I had the great opportunity to travel to Fort Myers for Minnesota Twins Spring Training last week. You can check out plenty of pictures in the blog post below. Spring Training is an all-around great experience for any baseball fan. The opportunity to watch baseball in 90 degree weather in March obviously doesn’t happen in Iowa or Minnesota so a trip to either Florida or Arizona in the spring is something everyone should check off their bucket list.
My first day at the Twins complex was last Tuesday. The days get started early as players are typically on the field by 9:00 a.m. On this day, the Major League team was playing over an hour away in Sarasota against the Baltimore Orioles. However, many of the star players stayed back and worked out with coaches in Fort Myers. Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter were two of the players who stayed back and did not travel to Sarasota.
Spring Training allows fans to get up close and personal (to a certain extent) with the players. Fans were able to stand next to the chain-link fence and watch Mauer take grounders and Hunter take swings in the cage. Next door at Hammond Stadium, pitchers were throwing side sessions in the bullpen. The Twins make it very accessible for fans at Spring Training. The gates to Hammond Stadium were open, allowing fans to get a look inside the park and watch the pitchers from directly above the bullpen. Ricky Nolasco went through a throwing session as a handful of Twins fans looked on.
Meanwhile, on one of the practice fields the remaining pitchers were going through “Pitchers Fielding Practice,” or “PFP.” Pitchers went through every fielding play you can imagine, from sharp comebackers to the mound, bunt defense, and covering first on a grounder to the right side of the infield.
While this was going on the Minor Leaguers were a short walk away going through similar drills. On this particular Tuesday, the Minor Leaguers were split up into their respective affiliates. The rosters will obviously change considerably by Opening Day, but it did give a good idea of where players stood.
Tuesday was the final day of the instrasquad scrimmages. Cedar Rapids played the high-A affiliate Fort Myers while double-A Chattanooga took on triple-A Rochester on a separate field. There are four Minor League fields on the complex that have a centrally located tower, allowing Twins personnel to see all fields at once.
I had the chance to talk with Kernels manager Jake Mauer and hitting coach Tommy Watkins. Both are excited to get back to Cedar Rapids for their third seasons. The Kernels lineup featured infielder Nick Gordon, the top draft choice of the Twins in 2014. Speedy Tanner English was at the top of the order in the outfield. English ended the season in Cedar Rapids, having a productive stint in the playoffs against Kane County. Mat Batts was the starting pitcher for Cedar Rapids. The southpaw is a control pitcher and was very successful for the Kernels last year.
While the team included many 2014 Kernels, the majority of last year’s squad was sitting in the opposite dugout for the Fort Myers team. Mitch Garver, Chad Christensen, Logan Wade, and Bryan Haar were a few of the names who played in the game.
While I was focused on the Cedar Rapids-Fort Myers game, the majority of the dozens of fans were keyed in on the Chattanooga-Rochester matchup. Here is where fans could see the top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Adam Brett Walker showcase their skills.
I got the chance to visit with many of the former Kernels pitchers who were charting pitches from the bleachers. It was great to see them all, including Kohl Stewart, Jake Reed, Ryan Eades, Dallas Gallant, Tim Shibuya, Mason Melotakis, Aaron Slegers, Tyler Jones, Brett Lee, Lewis Thorpe, Chih-Wei Hu, Alex Muren, and Jose Berrios.
Things weren’t going well on the field injury-wise. Former West Delaware-prep and Manchester-native B.J. Hermsen had to leave the game because of injury. It has since been reported that Hermsen will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the 2015 season.
Hammond Stadium has undergone some major renovations in the past years, but the new Twins Player Development Academy was the talk of the spring on the Minor League side. This facility houses nearly 60 rooms for players and coaches. Meals are provided, and it includes meeting space, study areas, and a theater. The majority of players stay in the academy during Spring Training. Some of the older players with vehicles stay at a nearby hotel.
On Wednesday I was back at the Minor League fields in the morning. I had the chance to visit with Brad Steil, Director of Minor League Operations. He’s in charge of deciding where each player will start the season so you can imagine he’s a busy man. He is excited for making trips to Cedar Rapids this season.
That afternoon, I went to the Twins Major League game at Hammond Stadium. They were hosting the Baltimore Orioles in a split-squad game. Half of the team played the Orioles while the other half traveled down the road to take on the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Both Twins teams lost 3-2 by the way. At Hammond Stadium, former Kernels pitcher and newly-acquired Ervin Santana got the start. He allowed three runs over four innings, taking the loss. Santana pitched for the Kernels in 2002 as an Angels prospect, going 14-8 with a 4.16 earned run average.
On Thursday, I traveled an hour north to Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte to watch the Twins take on the Tampa Bay Rays. Ricky Nolasco took to the hill and took the loss in the 4-2 decision, allowing three runs. Two recent Kernels saw action for the Twins. Tyler Grimes played left field and drew a walk in his lone plate appearance. Travis Harrison pinch-hit and went 0-for-1 with a strikeout. Both were members of the 2013 Kernels.
Two other former Kernels actually played for the Rays. Alexi Casilla went 0-for-1 while Kevin Jepsen struck out two Twins in a scoreless inning. Casilla spent 2004 with the Kernels in the Angels system. Ironically, he then spent multiple years with the Minnesota Twins. He signed with the Rays in early February before Spring Training. Jepsen was also with the 2004 Kernels and was traded from the Angels to the Rays this past December.
All in all, it was a terrific trip to Florida for Spring Training. The Kernels open the 2015 season on the road at Kane County on April 9. The home opener is on Sunday, April at 4:05 p.m. v. Beloit!
The Cedar Rapids Kernels announced today that the Cedar Rapids Ball Club has purchased the Waterloo Bucks. The Bucks are a member of the Northwoods League. The official signing took place in Waterloo today with Cedar Rapids President Gary Keoppel, Cedar Rapids General Manager Doug Nelson, and Waterloo General Manager Dan Corbin all in attendance.
This is a great opportunity for both the Kernels and the Bucks. The two organizations will be able to utilize each other’s resources.
The Kernels will continue to play in the Midwest League and continue their affiliation with the Minnesota Twins while playing at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Bucks will continue to play at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo as a part of the Northwoods League.
The front offices of the Kernels and Bucks will develop a plan for the 2015 season during the fall and winter. The Kernels begin play in early April while the Bucks start their season in late May.
A press release from the Kernels stated that “it’s anticipated that the team will become more active in the community, make improvements to Riverfront Stadium and enhance the promotions during the games to create an even more enjoyable fan experience for the people of the Cedar Valley.”
The Kernels finished the season with 75 wins and 70 losses, going 73-67 in the regular season and 2-3 in the playoffs.
The team’s best record was nine games above the .500 mark (72-63 and 70-61). The team’s worst record was 14 games below the .500 mark (36-50 and 37-51).
The Kernels went 31-39 in the first half, finishing tied for sixth in the division. The second half concluded with 42 wins and 28 losses, the second-best record in the division.
The Kernels advanced to the playoffs for the second consecutive season, advancing one step further than 2013. They defeated Burlington (2-1) in the opening round before falling to Kane County (2-0) in the Western Division Championship Series.
The Kernels went 36-16 from July 10 until the end of the regular season. On July 10, the Kernels beat Wisconsin in Cedar Rapids. The Kernels went into the game with a 37-51 record, matching a season-worst 14 games below .500. They had also lost 12 of the first 18 games in the second half. The win started a five-game winning streak. In the July 10 game, the Kernels scored five times in the eighth inning to come back and beat Wisconsin 7-5. Logan Wade’s three-run home run in the eighth inning gave the Kernels the lead. Alex Swim added a two-run double later in the inning. It was Wade’s first game back after spending over two months on the disabled with a dislocated shoulder.
Minnesota Twins players Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco joined the Kernels on rehab stints in early August. Mauer played in four games from August 5-9. He hit .400 (6-for-15) with six singles, one run batted in, and two runs scored. He was the designated hitter for one game and played first base for three games. Nolasco made two starts for the Kernels, combining for 9 1/3 innings while earning two no-decisions. He allowed three runs on 10 hits while striking out eight and walking one. He started v. Wisconsin on August 5 and pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits while striking out two and walking one. He started v. Kane County on August 10 and went 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on eight hits while striking out six and walking none.
Mitch Garver was named to the Midwest League Post-Season All-Start team. Garver was the only catcher named to the team and one of only three Western Division players named to the 13-player squad.
Bryan Haar, Yorman Landa, and Kohl Stewart were all selected to play in the Mid-Season All-Star Game at West Michigan on June 17. All three were reserves on the team. Haar was the only one of the three to play in the game, playing first base and going 1-for-2.
Six Kernels were selected as Minnesota Twins Minor League Players of the Week during the season. Mitch Garver on (April 13) after going 8-for-20 with four home runs and six runs batted in during the period. Engelb Vielma on (May 11) after hitting .423 in seven games with two doubles and one triple. Todd Van Steensel on (June 15) after recording two saves in three appearances. Chih-Wei on (August 1) after collecting two wins in two starts and allowing one unearned run on four hits in 12 innings while striking out 16 and walking three. Stephen Gonsalves on (August 15) after going seven scoreless innings v. Peoria on August 15, allowing only three hits while striking out five and walking none. Jake Reed on (August 27) after picking up one win and two saves in three appearances, totaling four scoreless and hitless innings while striking out six and walking none.
Each month, the Kernels coaching staff selected a player and pitcher of the month. Tanner Vavra (April) while hitting .344 with eight runs batted in and reaching base in first 15 games played as a Kernel. Aaron Slegers (April) as he went 2-0 with a 3.14 earned run average. Chad Christensen (May) after hitting .288 with three home runs and 15 runs batted in. Kohl Stewart (May) after allowing just 21 hits in 23 innings, sporting a 2.74 earned run average. Mitch Garver (June) after hitting .345 with two home runs and 11 runs batted in. Todd Van Steensel (June) after collecting four saves with a 1.54 earned run average. Alex Swim (July) after hitting .358 and recording a 14-game hitting streak. Chih-Wei Hu (July) as we he went 4-0 with a 1.50 earned run average, going six innings in all five starts. Engelb Vielma (August) as he hit for a .300 batting average with 10 runs batted in. Jake Reed (August) after pitching 13 scoreless innings and collecting a 1-0 record.
The Kernels went 40-33 at home and 35-37 on the road. They finished 21-16 in day games and 54-54 at night. There was no significant different in record based on whether the Kernels faced a right or left-handed starter. The team went 59-55 when the starter threw a right-hander and 16-15 when the opposing starter was a southpaw.
Kernels relievers had more wins than the starters (38-37). In a bigger discrepancy, relievers struck out 20 more batters than the starters in 168 fewer innings. Relievers finished with an earned run average of 2.93 while starters finished at 4.25 for a total team earned run average of 3.68. Overall, the team combined for 1,188 strikeouts and 438 walks in 1,254 1/3 innings. Kernels relievers were 35 for 48 in save opportunities.
The Kernels were 52-4 when leading after six innings, 52-3 when leading after seven innings, and 57-1 when leading after eight innings. They won four games when trailing after eight innings. The Kernels won 64% of the games where they scored the game’s first run.
They won 19 games in their last at-bat, including 10 walk-off wins. Opponents only had three walk-off wins. The Kernels won 38 games after trailing at some point in the game.
Cedar Rapids finished 8-2 in extra innings and 3-7 in doubleheaders. They pitched nine shutouts while opponents had eight. The Kernels were 25-18 in one-run games. They won only 11 games when scoring three or fewer runs, going 64-23 when scoring at least four.
If the opponent out-hit the Kernels, most times it ended in a loss for Cedar Rapids. They went 10-45 when the opponent had more hits. The Kernels were 38-21 when hitting a home run in a game.
The Kernels defense turned 131 double plays on the season. Opponents turned 130 against the Kernels.
The Kernels scored 643 runs while opponents scored 601. The Kernels scored the most of their runs in the fourth and eighth inning, tallying 87 in each. They allowed the most in the fourth inning, 94.
Ryan Walker was the leadoff hitter the most teams this season, leading off in 39 games. 12 different Kernels led off at some point. Chad Christensen hit third in the order 117 times. 18 different Kernels batted seventh in the order at least once.
Only four players played third base this season, the fewest of any position. Bryan Haar, Jonatan Hinojosa, Joel Licon, and Logan Wade all manned the hot corner. Engelb Vielma played 110 games at shortstop. 16 different players were used as the designated hitter. The Kernels used five catchers this season: Mitch Garver, Michael Quesada, Bo Alotbelli, Alex Swim, and B.K. Santy. Logan Wade and Chad Christensen both played four different positions at some point.
Chad Christensen led the team with 37 multi-hit games while Mitch Garver led the team with 19 multi-RBI games.
The Kernels hit 80 home runs, led by Mitch Garver’s 16. Garver also led the team with 79 runs batted in. Garver finished the regular season in the top-five of the Midwest League with a .298 batting average, .481 slugging percentage, and .399 on-base percentage. Garver also led the team with 29 doubles and 61 walks.
Chad Christensen finished the regular season tied for fourth in the league with 84 runs scored. Christensen played in the most games for the Kernels, 132. He also had the most at-bats (511), hits (140), and stolen bases (30). Christensen also added seven triples, but Jason Kanzler led the team with eight.
Ryan Eades was with the Kernels all season and led the pitching staff in wins (10), losses (11), starts (26), innings (138.2), and strikeouts (102).
Hudson Boyd appeared in the most games (45). Todd Van Steensel had eight saves to lead the team. Brandon Bixler recorded a team-best six holds.
The team’s pinch-hitters went 6-for-11 on the season.
The Kernels scored a season-high 16 runs in a 16-5 win at Beloit on May 27. That game also included a fifth inning where eight straight reached base and 12 Kernels came to the plate, both season-highs. The fifth was one of two times where the Kernels scored seven in an inning. That also included Tanner Vavra’s two hits in the same frame. The 11-run run matched their season-high for largest victory.
They allowed a season-worst 13 in a 13-3 loss to Burlington on June 15, the final day of the first half. That was also their largest loss with a deficit of 10.
19 was the high in hits for the Kernels and their opponent. The Bees tallied 19 hits on June 15 while the Kernels recorded 19 hits in a 15-5 win v. Wisconsin on July 8.
The Kernels recorded seven doubles at Burlington on May 18, winning 7-6. They allowed four home runs at Wisconsin on May 8 in an 11-7 loss.
The 15-inning marathon loss v. Kane County on August 10 left a season-worst 17 men on base. It also featured the most walks for a Kernels offense (12). In that game, Ryan Walker had seven at-bats. That was a season-high, but eight was the season-high for most plate appearances in a single game. That happened several times in 2014.
Kernels pitching walked 10 in a game twice. On May 7 at Quad Cities, they walked six in the sixth inning.
The Kernels struck out a season-worst 18 times at Quad Cities on August 25 in a 3-2 loss. That same night, Kernels pitching stuck out 15 River Bandits. That was not the most strikeouts for a Kernels staff this season. That came early in the year when they punched out 16 South Bend Silver Hawks in a 7-5 loss on April 15.
From May 2-5, the Kernels did not allow a run for 28 consecutive innings. That included back to back shutouts v. Peoria. Cedar Rapids did not score for 12 2/3 innings from June 30-July 2.
The Kernels homered in a season-best four straight games from August 2-5, going 2-2 during the stretch.
Kane County tallied eight straight hits against the Kernels on June 19. However, they retired 15 in a row two separate times this season.
April 21 at Peoria – a 5-3 loss to the Chiefs – featured six wild pitches by the Kernels. Two days later, the Chiefs did not record a hit through 6 1/3 innings. Ethan Mildren pitched five hitless innings to begin that day, a game that Peoria won 2-0.
Defensively, the Kernels committed five errors twice in a single game, including Logan Wade’s three-error game on Opening Night v. Clinton. Lake County committed five errors on July 16. The team went 11 straight games with an error from May 7-17. The longest consecutive errorless streak was three, which happened multiple times.
No player had five hits in a game, but many players had four hits in a single game.
Mitch Garver hit three home runs on July 21 v. Fort Wayne. Bryan Haar drove in seven runs on June 28 v. Clinton. Ryan Walker had two triples v. Burlington on June 14.
After re-joining the team on August 13, Jonatan Hinojosa collected a hit in 15 straight games, starting on August 13. That hitting streak was the team’s season-high, but Alex Swim’s 14-game streak from June 30-July 18 was not far behind.
Mitch Garver reached base in 28 straight games from May 21-June 22, a streak that ended when he left a game at Peoria with concussion-like symptoms. The streak included a stretch of reaching base in seven plate appearances in a row from June 2-4.
Engelb Vielma had hits in six straight at-bats from August 18-20. Bryan Haar went hitless from April 21-29, 23 straight at-bats.
Chih-Wei Hu, Lewis Thorpe, and Stephen Gonsalves all struck out 10 in a single game. Jake Reed did not allow a run over the final 24 2/3 innings of his season. Dallas Gallant did not allow a hit over his final 8 1/3 innings. Gallant retired a season-best 21 batters in a row from August 18-September 3, a stretch that ended when a Burlington Bee reached via an error.
Chih-Wei Hu earned big honors during the month of July, his first month in the Midwest League. Hu was named Minnesota Twins Pitcher of the Month, Kernels Pitcher of the Month, and was named Midwest League Pitcher of the Week during the period July 21-27. Hu went six innings in all five starts after making his debut on July 10. He went 4-0 with a 1.50 earned run average in the five starts, allowing five earned runs and 18 hits in 30 innings. He struck out 29 and walked six.
On August 22 at Burlington, Chris Mazza struck out five Bees in a row.
The Kernels won eight games in a row from August 12-19. They also lost eight games in a row from May 10-17. The 15-inning game with Kane County on August 10 was the most innings-played and also the longest game in terms of time, lasting exactly five hours long. The longest nine-inning game came on August 8, also v. Kane County, as the game lasted three hours and 26 minutes.
The fastest nine-inning game was two hours and 14 minutes, happening twice. The fastest seven-inning game was a one hour and 46 minute game two of a doubleheader at Kane County. The game on June 19 at Kane County was completed early due to rain with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning and took just one hour and 20 minutes.
A four-run comeback was the largest of the season, a feat that happened a few times. They lost a four-run lead twice.
The largest home attendance was on August 9 v. Kane County when 5,570 saw the Kernels beat Kane County 3-2. 8,683 fans saw Kane County beat the Kernels 6-4 at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. The smallest crowd of the year came at Burlington’s Community Field on May 15 as the Bees beat the Kernels 6-2 in front of just 227 fans.
The final regular season home game on August 29 featured two rain delays that totaled one hour and 22 minutes. The hottest game was only 90 degrees, which happened twice. The coldest came on April 14 v. South Bend at a chilly 34 degrees.
The Kernels only picked up nine wins in June but rebounded with 19 in July. Saturdays were successful as the team went 13-10 on that day. They beat Clinton 12 times, more than any other team. Kane County beat the Kernels 12 times. The Kernels never won at Peoria’s Dozer Park, going 0-6.
A player went on the disabled list 21 times during the season.
All in all – 53 players put on a Kernels uniform in 2014.
Saturday, June 14 is Iowa State Cyclone Night at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Kernels will wear special Iowa State jerseys that will be sold via a silent auction during the game.
According to Baseball Almanac, 18 former ISU players have made it to Major League Baseball. One of those 18 players also played professionally in Cedar Rapids. Dutch Levsen was born in Wyoming, Iowa and played at Iowa State from 1917-1919. In 1923, he played for the Cedar Rapids Bunnies as a 25-year-old. As a pitcher, he went 19-4 on the mound. He threw an impressive 198 innings in 25 games that season, allowing just 159 hits. As a hitter, he collected 16 hits, including two home runs and two doubles.
The Bunnies were a member of the Mississippi Valley League, a Class-D league that also included teams from Dubuque, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Waterloo, and Rock Island, Illinois. The Bunnies were managed by Bill Speas. While in the minor leagues, Levsen also played in Terre Haute, Rochester, and New Orleans.
Levsen broke into Major League Baseball with the 1923 Cleveland Indians on September 28 of that season. He pitched parts of six seasons with the Indians in the American League from 1923-1928. He recorded a career record of 21-26 with a 4.17 earned run average in 80 career games. His best season by far came in 1926. He went 16-13 that year with a 3.41 earned run average, setting a career high in wins. As a batter, Levsen had 135 career at-bats with nine career runs batted in and 24 career hits.
Levsen’s final Major League game was on July 31, 1928 at age 30. He died in 1972 at age 73 in Minnesota.
The Kernels Opening Day roster has been announced, and the team arrives in Cedar Rapids today! You can check out the roster at www.kernels.com.
The roster features some great young talent and many returning players from the 2013 playoff team.
Here is a breakdown of the roster:
10 Kernels spent some time in Cedar Rapids in 2013 while 15 players will be newcomers to the team.
Three Kernels are listed as Top Prospects in the Twins organization by Baseball America: RHP Kohl Stewart (#4), RHP Felix Jorge (#17), & LHP Randy Rosario (#22)
Two players are listed on MLB.com’s Top Twins prospect list: RHP Kohl Stewart (#4) & RHP Felix Jorge (#10). Stewart is listed as MLB.com’s #40 prospect in all of baseball.
High School: 3
International Free Agents: 7
Miguel Sulbaran and Jeremias Pineda were both acquired by the Twins via trade. Sulbaran began his professional career with the Dodgers while Pineda started with the Red Sox.
2013 Draft Picks: 9
2012 Draft Picks: 6
2012 Signings: 1
2011 Draft Picks: 2
2011 Signings: 3
2010 Draft Picks: 1
2010 Signings: 3
1st Round Picks: 2
2nd Round Picks: 1
3rd-10th Round Picks: 3
10th-20th Round Picks: 6
Drafted after 20th Round: 6
Undrafted Free Agents: 7
15 states make up the roster of the Kernels with California leading the way with four players.
California (4): Alex Muren, Michael Quesada, Bryan Haar, Joel Licon
Florida (3): Brandon Bixler, Hudson Boyd, Zack Larson
Dominican Republic (3): Felix Jorge, Randy Rosario, Jeremias Pineda
Venezuela (3): Yorman Landa, Miguel Sulbaran, Engelb Vielma
Texas (2): Kohl Stewart, Bo Altobelli
Louisiana (1): Ryan Eades
Minnesota (1): Brandon Peterson
South Carolina (1): Christian Powell
Arizona (1): Aaron Slegers
Iowa (1): Chad Christensen
New York (1): Zach Granite
Wisconsin (1): Tanner Vavra
New Mexico (1): Mitch Garver
Puerto Rico (1): Josue Montanez
Australia (1): Logan Wade
The Kernels, in a partnership with Hall-Perrine Cancer Center, have been given a grant to study the awareness and effects of Skin Cancer in its many forms. Please take this five question survey, which is 100% anonymous. It will help us gauge how to deliver important information during the season. This survey will be open until April 30th. Then we will compile the information received and provide education and information during every game in hopes of raising awareness of the prevention techniques available. The survey will be re-administered during late August and the results will be compared to April and hope to prove, through education, we are now using the prevention techniques.