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.
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.
The following article was originally posted at MetroSportsReport.com and is re-posted here with permission.
With a week remaining before the Cedar Rapids Kernels take the field for the first time in 2013, a few roster spots are yet to be finalized during the final days of the team’s spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
“We’re getting close,” Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said Wednesday. “There are probably three or four decisions left to make. A couple of pitchers and a couple of position players.
“Our position players are in good shape. It looks like we should have good team speed,” Mauer said.
Mauer indicated that Byron Buxton, the Twins’ first-round draft pick in last June’s amateur draft (and second pick overall), will be the club’s center fielder. He will be joined in the outfield by two other highly rated Twins prospects, Adam Walker and Romy Jimenez.
Max Kepler, another top prospect, is likely to remain in Fort Myers for a while. “He has some arm issues to work through” before he will join the Kernels, Mauer explained. “There’s still some competition for the fourth outfield spot, but competition always is a good thing,” Mauer said.
Buxton started in center field for the parent Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He led off with a single off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett. Buxton added a walk, two stolen bases and three runs scored for the Twins.
The Kernels’ starting pitching rotation is up in the air. “(Hudson) Boyd should be there, but (Jose) Berrios and (Luke) Bard will probably stay in Fort Myers for one or two weeks,” Mauer said.
Both pitchers, according to their manager, need to stretch out their arms a little more. Berrios pitched for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, but was used in relief and had not been throwing multiple innings until he arrived back in Fort Myers less than two weeks ago.
“We’re still trying to get to know some of our pitchers,” Mauer said. “Some of them have never played in cold weather, so we’ll want to monitor their innings. The important thing is to stay healthy through that first month.”
While many core players from last season’s Appalachian League champions in Elizabethton will be on the Kernels’ Opening Day roster, Mauer confirmed they’ll be joined by several members of last summer’s Beloit Snappers.
Among those players returning for another Midwest League season will be Tyler Grimes. Grimes was an infielder for the Snappers in 2012 but spent the fall learning how to be a catcher. That transition is going well, according to Mauer.
“He throws well and is very athletic. He’s working really hard at learning the details of catching, calling pitches and controlling the running game,” said Mauer. “We plan to use him four or five games a week.”
Players still competing for final roster spots have just three or four more games to impress the decision makers before breaking camp and traveling to Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.
The Kernels are scheduled to open the season on Thursday, April 4, against Beloit at Veterans Memorial Stadium at 6:35 p.m.
We’ve worked our way around the horn in the first three Parts of this series, covering the catchers, corner infielders and middle infielders that could possibly put on a Kernels uniform in Cedar Rapids this summer. In Part 4 of our series, we’ll check out a number of outfielders that could take the field for Cedar Rapids at some point during 2013.
Obviously, we can’t know this early exactly who will come north to Iowa out of Spring Training to start the season, but regardless of which of these prospects starts the season in Cedar Rapids, the Kernels outfield should be flat-out loaded! A number of the organization’s top prospects played at Elizabethton in 2012 and most of them should find their way to Cedar Rapids either to start the season or by some time midway through the summer.
JaDamion (J.D.) Williams – Age 22 – Bats: Both/Throws: Right
2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)
Williams was drafted out of his Tampa FL high school by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2010 amateur draft. JD signed in time to get 37 games in with the GCL Twins in 2010, but struggled at the plate. He had considerably more success in his sophomore year of professional baseball, hitting .324 for Elizabethton in 2011. His productivity dipped some in his first year of full-season ball at Beloit in 2012, but he did finally show some of the speed the Twins expected him to have on the basepaths. He stole 23 bases in 32 attempts during the season at Beloit, but just think of how many he could have stolen if he hadn’t struck out 115 times.
Williams spent considerable time in all three outfield positions during 2012, including 23 games in centerfield. He also threw out seven runners on the bases.
At the end of the 2012 season, I would have almost guaranteed JD would open 2013 with the Kernels and I think he could probably use some extra time at the Class A level. But with the Twins trading Denard Span and Ben Revere, the bottleneck of outfielders in the organization could open up enough to allow him to open the year at high-A Fort Myers, along with most of the rest of his fellow Snappers team mates from last season.
Max Kepler – Age 19 – Bats: L/Throws: L
2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)
In 2009, the Twins gave the 6’4″ German the largest signing bonus paid to a European baseball player, at the time. He moved to Fort Myers and finished school at the high school that neighbors the Twins training facility in that city. In three seasons of rookie league ball, Kepler has steadily progressed, showing the kind of athletic prowess one might expect from the son of European ballet dancers.
The 6’4″ outfielder will just turn 20 before this season and has grown in to his body since arriving in the US. In 2012, his second season at Elizabethton, he made real progress in almost every aspect of his game, adding 35 points to his batting average and a whopping 211 points to his OPS, most of that a result of showing significantly more power. After hitting just one home run in his first two years of professional ball, combined, Kepler jacked 10 of them in 2012.
But Max isn’t just big, he’s got speed as well (he stole seven bases without being caught stealing even once) and a strong arm. He played 67 games in centerfield for Elizabethton last year and 23 games in a corner outfield spot, mostly left field.
Kepler was appearing in most offseason “top 10” lists of Twins prospects before the Span and Revere trades added a couple of highly rated minor league pitchers to the organization, but he easily remains a consensus top 15 Twins prospect heading in to 2013. Even after those trades, I’ve ranked Kepler 9th on my list.
Romy Jimenez – Age 21 – Bats R/Throws R
2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)
Jiminez was signed in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic and started his professional career with two very good seasons in the Dominican Summer League. An injury limited him to just eight games with the GCL Twins in 2011, but he came back very strong in 2012.
Romy won’t turn 22 until several weeks in to what should be his first experience on a full-season roster in Cedar Rapids. He has certainly shown the ability to hit and hit with power, but I’m curious about the fact that he didn’t steal a single base in 2012 (and only attempted one) at Elizabethton, although he stole 24 bases in 34 attempts in his two Dominican seasons.
Like Kepler, the 6’2″ Jimenez saw time in all three outfield spots during 2012, though most of his time was spent in left field.
Adam Walker – Age 21 – Bats: R/Throws: R
2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)
The 6’4″, 225 pound, Walker was drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round of the 2012 amateur draft and after signing quickly, he was assigned to Elizabethton in time to get 58 games in. His batting average in his first professional season won’t raise eyebrows and his .310 on-base percentage could stand to improve. He certatainly needs to cut that strikeout rate down considerably. But look at those extra-base hits! Seven doubles, four triples and 14 home runs in just 58 games. That would project to 20 doubles, seven triples and close to 40 home runs over a 162 game Major League schedule.
Walker exclusively played right field for E’town and he made a few errors out there, but he also threw out half a dozen baserunners. He also stole four bases on the season, without being caught stealing even once.
The Twins obviously saw a potential power hitter in Walker when they drafted him out of Jacksonville University and he gave them no reason to question that in his first professional experience. If he can slash those Ks in Cedar Rapids, while maintaining anything even close to his 2012 power numbers, Adam could climb up the organizational ladder quickly.
That’s four potential outfielders and, if Candido Pimentel, who we covered with the middle infielders, starts the season in Cedar Rapds, that would give Kernels manager Jake Mauer a full contingent of players to move in and out of his outfield.
But wait! We haven’t even mentioned the outfielder who managed to garner Baseball America’s “top prospect” award in BOTH the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League in 2012. Of course, that would be…
Byron Buxton – Age 19 – Bats: R/Throws: R
2012: Fort Myers (Rookie – GCL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)
The only benefit to having the second worst record in Major League Baseball in 2011 was that it earned the Twins the right to the second overall draft pick in the 2012 amateur draft. The Twins used that pick to select Buxton out of his Georgia high school and less than a year later, he’s generally considered either the 1st or 2nd ranked prospect in the Twins organization (he tops my list).
Buxton played 27 games with the GCL Twins before moving up to Elizabethton to finish the season. While his .216 batting average win the GCL wasn’t flashy, he actually had more extra-base hits (11, including 4 HRs) than singles (8). Think about that for a moment. His Appy stats were much more “normal” looking, but he still had eight XBHs among his 22 hits overall at that level.
There is probably little doubt that Buxton could compete at the Class A level, but given his age (he’ll be 19 all season long) and the outfield talent that got more experience in Elizabethton a year ago, Byron will quite likely stick around extended spring training to start the season and may play a few weeks in E’town again. I’ll be surprised, however, if he isn’t in Cedar Rapids for most of the second half of the MWL season and if JD Williams does open the year at high-A Fort Myers, Buxton could come to Cedar Rapids in April, too.
Whenever you do get to see him play in Cedar Rapids, Kernels fans, pay attention. Once he reaches Minnesota, Buxton could be the Twins center fielder for many years to come.
There are a couple more outfielders that at least warrant a mention, since you never know when injuries and promotions will result in players getting promoted from one of the rookie league teams. If that happens, look for Kelvin Ortiz, Jeremias Pineda or Dereck Rodriguez to find themselves in Kernels uniforms.
Ortiz, a 21-year-old Dominican has played two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and two seasons with the GCL Twins while compiling just a .221 batting average and perhaps even less impressive stats, otherwise.
Pineda, also from the Dominican Republic, is 22 and came over to the Twins from the Red Sox organization in the Danny Valencia trade last summer. The move didn’t exactly agree with him, however, as he hit just .237 while putting up a .640 OPS with the GCL Twins after putting up .421 BA and .981 OPS numbers for the GCL Red Sox before the trade.
Rodriguez, 20, was drafted by the Twins in the 6th round of the 2011 amateur draft. He struggled considerably with the GCL Twins after signing in 2011, but improved a great deal last year while repeating that level. He hit .263 with a .783 OPS with a bit of power.
Kernels fans should enjoy watching their outfielders this season. Some of them have much better than average chances of playing Major League Baseball in the future.