Change is a Challenge Tyler Grimes Has Embraced

A number of this year’s Cedar Rapids Kernels have had to make an adjustment to wearing a Kernels uniform this summer after playing last season for the Beloit Snappers, who were the Minnesota Twins Midwest League affiliate during the eight prior years. It no doubt felt a little odd to some of them.

But to Tyler Grimes, who was the Snappers primary shortstop much of last season, the change in geographic location was far from the most drastic of the adjustments he’s had to make.

Tyler Grimes (9) shares a light moment in the on deck circle with Kernels team mate Niko Goodrum

Tyler Grimes (9) shares a light moment in the on deck circle with Kernels team mate Niko Goodrum

A couple of weeks before the Snappers’ season ended, Grimes was informed by the Twins minor league field coordinator, Joel Lepel, that the organization intended to convert him to catcher during the fall instructional league. Grimes said he hadn’t caught since Little League.

“At first, I didn’t know how to take it,” Grimes said during an interview on Saturday. “There was a lot of things going through my head. I just didn’t know how I was going to approach it when I got down there, at first.

“I got down there and everything started working out and I started to like it more and more. But it was tough, don’t get me wrong.”

And now, how does Grimes feel after spending dozens of games behind the plate in the catchers’ gear that ballplayers have long dubbed, ‘the tools if ignorance?’

“It’s been a tough transition, but here in July I can honestly say I enjoy going out there each night that I catch and I’m having fun with it. It’s like a new love for the game. I’ve got a new challenge and I’m always up for a challenge.”

That challenge has had some down sides, of course.

“My body, I’ve got to take care of it differently. I wasn’t used to taking ice baths, but I’ve been in the ice bath a lot,” Grimes said with a bit of a smile.

As a shortstop, Grimes had some responsibility for communicating with his fellow infielders, but he’s learned those responsibilities pale in comparison to what he’s had to take on as a catcher. Being the team’s “quarterback” behind the plate hasn’t always come naturally to him.

“Yeah, it was a little mind-boggling for me at first,” Grimes admitted. “(Lepel) is always on me, ‘hey you need to be more talkative and let those guys know.’ I wasn’t used to that. I’m not really like that. I’m not too loud out there on the field. I kind of let my game play itself and keep my mouth shut.”

But Grimes feels that part of his game is progressing. “That’s coming more in to everything now, I think. At first, it was position for blocking and other mechanics. Now I’m getting used to that more and more. I’ve still got a lot to work on and I do every day. But the talking side of it, and getting to know your pitchers, is starting to come more and more.”

Grimes literally takes a very professional approach to his new responsibilities.

“It’s a tough thing when (pitchers) aren’t hitting their locations or not hitting the vicinity that you think it’s going to be. You’re trying to call a curve ball and those guys are trying to throw it for a strike and it’s in the dirt.

It’s your job to block the ball. At these levels, now, you need to block the ball. We’re not in college or high school, this is our job, this is what we’re paid to do. So I take a lot of pride in blocking now. Even if it looks bad or weird, I’m going to do whatever I can to throw my body at it.”

His manager, Jake Mauer, likes the progress Grimes has made this season.

“He’s progressing pretty good, starting to receive the ball better, throws great,” said the manager. “His game-calling has gotten better. If we can get him to receive a little bit better on the low pitch, which a lot of catchers have trouble with.”

“He’s come a long ways,” added Mauer. “He wants to catch, which is a good thing. He wants to be good at it, which is better.”

Tyler Grimes

Tyler Grimes

One aspect of the game that Grimes has had considerable success at this season is controlling the running game of the Kernels’ opponents. He has thrown out about 44 percent of opposing baserunners that have attempted to steal a base against him. That’s a percentage most Major League catchers would love to have.

“It always feels good when you throw somebody out,” admitted Grimes. “You can block a ball and everything like that, but once you throw somebody out, it’s kind of like, ‘ok, I’m starting to like this more and more,’ you know?”

Still, it takes a certain kind of fearlessness for a player to willingly adjust from playing a position that’s a relatively safe 100 feet or more away from the hitter to being the guy setting up right behind the hitter. As it turns out, Grimes comes by that trait naturally. He played hockey until a series of concussions forced him to give up that game and focus on baseball.

That’s a fact he may regret letting Joel Lepel in on.

“(Lepel) likes to get on me, which is fine, because I can take it,” Grimes said, smiling. “Ever since then, he’s been like, ‘we’re going to be on you about it because if you’re a hockey player, you’re not scared of nothing.’

“But it is my mentality, catching is my mentality. I just had to get used to it and, like I said, I’m loving it now.”

He may be loving catching now, but there’s little question about which sport was Grimes’ favorite growing up – and it wasn’t baseball.

“We traveled in hockey from Houston to Canada,” Grimes related, concerning his time as a teenage hockey player. “Every spring break we’d go to Calgary and Toronto. Being from Kansas, a lot of people wouldn’t expect that. We actually had a good group of guys and we traveled all over and had fun with it.

“I tell you what, if I didn’t have the concussions that I have, then I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you, to this day,” Grimes admitted.

Shortly after arriving in Cedar Rapids, Grimes had an opportunity to attend a Cedar Rapids RoughRiders United States Hockey League game. Did watching the RoughRiders make him feel like grabbing a stick?

“Oh man,” Grimes responded with a head shake. “I called my dad and said, ‘I’m going to have to leave.’ I ended up leaving because I can’t watch it. I haven’t put on a pair of skates since I was 17 years old.”

The teenage Grimes “retired” from hockey after a championship game.

“My friend actually passed away this past year and they had a little get-together skate and I couldn’t even go to that,” recalled Grimes. “I showed up to the funeral but I couldn’t go to (the skate) because I can’t put on another pair of skates or I’ll be done with baseball and that’s no lie.”

Grimes’ demeanor turns serious when asked about his family and how they keep up with how he’s doing during the season.

“I’m a big family guy. My dad’s my best friend. I’ve got four little sisters and my mom, so it’s a big deal to me,” said Grimes. “I’m really tight with my little sisters. I went to Wichita State and played there and the reason I why I chose there was because I wanted to watch my sisters grow up. Not only do I play for myself, but I play for them and I play for our last name. I take a lot of pride in that.”

Obviously, the Grimes are a tight-knit family.

“I can sit here and tell you everything about my family and tell you how tight we are, but there’s really no words to describe how me and my family are,” Grimes explained. “It’s about being real and that’s how my personality is. I think that’s why I like catching, because if a pitcher needs to hear something or a pitcher needs to tell me something, I’m not going to be afraid to say anything and that’s how I look at it. But yeah, my family is my everything.”

Tyler Grimes

Tyler Grimes

Grimes also is enjoying the time he’s spending with his Kernels baseball family this season, but he’s also quite philosophical about the life of a minor league ballplayer that he’s leading.

“Now that I’m here, you’ve got to enjoy these guys, got to enjoy the clubhouse, because you never know when your last day is going to be,” said Grimes. “Two of my friends just got released last week. It just happens that quick.

“All these fans that come out and support us would do anything to be in our position. You know what, sometimes as players, we get away from how we have it. Minor league baseball is a grind, but at the same time, if it pays off and you get (to the Major Leagues), you’re going to be accepting a pretty good check every two weeks.”

Whether he achieves his goal of playing Big League ball or not, Grimes feels his time in the minor leagues is preparing him for life after baseball.

“You meet guys in the clubhouse that you don’t like or you dislike or you love, you have to find a way to get along with everybody,” Grimes went on to explain, “because that’s what’s going to take our team to a winning team or a losing team or a mediocre team. You just never know.”

Grimes believes the Twins organization does a very good job of finding players with character.

“I don’t know how deep (the Twins) go in to background checks, but everybody in our organization is a classy guy. Everybody gets along,” said Grimes. “The friendships that you build, it’s not just towards baseball. You never know if  JD Williams is going to own a business or if Joel Licon’s going to be the owner of a hotel and you get put on with him and you guys just keep in touch. It’s just good because it’s more than baseball.

“As much time as we spend together and as much as we get on each others’ nerves, you can’t explain the minor league life to the outsiders. It’s just impossible.”

One thing Grimes could explain, however, was his feelings about playing baseball in Cedar Rapids this season.

“I called my dad after about the first two weeks, and said, ‘I don’t know what the Big Leagues feels like, but this feels like the Big Leagues to me,” Grimes recalled, adding that the host family program was another aspect he appreciates about his Cedar Rapids experience.

Talking about the fan turnout for Kernels games, compared to other places he’s played, Grimes was effusive in his praise for the local support the Kernels fans have shown the team.

“To be able to play in front of an atmosphere like we go out in front of every night, it makes us enjoy what we’re doing,” said Grimes. “I actually feel like a professional baseball player here.”

Kernels Videos: Polanco, Hicks, Grimes

I spent Wednesday evening watching a doubleheader between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Burlington Bees (the Angels MWL affiliate). The two clubs split the two games with the Kernels winning the first game 6-5 and the Bees taking the nightcap 6-4.

In the first game, the Kernels came from behind and scored four runs in the third inning to take the lead. They fell behind again, but tied the game back up in the fifth inning with a Jorge Polanco triple, followed by a Dalton Hicks double. Here, if you will pardon the shaky video photography, are Polanco’s triple and Hicks’ RBI double.

Two of the newest members of the Kernels combined to contribute the ultimate game winning run as new catcher Michael Quesada beat out an infield single and pinch runner Jeremias Pineda stole second, advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on a wild pitch. Josue Montanez, who just returned to the Cedar Rapids from Extended Spring Training, pitched the final two innings to earn the win for the Kernels.

In the second game, Kernels fans had very little to get excited about. However, Tyler Grimes did give fans an opportunity to cheer with this two-run home run, driving in Travis Harrison ahead of him.

The Bees and Kernels finish up their four-game series Thursday night and host the Kane County Cougars (the Cubs MWL affiliate) for four games Friday through Monday.

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

Mauer: Kernels Roster Almost Set

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.

Tyler Grimes

Tyler Grimes

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.

- S.D. Buhr, MetroSportsReport.com

Prospects and Projects – Projecting the 2013 Kernels. Part 1

Since we’ve officially turned the calendar to 2013, it means Spring Training gets underway in just a few weeks and before you know it, we’ll be getting ready for Opening Day!

(Image: Kernels.com)

(Image: Kernels.com)

With this being the first year of the new Class A affiliation between the Twins and my hometown Cedar Rapids Kernels, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to bring more Kernels-centric writing to Knuckleballs and I figure there’s no time like the present to get started.

Over the coming days (or perhaps weeks), I’m going to try to introduce most, if not all, of the players that we may expect to see wearing Kernels uniforms this summer. Granted, there’s no way of knowing with any certainty who we’ll actually find on the Kernels’ roster to open the season, but we can certainly make some educated guesses… and if I run out of those, I’ll just pull a few wild names out of thin air and talk about those players, too!

The Opening Day roster will be limited to 25 players, but we’ll have no such limits here! It took almost no time at all for me to throw together a list of about 35 players in the Twins organization that look to me like reasonable bets to spend some time in Cedar Rapids this summer. Some will start the year in extended spring training and perhaps spend time with one of the Twins’ rookie league teams before, hopefully, getting promoted to Cedar Rapids. Others may open the season a rung higher on the organizational ladder with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle and miss out on being a Kernel altogether. But I’m relatively confident that most of the players we include in this series will wear a Kernels uniform at some point during the upcoming season.

For the benefit of those Kernels fans who are less familiar with the Twins organization, we should probably explain that the Twins have two “rookie level” short-season teams below the Class A Kernels. The lowest level is the Fort Myers team in the Gulf Coast League and the next level up is Elizabethton TN in the Appalachian League. Those Kernels who earn a promotion out of Cedar Rapids will find themselves with the Fort Myers Miracle in the “high-A” Florida State League.

Let’s kick off this series by looking at a group of catchers that Kernels fans might want to get to know. To my mind, the most likely catching options for Cedar Rapids to start the season would come from the trio of Jhonatan Arias, Tyler Grimes and Jairo Rodriguez. Here’s just a bit about them:

Jairo Rodriguez – Age 24 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
64 243 .265 .678 40 18 12  0 2
Jairo Rodriguez

Jairo Rodriguez

Outside of just six games at DH, Jairo made the rest of his starts behind the plate in 2012. He threw out 24 of 66 runners attempting to steal for a very respectable 36% throw-out rate.

Rodriguez was signed by the Twins out of Venezuela and spent his first three seasons in summer leagues in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. He spent 2010 and 2011 playing in US rookie leagues and the full 2012 season at Beloit. At 24 years old, Rodriguez would be older than most players in the Midwest League, so even if Rodriguez starts the year in Cedar Rapids, I could see the Twins pushing him up to Fort Myers at the first opportunity, assuming he performs at acceptable levels.

Tyler Grimes – Age 22 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Beloit (Class A – MWL)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
105 381 .202 .653 99 43 17 3 7
Tyler Grimes

Tyler Grimes

Grimes made 77 appearances at shortstop and 18 at second base (plus 1 at 3B and 7 as DH) in 2012.

Grimes was drafted by the Twins in the 5th round of the 2011 amateur draft out of Wichita State. He has not hit the ball real well in roughly a season and a half at Beloit, though at least he has shown a little power.

After the 2012 season, he spent time at the the Fall Instructional League learning the catcher position. Grimes could open the season with the Kernels, repeating Class A, or potentially be held back in extended spring training to work more on his catching skills with the Twins instructional staff in Fort Myers before starting his season. It will be very interesting to see how the catching experiment works out for Tyler.

Jhonatan Arias – Age 23 – Bats R/Throws R

2012: Elizabethton (Rookie – Appy League)

G PA BA OPS K BB 2B 3B HR
30 113 .301 .728 15 7 6 0 1

Jhonatan got in just 27 games behind the dish in 2012, but he threw out 11 of 30 attempted base stealers for a 37% rate. Of the three catchers I see as most likely to spend significant time in Cedar Rapids, he appears to have the most promising offensive skills.

Arias was signed out of the Dominican Republic and spent 2007 and 2008 playing in the Dominican Summer League. In 2009 he played for the Gulf Coast League Twins and in 2010 he moved up to Elizabethton. In 2011, he split time between E’town and Beloit, but struggled at the plate in his time with the Snappers. During the 2011 Fall Instructional League, Arias reportedly was tried out on the pitching mound, but he spent 2012 in Elizabethton back behind the plate.

If I had to bet, I’d expect the majority of the Kernels’ catching duties in 2013 will be shared by some combination of these three players, but there are a few younger catchers who spent time with one or both of the short-season teams in 2012 and could end up in Cedar Rapids at some point this season.

If the Twins do decide to bring in younger catchers, look to see Bo Altobelli, Kelly Cross and/or Bryan Santy.

Altobelli, who turns 22 in February, was drafted in the 21st round last June out of Texas Tech and signed with the Twins in time to get 18 games in behind the plate in Elizabethton. He hit just .230 and threw out just one of the 15 baserunners who attempted to steal against him.

Cross will turn 21 during Spring Training. He was drafted in the 26th round out of his Texas high school in 2010. He signed his contract just before the signing deadline and caught three games for the GCL Twins that summer. He also spent most of the past two seasons with the same GCL team. He caught just eight games for Elizabethton last season. He hasn’t seemed to figure out what to do with a bat in his hands, yet, hitting just .167 in his GCL and Appy games combined during 2012, but he did throw out an impressive 47% of attempted base stealers (15 of 32).

Santy played just 19 games for the GCL Twins in 2012 after the 22 year old was drafted in the 30th round out of the University of Washington. He not only threw out seven of the 16 runners who attempted to steal off him, but he also hit .296 and got on base at a .418 clip. Those are offensive numbers you won’t see in many other young Twins catching prospects. Of course, Santy was older than most of the pitchers he was likely facing in the GCL, which has me wondering whether the Twins might consider pushing him up a couple of levels over the course of 2013. If so, we might see him in CR.

Finally, there are two other catching prospects that I would consider long-shots to see in a Kernels uniform this season.

The Twins drafted Jorge Fernandez in the 7th round of the amateur draft last year, but Fernandez was drafted out of the International Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico and will just turn 19 in March. He caught 30 games for the GCL Twins last year with moderate success. I suspect he’ll spend all of 2013 in rookie leagues at either Fort Myers or Elizabethton, but I suppose there’s an outside chance he could find his way to Cedar Rapids late in the year.

One other catcher, Michael Quesada, contributed a bit at Elizabethton in 2012. Quesada was a low round draft pick in 2010 but as he was signed out of junior college, he’s older than Cross. Like some others on this list, Quesada has struggled a bit at the plate, but has had some success throwing out runners. Quesada, however, was suspended in August after failing a drug test, so he will start the season completing the remainder of a 50-game suspension. Unfortunately, since he was on the Elizabethton roster when he tested positive, the suspension doesn’t pick back up again until E’town’s short-season schedule resumes in June, so it will be August before he can suit up for any affiliate.

In my view, the Twins could stand to upgrade their catching at the low-minors level and I would not be disappointed to see them draft a college catcher or two in the top 10-15 rounds of the June amateur draft. With the accelerated signing period, I suppose that could result in Cedar Rapids seeing such a 2013 draftee behind the plate before the end of the season, but it’s not very likely.

Next up: Part 2: Corner infielders.

– 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).

 

Snappers Weekend Wrap

I had to leave Sunday’s Snappers game with the Cedar Rapids Kernels a couple innings early in order to get ready to catch a flight, but the Kernels had the game pretty well in hand by the time I walked out the gate.

The Snappers scored one run in the top of the first inning, but probably should have had more. Nate Roberts and JD Williams each singled to start the game and Miguel Sano sent a towering fly ball to right field, which bounced off the top of the high wall and back in to play. Roberts scored, but Williams stopped at second base. That fact that apparently was lost on Sano… at least until Sano had rounded second base, himself. They don’t allow one runner to pass a runner ahead of him in this game and that meant Sano was called out. The Snappers didn’t score again.

Pitcher Steven Gruver, 3B Miguel Sano, RP Cole Johnson in the bullpen

Steven Gruver had a little trouble getting out of the first inning, as well. giving up a single, a double and two walks to the Kernels in the bottom of the frame. That had the game tied at 1 after an inning. Gruver settled down a bit after that, though he did make a couple of mistakes that led to two Kernel solo home runs, before finishing his day after five innings of work. He was relieved by Cole Johnson, a late round 2011 pick by the Twins who made his first appearance for the Snappers since joining them from extended spring training.

I’m writing this before the game has finished, but I’m going to assume the 7-1 lead the Kernels held after seven innings will probably hold up, meaning the Snappers will take the series 2 games to 1. (Update: final score, 9-1)

Twins GM Terry Ryan (red shirt), Steve Bedrosian (white shirt)

Twins GM Terry Ryan was in the crowd again today, as was the full contingent of close to 20 scouts who have attended every game of the series. (I thought their numbers were reduced Saturday night, but was told today that they were all there… but many had to be seated in other areas due to the Kernels selling out the game.) Ryan was actually seated just across the aisle from former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian, who’s son, Cam, was the starting pitcher for the Kernels Friday night.

It was just about a perfect weekend for baseball in Cedar Rapids and, as usual, I loved every minute I was out there watching the kids on both teams play. The Angels haven’t done the Cedar Rapids organization any favors this year with the level of talent they’ve dispatched to the Kernels roster (a sign, some say, that they know they won’t be signing a new affiliation agreement with CR this off-season), but the players who are here are a great group of guys and give plenty of effort.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels organization does a great job and they deserve a better affiliation… something I hope the Twins will fix before Opening Day, 2013.

Finally, a few more pictures from today before I head to the airport.

– JC

Tyler Grimes coaching 1B

Starting pitcher Steven Gruver

DH Drew Leachman

1B Steve Liddle graps a pop up with 2B AJ Pettersen looking on

2B AJ Pettersen

Catcher Jairo Rodriguez

3B Miguel Sano

Another Snappers Shutout

I have no idea exactly why Twins GM Terry Ryan is in Cedar Rapids watching his organization’s Class A affiliate this weekend, but if he’s here to evaluate the Beloit Snappers’ pitching, he has to like what he’s seen in the first two games!

Pitcher Tim Shibuya and 3B Miguel Sano

The Snappers’ hitters provided plenty of support in Friday night’s 7-0 shutout, but Tim Shibuya wasn’t as fortunate on Saturday night. Like David Hurlbut the night before, Shibuya gave up just one hit before giving way to his bullpen. But Shibuya left after his six innings of work with the Snappers clinging to just a 1-0 lead as Kernels starting pitcher Austin Wood was having a pretty fair night on the mound, as well.

In the end, that one run was enough for the Snappers to come away with a 1-0 win.

The only run of the game was put on the board when Tyler Grimes worked a one-out walk in the third inning and came around to score on JD Williams’ RBI double down the left field line. Steve Liddle had a solid night at the plate with three singles, but nobody else had more than one hit.

Shibuya managed only one strikeout in his six innings of work, but also only walked one hitter. Oddly, he hit as many batters (2) as he allowed hits and walks, combined. Clint Dempster relieved Shibuya to start the 7th inning and put together a couple of strong innings, striking out three Kernels in those innings. He came out for the 9th inning, as well, but couldn’t nail down the save.

After a Miguel Sano error was erased by a double play, Dempster gave up back-to-back base hits, putting runners at the corners. Corey Williams came on at that point and claimed the save by inducing a game ending groundout to second baseman Nate Roberts.

Over 5,000 fans at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids

It was Autism Awareness Night at the ballpark in Cedar Rapids and the Kernels wore special jerseys for the occasion, which were auctioned off during the game. Yes, I claimed one for myself, taking it off the back of Kernels relief pitcher Stephen Tromblee, who was good enough to autograph the jersey after the game.

The game was a virtual sellout, with an announced attendance of 5,277 fans. Thanks to a fireworks show after the game (not to mention one heck of a pitchers’ duel), a significant percentage of the crowd stuck around for the whole game.

The Snappers and Kernels wrap up their series with an afternoon game on Sunday, starting at 2:05.

Let’s wrap up with a few more pictures from tonight’s game.

– JC

CF Jhon Gonclaves and Kernels catcher Abel Baker

C Matt Koch and Kernels 1B Frazier Hall

1B Drew Leachman

Pitcher Tim Shibuya

RF JD Williams following his RBI double, held on by Kernels SS Eric Stamets

My Autism Awareness Night jersey

 

A Snappers Pitching Gem

While the Twins were winning the opening game of their series with the Reds Friday night, I was spending just about a perfect night watching minor league baseball. The Beloit Snappers (the Twins’ Midwest League affiliate) opened the second half of their season here in Cedar Rapids against the Kernels.

Close to 20 scouts were easy to spot behind home plate

The temperature was right about 80 degrees with a slight breeze and there was a sizable crowd of a bit over 3,000 people in Memorial Stadium for the game. Among that crowd, I counted at least 18 scouts perched in seats directly behind home plate. It’s not at all unusual to see scouts at a MWL game, but I typically see 6-8 with their notebooks and radar guns, so seeing so many scouts in attendance is a bit unusual.

Terry Ryan (in the cap and white shirt)

Among that group was one familiar face, as well. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was pretty easy to spot as he shook hands with a scout wearing a shirt with a Yankees logo and sat in a nearby seat.

The game itself was never at all competitive, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to watch. The Snappers scored a run in the first inning off of Kernels starting pitcher Cam Bedrosian (son of former MLB/Twins pitcher Steve Bedrosian). In fact, they scored a run off of Bedrosian in each of the first three innings and three more runs in the fourth inning.

Pitcher David Hurlbut and first baseman Steven Liddle

Snappers starting pitcher David Hurlbut gave up a single to the second Kernels batter he faced in the first inning… and that would turn out to be the final hit that a Snapper pitcher would give up all night. Hurlbut threw seven shutout innings, walked three hitters and struck out four. Tim Atherton and Corey Williams each added an inning of relief without giving up a hit, as well.

Snappers hitters, on the other hand, racked up 11 hits on their way to a 7-0 win to start off the second half of their MWL season. The only extra base hits for the Snappers on the night were RBI doubles by Nate Hanson, Steve Liddle and Tyler Grimes. Twins top prospect Miguel Sano had a single in four ABs, with one walk and one strikeout on the night.

In fact, the Snapper lineup avoided getting even their first strikeout through six innings. We’ll try to disregard the fact that once the first K got recorded, Kernel relief pitcher Carmine Giardina sat down five Snappers in just the 7th and 8th innings, alone.

A sizable number of the fans in attendance were wearing Twins gear, as is usually the case when the Snappers come to town. I’m still holding out some hope that the Twins will strike an affiliate deal with the local ballclub starting next year. I continue to hear from pretty reliable local sources that there is some level of mutual interest, so we’ll see how that works out after the season.

Yes, I really did ask Terry Ryan for his autograph

After the game, I did approach Terry Ryan just to have him sign the scorecard I’d been keeping of the game. I expected him to either decline or reluctantly sign and walk away, but instead he not only signed my scorecard but initiated a short conversation. He asked if I lived in Cedar Rapids and how I came to be a Twins fan. I told him about having grown up the son of a HS baseball coach in Albert Lea and that my picture is hanging in the Albert Lea Applebees restaurant to prove it. He laughed and said he’d have to stop there some time and check it out. It was just a brief chat, but he couldn’t have been more gracious.

The Snappers will be back at it here on Saturday night and I’ll likely be there taking in the game, as well. The two teams were even accommodating enough to schedule an afternoon game on Sunday so I have a chance to watch that game, too, before I have to catch a flight to Florida Sunday evening.

I’ll add a few more pictures I took at the game below, for your viewing pleasure. (Fellow bloggers, feel free to pilfer them to post in your blogs, as you may find cause to do.)

– JC

Second baseman Adam Bryant

Shortstop Tyler Grimes

Catcher Matt Koch

First baseman Steven Liddle

Rightfielder Wang-Wei Lin

Leftfielder Nate Roberts

Third baseman Miguel Sano

That’s enough for tonight. I’ll probably snap a few more either Saturday or Sunday.

Snappers Series Finale Ends With a Bang

After a rather ugly game Wednesday night and Thursday’s suspended game, the Snappers and Kernels put on a good show on Friday in Cedar Rapids.

In the completion of Thursday’s suspended game, the Snappers got a home run from newcomer Drew Leachman and Miguel Sano hit his 7th home run of the season immediately after an AJ Petterson double in the 8th inning, but it wasn’t enough for the win. The Kernels topped Beloit 9-6.

Miguel Sano's home run stroke in the first of two dingers on the night (Photo: Jim Crikket)

The nightcap was a different story, with the Snappers breaking a 3-3 tie in the top of the 9th inning when Sano followed a JD Williams walk with his 8th home run of the year.

The Kernels thought Sano spent a bit too long admiring the blast and getting around the bases and their catcher, Abel Baker, let Sano know about it as he crossed home plate. The two exchanged words and that led to both benches emptying.

The 5-3 lead held up and the Snappers left town having won two of three games from the Kernels.

There were plenty of good performances among the Snappers in the series finale as starting pitcher Steven Gruver retired the first six hitters he faced and threw five decent innings. Michael Tonkin gave up a run in his 1 1/3 innings of work, but struck out four Kernels, and Clint Dempster finished up with 2 2/3 strong shutout innings, without giving up a hit, to notch the Win.

On the offensive side, Sano, Eddie Rosario, Wang-Wei Lin and Matthew Koch all had two hits and JD Williams & Tyler Grimes added doubles.

But the story of this series was Sano. In the three games in Cedar Rapids, he was 7 for 13 plus one walk. He had two doubles to go with his two home runs. He scored five runs and drove in seven RBI. He did strike out once on Friday, stranding runners at 2nd and 3rd base, so I guess he’s human. Still, in a post-game interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Kernels manager Jamie Burke called Sano, “unbelievable” and, “the best player I’ve seen here – by far.”

Personally, I still believe Mike Trout is the best player I’ve ever seen in the Midwest League, because he literally showed no weaknesses in his game during his time with the Kernels. But Sano’s performance this week was the most impressive offensive series I’ve witnessed.

I know the Twins organization is reluctant to push their position players up the ladder quickly. Selfishly, I hope he’s still with Beloit in mid June when the Snappers return to Cedar Rapids again. But as a Twins fan, I can’t imagine what more he needs to demonstrate in the Midwest League that he can’t just as easily work on in Fort Myers. There’s absolutely no doubt that Sano has work to do with the glove before he’s ready for prime time, but does it really make that much difference whether he works on his defense in Beloit or Fort Myers?

I’m convinced he’s more than ready to face better pitching. Kernels pitchers were feeding him almost nothing but breaking balls and other off-speed pitches. When they did throw a fastball, it wasn’t often anywhere near the strike zone.

I leave you with the following picture. As is the case at many ballparks, the Kernels give some lucky kids the opportunity to stand next to Kernels players on the field during the National Anthem and they give the kids t-shirts to wear. Very large t-shirts. I call this picture “Angels in the Infield.”

Angels In The Infield (Photo: Jim Crikket)

 

First Look at the 2012 Snappers

If you follow me on Twitter (@JimCrikket), you know that the Twins’ low-A affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, are making their first trip to Cedar Rapids this week and that I’ve spent the past couple of evenings at the ballpark watching them take on the Kernels (the Angels’ Midwest League affiliate).

They’ve played 1+ games in the series so far (Thursday’s game was suspended by thunderstorms in the 3rd inning and will be resumed at 5:00 today, prior to the scheduled series finale), so I thought I’d put up a quick post with my initial impressions.

The guys who are getting all the attention for the Snappers are infielders Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario. Sano is the consensus #1 ranked prospect in the Twins organization and Rosario is most often listed as either #2 or #3, so they both have some game. They aren’t the only guys on the team with some talent, though.

Wednesday night, I had arranged use of the suite that my company has out at Memorial Stadium, so I hosted a number of my coworkers and their significant others as we watched what started out as a pretty ugly display of baseball, frankly. To give you an idea of how ugly, the Snappers won the game 6-5, but the teams each scored only two earned runs on the night. That’s not pretty.

After two innings, the teams were tied 2-2 in the runs column, but the Snappers “led” 3-2 in errors. Two of those Snapper errors were charged to Rosario and Sano and they both were the kind that made you cringe. The conventional wisdom is that both players have work to do on defense with Sano’s size perhaps making staying at 3B a challenge and Rosario trying to learn a new position at 2B, after being an outfielder throughout his career. The conventional wisdom may be pretty accurate in this case.

But let’s face it, if Sano and Rosario are fixtures in the Twins 2015 lineup, it won’t be because they’re gold glovers, it will be because they’re capable of hitting the crap out of the baseball. Rosario had a tough night at the plate, going 0-4 (no Ks though) before being lifted after hitting in the 7th inning. Sano fared much better, with three hits in 5 at-bats, including a rocket double down the left field line that Kernel 3B Caleb Cowart managed to get a little leather on.

As I mentioned, though, Sano and Rosario aren’t the only players with some baseball talent. Relief pitcher Corey Williams came in to finish off the final two innings and slammed the door on the Kernels, walking one and striking out two hitters, without giving up a hit, to earn his fourth save on the year. Shortstop Tyler Grimes has only played four innings so far this series, but he’s made a couple of pretty impressive plays in the field. Finally, 1B Rory Rhodes may be struggling to get his BA up over the Mendoza line, but he hit a HR Wednesday night that was a monster. It cleared the fence. It cleared the picnic area beyond the fence. From my vantage point, it appeared to clear the street beyond the picnic area. I’m not 100% sure it’s come down yet.

Eddie Rosario was lifted in the 7th inning Wednesday night, for what I assumed was defensive purposes, but when I arrived at the stadium Thursday night, I saw he wasn’t in the lineup for the Snappers. It made me wonder if he was hurt or, perhaps, had been bumped up to Ft. Myers. But he was in uniform warming up with the rest of the Snappers in LF before the game, so the latter clearly wasn’t the case. I’ll be interested to see if he plays tonight.

Here’s another thing I really liked seeing… Sano and Rosario seemed to be enjoying themselves before and during the games. They were loose and smiling during warm-ups and both were generous with their time signing autographs for fans along the wall by the Snappers dugout before the games. That’s not always the case, especially with visiting teams’ “top prospects.” Then again, there was no shortage of fans in Twins caps and shirts at the ballpark this week. It’s always a bit of a “split crowd” when the Twins’ affiliate comes to Cedar Rapids, so the Snappers get plenty of support.

With that, I’ll wrap up with a few pictures from last night’s abbreviated trip to the ballpark.

 

Miguel Sano signing a few autographs for fans

 

Eddie Rosario warming up before the game... he's changed positions once already, but could he really be thinking about pitching?

 

... or catching? Say it ain't so, Eddie!

 

The Snappers loosen up with that time-honored tradition of a game of "Pepper"

 

Thursday's starting pitcher, Matthew Tomshaw, is off to a nice start for the Snappers, but wouldn't get much of an opportunity to pitch before the rains came

 

OK, this was a swing and a miss by Rory Rhodes Thursday night... but on Wednesday, he launched a ball about as far as I've seen one hit at Memorial Stadium in recent years

 

Tyler Grimes at shortstop for the Snappers in the sunshine... obviously prior to the thunderstorm that was to soon arrive

 

The thunderstorm may have caused the game to be suspended in the 3rd inning, but the crowd didn't let a little thing like that keep them from enjoying "$1.50 beer night"