Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A trip to Cedar Rapids: Hitters

The Cedar Rapids Kernels -- the low A affiliate of the Twins -- will be in the the Midwest League playoffs this week as the second half champions of the West Division. It's the fourth straight year the manager Jake Mauer has piloted the Kernels into the league playoffs, and it's all the more impressive because there really isn't much on the roster in terms of high picks and name prospects.

The only player on the roster last weekend who Baseball America listed on its preseason top 31 prospects for the Twins is infielder Travis Blankenhorn, who was their third-round pick in 2015. He's a left-handed hitter who was drafted as a third baseman but has played mostly second base when in the field this year and DH'd more than anything. BA listed him as the Twins 26th prospect in the spring.

He played second base and hit fourth Saturday against a lefty, third base and hit fifth on Sunday against a righty and wasn't in the lineup at all on Monday (another lefty). He did nothing in either game that particularly caught my eye, but Friday was probably a really bad day for everybody on the team -- they'd played (and won) a 16-inning game Thursday night and then had a 5.5 hour bus ride back to Cedar Rapids, so it was probably a really tired squad.

Scouting the stat line

Three other infielders have had interesting seasons.

Luis Arraez, a smallish left-handed hitting second baseman from Venezuela, hit .347 with 31 doubles in a full season with Cedar Rapids, leading the Midwest League in batting average. He's only 19. Baseball Reference lists him as 155 pounds, but the Kernels roster lists him at 175, and I'd say the latter is more likely accurate right now. He started just the one game against a righty (Saturday) and had one hit but stung the ball two other times. He also got hit in the upper chest/neck by a ground ball.

.347 is .347, even in low A, and I would expect Arreaz to show up on prospect lists this winter. He's definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Nelson Molina is a skinny guy -- 6-foot-3, 165 pounds according to the roster and looks it -- but he hit .304, albeit without the doubles power Arraez displayed. The Puerto Rican played third base on Friday and shortstop on Sunday. He's 21, and if he is going to have a future he needs to get stronger.

Zander Wiel is plenty big (6-3, 220) and led the Kernels in home runs and RBIs; in fact, he led the Midwest League in RBIs and was second in homers. We saw him homer on Saturday, his 17th of the season; we left Monday's game early and missed two more homers from him. He hit 15 of his 19 homers in the second half of the season, doubtless a big reason why the Kernels had such a strong second half. But .. he's 23, a bit old for the league, and he's a right-handed hitting first baseman who hit under .260. Right-handed hitters limited to first base have to really mash to get to the majors, and I doubt Wiel qualifies.

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