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.

Mason Melotakis Serves as Kernels Stopper

Through May 21, the Cedar Rapids Kernels had built up an impressive 30-13 record and held a five game lead over their closest competition in the Western Division of the Midwest League.

They then left town for a quick three-game road trip to Beloit after taking three out of four games from Kane County. They had no clue at that time that they not only would get swept by the second place Snappers on that trip, but would also return home and drop all three games of a series against the last place Burlington Bees.

But that’s exactly what happened to the Kernels as almost every part of their game seemed to fall apart at the same time over the past week.

The defense not only started committing more errors than usual, but those errors seemed to come at precisely the worst possible time.

The timely hitting that had almost become a trademark of the team through the first six weeks of the season disappeared as they hit safely just 13 times in 54 opportunities with runners in scoring position during their losing streak and scored just three runs in four of the six games.

Perhaps most concerning, the Kernels’ starting pitching rotation averaged less than five innings of work per game over the six losses. The rotation arms gave up a whopping 45 hits and 33 runs (28 of them earned) in 29 2/3 innings during that stretch of games.

Kernels pitching coach Gary Lucas was asked what had gone wrong with the team’s starting pitching.

“I don’t know. These teams that begin with the letter B, Beloit and Burlington, took it to us,” conceded Lucas, after Tuesday night’s 9-4 win over Clinton.

“I can’t explain it. It’s been a little bit of everything here. It’s a bump in the road that all teams have, good and bad. Burlington’s turning some things around, Beloit’s turning some things around. We’ve got to overcome a losing streak and get back to our winning ways and hopefully this starts that process.”

Tuesday’s starting pitcher, Mason Melotakis, gave his team seven strong innings of work. That’s the first game a Kernels starting pitcher has worked seven innings since Tyler Duffey went 7 2/3 innings in a May 18 extra-inning win over Kane County.

Mason Melotakis

Mason Melotakis

Melotakis and Duffey are two of the Twins organization’s “conversion projects” this summer. Both were relief pitchers in college, but the Twins want to see if they are capable of playing a starting pitching role in the professional ranks.

To be successful, both pitchers will need to refine their secondary pitches – their breaking balls and change ups – rather than just rely on their ability to throw fastballs in excess of 90 miles per hour.

Melotakis feels the key for him is not letting hitters dig in against him. “I like to work in and out and make the hitters uncomfortable. I try to keep them uncomfortable and off balance in the box.”

Lucas feels that Melotakis is making progress in that area. “He is always going to attack with his fastball and he’s learning how to use it on both sides of the plate. The change up and the breaking ball are still a work in progress.”

“I think the fact that he’s using them over longer stretches, being a starter now and not a reliever, he’s got to do different things with those pitches,” Lucas added.

“He probably didn’t use a change up much as a reliever. In fact, I know when he was with us last year he didn’t. I think just staying on top of these kids and just developing touch/feel with their pitches. It’s a little inconsistent right now, but hopefully with innings, it’ll come. He (Melotakis) shows flashes of really being a consistent competitor with that fastball on both sides of the plate.”

In addition to developing other pitches, Duffey and Melotakis will also have to throw a lot more innings over the course of a season than they have in the past.

The Kernels are utilizing a six-man rotation that they hope will allow their starting pitchers to get through an entire season of rotation work without putting excessive wear and tear on their arms. It’s also hoped that doing so will make the conversion process easier for pitchers like Duffey and Melotakis.

But with the Kernels starting pitching struggling of late, could it be that some of these pitchers are tiring a bit as the team nears the half-way point of their season?

“It’s a good point. We should watch that to see at some point how they react and how their strength and how their stamina and their endurance (hold up).” Lucas said.

But Lucas isn’t ready to buy in to the theory already.

“Both Melotakis and Duffey, the key guys that used to be relievers and now are starters, they’ve got durability on their side. They’re strong. They’re hard workers. So I think they’ll be fine over the long haul. And they’re on a six man rotation so they usually get an extra day. We’re hoping that pays dividends as we move along.”

The Kernels added Hein Robb, a lefty from South Africa who just turned 21 on May 12, to their rotation this week. Robb replaced Matt Tomshaw, who was promoted to the Fort Myers Miracle.

Lucas indicated Robb would be inserted in to the rotation after Duffey, who is scheduled to pitch for the Kernels Wednesday night. That would mean Robb should make his Midwest League debut against Clinton on Thursday in Cedar Rapids.

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

h

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

Prospects and Projects: Projecting the 2013 Kernels, Part 6

This is the last of this six-part series examining the players in the Twins organization that likely will spend part of the upcoming summer in Cedar Rapids during the Kernels first year as the Twins Class A Midwest League affiliate.

(Image: Kernels.com)

(Image: Kernels.com)

In the first five parts, we’ve covered all of the position players and the pitchers most likely to fill starting pitching roles. We wrap things up now by looking at a rather lengthy list of relief pitchers.

In the 2012 amateur draft, the Twins had 15 picks in the first 12 rounds and they used nine of those picks to select college age relief pitchers. As a result, the organization starts 2013 with a lot of guys who have one year of rookie league level experience, but who are about 22 years old and therefore really need to get moving up the full season organizational ladder. That means a lot of the descriptions below will sound pretty similar.

The draft class of 2012 should be joined by some pretty talented pitchers that have already been in the organization a couple of years and, together, they should make the Kernels bullpen pretty darn good this season.

Luke Bard – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Fort Myers (Rookie – GCL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
7 1 3.86 7.0 1.714 7 6.4 9.0 9.0

Bard, the brother of Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard, was chosen by the Twins as a Supplemental 1st round pick (42nd pick overall) out of Georgia Tech. Like a number of others on this list, Bard was a relief pitcher in college who very possibly will get some opportunities to start in the Twins organization. Bard was a late signee and had a minor injury or two during the year. As a result, he got very little work in at the professional level in 2012, though he did make a handful of appearances at both Rookie League levels and actually pitched better at Elizabethton than he did during his time with the GCL Twins.

If the Twins do want to see what he can do as a starting pitcher, I could see them working with him on the transition in extended spring training and then getting a few starts at Elizabethton in June. He reportedly throws his fastball in the mid 90s, has a strong slider and decent change up, as well. If they’re as good as reported, he’ll be up with the Kernels in 2013, either in their bullpen or their rotation.

(EDIT: If you haven’t already, you should check out Seth Stohs’ interview with Bard over at TwinsDaily.com.)

Mason Melotakis – Age 21 – Throws Left

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

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
20 0 1.88 24.0 0.958 34 6.4 12.8 2.2
Mason Melotakis

Mason Melotakis

Melotakis was a 2nd round pick in 2012 out of Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He made 20 appearances (all in relief) for Elizabethton and Beloit, combined. Melotakis pretty much cut right through hitters at both levels of competition, though hitters had more success making contact off of him in Beloit.

Melotakis could justifiably start the season in Fort Myers, based on the way he dominated hitters at both Rookie and Class A levels in 2012. At the same time, he didn’t spend enough time in Class A to be 100% positive he’s ready to face high-A hitters.

If Melotakis does start the season with the Kernels, don’t expect him to be in town too long. I would guess he’ll be on a fast track with the organization, as long as he continues to dominate the way he has so far.

J.T. Chargois – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
12 0 1.69 16.0 0.938 22 5.6 12.4 2.8

Chargois was also a 2nd round pick of the Twins in the 2012 draft, coming out of Rice University. JT hits the mid 90s with his fastball and has a good slider to go with it.

Chargois was too much for Rookie league hitters to handle and while he could probably be held in extended spring training, I’d expect him to come north with Cedar Rapids unless there simply isn’t room for him on the roster. He has a lot of potential and I just think the Twins will want to challenge him with Midwest League hitting to see whether he could move up the ladder sooner rather than later.

Zack Jones – Age 22 – Throws Right

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

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
18 0 2.25 20.0 1.100 34 5.0 15.3 5.0
Zack Jones

Zack Jones

The Twins used their 4th round pick in the 2012 to draft Jones out of San Jose State University. At just 6’1”, Zack is not as big as many of the other relief pitchers the team drafted, but his stature doesn’t prevent him from hitting the upper 90s with his fastball.

Jones stayed in Elizabethton only long enough to pitch six innings and he left town with a perfect 0.00 ERA. The Midwest League was more challenging, in terms of giving up runs, but his strikeout rate actually increased at the higher level, where he struck out 16.1 hitters per nine innings. He does walk a few hitters, but if he can work on the control, Jones could fly up the organizational ladder. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Twins decided he showed enough in Beloit to warrant starting 2013 at high-A in Fort Myers.

Tyler Duffey – Age 22 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
12 0 1.42 19.0 0.632 27 4.7 12.8 0.9

Duffey was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2012 draft out of Rice University. Unlike many of the other relief pitchers drafted in the 2012 class, Duffey did not pitch at both Rookie league levels after signing. He got all of his regular season work with the GCL Twins in Fort Myers and certainly put up impressive numbers there. (See correction below.)

Tyler demonstrated terrific control, walking just two hitters over the course of his 19 innings of work. On the other hand, he struck out 27 hitters. Of course, as a college-age draftee, he was older than most of the hitters he faced, so we have to consider that factor in looking at his numbers.

Ordinarily, I’d say a guy like Duffey is likely to start the season in Cedar Rapids, but there’s room for only so many pitchers on the Kernels roster and there may just be too many guys ahead of him who did get work at Elizabethton last year. If that’s the case, Duffey would stay behind in extended spring training and go to E’town in June, but look for him to arrive in CR later in the summer.

(Correction: All of Duffey’s regular season numbers were put up in Elizabethton, not the GCL, and he got called up to Beloit for their playoff series and was actually credited with the W in their sole postseason win over Clinton. This clearly makes Duffey likely to be Cedar Rapids bound to start the season. Thanks for the correction in the comments section, Wild Rice.)

Christian Powell – Age 21 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
10 0 5.74 15.2 1.596 20 10.3 11.5 4.0

The Twins selected the 6’5” Powell in the 8th round of the 2012 draft out of the College of Charlston and he made just 10 relief appearances for Elizabethton during the summer. Powell had limited success, giving up more than a hit per inning and not demonstrating terrific control. Christian did demonstrate his ability to miss bats, however, as he struck out 20 hitters in just 15.2 innings of work.

Powell could be held back in extended spring training, rather than coming north with the Kernels and could well start his season back in Elizabethton in June, but I’d guess he’s likely to make a Kernels debut before the end of the season.

D.J. Baxendale – Age 22 – Throws Right

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

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
17 0 0.96 18.2 0.804 31 6.3 14.9 1.0

Baxendale was drafted in the 10th round of the 2012 amateur draft out of the University of Arkansas and worked his way through two levels of the Twins system after signing his contract. He clearly outclassed the competition in Elizabethton, striking out more than two hitters per inning in his six appearances there. He gave up exactly one hit before being promoted to Beloit.

DJ pitched well with the Snappers, also, but hitters did make more consistent contact off him. In fact, Baxendale gave up more than a hit per inning while pitching for the Snappers. He continued to strike out a lot of hitters, however. He only walked one batter while in Beloit, which is one more batter than he allowed to hit a home run off him.

It’s possible the Twins could have him jump straight to high-A ball to start 2013 in Fort Myers, but he only pitched 18.2 innings total after signing with the Twins last season, so I would think he would start the year in Cedar Rapids. It’s also quite possible the Twins might consider seeing if Baxendale might be a candidate to convert to a starting pitcher and, if so, it would seem doing so in Class A would make the most sense.

Dallas Gallant – Age 23 – Throws Right

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

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
14 0 1.62 16.2 1.020 22 4.9 11.9 4.3

Gallant was selected by the Twins in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft out of Sam Houston State University and was sent to Elizabethton to finish out the summer of 2010 after signing. He pitched well in his handful of games there, striking out 15 batters in 13.1 innings. 2011 was a lost season to Dallas as he underwent Tommy John surgery that spring.

As you would expect, the Twins started Gallant off slowly in 2012, keeping him in extended spring training and giving him five appearances with Elizabethton, where he was fairly dominant (as a 23-year-old pitcher should be), before promoting him to Beloit for the rest of the summer. He also pitched well for the Snappers, striking out almost 12 batters per nine innings, but walked a few hitters, as well.

I hesitated to include Gallant on this list. Given the bottleneck of younger pitchers behind him, it just seems to me that he’s likely to start the season at high-A Fort Myers. He turns 24 years old later in January, so he’s a bit older than the other pitchers on this list, but given the year lost to injury and the Twins’ methodical approach to advancement, he certainly could at least start the season with the Kernels.

Joshua Burris – Age 21 – Throws Right

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
18 0 1.75 36.0 1.250 40 6.0 10.0 5.2

Considering that the Twins drafted Burris out of LSU-Eunice in the 17th round back in 2011, he’s actually relatively young and will be just 21 throughout the 2013 season. He didn’t sign in time to get any innings in the summer he was drafted, but averaged two innings per relief appearance for Elizabethton in 2012.

Josh’s name can be found in many Twins top prospects lists as he’s demonstrated both a solid mid 90s fastball and an effective curve. Like many of his peers at this level, he’s had no trouble striking out Rookie level hitters, but has also walked a few, too. Since he was routinely used for multiple innings last season, there is speculation that Burris could be considered for a switch to a starting pitcher role at some point this season.

Chris Mazza – Age 23 – Throws Right

2012: Fort Myers (Rookie – GCL) and Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy)

G GS ERA IP WHIP K H/9 K/9 BB/9
18 0 2.05 30.2 0.946 28 7.9 8.2 0.6

Mazza didn’t sign soon enough following being drafted by the Twins in the 27th round of the 2011 draft to get any work in that summer, but he did pitch at both Rookie league levels in 2012. At 6’4” and just 175 pounds, Mazza has plenty of room to grow in to his frame, but he did get off to a good start in his first professional season.

Chris split his innings almost equally between the GCL Twins and Elizabethton, with similar results. He did give up more runs at Elizabethton, but most importantly he maintained his outstanding strikeout/walk ratio (13.00 K/BB at FtM and 15.00 K/BB at E’town). Mazza has excellent control and misses bats and that’s a combination that will move him up the ladder with the Twins.

There are other pitchers that will likely spend time in Cedar Rapids this summer, though it’s hard to say right now what role(s) they may fill on the Kernels’ pitching staff.

Brett Lee is 22 and was drafted in the 10th round in 2011. He threw 43.2 innings for Elizabethton in 2012 over 16 games. Four of his 16 appearances were starts. He struck out 48 hitters and walked 12.

Andrew Ferreira is a 22 year-old lefty the Twins drafted in the 32nd round last year out of Harvard. He struck out 13 hitters and walked seven in his 10 innings of work for Elizabethton in 2012.

Kaleb Merck is also 22 and was drafted out of TCU by the Twins one round after Ferreira last year. Merck struck out 28 hitters in his 24.1 innings at Elizabethton. Obviously, both pitchers could easily spend time in Cedar Rapids this summer.

The 2013 Kernels bullpen should be a real strength and could easily include several future Big League pitchers. Some of these guys could be on fast tracks through the organization, however, so don’t be too surprised if they’re promoted relatively quickly.

That’s a wrap for this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these young men and that you join me in looking forward to the 2013 season of the Cedar Rapids Kernels!

If you missed any of the first five parts of the series, you can click back via the links below:

– JC

P.S. Seth Stohs’ 2013 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook is now available for order! If you want to know more about the prospects we’ve profiled in this series, Seth and his fellow writers annually provide statistics and write-ups on pretty much every Twins prospect at all levels of the organization. You can order your copy of the Handbook by clicking here.