.
As a group, the starting rotation is performing fine – in fact probably better than even the more optimistic of us had any reason to expect. The relief corps has been about what I expected, which is to say it’s been inconsistent, at best. Still, the bullpen is not primarily responsible for the goose egg the Twins have continued to carry in the Win column.
It has all been about the offense – or, rather, the lack thereof.
It would be unkind to say that Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Byung Ho Park, Eddie Rosario, Kurt Suzuki, Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe have all sucked at the plate. Unkind, yes, but it would not be erroneous. Through the first nine games, none of those seven starters are hitting even .200.
I don’t care what you feel about the relative validity of Batting Average as an indicator of offensive productivity, failing to reach the Mendoza line means you aren’t doing your job with a bat in your hands and the Twins have seven regulars in their batting order who are wallowing in that level of ineptitude right now.
Joe Mauer and Eduardo Escobar are raking, with each of them hitting north of .350 and with an OPS above .900. Alas, those efforts, as encouraging as they may be, are being totally wasted.
No team has ever lost so many games to begin a season and still recovered to qualify for the postseason.
Given all of that, it’s not surprising that Twins Territory is not a particularly happy place these days. Everybody is looking for someone to blame and there are plenty of candidates to choose from. Those seven hitters (if you feel generous enough to call them that) mentioned above certainly share some responsibility.
Likewise, whenever a team is losing, the Manager and General Manager will take some heat and both Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan are getting their share. That’s expected and not altogether unwarranted. After all, they assembled this roster.
You could say that last season’s stronger-than-expected finish raised our expectations to a level that makes this kind of inept start is impossible for fans to tolerate. But, really, if the Twins had lost over 90 games again last season, would any of us be more tolerant of a team going this long without notching their first win? I doubt it.
Losing sucks. It just does. And when your guys are striking out at rates that could obliterate a number of team and league records if the trends continue, it’s not too difficult to zero in the problem.
The question, though, is what do you do about that problem? As almost always, finding answers is far from easy.
One thing the Twins can’t do is panic. There will be plenty of that from among the fan base, but the players, coaches, manager and GM can’t do it. That doesn’t mean you don’t make some adjustments, of course.
We’ve already seen a pair of rookies summoned from Rochester. Pitcher Taylor Rogers and outfielder Max Kepler have been brought in to replace Perkins and Danny Santana, respectively, until they can recover from the injuries that put them each on the Disabled List.
Kepler is a promising talent and Rogers has potential to be an effective bullpen arm, but they will not, by themselves, get the Twins turned around. Those two are simply getting early opportunities to impress and make cases for why someone else should be sent down, rather than them, when Perkins and Santana are ready to return.
If the Twins had started the season on a winning streak and had half of their lineup putting up an OPS north of .900 like, say, the Baltimore Orioles, we’d all be enjoying the season much more than we are now, but most of us would also be urging restraint of too much enthusiasm because it would be highly unlikely that those sorts of numbers could be maintained for long.
It stands to reason, then, that we should also remind ourselves that it is highly unlikely that seven-ninths of the Twins’ lineup will continue to fail to hit their weight – not all of them anyway.
I get as frustrated as any fan watching the games and, in particular, watching the flat out awful at-bats that we’re seeing from Twins batters. But I keep reminding myself that, at least for me, this presents a win-win situation for me.
Despite the awful start, this Twins season is going to go one of two ways and I know I’ll find things to enjoy watching as the season goes on, regardless of which fork in the road their season follows.
If the early season ineptness reverses course, there’s still plenty of talent (and plenty of time left in the season) to drive the club back into contention for at least a wild card spot. The starting pitching has been plenty competitive and we’re seeing an early indication that the predictions of the demise of Joe Mauer may have been premature.
If the Twins continue to flounder and show no signs of competitiveness over the next couple of months, there will be no reason for GM Ryan not to clean house and give the organization’s talented young players the better part of a full season to get accustomed to facing Major League competition.
If I’m watching Adam Walker, Jorge Polanco, Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey, Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, Alex Meyer along with current young Twins like Buxton, Sano, May and Kepler, I’m sure I won’t be seeing a ton of victories, but I’ll be having a good time watching them mature at the big league level.
I expected the Twins to compete for a playoff spot in 2016 and I’m not yet writing off that possibility, but I also know that the next golden age of Twins baseball is probably a couple of years away. Young future stars need to go through trials by fire to prepare themselves for that era and there are a couple of ways to accomplish that.
Ideally, a limited number of prospects are shuffled into the roster every year and they learn to win by playing with legitimate MLB-level ballplayers. But if that fails, the other way is to just throw them all in together and let them learn by getting their butts kicked pretty regularly as they learn what it takes to be a big league ballplayer.
The first method is more fun to watch because it comes with more wins. But if that fails, we simply need to remind ourselves that the long term goal is the same, either way – prepare to win a World Series before the end of this decade.
Of course, I may need to continue to remind myself of that frequently – like, about 162 times this season, at the current pace. But don’t worry, that pace won’t continue. The Twins will win, eventually, and things will get better.
Whether it is an update to WordPress 4.5 or to the latest update to our Theme, one or the other caused us to lose the ability to use our custom banner, so we’ve brought back our old, original theme, for now, just to be able to use a version of our banner. It’s kind of like wearing a throwback jersey. 🙂
We will be attempting to resolve this issue and/or looking for a new “look” for our blog. In the meantime, we will continue to post occasional articles, even if the site itself doesn’t look quite the way we would like it to.
The Minnesota Twins and their full season minor league affiliates announced those affiliates’ initial rosters on Sunday and Monday this week and the one thing that stood out about almost every roster was the number of players returning to the same level where they finished their respective 2015 campaigns.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels initial roster, for example, includes 16 players that also wore Kernels uniforms last season and many of them performed quite well in the Class A Midwest League – well enough that, in most years, they’d have been promoted this spring and challenged to prove themselves at the next level.
But this isn’t most years, not in the Twins organization, anyway.
The Big League club came to spring training with few roster spots to fill. The clear strategy to fill the few spots they did have – primarily back up spots in the outfield and at catcher, along with left handed bullpen arms – was to sign a number of potential candidates to minor league contracts with invitations to the Twins’ Major League spring training, allow them to compete with whatever internal options might be candidates and open the season with whoever makes the best impression in camp.
Not surprisingly, that left the Twins with a large number of extra minor leaguers left over after the big club’s Opening Day 25-man roster was announced.
As a result, the Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings will start the season with a roster that includes, by my count, about 10 guys who were not members of the Twins’ organization at the end of the 2015 season and the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts have maybe five more. Most of these newcomers were signed in the offseason as minor league free agents, but that isn’t the case with all of them. (Dan Palka, for example, was acquired via offseason trade.)
The result was inevitable.
Minor league baseball is a numbers game and it’s not all that difficult to figure out how it works for all but the hottest of an organization’s best prospects.
If you’re a minor league player at the low levels of the organization, you get a couple of years to figure out the game in short-season rookie ball and, if you show some level of competency or promise of competency, you move up to Class A, the first level of full-season professional baseball.
From that point on, each year, one of three things happens: The club determines that you’ve reached the level of competition at which you cannot compete and you’re released; you don’t put up stellar numbers, but you show enough promise that the club isn’t going to give up on you, so they send you back to the same level to start the next season; or you perform well enough for the club to want to see how you handle the challenge of the next level of competition and therefore get promoted to that next level.
Of course, there are always exceptions and nuances. Players may get a mid-season or late-season promotion to a new level and then start the following year at the same level or may suffer an injury that results in a need to repeat a level. That’s why, typically, a community like Cedar Rapids will see a handful of familiar faces each spring when the new batch of Kernels arrives.
You don’t see 16 familiar faces, though.
It’s a safe bet that, among that 16, there are some players that feel pretty strongly that they did enough for the Kernels a year ago that they should be busing around the Sunshine State with the Fort Myers Miracle this month rather than wearing parkas in the Kernels’ dugout. And they’re right, they should be.
And I’m sure there are a similar numbers of guys in Fort Myers that think they should be in Chattanooga.
It’s pretty clear, from comments made by Kernels manager Jake Mauer and some of his players this week, that this is a subject that Mauer has addressed with his team.
“I’m not going to lie to you. There are a number of guys in our clubhouse that should probably be up, that either pitched or hit their way out of this league. But because of strength of organization, they are here. You try to convey to them that ‘You are here, don’t feel bad. You’ve got to go after it, you’ve got to put up numbers.’”
The trio of players – pitchers Randy LeBlanc and Sam Gibbons, along with infielder Chris Paul – that were fed to local media for a group interview on “Meet the Kernels” Night on Tuesday were asked by Johnson about the level of disappointment that players who played well for the Kernels last season were having to start this year back in Cedar Rapids.
LeBlanc, who has drawn the Opening Day start this week for the Kernels, was frank, but responded well.
“I’m not going to beat around the bush, it was pretty disappointing at first,” LeBlanc conceded. “Jake’s been kind of pounding into our head, since the rosters have been set, that you can’t go into it bitter. You’ve got to just play your way out of here. Just stay positive, just be happy you made a roster, stuff like that. I definitely think (several) of us did pretty well last year, but just go out there and do our best and see what happens.”
Gibbons then added, “As long as we’ve got a jersey, we’ve got an opportunity.”
Unlike LeBlanc and Gibbons, Paul was a relative late-comer to the Kernels last season, joining the team near the end of the season and contributing to the team’s postseason run which ultimately ended one win short of a Midwest League championship.
“It’s a little bit different for me. I came up a little bit late,” Paul said, on the subject at hand. “These guys spent the whole season – most of the season – here, so I think a lot of guys proved themselves, obviously, like Randy said. But like they said, we’ve still got an opportunity, so you’ve just got to continue to perform and prove that you should be somewhere else.”
It’s clear that the, “don’t let yourselves be bitter, be glad you have a roster spot and go out and prove you deserve to move up,” message has been delivered – and it’s a very important message.
You could argue that it’s not fair that many players in the Twins system didn’t get the promotions this spring that they earned with their hard work and performances last summer. But professional baseball often is not fair. (Players need only look at their paltry paychecks to be reminded of that.)
And this is not a permanent situation.
It’s understandable that the Twins would give most of the players they signed to minor league free agent contracts an opportunity to show what they can do in some regular season games and, while the organization is still widely heralded as having one of the best stocked minor league systems in baseball, that cycle won’t last forever.
But neither will the opportunities being extended to these minor league free agents last forever. I give it a month.
By the middle of May, I believe we’ll see minor league affiliate rosters that look a lot more like what most of us – and, clearly, many of the organization’s players – thought we would see. I expect those free agents will get about a month to show the Twins’ evaluators why they should keep their roster spots in Rochester and Chattanooga over guys that have come up through the system and expected to be playing at the next level this spring.
Some of the new players will stick and that’s a good thing. Talent is talent, whether the player came up through the Twins’ system or somewhere else and minor league baseball is one of the purer forms of meritocracy you’ll find anywhere.
This little blip in the normal process makes it more critical than ever that players follow the advice being given to them to focus on their own performances and not give in to what must be a sometimes overwhelming urge to get angry to the point of distraction.
Because, just as sure as some of those minor league free agents will fail to impress and find themselves looking for other work, the same thing could happen to some players that finished strong with a Twins affiliate a year ago, but couldn’t back it up with a strong start to 2016.
Every year, observers of minor league teams like the Kernels see players move up and players move down and players move out. The team you finish a season with never resembles the team you started with. It’s the reason lower level minor leagues like the Midwest League have split seasons, with division standings reset after the mid-season All-Star break.
Most of the roster changes resulting from promotions and demotions don’t usually start becoming regular until June. This year, in the Twins organization, things could get interesting for many players much sooner.
A modest, but devoted, crowd of fans, staff and host parents greeted manager Jake Mauer, his field staff and 24 players to Veterans Memorial Stadium with applause and a handful of signs as they stepped off their bus from the Cedar Rapids airport early Monday evening.
It was upwards of 70 degrees in Florida when the team departed their Fort Myers spring training camp earlier in the day and many of the players were still sporting the short sleeve sport shirts that were more appropriate on departure than they were upon arrival at their new home, where temperatures hovered a degree or two on one side or the other of 40 degrees.
After arriving and settling into his office, Mauer confirmed that pitcher Michael Cederoth, originally listed as a member of the initial Kernels roster, did not make the trip to Cedar Rapids with the team. The manager indicated that Cederoth has an issue with his back and that no final decision has yet been communicated concerning who will take his spot on the active roster.
The Kernels will get a formal welcome from media and fans on Tuesday evening, between 5:00 and 7:00, with an introduction of the players and a short workout open to the public beginning at 7:00, weather permitting.
The Quad Cities River Bandits will visit Cedar Rapids on Thursday to open the 2016 season. Game time is 6:35.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the upcoming 2016 Major League season and I’ve gone through every division thoroughly enough to make predictions that I am absolutely confident in.
Yeah, that’s a lie. In fact, that sentence included multiple lies. I’ve barely given a passing thought to the likely fortunes of any team in the National League, I can’t honestly say I’ve thoroughly considered any division and I’m not at all confident my predictions will be anything close to accurate.
Yet, here we are. The season is underway so I might as well make some predictions. After all, if I’m way off, I’ll never mention them again, but if I benefit from a healthy dose of dumb luck, I’ll have opportunities later in the season to link back to this post as evidence of how smart I am. Win-win.
Almost everyone seems to be handing this division to the Mets, but I think the Nats’ roster is just better and Dusty Baker will whip that roster from start to finish. Of course, he may whip them so hard that the organization won’t be competitive again for a decade, but that’s a different issue.
Ordinarily, I couldn’t imagine any way the Phillies would escape the division cellar, but that was until I looked at the Braves’ roster.
As with the Mets, the Giants seem to be the consensus pick in their division. The Dodgers could be very good, but they also could be very mediocre. The Giants, at worst, will just be good, so I’ll take my chances with them.
Going back to swimming against the tide, I’m not going with the popular pick, which would be the Cubs. It has nothing to do with really not liking the Cubs or Cubs fans. Yeah, that’s another lie. It has everything to do with not liking the Cubs or their fans.
I do, however, really like the roster the Pirates have assembled and I think they’ll do very well.
NL Wild Card: I’m going with the Mets and Dodgers because the bottom three teams in their divisions are worse, in my opinion, than the bottom three in the Central. Oh, and I really don’t like the Cubs.
I’ll pick the Giants to win the National League pennant.
1 – Blue Jays, 2 – Yankees, 3 – Red Sox, 4 – Rays, 5 – Orioles
I’m not sure there’s a division in baseball with one team that is more clearly the favorite, in my mind, than the AL East. Maybe the Red Sox will be much improved and maybe the Yankees will find the fountain of youth. I don’t think either is particularly likely, but one (or both) could happen and the Jays could still be good enough to take the division.
I’d love to say I see the Astros regressing, but it’s just not likely. The Rangers are a popular dark horse pick, but I just don’t see it. I can, however, see Seattle bouncing back up into relevancy before Felix Hernandez’s career is completely wasted by the Mariners. And speaking of an organization completely wasting a future Hall of Famer’s career, the Angels are going to stink again, despite having the best player in baseball playing centerfield for them.
I have three reasons for picking the Twins to win this division. One, I genuinely see them being much better than they were a year ago (at least if the decision to keep Nolasco in the Opening Day rotation is the last really costly decision the front office makes); two, there is no position in baseball in which one season’s exceptional performance is less likely to be repeated than that of relief pitcher and the Royals will not repeat if their bullpen suddenly becomes anything short of extraordinary. Combine that with three other teams who I simply can’t see as likely to be terribly strong and it means the Twins could see opportunity knock. Oh, and third, I really want to be able to point back to this post in October if the Twins do win this thing.
AL Wild Card: The Royals should easily get one of these spots. Frankly, I could see the Tigers getting the other, but I’m going to go with the Mariners because the AL West competition will be the worst of the three AL divisions.
I’ll take the Blue Jays to win the AL pennant and take home the championship trophy over the Giants in the World Series.
Now, please forget these picks unless and until a significant number of them turn out to be right and I link back to this post six or seven months from now.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels and their Major League affiliate, the Minnesota Twins, have announced the club’s Opening Day roster and there are a healthy number of players that should be familiar to Kernels fans as 16 of the 25 members spent time with the Kernels at some point during the 2015 season.
The Kernels will open with a 13-man pitching staff and, as has generally been the case since the Twins/Kernels affiliation began in 2013, they appear poised to utilize a 6-man starting pitching rotation.
Indications are that the rotation will include returning arms Michael Cederoth, Sam Clay, Sam Gibbons, Randy LeBlanc and Dereck Rodriguez, along with newcomer Andro Cutura.
The bullpen will have Nick Anderson, John Curtiss, CK Irby, Michael Theofanopolous and Zack Tillery returning to Cedar Rapids, while Kuo Hua Lo and Logan Lombana will be getting their first looks at the Midwest League.
Rafael Valera saw time in the Kernels’ infield a year ago and, since the end of last season has been learning a new position. He will be one of three catchers to open the season in Cedar Rapids and will be joined by new Kernels receivers Bryant Hayman and AJ Murray.
Like Valera, Jorge Fernandez returns to the Kernels to learn an new position. After primarily catching during his time with Cedar Rapids, Fernandez now will be manning an outfield spot. Max Murphy and LaMonte Wade will also be returning to the Kernels outfield and Chris Cavaness will be the lone newbie in Manager Jake Mauer’s outfield.
Infielders Sean Miller and Chris Paul saw time with the Kernels last season and will return in 2016, being joined in the infield by Zander Wiel, Luis Arraez and Jermaine Palacios.
Mauer will be returning for his fourth season at the Kernels’ helm. Mauer has had a different pitching coach in each of his seasons leading Cedar Rapids and that trend continues in 2016. JP Martinez will be the fourth Kernels pitching coach in as many years. Brian Dinkelman will serve his first year under Mauer as the Kernels’ hitting coach.
The Kernels are schedule to arrive in Cedar Rapids shortly after 6:00 pm Monday evening and the club is encouraging fans to join a welcome rally in the Veterans Memorial Stadium parking lot at 6:30.
The annual “Meet the Kernels” event for fans will be held on Tuesday evening, beginning at 5:15 pm. Fans will be able to meet and chat with players and staff on the concourse. At 7:00, Mauer will formally introduce the players fans after which the team will go through their first workout on Perfect Game Field, weather permitting.
The Kernels will open their 2016 season on Thursday, hosting the Quad Cities River Bandits.
For some time, now, I have been trying to find ways to spend my “retirement” years involved with professional baseball. I’ve finally found the answer and decided that April 1 was the perfect time to release the announcement.
I have come to an agreement to purchase the Minnesota Twins from the Pohlad family and yes, I will be moving the club to Cedar Rapids. (I mean, it was either that or I had to move to Minnesota and, no offense, but I’ve lived there already. Pass.)
I’ve always wanted to own a Major League team and, like pretty much every Twins fan (or at least all of them who have access to the internet), I have always believed I could run the team better than anyone who actually was responsible for doing so.
As part of the agreement, the Twins’ Class A affiliation will be in Minneapolis, giving Target Field a tenant for at least as long as the original agreement required when taxpayers paid for construction.
Twins President (for now), Dave St. Peter, was pleased with this development.
“I’ve often said in the past that it would be nice to be able to watch the Twins’ young minor league talent play in the Twin Cities,” St. Peter said. “This agreement brings that dream to reality.”
I have scheduled a meeting with Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett to discuss how we can best go about adding an additional 35,000 seats to Veterans Memorial Stadium. I see no insurmountable issues there, as long as the city is willing to cough up the money for the renovations.
As for staff decisions, all positions will be posted at corridorcareers.com. All current Twins employees from St. Peter to every usher and beer vendor, will be invited to apply for their current positions (or any other job they might think they’d be good at). I learned in my experience in the professional world that is is the way progressive companies do things these days.
There is one exception to this policy. General Manager Terry Ryan will be retained.
I’ve made this decision for two reasons. First, I genuinely respect Mr. Ryan and, though I don’t always agree with his decisions, I believe he is very good at his job. Even if I didn’t feel that way about the GM, I’d keep him anyway, just because I know how much it’s going to piss off Twins bloggers/fans/commenters/know-it-alls all over Twins Territory.
There will be some pretty noticeable changes, however. For example, because of my fondness for the Iowa Hawkeyes, much of my wardrobe is black and gold. After paying for the Twins, I’m not going to also go out and buy a new wardrobe. The Twins’ colors will instead become black and gold.
Finally, while I will not be lifting the MLB.tv blackout policy from covering the entire state of Iowa, at least that blackout policy will finally make some sense.
I look forward to meeting all of the new Twins fans when the team opens the 2017 in Cedar Rapids. I hope those of you in the Twin Cities enjoy your final season of watching the Twins and I’m sure you will enjoy watching Midwest League games in the future.