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).

Twins: Foreign/Domestic, New/Old, Friend/Foe

Just a few things that have come up around TwinsWorld lately that we haven’t gotten around to commenting about yet.

International Flavor:

Hope this is "our" Javier Pimentel. If not... oh well, worth a try, right?

In the past week, the Twins have submitted the high bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and signed the supposed #10 prospect in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic, 17-year-old infielder Javier Pimentel. This continues the trend, started a couple of years ago, of the Twins flexing their international muscles more than a bit. They’ve had a strong presence in Australia for some time, but they’ve now made a name for themselves in the European, Latin American and Japanese markets, as well.

You have to give the Twins front office credit for not waiting for the increased revenues from Target Field before starting to bolster their international scouting organizations. Rather than waiting until the ballpark opened to start the long process of establishing a presence, learning how things worked, and getting to know the markets, they started doing all of that pretty much as soon as they had a deal in place to build the ballpark. As a result, now that the money is available, they’re already a recognized “brand” in those markets and it appears we’re seeing the fruits of those labors starting to be realized.

Red Dog gets a gig:

The Big Lug

Our old friend Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond has been announced as the new manager of the Blue Jays Midwest League affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. It will be interesting to hear whether his BP style (if you can call being naked a “style”) is passed along to his players. Red Dog will be hanging out with Lansing mascot “The Big Lug”, who is certainly no TC Bear (but then, who is?). In any event, I’m already looking forward to seeing Red when the Lugnuts travel to Cedar Rapids to face the Kernels in 2011. Good luck NBP!

Keeping an Eye on the Competition:

It’s starting to look like it may be difficult to recognize some of the Twins’ AL Central competitors in 2011. The Tigers have been the media’s big “winner” in the free agent market so far, having added Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit to their ranks. It doesn’t look like they’ll have familiar faces Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Maglio Ordonez  around any more (though word is that they could still re-sign Mags). Detroit had something like $50 million in contracts come off their books after this season, so they’re still looking to add more. I have to say, though, that I think they’re overpaying for what they’re buying. I understand they probably had to overpay to get the guys they wanted, but in a year or two, I think they’ll be saddled with contracts they wish they didn’t have.

The bitchiest Bitch Sox?

The White Sox could very easily have neither Paul Konerko nor our old friend AJ Pierzynski in uniform next season. GM Kenny Williams always pulls some sort of surprise signing out of his butt so I’m sure they’ll make a splash yet. But they apparently don’t have a lot of salary room and his deals seem to almost always blow up in the Sox’ face, so it’s hard to worry too much about them getting a lot better. Admit it though… it won’t be nearly as much fun hating the Bitch Sox if their chief bitch, AJ, isn’t around, will it? On the other hand, if he gets no other offers and has to return to Chicago on some sort of minimum wage deal, that might be kinda humorous. As for Paulie, I hope he finds a nice place to play ball… preferably in the National League. I don’t want to see him back in Target Field unless it’s in the World Series… or he’s wearing a Twins uniform (or both). [UPDATE: Appears I may have spoken too soon. The Sox have signed Adam Dunn to a 4-year, $56 million deal and still are interested in bringing Konerko back. If they manage to sign both, there’s no doubt they’ll be improved. Twins should hope they stop at Dunn and let him play 1B]

Media experts keep talking about how the Royals have all these great young players coming up through their system and that now is the time for them to trade Zack Greinke. I’m on record already as wanting the Twins in on that action if the Royals are serious about letting him go, but after reading that his “partial no-trade” clause expires at mid-season (meaning after that date, the Royals are not limited with regard to who they can trade him to), I don’t really expect KC to get serious about letting him go until the trade deadline. And as for the Royals actually getting competitive… I’ve heard it all before, so pardon me if I’m skeptical until I see evidence on the field above the AA level.

Finally, there’s the Indians. I haven’t really heard or read anything of interest about Cleveland except that they’re the only team I’ve read about (other than possibly the Twins, of course) having an interest in signing Nick Punto. I guess if there’s one franchise around who could use a Tiny Superhero, it’s the Indians. By the way,we’re hearing that one of the things Nishioka is known for over in Japan is… wait for it… yes… sliding head first in to first base. Sigh.

New Road Jersey:

In case you missed it, the lone change to the Twins’ uniform options in 2011 will be a new alternate road jersey. It’s a navy blue jersey with the same “script Minnesota” across the chest that the grey road jersey has.

The Twins dropped the very popular navy “block MINNESOTA” road jersey from their options a couple of years ago and, since then, the only alternate road jersey has been the same “script Twins” jersey that’s also worn at home.

Twins new "alternate" road jersey for 2011

As others have pointed out, the Twins tended to wear their navy jersey most of the time, at home and on the road, through the middle third or so of the season. The home whites and road greys seemed to be worn regularly early and later in the season and some people wondered if it had to do with superstitions among the players.

While I’m certainly not going to reject that possibility, because ballplayers are notoriously superstitious, I think there’s actually a more likely reason. The navy jerseys are made of much lighter weight material and during the dog days of June, July and August, the players (especially the starting pitchers, who have traditionally chosen the jersey they want to wear for their starts) opt for the coolest jersey among their choices. Conversely, they were more likely to wear the heavier (and warmer) white or grey jerseys during the cooler spring/fall parts of the season.

While the new road jersey will hopefully give them a second light-weight option, the real question that you would think someone would get around to asking is, “Why can’t they make a second set of white/grey jerseys out of the cooler material?”

Anyway… maybe we should keep track, here at Knuckleballs, of how many times each jersey is worn by the Twins next season. It seems like one of those interesting, if not at all important, pieces of information that would fit in nicely around here.

– JC