During last summer's trip to see the Kernels, I was impressed by Chih-Wei Hu, a right-handed pitcher from Taiwan who had a strong start despite unimpressive velocity.
Hu went on to have a good half-season with Cedar Rapids and followed that with a strong four months with Fort Myers this year before being traded to the Rays at the deadline. (Hu went on the disabled lis tthis week after cutting his left hand on a blender.)
Last week I saw Sam Gibbons, an Australian right-hander who is 6-2, 2.94 for the Kernels in 11 starts, 64.1 innings. As with Hu, he doesn't have a big fast ball, but he clearly has more "pitchability" than the Midwest League can handle. On Saturday he extended a scoreless inning streak into a 29th inning before giving up a pair of runs in the seventh.
I was seated for that game right behind the Kernels dugout, and after one quick inning coach Tommy Watkins turned around and barked at a player behind him: Why can't you be like Sam?
It looks easy, but ... if pitching were easy, everybody could do it.
Tanner English is a speedy center fielder and leadoff hitter who leads the Kernels in runs, walks, steals, doubles and triples. He is also just one homer shy of the team lead in that category too (he has five).
He's also pretty small. Baseball Reference lists him as 5-10, 160, and I suspect that's exaggerated.
The Twins are pretty loaded with outfield prospects, and while English looks pretty good so far in the lower levels of the system, I'm not sure how he cracks through the likes of Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia. Size matters.
Every once in a while I find myself in a pointless argument with somebody who believes with conviction that RBIs are an evaluative stat. Get lots of ribbies, you're a great hitter. The stat savvy realized that RBIs are largely a function of opportunity.
The Kernels have a good example of that. Left fielder Zack Larson is hitting .220 and has yet to homer. But he hit cleanup in all four games I attended, and I was told by local blogger "Jim Crikket" that Jake Mauer's hit him cleanup consistently this year.
Larson leads the Kernels in RBIs not because he's having a good year, but because he's hitting behind English, Nick Gordon and others who are having productive seasons.