Since we’ve officially turned the calendar to 2013, it means Spring Training gets underway in just a few weeks and before you know it, we’ll be getting ready for Opening Day!
With this being the first year of the new Class A affiliation between the Twins and my hometown Cedar Rapids Kernels, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to bring more Kernels-centric writing to Knuckleballs and I figure there’s no time like the present to get started.
Over the coming days (or perhaps weeks), I’m going to try to introduce most, if not all, of the players that we may expect to see wearing Kernels uniforms this summer. Granted, there’s no way of knowing with any certainty who we’ll actually find on the Kernels’ roster to open the season, but we can certainly make some educated guesses… and if I run out of those, I’ll just pull a few wild names out of thin air and talk about those players, too!
The Opening Day roster will be limited to 25 players, but we’ll have no such limits here! It took almost no time at all for me to throw together a list of about 35 players in the Twins organization that look to me like reasonable bets to spend some time in Cedar Rapids this summer. Some will start the year in extended spring training and perhaps spend time with one of the Twins’ rookie league teams before, hopefully, getting promoted to Cedar Rapids. Others may open the season a rung higher on the organizational ladder with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle and miss out on being a Kernel altogether. But I’m relatively confident that most of the players we include in this series will wear a Kernels uniform at some point during the upcoming season.
For the benefit of those Kernels fans who are less familiar with the Twins organization, we should probably explain that the Twins have two “rookie level” short-season teams below the Class A Kernels. The lowest level is the Fort Myers team in the Gulf Coast League and the next level up is Elizabethton TN in the Appalachian League. Those Kernels who earn a promotion out of Cedar Rapids will find themselves with the Fort Myers Miracle in the “high-A” Florida State League.
Let’s kick off this series by looking at a group of catchers that Kernels fans might want to get to know. To my mind, the most likely catching options for Cedar Rapids to start the season would come from the trio of Jhonatan Arias, Tyler Grimes and Jairo Rodriguez. Here’s just a bit about them:
Jairo Rodriguez - Age 24 – Bats R/Throws R
2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)
Outside of just six games at DH, Jairo made the rest of his starts behind the plate in 2012. He threw out 24 of 66 runners attempting to steal for a very respectable 36% throw-out rate.
Rodriguez was signed by the Twins out of Venezuela and spent his first three seasons in summer leagues in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. He spent 2010 and 2011 playing in US rookie leagues and the full 2012 season at Beloit. At 24 years old, Rodriguez would be older than most players in the Midwest League, so even if Rodriguez starts the year in Cedar Rapids, I could see the Twins pushing him up to Fort Myers at the first opportunity, assuming he performs at acceptable levels.
Tyler Grimes – Age 22 – Bats R/Throws R
2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)
Grimes made 77 appearances at shortstop and 18 at second base (plus 1 at 3B and 7 as DH) in 2012.
Grimes was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2011 amateur draft out of Wichita State. He has not hit the ball real well in roughly a season and a half at Beloit, though at least he has shown a little power.
After the 2012 season, he spent time at the the Fall Instructional League learning the catcher position. Grimes could open the season with the Kernels, repeating Class A, or potentially be held back in extended spring training to work more on his catching skills with the Twins instructional staff in Fort Myers before starting his season. It will be very interesting to see how the catching experiment works out for Tyler.
Jhonatan Arias – Age 23 – Bats R/Throws R
2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy League)
Jhonatan got in just 27 games behind the dish in 2012, but he threw out 11 of 30 attempted base stealers for a 37% rate. Of the three catchers I see as most likely to spend significant time in Cedar Rapids, he appears to have the most promising offensive skills.
Arias was signed out of the Dominican Republic and spent 2007 and 2008 playing in the Dominican Summer League. In 2009 he played for the Gulf Coast League Twins and in 2010 he moved up to Elizabethton. In 2011, he split time between E’town and Beloit, but struggled at the plate in his time with the Snappers. During the 2011 Fall Instructional League, Arias reportedly was tried out on the pitching mound, but he spent 2012 in Elizabethton back behind the plate.
If I had to bet, I’d expect the majority of the Kernels’ catching duties in 2013 will be shared by some combination of these three players, but there are a few younger catchers who spent time with one or both of the short-season teams in 2012 and could end up in Cedar Rapids at some point this season.
If the Twins do decide to bring in younger catchers, look to see Bo Altobelli, Kelly Cross and/or Bryan Santy.
Altobelli, who turns 22 in February, was drafted in the 21st round last June out of Texas Tech and signed with the Twins in time to get 18 games in behind the plate in Elizabethton. He hit just .230 and threw out just one of the 15 baserunners who attempted to steal against him.
Cross will turn 21 during Spring Training. He was drafted in the 26th round out of his Texas high school in 2010. He signed his contract just before the signing deadline and caught three games for the GCL Twins that summer. He also spent most of the past two seasons with the same GCL team. He caught just eight games for Elizabethton last season. He hasn’t seemed to figure out what to do with a bat in his hands, yet, hitting just .167 in his GCL and Appy games combined during 2012, but he did throw out an impressive 47% of attempted base stealers (15 of 32).
Santy played just 19 games for the GCL Twins in 2012 after the 22 year old was drafted in the 30th round out of the University of Washington. He not only threw out seven of the 16 runners who attempted to steal off him, but he also hit .296 and got on base at a .418 clip. Those are offensive numbers you won’t see in many other young Twins catching prospects. Of course, Santy was older than most of the pitchers he was likely facing in the GCL, which has me wondering whether the Twins might consider pushing him up a couple of levels over the course of 2013. If so, we might see him in CR.
Finally, there are two other catching prospects that I would consider long-shots to see in a Kernels uniform this season.
The Twins drafted Jorge Fernandez in the 7th round of the amateur draft last year, but Fernandez was drafted out of the International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico and will just turn 19 in March. He caught 30 games for the GCL Twins last year with moderate success. I suspect he’ll spend all of 2013 in rookie leagues at either Fort Myers or Elizabethton, but I suppose there’s an outside chance he could find his way to Cedar Rapids late in the year.
One other catcher, Michael Quesada, contributed a bit at Elizabethton in 2012. Quesada was a low round draft pick in 2010 but as he was signed out of junior college, he’s older than Cross. Like some others on this list, Quesada has struggled a bit at the plate, but has had some success throwing out runners. Quesada, however, was suspended in August after failing a drug test, so he will start the season completing the remainder of a 50-game suspension. Unfortunately, since he was on the Elizabethton roster when he tested positive, the suspension doesn’t pick back up again until E’town’s short-season schedule resumes in June, so it will be August before he can suit up for any affiliate.
In my view, the Twins could stand to upgrade their catching at the low-minors level and I would not be disappointed to see them draft a college catcher or two in the top 10-15 rounds of the June amateur draft. With the accelerated signing period, I suppose that could result in Cedar Rapids seeing such a 2013 draftee behind the plate before the end of the season, but it’s not very likely.
Next up: Part 2: Corner 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).