How nice was it to see minor league baseball return this week? And, hopefully you have enjoyed the return of the Twins Minor League Reports each day on this site.
I had a great time watching and covering the start of the Cedar Rapids Kernels season from Cedar Rapids. Those that follow me on Instagram or Twitter likely saw that I took approximately 2.3 million pictures over four days. I enjoyed the time and was able to see the Kernels jump up to High-A after being the team’s Low-A affiliate for the previous eight years.
My plan is to do a weekly Twins Minor League Week in Review. It will be similar to Nick’s Twins Week in Review, but I will instead be highlighting the goings-on in the Twins farm system. My intent is to show top performers for the week as well as discuss some storylines developing in the system. As always, I welcome your feedback on what you would like to see from these Week in Review articles, so let me know in the comments below.
With that, let’s look at Week 1 in the Twins minor leagues:
Triple-A: St. Paul Saints: Week (2-4 at Omaha), overall (2-4)
Double-A: Wichita Wind Surge: Week (5-1 at Springfield), overall (5-1)
High-A: Cedar Rapids Kernels: Week (5-1, hosting Peoria), overall (5-1)
Low-A: Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels: Week (3-3, at Bradenton), overall (3-3)
News & Notes
For those of you looking to attend CHS Field for the St. Paul Saints first games as the Twins AAA affiliate, tickets are still available. Check out their website for ticket availability and information.
We may have less (though hopefully more and more) readers in the Wichita area, but they also have tickets available for their home opening series against Amarillo. Tickets also available in Ft. Myers as they start their home schedule on Tuesday as well.
Wichita opened their new $90 million ballpark, Riverfront Stadium, on April 10th when Wichita State played the University of Houston. Did you know, the last time a MLB-affiliated game was played in Wichita was in August of 2007.
Catcher David Banuelos began his season with the Wichita Wind Surge. He did leave the team this weekend, but for good reason. He and his wife are expecting their first child so he is back home. So while he went just 1-for-13 at the plate, this will be a good week for the catcher.
It’s always nice to start the season on a good note. We are all paying attention early in the season, and then we start looking at season numbers. It’s also a fun time to see players making their professional debuts, or returning from injury, or switching positions, and those are fun to cover as well.
We will start with the Twins choices for Hitter and Pitcher of the Week (which is announced on Sunday mornings).
Twins Player of the Week: Jose Miranda, Wichita Wind Surge
Splitting his time between second base and third base, Miranda provided some thump in the Wind Surge lineup. He hit .370/.414/.741 (1.155) with a double, three home runs and seven RBI. He has had at least one hit in all six games.
Twins Pitcher of the Week: Brent Headrick, Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels
Headrick made one start for the Mussels and it went well. He threw four scoreless innings. He gave up just two hits, walked one and struck out seven batters.
Other Strong Starts
Aaron Whitefield, Wichita Wind Surge: The speedy outfielder put together a very nice first series of the season. He had multiple hits in all six games. He hit .444/.500/.815 (1.315) with two doubles, a triple and two home runs. He also stole three bases.
Matt Wallner, Cedar Rapids Kernels: The Minnesota native who was twice drafted by the Twins got off to a strong start for the Kernels. He hit .381/.462/.810 (1.271) with a double, a triple, two home runs and eight RBI.
Caleb Hamilton, Wichita Wind Surge: Just before the season started, Hamilton was transferred from the alternate site in St. Paul to the Wichita roster. In four games, he is hitting .417/.611/.583 (1.194) with two doubles. He also had six walks to go with four strikeouts.
Edouard Julien, Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels: The 2019 draft pick hurt his elbow playing for Team Canada that summer. He had Tommy John surgery. So this week marked his professional debut. It went well. He hit .353/.577/588 (1.165) with two doubles and a triple. He also walked nine times compared to seven strikeouts.
Trey Cabbage, Cedar Rapids Kernels: He hit .313/.450/.625 (1.075) with a triple and a home run during the week. On Thursday, he went 4-for-4 with the home run, triple, two singles and a walk. All four hits were over 100 mph off the bat. On Opening Night, he also made a great diving catch out in left field.
Yunior Severino, Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels: In five games this week, Severino hit .333/.400/.611 (1.011) with two doubles, a homer and eight RBI.
Andrew Vasquez, St. Paul Saints: The lefty reliever worked in three of the Saints six games and gave up just one hit over 3 ⅓ innings. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out six batters, harkening back to his remarkable 2018 season.
Cole Sands, Wichita Wind Surge: The 2018 draft pick went 4 1/3 scoreless innings in his 2021 debut. He gave up two hits, walked two and struck out three batters.
Jovani Moran, Wichita Wind Surge: The lefty worked 3 1/3 scoreless relief innings over two appearances. He gave up two hits, walked one and struck out seven batters.
Hunter McMahon, Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels: The right-hander came to the Twins organization from the Nationals in the Ryne Harper trade. In his first appearance in the organization, he worked 4 2/3 innings and gave up just two hits, walked one and struck out six batters.
Randy Dobnak, St. Paul Saints: The righty tossed four scoreless innings for the Saints and gave up just two hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out five. In fact, he struck out the side in his final inning of work.
Kody Funderburk, Cedar Rapids Kernels: The southpaw was the Kernels opening night starter on Tuesday and worked three innings. He came in again on Sunday afternoon and recorded a two-inning save. In all, he gave up two unearned runs in five innings of work and struck out six batters.
Melvi Acosta, Cedar Rapids Kernels: Acosta worked 4 ⅓ scoreless innings over two appearances in Week 1. He gave up just one hit, walked two and struck out six batters.
Andrew Cabezas, Cedar Rapids Kernels: The righty came out of the bullpen and worked four scoreless innings in his 2021 debut. He gave up just one hit, walked two and struck out two batters.
Josh Winder, Wichita Wind Surge: Winder certainly has made a name for himself the past six months. Increased velocity and a strong spring training performance meant he skipped High-A ball and jumped right to AA where he was the team’s Opening Night starter. He also started on Sunday. Combined, he worked 9 2/3 innings and gave up just two runs. He struck out 11 batters.
Daniel Ozoria, Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels: On Sunday, the Mussels lost a crazy game by the score of 18-9. The team’s best pitcher in that game was Ozoria who worked 2 2/3 scoreless innings. He gave up one hit. He walked one. He didn’t strike anyone out. But he was able to get the team through those final innings… Oh, Ozoria, he’s an infielder.
Great Comeback Stories
Zach Featherstone, Cedar Rapids Kernels: The Twins drafted Featherstone in 2016 as a 1B/OF. In 2018, he made the transition to the mound. However, he hurt his elbow, rehabbed, and then after just three games in the GCL, he needed Tommy John surgery. He was ready to return late in 2019, but a hurricane ended the GCL season early. Then came COVID in 2020. On Thursday night, Featherstone returned to the mound in a game for the first time in nearly three years. The lefty was pumping 96 in his first inning and displaying some good secondary pitches too. He worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief.
After the game, Featherstone said, “It was definitely cool to get back on the mound and be competitive.”
Jon Olsen, Cedar Rapids Kernels: Olsen starred at UCLA, but early in the 2018 season, he needed Tommy John surgery. The Twins still drafted him in the 11th round that year. He rehabbed that year and in 2019. Olsen was looking strong and excited to get going in 2020, but then came COVID. On Sunday afternoon, he was finally able to make his professional debut. He worked four innings and gave up just one run on five hits and a walk. He struck out four batters.
As those who have known me or have read what I’ve written over the last couple decades know, I generally tend to be positive. But for this report, I think having a small ‘Lowlights’ section makes sense. It is , in my mind, more of a reminder for all of us that even the top prospects are still developing. They’re still working on things. They aren’t finished products. So here are a few guys who have started their season slowly in the first week.
With the 27th overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, the Twins selected 1B Aaron Sabato from the University of North Carolina. While there were questions about his defense, the general belief is that he will hit and hit for power. It’s also possible that he could be a fast-riser through the system. He went to Twins spring training (development camp) and played a bunch late in big-league games. It may have surprised many that he began the season (and his professional career) in Low-A Ft. Myers. However, reports surfaced that he had struggled with the bat in minor league camp.
Through the season’s first six games, Sabato has started and batted third each game for the Mussels. He is hitting .095/.345/.095 (.440) with no extra base hits. He has walked seven times, but he’s struck out 11 times in his 29 plate appearances. What to do? Well, manager Brian Meyer will most likely play him each of the next six games at home this week, and bat him third, and he will continue to do that as long as Sabato remains with the Mighty Mussels.
Gilberto Celestino begins his 2021 campaign in Double-A Wichita despite ending the 2019 season with just eight games in High-A. He began the season by hitting .150/.292/.200 (.492) with one double. He has three hits in 20 at-bats.
It has been interesting to see how the pitching rotations for the Twins affiliates have been set up, especially with the two Class A affiliates. The idea, of course, is to protect the arms of these pitching prospects who were unable to work any official innings in 2020 due to the pandemic.
On Thursday night, the Cedar Rapids Kernels were behind by a score of 4-2 going into the ninth inning. On the mound for the Kernels in the top of the ninth inning… Gabe Snyder, the first baseman. The lefty was hitting 77 mph with his fastball, but he faced five batters, gave up three hits and walked two batters before being replaced by second baseman Yeltsin Encarnacion. Encarnacion gave up two more hits and a long home run, but he got three outs, including one on a strikeout (with an 86 mph fastball). The Kernels lone loss of the season was an 11-2 loss that night. So why did they need to throw a position player into a close game?
After the game, Kernels manager Brian Dinkelman said, “With a bit of a shortened spring training, guys were not quite built up all the way. We know we have a limit of pitches, and ups and downs for guys. We used some guys the first couple of games. We had our guys that were available tonight, and they threw. I know it’s a tough situation, close ball game in the ninth, to have to throw a position player out there. But we’re trying to protect these players so we can go farther into the season.”
The Kernels are not alone with this. Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels pitching coach Peter Larson pointed out “Coming off of the missed year, workload volume management is at the forefront, the most important thing, that we don’t blow these guys out.”
Because of that, the Mussels roster, specifically the pitching staff, illustrates that. Larson noted, “We have a lot of starters, and we have 15 pitchers. We’re going to look to piggyback starters especially in the early months and it could go the whole season.”
He projected the idea of one pitcher starting the first week and then the guys who came in relief would start the second role to give them different opportunities.
With the Mighty Mussels, they will also have the advantage of being in the same facilities as the players at the development complex (essentially Extended Spring Training). In week one, we already saw the Mussels add two pitchers from the complex to their roster (Anthony Escobar and Donny Breek).
Clearwater @ Ft. Myers (Hunter McMahon, Regi Grace, Miguel Rodriguez, Bradley Hanner, Sawyer Gipson-Long, Louie Varland)
Cedar Rapids @ Quad Cities: (Ben Gross, Blayne Enlow, Tyler Watson, Kody Funderburk, Matt Canterino, Andrew Cabezas)
Amarillo @ Wichita: (Cole Sands, Austin Schulfer, Dakota Chalmers, Josh Winder, Bryan Sammons, Cole Sands)
Iowa @ St. Paul (Randy Dobnak, Griffin Jax, Bailey Ober, Andrew Albers, Charlie Barnes, TBD)
With this being the first Week in Review for the Minor Leagues, feel free to provide some feedback below. What do you like to read? What types of information would you like added? And feel free to ask any questions you like.