By: Matt Cozzi, Cedar Rapids Kernels
That was the result of one half season in the Midwest League for Byron Buxton. In 68 games, Buxton finished at or near the top of all major offensive categories.
The 19-year old led the league in runs scored (68) and on-base percentage (.431), was second in batting average (.341), hits (92), slugging percentage (.559), triples (10), and total bases (151), and either third of fourth-best in RBI (55), stolen bases (32), extra-base hits (33), and walks (44).
Buxton was also tremendous in center field. He made a catch at the warning track a couple weeks ago that registered as the No. 2 overall play on SportsCenter. He made another play a few days later that probably should have been in the Top 10.
Kernels manager Jake Mauer told Star-Tribune columnist Jim Souhan he “could see [Buxton] becoming a 30-30 guy.” He’s drawn comparisons to Willie Mays. And Mike Trout. And Andrew McCutchen. Given his current trajectory, he could be roaming the Twins outfield in April 2015.
But over his 68 games in Cedar Rapids — a time when fans trotted swiftly down the stadium steps at Perfect Game Field to get a glimpse of Buxton during batting practice, or waited for him for over an hour just outside the clubhouse doors — none of that actually impressed me the most.
Buxton’s overall makeup did. His mode of operation.
Traveling with the team to Kane County for a late-May/early-June series especially, it was easy to observe this. It’s one thing to play within the confines of Cedar Rapids, but Buxton barely put together a sentence on the team bus. Not a word. So focused on baseball. Knowing you’re good, but not letting it show. Letting the process play out.
That’s almost scary. Buxton knows he’s a cut above, but doesn’t showcase that emotion. No over-the-top pre-game routines or postgame celebrations. He did get a little excited — OK, very excited — after a walk-off win against the Burlington Bees, but come on, he hit a walk-off grand slam.
Now, that type of demeanor has hopped on a plane and has headed from the Hawkeye state to the Sunshine state, where Class-A Advanced Fort Meyers awaits. In minor league baseball, players are shuffling around daily. This promotion isn’t a surprise, isn’t a shock.
The next chapter awaits Buxton. He played at the highest level for 68 games in the MWL. Time to move on.
And he won’t say a word about it.
The Kernels opened up the new affiliation with the Minnesota Twins by qualifying for the playoffs in the first half of the Midwest League season. The Kernels finished the half in second place with a 40-28 record. The Kernels were in either first or second place for the duration of the first half and were at the top of the division from April 20-June 15. However, with Beloit getting red hot at the right time and the Kernels dropping a few games late, the Snappers took the division championship. Although, finishing second still means the Kernels will be playing postseason baseball in September, and it certainly doesn’t diminish the thrilling first half we had in Cedar Rapids.
The Kernels were twice 17 games above .500 (37-20 and 30-13). Their worst record of the half was 2-1. At home, they went 23-13 while they were 17-15 on the road. They went 13-9 during day games and 27-19 during night games. The Kernels went 34-13 when scoring first in a game, and the team was 34-9 when scoring at least four runs in a game.
The team won nine games in a row from April 20-30, falling one win short of a return trip for dinner at the Ox Yoke in Amana. The Kernels led the league with 403 runs scored in the half.
Weather certainly played a role in the first as the Kernels had 13 games affected by bad conditions. As a result the Kernels played seven doubleheaders, going 10-4 in those games. They even had two games completely cancelled and from April 9-12 did not play for four consecutive days before of weather. The Kernels played two games on the road (at Wisconsin and at Peoria) with a game-time temperature of 39 degrees! The game at Peoria in April actually featured snow flurries late in the game! The warmest game-time temperature was 89 degrees during a mid-May home game against Burlington. Despite the bad weather the Kernels attendance increased from previous years, drawing 72,762 fans into Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium!
The Kernels opened at home, and the Kernels put on a show right from the start in the 9-7 victory over Beloit. Taylor Rogers struck out the side in the first inning. Byron Buxton made his debut by singling in his first at-bat, stealing second base, and scoring on a two-run home run by Jorge Polanco. Two batters later, Dalton Hicks crushed a home run to deep right.
The Midwest League leaderboard was splashed full of Kernels in the first half. Byron Buxton was second in the league with a .344 batting average and 87 hits while leading the league with a .431 on-base percentage and 65 runs scored. Dalton Hicks led the league with an amazing 63 runs batted in during the half. He was also third with 12 homers. In fact, the Kernels had four players in the top five of the league in runs batted in, including Adam Walker, Buxton, and Jorge Polanco.
Mason Melotakis led the Kernels with six wins on the hill in the half, and Steve Gruver finished with a 2.47 earned run average. David Hurlbut paced the Kernels with five saves.
The Kernels had eight players play in the Midwest League All Star game, including starters Byron Buxton, Adam Brett Walker, Dalton Hicks, and Jorge Polanco. Niko Goodrum, Travis Harrison, Jose Berrios, and Steve Gruver also played in the game. Tyler Duffey was selected but was promoted to Fort Myers before the game was played.
The Kernels roster was full of top Twins prospects, including Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Mason Melotakis, Jorge Polanco, Travis Harrison, Hudson Boyd, Niko Goodrum, Tyler Jones, and Adam Brett Walker.
The team was headlined all season by Byron Buxton, the second overall pick from the 2012 draft. Buxton began his Midwest League career by reaching base in the first 29 games he played in. He racked up the awards and accolades in the half. In April, he was named the Minnesota Twins Minor League Player of the Month and placed on the MILB.com’s “All April Team.”
In the first weekend on April 7, he went 4-5 with a triple & double v. Beloit. On April 17, he had two hits in the 1st inning! He recorded the first five-hit game of his career on June 5 v. Quad Cities. He also recorded a pair of four-hit games. Jorge Polanco also collected two four-hit games, by the way.
Buxton wheeled around the bases because a four-base error v. Burlington on May 14 on a dropped fly in center. During a nationally-televised game on June 10 v. Kane County, Buxton stole the show going 3-4 with a triple, double, and three runs batted in. He also made a diving catch on the warning track in deep left center in the game that was featured as the #2 play on “SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day.”
Buxton drove in five runs, homered, and scored four times on April 26 v. Great Lakes. He may have out-done himself on May 12 at Beloit, recording four hits, four runs batted in, & four runs scored at Beloit.
Perhaps his signature moment was win he hit a walk-off grand slam home run v. Burlington on May 16 to bring the Kernels from behind.
Back to that May 12th game at Beloit… On that day, the Kernels beat Beloit 23-16. The Kernels and Snappers combined for 39 runs as every position player scored and collected a hit. Every Kernels position player drove in at least one run. Adam Brett Walker and Byron Buxton both had four hits and four runs scored. Walker had seven runs batted in and hit two home runs in the game. Buxton added four batted in. The duo combined to score or drive in 19 of the Kernels 23 runs! Walker hit a homer and a double in the third inning.
That game was the second time during the half where Walker had two home runs and seven batted in during a game. The first came on April 26 vs. Great Lakes as he hit a grand slam and a three-run homer. For those efforts, Walker was twice named the Midwest League Player of the Week. In the first half he finished with three grand slams. Walker had an amazing power stretch from April 22-27. Walker homered five times during the four-game stretch, including homers in all 4 games. He collected 16 runs batted in during the four games.
Dalton Hicks was also named Midwest League Player of the Week during the half. Hicks had the longest hitting streak of any Kernels player with a 12-game stretch. He had a pair of two-homer games and homered in three straight games from June 14-16. In addition, on June 16 he collected six runs batted in v. Peoria.
Tyler Grimes had a stretch in early June where he reached base in 13 of 15 plate appearances, including seven appearances in a row.
On June 5 the Kernels topped Quad Cities 14-5 by scoring 10 runs in the fourth inning. In the inning, 15 batters came to the plate & 12 men recorded hits. The first nine batters recorded a hit in the inning. In the game, the Kernels set a season-high with 21 hits. Every Kernel in the lineup had a hit, a RBI, & a run scored.
The Kernels made history on April 7 with a combined no-hitter in a 9-1 victory over the Beloit. Tyler Duffey retired the first 21 batters in a row before being lifted because of pitch count. Josue Montanez then walked three & allowed one run in the eighth inning, but still no hits. Tim Atherton allowed one walk and struck out three in the ninth inning to complete the no-no. It was the 1st Kernels nine-inning no-hitter since April 30, 2010 when Fabio Martinez, Kyle Hurst, & Mike Kenney threw a no-hitter vs. Kane County. Stephen Locke had tossed a five-inning no-hitter vs. Peoria on July 12, 2010.
Jose Berrios wasn’t on the team on April 7, but he joined in early May and won his first three Midwest League starts. He led the Kernels with 56 strikeouts in the half and struck out eight batters in a game three separate times. Brett Lee had the highest single-game strikeout total when he punched-out 10 Burlington Bees on May 14.
The Kernels had nine wins in their last at-bat & five “Walkoff” wins. In the second game on April 5 of the season, Niko Goodrum’s RBI single in the ninth inning downed Beloit. We already mentioned Buxton’s grand slam walk-off on May 16 v. Burlington. It gave the Kernels a 7-6 win. Travis Harrison’s RBI single against Kane County on May 17 broke a tie in the bottom of the 12th inning. Two days later, Dalton Hicks ended the game against the Cougars with walk-off sacrifice fly.
The most bizarre finish came April 27 v. Great Lakes. With the bases loaded and the game tied 7-7, Travis Harrison hit what was thought to be a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam. Harrison’s shot went over the wall in left to end the game. However, during the celebration the umpires ruled that base runners abandoned the bases so only one run counted. The Kernels still won 8-7 on officially a RBI single.
Quite the first half of Kernels baseball! Come out to the ballpark for more moments in the second half!
The Kernels are down to the final 10 games of the 1st half. Currently, the Kernels lead Beloit by 3.5 games. Quad Cities sits 4 games out. Peoria is 5.5 games out. The top 2 teams at the end of the half on June 16 make the playoffs.
Prior to the June 7 games, the Kernels “Magic Number” is (7). That is also the number to clinch a playoff berth.
So, here’s a breakdown of how things look for the top 4 teams:
Cedar Rapids Kernels: 37-21 (-) 10 games remaining (Tonight v. Quad Cities, 3 v. Kane County, 3 @ Quad Cities, 3 v. Peoria)
Beloit Snappers: 34-25 (3.5) 11 games remaining (Tonight @ Wisconsin, 4 @ Burlington, 3 v. Wisconsin, 3 v. Clinton)
Quad Cities River Bandits: 33-25 (4) 11 games remaining (Tonight @ Cedar Rapids, 3 @ Peoria, 3 v. Cedar Rapids, 4 v. Burlington)
Peoria Chiefs: 31-26 (5.5) 10 games remaining (Tonight v. Clinton, 3 v. Quad Cities, 3 @ Clinton, 3 @ Cedar Rapids)
Beloit & Quad Cities still have doubleheader games left. They both play a twin-bill against Burlington. Beloit plays a pair of games at Burlington this Sunday while Quad Cities will play 2 against the Bees in Davenport on June 15.
Tyler Duffey has been solid on the hill for the Kernels from his first start of the season. On April 7, he pitched seven perfect innings against Beloit in an eventual no-hitter victory. Not only has he been effective on the mound, but Duffey has been durable, as well. He has consistently been near the top of the league in innings-pitched and has pitched at least seven innings in six of his nine starts!
Hometown: Houston, Texas
College: Rice University
MLB Player Growing Up: Greg Maddux
Favorite Non-Baseball Athlete: Bubba Watson
Favorite Food: Medium-rare filet
Favorite Restaurant: Flemings Steakhouse
Favorite Movie: Step Brothers
Favorite NFL Team: Houston Texans
Favorite College Team: Rice Owls
Warm-Up Song: “Satellite” by Dave Matthews Band
Jorge Polanco has had a steady bat and glove for the first part of the 2013 season. He hit a 2-run home run in his first Midwest League at-bat on April 4in Cedar Rapids while going 3-5 with 3 RBI in the game. He has had four 3-RBI games this season, as well as five 3-hit games this season. He is listed as the Twins #14 prospect by Baseball America.
Hometown: San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic
MLB Player Idolized Growing Up: Robinson Cano
Favorite Non-Baseball Athlete: Kobe Bryant
Favorite Baseball Memory: Winning the Appalachian League Championship in Elizabethton (2012)
Favorite Food: Meal of rice, beans, meat, & salad
Favorite Restaurant: Any steakhouse
Favorite Movie: Taken 1 & Taken 2
Walk-Up Song: “Unju Unju” by Jay Musicologo
The Kernels (18-5 overall) are 11-2 this season at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium. On Wednesday, they begin their longest road stretch of the season. The next 12 games will be played away from Cedar Rapids (3 @ West Michigan, 3 @ South Bend, 3 @ Quad Cities, & 3 @ Beloit).
The Kernels lead the Western Division by 3 games going into the month of May. Quad Cities sits in 2nd place, and the Kernels hold a 6.5 game lead over 3rd place Beloit. The top 2 teams at the half-way point in June make the playoffs come September.
The Kernels have won 9 games in a row entering the month, and this will be a key stretch. The next 9 games should play a big part in the division race. 1st place Cedar Rapids & 2nd place Quad Cities both hit the road for the next 6 games, both playing West Michigan & South Bend. The Kernels take on West Michigan on May 1-3 while the River Bandits are in South Bend. The two teams trade places May 4-6 before meeting in Davenport for a 3-game series May 8-10.
The Kernels go for their 10th win in a row on Wednesday night against the Whitecaps! First pitch at 5:35 CT.
Adam Brett Walker is off to a powerful start with the 2013 Kernels! As of April 29, he is hitting .297 with a league-leading 6 home runs & 25 runs batted in! This past week in a stretch from April 22-April 27 (4 total games), Walker hit 5 home runs with 16 RBI!
Name: Adam Brett Walker II
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Where do you live in offseason: Jacksonville, Florida
College: Jacksonville University
MLB Player Idolized Growing Up: Ken Griffey, Jr.
Favorite Non-Baseball Athlete: Peyton Manning
Best Baseball Memory: Winning the Appalachian League Championship in 2012 with Elizabethton
Favorite TV Show: Friday Night Lights
Favorite Food: Pizza
Favorite Restaurant: Joe’s Crab Shack
Favorite Movie: Rush Hour
Favorite NFL Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Favorite College Team: Jacksonville University
Walk-Up Songs: “My Moment” by DJ Drama
“Walk That Walk” by Dorrough
His father played in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings.
Dalton Hicks is off to a great start in 2013, hitting .310 with 3 home runs & 12 runs batted in (Through April 21). Hicks was named the Midwest League’s Player of the Week (April 4-14). Here’s a quick Q & A with Dalton!
Hometown: Altamonte Springs, Florida
College: University of Central Florida
MLB player idolized growing up:Ken Griffey, Jr.
Favorite non-baseball athlete: Lebron James
Best baseball memory: Hitting walk-off, grand slam home run to give Elizabethton the Appalachian League Championship in 2012
Favorite TV show: Family Guy
Favorite food: Family cooking
Favorite restaurant: Boston Market
Favorite movie: Mr. 3,000
Favorite NFL team: Miami Dolphins
Favorite College team: University of Central Florida
Walk-up songs: “Get Ready” by The Temptations & “Bulletproof” by Cyhi the Prince
Other: Brother, Scott Hicks, played in minor leagues with Marlins organization
Are you kicking yourself for not seeing Mike Trout when he played for the Kernels in 2010? Are you wishing you had the opportunity to watch last year’s American League Rookie of the Year when he played right in your own home city?
Well Mike Trout won’t be making a return to play in Cedar Rapids, but this year’s Kernels team has a very special player that is drawing comparisons to Trout.
Don’t make that same mistake twice and come see Kernels outfielder Byron Buxton.
Byron Buxton has gotten off to a great start in the first week of the 2013 season. Buxton is a tremendous and unique talent. There’s no doubt about that, and it doesn’t take a scouting service or Major League Baseball veteran to tell you that.
Buxton stands out on every field that he plays on. He was selected #2 overall in last year’s draft by the Minnesota Twins out of Appling County High School in Baxley, Georgia.
The 6’2, 19-year old, centerfielder has already raked in numerous awards and top spots in prospect rankings. Baseball America is a widely-respected publication and named Buxton the 2012 High School Player of the Year. They have also named him as the #2 prospect in the Twins organization, and the #19 overall prospect in all of baseball! His speed and athleticism garnered him the ranking as the Twins organization’s Best Athlete and Fastest Baserunner.
His production on the field has backed it up, as well. After playing in two Rookie leagues last season Baseball America named Buxton the Top Prospect in both the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League. In only 48 games he finished with 10 doubles, 4 triples, 5 home runs, 11 stolen bases, and 20 runs batted in.
Although he’s an outfielder now, he stood out as a pitcher in high school. He led his team to the state championship by tossing a complete game performance in the championship game. Oh, and by the way, he struck out 18 batters in that game!
To let you know how highly regarded Buxton is by the Twins and the rest of baseball, his signing bonus topped out at a Twins-franchise record $6 million!
Come out to Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium, and see Byron Buxton! He could be the next Major League Baseball star to play right here in Cedar Rapids!
A special day at Perfect Game Field @ Veterans Memorial Stadium today as 3 Kernels pitchers combined for a no-hitter against the Beloit Snappers.
Tyler Duffey, Josue Montanez, and Tim Atherton collect the first 9-inning no-hit bid for Cedar Rapids since 2010.
Duffey was fantastic all day, going 7 PERFECT innings! No baserunners for the Kernels righty in his starting debut. He came out with 76 pitches, unofficially. Kernels starters won’t be allowed to go much more than that in the early-going so you knew Duffey wouldn’t be able to finish it today.
However, Montanez came on and worked through the 8th. He allowed 3 walks, 1 run, but still no hits. Tim Atherton pitched the 9th, allowing 1 walk but striking out the side to finish the deal!