Prospects and Projects – Projecting the 2013 Kernels, Part 3

In preparation for the first season of the new affiliation between the Twins and my hometown Cedar Rapids Kernels, I’ve embarked on a series of “get to know them” posts. The intention is to give my fellow Kernels fans a little bit of information about the Twins prospects we may be seeing in Kernels uniforms over the course of the summer, understanding full well that it’s impossible to know exactly who will fill the Kernels’ roster  several months before Opening Day.

(Image: Kernels.com)

(Image: Kernels.com)

In Part 1 of the series, I looked at catchers and in Part 2, I covered corner infielders. In this post, we’ll look at middle infielders that could spend all or part of their summer in Cedar Rapids.

While I had a little trouble identifying corner infielders likely to wear Kernels uniforms in 2013, I had almost exactly the opposite problem when I looked over the list of potential middle infielders. If anything, I found too many guys who could see time in Cedar Rapids this season.

Adam (A.J.) Pettersen – Age 24 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
93 368 .248 .632 53 28 13 2 2
AJ Pettersen

AJ Pettersen

My first thought was that Pettersen should move up to high-A Fort Myers to start the season and I still think that’s the most likely scenario. However, when I started to look at all of the other middle infielders who could/should play at the high-A level, it occurred to me that, depending on what happens with all of those guys, there simply may not be room for Pettersen with the Miracle.

AJ was drafted in the 25th round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Minnesota and after just a few games with Elizabethton at the end of the 2011 season, Pettersen spent the entire 2012 season in Beloit. He was the epitome of a “utility player” with the Snappers, playing 2B, 3B, SS, LF and DH. In fact, he even pitched an inning. His offensive stat line would indicate to me that spending a few more weeks at Class A while he waits for things to shake out a bit in the middle infield further up the organizational ladder wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Pettersen (though I suspect he might not agree).

If Pettersen does start the season in Cedar Rapids, get to know him quickly because his versatility and experience could make him among the first position players promoted to Fort Myers during the season.

Stephen Wickens – Age 23 – Bats R/Throws R

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

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
59 252 .307 .841 32 34 12 2 2

Wickens was drafted a few rounds behind Pettersen in the 2011 amateur draft out of Florida Gulf Coast University and will turn 24 years old before Opening Day. Unlike Pettersen, Wickens stayed behind in extended spring training to start the 2012 season and played 10 games with Elizabethton before getting a promotion to Beloit. While in E’town, Wickens hit .424 and put up a 1.106 OPS (small sample size warning).

Wickens found the MWL to be more of a challenge, though he still hit .286 at that level and got on base at a .411 clip while serving as the Snappers’ primary shortstop through the second half of their season. He made 11 errors in 159 chances at that position. He also played several games at second base.

If Wickens impresses early, his age would also make him a candidate for promotion by mid year.

Niko Goodrum – Age 20 – Bats: Both/Throws R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
58 269 .242 .768 56 38 12 8 4

Goodrum was the Twins’ 2nd round draft choice in 2010 out of his Georgia high school. He got time in the GCL the summer he was drafted and has spent the past two seasons with Elizabethton. His batting average dipped a bit this past season, compared to 2011, but he apparently found more gaps as he increased his extra-base hits across the board. He also increased his number of walks, though he continued to strike out as often as he hit safely, which is something to work on.

At 6’3″, there’s been some question whether shortstop will ultimately remain Niko’s primary position, but he played 50 games at that position in 2012, as opposed to just 7 at third base, so the Twins appear to be giving him every chance to stick at shortstop. He cut his errors at short almost in half, compared to 2011, so there seems to be every reason for the Twins to keep sending him out to that position.

Many Twins fans already talk about Goodrum potentially being one shortstop in the organization with a chance of providing some long term stability at that position for the Twins in the future. That kind of optimism is evident as Goodrum’s name appears high on most published “Top Twins Prospects” lists for 2013. That makes him certainly a player for Kernels fans to watch closely during his time in Cedar Rapids.

Jorge Polanco – Age 19 – Bats: Both/Throws: R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
51 204 .318 .903 26 20 15 2 5

Polanco was signed to a $700,000 bonus as a Dominican 16 year old back in 2009. He played several games in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 before moving up to the GCL Twins to finish the year. By then, he was already projected to be a top-tier defensive infielder that could also contribute offensively. He repeated the GCL in 2011 and then moved up to Elizabethton for 2012. Jorge showed steady improvement in his offensive game during his first couple of professional seasons, but really took a major leap offensively in 2012 as he showed some power for the first time.

Polanco played 35 games at shortstop and 15 at second base for Elizabethton, committing just eight errors in 233 chances. That’s not bad at all, especially considering that he’s reported to have excellent range and therefore gets to a lot of balls lesser infielders won’t.

Candido Pimentel – Age 22 – Bats: Both/Throws: R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
56 247 .330 .824 42 26 10 3 1

Pimentel was signed as a free agent outfielder out of the Dominican Republic. He played in the Dominican Summer League in 2009, for the GCL Twins in 2010 and 2011 and for Elizabethon in the Appalachian League last summer. After being exclusively an outfielder for his first three years with the Twins organization, Pimentel actually played a few more games at second base for E’town than he did in the outfield.

That kind of flexibility could serve Pimentel well in Cedar Rapids, especially since learning the new position didn’t seem to negatively impact his bat skills. In fact, after seeing his offensive stats dip in 2011, he turned things around again a bit in 2012. In addition to hitting .330, Pimentel got on base at a .405 pace. That’s important, because once he gets on base, he’s a threat to steal.  He also found more gap power in 2012.

It certainly looks like the players listed above will be more than enough to adequately handle the middle infield for the Kernels in 2012, especially if Pettersen does start the season in Cedar Rapids.

The one other name that I believe bears mentioning is probably Aderlin Mejia. I covered Mejia in Part 2 when we looked at corner infielders and because the Twins organization appears to be a bit deeper at this level in the middle infield, I would imagine that if Mejia finds himself in Cedar Rapids at some point in 2013, it would be primarily at third base. That said, if a need for middle infield help does arise later in the season, Mejia could just as easily get a call to fill that role, too.

Next week, we’re going to look at the outfielders and pitchers… I think we’ll really like what we see!

– JC

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about these and other potential Kernels, not to mention pretty much any other prospect in the Twins minor league organization, keep a watch out for Seth Stohs’ 2013 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. Seth and his fellow writers annually provide statistics and write-ups on pretty much every Twins prospect at all levels of the organization. We’ll share the announcement when the 2013 Handbook becomes available, or you could just follow Seth at @SethTweets on Twitter or check in with him at TwinsDaily.com (which you really should be doing anyway).

Prospects and Projects – Projecting the 2013 Kernels, Part 2

In preparation for the first season of the new affiliation between the Twins and my hometown Cedar Rapids Kernels, I’ve embarked on a series of “get to know them” posts. The intention is to give my fellow Kernels fans a little bit of information about the Twins prospects we may be seeing in Kernels uniforms over the course of the summer, understanding full well that it’s impossible to know exactly who will fill the Kernels’ roster  several months before Opening Day.

(Image: Kernels.com)

(Image: Kernels.com)

In Part 1 of the series, I looked at the catchers that are likely to spend time in Cedar Rapids, as well as a few that could find their way here if things fall their way. In this post, we’ll look at corner infielders.

A year ago, the Twins’ Class A team in Beloit had a couple of their biggest power-hitting prospects covering the corner infield positions in Miguel Sano and Kennys Vargas. The Kernels won’t have the organization’s top prospect playing third base for them in 2012, as Beloit did, but there are certainly some similarities between the Snappers’ corner infielders and those that are likely to be manning those positions in Cedar Rapids this summer.

Rory Rhodes – Age 21 – Bats R/Throws R

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

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
70 291 .236 .697 75 27 11 2 8

Rory Rhodes

 

As Twins fans well know, and as Kernels fans are likely to discover, the Twins have historically had quite a pipeline of players coming up through their system out of Australia. Rory Rhodes is yet another member of the fraternity from “down under.”

While still just 21 years old entering the season, 2012 was the fourth year the Brisbane native played in the Twins minor league organization. Rory started the year with Beloit and struggled offensively, hitting less than .200 in his 26 games with the Snappers. (I did personally see him hit a HR in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels that went about as far as I’ve seen one hit to LF in recent years, however.) He fared better once back with E’town, but still struck out more than he and the Twins would like.

Rhodes started his career with the Twins as a third baseman, but was moved across the diamond after a rotator cuff injury a couple of years ago. He did play several games in the outfield in 2012, however. At 6′ 7″ and 200+ pounds, it won’t be hard for Kernels fans to spot the Aussie, wherever he may be positioned on the field.

Travis Harrison – Age 20 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
60 253 .301 .845 51 24 12 4 5

The Twins used the supplemental first round draft pick they acquired by letting Orlando Hudson walk away as a free agent to draft Harrison with the 50th overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft. He held out until just before the 2011 signing deadline when he signed for just over $1 million, but the late signing meant he didn’t get any games in with any Twins affiliate in 2011.

Travis spent 2012 with Elizabethton, where he put up plenty of offense with 21 extra-base hits, including five home runs. However, Harrison also committed 24 errors at third base in 143 chances covering 59 games at the position. By comparison, Sano committed 42 errors in 361 chances at the position for Beloit. In other words, for the second consecutive season, the Twins will apparently be looking at their Class A affiliate to determine if one of their most promising offensive prospects can learn to play a passable third base. Regardless of his defensive skills, however, Harrison is likely to be the Kernels infielder with the most promise. He appears to be a consensus “top 15″ prospect in the Twins organization among those who publish such ratings and had even been listed among the top 10 Twins prospects prior to the Denard Span and Ben Revere trades that brough a couple of highly regarded starting pitching prospects in to the Twins organization.

D. J. Hicks – Age 22 – Bats L/Throws R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
31 136 .270 .817 37 19 7 0 4

Hicks, who was drafted in the 17th round in 2012 out of the University of Central Florida, signed with the Twins in time to get half a season in with Elizabethton. Hicks split his time between 1B and DH with E’town, but apparently held his own on defense, committing just two errors in his 20 games at first base. He will need to make better contact, however, as he had six more strikeouts (37) than he had hits (31) on the season.

If the Kernels happen to host their traditional “get to know the Kernels” event two days before the April 4 season opener and Hicks is a member of their roster, the event could double as a birthday bash for the big first baseman, who will turn 23 years old on April 2.

It’s challenging to identify other corner infielders in the organization that could find their way to Cedar Rapids in 2013. It seems that, in all likelihood, the three guys listed above will get the lion’s share of innings at 1B, 3B and DH, with the odd outfielder or middle infielder taking a turn at 1B or 3B when manager Jake Mauer needs someone to fill in at one of the corners.

However, injuries and promotions often mean players get opportunities to move up that they might not otherwise get. With that in mind, let’s at least take a look at some guys that could be called on… and called up… if necessary.

Aderlin Mejia was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 and played his first year of professional baseball in the Dominican Summer League. He’s spent the past two seasons with the GCL Twins (though he did get a a few opportunities to move across the Fort Myers complex and suit up for the high-A Fort Myers Miracle in 2012). Aderlin hit well in 2012, with a .313 batting average and a .767 OPS. Perhaps most encouraging is that he struck out just 15 times in over 200 plate appearances. Mejia should perhaps be considered more likely to fill a middle infielder role, given that he played only 21 games at 3B last year and 27 in the middle infield, but if the Kernels need a 3B due to promotions or injuries, Mejia looks as likely to be a call-up option as anyone.

Bryan Haar and Joel Licon almost look like identical bookends as potential first and third basemen, respectively.

Haar was drafted by the Twins in the 34th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of San Diego. Licon was chosen nine rounds earlier than Haar out of Orance Coast College. Both signed in time to get a fair number of games in with the GCL Twins, where both put up identical .250 batting averages. Both struggled to make contact, with Haar racking up two fewer Ks than he had hits and Licon striking out two more times than he hit safely.

Haar is strictly a first baseman and is already 23 years old, while Licon turned 22 in December and moved around a bit, playing 10 games in the outfield, 12 games in the middle infield and 22 games at 3B (in addition to 7 games at DH). While both are almost certainly going to be held back in extended spring training and start their years with one of the short-season rookie league teams, it’s possible either could be called on in Cedar Rapids if injuries and/or promotions leave the Kernels in need of a corner infielder later in the year.

Finally, one of the more intriguing young (emphasis on young) corner infield prospects in the Twins organization is Javier Pimentel. Pimentel was signed, for over half a million dollars in bonus money, as a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. After splitting 2011 between the Dominican Summer League and the Twins GCL team, Javier spent all of 2012 in the GCL at age 18, splitting his time mostly at 1B and 3B. His stat line was, to be frank, really bad. He didn’t hit. He didn’t walk. He struck out a lot. But if you assume the scouts who liked him enough to recommend that kind of bonus saw something in him that projects in to a Big League ballplayer, maybe we just need to be patient until he grows in to his frame and figures the game out. Then again, Javier was signed the same week in 2010 that the Twins signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka, so maybe their scouts just had one very bad week that year. It’s all but impossible for Pimentel to see Cedar Rapids this season, but for now, let’s just remember the name.

While the Twins do have a history of drafting college age corner infielders, it’s pretty unlikely that they would send a brand new draftee to Class A the same summer he’s drafted, so we shouldn’t look for much corner infield help from the 2013 draft at least until the 2014 season.

Next: Part 3 – Middle Infielders

– JC

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about these and other potential Kernels, not to mention pretty much any other prospect in the Twins minor league organization, keep a watch out for Seth Stohs’ 2013 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. Seth and his fellow writers annually provide statistics and write-ups on pretty much every Twins prospect at all levels of the organization. We’ll share the announcement when the 2013 Handbook becomes available, or you could just follow Seth at @SethTweets on Twitter or check in with him at TwinsDaily.com (which you really should be doing anyway).