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  • Twins Minor League Report (9/13): Playoffs Begin for Kernels and Mighty Mussels


    Steve Lein

    While two Minnesota Twins affiliates were beginning their Division Series playoffs on Tuesday, a third clinched a playoff spot with a win. Sluggers in Double-A and Triple-A flexed their muscles, while one of those playoff pitchers did everything he could to bring his team a victory in their opening game. Would it be enough?

    Image courtesy of Rob Thompson, St. Paul Saints

     

     

     

    TRANSACTIONS

    • In advance of their playoff series, the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels placed RHP Niklas Rimmel on the temporarily inactive list. Rimmel is joining Team Germany in a WBC Qualifying tournament this week.
    • The organization also assigned perhaps a secret weapon in 2022 fourth-round draft pick, RHP Andrew Morris in his place.

    SAINTS SENTINEL
    Louisville 1, St. Paul 8
    Box Score

    The St. Paul Saints bludgeoned the Louisville Bats at CHS Field on Tuesday behind the bats of Andrew Bechtold and the surging Matt Wallner.

    While they had just seven hits, they scored eight runs by taking advantage of five walks and two errors.

    From the leadoff spot, Wallner reached base four times in the game, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a hit-by-pitch. He scored a run and drove in two, and his OPS for September is now up to 1.161. And if you’re under any impression those 11 games are a small sample, going back to the start of August his batting line is .290/.413/.573 (.986), and he’s hitting .322 in his last 23 games. I’ve also said it several times this year, but he absolutely demolishes just about everything he hits:

    Then you have Andrew Bechtold, who outshined Wallner on this night by blasting two home runs and driving in four. They were his first two home runs with the Saints after knocking 14 with the Wind Surge.

    Ariel Jurado made the start for the home team and completed five strong innings to pick up his first win with the Saints. He allowed just one hit, one walk, and struck out four. Ronny Henriquez finished the game with the rare four-inning save, allowing one run (on a home run, as expected) on two hits while striking out three.

    Cole Sturgeon (1-for-4, 2B, RBI) and Braden Bishop (0-for-3, R, RBI) drove in the other two runs for the home team.

    In “you don’t see that everyday” news, there was a delay in this game's fourth inning, caused by a “UFO” that would not vacate the CHS Field airspace:

    WIND SURGE WISDOM
    Wichita 3, Midland 1
    Box Score

    With their fellow affiliates starting their league playoffs tonight, the Wind Surge got good news before this one was over, as they clinched their division and will join their friends in the Texas League playoffs, which will start next week.

    The Wind Surge took a 2-0 lead after the top of the first inning in this one when Edouard Julien reached base with a single and was driven in by a Yunior Severino bomb to right field two batters later. It was Severino’s seventh of the year with Wichita, and he wasn’t done on this night.

    Making the start for Wichita was lefty Kody Funderburk. He was able to scatter five hits and three walks over 5 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four RockHounds along the way. In the sixth, a pair of walks to start the inning led to his replacement by Steven Cruz, who tossed the next 1 2/3 scoreless, striking out two. 

    Severino made the score 3-0 in the fourth with his second home run of the game, this one onto the berm in center field.

    That was all the offense for the Wind Surge, but they got multiple hits from Severino (3-for-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Julien (2-for-3, R, BB), and DaShawn Keirsey Jr (2-for-3), who also stole his 40th base of the season.

    Relievers Jordan Brink (1/3 IP, 2 H, ER, BB), Osiris German (2/3 IP, K), and Blayne Enlow (S, IP, H, BB) finished off the game before they were able to celebrate.

    KERNELS NUGGETS - Midwest League Division Series, Game 1 (Best of 3)
    Cedar Rapids 1, South Bend 2
    Box Score

    The Cedar Rapids Kernels made it to the Midwest League playoffs by winning the first half division title, with the best record in the league. South Bend won the division in the second half, and they ended the regular season playing each other last week, with the Kernels winning three of five.

    As the road team for Game 1, Cedar Rapids took to the batter’s box first and thanks to Pat Winkel, wasted little time putting a run on the scoreboard. His no-doubt home run put them in front 1-0 for some early breathing room.

    Right-hander David Festa took the mound for the Kernels and was unhittable for four innings. The only runner he allowed in that timeframe was on an error in the first, and he went on to retire 10 in a row, including six punchouts. The leadoff man in the fifth ended that bid with a single, and the Cubs had their first scoring threat a few batters later after another single. Festa kept his cool, however, striking out two and getting a groundball to keep South Bend off the scoreboard. That would be all the Cubs would muster, as Festa went on to strike out three of the final four hitters he faced, including Chicago Cubs' #1 prospect and #31 overall (per MLB.com), Pete Crow-Armstrong, for the last out of his start.

    In all, Festa went six innings, allowing just two hits, no walks, and punching out 10 total hitters. He threw 88 pitches, with 59 going for strikes (64%), and racking up 19 swinging strikes. He even did this:

    Sean Mooney came on for the seventh and delivered a one-two-three inning. Back out for the eighth, he gave up a leadoff double to put the tying run in scoring position and was removed for Bobby Milacki.

    Playing for the tying run, the Cubs went with the bunting approach, and it proved successful. Milacki had to rush off the mound for a bunt in front of him for his first batter, and he threw it away toward first for a run-scoring error. He nearly made another mistake on a bunt from the next hitter, looking to third before realizing nobody was covering and having to spin himself around to go back to first. Fortunately, this one went down as a sacrifice, but the go-ahead run was now just 90 feet away with one out. A single from the next batter made it 2-1 Cubs before Milacki got out of the inning by getting Crow-Armstrong to fly out to center.

    Deflated, the Kernels six, seven, and eight hitters were mowed down by Cubs reliever Jake Reindl, with all three striking out to end the game.

    Cedar Rapids outhit South Bend 7-5 in the game, but were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base, while their opponent was 2-for-5 and took advantage of the late miscue to steal game one.

    The top of the lineup accounted for five of their seven hits in the game, with Jake Rucker (2-for-4, 2 K), Brooks Lee (2-for-4), and Winkel (1-for-3, HR, BB, 2 K) accounting for five of their seven hits and their only run. Kyler Fedko also drew two walks as the cleanup hitter.

    The remaining games of the series will take place in Cedar Rapids, with Travis Adams getting the start on Thursday at 6:35 PM CDT, with the Kernels needing to even the series up at one. 

    MUSSEL MATTERS - Florida State League Division Series, Game 1 (Best of 3)
    Fort Myers 4, Dunedin 6
    Box Score

    Like their High-A counterparts, the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels made the Florida State League playoffs by winning their division in the first half of the season, also with the best record in the league. Dunedin clinched a playoff spot by winning the division in the second half, and the teams were 7-7 against each other during the regular season.

    In the top of the first, the Mighty Mussels strung together three singles from Noah Miller, Noah Cardenas, and Ben Ross led to the first run of the game, but Cardenas was thrown out at third on the play to end the inning.

    The Florida State League Pitcher of the Month for August, Pierson Ohl, was an easy choice to start game one for the Mighty Mussels, but things never even got on the rails for him in this one. Four consecutive hits to start the game (and an error on one of them) led to two runs and prompted a mound visit before he got his first out. After that, a balk and a sac fly led to two more runs and the Blue Jays had a 4-1 lead after the first inning. 

    Ohl had a one-two-three second inning, needing only five pitches, but the aggressiveness from Blue Jays hitters struck again in the third inning, as three singles (two on first pitches, and two other at-bats went only two pitches) led to another run and 5-1 lead. A one-out double in the fourth finally chased Ohl from the game, and Mike Paredes came on and got two outs to keep his team within four.

    The Mighty Mussels lineup scratched single runs across in the fifth and sixth inning, with Miller driving in one with a single in the former, and Cardenas hitting a solo home run in the latter. 

    Paredes got them through the seventh inning, allowing one run of his own on four hits and one walk in 3 2/3 innings pitched. He struck out two. A.J. Labas pitched a scoreless eighth inning, striking out two to keep his team within three heading into their last at-bat.

    Ben Ross did his best to kickstart a rally, leading off the inning by taking a 3-1 pitch deep to left field to make it 6-4. Kala’i Rosario followed with a single, but the next three hitters went down in order and they fell to the Blue Jays in game one.

    Ross led the way with three hits in four at-bats, including a double, home run, two RBI, and a run scored. Miller (2-for-3, RBI, BB) and Cardenas (2-for-4, R, HR, RBI) also had multiple hits in the game.

    The final two games of the three-game series will be in Fort Myers at Hammond Stadium, with the next on Thursday at 6:00 PM CDT. Right-hander Marco Raya will be on the bump for the Mighty Mussels with their season on the line.

    TWINS DAILY MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS OF THE DAY
    Pitcher of the Day - David Festa, Cedar Rapids Kernels (6 IP, 2 H, 10 K)
    Hitter of the Day - Yunior Severino, Wichita Wind Surge (3-for-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI)

    PROSPECT SUMMARY
    #2 - Brooks Lee (Cedar Rapids) - 2-for-4
    #4 - Austin Martin (Wichita) - 0-for-4
    #7 - Noah Miller (Fort Myers) - 2-for-3, RBI, BB
    #9 - Matt Wallner (St. Paul) - 3-for-4, R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, K
    #13 - David Festa (Cedar Rapids) - 6 IP, 2 H, 10 K
    #14 - Edouard Julien (Wichita) - 2-for-3, R, BB, K
    #15 - Blayne Enlow (Wichita) - S, IP H, BB
    #16 - Ronny Henriquez (St. Paul) - S, 4 IP, 2 H, ER, 3 K
    #18 - Tanner Schobel (Fort Myers) - 0-for-4, R, K
    #20 - Kala’i Rosario (Fort Myers) - 1-for-4

    WEDNESDAY’S PROBABLE STARTERS
    Louisville @ St. Paul (7:07 PM CDT) - RHP Simeon Woods Richardson (1-0, 3.38 ERA)
    Wichita @ Midland (6:30 PM CDT) - LHP Aaron Rozek (0-0, 6.28 ERA)

    Please feel free to ask questions and discuss Tuesday’s games!

     

     

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    Was hoping for at least one playoff win but it was not to be.  Happy that Wichita clinched and it is nice to see the bottom three affiliates in the playoffs.  The Saints being the only major minor league team not to make it this year.  A fun year to watch the Twins prospects in the minors. Hopefully one of these teams can win a playoff series.

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    Three thoughts.  First, Wallner is continuing his pattern of struggling a bit at every new level, but then lighting it up. It would be nice if he could win Kepler's spot next year at some point.  Second, Julien is so incredibly consistent, and is an on base machine.  He too has to get a close look in spring training.  The Twins do have a lot of younger position players in or close to the majors--Arraez, Kirilloff, Larnach, Miranda, Lewis, Wallner, Julien, and Lee so I feel pretty comfortable with the lineup long term.  Third, the area I feel much less comfortable with is the pitching, both due to underperformance and injuries, so it is great to see Festa stepping up big time.  He should move fast.

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    2 hours ago, FlyingFinn said:

    Festa clinches minor league pitcher of the year IMO. Hits 101 MPH, goes 6.2 innings (not a typo!), 2 hits, NO walks, and no runs. Wow!

    Ben Ross continues to do very well. SSS but this has been a great start for him.

    He'll be high on my list for that award for sure, but I think it's still Louie Varland by a decent margin. More innings, higher K-rate, and doing it higher up the ladder. Certainly debatable 🙂

    He was really, really good in this one. Cubs broadcasters were fawning over him:

    Ross will definitely be one to watch over a full season!

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    What a great start by Festa.  And the best news is that the Twins don't have to put him on the 40-man.

    Also great seeing Miller with his first multi-hit game in awhile, at least that I can remember.  And what a night from Severino.  Only problem is with Helman, Julien, and Lee can the Twins afford to give him a spot on the 40-man.  With his reputation tied to two huge bonuses, will someone take a chance in the Rule 5 if he is available?  Curious what those of you at TD who are closer to management think about the likelihood of his being added and/or selected if not.

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    Festa is an interesting prospect. I would imagine he'll start the year in AA next season, and it'll be interesting to see how his stuff plays up at that level against more advanced hitters. Anyone who can crack 100 mph and control it has to be taken seriously as a prospect, right? Sometimes guys like this can overwhelm A-ball hitters with velocity and it's not sustainable at higher levels when more advanced hitters can stay alive longer in an AB, so Festa's ability to continue to refine his off-speed pitches will be important next season. He's a big, long dude and should be fun to track. Twins have some good scouting in NJ it looks like?

    Wallner is doing everything asked of him, and I wouldn't mind seeing him challenge Kepler either, who seems to have capped himself out as a hitter at this point. Some people are going to absolutely hate him, though because he WILL whiff. A lot. But you'll also see a hell of a lot fewer weak grounders to 2B. the contact will be hard and loud. His challenge is going to be to make enough of it. It's been his challenge at every level of pro ball, and so far he's meeting it, but the next step is the toughest one of them all. Gotta say, I'd much rather see him as a lefty bat and OF than Jake Cave.

    Brooks Lee...love that start for him. 16 BBs against 18 Ks? Outstanding. Solid pop in his bat. Maybe he sticks at SS, maybe not (he seems to have the arm for it?) but that's less of a problem than an opportunity. His bat will keep him rising quickly, and I'm here for it.

    Noah Miller has had an interesting year. Defensively he's looking pretty good, Offensively, he's not hitting much. Zero power, not a ton of contact. I like the walks, but need to see more from the bat. Maybe he gets pushed up to cedar rapids to get him out of the FSL?

     

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    2 hours ago, RJA said:

    Three thoughts.  First, Wallner is continuing his pattern of struggling a bit at every new level, but then lighting it up. It would be nice if he could win Kepler's spot next year at some point.  Second, Julien is so incredibly consistent, and is an on base machine.  He too has to get a close look in spring training.  

    Wallner didn't struggle at Triple-A for long. First two weeks: .105/.227/.105 (10 games)

    Since then: .303/.424/.592 (37 games).

    K-rate is also way down. 22.3% in September thus far while his batting line has been ridiculous: .383/.453/.787.

    The only reason I think Julien has remained at Double-A, is to be available for the playoffs. He still needs to improve defensively, but he could have been promoted months ago.

    Edited by Steve Lein
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    3 hours ago, Dman said:

    Was hoping for at least one playoff win but it was not to be.  Happy that Wichita clinched and it is nice to see the bottom three affiliates in the playoffs.  The Saints being the only major minor league team not to make it this year.  A fun year to watch the Twins prospects in the minors. Hopefully one of these teams can win a playoff series.

    Also, there won't be Triple-A playoffs again this year. (though the Saints wouldn't have made it anyway). 

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    2 hours ago, 4twinsJA said:

    Watched Festa pitch last night, looked dominant. 2 hits were a swinging bunt and a bloop single. Tall and skinny, room to develop and get stronger. Hope he starts in AA next year, and progresses to AAA if does well, maybe a shot at Twins like Varland this year.

    David Festa 2022 = Louie Varland 2021... So, the question becomes: 

    David Festa 2023 = Louie Varland 2022??? (We shall see)

    But Festa should start in AA next year, and I have no doubt he will... The difference, Festa is about 3-4 mph faster. Both have good secondary pitches. Very encouraging. 

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    17 minutes ago, terrydactyls said:

    If this question has asked and answered previously, I apologize. What is the reason for Wallner hitting in the leadoff position?

    To get more AB's. Miranda often batted leadoff in the minors. 

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    6 hours ago, jmlease1 said:

    Wallner is doing everything asked of him, and I wouldn't mind seeing him challenge Kepler either, who seems to have capped himself out as a hitter at this point. Some people are going to absolutely hate him, though because he WILL whiff.

    I

     

    n 8 Minors years, Kepler had 15 errors; in 3 minors years Wallner has 22.

    Just what is needed a fielder who has  trouble getting the ball out of the outfield.

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    13 hours ago, Steve Lein said:

    He'll be high on my list for that award for sure, but I think it's still Louie Varland by a decent margin. More innings, higher K-rate, and doing it higher up the ladder.

    We can agree to disagree.

    It's the minor league pitcher of the year, not the upper minors pitcher of the year or most innings pitched award. Varland won it last year pitching 55 innings at Cedar Rapids (with the rest at Fort Myers) while Festa pitched 85 there this year. Varland was almost a year older at this level than Festa if we want to throw in other factors. Most of Varland's stats this year are only one level above Festa's. Varland's minor league ERA this year was 3.63. Festa's ERA this year was  2.30. Not close! Varland gave up 15 HR's, Festa 6. SO per 9 innings are close. BB's per 9 are the same. Hits per 9 favors Festa. As for innings pitched, the difference is less than 17 innings (126.1 to 109.2). Varland was very good but Festa was great this year IMO.

    Next debate - Twins minor league hitter of the year, neither of whom is with the organization - Spencer Steer vs. ECS, or is it Wallner now....

     

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    16 hours ago, RpR said:

    n 8 Minors years, Kepler had 15 errors; in 3 minors years Wallner has 22.

    Just what is needed a fielder who has  trouble getting the ball out of the outfield.

    There's no question that Kepler is the superior OF. He's an excellent defender in the corners with a good arm and he has enough range to backup CF (though clearly the Twins aren't enthusiastic about that any longer). He also seems to be who he is as a hitter now: a low BA hitter who gets on base pretty well but doesn't make enough hard contact to be more than a league average to slightly below average hitter. It seems likely that his 2019 was a fluke year enhanced by the juiced baseball.

    Wallner isn't a great OF (though his arm is superior) but he's not Delmon Young or Josh Willingham out there. And there's a real chance that his bat will be substantially better than Kepler's. I wouldn't hand him the job on scholarship, but the bottom half of the order has gotten pretty ugly this season and I'm increasingly unenthusiastic about Kepler's bat ending up in the 5th or 6th spot. 

    It's also very possible that he's the lefty version of Brent Rooker at the plate: huge power who doesn't make enough contact for it to matter. (Wallner is better than Rooker in the field, for sure, errors or no) 

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    13 hours ago, FlyingFinn said:

    We can agree to disagree.

    It's the minor league pitcher of the year, not the upper minors pitcher of the year or most innings pitched award. Varland won it last year pitching 55 innings at Cedar Rapids (with the rest at Fort Myers) while Festa pitched 85 there this year. Varland was almost a year older at this level than Festa if we want to throw in other factors. Most of Varland's stats this year are only one level above Festa's. Varland's minor league ERA this year was 3.63. Festa's ERA this year was  2.30. Not close! Varland gave up 15 HR's, Festa 6. SO per 9 innings are close. BB's per 9 are the same. Hits per 9 favors Festa. As for innings pitched, the difference is less than 17 innings (126.1 to 109.2). Varland was very good but Festa was great this year IMO.

    Next debate - Twins minor league hitter of the year, neither of whom is with the organization - Spencer Steer vs. ECS, or is it Wallner now....

     

    Yup, as I said, certainly debatable! The innings mean more than you think (at least for me), it's basically 2 more outs, on average, per game that Varland has accumulated. It points to consistency. It's all about personal preference. 🙂

    As for hitter of the year, CES certainly earned high consideration while with the organization, but in my approach to voting he'll get penalized because he's no longer in it (fewer games). And while he's still been good in Chattanooga, his OPS has dropped by over .150 points.

    The top spot is a 2-horse race off the top of my head: Matt Wallner vs. Edouard Julien.

    Edited by Steve Lein
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