Hendriks vs Trout… I’ve Seen This Before

Barring something unforeseen happening, when Twins starting pitcher Liam Hendriks toes the rubber Wednesday night, he’ll be staring down Angels’ top prospect Mike Trout, who’s been hitting in the leadoff spot for the Halos since being promoted a few days ago.

Talk about déjà vu flashbacks.

Liam Hendriks

Just over two years ago, the Beloit Snappers opened their season against the Angels’ Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and I sat through a 10-inning 1-0 Snappers win in 37 degree temperatures. You can read all about it and see how photo-happy I was in those days by clicking here to go back to a Knuckleballs post I put up after the game.

You’ll note from the story that Liam Hendriks started that game for the Snappers and pitched five strong innings. What you won’t read in that story, because I focused so much on the Snappers, is that Mike Trout was the starting centerfielder for the Kernels.

Mike Trout

By the way, I’ve already started gathering my Mike Trout collectables… I’ve got a pack of Kernels baseball cards from 2010 with Trout’s card right up there on top and the Kernels gave away Mike Trout bobbleheads at their home opener this season. Yes, I made sure I was there early enough to be one of the first 1,000 in the gate (which I needn’t have done… they were still handing them out to people who came through the turnstiles at game time).

So, yes, I’ve seen Liam Hendriks face Mike Trout already.

If you regularly attend minor league games, you become accustomed to seeing a fortunate few of these kids eventually wear Major League uniforms, but I have to admit that seeing two of them rise to become Big Leaguers in just two years after playing here in Cedar Rapids seems rare. As it turns out, though, maybe it’s not as rare as I think. Three of Trout’s team mates on that 2010 Kernels team have already made their MLB debuts. Trout’s the only position player, but pitchers David Carpenter, Garrett Richards and Patrick Corbin have all already made appearances for the Angels or, in Corbin’s case, the D’Backs.

That Snappers line up on Opening Day 2010 was nothing to sneeze at either. Hendriks is the only 2010 Snapper to make the Big Leagues (unless you count JJ Hardy, who rehabbed with Beloit for three games that season), but it won’t be that way for long. Check out the picture I posted of my scorecard from that game in April, 2010.

See any familiar names? How about… Brian Dozier at SS. He’s still in Rochester, but it shouldn’t be long before he joins his former Snapper team mate Hendriks in Minnesota.

Aaron Hicks and James Beresford were in the line up that day… both have reached AA New Britain now. So has pitcher Dakota Watts, who also was with Beloit at the start of 2010. BJ Hermsen pitched in Beloit that year, as well, but I don’t believe he even began the year there. Now, he’s also a Rock Cat after being promoted recently.

You’ll also see names like Angel Morales, Michael Gonzales, Danny Rams and Anderson Hidalgo on that scorecard. While their former team mate Hendriks is in The Show, they’ve progressed just one rung up the ladder to High-A Ft. Myers since that Opening Day two years ago. But they’re still chasing that dream.

Wednesday night (and likely Thursday and Friday, as well), I’ll be out at Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids again… watching this year’s Beloit Snappers face the current Cedar Rapids Kernels. I’ll have my eyes on the “big names” like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario, arguably the Twins two top prospects, but who else will stand out? Which of these “kids” will have a chance to live the fairy tale some day and wear a Big League uniform for the Twins or Angels… or maybe another organization if that should be their fate?

For about $10, you can get the best seat in the house at a minor league ballpark like the one we have here in Cedar Rapids. For that price, you get to watch future Major League ballplayers play baseball. How can you beat that?

Man, I love this game.

- JC

Snappers Wrap

Tuesday night saw the finale of the Beloit/Cedar Rapids series and once again, things didn’t go real well for the Snappers as they fell to the Kernels 5-1. I stuck around through the 7th inning stretch but I couldn’t resist the urge to get home and watch the last half of the Twins/White Sox game.

Rather than give a whole lot of facts and figures from the game, I thought I would just post a few of the short video clips I recorded, with little or no commentary. Hope you enjoy getting a little taste of the Twins’ Class A Midwest League affiliate and I apologize in advance for the poor video quality. I’ve had this camera for about three years now, I think, and it’s the first time I’ve ever tried the ‘video’ feature.

The Snappers lone run in this game was accounted for by a Danny Rams home run in the 2nd inning (don’t you love it when the idiots sitting in front of you decide to stand up to let their ill-behaved kids change seats just as someone launches the ball over the LCF wall?).

 

James Beresford singled…

 

… and Beresford broke up a double play.

Rams catches a pop foul.

Aaron Hicks, out with an injured pinky finger, coaches first base.

Steven Liddle steals second base.

Despite a throwing error, the Snappers nail a runner at home.

Lance Ray singles.

Reggie Williams singles.

Daniel Santana called out on a bunt attempt… looks like he was still in the box to me.

Unless the Snappers find their way in to the MWL Playoffs (not totally out of the question yet, but they need to start kicking it in gear), this will be their last visit to Cedar Rapids for the season. I really enjoyed watching the effort they put out in the three series here this year and I look forward to seeing how they’ve matured by the time I see them in Spring Training in 2011.

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After the Twins finished putting on their woopin’ of the BitchSox Tuesday night, Seth Stohs of sethspeak.net invited me to join him for a few minutes in the second half of his Minor League Weekly podcast. We talked about my impressions and observations concerning many of the Snapper players I saw play here in Cedar Rapids this season (along with a couple of shameless plugs for Knuckleballs, of course). Ft. Myers Miracle pitcher Bruce Pugh was his guest for the first half hour or so of the program and I freely admit he was a heck of a lot more interesting than I was! Give it a listen, if you have some time today. Of course, I’d like to thank Seth for having me on the program. – JC

A Snapper Weekend

As I mentioned in my little essay about minor league baseball on Saturday, the Twins’ Midwest League (low-A) affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are in Cedar Rapids taking on the Kernels in a four game series that runs through Tuesday. I’ve been to the first two games of the series, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and I’m hoping to get out to the Tuesday game, as well. Monday’s game is a noon start so that would could be a bit iffy. (The blogging gig hasn’t blossomed to the point where I can quit my day job… yet.)

Saturday night, I was at the game with family and friends and friends of family, so the social aspect was fine. It was a pleasant enough evening, just a bit on the humid side, but nothing compared to what it was a week or so ago (or what it would be on Sunday). But the game itself was among the more difficult professional games to watch I’ve been to in a while.

Snapper/Kernel games are always a bit of a challenge for me, anyway. I’m a Kernels fan, of course, since they’re my hometown team. But when the Snappers come to town, I also look forward to seeing the Twins’ young prospects do well. So I root for the Kernels to win and the Beloit players to do well individually.

Pitcher Pedro Guerra and Danny Rams (1B)

Saturday night, the Kernels won the game 10-4, and it wasn’t among the better efforts I’ve seen out of the Snappers.  Top prospect Aaron Hicks, had a nice double down the LF line in the first inning and I got to see Pedro Guerra get his first start since being called up to Beloit. The Snappers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead through two innings. Guerra had a respectable debut, though he didn’t throw the ball particularly hard. He gave up a couple of runs in the third inning and left after giving up a walk and a double to the first two hitters he faced in the 5th.

That’s when the wheels fell off.

The Kernels sent 8 players to the plate in the 5th inning while taking a 7-5 lead in what had to be one of the longest half innings I’ve witnessed all year, purely in terms of time elapsed. Deliberate pitching, hitters stepping out of the box over and over, an error or two and a pitching change made that half inning drag on forever.

There aren’t many bright spots among your pitching staff in a 10-4 loss, but Nelvin Fuentes entered the game in the bottom of the 7th and went on to strike out 3 in two scoreless, hitless, innings to finish the night. It was also a tough night for the Snappers in the field as they ended up being charged with 5 errors on the game. Second baseman Reggie Williams had a nice night at the plate, going 2 of 4 with a double (that I thought should have been ruled a triple).

After doubling, Aaron Hicks takes his lead in front of Kernel SS Jon Karcich

But the great thing about baseball is that there’s always another game tomorrow. In this case, the Snappers bounced back from Saturday’s 10-4 loss to win Sunday afternoon 10-9. Yes, they did still have some pitching issues and yes, they did rack up 4 more errors, so it may not SEEM like it was much of an improvement, but I’ll guarantee it was a happier clubhouse after the game than the night before.

Pitcher Martire Garcia and 3B Reggie Williams

Danny Rams leads off behind Jeremy Cruz and in front of Jean Segura after a walk. He added a 2B and a HR in the game.

For the second straight game, Beloit manager Nelson Prada sent a pitcher to the mound for his first start as a Snapper. Sunday, it was Martire Garcia making his MWL debut. Garcia got off to a bit of a rocky start the first two innings but settled down and hung a couple of zeros on the board for the Kernels in the 3rd and 4th innings before calling it a day.

Nelson Prada's not telling the umpire a fish story

Of course, Prada didn’t see much of Garcia’s performance as he was tossed early in the bottom of the first inning for arguing with the home plate umpire over whether a Kernel double down the RF line was fair or foul. That left the team in the capable hands of Twins fans’ old friend Tommy Watkins, who’s the Snapper hitting coach.

And his hitters were doing their jobs at the plate (if not so much in the field). 1B Danny Rams and CF Aaron Hicks brought the big lumber. Rams went 2-3 with a walk, double and a home run. He also scored 3 runs. Hicks was 3-4 with two doubles.

Tommy Watkins signals pitches to his catcher

Once again, the pitchers struggled a bit, but lefty reliever Matt Tone managed to shut the Kernels out in his two innings (the 7th and 8th) of relief. That allowed Beloit the cushion to withstand a 9th inning rally and hang on to their 10-9 win.

It was one long, hot day at the ballpark for these guys following a very long game the night before.  We’re approaching mid-August. It’s hot. They’ve been playing baseball virtually every day since they reported for Spring Training over five months ago. But that didn’t stop Aaron Hicks and Steven Liddle from diving for balls in the outfield (Liddle also showed off his arm on an impressive throw to the plate) or Reggie Williams from diving for hard ground balls down the line at 3B or James Beresford and Derek McCallum from hanging tough on double plays at 2B. And Josmil Pinto caught a day game in oppressive heat and humidity after catching the game the night before. The execution isn’t perfect, but there’s no doubting their effort and that bodes well for the future of our favorite Major League team.

Finally, just because we’re all Tommy Watkins fans, one last picture of Tommy positioning his outfielders from the bench Saturday night. – JC

Of Snappers and Kernels and Other Minor (League) Stuff

I’m probably not going to be seeing much of the Twins games this weekend. It’s not because I’m frustrated by their lack of hitting (though I am), but rather because the Beloit Snappers (the Twins Low A affiliate) are in town starting tonight for a four-game series… their final visit to Cedar Rapids of the year.

This is the third trip this season that the Snappers have made to Cedar Rapids this season and I’ve managed to get out to watch over half of the games they’ve played here. The last couple of years, Beloit’s only made the trip down here one or two times, so I’m enjoying getting to see so many games featuring these future Twins.

I don’t know how many of you ever attend minor league games or even live in a community that has a local team. I can only speak for myself, but there really aren’t many more enjoyable ways to spend a summer evening (or afternoon, for that matter) and do so on a budget.

Perfect Game Field at Memorial Stadium, Cedar Rapids

I’ve attended minor league games in Florida (High A) and Arkansas (AA), in addition to Iowa and I don’t believe I’ve ever spent more than $10 for a ticket… and usually a bit less. The highest priced ticket at Memorial Stadium here in Cedar Rapids is $10. It will get you a front row seat by the dugout or pretty much anywhere in the first few rows behind home plate from dugout to dugout. $7 gets you and your blanket in to stretch out on the grassy Lawn Seating area next to the visitors bullpen area. My favorite food is a ribeye sandwich that is grilled in a tent right behind the Lawn Seating area. I think they hit me up for about $6 for that and it’s probably about the most expensive food item in the ballpark.

Of course if you really want to live well, you can rent one of the available sky suites for you and a few of your closest friends. That will run you $500 plus food. I know that sounds like a lot, but I’m checking out StubHub for tickets for the Twins/Angels series in a couple of weeks at Target Field and I’ll easily spend $500 for some pretty mediocre seats for my family. So I guess it’s all relative.

Angels #3 Prospect Mike Trout

As for the baseball itself, the Kernels are usually pretty competitive and that’s the case this season as well. Their CF the first half of the season was Mike Trout, the Angels #3 prospect (according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings) who performed well in the Futures All Star Game last month and is already doing very well with his High-A team since being promoted. He’ll be arriving in Anaheim Stadium perhaps as early as September 2011.

The Kernels best pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, is a talented lefty who was also one of the Angels top 10 prospects. I say “was” because he signed his first contract with the Angels one year ago today… and by tomorrow he’ll be announced as the “player to be named later” heading to the D’Backs organization to finalize the trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels. Trust me, that deal wasn’t nearly as one-sided in favor of the Angels as the ‘talking heads’ have made it out to be.

Alexi Casilla rehabbed as a Beloit Snapper

But this is a Twins blog, so let me just mention a few of the Twins prospects I’ve been able to catch on their trips to Cedar Rapids in just the past couple of years. In fact, let me start with the guy in the picture at the right, Alexi Casilla. Lexi played two rehab assignment games for the Snappers here in Cedar Rapids in 2008 before rejoining the Twins. But that wasn’t the first time we saw Casilla here. He was a member of the Kernels for a few games at the end of the 2004 season and for the first half of the 2005 season, before being promoted to AA. (He was traded from the Angels to the Twins after the 2005 season for J.C. Romero.) You might say he was a local favorite.

Twins #6 and #41 Prospects, Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo

Over the past two seasons, when the Snappers have visited Cedar Rapids, I’ve had the pleasure watching pitchers Steven Blevins, Liam Hendriks (14), B.J. Hermsen (15), Brad Stillings, Tom Stuifbergen (22), Daniel Osterbrock and Billy Bullock (28) pitch against the Kernels. I’ve seen position prospects Danny Rams (33), James Beresford (40), Anderson Hidalgo (41), Steve Liddle (47), Micahel Gonzales, Angel Morales (6) and Aaron Hicks (2) get their swings in. (Those numbers in parens indicate the player’s ranking in Seth Stohs’ “Top 50 Twins Prospects” list this past June.)

Cards #1 Prospect Shelby Miller

Of course, I don’t just go to games when the Snappers come to town. For example, a week or so ago, I went out to catch a game with the Cardinals’ affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits. While Trout is no longer with the Kernels, I did get to watch the Cardinals’ #1 prospect (according to Baseball America) Shelby Miller pitch against the Kernels. His catcher that day was the Cards’ #10 prospect, Robert Stock.

The Kernels play in a nice stadium and the Angels consistently send enough of their top prospects to CR to assure that the team is at least competitive. In fact, they won the first half division title this year so they’re already assured of a spot in the Midwest League playoffs next month.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll probably spend close to $1,000 for tickets, parking, food, hotel rooms and gas to take my family up to Minneapolis for the Twins’ weekend series with the Angels at Target Field (not to mention some time at the Renaissance Festival). I’ll have a great time, I’m sure.  But tonight and tomorrow, I’ll watch future Twins face off with future Angels about 2 miles from where I live and even after ticket, parking (which is free), food and a couple of beers, I probably won’t spend over $20 either day.

How can you beat that? – JC

Can the Snappers get the sweep that the Twins couldn’t?

Well we already know the Twins phoned it in on yet another sweep opportunity, but how about their Midwest League (low-A) affiliate, the Beloit Snappers? The Snappers took the first two games of a 3-game series with MWL-West Division leaders, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. That sets up Thursday night’s opportunity to get out the brooms.

I sat through the 3.5 hour game Tuesday night, mostly because the Snappers seemed to fall asleep after putting up 6 runs in the second inning, allowing the Kernels to sneak back to within a run heading in to the final couple of innings. The Snappers added a couple of late runs, however, for an 8-5 win.

Michael Gonzales works out during Spring Training under the watchful eye of Tom Kelly

The Snappers’ big first baseman, Michael Gonzales, hit one of the longest, hardest, home runs I’ve seen in the 30+ years I’ve been going to minor league games here. The 6’6″ 245# Gonzales entered the game hitting only about .170 but he had 7 home runs and wasted no time racking up #8, hitting the first pitch he saw way beyond the RF wall. It would be an exaggeration to say the ball was still on the rise when it cleared the fence, but the ball WAS still nearly the height of the RF foul pole (40-45 feet up) as it cleared. The sound of the ball on the bat is just different with some guys when they connect. That was the case with Gonzales’ HR.

As a consolation prize, the Kernels clinched a MWL playoff spot when 3rd place Clinton lost their game Tuesday night.

Wednesday’s game was a noontime matinee game and I hoped to get to see 3-4 innings or so over my lunch hour. It was not to be. For the second consecutive game, the Snappers put a 6-spot on the board in the second inning. This time it was infielder Anderson Hidalgo and catcher Danny Rams who went yard for the Snappers. I was happy for Rams, in particular. He had a tough night Tuesday night, hitting in to a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play once and leaving runners in scoring position in at least a couple of other plate appearances (which makes you wonder a bit if the Twins are starting to TEACH that crap in the lower levels, doesn’t it?).

There was a bit of a scare early when CF Aaron Hicks fouled a ball off of his back foot. He stayed in the game but definitely favored that ankle. In the end, this time the Snappers kept the pedal to the metal and came away with an 11-2 win.

I’d like to have a few pictures to share, but I discovered something about photography the hard way, Tuesday night. Apparently, rechargeable AA batteries have to actually be recharged after they’ve been used up in order for them to pr0vide enough power for a camera to operate properly… or at all, for that matter. Ah well, live and learn, right?

Which brings us to tonight’s game. BJ Hermsen (an Iowa kid out of West Delaware HS) is pitching for the Snappers as they go for the sweep. Check back later for results and, hopefully, a few pictures from the game (both sets of batteries have been recharged).

No word yet on whether the Snappers will be following what has become the parent Twins’ standard procedure of resting many of their regulars in an excessively sportsmanlike attempt to avoid hurting the feelings of an opponent by sweeping them. – JC

Opening Day, down on the ‘farm’ with the Beloit Snappers

Thursday was “Opening Day” for minor league teams across the country and I took advantage of the opportunity to watch the Twins’ Class A affiliate in the Midwest League, the Beloit Snappers, open their season on the road here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.

Beloit Snappers Opening Night 2010

Let me just say, I really intended to catch 6-7 innings and then head home to watch the Twins and Angels by the time they got things going out in California. But with the Snappers and Kernels locked in a scoreless contest, there’s no way I was leaving until the game was decided. That happened, finally, in the 10th inning on a Michael Gonzales single that drove in Brian Dozier with the first run of the game, followed immediately by Derek McCallum scoring an insurance run on a throwing error by the Kernels’  Casey Haerther.

Truth be told, however, the game never should have made it to extra innings. Beloit loaded the bases with one out in the top of the sixth inning with a single by 3B Anderson Hidalgo, a double by RF Angel Morales, and an intentional walk to Aaron Hicks. That’s when Kernels relief pitcher Buddy Boshers uncorked a wild pitch and Hidalgo broke for home. Yes, the plate umpire called Hidalgo out, but you be the judge…

Anderson Hidalgo leads off 3B and Angel Morales is at 2B

Anderson Hidalgo is... out? Yeah... that was the call. Resulting in a scoreless tie headed to extra innings

Snappers pitchers struck out 15 Kernels over the 10 innings. Which is impressive… but not quite as impressive as the 16 K’s tallied by Kernels pitching. Derek McCallum wins some sort of award, I suppose, by virtue of being the only Snapper NOT to strike out, as he doubled in the 2nd inning, grounded to the first baseman in the 5th, and flew out to left field in the 7th, before being hit by a pitch in the 10th and eventually scoring the Snappers’ second run. Michael Gonzales was the sole Snapper with more than one hit, going 2-4, including a single that drove in the game winning run in the 1oth.

Liam Hendriks dominated for his five innings. Michael Gonzales (at 1B) was the only Snapper with more than one hit.

Liam Hendriks struck out 7 Kernels in 5 innings of work, including 5 of the final 6 hitters he faced. Tom Stuifbergen relieved Hendriks in the 6th and barely missed a beat as he recorded three strikeouts, sandwiched around a single, in his one inning of relief.

Tom Stuifbergen struck out three in his sole inning on the mound.

On a personal note, let me just say, for the benefit of those of you considering a visit to Target Field later this month… 10 innings of baseball in temperatures that drop below 40 degrees during the course of a game makes for a very cold evening! By all means, don’t let it dissuade you from going to the game, but dress appropriately!

To wrap up this post, just a few more pictures from Opening Night in Cedar Rapids…

Snappers Catcher Danny Rams

Angel Morales and Anderson Hidalgo before the game

Aaron Hicks robs Eric Oliver of a hit in the 5th inning.

Brian Dozier scores the game's first run in the top of the 10th.

Snappers are 1-0!

Yes... I stayed through the entire 10 innings, despite the 37 degree weather