This week on the podcast we struggle through a couple of technical difficulties, and lament the loss of Miguel Sano for the season. This week we take a look in on the Cleveland Indians. We are joined on the podcast by Jason Lukehart (@JasonLukehart) of Let’s Go Tribe to discuss comings and goings for the Indians and what Twins fans can expect from the Tribe in 2014. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.
In this week’s Down on the Pond segment we take a closer look at Twins minor league pitcher David Hurlbut who pitched in Cedar Rapids and Ft Myers last season. Paul commits a beer drinking sin and admits to in on air and is mocked by all. The Twins say goodbye to any hope of signing Johan Santana and there are several jokes made at Delmon Young‘s expense.
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.
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.
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.
It’s no secret that the Minnesota Twins have issues these days with regard to their starting pitching rotation, but is there any hope for the future? The Twins acquired a couple of legitimate starting pitching prospects in trades this offseason, which bodes well for New Britain’s 2013 rotation, but what about here in Cedar Rapids?
After checking out the position players likely to spend time with the 2013 Kernels in Parts 1 through 4 of this series, in Part 5 we’ll take a look at a number of pitchers that Kernels fans are likely to see in the team’s starting rotation during 2013.
One of the challenges in projecting starting pitching vs. bullpen pitching is that, at this level, organizations tend to ask many of their pitchers to spend time in both roles. Nobody really knows for sure which pitchers have a Big League future as a starter and which will eventually find a role in the bullpen. In addition, the Twins will want to limit the number of innings many of their pitching prospects put on their arms during each minor league season. One way to accomplish that is to have even those pitchers clearly earmarked for rotation roles spend a chunk of each minor league season in the pen.
For our purposes, we’ll try to identify a number of pitchers that the Twins clearly are looking at developing as starting pitchers and then, in Part 6, we’ll include those that appear most likely to have futures working in relief.
David Hurlbut – Age 23 – Throws Left
2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)
The Twins liked Hurlbut so much, they drafted him twice! Originally picked by the Twins as a junior college pitcher in the 35th round of the 2009 draft, Hurlbut chose to go to Cal State – Fullerton rather than sign with the Twins at that time. In 2011, the Twins used their 28th round pick to choose Hurlbut again and the lefty threw 66 innings in Elizabethton after signing that summer.
Hurlbut is one example of where the Twins have drafted a college relief pitcher and given him an opportunity to start. He pitched a full season at Beloit in 2012, racking up 111 innings in 25 games, 15 of them as a starter. He doesn’t have overpowering velocity, but his numbers at Beloit improved considerably over his Appy League season. His ERA dropped to 2.76 and his WHIP to 1.171, largely due to allowing almost three fewer hits per nine innings, compared to his Rookie level season.
So after a respectable year at Beloit, why wouldn’t the Twins promote David to Fort Myers in 2013? That’s a fair question and they may well do exactly that. This is simply one of those situations where it looks to me like the rotation in Fort Myers may be pretty crowded to start the year and Hurlbut may be the odd man out for a while. Of course, he could also start out in the Fort Myers bullpen. Even if he does start in CR, he certainly should be one of the first pitchers moved up when pitching spots open up for with the Miracle.
Tyler Jones – Age 23 – Throws Right
2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)
Jones was drafted by the Twins in the 11th round of the 2011 draft out of LSU in time to get just four appearances in for Elizabethton that summer. It’s probably just as well he didn’t get more work in because his seven innings there did not go well at all. He spent the entire season in 2012 at Beloit, where things went much better, but there’s still much room for improvement.
One thing Tyler continues to do is rack up a good number of strikeouts. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, he also gave up better than a hit per inning of work and it wouldn’t hurt for him to figure out how to cut his walks a little, too. Jones throws two different fastballs and can touch the mid-90s, but reports are that his other pitches need to improve.
It’s possible that Jones could open the season in Fort Myers, but I doubt it. It would be tough to say he demonstrated the ability to consistently get outs in the MWL last year and the Twins should have no shortage of rotation options at the high-A level that are more advanced than Jones at this point. If he does start the season in CR, however, don’t expect him to stick around all summer. He’s got the talent to move up quickly if he can cut down on the baserunners he allows.
Taylor Rogers – Age 22 – Throws Left
2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy) and Beloit (Class A – MWL)
Rogers was picked up by the Twins in the 11th round of 2012’s amateur draft out of the University of Kentucky and pitched his way through two levels in his first partial year of professional baseball. Rogers dominated hitters in six starts (covering 30 innings) at Elizabethton, striking out 11.7 hitters per nine innings. He continued to pitch well for Beloit, though, as you’d expect, hitters had more success against him at the higher level. Still, he continued to strike out more than a hitter per inning with Beloit.
Rogers isn’t overpowering with his fastball, but he’s obviously doing something right. The jury is probably still out on whether he’ll end up as a starter or reliever, but as long as his secondary pitches continue to be effective, you have to imagine the Twins will continue giving him opportunities to prove he belongs in future rotations.
Tim Shibuya – Age 23 – Throws Right
2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)
Shibuya will be starting his third season in the Twins organization after being drafted in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft out of the University of California, San Diego. He has dealt with some injuries in both of his professional seasons, so it will be interesting to see if he can stay healthy all summer and, if so, what kind of numbers he can put up.
Shibuya seemed to run a little hot and cold in 2012. He had some very good outings, but too many that weren’t so good. In the end, over 74 innings of work, he racked up a pretty ugly 5.59 ERA and gave up 10.7 hits per nine innings. He had much better numbers in 2011 at Elizabethton, so he’s demonstrated some talent, but at 23, he’ll need to step up his game a bit in 2013. Staying healthy all season would be a good start.
Hudson Boyd – Age 20 – Throws Right
2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)
Boyd was a Supplemental 1st round pick (55th overall) by the Twins in the 2011 draft out of his Fort Myers FL high school, but didn’t sign with the Twins until just before the deadline that summer. As a result, 2012 was his first year of professional baseball. Rather than starting his career in his hometown with the GCL Twins, the big rightie went to Elizabethton after extended spring training.
Hudson didn’t exactly set the league on fire last summer and part of me thinks it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for the Twins to hold him back a bit and promote him to Cedar Rapids later. For a guy who reportedly has a high-90s fastball, he certainly didn’t miss all that many bats in E’town. His K/9 rate needs to be higher and he should not be giving up more than a hit per inning. Still, he didn’t give up all that many runs, so he’s doing something right.
The Twins historically push their top pitching prospects up the organizational ladder faster than they do their hitters. That being the case, I suspect we’ll see Hudson with the Kernels to start the season. Since he threw just 58 innings in 2012, he’s one of the guys we could see spend time both as a starter and in the bullpen during the course of the season. In fact, it’s quite possible he’ll project as a closer as he moves higher up the ladder.
Even after his mediocre first season, he’s still ranked among the Twins top 25 prospects on most such lists. That and his velocity should make him a fun pitcher for Kernels fans to watch.
Jose (J.O.) Berrios – Age 18 – Throws Right
2012: Fort Myers (Rookie – GCL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)
Berrios’ name appears very high on a number of Twins Top Prospects lists, as you’d expect for a pitcher drafted with a Supplemental 1st round pick in 2012 (32nd overall). JO was drafted out of his high school in Puerto Rico and spent most of the summer with the GCL Twins. He did, however, earn a promotion to Elizabethton toward the end of the year, where he got three starts in to help E’town finish off their championship season.
Berrios only started in half of his 14 appearances during the season, however, and as a result he only pitched a total of 30.2 innings. The 18-year-old struck out an amazing 14.4 hitters per nine innings (exceeding 14/9 at both levels) and barely walked more than one batter per nine innings. It’s hard to imagine the Twins pushing him too aggressively this season, so nobody will be surprised if he stays behind in extended spring training and perhaps even heads back to Elizabethton when they start their season in June. At the same time, if he pitches anything like he did last year, there’s little doubt he’ll be wearing a Kernels uniform before the end of the season.
Berrios is a legitimate top-of-the-rotation prospect… something the Twins have very few of in their organization. He won’t turn 19 until May, so the Twins won’t risk overworking the young man’s arm, but I also don’t see them hesitating to promote him to the next level as soon as he shows he can dominate hitters where he’s at. Enjoy him when you get to watch him, Kernels fans. He’s got a chance to be very special.
Angel Mata – Age 20 – Throws Right
2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)
After signing with the Twins as a teenager out of his native Venezuela, Mata spent 2010 in the Dominican Summer League and 2011 with the GCL Twins. At Elizabethton in 2012, he gave up slightly fewer hits per nine innings than he had been previously and even increased his strikeout rate by a full 2 Ks per 9. On the other hand, his walk rate also rose and, at 5.7 per nine innings, that’s a potential concern.
At just 20 years old, however, Mata has time to work on his control and the Twins organization can certainly use all the pitchers capable of missing bats that it can get. Mata has been almost exclusively used as a starting pitcher, thus far, but assuming he opens the season in Cedar Rapids, 2013 will be his first year of “full season” baseball. It will be interesting to see if the Twins limit his innings somewhat by having him spend at least part of the year working out of the bullpen.
That’s just seven names and we all know there will be more starting pitchers toeing the rubber for the Kernels in 2013. Some of the others will be covered in Part 6 when we look at guys that profile primarily as relievers. In addition, the following two pitchers are likely to get looks in Cedar Rapids this season, perhaps even to start the year.
Ricardo Arevalo was signed out of Venezuela in 2009. In three Rookie level seasons, he’s continued to rack up a lot of strikeouts (9.2 K/9 in 2012), but has also given up too many walks. Ricardo will be 22 years old by Opening Day and will probably need to show the organization some progress in the control department this year in Cedar Rapids.
I’m not sure how much of the US Hein Robb has seen during his three summers in Rookie level ball for the Twins organization, but the South Africa native has certainly seen a lot of the world. He played for South Africa’s entry in the World Baseball Classic as a 16-year-old and has continued to be active in international competition. The Twins signed the lefty in 2008 and he put up a 3.73 ERA for Elizabethton in 2012, starting eight games out of 13 appearances and striking out a respectable 8.3 hitters per nine innings.
Quite a list, isn’t it? There’s definitely pitching talent at this level in the Twins organization and we’ll see a lot of it this summer.
Next: We wrap up this series with a look at those pitchers most likely to spend most of their time pitching in relief for the Kernels in 2013.
I drove up to Beloit over the weekend to catch a couple of baseball games between the Twins’ Class A affiliate, the Snappers, and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The Rattlers and Snappers finished first and second, respectively, in the first-half standings of the Midwest League’s Western Division, so I anticipated that they would play some decent baseball. They did.
If you want to read a lot about the games themselves, I’m going to refer you to the daily reports being posted by Seth Stohs over at Twins Daily. Seth and Travis Aune were in Beloit the past few days, as well, and I got to spend some time with them. I also met Jeremy Nygaard and his brother Jed on Saturday. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk a little baseball with the group and appreciated their willingness to let an old man like me tag along with them for a day and a half.
For my part, I’m going to simply post a whole bunch of pictures I took and let it go at that. Except for this one thing… I’ve mentioned from time to time rumors that the Twins and my own local MWL team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, might consider entering in to a Player Development Contract starting next year. That’s all they are, at this point, just rumors. Neither party is allowed to discuss the possibility or make any comment on the topic until September. As I think I’ve also posted before, I think the odds are about 50-50. I’m aware that some others think the odds are a bit greater.
Of course, in Beloit there is some concern. They don’t want to lose the Twins. I don’t blame them. They were abandoned by the Brewers a few years ago and nobody likes being told, “we don’t want to be your MLB affiliate anymore.”
The Beloit staff don’t deserve to go through that. They are hard working people who put on a good show at Pohlman Field. The word you hear is that they don’t draw well in Beloit. I suppose that may be true, but I saw a good crowd on Saturday night and an even much better crowd on Sunday. Fireworks Saturday night and a Prince Fielder “BobbleArm” promotion Sunday probably helped, but all minor league teams rely on promotions to draw crowds. It was fun to see the hard work of the Snapper staff rewarded by appreciative crowds.
The problem is the stadium, not the Snappers operation or the fans themselves. Pohlman Field is beyond outdated. I’ve heard it said that it’s the “worst” facility among the 16 teams in the MWL. I’ve only been to three of them, so I can’t speak to how accurate that is. I know it’s tough to come up with funds to build new ballparks or even remodel old ones to bring them up to acceptable standards. I don’t know if Beloit will ever solve that problem. I hope they do.
But professional baseball is a business. A dozen years ago, Cedar Rapids faced losing its team if it didn’t replace their old stadium. The same choice has faced a number of other MWL communities over the past 20 years. Some, like CR, built new ballparks. Some, like Davenport, remodeled old ones. Others determined that they simply could not raise the funds to do so and gave up their franchises to other communities that were able to provide appropriate facilities. I felt bad for some of those cities and I don’t wish to see that kind of thing happen to Beloit. Whether the Twins stay there or elect to move their affiliation elsewhere, I hope Beloit can find a way to survive and eventually thrive as a member of the league.
So here are the pictures. Several of them, actually. I was going to just post a few but then I decided there’s no reason to hold back. We don’t pay for blog space by the inch around here.
While the Twins were winning the opening game of their series with the Reds Friday night, I was spending just about a perfect night watching minor league baseball. The Beloit Snappers (the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate) opened the second half of their season here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.
The temperature was right about 80 degrees with a slight breeze and there was a sizable crowd of a bit over 3,000 people in Memorial Stadium for the game. Among that crowd, I counted at least 18 scouts perched in seats directly behind home plate. It’s not at all unusual to see scouts at a MWL game, but I typically see 6-8 with their notebooks and radar guns, so seeing so many scouts in attendance is a bit unusual.
Among that group was one familiar face, as well. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was pretty easy to spot as he shook hands with a scout wearing a shirt with a Yankees logo and sat in a nearby seat.
The game itself was never at all competitive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to watch. The Snappers scored a run in the first inning off of Kernels starting pitcher Cam Bedrosian (son of former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian). In fact, they scored a run off of Bedrosian in each of the first three innings and three more runs in the fourth inning.
Snappers starting pitcher David Hurlbut gave up a single to the second Kernels batter he faced in the first inning… and that would turn out to be the final hit that a Snapper pitcher would give up all night. Hurlbut threw seven shutout innings, walked three hitters and struck out four. Tim Atherton and Corey Williams each added an inning of relief without giving up a hit, as well.
Snappers hitters, on the other hand, racked up 11 hits on their way to a 7-0 win to start off the second half of their MWL season. The only extra base hits for the Snappers on the night were RBI doubles by Nate Hanson, Steve Liddle and Tyler Grimes. Twins top prospect Miguel Sano had a single in four ABs, with one walk and one strikeout on the night.
In fact, the Snapper lineup avoided getting even their first strikeout through six innings. We’ll try to disregard the fact that once the first K got recorded, Kernel relief pitcher Carmine Giardina sat down five Snappers in just the 7th and 8th innings, alone.
A sizable number of the fans in attendance were wearing Twins gear, as is usually the case when the Snappers come to town. I’m still holding out some hope that the Twins will strike an affiliate deal with the local ballclub starting next year. I continue to hear from pretty reliable local sources that there is some level of mutual interest, so we’ll see how that works out after the season.
After the game, I did approach Terry Ryan just to have him sign the scorecard I’d been keeping of the game. I expected him to either decline or reluctantly sign and walk away, but instead he not only signed my scorecard but initiated a short conversation. He asked if I lived in Cedar Rapids and how I came to be a Twins fan. I told him about having grown up the son of a HS baseball coach in Albert Lea and that my picture is hanging in the Albert Lea Applebees restaurant to prove it. He laughed and said he’d have to stop there some time and check it out. It was just a brief chat, but he couldn’t have been more gracious.
The Snappers will be back at it here on Saturday night and I’ll likely be there taking in the game, as well. The two teams were even accommodating enough to schedule an afternoon game on Sunday so I have a chance to watch that game, too, before I have to catch a flight to Florida Sunday evening.
I’ll add a few more pictures I took at the game below, for your viewing pleasure. (Fellow bloggers, feel free to pilfer them to post in your blogs, as you may find cause to do.)
That’s enough for tonight. I’ll probably snap a few more either Saturday or Sunday.