Thursday, August 24, 2017

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Joe Cronin

The Twins have a big name infielder on their Cedar Rapids farm club -- and I don't mean Royce Lewis.

Joe Cronin was a Hall of Famer -- probably the greatest American League shortstop until the Robin Yount-Alan Trammell-Cal Ripken Jr. generation came along, and also a long time manager, team executive and president of the American League. He was a better player than manager and a better manager than executive, but he truly merits his plaque at Cooperstown.

Joe Cronin is an infielder for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Twins drafted him last year in the 34th round out of Boston College, and he is hitting under the Mendoza Line so far in his career. He's split time pretty evenly among third base, shortstop and second base for the Kernels. I saw him homer Sunday.

Cronin the Younger is not related to Cronin the Elder and certainly can't hit like his namesake some 80 years ago, but he seems to be a reliable fielder, especially by A ball standards. I probably wouldn't have paid him any attention were it not for his name.

The name gets him noticed. But if you're hitting .192, you might not want to be noticed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Travis Blankenhorn and Trey Cabbage

I get Travis Blankenhorn and Trey Cabbage confused.

They are both left-handed hitting infielders drafted by the Twins in the third and fourth rounds respectively in 2015. Both were described as third basemen on draft day. They both have first names that start with the same two letters.

Blankenhorn got to Cedar Rapids for the last month or so of the 2016 season and hit fairly well after crushing the Appy League. He played more second base than third, and DH'd more than he played second. He returned to Cedar Rapids for the 2017 season and has been a bit less productive at the plate while playing more in the field, splitting time between second and third with more time at third than at second.

Cabbage has been slower up the ladder and less productive. He spluttered last year at Elizabethton and improved some there this year before getting a late promotion to Cedar Rapids, and he's barely over the Mendoza line in less than 150 plate appearances in the Midwest League. He's played more outfield than third base for the Kernels.

On Friday, Blankenhorn was the DH and Cabbage started at third base. On Saturday, Cabbage was the DH and Blankenhorn second. On Sunday, Blankenhorn played second and Cabbage entered the game late at first base.

Cabbage drove in the winning run Friday with a sac fly. Blankenhorn homered on Saturday for the only run of the game for either side, and followed that up with a 4-for-5 game Sunday.

Somewhere in my brain, I have linked Blankenhorn and Cabbage to a 1970s Twins third baseman named Mike Cubbage (which is pretty close to Cabbage). Cubbage was a left-handed hitter who platooned at third base for Gene Mauch and occasionally played second. He finished his playing career with the Mets and went on to manage in the minors, coach in the majors and serve as in interim manager with the Mets in 1991. 

Cubbage's career might be Blankenhorn's future. Cabbage will have to find his bat to reach that high. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Ben Rortvedt

There are few players on the Cedar Rapids Kernels roster more important to the Twins future than Ben Rortvedt, a left-handed hitting catcher selected in the second round in the 2016 draft.

Rortvedt isn't putting up good numbers for the Kernels. Indeed, backup catcher Caleb Hamilton has hit three times the homers (nine for Hamilton, three for Rortvedt) and has about 50 points of on-base percentage and more than 70 points of slugging percentage on Rortvedt.

Which does not make Hamilton a better prospect. Age matters. Rortvedt was drafted last summer out of high school and has spent the entire season in low A; he isn't the youngest player on the roster (Royce Lewis is), but he's close. Hamilton was also drafted last summer (23rd round) but out of college; he's three years older than Rortvedt.

I didn't see much of Rortvedt; he's been hampered by injury of late, and he played just one of the three games I was at. He went hitless, but he caught a 1-0 shutout.

He got off to a terrible start -- a .096 batting average in April, .175 in May -- and in that sense that he's gotten his average over the Mendoza Line is something of an accomplishment.

Obviously, one would prefer that he be tearing up the league. Rortvedt isn't, and the Twins were probably aggressive in placing him in full season ball this quickly. But his hitting has improved, and he's done the bulk of the catching for a team that ranks second in the Midwest League in runs allowed per game, so he's doing something right behind the plate. The struggles may have hastened his development.

It's going to be a while before Rortvedt appears on the Target Field scoreboard. The Twins probably hope that when Jason Castro's contract is up (he's signed through 2019) that Rortvedt will be close to major league ready. That, it appears right now, would be an aggressive ambition.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A trip to Cedar Rapids: The pitchers

While the Twins were demolishing the Arizona Diamondbacks during the weekend, I was in Cedar Rapids watching their low A team, the Kernels, sweep the Beloit Snappers.

I wrote at some length about Royce Lewis, the No.1 overall pick in the June draft who is now playing shortstop for Cedar Rapids, for the Monday print column. He's hitting leadoff and sporting a .400 batting average going into today's game, so that's going pretty well.

For this space, I'll spend a few days talking about other things I saw there, starting with the pitchers.

The Kernels held the Snappers to three runs total in the three games. It's difficult to do much better than that at any level.

Still, I doubt I saw any future big league arms working for Cedar Rapids.

Anthony Marzi, who started Friday's game, and Charlie Barnes, who started Saturday's, are pretty much the same pitcher, left-handed strike throwers with modest velocity. The Twins signed Marzi out of an independent league; Barnes was a fourth-round pick out of Clemson University in June. Both are probably a bit old for the league; Marzi certainly is. The scoreboard gun in Veterans Memorial Stadium is notoriously slow, but neither hit 90 in the board reading.

Tyler Beardsley, a right hander who started Sunday, hit higher velocities but was less effective than the other two, although Beloit couldn't do much with him either.

The Twins have moved a number of significant pitching prospects through CR in recent years, and probably the best one to pitch this year for the Kernels is Griffin Jax, who is now on active duty with the Air Force and won't be back in the farm system for two years.

Another pitcher I'll keep in my memory bank is Tyler Watson, the lefty acquirred last month from Washington in the Brandon Kintzler trade. I didn't see him, or Bryan Sammons, the Twins' eight-round pick this June, another college draftee.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pic of the Week

Byron Buxton celebrates Friday night's
inside the park homer.
Apparently I missed quite the performance by Byron Buxton Friday night while at Cedar Rapids.

A standup triple. A standup double. An inside-the-park homer, timed by Statcast at 13.85 seconds, the fastest such jaunt in the almost three seasons that the service has been timing players.

No, he's not a bust.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A trip to CR: An Amaurys Minier jersey

The Kernels wore these jerseys Friday
to honor the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
I'm a University of Minnesota grad.
What am I doing?
For the second year in a row, I wound up winning a jersey of a player for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

It's quite possible that for the second year in a row, that player will get dropped by the organization before next season opens.

Last year it was Michael Cedaroth, a third-round draft pick (2014) who was released during spring training this year. This year, Amaurys Minier.

Minier is (supposedly) a first baseman and switch-hitting power bat. The Twins signed him in 2012 as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican for a bonus of $1.4 million. He's hit .220/.314/.403 in five seasons in the Twins system, .142/.276/.292 this season for Cedar Rapids. Right now he's on the disabled list.

Healthy or not, a 568 OPS in low A ball doesn't cut it.

The new regime has no personal investment in Minier. They have no particular need to make that $1.4 million pay off. It's dead money, somebody else's mistake.

Minier is only 21. Certainly he could turn it around. But my guess is that if he does, it won't be with the Twins organization.

Friday, August 18, 2017

One win, one loss, lots to talk about

Glen Perkins, in the first of Thursday's games, became the 32nd player to pitch for the Twins this year. Simply getting back onto a major league mound after essentially having his shoulder reconstructed is quite an accomplishment.

That said, his outing wasn't good. He hit two batters, walked another, threw more balls than strikes, got just one out.

He hit 93 at least once, but he didn't have command. He says he'll be better in future outings. We'll see. I'm pleased he's back; now I want to see him be effective enough to justify a role.

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Aaron Slegers, in the second game, became pitcher 33. He was pretty impressive in his big league debut: 6.1 innings, two hits, two walks, three strikeouts. Paul Molitor pulled him after just 82 pitches, which struck me as a prematurely quick hook.

Slegers is being sent back to Rochester, as he was the 26th man for the doubleheader, the Twins are in the midst of a staff-straining seven-games-in-five-days stretch and he can't help further with that, and, well, numbers, man.  (Despite what Dick Bremer kept saying during the telecast, my understanding of the rules is that he could remain and somebody else removed from the 25-man roster, but all the somebodies who could be sent down in his stead might help in the next five days.)

But it's really difficult to concoct a baseball rationale for keeping Kyle Gibson in the rotation and Slegers in the minors. Plus there's an opening in the rotation with putative fifth starter Dietrich Enns going on the disabled list.

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Enns went on the disabled list to make room on the 25 man roster for Perkins. Enns missed considerable time earlier in the year with a shoulder issue, but he was quoted as saying that this is in a different area of the shoulder.

Buddy Boshers gave up another homer in the first game and was demoted to Rochester between games, with Nik Turley activated. Bet you forgot Turley was still on the 40-man roster. (I knew only because I've been trying to figure out how to open enough space on the 40 to add all the Rule 5 eligible players I want the Twins to protect this winter.) Turley at least gives them another long man in the bullpen (and a potential starter). If he's still around a week from now, something went very wrong.

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Robbie Grossman broke his left thumb bumping into Byron Buxton in the outfield. He's out probably three weeks or so; Molitor suggested he will be able to hit before he can throw again.

Mitch Garver, primary position catcher, was called up during the night to take his place on the 25-man roster. Garver has played a few innings in left field for Rochester, but I wouldn't advocate having him platoon in right field with Max Kepler, which was a significant portion of Grossman's playing time.

The move means the Twins don't have an true fourth outfielder. Presumably Zack Granite (left-handed hitter) will be back when rosters expand, if not sooner. Either way, with Grossman out, I'd just as soon see Kepler play even against lefties. He's too young and talented to condemn to a strict platoon role. He's not going to get better against southpaws facing them this infrequently.

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My commentary on the major league team will be muted at best the next few days; I'm headed to Cedar Rapids for my annual look-see at the Kernels.