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.
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)
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)
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)
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
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).