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)

 

Snappers Photos, Part Deux

I took the afternoon off from the office to sneak out to the ballpark and take in the final game of the Snappers/Kernels series today and it was well worth the penalty I’ll pay of having more work to do tomorrow.

The Kernels won the game 5-4 in 11 innings. Given the heat and the fact that I went straight from the office and thus was still in “business casual” attire, I really didn’t need a four hour extra innings game, but it certainly was entertaining.

Lefty Ryan O’Rourke threw six solid innings for the Snappers but was left with a no decision as his team mates committed four errors behind him (OK, technically only three were committed behind him since O’Rourke committed one of those errors himself when he lobbed a pick off throw to 1B well down the RF line).

The latter stages had everything a fan could want to see in a game. Strategic bunting, clutch hitting, diving catches, good baserunning, controversial umpiring, and a 9th inning manager ejection (the Kernels manager, Brent Del Chiaro… though Snapper manager Nelson Prada and 1B coach Tommy Watkins came close to getting early showers one play later, following what could best be referred to as a pretty obvious “make up” call).

In the end, the Kernels won the game on a walk-off HR down the LF line. If it was fair, it wasn’t by much, but it was called fair and that’s all that matters I guess.

Here are a few pictures of some of today’s action… I didn’t take as many as Sunday, but we have a few shots of guys who didn’t play in Sunday’s game.

Infielder Adam Bryant gets low at 2B

OF Wang-Wei Lin gets some swings in during a catcher's visit to the mound

Coach Tommy Watkins with instructions to Lin at 1B

Starting pitcher Ryan O'Rourke delivers

Catcher Tobias Streich glances toward the Kernels dugout

Relief pitcher Michael Tonkin delivers and SS Daniel Santana breaks to cover 3B as the hitter squares to bunt

Lefty reliever Jose Gonzalez strides toward home

Reliever Nelvin Fuentes gave up the game winning HR, though he and the Snappers weren't convinced it was a fair ball

Pinch runner Derek McCallum scored the tying run in the top of the 9th on a wild pitch as Tobias Streich gives him the "get down" sign

 

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Snappers Extra-Inning Win in Photos

Like their parent club, the Beloit Snappers played extra innings Monday. Unlike the Twins, however, the Snappers actually managed to get some hits with runners in scoring position and thus avoided getting swept out of Cedar Rapids with a 5-4 win over the Kernels. Thunderstorms during the morning threatened to delay the Snappers “getaway”, but the two teams got started on time and completed their 10-inning game in just under three hours.

The 20+ mph wind that blew in from right-center field most of the game made for some interesting (and entertaining) defensive plays, but rather than just write about this game, I thought I might try to tell the story with pictures and even a short video.

Snappers shortstop Daniel Santana got things going for Beloit by lining the second pitch of the game over the left-centerfield wall for a leadoff home run.

Daniel Santana homers to lead off the first inning

Leftfielder Nate Roberts collected three hits, scored a run and stole two bases on the day, then added a sacrifice bunt to move Andrew Leer in to scoring position in the top of the 10th inning.

Nate Roberts leads off in front of Kernels SS Jean Almanzar

Also contributing three hits to the Snappers attack was centerfielder Wang-Wei Lin, who put the Snappers ahead 3-0 in the 5th inning with an RBI single to right field.

Wang-Wei Lin moves away from Kernels 1B Brandon Decker

Starting pitcher Adrian Salcedo didn’t give up a hit until Kernel 1B Brandon Decker reached on an infield single in the 4th inning (on a backhand play that Snapper 2B Derek McCallum would likely admit he should have made). Salcedo was regularly hitting 93 mph on the stadium radar gun and was dominating the Kernels through 6 innings.

Adrian Salcedo was all but untouchable for 6 innings

The wheels fell off for Salcedo in the 7th inning, however (or more accurately, they fell off for the Snapper defense behind him), as the Kernels batted around, scoring four runs (only two earned) to tie the score at 4-4. Clinton Dempster relieved Salcedo with bases loaded and two out and gave up an RBI single and a sac fly before getting the final out of the inning.

Dempster was more effective over his remaining two innings of work, facing the minimum six hitters.

Clinton Dempster collected a blown save AND the win

That’s where the score remained until the top of the 10th inning when Leer let off with a single to left field, was moved to 2B by Roberts’ sacrifice bunt and on to 3B by Michael Gonzales’ second single of the day. Daniel Ortiz’s groundout to second base was deep enough to easily score Leer.

All that remained was for relief pitcher Matt Hauser to nail down the save. He made it a bit interesting, giving up a walk and a single (almost makes it seem like the Twins actually teach their closers to do that, doesn’t it?), before getting the final Kernels out to finish off the Snappers’ 5-4 victory.

Matt Hauser talks things over with catcher Matt Parker

The Snappers make their next (and final) trip to Cedar Rapids for a three-game series July 30-Aug 1, but both teams are off to good starts in the first half of the season and have real shots at the Midwest League post-season.

– JC