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

“Twins Weekend” in Cedar Rapids

Celebrating the affiliation agreement with the Minnesota Twins has been pretty much an “all season long” thing for the Cedar Rapids Kernels and their fans, but this weekend was the official Twins Weekend event in Cedar Rapids.

Guests of honor have included all-time Twins great Tony Oliva, Twins organist Sue Nelson and mascot TC Bear. All three made appearances at the Kernels’ game with visiting Peoria on Friday night.

Oliva signed autographs for a long line of fans before the game, Nelson treated fans to her talents on an electric organ during the game and TC teamed with Kernels mascot Mr. Shucks to entertain fans throughout the game.

On Saturday morning, all three joined several Kernels players and coaches, along with over 100 fans, for a breakfast event benefiting the Cedar Rapids Convention & Visitors Bureau.

As a fan who grew up in Minnesota in the 1960s watching Oliva play ball for the Twins at Metropolitan Stadium, I have to say it was a really big deal to me to have an opportunity to interview Oliva along with other local media Friday evening during the Kernels game.

It was even a bigger deal to find myself alone with Oliva in the pressbox for several minutes a short while after the formal media intervew and having the opportunity to just watch a ballgame and talk about a number of the young Twins prospects with Oliva.

On Saturday morning, during his remarks at the breakfast and in a “Q & A” session, Oliva shared a number of observations and anecdotes with the crowd.

If you’re interested in reading some of Oliva’s comments to the media from Friday night, click here to read my story for Metro Sports Report, which include Oliva’s thoughts on the current Major Leaguers from his native Cuba. Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Jeff Johnson also has a story focusing on Oliva’s comments concerning PED usage in baseball.

Here are a few photos I took from the weekend’s events.

OlivaAutograph

Tony Oliva patiently signed autographs for about an hour before the game

Twins organist Sue Nelson

Twins organist Sue Nelson

TC Bear entertained fans and posed for pictures

TC Bear entertained fans and posed for pictures

OlivaMedia

Tony Oliva met with local media on Friday during the Kernels game

Kernels pitcher and Twins prospect Brett Lee answers a question during the breakfast event Saturday morning

Kernels pitcher and Twins prospect Brett Lee answers a question during the breakfast event Saturday morning as Niko Goodrum, Adam Brett Walker, Kernels broadcaster Morgan Hawk, Tony Oliva, Jake Mauer and Tommy Watkins look on.

Tony Oliva speaking to fans at the Breakfast event Saturday

Tony Oliva speaking to fans at the Breakfast event Saturday

Kernels outfielder and Twins prospect Adam Brett Walker answers fan questions during Saturday's breakfast

Kernels outfielder and Twins prospect Adam Brett Walker answers fan questions during Saturday’s breakfast

From left to right: Mike Gonzales, Dallas Gallant, Morgan Hawk (standing), Niko Goodrum, Brett Lee, Adam Brett Walker, Tony Oliva, Jake Mauer and Tommy Watkins

From left to right: Mike Gonzales, Dallas Gallant, Morgan Hawk (standing), Niko Goodrum, Brett Lee, Adam Brett Walker, Tony Oliva, Jake Mauer and Tommy Watkins

Q & A with Kernels Infielder Niko Goodrum

Cedar Rapids Kernels middle infielder Niko Goodrum was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the second round of the 2010 First Year Player Draft and spent the past two years playing for the Twins short season rookie league team in Elizabethton.

Niko Goodrum

Niko Goodrum

The 21 year old switch-hitter from Georgia got off to a good start with the Kernels, most often batting second in Manager Jake Mauer’s batting order, behind lead off hitter Byron Buxton. He was named to the Midwest League’s Western Division All-Star team.

On June 2, Goodrum collided with Kane County catcher Willson Contreras and came away with a concussion that sidelined him on the team’s Disabled List right up until the final day of the first half of the Midwest League season on June 16. His activation that day allowed him to participate in the MWL All-Star Game on June 18.

A few days ago, Goodrum talked about his season, so far, his injury and a number of other topics.

Jim Crikket: You’ve now played in about the same number of games you played in an entire year of rookie league ball. Have you been able to tell a difference in the full season of a Midwest League season, compared to the short season rookie leagues?

Niko Goodrum: You’ve got more games and if you’re in a slump, there’s no way to stretch it out (in short season). So that’s better. Body wise, there’s more on your body in a full season, but I don’t really feel a big difference between the rookie ball and the full season. They say it’s a big jump, but my body’s holding up well.

JC: You got of to a pretty good start to this season and then you had the issue over in Kane County. Exactly what happened there?

Goodrum: I was on first base and stole second base. Jorge Polanco was up and hit a line drive to left field. Jake (Manager Jake Mauer) rounded me around third base so I’m headed home. But then the catcher was up the line so it was either just stop or, if I try to slide, he’d probably end up dogging me or something. My first reaction was try to run him over.  He kind of punched me in my chin. I don’t remember contact at all. I didn’t feel anything. I was down. I woke up and I was just strapped on to a cart.

JC: How long after that did it take before you felt like you could be playing?

Goodrum: I had headaches for probably three days after I had the concussion. But after that, when I started back to activities, I felt like “I’m ready to play,” but it was just a long process they had to do with concussions. Sending paperwork up to Minnesota and MLB so they can clear it, so it was a long process but I felt like I could play after the headaches went away. I felt ready to go.

JC: I recall you were hoping to get cleared a day or two earlier than it actually happened.

Goodrum: They told me I was going to be cleared on Saturday so we were just waiting for Saturday to come and then they told me they didn’t hear anything back from them. Then once the game finally started, that’s when they ended up telling them I’m cleared to play. So I ended up getting cleared for Sunday.

JC: The team struggled a bit while you were out of the line up. That had to be kind of tough to sit and watch while the lead in the standings dropped from five games, four games and so on. And there was nothing you could do about it.

Niko Goodrum

Niko Goodrum

Goodrum: Yeah, it was. It was tough watching and knowing I can’t do anything to help them. Not even a chance I could get in to maybe play defense or pinch hit or run or something. There was nothing. So it was tough watching and seeing my team go down like that.

JC: Tell me about the All-Star Game experience.  That must have been a good time.

Goodrum: It was fun. Being around guys from other teams. The atmosphere. The home run derby was fun, watching that. Playing in front of ten thousand people was fun. Just the atmosphere. It was just great, a great time, I had a good time, yeah.

JC: With Byron Buxton’s promotion, your role has changed perhaps a little bit. You’ve had some opportunities to bat lead off. Do you take a different approach when you lead off or do you just try to get on base?

Goodrum: Yeah, just get on base. That’s all I’m worried about is trying to get on base.

JC: I know your father was in Cedar Rapids early in April. Has your family been back up to see you play? How do they follow how you’re doing with the Kernels?

Goodrum: Most of my family does it online, they look at the game play-by-play online. All my family came up to the All-Star Game to see me play.

My dad hasn’t been back up yet, but my mom and my brother and my girlfriend, they came up to CR to see me play. They’ve been up here a couple times.

JC: Tell me about your hobbies and interests off the field. What do you like to do away from the ballpark?

Niko Goodrum

Niko Goodrum

Goodrum: Sometimes I play video games, go to movies. Chill. I’m pretty much at Tyler Grimes’ house, me and JD (Williams) are pretty much over there hanging out. But we don’t really do too much.

JC: You’ve been in Cedar Rapids for over three months now. What’s been the best part of the Cedar Rapids experience so far?

Goodrum: New city, it’s always fun playing in front of new fans. It’s a great field, great stadium. A great coaching staff, so it’s always good.Overall, it’s a big jump from Elizabethton, city-wise, so all around, it’s good.

JC: Have you set any specific personal or team goals for the rest of the year?

Goodrum: Try to win a championship.

Kernels: Life After Buck and a Mike Pelfrey Appearance

Minnesota Twins super-prospect Byron Buxton led the Cedar Rapids Kernels through a pretty amazing first half of their Midwest League season. They led the league’s West Division almost from wire to wire.

Almost.

But on Sunday, June 16, the Kernels gave up a late lead to the Peoria Chiefs and sealed their fate as the Division Runner-Up.

That was the last day that Buxton wore his Kernels home whites on Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

After returning from the MWL All-Star Game, Buxton boarded the team bus for the trip to Wisconsin. There, the team swept a four-game series with the Timber Rattlers and did so under the watchful eye of Twins General Manager Terry Ryan.

On that same bus, during the trip home to Cedar Rapids, Kernels Manager Jake Mauer got a phone call from the Twins front office and then told Byron Buxton he was being promoted to the Fort Myers Miracle.

You could understand if the Kernels, without the statistical leader of their offense, had needed to take a step back and regroup. Nobody would have been surprised if they had lost a few games as they searched for a new leadoff hitter and a new center fielder. After all, you can’t just replace a guy who many consider perhaps the top minor league prospect in baseball.

What the Kernels have done instead, however, is continue winning.

Since Buxton’s promotion, the Kernels have swept a four-game series with the Burlington Bees and a three-game series over the Peoria Chiefs. Heading in to Tuesday night’s game at Beloit, the Kernels are 11-0 in the second half of their MWL season.

Yes, it has been an eventful couple of weeks since that gut-wrenching meltdown during the final series of the season’s first half.

Max Kepler gets a secondary lead off first base

Max Kepler gets a secondary lead off first base

It certainly didn’t hurt that the Kernels finally welcomed outfielder Max Kepler to the roster to start the second half of the season.

Kepler, another of the Twins’ top prospects, had been slated to open the season with the Kernels but an elbow strain in March kept him in Fort Myers for extended spring training.

Kepler has only four singles in his 44 at-bats since joining the team. Then again, he also has five doubles, a triple and three home runs. That’s good enough for a .659 slugging percentage over an admittedly limited sample size.

The German native has also helped fill Buxton’s shoes defensively. He’s not likely to make the jaw-dropping defensive plays that Buxton seemed to make almost every other game in the outfield, but Kepler has the speed to cover plenty of outfield grass.

JD Williams

JD Williams

Niko Goodrum and JD Williams have both spent time filling Buxton’s shoes at the top of the Kernels’ batting order. Goodrum’s sporting a second-half on-base percentage (OBP) of .362, which isn’t bad, but check out Williams’ second half slash line: .462 BA/ .517 OBP/ .731 SLG/ 1.248 OPS.

Goodrum’s primary middle infield partner, Jorge Polanco, has hit .375 and put up an OPS of .969 since the All-Star break.

Dalton Hicks hasn’t homered yet in the second half, but he’s hitting .306 with five doubles.

Travis Harrison leads off third base

Travis Harrison leads off third base

Travis Harrison has a pair of home runs and six doubles since his All-Star Game appearance. He’s hitting .371 and has a 1.214 OPS.

Adam Brett Walker has a pair of home runs, as well, to go with his .303 batting average.

The second half success hasn’t been limited to the hitters, either.

The next earned run that Tyler Jones or Steve Gruver give up will be the first an opponent has put up against the two bullpen arms. In fact, opponents have a grand total of one hit off the two pitchers, combined, since the All-Star break.

Jose Berrios has made just one start since the break, but he went seven innings in that start and struck out nine hitters without a single walk, while giving up just five hits.

Brett Lee has struck out 12 over the 13 innings that have comprised his two starts this half.

Christian Powell is sporting a 2-0 record and a 0.69 ERA over the 13 innings he’s thrown during his first two starts of the second half.

And just in case the Kernels players needed a reminder of what it is they’re putting in all this work for, they got a visit this week from Twins starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who drove down from the Twin Cities with his family to make a rehab start for the Kernels on Monday night.

Mike Pelfrey warms up in the bullpen before his rehab start in CR

Mike Pelfrey warms up in the bullpen before his rehab start in CR

The plan was for Pelfrey to work five innings or throw 75 pitches, whichever came first.

But after throwing just 54 pitches through five innings, Pelfrey went back to the mound for the sixth.

“We got there in the fourth and the fifth and they said, ‘hey you’re done.’ I said, ‘hey I want to go back out for one more.’ I was just starting to get the command of my fastball back, which is very important to have to succeed, obviously, at the Big League level.”

As Pelfrey freely admitted in an interview before the game, his season didn’t get off to the kind of start he and the Twins hoped it would. But, as Kernels pitching coach Gary Lucas said after the game, “It was fun to watch him. Man, what a pro. What a good pro he is,” said Lucas. “To see how he handled himself and how he interacted with the guys on the bench. Pretty cool.”

It was a pretty cool night for the Kernels organization and their fans, as well.

Mike Pelfrey addresses the CR media (including a scruffy looking blogger in a faded ballcap)

Mike Pelfrey addresses the CR media (including a scruffy looking blogger in a faded ballcap)

According to Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson, a typical Monday crowd at this point in the season is about 1,500 fans. The Kernels drew 2,246 to see Pelfrey pitch, with a sizable portion of that total coming from “walk up” ticket sales. That extra 746 fans may not seem like a lot to those accustomed to seeing Major League attendance totals, but that’s several thousand dollars of extra revenue that the Kernels wouldn’t have had if the Twins hadn’t sent Pelfrey to Cedar Rapids for his rehab start.

Nelson indicated before the game that the topic of rehabilitation assignments had come up last September when the Twins and Kernels were discussing a possible affiliation agreement. While the Twins made no specific promises, they did tell the Kernels that they were comfortable with the facility in Cedar Rapids from a player-safety standpoint and that rehab assignments here would be simply a matter of schedules and timing working out.

With Pelfrey’s appearance, the Twins have now equaled the total number of rehab assignments that the prior Kernels affiliate, the Angels, sent to Cedar Rapids during the entire 20-year relationship between that organization and the Kernels. Angels pitcher Ken Hill joined the Kernels for a rehab stint in 1998.

The Kernels ballboy and the home plate umpire might have had the toughest challenge getting through Pelfrey’s appearance.

Plate umpire and Kernels ballboy switch out MLB balls for MWL balls between innings

Plate umpire and Kernels ballboy switch out MLB balls for MWL balls between innings

Pelfrey brought a supply of Major League baseballs with him to use in Cedar Rapids, which meant every half inning, the ballboy and plate umpire had to completely switch out the umpire’s supply of baseballs to allow Pelfrey to use Major League balls and the Peoria pitchers to use the Midwest League versions they are familiar with.

By winning their tenth straight game this past Sunday, the Kernels earned a free dinner from the team’s Board of Directors. By tradition, the Board treats the team to dinner at the Ox Yoke in the Amana Colonies whenever they reel off 10 straight wins. No date has been set yet, but it’s something the Kernels players are looking forward to.

That’s especially true of Kepler, the German native. The restaurant specializes in traditional German food, something Kepler said he hasn’t had in awhile.

While the team will have to wait for an evening they can fit a trip to the Amana Colonies in to their busy schedule to collect on that meal, they tasted the benefits of Pelfrey’s appearance immediately after the game.

According to Nelson, Pelfrey treated his temporary Kernels teammates to prime rib for their postgame meal in the clubhouse.

- JC

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.

Kernels Opening Series a Success

The Cedar Rapids Kernels won three of four games over the Beloit Snappers in their first series of the 2013 season and there was no shortage of drama in the process.

The Kernels won their season opener 8-6, then recovered from a 2-1 ninth inning deficit to claim a walk-off 3-2 win in game 2 of the series. The Snappers managed to hold their 2-1 lead to completion in claiming the third game of the series. In the finale, three Kernels pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter at the visiting Snappers.

Outfielder Byron Buxton gave the locals a good look at what all the fuss is about as he hit .563 for the series, including plenty of power.

The game stories are widely available on the web, but this morning, I thought I’d share a few (OK, much more than a few) of the pictures I took over the course of the past week, since the Kernels arrived in Cedar Rapids.

Kernels coaches meet the media" Tommy Watkins (hitting coach), Jake Mauer (manager), Gary Lucas (pitching coach)

Kernels coaches meet the media: Tommy Watkins (hitting coach), Jake Mauer (manager), Gary Lucas (pitching coach)

The Kernels are introduced to local fans on Meet the Kernels night

The Kernels are introduced to local fans on Meet the Kernels night

Kernels players enjoying the introductions

Kernels players enjoying the introductions

Hudson Boyd

Hudson Boyd

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Tyler Grimes

Tyler Grimes

Travis Harrison

Travis Harrison

Romy Jimenez

Romy Jimenez

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton

Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey

Tyler Duffey

Niko Goodrum

Niko Goodrum

Travis Harrison

Travis Harrison

Manager Jake Mauer and 3B Travis Harrison working together pregame

Manager Jake Mauer and 3B Travis Harrison working together pregame

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

Kernels pitchers getting in pregame bullpen sessions

Kernels pitchers getting in pregame bullpen sessions

Pitching coach Gary Lucas works with Josue Montanez

Pitching coach Gary Lucas works with Josue Montanez

Manager Jake Mauer and Dalton Hicks

Manager Jake Mauer and Dalton Hicks

Josmil Pimentel

Candido Pimentel

Candido Pimentel

Candido Pimentel

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jorge Polanco

Jairo Rodriguez

Jairo Rodriguez

Jairo Rodriguez

Jairo Rodriguez

Adam Walker

Adam Walker

Adam Walker

Adam Walker

JD WIlliams (diving away from a near HBP)

JD WIlliams (diving away from a near HBP)

JCD Williams

JD Williams

Kernels Celebrate a No-Hitter

Kernels Celebrate a No-Hitter

Kernels sign postgame autographs

Kernels sign postgame autographs

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See ya next week!

See ya next week!

If you didn’t see your favorite Kernels in these pictures, not to worry… we’ll be posting a lot more pictures over the course of the season.

- JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 26

Episode 26 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Thanks to Mark Smith (@MarkArtSmith) for the new logo!

Now more than 6 months into the podcasting experiment the Pleiss brothers tackle the glory and excitement that is the dawn of the 2013 baseball season. Among things discussed are the real value of spring training stats (none), things to watch around the diamond in 2013 for the Twins (infield, outfield, rotation, bullpen) and a discussion of arguably the biggest post MVP flop in baseball history (Zoilo Versalles); toss in some banter about whether or not bigger is actually better, prospect talk (Jorge Polanco and Niko Goodrum) with Seth Stohs (@SethTweets) and some other baseball banter and you’ve got a fine mess for your listening enjoyment.

http://talk2contact.podomatic.com/entry/2013-02-21T21_18_03-08_00

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help increase our Spring Training stats).

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

- ERolfPleiss

Prospects and Projects – Projecting the 2013 Kernels, Part 3

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 catchers and in Part 2, I covered corner infielders. In this post, we’ll look at middle infielders that could spend all or part of their summer in Cedar Rapids.

While I had a little trouble identifying corner infielders likely to wear Kernels uniforms in 2013, I had almost exactly the opposite problem when I looked over the list of potential middle infielders. If anything, I found too many guys who could see time in Cedar Rapids this season.

Adam (A.J.) Pettersen – Age 24 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
93 368 .248 .632 53 28 13 2 2
AJ Pettersen

AJ Pettersen

My first thought was that Pettersen should move up to high-A Fort Myers to start the season and I still think that’s the most likely scenario. However, when I started to look at all of the other middle infielders who could/should play at the high-A level, it occurred to me that, depending on what happens with all of those guys, there simply may not be room for Pettersen with the Miracle.

AJ was drafted in the 25th round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Minnesota and after just a few games with Elizabethton at the end of the 2011 season, Pettersen spent the entire 2012 season in Beloit. He was the epitome of a “utility player” with the Snappers, playing 2B, 3B, SS, LF and DH. In fact, he even pitched an inning. His offensive stat line would indicate to me that spending a few more weeks at Class A while he waits for things to shake out a bit in the middle infield further up the organizational ladder wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Pettersen (though I suspect he might not agree).

If Pettersen does start the season in Cedar Rapids, get to know him quickly because his versatility and experience could make him among the first position players promoted to Fort Myers during the season.

Stephen Wickens – Age 23 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
59 252 .307 .841 32 34 12 2 2

Wickens was drafted a few rounds behind Pettersen in the 2011 amateur draft out of Florida Gulf Coast University and will turn 24 years old before Opening Day. Unlike Pettersen, Wickens stayed behind in extended spring training to start the 2012 season and played 10 games with Elizabethton before getting a promotion to Beloit. While in E’town, Wickens hit .424 and put up a 1.106 OPS (small sample size warning).

Wickens found the MWL to be more of a challenge, though he still hit .286 at that level and got on base at a .411 clip while serving as the Snappers’ primary shortstop through the second half of their season. He made 11 errors in 159 chances at that position. He also played several games at second base.

If Wickens impresses early, his age would also make him a candidate for promotion by mid year.

Niko Goodrum – Age 20 – Bats: Both/Throws R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
58 269 .242 .768 56 38 12 8 4

Goodrum was the Twins’ 2nd round draft choice in 2010 out of his Georgia high school. He got time in the GCL the summer he was drafted and has spent the past two seasons with Elizabethton. His batting average dipped a bit this past season, compared to 2011, but he apparently found more gaps as he increased his extra-base hits across the board. He also increased his number of walks, though he continued to strike out as often as he hit safely, which is something to work on.

At 6’3″, there’s been some question whether shortstop will ultimately remain Niko’s primary position, but he played 50 games at that position in 2012, as opposed to just 7 at third base, so the Twins appear to be giving him every chance to stick at shortstop. He cut his errors at short almost in half, compared to 2011, so there seems to be every reason for the Twins to keep sending him out to that position.

Many Twins fans already talk about Goodrum potentially being one shortstop in the organization with a chance of providing some long term stability at that position for the Twins in the future. That kind of optimism is evident as Goodrum’s name appears high on most published “Top Twins Prospects” lists for 2013. That makes him certainly a player for Kernels fans to watch closely during his time in Cedar Rapids.

Jorge Polanco – Age 19 – Bats: Both/Throws: R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
51 204 .318 .903 26 20 15 2 5

Polanco was signed to a $700,000 bonus as a Dominican 16 year old back in 2009. He played several games in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 before moving up to the GCL Twins to finish the year. By then, he was already projected to be a top-tier defensive infielder that could also contribute offensively. He repeated the GCL in 2011 and then moved up to Elizabethton for 2012. Jorge showed steady improvement in his offensive game during his first couple of professional seasons, but really took a major leap offensively in 2012 as he showed some power for the first time.

Polanco played 35 games at shortstop and 15 at second base for Elizabethton, committing just eight errors in 233 chances. That’s not bad at all, especially considering that he’s reported to have excellent range and therefore gets to a lot of balls lesser infielders won’t.

Candido Pimentel – Age 22 – Bats: Both/Throws: R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
56 247 .330 .824 42 26 10 3 1

Pimentel was signed as a free agent outfielder out of the Dominican Republic. He played in the Dominican Summer League in 2009, for the GCL Twins in 2010 and 2011 and for Elizabethon in the Appalachian League last summer. After being exclusively an outfielder for his first three years with the Twins organization, Pimentel actually played a few more games at second base for E’town than he did in the outfield.

That kind of flexibility could serve Pimentel well in Cedar Rapids, especially since learning the new position didn’t seem to negatively impact his bat skills. In fact, after seeing his offensive stats dip in 2011, he turned things around again a bit in 2012. In addition to hitting .330, Pimentel got on base at a .405 pace. That’s important, because once he gets on base, he’s a threat to steal.  He also found more gap power in 2012.

It certainly looks like the players listed above will be more than enough to adequately handle the middle infield for the Kernels in 2012, especially if Pettersen does start the season in Cedar Rapids.

The one other name that I believe bears mentioning is probably Aderlin Mejia. I covered Mejia in Part 2 when we looked at corner infielders and because the Twins organization appears to be a bit deeper at this level in the middle infield, I would imagine that if Mejia finds himself in Cedar Rapids at some point in 2013, it would be primarily at third base. That said, if a need for middle infield help does arise later in the season, Mejia could just as easily get a call to fill that role, too.

Next week, we’re going to look at the outfielders and pitchers… I think we’ll really like what we see!

- 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).

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 17

Episode 17 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

 
itunes pic

 
Once again the Twins’ twins get together to talk Twins baseball. This week Eric and Paul discuss the Kevin Correia signing (yuck), a look at the 2013 starting pitching rotation and the outfield, and the quick escalation of MLB player salaries. Later in the podcast they take a look at Rick Aguilera‘s career in Minnesota, what the offseason moves so far mean to the balance of power in the AL Central and they go Down on the Pond to take a closer look at Niko Goodrum before finishing off with a debate about the places each of them would like to be season ticket holders. Arguably the best 90 minutes ever recorded.

 

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes (ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which help us become warlocks.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

- ERolfPleiss