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).

Snappers Weekend Wrap

I had to leave Sunday’s Snappers game with the Cedar Rapids Kernels a couple innings early in order to get ready to catch a flight, but the Kernels had the game pretty well in hand by the time I walked out the gate.

The Snappers scored one run in the top of the first inning, but probably should have had more. Nate Roberts and JD Williams each singled to start the game and Miguel Sano sent a towering fly ball to right field, which bounced off the top of the high wall and back in to play. Roberts scored, but Williams stopped at second base. That fact that apparently was lost on Sano… at least until Sano had rounded second base, himself. They don’t allow one runner to pass a runner ahead of him in this game and that meant Sano was called out. The Snappers didn’t score again.

Pitcher Steven Gruver, 3B Miguel Sano, RP Cole Johnson in the bullpen

Steven Gruver had a little trouble getting out of the first inning, as well. giving up a single, a double and two walks to the Kernels in the bottom of the frame. That had the game tied at 1 after an inning. Gruver settled down a bit after that, though he did make a couple of mistakes that led to two Kernel solo home runs, before finishing his day after five innings of work. He was relieved by Cole Johnson, a late round 2011 pick by the Twins who made his first appearance for the Snappers since joining them from extended spring training.

I’m writing this before the game has finished, but I’m going to assume the 7-1 lead the Kernels held after seven innings will probably hold up, meaning the Snappers will take the series 2 games to 1. (Update: final score, 9-1)

Twins GM Terry Ryan (red shirt), Steve Bedrosian (white shirt)

Twins GM Terry Ryan was in the crowd again today, as was the full contingent of close to 20 scouts who have attended every game of the series. (I thought their numbers were reduced Saturday night, but was told today that they were all there… but many had to be seated in other areas due to the Kernels selling out the game.) Ryan was actually seated just across the aisle from former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian, who’s son, Cam, was the starting pitcher for the Kernels Friday night.

It was just about a perfect weekend for baseball in Cedar Rapids and, as usual, I loved every minute I was out there watching the kids on both teams play. The Angels haven’t done the Cedar Rapids organization any favors this year with the level of talent they’ve dispatched to the Kernels roster (a sign, some say, that they know they won’t be signing a new affiliation agreement with CR this off-season), but the players who are here are a great group of guys and give plenty of effort.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels organization does a great job and they deserve a better affiliation… something I hope the Twins will fix before Opening Day, 2013.

Finally, a few more pictures from today before I head to the airport.

– JC

Tyler Grimes coaching 1B

Starting pitcher Steven Gruver

DH Drew Leachman

1B Steve Liddle graps a pop up with 2B AJ Pettersen looking on

2B AJ Pettersen

Catcher Jairo Rodriguez

3B Miguel Sano