Wichita was all set to be the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins over a year ago. They had a new $90 million stadium right on the river, ready to debut. Instead, as we all know, a global pandemic canceled the 2020 season. Then MLB decided to re-align minor league baseball and the Wind Surge ended up being the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
After beginning their season with a series in Springfield, Missouri, the Wind Surge were finally able to open Riverfront Stadium. In addition to a beautiful ballpark, Wichita fans are also able to watch a really good, really exciting baseball team.
Long-time Twins minor league manager Ramon Borrego has some familiar faces on his roster, and they have helped the team to their fast start.
Aaron Whitefield is known primarily for his great speed and defense. Those traits are what put him on the Twins 2020 Opening Day expanded roster. This year, he began the season by batting ninth for Wichita, but it didn’t take long for him to earn a spot right at the top of the order.
Whitefield began the season with six straight multi-hit games on his way to the AA Central Player of the Week honors, very well deserved. More important, he was able to gain confidence by getting off to a fast start.
Whitefield, “Confidence and keeping with my routine that I built over the offseason. I had plenty of time to get ready for this season. Being in the minor leagues for the last five to six years, you kind of figure out what you need and what not to do in the season.”
Maybe to summarize where he’s at, he noted, “I’m a baseball player now, if you’d have asked me five years ago, I’d have been like Yeah, I’m just an athlete playing another sport.”
Borrego said, “I was just really impressed. I have to give credit to Whitey and the way he’s been working. I’m so happy for him. He’s really excited right now. You’re going to have some good days and some bad days, but I think if you stick with your routine like I have been, the good days are more than the bad days.”
Borrego noted that for Whitefield to succeed, he just needs to make contact. “You put a lot of pressure when you get on base. He’s a really smart guy. He’s got a chance to steal second and to steal third.”
Whitefield spent this past offseason in North Carolina rather than going back to Australia. He worked out with a high school team and helped coached kids as well. He found the opportunity to be very beneficial to his own career.
“I definitely understood why some of the hitting coaches have looked at me like (makes a confused look with his face). The mental part was a big thing that I learned from the hitting side of things. Defense and baserunning, I’ve been kind of good at that from the start, but it was the mental side of hitting. Some high school kids taught me that. I’m telling them, ‘Don’t give any at-bats away’, whether it’s the fourth at bat or the fifth at bat. That could mean something at the end of the week, whether you get four extra hits or no extra hits. That’s something that I took in myself. If I’m teaching it, I better live it. You don’t get many pitches right over the middle of the plate, so if you do get it, don’t miss it.”
Jose Miranda also is off to a strong start. He is hitting .380 and hit three home runs in the season’s first week. He was responsible for a walkoff win earlier this week and has the full confidence of his manager.
“Miranda is a good hitter. He takes a really good at bat.”
One key for Miranda is swinging at strikes. He doesn’t strike out much, puts the ball in play.
“I’m trying to be more patient and lower my chase percentage. That’s one of my goals this season. I know if my chase percentage goes down, I’m going to have better numbers. If I start swinging at better pitches, I’m going to start getting more hits, doubles, home runs.”
Miranda, as you will recall, was the third of four high school hitters that the Twins drafted in the first 74 picks of the 2016 draft. Alex Kirilloff was their first round pick and he debuted with the Twins both in the 2020 playoffs and again in April. Ben Rortvedt was the team’s second round pick. He debuted two weeks ago. One pick after selecting Miranda, the Twins took outfielder Akil Baddoo. After not playing for nearly two years, Baddoo was a Rule 5 pick of the Tigers and made the team’s Opening Day roster.
Miranda is happy for and motivated by his friends and teammates making their way to the big leagues. He hopes to join them soon. “That motivates me a lot. I see them there now. It motivates me because we were all in the same class. I want to have my best year and then get up there. That’s the main goal, to be there and then stay there.”
Miranda also is motivated by his daughter who just turned one year old.
“She just turned one, and that’s another thing. She motivates me to play hard. Do my work every day, I think about her during the game, after the game. They’re in Puerto Rico right now, so we FaceTime, and she sees me and starts laughing. Being a dad is super great. I didn’t think it was going to be like this. It’s way better than what I thought.”
Miranda had a very strong Puerto Rico Winter League and had the opportunity to play in the Caribbean Series.
“It was super important for me. It was great. It was a fun experience. The only bad thing was there were no fans so my family couldn’t be there, but they were watching the games on TV. It was great. Going to the Caribbean Series, there’s not a ton of guys that go there. It was one of my bigger experiences of my career. Playing against the Dominican. Playing against Robby Cano, Melky Cabrera, Carlos Martinez, other big-league guys.”
He also was invited to participate in the depth camp at Twins big-league spring training.
“It was a great experience just being around all those veteran guys, being around Nellie Cruz who has been around the league for 15 to 20 years almost. Hearing all the things that he says, all the things he knows, hitting-wise. All the work he puts in day in, day out. After the game, he keeps working out. JD (Donaldson) too. All those guys. They are super good, but you see what they do before the game and after the game. It’s pretty cool to watch them work that hard and seeing all the work pay off.”
He is certainly happy with his start. “That was one of my struggles in the past. My starts to the season were cold, slow. This year was a hot start, and now I’ve got to keep going. My main goal is to get to the bigs and help the team in.
In addition, former Twins top shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios returned to the Twins as a free agent this offseason. He had spent the past few seasons in the Rays organization where he really struggled. While the Rays wanted him to come back but for less money, Palacios was excited to rejoin the Twins organization.
Manager Ramon Borrega, who had managed Palacios earlier in their careers in the GCL, said that the original plan was for Royce Lewis to be the Wind Surge shortstop and Palacios was going to play all around the infield. With Lewis out for the 2021 season after ACL surgery, Palacios has been the mainstay at shortstop for Wichita. His season has begun with a ten-game hitting streak.
“I was so happy. I know what he can do on offense and defense. I’m really happy having Jermaine on my team.”
A quick look at the position player leaders in the Twins organization through the first ten games of the season finds Jose Miranda leading the organization with a .385 batting average, sixth in on-base percentage at .419, second in slugging percentage at .641, and second in OPS at 1.060. He is also tied for the lead with three homers and second with nine RBI.
Aaron Whitefield ranks second in batting average at .372, fifth in on-base percentage at .438, first in slugging percentage at .651 and first in OPS at 1.089. He leads the Twins minor leagues with 16 hits, two triples, six extra base hits, 28 total bases, nine runs and four stolen bases.
Jermaine Palacios ranks fifth in batting average (.317), fifth in slugging percentage (.512) and tenth in OPS (.890).
It’s early, so it’s hard to know what the rest of the season will look like for these three prospects and the Wind Surge. But getting off to a good start is always good for the confidence of the players and their managers, and their fan bases.