Sickels’ “Twins Top 20″ Features Past/Future Kernels

The 2013 season was, by almost all measures, a successful maiden season for the affiliation between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and their new Major League parent, the Minnesota Twins. Now, fall is bringing out the first of what will be many published organizational “top prospect” lists, signaling that it’s not too early to begin looking at what kind of talent the Twins will be sending to Cedar Rapids in 2014.

John Sickels publishes The Baseball Prospect Book yearly and is one of the more respected minor league experts in the business. This week, he released his list of the Twins’ Top Twenty Prospects at his minorleagueball.com website.

A peek at that list not only confirms for Kernels fans that they had the opportunity to watch a number of future Major Leaguers on Perfect Game Field this year, but also gives a clue as to what Cedar Rapids fans can expect to see next summer.

Sickels wrote that the “Twins system is among the elite in the game,” and a number of recent Kernels are among the reasons for that high praise. He also believes that, “there are some lively arms of promise at the lower levels,” in the Twins organization, which should tip off Kernels fans to what they can expect to see in 2014.

Sickels uses a grading system (A, B, C, etc.) to rank the prospect status of minor leaguers and he is not an easy grader. As he writes, “Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.” Of the hundreds of minor league players in the Twins organization, 24 attained that C+ grade, or better, from Sickels this fall. That may not sound like many, but it’s actually a high number for one organization.

Byron Buxton, who patrolled centerfield for the Kernels during the first half of the 2013 campaign, was one of two Twins prospects (along with Class AA slugger Miguel Sano) to attain Grade A prospect status from Sickels. Wrote Sickels, “Few organizations can boast a pair of potential superstar Grade A talents like Buxton and Sano, and the Twins have good depth beyond them…”

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Buxton ranks as the number one prospect in the organization, on Sickels’ list, but five other Kernels alumni also rank in his Top Twenty.

Right handed pitcher Jose Berrios gets a B grade from Sickels and ranks sixth among Twins prospects. Both infielder Jorge Polanco (B) and outfielder/first baseman Max Kepler (B) make the organizational Top Ten, coming in at numbers nine and ten, respectively, in Sickels’ rankings.

Third baseman Travis Harrison earns a B-/C+ from Sickels and the number 11 ranking, while outfielder Adam Brett Walker’s C+/B- grade placed him at number 13.

Four additional Kernels, infielder Niko Goodrum and pitchers Mason Melotakis, Taylor Rogers and Miguel Sulbaran pulled C+ grades from Sickels and fell just outside the Top Twenty. In essence, this means ten members of the 2013 Kernels are among Sickels’ Top 24 Twins Prospects going in to the offseason.

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum

As for the future, grading recently signed or drafted ballplayers that haven’t yet competed in a full season of professional baseball is a tricky business, but Sickels placed five such Twins prospects among his organizational Top Twenty. All five are pitchers.

Kohl Stewart, a right hander who was the Twins top draft pick in last summer, leads that list with a B+ grade from Sickels and his number three ranking in the organization. Sickels’ wrote that Stewart, “was the best high school pitcher in the draft and showed good command of plus stuff in his pro debut.”

Lefty Lewis Thorpe, an Australian 17-year-old, reportedly grew an inch and added something close to 50 pounds and several miles per hour to his fastball this past summer. Sickels grades him at a B- and places him seventh among Twins’ prospects. Thorpe pitched in the Gulf Coast League (the lowest US rookie league team among Twins affiliates) in 2013 making it highly unlikely that he starts 2014 in Cedar Rapids and may not arrive until the following summer.

Felix Jorge (number 17), Stephen Gonsalves (19) and Ryan Eades (20) slip in to Sickels’ Top Twenty, as well, all with C+ grades.

Jorge is a righthander from the Dominican Republic who had a very good year for Elizabethton in 2013, striking out 72 hitters in just 61 innings covering his 12 starts.

Gonsalves, a lefty and the Twins’ fourth round pick last June, only threw 28 innings combined during time with both Twins rookie league teams in 2013 but was a strike out machine and posted a 0.95 Earned Run Average.

Eades, another righthander, was the Twins’ second round pick in 2013 out of LSU. He accumulated just 15 2/3 innings of work for Elizabethton this summer but will be 22 years old by opening day in 2014, making it possible the Twins would try to accelerate his movement through the organization.

It could be years before Cedar Rapids fans see another collection of hitters in Kernels uniforms the likes of the group that the Twins sent through town in 2013. Buxton could well be wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform and calling Target Field in Minneapolis his home by the end of the coming season. By 2016, several of his Kernels teammates could join him with the Twins.

While Kernels hitters in 2014 are not likely to measure up to what fans saw this year, a pitching staff that could include Stewart, Jorge, Gonsalves, Eades and, possibly by the end of the season Thorpe as well, has the potential to be among the best in the Midwest League.

– JC

Several Kernels Shooting for Two Rings in Two Years

In baseball’s postseason, “every single pitch is so important; every at-bat, no matter what inning.”

That was Cedar Rapids Kernels third baseman Travis Harrison talking after Monday’s regular season finale about the playoffs, which start for the Kernels Wednesday night in Davenport against the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Harrison knows what he’s talking about, too. He was a member of the rookie level Elizabethton Twins team that won the Appalachian League a year ago.

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum are going for back to back championships

Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum are going for back to back championships

Elizabethton won two “best-of-three games” series to claim the league title last year, but Harrison and his teammates will need to do that much this year just to earn a berth in the Midwest League Championship Series as the representative of the league’s Western Division.

If they can best the River Bandits in the first best-of-three series, they’ll take on the survivor of a similar series between Clinton and Beloit in another best-of-three challenge. The Championship Series between the Eastern and Western Division representatives is a best-of-five games series that will decide who wears the Midwest League crown for 2013.

Cedar Rapids has not worn that crown since 1994 and has not qualified for the league Championship Series since 1997.

The Kernels finished the 2013 season with an 88-50 record overall. They secured a playoff spot with a second place finish in the first half of their season with a 40-28 record and then improved to a 48-22 record to finish first in the Western Division in the second half of the season.

Their 88 wins equals the most wins for a Cedar Rapids team since joining the Midwest League in 1962. To provide context, if applied to a Major League team’s 162 schedule, the Kernels’ winning percentage would have them on pace to win 103 games.

This playoff thing may be relatively new to Kernels fans, who haven’t seen their team play in the postseason since 2010, but almost half the Kernels’ current roster were with the Appalachian League Champions in Elizabethton a year ago.

In addition to Harrison, infielders Niko Goodrum and Jorge Polanco, outfielders Max Kepler and Adam Brett Walker, catcher Bo Altobelli and pitchers Brett Lee, Jose Berrios, and Hudson Boyd all saw playoff action with Elizabethton. Mason Melotakis, Dallas Gallant and Michael Quesada were also members of that Championship team during the course of the 2012 season.

Melotakis made two postseason appearances with the Beloit Snappers’ Midwest League playoff team at the end of 2012.

A number of other players that spent time with the Kernels this season, including Byron Buxton and Dalton Hicks, were also members of the champions from “E’town”. Hicks hit a walk-off grand slam home run in the 12th inning of the deciding game of the championship series.

Walker believes the postseason experience he and his teammates are getting is part of their development. “Going out there and having a series where everything’s on the line. I think it’s pretty important. It’s an exciting feeling to be able to get that experience.”

With a smile, Walker added, “I know if you get in the big leagues it’s going to be a little bit different.”

Adam Brett Walker lines a home run vs Clinton on September 2

Adam Brett Walker lines a HR vs Clinton on September 2

It has been a long season for the Kernels players, especially those such as Harrison and Walker, who have both been a part of the Kernels since Opening Day, 138 games ago.

That doesn’t matter, according to Harrison. “The playoffs are totally different. You just have to grind it out. If you’re sore, it just goes away. You’ve got so much adrenaline, you’re just ready to go. It’s a good time.”

Quesada believes the Kernels are ready. “We’ve got all the confidence in the world, especially after last year. We’ve got the pitching, got the hitting. It’s all ready to come together at one time.”

Walker remembers that championship feeling and is ready for more. “We know what it feels like. It’s a really great feeling to be able to go out there and win a championship.”

Harrison perhaps summed up the feelings best. “First two years, two rings. That would be pretty cool.”

- JC

Ghost of Twins Past Haunts the Twins’ Future

Scott Baker, Kane County Cougar

Scott Baker, Kane County Cougar

Almost exactly six years ago, I sat several rows up from home plate as Scott Baker took a perfect game in to the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals. While he didn’t complete his date with immortality, it was the closest I’ve ever come to seeing a Major League no-hitter in person.

On Wednesday night, I watched Baker continue to try to work his way back to the Big Leagues with the Chicago Cubs with a rehabilitation start for the Kane County Cougars against the future Twins suiting up for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

I never saw Baker get above 86 mph on the scoreboard, so even giving him an extra tick or two due to the Cedar Rapids scoreboard’s reputation for being slightly slower than the speed guns of the scouts who perch directly behind home plate most nights, the former Twins pitcher never hit any higher than 88 mph and he didn’t mix in more than a couple of off-speed pitches each inning.

But on this night, that was good enough to handcuff the Kernels as only a fifth inning infield single by Adam Brett Walker kept Baker from completing five perfect innings. Jorge Polanco and Travis Harrison each reached the warning track off of Baker in their first plate appearances of the night, but that was the closest anyone came to doing any damage to the former Twins star.

Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios, the 19-year-old that Twins fans hope will be one of the anchors of a future Twins rotation, fared far worse.

Berrios has been tabbed as the starting pitcher in the first game of the Kernels’ postseason next Wednesday, but tonight he struggled with his control. Berrios walked three hitters and gave up five hits, including two home runs, as the Kernels fell 9-1 to Baker’s Kane County Cougars.

Kernels roster changes but results don’t

With just 40 games remaining in their regular season schedule, now seems like a good time to step back and take a look at the state of the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

It’s almost laughable to even question whether or not the affiliation switch from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the Minnesota Twins has been good for Cedar Rapids. Of course it has, by pretty much every measurement.

The Kernels have already qualified for the Midwest League postseason by virtue of their second place finish in the first half of the season and fan interest is up.

Attendance is up some, but even more telling, the fans who show up for games are enthusiastically engaged in what’s happening on the field. That has not always been the case at Veterans Memorial Stadium the past few years.

It certainly didn’t hurt that one of the Twins’ top prospects, Byron Buxton, got off to such an incredible start this spring. He drew fan and media interest from well beyond the local community.

But even after the inevitable promotion of Buxton to the Twins’ Class high-A affiliate at Fort Myers in June, the Kernels have continued to win games. That may come as a surprise to those so blinded by Buxton’s aura that they didn’t notice the Kernels roster included a number of other very talented players.

Jonathan Murphy

Jonathan Murphy

Of course, Buxton isn’t the only Kernels player the Twins have rewarded with a bump up in playing  level. The Kernels have seen about a dozen players, in total, promoted to Fort Myers already this season.

The Twins, as an organization, have a reputation for being conservative with their promotions. They historically have preferred to see most players spend at least an entire season, if not more, at most minor league levels.

No doubt, Kernels officials were hoping that trend would continue. In past seasons, the Angels seemingly couldn’t wait to promote players as soon as they demonstrated any level of productivity in a Kernels uniform.

Among position players, Buxton was the only key offensive contributor to be lost to promotion until J.D. Williams and Dalton Hicks were bumped up to Fort Myers about a week ago.

It’s not easy to replace players found in the top 10 of most Midwest League offensive statistical categories like Williams (on-base percentage, OPS), Hicks (home runs, RBI, slugging pct., OPS) and Buxton (almost everything), but players brought in to Cedar Rapids by the Twins to replace the departing hitters have done well.

Max Kepler

Max Kepler

Max Kepler joined the Kernels once he completed rehabilitating his injured elbow in Fort Myers. He arrived four days before Buxton was promoted and he has hit for a .263 average. Thirteen of his 31 hits have been for extra bases.

Jonathan Murphy is hitting .333 in the 17 games he’s played since his arrival at the beginning of July and Joel Licon has performed well in a utility infielder role since he joined the team in early June.

It’s too early to know for certain how well Mike Gonzales will fill in for the departed Hicks, but the big first baseman has four hits in his first eight at-bats as a Kernel. Gonzales hit .289 and stroked 15 home runs for the Beloit Snappers in 2011. He missed much of his 2012 season in Fort Myers and after starting this season again with the Miracle, a wrist injury has sidelined him for the past several weeks.

On the pitching front, the Kernels lost Taylor Rogers before most fans even got to know him. He made three unimpressive starts for the Kernels before being moved on to Fort Myers. Jose Berrios, a supplemental first round draft pick in the 2012 First Year Player Draft and one of the top pitching prospects in the Twins organization, essentially took Rogers’ spot in the Kernels rotation.

The subsequent promotion of Tyler Duffey in early June left a much more significant hole at the top of the Kernels’ rotation. Duffey carried a 2.78 ERA and a 0.943 WHIP through nine starts when he left Cedar Rapids.

Josue Montanez initially worked from the Kernels bullpen after his promotion to Cedar Rapids in June, but has shown some potential since joining the rotation about a month ago.

Perhaps even more critically, the Kernels have seen four important members of their bullpen earn promotions. Matt Tomshaw and Manuel Soliman had contributed a total of 59 innings of work over a combined 30 appearances before they were promoted. Last week, the Twins elevated Steve Gruver and Tyler Jones, who had combined to provide a formidable left-right relief combination late in games.

Reliever Alex Muren has been relatively effective since arriving from extended spring training in early May, and the early returns from more recent additions Madison Boer, Dallas Gallant and Tim Shibuya are encouraging.

But the bottom line in baseball is all about wins and losses.

The Kernels were 44-28, for a .611 winning percentage, with Buxton on the roster. Since his promotion four games in to the second half schedule, the Kernels are 17-9 (.654) and they are leading the MWL West Division by three games over first half champion Beloit.

It’s certainly too soon to know what effect losing the four players promoted a week ago will have on the team’s fortunes. However, the Kernels have won five of the first six games played (all on the road) since Hicks, Williams, Jones and Gruver got their well-deserved promotions.

On Tuesday, the first member of the Twins’ draft class of 2013 was promoted to Cedar Rapids when seventh round pick Brian Gilbert was added to the Kernels’ roster.

Roster turnover is just a fact of life in minor league baseball. When the local team starts out winning a lot of games, it’s probably because a lot of players are performing very well and players that perform very well deserve promotions to the next level in the organization.

One way to measure the strength of an organization is to look at how a minor league team performs after a number of their best players are promoted. If the new players perform well and the team continues winning, that’s a very good sign.

So far, that’s what we’re seeing in Cedar Rapids. That bodes well, this season, for the Kernels and for the Twins in the long run.

Kernels: Hot Starts in Cold Weather

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.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

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.

Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios

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.

Mauer: Possible Kernels “Really Working Hard”

The following article was originally posted late last week at MetroSportsReport.com and is re-posted here with permission.

With local temperatures finally working their way into the 40’s last week in Cedar Rapids, local baseball fans could allow their minds to wander to even warmer days ahead when the Cedar Rapids Kernels open their season April 4 against Beloit.

It’s still a bit chilly for baseball at Veterans Memorial Stadium, but the minor leaguers in the parent Minnesota Twins organization are hard at work in the warm sunshine at the Twins’ spring training site in Fort Myers, Fla.

While there’s plenty of speculation about which young Twins prospects may fill out the Kernels roster, it’s still too early to know with certainty who those players will be.

 BeresfordMauerST11As Kernels Manager Jake Mauer pointed out this week, “It depends on who they keep in Minnesota at a number of positions. Once those decisions are made, the rest takes shape off of that. There’s kind of a trickle down effect.”

While the Major League camp has been humming for about a month, the minor leaguers began official workouts less than two weeks ago and have played only a handful of games. In fact, Mauer himself hasn’t necessarily been working with all the players tentatively earmarked for the Kernels.

With the Major League spring training roster still roughly twice the size it will be during the season, the Twins shift their coaching staffs up a level until more cuts are made by the big league club. As a result, Mauer has spent much of his time working with players likely to spend their season with the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League.

Still, Mauer has had opportunities to work with a number of players widely expected to wear Kernels uniforms this season and he’s well aware that many of those players are among the Twins’ highest rated young prospects. That can certainly lead to some lofty expectations, both for the team and for those players individually.

Mauer’s take on the high expectations is what you might expect from the club’s manager. “It’s the old cliché, you’re not as good as people say and you’re not as bad as people say.

“It’s nice to get recognition, but you’ve got to go out on the field and play. ‘Prospect’ is just a tag,” he remarked.

With the voice of someone who’s seen these things play out first hand, he added, “I played with a lot of guys who were top prospects who never made it. It doesn’t affect how you play. You still have to put in the work.”

JakeMauer2011aMauer believes the players he’s working with are doing just that. He specifically mentioned outfield prospect Max Kepler, the German native who signed with the Twins in 2009 as a 16-year-old.

“Max looks pretty good,” he said. “I saw him down here as a 16-year-old and he has really physically developed.”

Byron Buxton, the Twins’ top draft choice in last June’s amateur draft, also has impressed Mauer. “Buxton looks pretty good. He’s really working hard,” the skipper reported.

Another prospect many Twins fans are anxious to see in action for the Kernels is third baseman Travis Harrison. Harrison’s reputation is one of great offensive potential, with some question concerning his ability to continue playing third base as he progresses up the organizational ladder.

But Mauer likes what he’s seeing so far, pointing out that Harrison is focusing on improving the defensive aspect of his game this spring.

“He came in with a very good attitude,” said Mauer. “He wants to be good on defense and he’s working pretty hard on it.

“He’s not a finished product, without a doubt … We may see some errors, but I think he’ll be OK.”

One top prospect that Mauer hasn’t had an opportunity to see much of thus far is Jose Berrios. Berrios reported with the Major League pitchers and catchers in mid-February to help him prepare to play for his native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

His team survived the first two rounds of the WBC, so Berrios has yet to work out with his minor league teammates in Fort Myers.

While Berrios has been expected to open the season in the Kernels’ starting rotation, there’s some speculation that his participation in the WBC could change those plans. Berrios has been used sparingly out of the bullpen for Puerto Rico, so as long as the team remains in that tournament Berrios won’t be getting his innings stretched out the way a starting pitcher normally would during spring training.

Could that affect the organization’s plans for Berrios to start the season?

“It could,” Mauer admitted. “Obviously he’s not starting (for Puerto Rico). But he’s getting exposed to some intense situations.”

Mauer doesn’t think it would take Berrios long to get ready for the season, noting he pitched in winter leagues during the offseason. Once the WBC is over, Mauer added, “he will come here in shape and just need a tuneup. He came in to camp before the WBC in pretty good shape.”

The next week or so will go a long way in determining who will be wearing a Kernels uniform on Opening Day.

“We’ll probably start to see our roster take shape with about 10 days left. There are a few pitchers who are a little tender, so that could affect which pitchers start with us,” said Mauer.

- S.D. Buhr, MetroSportsReport.com

Berrios Stock Rising?

In the days following last June’s MLB Amateur Draft, most of the chatter among Twins fans seemed focused on two subjects: Byron Buxton, the high school outfielder that the Twins selected with the second overall pick of the draft; and the number of hard throwing college-age relief pitchers that the team selected in first couple of rounds.

Everyone wanted to discuss just how good Buxton might become and whether or not the Twins would be able to successfully convert any of those strong college arms in to starting pitchers. Almost overlooked in the discussions was Jose Berrios, a young high school pitcher the Twins drafted used a supplemental first round pick to select out of Papa Juan XXIII High School in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

Jose Berrios (Photo: Cliff Welch/Milb.com)

It’s understandable, perhaps. Buxton was the near-consensus “best athlete in the draft” and the college pitchers all seemed to be at least 6′ 4″ 210 pound men with mid 90s fastballs who had proven themselves with some of the premier college baseball programs in the country. Berrios, on the other hand, appeared to have to stretch to reach six feet in height and reportedly packed on about 20 pounds during his senior year of high school just to get up near 185.

Some even suggested that the Twins had reached a bit in selecting Berrios where they did. ESPN’s Keith Law had the young righty pegged as the 73rd best ballplayer available in the draft, but the Twins used the 32nd overall pick to select him. Almost immediately, there was speculation that Berrios’ size and mechanics indicated he’d likely need to convert to a bullpen role.

Berrios pitched at both Rookie League levels in the Twins organization after inking a deal with the Twins for a $1.55 million signing bonus. He threw 30.2 innings across 11 games (four of them starts) and put up a combined 1.17 ERA. That’s nice, but here are the real eye-popping numbers: Berrios struck out 49 batters in those 30.2 innings, while walking just four. No matter what level of minor league ball you’re at, those are impressive stats!

His effort didn’t go unnoticed outside the Twins organization either. In January, Berrios was named to Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic pitching staff. That honor also got the young pitcher an invitation to the Twins’ Major League Spring Training, where he would not only get much needed work in preparation for the WBC tournament, but would also have the opportunity to get in front of the eyes of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the big club’s coaching staff.

While Berrios has not pitched in any of the Twins’ “official” Spring Training games, he has pitched in the ‘B’ games and intersquad games that the team has scheduled over the past week or so in order to get enough work in for the expanded roster they’ve got in camp this year.

Even without taking the mound for an official Spring Training game, however, he’s made an impression. Gardenhire observed after Berrios took one of his turns throwing live batting practice to the Big Leaguers, “He can throw it. He can wing it.” Star-Tribune Twins beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III has also been impressed with Berrios, writing, “I can’t believe he’s just 18. His stuff is live and he goes after people.”

In what’s likely to have been his final game experience prior to leaving to join his team mates for the WBC in Puerto Rico, Berrios threw two innings against a team of Red Sox prospects in a ‘B’ game on Thursday and retired all six hitters he faced.

Puerto Rico opens their WBC play against Spain this coming Friday. They’ll have their work cut out for them to advance beyond the first round, however, as traditional powers Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are both also in Puerto Rico’s pool.

It will be interesting to see how the Twins handle Berrios once the WBC wraps up and the minor league season gets underway. The Twins are not an organization known for overtaxing the arms of their young pitching prospects and ordinarily it wouldn’t have been surprising to see an 18 year old like Berrios stay back in extended spring training for a few weeks rather than subjecting him to the chilly Iowa weather in April. But with his early start and the WBC work, they may be more likely to send him north to Cedar Rapids for Opening Day.

In any event, it’s not so much a matter of “if” but “when” we’ll see Berrios on the mound in Cedar Rapids this season. Hopefully, he’ll show fans of the Kernels and Twins in Eastern Iowa a bit of what has been impressing everyone in Ft. Myers this spring.

In parting, click here to take a look at a great, emotional video taken on draft day last June, when Berrios and his family & friends learned he’d been drafted by the Twins.

– JC

Roster Deconstruction

The 25-man roster is not yet set in stone, but if we take a look at the 40-man roster we can get some kind of idea about where the Twins players closest to the Major Leagues come from.

Drafted out of High School (12, 5 pitchers, 7 position players)

Alex Burnett, 12th round 2005 (375 overall); B.J. Hermsen, 6th round 2008 (186); Tyler Robertson, 3rd round 2006 (96); Anthony Swarzak, 2nd round 2004 (61); Michael Tonkin, 30th round 2008 (906); Joe Mauer, 1st round 2001 (1); Brian Dozier, 8th round 2009 (252); Justin Morneau, 3rd round 1999 (89); Chris Parmelee, 1st round 2006 (20); Trevor Plouffe, 1st round 2004 (20); Joe Benson, 2nd round 2006 (64); Aaron Hicks, 1st round 2008 (14)

Unsurprisingly the Twins largest group of players on the 40-man roster come as high school draftees.  There is a fairly good mix of position players and pitchers, though of the pitchers on the list none of them were drafted in the first round, compared to 4 first round position players*.  This makes sense as the arms on this list are all bullpen guys, not a single player there with really dominant stuff.

*Byron Buxton, the Twins most recent 1st round draft pick was just 5 years old when the Twins drafted Justin Morneau in 1999.  Morny has been with the team a long time, it will be interesting to see if the Twins look to move him later this year.

 

Free Agent (10, 7 pitchers, 3 position players)

Jared Burton, 2011; Kevin Correia, 2012; Cole De Vries, 2006 (undrafted out of University of Minnesota); Casey Fien, 2012; Mike Pelfrey, 2012; Caleb Thielbar, 2011; Tim Wood, 2012; Ryan Doumit, 2011; Jamey Carroll, 2011; Josh Willingham, 2011

Likely because the Twins spent so many high draft picks on position players, the Twins have struggled to develop their own pitching and have turned to the free agent market to balance their roster.  As with the high school draftees, none of the arms on this list are particularly dominant, though Burton was a pleasant surprise in 2012.

Trade (6, 4 pitchers, 2 position players)

Scott Diamond, 2011 (Billy Bullock); Pedro Hernandez, 2012 (Francisco Liriano); Eduardo Escobar, 2012 (Liriano); Trevor May, 2012 (Ben Revere); Vance Worley, 2012 (Revere); Drew Butera, 2007 (Luis Castillo)

I listed Scott Diamond as a player acquired via trade, but he originally joined the Twins through the 2010 Rule 5 draft, but when he failed to make the roster out of Spring Training the Twins completed a trade with the Atlanta Braves in order to keep him with the organization.  Of the other names here, only Butera sticks out, only because with his ties to the organization (his father Sal Butera was with the Twins for parts of 6 Minor League and 4 Major League seasons) I often forget that he was not originally drafted by the Twins.

Drafted out of College (4, 3 pitchers, 1 position player)

Brian Duensing, 3rd round 2005 (84); Kyle Gibson, 1st round 2009 (22); Glen Perkins, 1st round 2004 (22); Chris Herrmann, 6th round 2009 (192)

Again, because the Twins were not drafting and developing high school pitching they have used several early round picks on college pitchers in an effort to balance the system.  Of the two 1st rounders here, only Gibson was the Twins 1st overall pick of the draft, Perkins was selected after Trevor Plouffe, with a compensation pick from the Mariners when they signed Eddie Guardado.  In fact, in the 2004 draft the Twins had 3 first round picks and 2 more supplemental round picks, giving them 5 of the first 39 draft picks and 7 of the first 100.  Of those seven picks, Plouffe, Perkins and Anthony Swarzak are all still with the Twins, 9 years later.

International Free Agent (4, 1 pitcher, 3 position players)

Liam Hendriks, 2007; Josmil Pinto, 2006; Daniel Santana, 2008; Oswaldo Arcia, 2008

Pretty young group of players here, but lots of upside with Santana and Arcia cracking MLB’s list of Top 20 Twins prospects.

Waiver (3, 1 pitcher, 2 position players)

Josh Roenicke, 2012 (Rockies); Pedro Florimon, 2011 (Orioles); Darin Mastroianni, 2012 (Blue Jays)

As you’d expect, no superstars in this trio, but two of these guys could be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

Rule 5 Draft (1, 1 pitcher, 0 position players)

Ryan Pressly, 2012 (Red Sox)

It remains to be seen if Pressly will make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, though the cards are certainly stacked against him.  If the Twins are going to keep him long term, they’ll need to work out a trade with the Boston Red Sox to keep him in the organization if he is not on the big league roster.

So there you have it, 40 players and their origins within the Twins organization.  With high school draft picks making up the lion’s share of the roster, the Twins amateur scouts seem to know what they’re doing.   That bodes well for the future and  Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Travis Harrison and Hudson Boyd, the Twins’ highest drafted high school players in the past two drafts.

-ERolfPleiss

All player information obtained from Baseball-Reference.  If I’ve listed any player origins incorrectly, please let me know.