Kernels: Life After Buck and a Mike Pelfrey Appearance

Minnesota Twins super-prospect Byron Buxton led the Cedar Rapids Kernels through a pretty amazing first half of their Midwest League season. They led the league’s West Division almost from wire to wire.

Almost.

But on Sunday, June 16, the Kernels gave up a late lead to the Peoria Chiefs and sealed their fate as the Division Runner-Up.

That was the last day that Buxton wore his Kernels home whites on Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

After returning from the MWL All-Star Game, Buxton boarded the team bus for the trip to Wisconsin. There, the team swept a four-game series with the Timber Rattlers and did so under the watchful eye of Twins General Manager Terry Ryan.

On that same bus, during the trip home to Cedar Rapids, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer got a phone call from the Twins front office and then told Byron Buxton he was being promoted to the Fort Myers Miracle.

You could understand if the Kernels, without the statistical leader of their offense, had needed to take a step back and regroup. Nobody would have been surprised if they had lost a few games as they searched for a new leadoff hitter and a new center fielder. After all, you can’t just replace a guy who many consider perhaps the top minor league prospect in baseball.

What the Kernels have done instead, however, is continue winning.

Since Buxton’s promotion, the Kernels have swept a four-game series with the Burlington Bees and a three-game series over the Peoria Chiefs. Heading in to Tuesday night’s game at Beloit, the Kernels are 11-0 in the second half of their MWL season.

Yes, it has been an eventful couple of weeks since that gut-wrenching meltdown during the final series of the season’s first half.

Max Kepler gets a secondary lead off first base
Max Kepler gets a secondary lead off first base

It certainly didn’t hurt that the Kernels finally welcomed outfielder Max Kepler to the roster to start the second half of the season.

Kepler, another of the Twins’ top prospects, had been slated to open the season with the Kernels but an elbow strain in March kept him in Fort Myers for extended spring training.

Kepler has only four singles in his 44 at-bats since joining the team. Then again, he also has five doubles, a triple and three home runs. That’s good enough for a .659 slugging percentage over an admittedly limited sample size.

The German native has also helped fill Buxton’s shoes defensively. He’s not likely to make the jaw-dropping defensive plays that Buxton seemed to make almost every other game in the outfield, but Kepler has the speed to cover plenty of outfield grass.

JD Williams
JD Williams

Niko Goodrum and JD Williams have both spent time filling Buxton’s shoes at the top of the Kernels’ batting order. Goodrum’s sporting a second-half on-base percentage (OBP) of .362, which isn’t bad, but check out Williams’ second half slash line: .462 BA/ .517 OBP/ .731 SLG/ 1.248 OPS.

Goodrum’s primary middle infield partner, Jorge Polanco, has hit .375 and put up an OPS of .969 since the All-Star break.

Dalton Hicks hasn’t homered yet in the second half, but he’s hitting .306 with five doubles.

Travis Harrison leads off third base
Travis Harrison leads off third base

Travis Harrison has a pair of home runs and six doubles since his All-Star Game appearance. He’s hitting .371 and has a 1.214 OPS.

Adam Brett Walker has a pair of home runs, as well, to go with his .303 batting average.

The second half success hasn’t been limited to the hitters, either.

The next earned run that Tyler Jones or Steve Gruver give up will be the first an opponent has put up against the two bullpen arms. In fact, opponents have a grand total of one hit off the two pitchers, combined, since the All-Star break.

Jose Berrios has made just one start since the break, but he went seven innings in that start and struck out nine hitters without a single walk, while giving up just five hits.

Brett Lee has struck out 12 over the 13 innings that have comprised his two starts this half.

Christian Powell is sporting a 2-0 record and a 0.69 ERA over the 13 innings he’s thrown during his first two starts of the second half.

And just in case the Kernels players needed a reminder of what it is they’re putting in all this work for, they got a visit this week from Twins starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who drove down from the Twin Cities with his family to make a rehab start for the Kernels on Monday night.

Mike Pelfrey warms up in the bullpen before his rehab start in CR
Mike Pelfrey warms up in the bullpen before his rehab start in CR

The plan was for Pelfrey to work five innings or throw 75 pitches, whichever came first.

But after throwing just 54 pitches through five innings, Pelfrey went back to the mound for the sixth.

“We got there in the fourth and the fifth and they said, ‘hey you’re done.’ I said, ‘hey I want to go back out for one more.’ I was just starting to get the command of my fastball back, which is very important to have to succeed, obviously, at the Big League level.”

As Pelfrey freely admitted in an interview before the game, his season didn’t get off to the kind of start he and the Twins hoped it would. But, as Kernels pitching coach Gary Lucas said after the game, “It was fun to watch him. Man, what a pro. What a good pro he is,” said Lucas. “To see how he handled himself and how he interacted with the guys on the bench. Pretty cool.”

It was a pretty cool night for the Kernels organization and their fans, as well.

Mike Pelfrey addresses the CR media (including a scruffy looking blogger in a faded ballcap)
Mike Pelfrey addresses the CR media (including a scruffy looking blogger in a faded ballcap)

According to Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson, a typical Monday crowd at this point in the season is about 1,500 fans. The Kernels drew 2,246 to see Pelfrey pitch, with a sizable portion of that total coming from “walk up” ticket sales. That extra 746 fans may not seem like a lot to those accustomed to seeing Major League attendance totals, but that’s several thousand dollars of extra revenue that the Kernels wouldn’t have had if the Twins hadn’t sent Pelfrey to Cedar Rapids for his rehab start.

Nelson indicated before the game that the topic of rehabilitation assignments had come up last September when the Twins and Kernels were discussing a possible affiliation agreement. While the Twins made no specific promises, they did tell the Kernels that they were comfortable with the facility in Cedar Rapids from a player-safety standpoint and that rehab assignments here would be simply a matter of schedules and timing working out.

With Pelfrey’s appearance, the Twins have now equaled the total number of rehab assignments that the prior Kernels affiliate, the Angels, sent to Cedar Rapids during the entire 20-year relationship between that organization and the Kernels. Angels pitcher Ken Hill joined the Kernels for a rehab stint in 1998.

The Kernels ballboy and the home plate umpire might have had the toughest challenge getting through Pelfrey’s appearance.

Plate umpire and Kernels ballboy switch out MLB balls for MWL balls between innings
Plate umpire and Kernels ballboy switch out MLB balls for MWL balls between innings

Pelfrey brought a supply of Major League baseballs with him to use in Cedar Rapids, which meant every half inning, the ballboy and plate umpire had to completely switch out the umpire’s supply of baseballs to allow Pelfrey to use Major League balls and the Peoria pitchers to use the Midwest League versions they are familiar with.

By winning their tenth straight game this past Sunday, the Kernels earned a free dinner from the team’s Board of Directors. By tradition, the Board treats the team to dinner at the Ox Yoke in the Amana Colonies whenever they reel off 10 straight wins. No date has been set yet, but it’s something the Kernels players are looking forward to.

That’s especially true of Kepler, the German native. The restaurant specializes in traditional German food, something Kepler said he hasn’t had in awhile.

While the team will have to wait for an evening they can fit a trip to the Amana Colonies in to their busy schedule to collect on that meal, they tasted the benefits of Pelfrey’s appearance immediately after the game.

According to Nelson, Pelfrey treated his temporary Kernels teammates to prime rib for their postgame meal in the clubhouse.

– JC

Kernels: Hot Starts in Cold Weather

I don’t know who to see about this, but the Twins and Kernels should NOT be allowed to have off-days on the same day! That’s what happened yesterday. So, without anything really “new” to write about either team, I’m posting the following article on the Kernels’ hot start. Under an agreement with MetroSportsReport.com, my alter ego, SD Buhr, writes a weekly “Kernels Update” for TwinsDaily.com. The following is a slightly updated version of what was posted yesterday on both sites and is republished here with permission of MSR. – JC

By SD Buhr

There is no shortage of great story lines through the first three weeks of the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ inaugural season as the Minnesota Twins Class A affiliate in the Midwest League.

To begin with, the Kernels (12-5) sit atop the MWL Western Division standings, with a one-game lead over the Quad City River Bandits (Astros). Cedar Rapids has had success both at home (5-2) and on the road (7-3).

The biggest story of the first three weeks of the MWL season has undoubtedly been the weather. The Kernels have played only 17 games at this point and that’s more than seven of the other 15 MWL teams have played. Yesterday (Wednesday, April 24) was supposed to be the first scheduled off-day of the Kernels’ season. With all of the weather-related postponements and cancellations, it was instead the seventh day Kernels players will have not played baseball since Opening Day.

Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton

Understandably, the early attention on the field has been focused on center fielder Byron Buxton, the Twins’ #1 draft pick a year ago. Buxton got off to an amazing start with the bat, but it was inevitable that he would cool off. He has just three hits in his last 15 At-Bats over the Kernels most recent four games. That’s dropped his Batting Average all the way down to… .404. He’s reached base at a .514 rate and has two doubles, two triples and two home runs to assemble a 1.128 On-Base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS). He also has seven stolen bases. If this is the worst “slump” Buxton has to go through, he’s going to have a fun season.

But Buxton isn’t the only Kernels hitter putting up impressive numbers.

First baseman Dalton Hicks has put together a pretty good start of his own, as well. His .310 Batting Average is backed up by seven doubles and a team-leading three home runs.

Drew Leachman went hitless in five At-Bats on on Opening Night and spent the next couple of weeks on the Disabled List after banging up his shoulder in that first game. Leachman has nine hits in 21 At-Bats for a .429 average since being reactivated, with a double, a triple and four RBI in five games. (Leachman received some congratulatory tweets from teammates late Tuesday night and early Wednesday indicating he may have gotten called up to Fort Myers. As of Wednesday afternoon, a source with the Kernels indicated they had not received any official word from the Twins on the move.)

In addition to Buxton, Hicks and Leachman, there are five additional Kernels hitting at .270 or better:

Niko Goodrum is hitting at a .288 clip with five doubles and a .383 On-Base Percentage (OBP).

Jorge Polanco has four doubles and a home run, along with 11 RBI, to go with his .281 Batting Average.

Adam Walker also has a .281 average and 11 RBI to go with his two doubles, one triple and two home runs.

Travis Harrison shares the team lead in doubles with Hicks at seven and has a pair of home runs, as well. He’s hitting .271 on the season.

J. D. Williams is hitting .270, but he’s parlayed three doubles and a pair of home runs, along with 11 walks, in to a .429 OBP and an OPS of .942. That’s some pretty good work, especially coming from the guy who’s held down the #9 spot in the batting order most of the young season.

Perhaps the biggest Kernels news this week was the debut of Jose Berrios, one of the top starting pitching prospects in the Twins organization. Berrios threw five innings on Monday night against the Burlington Bees. He struck out five Bees hitters, but also gave up seven hits and walked a pair.

Jose Berrios
Jose Berrios

If Berrios, who will still be just 18 years old for another month, was a bit over-excited for his first start, it would be understandable. He had trouble getting his fastball down in the strike zone the first couple of innings, but finished strong enough to be credited with the Win in the Kernels’ 8-4 win over Burlington.

Berrios’ fastball reportedly hit 96 mph early in the game, but one scout’s radar gun consistently recorded it at 91-93 mph during his last two innings of work. However, it’s possible that his breaking ball was more impressive. It had a late, sharp, break that buckled more than one set of Bees’ knees.

In the end, Berrios may turn out to be the biggest pitching story this season for the Kernels, but a number of his fellow pitchers are setting a pretty high standard for him to meet.

Tyler Duffey hasn’t been able to repeat the seven-perfect-innings performance of his first start of the season, but he’s continued to pitch well. Through 19.2 innings of work covering three starts, he’s put up a 2.29 ERA, striking out 17 while walking only three hitters. He’s also put up a 0.661 WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched).

Mason Melotakis has put up a 2.84 ERA in his three starts, racking up 11 strikeouts in just 12. 2 innings of work and Hudson Boyd, while struggling with control at times, has also managed to miss bats. Boyd has struck out a dozen hitters in 14 innings during his three starts.

David Hurlbut appears to be the pitcher bumped from the rotation to the bullpen to make room for Berrios (though that could change with the promotion of Taylor Rogers to Fort Myers this week). Hurlbut has put up a 3.00 ERA and a 0.933 WHIP in 15 innings of work during four appearances (two of them starts).

The weather situation has left Brett Lee, who started the season penciled in as the Kernels sixth starting pitcher in a six-man rotation, with just one start in the first three weeks of the season. He’s made two other appearances in relief roles. Regardless of how he’s entered the game, however, Lee has kept his opponents from scoring. He’s sporting a perfect 0.00 ERA over eight innings of work, while striking out seven hitters without surrendering a walk.

Steven Gruver has posted a 0.64 ERA in his four appearances, three of which came out of the bullpen, while the other came as an emergency starter. That start was necessitated by weather forcing the Kernels to play seven games in a period of just four days. Gruver has struck out 16 hitters and walked just two in 14 innings.

Gruver, along with Tyler Jones, Tim Atherton, Manuel Soliman and Chris Mazza, have anchored a very effective Kernels bullpen. Gruver, Jones, Atherton and Mazza have all struck out more than a hitter per inning of work.

Manager Jake Mauer’s group of Kernels are off to a very good start, made even more impressive by the conditions in which they’ve had to play and the effect the weather has had on their schedule. It should be really interesting to see how things come together when the weather turns warm and the fans start to fill up the ballpark.

The Kernels open up a six game homestand tonight with a 6:35 game against the Dodgers’ MWL affiliate, the Great Lakes Loons.

Kernels Opening Series a Success

The Cedar Rapids Kernels won three of four games over the Beloit Snappers in their first series of the 2013 season and there was no shortage of drama in the process.

The Kernels won their season opener 8-6, then recovered from a 2-1 ninth inning deficit to claim a walk-off 3-2 win in game 2 of the series. The Snappers managed to hold their 2-1 lead to completion in claiming the third game of the series. In the finale, three Kernels pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter at the visiting Snappers.

Outfielder Byron Buxton gave the locals a good look at what all the fuss is about as he hit .563 for the series, including plenty of power.

The game stories are widely available on the web, but this morning, I thought I’d share a few (OK, much more than a few) of the pictures I took over the course of the past week, since the Kernels arrived in Cedar Rapids.

Kernels coaches meet the media" Tommy Watkins (hitting coach), Jake Mauer (manager), Gary Lucas (pitching coach)
Kernels coaches meet the media: Tommy Watkins (hitting coach), Jake Mauer (manager), Gary Lucas (pitching coach)
The Kernels are introduced to local fans on Meet the Kernels night
The Kernels are introduced to local fans on Meet the Kernels night
Kernels players enjoying the introductions
Kernels players enjoying the introductions
Hudson Boyd
Hudson Boyd
Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton
Tyler Grimes
Tyler Grimes
Travis Harrison
Travis Harrison
Romy Jimenez
Romy Jimenez
Jorge Polanco
Jorge Polanco
Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton
Byron Buxton
Tyler Duffey
Tyler Duffey
Tyler Duffey
Tyler Duffey
Niko Goodrum
Niko Goodrum
Travis Harrison
Travis Harrison
Manager Jake Mauer and 3B Travis Harrison working together pregame
Manager Jake Mauer and 3B Travis Harrison working together pregame
Dalton Hicks
Dalton Hicks
Dalton Hicks
Dalton Hicks
Kernels pitchers getting in pregame bullpen sessions
Kernels pitchers getting in pregame bullpen sessions
Pitching coach Gary Lucas works with Josue Montanez
Pitching coach Gary Lucas works with Josue Montanez
Manager Jake Mauer and Dalton Hicks
Manager Jake Mauer and Dalton Hicks
Josmil Pimentel
Candido Pimentel
Candido Pimentel
Candido Pimentel
Jorge Polanco
Jorge Polanco
Jorge Polanco
Jorge Polanco
Jorge Polanco
Jairo Rodriguez
Jairo Rodriguez
Jairo Rodriguez
Jairo Rodriguez
Adam Walker
Adam Walker
Adam Walker
Adam Walker
JD WIlliams (diving away from a near HBP)
JD WIlliams (diving away from a near HBP)
JCD Williams
JD Williams
Kernels Celebrate a No-Hitter
Kernels Celebrate a No-Hitter
Kernels sign postgame autographs
Kernels sign postgame autographs

h

See ya next week!
See ya next week!

If you didn’t see your favorite Kernels in these pictures, not to worry… we’ll be posting a lot more pictures over the course of the season.

– JC

Mauer: Kernels Roster Almost Set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyler Grimes
Tyler Grimes

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

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

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

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

– S.D. Buhr, MetroSportsReport.com

Prospects and Projects – Projecting the 2013 Kernels, Part 4

We’ve worked our way around the horn in the first three Parts of this series, covering the catchers, corner infielders and middle infielders that could possibly put on a Kernels uniform in Cedar Rapids this summer. In Part 4 of our series, we’ll check out a number of outfielders that could take the field for Cedar Rapids at some point during 2013.

(Image: Kernels.com)
(Image: Kernels.com)

Obviously, we can’t know this early exactly who will come north to Iowa out of Spring Training to start the season, but regardless of which of these prospects starts the season in Cedar Rapids, the Kernels outfield should be flat-out loaded! A number of the organization’s top prospects played at Elizabethton in 2012 and most of them should find their way to Cedar Rapids either to start the season or by some time midway through the summer.

JaDamion (J.D.) Williams – Age 22 – Bats: Both/Throws: Right

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
97 407 .234 .651 115 39 16 2 6
JD Williams
JD Williams

Williams was drafted out of his Tampa FL high school by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2010 amateur draft. JD signed in time to get 37 games in with the GCL Twins in 2010, but struggled at the plate. He had considerably more success in his sophomore year of professional baseball, hitting .324 for Elizabethton in 2011. His productivity dipped some in his first year of full-season ball at Beloit in 2012, but he did finally show some of the speed the Twins expected him to have on the basepaths. He stole 23 bases in 32 attempts during the season at Beloit, but just think of how many he could have stolen if he hadn’t struck out 115 times.

Williams spent considerable time in all three outfield positions during 2012, including 23 games in centerfield. He also threw out seven runners on the bases.

At the end of the 2012 season, I would have almost guaranteed JD would open 2013 with the Kernels and I think he could probably use some extra time at the Class A level. But with the Twins trading Denard Span and Ben Revere, the bottleneck of outfielders in the organization could open up enough to allow him to open the year at high-A Fort Myers, along with most of the rest of his fellow Snappers team mates from last season.

Max Kepler – Age 19 – Bats: L/Throws: L

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
59 269 .297 .925 33 27 16 5 10
Max Kepler
Max Kepler

In 2009, the Twins gave the 6’4″ German the largest signing bonus paid to a European baseball player, at the time. He moved to Fort Myers and finished school at the high school that neighbors the Twins training facility in that city. In three seasons of rookie league ball, Kepler has steadily progressed, showing the kind of athletic prowess one might expect from the son of European ballet dancers.

The 6’4″ outfielder will just turn 20 before this season and has grown in to his body since arriving in the US. In 2012, his second season at Elizabethton, he made real progress in almost every aspect of his game, adding 35 points to his batting average and a whopping 211 points to his OPS, most of that a result of showing significantly more power. After hitting just one home run in his first two years of professional ball, combined, Kepler jacked 10 of them in 2012.

But Max isn’t just big, he’s got speed as well (he stole seven bases without being caught stealing even once) and a strong arm. He played 67 games in centerfield for Elizabethton last year and 23 games in a corner outfield spot, mostly left field.

Kepler was appearing in most offseason “top 10” lists of Twins prospects before the Span and Revere trades added a couple of highly rated minor league pitchers to the organization, but he easily remains a consensus top 15 Twins prospect heading in to 2013. Even after those trades, I’ve ranked Kepler 9th on my list.

Romy Jimenez – Age 21 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
35 139 .347 1.108 25 19 12 1 8

Jiminez was signed in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic and started his professional career with two very good seasons in the Dominican Summer League. An injury limited him to just eight games with the GCL Twins in 2011, but he came back very strong in 2012.

Romy won’t turn 22 until several weeks in to what should be his first experience on a full-season roster in Cedar Rapids. He has certainly shown the ability to hit and hit with power, but I’m curious about the fact that he didn’t steal a single base in 2012 (and only attempted one) at Elizabethton, although he stole 24 bases in 34 attempts in his two Dominican seasons.

Like Kepler, the 6’2″ Jimenez saw time in all three outfield spots during 2012, though most of his time was spent in left field.

Adam Walker – Age 21 – Bats: R/Throws: R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
58 254 .250 .805 76 19 7 4 14

The 6’4″, 225 pound, Walker was drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 2012 amateur draft and after signing quickly, he was assigned to Elizabethton in time to get 58 games in. His batting average in his first professional season won’t raise eyebrows and his .310 on-base percentage could stand to improve. He certatainly needs to cut that strikeout rate down considerably. But look at those extra-base hits! Seven doubles, four triples and 14 home runs in just 58 games. That would project to 20 doubles, seven triples and close to 40 home runs over a 162 game Major League schedule.

Walker exclusively played right field for E’town and he made a few errors out there, but he also threw out half a dozen baserunners. He also stole four bases on the season, without being caught stealing even once.

The Twins obviously saw a potential power hitter in Walker when they drafted him out of Jacksonville University and he gave them no reason to question that in his first professional experience. If he can slash those Ks in Cedar Rapids, while maintaining anything even close to his 2012 power numbers, Adam could climb up the organizational ladder quickly.

That’s four potential outfielders and, if Candido Pimentel, who we covered with the middle infielders, starts the season in Cedar Rapds, that would give Kernels manager Jake Mauer a full contingent of players to move in and out of his outfield.

But wait! We haven’t even mentioned the outfielder who managed to garner Baseball America’s “top prospect” award in BOTH the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League in 2012. Of course, that would be…

Byron Buxton – Age 19 – Bats: R/Throws: R

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

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
48 189 .248 .792 41 19 10 4 5

The only benefit to having the second worst record in Major League Baseball in 2011 was that it earned the Twins the right to the second overall draft pick in the 2012 amateur draft. The Twins used that pick to select Buxton out of his Georgia high school and less than a year later, he’s generally considered either the 1st or 2nd ranked prospect in the Twins organization (he tops my list).

Buxton played 27 games with the GCL Twins before moving up to Elizabethton to finish the season. While his .216 batting average win the GCL wasn’t flashy, he actually had more extra-base hits (11, including 4 HRs) than singles (8). Think about that for a moment. His Appy stats were much more “normal” looking, but he still had eight XBHs among his 22 hits overall at that level.

There is probably little doubt that Buxton could compete at the Class A level, but given his age (he’ll be 19 all season long) and the outfield talent that got more experience in Elizabethton a year ago, Byron will quite likely stick around extended spring training to start the season and may play a few weeks in E’town again. I’ll be surprised, however, if he isn’t in Cedar Rapids for most of the second half of the MWL season and if JD Williams does open the year at high-A Fort Myers, Buxton could come to Cedar Rapids in April, too.

Whenever you do get to see him play in Cedar Rapids, Kernels fans, pay attention. Once he reaches Minnesota, Buxton could be the Twins center fielder for many years to come.

There are a couple more outfielders that at least warrant a mention, since you never know when injuries and promotions will result in players getting promoted from one of the rookie league teams. If that happens, look for Kelvin Ortiz, Jeremias Pineda or Dereck Rodriguez to find themselves in Kernels uniforms.

Ortiz, a 21-year-old Dominican has played two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and two seasons with the GCL Twins while compiling just a .221 batting average and perhaps even less impressive stats, otherwise.

Pineda, also from the Dominican Republic, is 22 and came over to the Twins from the Red Sox organization in the Danny Valencia trade last summer. The move didn’t exactly agree with him, however, as he hit just .237 while putting up a .640 OPS with the GCL Twins after putting up .421 BA and .981 OPS numbers for the GCL Red Sox before the trade.

Rodriguez, 20, was drafted by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2011 amateur draft. He struggled considerably with the GCL Twins after signing in 2011, but improved a great deal last year while repeating that level.  He hit .263 with a .783 OPS with a bit of power.

Kernels fans should enjoy watching their outfielders this season. Some of them have much better than average chances of playing Major League Baseball in the future.

Next: Starting Pitchers

– JC

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