It’s always so sad to see a young, happy life taken away far too soon, but that was the news that greeted us this morning when we learned that Twins pitching prospect Yorman Landa had lost his life in an auto accident overnight.
Landa, who pitched for the Cedar Rapids Kernels during parts of the 2014 and 2015 season, was reportedly a passenger in a car driven by his father on a rainy night in Venezuela when the vehicle collided with a fallen tree on a dark stretch of road.
Landa didn’t speak much English during his time in Cedar Rapids, but he was quick with a smile and, as borne out by the abundance of social media messages from teammates, managers and coaches, he was beloved in the clubhouse.
There was no rain in Fort Myers on Wednesday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it was pretty breezy and high temperatures for the day barely, if at all, reached 70 degrees.
I know that sounds good to a lot of people, but I had to wear long sleeves much of the day at the ballpark and was a bit chilly eating dinner outdoors tonight!
But I toughed it out, because I know my readers expect me to do whatever it takes to get the story.
Today, that story comes from the minor league side of the Twins organization. Rather than watch the Twins and Pirates at Hammond Stadium, I fought the Daniels Parkway traffic toward the Red Sox complex to watch the Twins’ Class A groups take on their Sox counterparts.
After the game, Kernels manager Jake Mauer shared some thoughts about the way his club is shaping up as they enter the final few days of camp. Mauer indicated that just a handful of roster spots are still unresolved.
One player still “on the bubble” with the Kernels as final decisions are being made is Chad Christensen, who prepped at Cedar Rapids Washington High School before playing ball for the University of Nebraska. Christensen was drafted by the Twins last June and played last summer for the Twins’ Gulf Coast League rookie level affiliate in Fort Myers.
It sounds like the Kernels’ manager would like to bring Christiansen to Cedar Rapids next week.
“Chad’s been working real hard and he’s somebody that gives us some flexibility. He’s played both (corner) outfield positions and both corner infield positions and I wouldn’t be afraid to put him at shortstop once in a while,” said Mauer. “We’ve got about six or seven guys we’ve got to make decisions on and he’s in that mix, but there’s no doubt that he’s somebody we’d like to take north with us.”
Mauer knows his squad of Kernels is going to have to take a different approach than last year’s team, now that last year’s power hitters have moved up the organizational ladder.
“We’re going to have to be real good at the small things right away,” the manager acknowledged. “We’re going to have to run the bases well. We’re going to have to be able to execute the small game, hit and runs, getting bunts down, doing things like that. Try to create runs that way.”
According to Mauer, there should be five or six familiar faces for Kernels fans to welcome back to Cedar Rapids.
Among the likely returnees are catchers Michael Quesada and Bo Altobelli. Said Mauer, “We plan on taking both those guys north, along with (Mitchell) Garver. We’re probably going to take three (catchers) to start, at least.”
That means flexibility will be key among other position players because, according to the skipper, he expects the final roster to contain just 12 position players, allowing 13 roster spots for the pitching staff that will once again utilize a six-man starting rotation.
It’s that pitching staff that many in the Twins organization, as well as their fans, are anxious to see.
“I think we’ll be starter-heavy. We should have some quality arms, starting-wise,” said Mauer. “We’ve got a lot of young, quality arms. It just depends on how many we decide to bring up with us.”
In particular, there are a number of pitchers that will push their fastballs consistently in to the middle-to-upper 90s on the speed gun, including young Dominican pitchers Yorman Landa, who was hitting 96 mph in Wednesday’s game, and Randy Rosario. In addition, the Twins’ first round pick in 2013 (and second pick overall) Kohl Stewart is a hard throwing 19 year old who is still on the Kernels roster as camp is drawing to a close.
As Kernels fans know, however, the team’s success is not solely determined by the players that start the season with the club. Between injuries and promotions, it’s equally important to have talented players at the lower levels of the organization preparing to join the Kernels as the season develops.
According to Mauer, there’s plenty of potential mid-season help available, as well. “You know we’ve got some young boys down there, too, (Lewis) Thorpe and (Stephen) Gonsalves. Kids that have some pretty good arms that we’ll probably see at some point throughout the year.”
The Kernels will break camp on Monday. There will be a “Meet the Kernels” event open to the public at no charge on April 1 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids and Opening Day is Thursday, April 3, when the Kernels host the Clinton Lumber Kings.