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  • Burdi's Arrival, A Month of Kernels' Silver Linings

    June has not been kind to the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

    As a team, they’ve lost a dozen games this month and won just six. The first half of the season mercifully drew to a close a week ago, but the Kernels started off their second half season by dropping three of four road games to the Midwest League’s Western Division champions, the Kane County Cougars.

    Silver linings are a little difficult to come by for a team that most people expected to be led by their pitching when the season opened, only to find themselves with the 15th ranked team ERA (4.83) in the 16-team Midwest League.

    This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com

    There are a handful of bright spots as the Kernels begin the race for a postseason spot that would come with finishing as one of the top two teams in the MWL Western Division among the six teams that have not already qualified for postseason play.

    The brightest of those bright spots might be catcher Mitch Garver. So far in June, Garver is batting .364, has an on-base percentage of .500 and an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.045.


    Mitch Garver

    According to TwinsDaily.com's Seth Stohs, heading in to this week’s series in Peoria, Garver is among the Twins minor league organizational leaders in batting average (2nd), on-base percentage (1st), slugging percentage (3rd), OPS (2nd) and home runs (tied for 4th with teammate Bryan Haar).

    Cedar Rapids native Chad Christensen has also shown he can handle Class A work. He is hitting .323 in June and has a .963 OPS. He’s had eight extra-base hits in the month, including four home runs.


    Chad Christensen

    Christensen’s .299 batting average ties him for fourth among all Twins minor leaguers.

    But Garver and Christensen can’t win games by themselves. Most of the rest of the Kernels’ batting order have seen their hitting numbers drop considerably in June.

    The Kernels could get some offensive help as some of the hitters that have been idled by injuries begin to return. That process has begun already as outfielder J.D. Williams was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday.

    Zach Larson, Logan Wade and Jeremias Pineda remain on the club’s DL for now. Larson, in particular, could provide an offensive boost if he can get healthy and return to the level of productivity he demonstrated in April when he hit .307 for the Kernels.

    Unless you’re a fan who worships strikeout numbers for pitchers, there has been nothing to complain about in starting pitcher Kohl Stewart’s performance thus far.


    Kohl Stewart

    Stewart’s 2.44 ERA on the season would be good enough for fourth best in the league if he had enough innings to qualify (he’s one inning short, which should be more than met in his next scheduled start on Wednesday).

    Stewart has continued to lead the rotation with a 1.13 ERA in three June starts, with batters putting up just a .236 batting average against him this month.

    To find anything else resembling “bright” among the Cedar Rapids pitching corps, it’s necessary to turn to the bullpen, which has had its own share of ups and downs through the first half of the season.

    Todd Van Steensel perhaps represents the best of the “ups” for the bullpen corps recently.


    Todd Van Steensel

    Van Steensel has put up a 1.67 ERA since joining the Kernels at the end of April. He has struck out 35 batters in 27 innings of work and opponents are hitting just .179 off the right hander.

    Alex Muren has been among the team’s most consistent bullpen arms, assembling a 3.43 ERA on the year and a similar 3.48 ERA so far in June. This month, hitters are batting just .171 against Muren. He’s thrown 10.1 innings in five June appearances. All four runs surrendered this month came in one forgettable appearance on June 15.


    Alex Muren

    Brandon Bixler had two good months in April and May, but has been less consistent in June. He has a 3.13 ERA on the year and hitters have just a .201 batting average against him. He’s struck out 39 batters in 40.1 innings.

    Jared Wilson’s year has been similar to Bixler’s. Since joining the Kernels in mid May, Wilson has put up a 2.49 ERA and a .197 BAA (batting average against), while striking out over one batter per inning pitched. He’s been somewhat inconsistent in June, with three outings where he was almost unhittable and three others where he gave up almost an earned run per inning.

    The Kernels bullpen could be in for a boost, however.

    On Tuesday, the Twins announced that they had signed Nick Burdi, their second round pick in the 2014 draft, and that Burdi will be joining Cedar Rapids on Friday.

    Burdi, the closer for a University of Louisville squad that qualified for the College World Series, reportedly throws in the 96-98 mph range and is capable of regularly topping 100 mph with his fastball.

    Expectations for the Kernels coming in to the season were modest, but a seventh place finish in the MWL Western Division first-half standings was a disappointment.

    Garver and Christensen will need some of their teammates to step up their games and the Kernels rotation will need to start contributing more than three or four innings of solid pitching on a regular basis if the team expects to contend for a postseason berth in the second half of the year.
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I'd hate to pile onto your club's woes, but I really hope Burdi doesn't stay there long. Perhaps only a handful of outings before heading off to Ft. Myers.

      Though hopefully the Kernals would get Gonsalves or even Cederoth before too long.
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      I suspect this is a place where Twins brass can see where Burdi measures up. Is he challenged or immediately dominant? The answer will determine when he moves up.

      I also suspect Van Steensel is nearing the point where he'll be considered for promotion. Just depends on what the bullpen situation in Ft Myers is, I guess.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by SD Buhr;bt11490 View Post
      I think expectations locally were such that everybody knew it would not be a line up that measured up to last year's, but yes, it's been a letdown to this point.

      I do think there is more talent in CR than what they've shown. The starting pitching, outside of Stewart, was simply expected to be much better than it has been. I'm not sure there's a lot of help in that area still to be had outside of perhaps Gonsalves. By and large, the guys here now are going to have to simply pitch better.

      Not sure on Williams. He got off to a hot start his first couple games and then faltered.

      I'll be surprised if we see Gordon this year. More likely he starts in CR next year, as Buxton did. Then again, he's starting a level higher than Buck did, so who knows?

      I do know the Twins like Engelb Vielma, the current CR shortstop, and I imagine they want him to get regular ABs.
      I know it's too soon, but I'll ask anyway, with Gordon in the pipeline, does Engleb look like a future utility type, or do the Twins run both of these guys at SS up the organization simultaneously at the same level? What would it take for Vielma to force Polanco back to long-term at 2nd Base?
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      I know it's too soon, but I'll ask anyway, with Gordon in the pipeline, does Engleb look like a future utility type, or do the Twins run both of these guys at SS up the organization simultaneously at the same level? What would it take for Vielma to force Polanco back to long-term at 2nd Base?
      I'd hope Polanco's development or position is impacted not at all by Vielma. Few things bother me as much as the notion that no-hit shortstops are an acceptable lineup option, especially when they are a no-hit shortstop in A ball.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      I'm a bit disappointed Burdi was sent to CR, but as you say, I don't expect he'll be there long if he shows dominance right out of the gate.

      I'd hope they would take the same approach at Fort Myers with him as well.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Disappointed? Burdi's starting out at a higher level than anyone else the Twins drafted.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Some probably want him going straight to the Twins. I'm with SDBuhr on this one. It'll be a good gauge. It's already been a long season. Remember they start practicing right after January begins in college and games start in mid-February. I think slow-and-steady is the appropriate timeline for the rest of this season.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      Disappointed? Burdi's starting out at a higher level than anyone else the Twins drafted.
      This year sure. But I consider Burdi to be a different type of prospect, and should be treated as such. He's a pure reliever, and has big-league stuff right now.

      (for reference about starting at a certain level) Alex Wimmers was a starter, and also thought to be the most MLB ready in that draft, and began his career in A+.

      Not much of an issue if they move him quick, but doesn't change the fact it still disappoints me some!
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      Alex Wimmers was a starter, and also thought to be the most MLB ready in that draft, and began his career in A+.
      That example doesn't exactly bolster your argument
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      I am hoping that Burdi makes it though Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers this year and next year starts at AA and is available after the arbitration date and a spot opens on the roster. so 4-5 weeks in each A ball team. then 2-3 months in AA then BAM. It'll be time for the Burdi to fly.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I'd hope Polanco's development or position is impacted not at all by Vielma. Few things bother me as much as the notion that no-hit shortstops are an acceptable lineup option, especially when they are a no-hit shortstop in A ball.
      Is the jury now in that Vielma is the second coming of Florimon?
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      That example doesn't exactly bolster your argument
      It doesn't? Why? Because since that season he has struggled? That's not relevant at all to the argument I'm making.

      They put him in Fort Myers after that draft because of his perceived readiness, and he absolutely dominated in his short time there before the seasons end. This was for a starter, which I would have more concerns about than a reliever.
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I'd hope Polanco's development or position is impacted not at all by Vielma. Few things bother me as much as the notion that no-hit shortstops are an acceptable lineup option, especially when they are a no-hit shortstop in A ball.
      I think it's premature (and inaccurate) to call Vielma a no-hit SS in A ball. He's hitting .262 and has 11 XBH. Not an "offense first" SS, by any means, but considering he had an awful time hitting in the cold of April, he's been putting the bat head on the ball pretty well since then (.304 BA since May 1). And he just turned 20 this past Sunday.

      Given the issues the Twins have had at SS for, oh, the past couple decades or so, the last thing I'm going to be concerned about is having too many potential MLB level shortstops at Class A+ and below right now. These things tend to work themselves out as guys reach higher levels.

      I will say that it's been a long time (maybe in forever) since I saw a guy in CR as good at SS defensively as Vielma has been.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Vielma moved up a level this year and his bat has gotten better this year. This is an important sign. He still needs a lot of work with the bat, but he isn't stagnating at all.
    1. Monkeypaws's Avatar
      Monkeypaws -
      He seems to be doing okay for a guy who just turned 20.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by SD Buhr View Post
      I think it's premature (and inaccurate) to call Vielma a no-hit SS in A ball. He's hitting .262 and has 11 XBH. Not an "offense first" SS, by any means, but considering he had an awful time hitting in the cold of April, he's been putting the bat head on the ball pretty well since then (.304 BA since May 1). And he just turned 20 this past Sunday.

      Given the issues the Twins have had at SS for, oh, the past couple decades or so, the last thing I'm going to be concerned about is having too many potential MLB level shortstops at Class A+ and below right now. These things tend to work themselves out as guys reach higher levels.

      I will say that it's been a long time (maybe in forever) since I saw a guy in CR as good at SS defensively as Vielma has been.
      Great to hear, JC. I saw Polanco last year, and I really liked what I saw at CR, but let me ask again, as I'm sure you just missed my previous post:

      I know it's too soon, but I'll ask anyway, with Gordon in the pipeline, does Engleb look like a future utility type, or do the Twins run both of these guys at SS up the organization simultaneously at the same level? What would it take for Vielma to force Polanco back to long-term at 2nd Base?
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      I know it's too soon, but I'll ask anyway, with Gordon in the pipeline, does Engleb look like a future utility type, or do the Twins run both of these guys at SS up the organization simultaneously at the same level? What would it take for Vielma to force Polanco back to long-term at 2nd Base?
      I think that the Twins should roll with Polanco at SS as much as they can. His ceiling is (much) higher than Gordon's. I like Vielma a lot and I think that Gordon is a similar player. But Gordon still has taken about 8 official swings with a wooden bat.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      I think that the Twins should roll with Polanco at SS as much as they can. His ceiling is (much) higher than Gordon's. I like Vielma a lot and I think that Gordon is a similar player. But Gordon still has taken about 8 official swings with a wooden bat.
      As I stated, I really liked Polanco last year when I saw him, but he has suffered from the error bugaboo in Ft Myers. I was under the impression that Gordon's ceiling was almost unlimited- and that there was an outside expert opinion that Vielma was the best athlete in the entire organization not named Buxton...... it will be quite interesting to see how this all plays out in the next 2-3 seasons.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      As I stated, I really liked Polanco last year when I saw him, but he has suffered from the error bugaboo in Ft Myers. I was under the impression that Gordon's ceiling was almost unlimited- and that there was an outside expert opinion that Vielma was the best athlete in the entire organization not named Buxton...... it will be quite interesting to see how this all plays out in the next 2-3 seasons.
      Yes it will. I have not seen Gordon play yet (other than film that does not tell you much, like how and where he moves when a ball is hit at the outfield, whether he is napping on the bases etc.) It is a good problem for the Twins to have (as long as they don't turn any of them into centerfielders.)
    1. SD Buhr's Avatar
      SD Buhr -
      sorry jokin, I thought I had answered your question.

      You're right about it being too soon to know since all 3 guys are still at A+ and below. I don't consider Vielma a utility type at this point. He's grown some and certainly has plenty of room to get bigger, since he just turned 20.

      I'm not sold on Polanco at SS long term, but I agree there's no point in moving him off SS at this point because he still has potential to play there.

      Not sure what Gordon will be like, but with so many scouts saying he can stick there, I'd tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      I like having 3 potential MLB level shortstops in the pipeline.
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