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  1. While it seems to have been a slow offseason so far, there have been and will soon be several more bits of information around the Minnesota Twins. Here is a list of nine things for you to consider as a Twins fan today.I haven't done one of these Nine Innings bits in awhile... I wasn't sure how I would fill all nine innings, but we've done it. This has topics all across the board. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. First Inning - Eddie Rosario Outrighted Listen. No one thought that the #MNTwins were going to tender Eddie Rosario at the deadline Wednesday evening. But tonight, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Twins have put Rosario on outright waivers. I got to know JP when he was the pitching coach in Cedar Rapids in 2017. Had some great conversations with him. He went to the same high school in New Orleans that the Mannings went to. More important to his role as a coach, he knows how to pitch. He reached AAA as a player. He’s coached as well as been the assistant pitching coordinator the last couple of seasons with the Twins. He also speaks Spanish (and English) fluently which is helpful too.He was also placed in charge of the Twins alternate site this summer in St. Paul. The Twins have certainly lost their fair share of player development staff. Derek Falvey has talked about not only player development but coaching development, front office development, and providing opportunities for people to move up the ladder with the Twins or elsewhere. Derek Shelton went from Twins bench coach to Pirates manager. James Rowson went from Twins hitting coach to Marlins bench coach and hitting coordinator. Jeremy Hefner went from assistant pitching coach with the Twins to pitching coach of the Mets. Tanner Swanson went from Twins minor league catching coordinator to Yankees MLB coach. Peter Fatse went from Twins minor league hitting coordinator to Red Sox assistant hitting coach. Edgar Varela went from Twins minor league coordinator to Twins hitting coach. Sixth Inning - (Trevor) May to the Mets Reports started coming out mid-afternoon on Tuesday that the Mets were close to a deal with Trevor May. It wasn’t long after that we had verification that, pending a physical, the Mets and Trevor May had agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract. May is one of the team bullpen arms available on the free agent market, and with this move, he sets the tone for that market. In 2020, May struck out 14.6 batters per nine innings and that number has been over 11 the past two years. He clearly has great stuff and could thrive in the Big Apple where he will be reunited with former Twins bullpen coach Jeremy Hefner. May has been a great ambassador for Twins baseball throughout his tenure with the team, but this is a good opportunity for him and hopefully it works out well for him. Seventh Inning - Top 60 Twins Players in 60 Seasons in Minnesota E-Book Available In Case You Missed It… over the past month, I have been working with “Nate Tubbs Rules” on an e-book. NTR updates his Top 300 Twins Player rankings after every season and it is enjoyable to read through those updates each year. With the Twins having just completed their 60th season in Minnesota in 2020, we wrote The Top 60 Twins Players in 60 Season in Minnesota, and it is available now for just $7.99 (immediate download). It includes fun profiles of the Top 60 players on his list and yes, it does name all of his Top 300 players. Yes, my personal Top 60 rankings is in the back of the book too. Please consider this e-book. If you are interested, you can order here. Last night, we spent about 40 minutes on a bonus Twins Spotlight discussing some of the fun topics of the rankings. Please enjoy. (Seth on WJON in St. Cloudtoday.) Eighth Inning - Kirilloff Bumps Lewis from Baseball America Top Spot On Monday, Baseball America released its updated Minnesota Twins Prospect rankings. Of note, they have now bumped Alex Kirilloff up from #2 to the #1 Twins prospect, a spot Royce Lewis has held for the past three offseasons. And no surprise, the two have always been kind of a 1a and 1b. Kirilloff certainly was the talk of the alternate site, and when he became the first player in MLB history to make his MLB debut by starting in a playoff game, more people started talking about him. I think the key is that Lewis’s star hasn’t diminished as much as Kirilloff has now been talked about more, and deservedly so. That said, I will continue to say that Trevor Larnach should be discussed in the same range as Kirilloff and Lewis. Carlos Collazo, who worked on the rankings for Baseball America, wrote in the Twins chatthat he has Larnach lumped into a group that includes Ryan Jeffers, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic. I personally have Larnach just a bit above that group, but that is a very good group. Literally all six of those guys should be in their Top 100 Prospect rankings when those come out in the spring. He then noted that there is a group from #7 through #12 or 13 that could be inter-changeable too, and I agree with that. That is an exciting group as well with both power hitters, strong offense/defense guys and about three more pitchers that all profile as potential big-league starters. Ninth Inning - A Minor Signing The Royals signed veteran lefty Mike Minor to a two-year, $18 million with a $13 million option for a third year. The Royals are adding a veteran to a staff that includes youngsters like Brady Singer and Kris Bubic and a plethora of pitching prospects that are potentially available in the next year or two. Danny Duffy becomes a free agent after the 2021 season. I have been a little surprised by the number of starting pitcher free agents who have already signed. Not sure what that will mean over the long course of an offseason, but it is encouraging. That’s all I’ve got. Nine innings worth. Hopefully you have enjoyed it, and I welcome any questions or comments that you have below. Click here to view the article
  2. I haven't done one of these Nine Innings bits in awhile... I wasn't sure how I would fill all nine innings, but we've done it. This has topics all across the board. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. First Inning - Eddie Rosario Outrighted Listen. No one thought that the #MNTwins were going to tender Eddie Rosario at the deadline Wednesday evening. But tonight, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Twins have put Rosario on outright waivers. https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/1333948164244647937 I know I held out some hope that some team would be willing to give up a Low A pitching prospect for Rosario, and certainly the Twins tried, but they couldn’t find a taker. https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/1333948257819631618 Instead of just non-tendering him tomorrow, and making him a free agent, the Twins are hoping to find a team that will take whatever number they agree to in arbitration. Rosario has been a controversial player. Ultimately, since he debuted in 2015, he has been a very productive player. While he comes with flaws that he just hasn’t been able to overcome, he has also produced in the middle of the Twins lineup. I know it has become cliche for me to do so, but I truly have enjoyed watching Eddie Rosario in a Twins uniform. He is absolutely entertaining when you just sit back and take the good with the bad. Most likely, he will go unclaimed by the 1:00 deadline on Wednesday and become a free agent. Second Inning - Wednesday is Decision Day Teams have until 7:00 central time on Wednesday night to decide whether to tender a 2021 contract for its arbitration eligible players. If they are non-tendered, they become a free agent. Taylor Rogers is the one other Twins player who some think could be non-tendered, but I think it’s most logical for the Twins to bring him back for 2021. The other players who are arbitration-eligible are: Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Tyler Duffey, Mitch Garver, Caleb Thielbar, and Matt Wisler. I would be surprised if any of them were non-tendered. However, it is possible that the team agrees to terms with a player or two before the deadline as well. Of that group, which if any are most likely to sign a deal ahead of the deadline? Third Inning - Offseason Live TONIGHT (Reacting to the Non-Tender Deadline) Tonight at 8:00 central time, Nick Nelson, Seth Stohs and David Young will react to the day in Twins news, specifically to the arbitration decisions that are made. Join us live on Twins Daily’s Twitter, Facebook or YouTube pages. Fourth Inning - Realigning the Minor Leagues The Star Tribune is reporting that the Twins and MLB will be announcing their re-aligned minor league system in the near future. In the worst kept secret in baseball, the St. Paul Saints will become the Twins Triple-A affiliate. The Wichita Wind Surge will become the Twins new Double-A affiliate. The two Twins Class A affiliates will switch levels. The Midwest League and the Cedar Rapids Kernels will move from Low-A to High-A with the Ft. Myers Mighty Mussels and the rest of the Florida State League moving to a Low-A affiliation. For much more on these changes, check out Tom’s Minor League Realignment article tonight. My thoughts? First and foremost, I will miss conversations with some really good people at both Rochester and at Pensacola. The Red Wings have such an incredible baseball history going back well over a century. The Blue Wahoos were only a Twins affiliate for two seasons, but their stadium is remarkable and the people there were so helpful. That said, there are obvious reasons for wanting their Triple-A affiliate in St. Paul, a dozen miles from Target Field. It’ll be much easier to call people up or send them down. It will be great for rehab assignments. And, with the Twins in a position to win and so many exciting prospects, it is great for baseball in Minnesota. As for Wichita, they built a new $75 million stadium just a year ago. It was supposed to be the Marlins AAA affiliate, but then came COVID, a missed season and re-alignment. Seems like it would be a great facility for Twins prospects. I am happy that Cedar Rapids remains an affiliate, and it’s exciting - I would think - for them and their fans to move up a level, to get a higher level of play with a more advanced league. I will always encourage baseball fans from the Twin Cities to try to make a trip or two each season to watch the Kernels. And, with the Twins player development site and the academy in Ft. Myers, it makes sense to keep players there for their first step up rather than sending them to Cedar Rapids right away. That will be good especially for transactions at that Low-A level. Easy to call guys up from across the parking lot. So overall, I am very comfortable with how this has played out, and over time I think it will prove itself to be a good thing for the organization. I just still feel bad about losing the Elizabethton affiliate and the great history of that team. And I feel worse that the Twins have just let go of long-time leaders and coaches in Ray Smith and Jeff Reed. Fifth Inning - Twins Lose Another Player Development Leader to Big-League Job JP Martinez was announced on Tuesday night as the new assistant pitching coach of the San Francisco Giants. A week earlier we had heard rumblings that he was seen as a favorite. Now it isi Twitter official. https://twitter.com/SFGiants/status/1333936170024140802 I got to know JP when he was the pitching coach in Cedar Rapids in 2017. Had some great conversations with him. He went to the same high school in New Orleans that the Mannings went to. More important to his role as a coach, he knows how to pitch. He reached AAA as a player. He’s coached as well as been the assistant pitching coordinator the last couple of seasons with the Twins. He also speaks Spanish (and English) fluently which is helpful too.He was also placed in charge of the Twins alternate site this summer in St. Paul. The Twins have certainly lost their fair share of player development staff. Derek Falvey has talked about not only player development but coaching development, front office development, and providing opportunities for people to move up the ladder with the Twins or elsewhere. Derek Shelton went from Twins bench coach to Pirates manager. James Rowson went from Twins hitting coach to Marlins bench coach and hitting coordinator. Jeremy Hefner went from assistant pitching coach with the Twins to pitching coach of the Mets. Tanner Swanson went from Twins minor league catching coordinator to Yankees MLB coach. Peter Fatse went from Twins minor league hitting coordinator to Red Sox assistant hitting coach. Edgar Varela went from Twins minor league coordinator to Twins hitting coach. Sixth Inning - (Trevor) May to the Mets Reports started coming out mid-afternoon on Tuesday that the Mets were close to a deal with Trevor May. It wasn’t long after that we had verification that, pending a physical, the Mets and Trevor May had agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract. May is one of the team bullpen arms available on the free agent market, and with this move, he sets the tone for that market. In 2020, May struck out 14.6 batters per nine innings and that number has been over 11 the past two years. He clearly has great stuff and could thrive in the Big Apple where he will be reunited with former Twins bullpen coach Jeremy Hefner. May has been a great ambassador for Twins baseball throughout his tenure with the team, but this is a good opportunity for him and hopefully it works out well for him. Seventh Inning - Top 60 Twins Players in 60 Seasons in Minnesota E-Book Available In Case You Missed It… over the past month, I have been working with “Nate Tubbs Rules” on an e-book. NTR updates his Top 300 Twins Player rankings after every season and it is enjoyable to read through those updates each year. With the Twins having just completed their 60th season in Minnesota in 2020, we wrote The Top 60 Twins Players in 60 Season in Minnesota, and it is available now for just $7.99 (immediate download). It includes fun profiles of the Top 60 players on his list and yes, it does name all of his Top 300 players. Yes, my personal Top 60 rankings is in the back of the book too. Please consider this e-book. If you are interested, you can order here. Last night, we spent about 40 minutes on a bonus Twins Spotlight discussing some of the fun topics of the rankings. Please enjoy. (Seth on WJON in St. Cloud today.) Eighth Inning - Kirilloff Bumps Lewis from Baseball America Top Spot On Monday, Baseball America released its updated Minnesota Twins Prospect rankings. Of note, they have now bumped Alex Kirilloff up from #2 to the #1 Twins prospect, a spot Royce Lewis has held for the past three offseasons. And no surprise, the two have always been kind of a 1a and 1b. Kirilloff certainly was the talk of the alternate site, and when he became the first player in MLB history to make his MLB debut by starting in a playoff game, more people started talking about him. I think the key is that Lewis’s star hasn’t diminished as much as Kirilloff has now been talked about more, and deservedly so. That said, I will continue to say that Trevor Larnach should be discussed in the same range as Kirilloff and Lewis. Carlos Collazo, who worked on the rankings for Baseball America, wrote in the Twins chat that he has Larnach lumped into a group that includes Ryan Jeffers, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic. I personally have Larnach just a bit above that group, but that is a very good group. Literally all six of those guys should be in their Top 100 Prospect rankings when those come out in the spring. He then noted that there is a group from #7 through #12 or 13 that could be inter-changeable too, and I agree with that. That is an exciting group as well with both power hitters, strong offense/defense guys and about three more pitchers that all profile as potential big-league starters. Ninth Inning - A Minor Signing The Royals signed veteran lefty Mike Minor to a two-year, $18 million with a $13 million option for a third year. The Royals are adding a veteran to a staff that includes youngsters like Brady Singer and Kris Bubic and a plethora of pitching prospects that are potentially available in the next year or two. Danny Duffy becomes a free agent after the 2021 season. I have been a little surprised by the number of starting pitcher free agents who have already signed. Not sure what that will mean over the long course of an offseason, but it is encouraging. That’s all I’ve got. Nine innings worth. Hopefully you have enjoyed it, and I welcome any questions or comments that you have below.
  3. Recently, Clark Beeker answered some questions about his first full season, his offseason and much more. Be sure to leave your questions or comments below. Seth Stohs (SS): It’s been a few weeks now since the season ended. Have you had a chance to reflect on your season? Did you accomplish goals you may have set before the season? Clark Beeker (CB): Looking back on my first full season in professional baseball, I was pleased with the way it went. Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers were both great places to play and having both teams in the playoffs was indicative of the talent of the players and coaching staffs. Going into the season, it wasn’t a definite that I would be one of the starters in the Cedar Rapids’ rotation so making that happen was a nice first step. As the season goes on, you make adjustments based on what in your arsenal is successful, how the hitters respond to certain pitches/sequences, and the overall daily life of being a minor league baseball player. Being open to making adjustments and learning along the way definitely helped my progression up until the culmination of the season. SS: How did you hold up, physically or emotionally, through your first full season of pro ball? CB: I felt that my body held up pretty well – I really didn’t experience any fatigue until the last couple of weeks of the season. Half the battle for playing in your first full season is being able to stay off the DL and handle the rigors of bus rides and weeks without an off day. Taking care of my body, eating right (most of the time), and getting plenty of sleep were keys for me that I focused on throughout the season. SS: You made the Twins Daily Minor League All-Star team as the right-handed starting pitcher. As you look at your stat line, what are you most excited about? CB: I see that the checks I wrote to the voters cleared – so that was a smooth transaction. Being recognized was definitely an honor considering how many strong performances there were throughout the entire organization. My biggest takeaway from the season, numbers wise, was the amount of innings I was able to throw. By averaging roughly 6.25 innings per start, I was able to keep hitters off the bases and pitch deep into games. Although pitching late into games isn’t always indicative of success, you’re not going to keep pitching into the 7th, 8th, 9th innings if you’re not pitching well and giving your team a chance to win. I typically wasn’t pleased with my outing unless I went seven innings or more. SS: To what do you attribute your success throughout the 2017 season at Cedar Rapids? CB: I think the biggest thing for me was having a plan for how I wanted to attack each hitter, every single start. It may not have been the right plan, but based on scouting reports (which video intern Sam Berk did a great job of analyzing and compiling), my pitches, and various sequences, I had a purpose with every pitch. I got away from this in Fort Myers and coupled with better/more advanced hitters, I didn’t pitch as well as I would have liked. SS: When things were going really well, such as during your 30+ inning scoreless streak, what was working well for you? CB: Being able to pitch at home in Cedar Rapids for all 4 games…haha. But all in all, I made a conscious effort to start throwing my changeup more from the first inning on. The first three months of the season, I wouldn’t start incorporating the changeup until the second time through the lineup. I started throwing it more, especially in disadvantage counts (1-0, 2-1) and was able to find some success. The combination of the changeup, limiting walks, some great plays by the defense, and obviously a little bit of luck along the way enabled me to pitch effectively. SS: What was the atmosphere like in Cedar Rapids as the team earned a playoff berth and then did well in the playoffs? CB: To preface this, Cedar Rapids has a phenomenal fan base. The support we had night in and night out definitely gave our team an advantage, especially as the season reached the second half of a long season. In one of our home playoff games, we had about 1800 fans and they were as loud and into the game as any of the 3000-4000 attendances we had throughout the season. SS: Have you been able to get away from baseball so far this offseason with any fun activities? Anything exciting for the rest of the offseason? CB: I haven’t done anything too exciting – it was nice to relax at home for the first few weeks. I have a couple weekend trips planned to visit some former teammates and friends so it will be nice to catch up with friends that you haven’t seen since the previous offseason. SS: When do you start your workouts in preparation for 2017? When do you, as a starting pitcher, pick up a ball and start throwing? CB: I’ve begun the strength training phase after I let my body recover for almost a month. I’ve tried to focus on staying flexible and getting stronger in all aspects of my body to ensure that I’m ready for spring training. I’ll start throwing in December and gradually work my way back to a long toss phase that will prepare me for bullpens in February. I hate feeling rushed, so I’ll give myself a little extra time to slowly build up my arm strength. SS: Have you had a chance to catch up with your old teammates and coaches at Davidson to touch base on their Regional and Super Regional experience in June? CB: I’ve been able to catch up with them a decent amount this offseason – I’m helping out in the athletic fundraising office at Davidson to support the baseball program’s fundraising efforts. Their run was so unlikely in the grand scheme of things, but so deserving for how hard the players work and what Coach Cooke has endured to reach this point. The best thing about looking back at the Super Regional run is seeing the outpouring of support from current players, former teammates, and the community for something that was a first for the Davidson baseball program. SS: What area of your game do you feel you took the furthest strides with in 2017? CB: I thought that my ability to pitch inside with the fastball was the biggest thing for me during the season. We would go entire games where the catcher (usually my roommate Ben Rortvedt) would exclusively call inside fastballs and abandon the fastball away. Being able to pitch inside prevented hitters from extending their hands on pitches over the plate and set up my offspeed pitches to be more effective. SS: What are the areas of your game that you would like to spend time this offseason working to improve? CB: For me, just to improve on my full body strength and arm strength which would hopefully translate to an uptick in velocity. As a pitcher, I definitely don’t scare hitters when they see my fastball velocity on the scouting report, so being able to find a comfort zone where I’m pitching at my maximum velocity every pitch is something I am working to improve. SS: Talk about Tommy Watkins and the coaching staff in Cedar Rapids and how they helped you individually and helped the team succeed. CB: Tommy (Watkins), JP (Martinez), and Dink (Brian Dinkelman) were all great to be around everyday, which is tough to do when you have a 140-game season crammed into five months. Tommy did a great job of keep things loose and challenging us to bring great energy each day at the ballpark. As a pitching coach, JP was able to find an approach that worked best for each guy and helped me create a plan for how I could have success each start. He constantly worked with me to fine tune my delivery and challenged me to not become complacent as the season moved along. SS: What was it like seeing former big leaguers like LaTroy Hawkins, Torii Hunters or other roving instructors come through Cedar Rapids. Any good conversations with any of them?. CB: It was great to hear from not only former big leaguers, but guys who have played longer than most baseball players ever envision. LaTroy talked about focusing on the details and not overlooking the importance of holding runners on base, fielding your position, etc. Even when Sam Perlozzo was around, I would try to pick up bits of information that the hitter deems important – baseball is more mental than a lot of people realize. SS: Rank the top 3-5 TV shows you’ve binge watched… CB: Prison Break, Seinfeld, Breaking Bad, Entourage, The Office (in that order) A big Thank You to Clark Beeker for taking the time to respond to our questions. Please feel free to ask questions and comment below.
  4. One year ago, Clark Beeker had just completed his first season as a professional baseball player. He was the Twins 33rd-round pick in June after five seasons at Davidson, and after his debut season, we had a chance to Get To Know Him. 2017 was his first full season, and he pitched well enough for the Cedar Rapids Kernels that he was named the right-handed starting pitcher of the Twins Daily Minor League All Star team. Today, we catch up with the right-handed starter.Recently, Clark Beeker answered some questions about his first full season, his offseason and much more. Be sure to leave your questions or comments below. Seth Stohs (SS): It’s been a few weeks now since the season ended. Have you had a chance to reflect on your season? Did you accomplish goals you may have set before the season? Clark Beeker (CB): Looking back on my first full season in professional baseball, I was pleased with the way it went. Cedar Rapids and Fort Myers were both great places to play and having both teams in the playoffs was indicative of the talent of the players and coaching staffs. Going into the season, it wasn’t a definite that I would be one of the starters in the Cedar Rapids’ rotation so making that happen was a nice first step. As the season goes on, you make adjustments based on what in your arsenal is successful, how the hitters respond to certain pitches/sequences, and the overall daily life of being a minor league baseball player. Being open to making adjustments and learning along the way definitely helped my progression up until the culmination of the season. SS: How did you hold up, physically or emotionally, through your first full season of pro ball? CB: I felt that my body held up pretty well – I really didn’t experience any fatigue until the last couple of weeks of the season. Half the battle for playing in your first full season is being able to stay off the DL and handle the rigors of bus rides and weeks without an off day. Taking care of my body, eating right (most of the time), and getting plenty of sleep were keys for me that I focused on throughout the season. SS: You made the Twins Daily Minor League All-Star team as the right-handed starting pitcher. As you look at your stat line, what are you most excited about? CB: I see that the checks I wrote to the voters cleared – so that was a smooth transaction. Being recognized was definitely an honor considering how many strong performances there were throughout the entire organization. My biggest takeaway from the season, numbers wise, was the amount of innings I was able to throw. By averaging roughly 6.25 innings per start, I was able to keep hitters off the bases and pitch deep into games. Although pitching late into games isn’t always indicative of success, you’re not going to keep pitching into the 7th, 8th, 9th innings if you’re not pitching well and giving your team a chance to win. I typically wasn’t pleased with my outing unless I went seven innings or more. SS: To what do you attribute your success throughout the 2017 season at Cedar Rapids? CB: I think the biggest thing for me was having a plan for how I wanted to attack each hitter, every single start. It may not have been the right plan, but based on scouting reports (which video intern Sam Berk did a great job of analyzing and compiling), my pitches, and various sequences, I had a purpose with every pitch. I got away from this in Fort Myers and coupled with better/more advanced hitters, I didn’t pitch as well as I would have liked. SS: When things were going really well, such as during your 30+ inning scoreless streak, what was working well for you? CB: Being able to pitch at home in Cedar Rapids for all 4 games…haha. But all in all, I made a conscious effort to start throwing my changeup more from the first inning on. The first three months of the season, I wouldn’t start incorporating the changeup until the second time through the lineup. I started throwing it more, especially in disadvantage counts (1-0, 2-1) and was able to find some success. The combination of the changeup, limiting walks, some great plays by the defense, and obviously a little bit of luck along the way enabled me to pitch effectively. SS: What was the atmosphere like in Cedar Rapids as the team earned a playoff berth and then did well in the playoffs? CB: To preface this, Cedar Rapids has a phenomenal fan base. The support we had night in and night out definitely gave our team an advantage, especially as the season reached the second half of a long season. In one of our home playoff games, we had about 1800 fans and they were as loud and into the game as any of the 3000-4000 attendances we had throughout the season. SS: Have you been able to get away from baseball so far this offseason with any fun activities? Anything exciting for the rest of the offseason? CB: I haven’t done anything too exciting – it was nice to relax at home for the first few weeks. I have a couple weekend trips planned to visit some former teammates and friends so it will be nice to catch up with friends that you haven’t seen since the previous offseason. SS: When do you start your workouts in preparation for 2017? When do you, as a starting pitcher, pick up a ball and start throwing? CB: I’ve begun the strength training phase after I let my body recover for almost a month. I’ve tried to focus on staying flexible and getting stronger in all aspects of my body to ensure that I’m ready for spring training. I’ll start throwing in December and gradually work my way back to a long toss phase that will prepare me for bullpens in February. I hate feeling rushed, so I’ll give myself a little extra time to slowly build up my arm strength. SS: Have you had a chance to catch up with your old teammates and coaches at Davidson to touch base on their Regional and Super Regional experience in June? CB: I’ve been able to catch up with them a decent amount this offseason – I’m helping out in the athletic fundraising office at Davidson to support the baseball program’s fundraising efforts. Their run was so unlikely in the grand scheme of things, but so deserving for how hard the players work and what Coach Cooke has endured to reach this point. The best thing about looking back at the Super Regional run is seeing the outpouring of support from current players, former teammates, and the community for something that was a first for the Davidson baseball program. SS: What area of your game do you feel you took the furthest strides with in 2017? CB: I thought that my ability to pitch inside with the fastball was the biggest thing for me during the season. We would go entire games where the catcher (usually my roommate Ben Rortvedt) would exclusively call inside fastballs and abandon the fastball away. Being able to pitch inside prevented hitters from extending their hands on pitches over the plate and set up my offspeed pitches to be more effective. SS: What are the areas of your game that you would like to spend time this offseason working to improve? CB: For me, just to improve on my full body strength and arm strength which would hopefully translate to an uptick in velocity. As a pitcher, I definitely don’t scare hitters when they see my fastball velocity on the scouting report, so being able to find a comfort zone where I’m pitching at my maximum velocity every pitch is something I am working to improve. SS: Talk about Tommy Watkins and the coaching staff in Cedar Rapids and how they helped you individually and helped the team succeed. CB: Tommy (Watkins), JP (Martinez), and Dink (Brian Dinkelman) were all great to be around everyday, which is tough to do when you have a 140-game season crammed into five months. Tommy did a great job of keep things loose and challenging us to bring great energy each day at the ballpark. As a pitching coach, JP was able to find an approach that worked best for each guy and helped me create a plan for how I could have success each start. He constantly worked with me to fine tune my delivery and challenged me to not become complacent as the season moved along. SS: What was it like seeing former big leaguers like LaTroy Hawkins, Torii Hunters or other roving instructors come through Cedar Rapids. Any good conversations with any of them?. CB: It was great to hear from not only former big leaguers, but guys who have played longer than most baseball players ever envision. LaTroy talked about focusing on the details and not overlooking the importance of holding runners on base, fielding your position, etc. Even when Sam Perlozzo was around, I would try to pick up bits of information that the hitter deems important – baseball is more mental than a lot of people realize. SS: Rank the top 3-5 TV shows you’ve binge watched… CB: Prison Break, Seinfeld, Breaking Bad, Entourage, The Office (in that order) A big Thank You to Clark Beeker for taking the time to respond to our questions. Please feel free to ask questions and comment below. Click here to view the article
  5. Ben Rortvedt was the Minnesota Twins’ second-round draft pick one year ago. He may be struggling at the plate with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, but he has become a trusted man behind the plate for Tommy Watkins and the Kernels pitching staff. Consider that just over a year ago, he was going to prom and graduating from high school. Recently, we caught up with the talented catcher to talk about the beginning of his season, his pre-pro baseball experiences and much more.Rortvedt grew up and played his high school ball at Verona Area High School in Verona, Wisconsin. It is a small city about ten miles south and west of Madison. He began this season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and their season-opening series was in Beloit, a 60-mile drive for his friends and family. The weather in April in the Midwest League can be unpredictable. While there can be some really nice days, there are seemingly always a handful of games where the temperatures approach freezing by the end. Being from Wisconsin might seem to be an advantage for Rortvedt, but that’s not necessarily the case. Rortvedt said, “Ft. Myers gets you accustomed to warm weather. Even being from up here, cold is cold. I’m just from here, so I learned how to tolerate it. But everyone is cold. You just have to put it behind you.” Rortvedt had split his time between Verona and Ft. Myers during the winter. He noted, “I went back and forth. Since all my friends were in school, I was kind of by myself. I went back home for a while to visit my family. I went down to Florida twice and work out. I got into some warm weathers with some of the players.” When he was back in Wisconsin, he stayed busy, working out and working on his catching with friends in the baseball industry. He spent quite a bit of time in Milwaukee. “I went up to Milwaukee and worked out with one of my friends who plays for the Dodgers. I was was with someone else who is in the same circle as me.” That friend was Gavin Lux, the Los Angeles Dodgers first-round draft pick in 2016, 20th overall, from Kenosha, WI. That’s right, two prep players from Wisconsin schools were selected very early in the draft. “People are starting to realize (baseball is pretty good in Wisconsin). Colleges and scouts are working their way up there since the showcase circuit has expanded more. It’s not always that people have been bad from Wisconsin, it’s just that they’re seen more now.” And that’s how Rortvedt was seen. He played for the high school team, but he was part of the national showcase circuit as well. “I played for a pretty good travel team. After people saw me play pretty well with the travel team, I got invited to showcases and similar events. I went along with it. Playing on the good travel team that I did opened other doors.” And that’s what it’s all about, according to Rortvedt, “Visibility. People don’t just go to a Wisconsin high school game. We get like 25 people at every game, and it’s mostly just parents. You have to get out and be at the right place at the right time.” It’s been a tough start for Rortvedt offensively. Following an 0-2 on May 15, Rortvedt was hitting just .108. In his last four starts, he has gone 6-15 (.400) to raise his average to .151. As you would expect from a guy one year removed from high school, he hasn’t struggled like this at the plate in his life. “I’ve never struggled like I have before. I’m just to keep my confidence where it is. I’m just trying to make adjustments every day. My confidence is getting better at the plate. I’m not missing baseballs. I’m not striking out. I’m just hitting balls into the ground, hitting them at people. They’ll find holes eventually, and I’m just going to stick with the process right now.” As I noted, he’s had multi-hit games in three of his past four starts. Maybe it’s the start of the turnaround. He will hit in time. For right now, he is doing his part by being a tremendous player behind the plate. In-person observations showed me that he has a very strong arm. He sets up well and gets rid of the ball quickly. But despite his youth (he won’t turn 20 until the end of September), he has really good leadership skills. He works very well with the Kernels pitchers, guys three or four years older than he is. Rortvedt calls it ongoing learning. “I’ve been learning a lot. Right now, being younger, learning how to call the game and that aspect. Working for the pitchers and making them feel comfortable. And trying to keep the running game in check as much as I can back there for them. If they’re doing well, I take that in stride. We’re doing well.” Last year after the draft, Rortvedt began in the GCL, but spent the final month in Elizabethton. That’s where he worked with most of the guys that he is now catching with the Kernels. “I got to learn them from a different standpoint and learn their stuff. Even though I saw them in spring training, I kind of knew how they were from last year.” Defense is a strength of his game, and he takes pride in it. He’s been behind the plate for a long time, “since eighth grade.” He’s worked hard to improve behind the plate, but it’s also been a lot of work. And now as a pro, he’s able to work with more people. “I just started learning from people. Some who was also around the program I was in was Marcus Hanel. He is the Brewers bullpen catcher. This offseason, I caught a little bit with AJ Ellis, who was with the Dodgers and now is with the Marlins.” He continued, discussing his offseason workouts. “”That’s why I went to Milwaukee. We would catch probably five days a week and work on our craft.” When he was back home, he worked just as hard. “If I wasn’t catching with them, my dad and I had a pitching machine and throwing. We did everything on our own probably four to five days a week, receiving, blocking balls in the dirt, that kind of stuff. You don’t always need a coach. You can be your own coach and try to get better every day.” His parents have been a huge influence on him. “I’ve had a bunch of really good coaches. I have to give all the credit to my parents for allowing me to do what I have and taking me everywhere.” He also highlighted his summer coach, RJ Fergus, and his high school coach, Brad Durazo “who was really helpful.” He also noticed that there was so many people that helped him get to this point that he figured he’d better not attempt to mention them all by name. And now, Rortvedt is getting coaching from the Kernels pitching staff. Tommy Watkins is his manager. His hitting coach is Brian Dinkelman. While he is a hitter, he also spends a ton of time working and communicating with pitching coach JP Martinez. He said, “(The coaching staff is) very approachable, which is always awesome. I almost talk to JP more than he talks to his pitchers. We always feed off each other. He always says that you can call me the quarterback and he’s the offensive coach. I’m pretty much his mind on the field. I try to stick to his plan, and if it’s not working, we’ll talk about it. I just go out there and try to perform.” Like all catchers in the Twins system, Rortvedt calls the game for and with the pitchers. He says that is part of his and the pitchers’ development. If there are disagreements, the coaches will speak with the catchers between innings. Manager Tommy Watkins has a high level of confidence in Rortvedt. He knows there is work to be done, but he keeps putting his name in the lineup most games because he believes in his defense now, and what his offense can be in time. He fully understands just how young Rortvedt is relative to the league. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. Ben is young. He’s got some learning to do. We’ve all got some learning to do. You can tell he’s young at times, but he does a good job for his age. Dink and I tell him that if we were in this league at 19, we’d have no shot. So, what he’s done is pretty good. So we try to just keep explaining to him not to get down on himself and it’s a process. You’ve got to work the process. Older guys have been through it a bit more. Think about it, Ben was in high school a year ago.” Overall, Rortvedt is enjoying the pro baseball life, and he’s glad to be with the Kernels. “Full season ball. Road trips. It’s a lot more of what you expect from pro ball instead of in Florida, waking up early. You get to sleep in, and play at night in front of some fans, which is cool.” He also happens to think that this Cedar Rapids team has a chance to do a lot of winning this season, and so far, they are leading their division in the first half. How good can his team be? “Really good. We have pitchers who can throw strikes. Our bullpen, when they’re on, they’re unhittable. They’re nasty. And the hitters, when they’re hitting, we can all rake. When all the pieces of the puzzle come together, I don’t think anybody’s going to beat us.” And probably to no one’s surprise, Rortvedt’s goals for the remainder of the 2017 season are more team than individual in nature. “No matter how I’m doing, just win games. Help the team win games. Just add some value to the team, offensively and defensively. Just be a team player.” Rortvedt certainly displays the tools behind the plate to become a plus defender. While the offense has started out slowly, he’s got an approach and the strength to be a productive hitter as well. There is good reason why he was found quite high on many Twins prospect rankings before the season. It will be fun to watch him continue to develop the rest of 2017 and for the next few years. Click here to view the article
  6. Rortvedt grew up and played his high school ball at Verona Area High School in Verona, Wisconsin. It is a small city about ten miles south and west of Madison. He began this season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and their season-opening series was in Beloit, a 60-mile drive for his friends and family. The weather in April in the Midwest League can be unpredictable. While there can be some really nice days, there are seemingly always a handful of games where the temperatures approach freezing by the end. Being from Wisconsin might seem to be an advantage for Rortvedt, but that’s not necessarily the case. Rortvedt said, “Ft. Myers gets you accustomed to warm weather. Even being from up here, cold is cold. I’m just from here, so I learned how to tolerate it. But everyone is cold. You just have to put it behind you.” Rortvedt had split his time between Verona and Ft. Myers during the winter. He noted, “I went back and forth. Since all my friends were in school, I was kind of by myself. I went back home for a while to visit my family. I went down to Florida twice and work out. I got into some warm weathers with some of the players.” When he was back in Wisconsin, he stayed busy, working out and working on his catching with friends in the baseball industry. He spent quite a bit of time in Milwaukee. “I went up to Milwaukee and worked out with one of my friends who plays for the Dodgers. I was was with someone else who is in the same circle as me.” That friend was Gavin Lux, the Los Angeles Dodgers first-round draft pick in 2016, 20th overall, from Kenosha, WI. That’s right, two prep players from Wisconsin schools were selected very early in the draft. “People are starting to realize (baseball is pretty good in Wisconsin). Colleges and scouts are working their way up there since the showcase circuit has expanded more. It’s not always that people have been bad from Wisconsin, it’s just that they’re seen more now.” And that’s how Rortvedt was seen. He played for the high school team, but he was part of the national showcase circuit as well. “I played for a pretty good travel team. After people saw me play pretty well with the travel team, I got invited to showcases and similar events. I went along with it. Playing on the good travel team that I did opened other doors.” And that’s what it’s all about, according to Rortvedt, “Visibility. People don’t just go to a Wisconsin high school game. We get like 25 people at every game, and it’s mostly just parents. You have to get out and be at the right place at the right time.” It’s been a tough start for Rortvedt offensively. Following an 0-2 on May 15, Rortvedt was hitting just .108. In his last four starts, he has gone 6-15 (.400) to raise his average to .151. As you would expect from a guy one year removed from high school, he hasn’t struggled like this at the plate in his life. “I’ve never struggled like I have before. I’m just to keep my confidence where it is. I’m just trying to make adjustments every day. My confidence is getting better at the plate. I’m not missing baseballs. I’m not striking out. I’m just hitting balls into the ground, hitting them at people. They’ll find holes eventually, and I’m just going to stick with the process right now.” As I noted, he’s had multi-hit games in three of his past four starts. Maybe it’s the start of the turnaround. He will hit in time. For right now, he is doing his part by being a tremendous player behind the plate. In-person observations showed me that he has a very strong arm. He sets up well and gets rid of the ball quickly. But despite his youth (he won’t turn 20 until the end of September), he has really good leadership skills. He works very well with the Kernels pitchers, guys three or four years older than he is. Rortvedt calls it ongoing learning. “I’ve been learning a lot. Right now, being younger, learning how to call the game and that aspect. Working for the pitchers and making them feel comfortable. And trying to keep the running game in check as much as I can back there for them. If they’re doing well, I take that in stride. We’re doing well.” Last year after the draft, Rortvedt began in the GCL, but spent the final month in Elizabethton. That’s where he worked with most of the guys that he is now catching with the Kernels. “I got to learn them from a different standpoint and learn their stuff. Even though I saw them in spring training, I kind of knew how they were from last year.” Defense is a strength of his game, and he takes pride in it. He’s been behind the plate for a long time, “since eighth grade.” He’s worked hard to improve behind the plate, but it’s also been a lot of work. And now as a pro, he’s able to work with more people. “I just started learning from people. Some who was also around the program I was in was Marcus Hanel. He is the Brewers bullpen catcher. This offseason, I caught a little bit with AJ Ellis, who was with the Dodgers and now is with the Marlins.” He continued, discussing his offseason workouts. “”That’s why I went to Milwaukee. We would catch probably five days a week and work on our craft.” When he was back home, he worked just as hard. “If I wasn’t catching with them, my dad and I had a pitching machine and throwing. We did everything on our own probably four to five days a week, receiving, blocking balls in the dirt, that kind of stuff. You don’t always need a coach. You can be your own coach and try to get better every day.” His parents have been a huge influence on him. “I’ve had a bunch of really good coaches. I have to give all the credit to my parents for allowing me to do what I have and taking me everywhere.” He also highlighted his summer coach, RJ Fergus, and his high school coach, Brad Durazo “who was really helpful.” He also noticed that there was so many people that helped him get to this point that he figured he’d better not attempt to mention them all by name. And now, Rortvedt is getting coaching from the Kernels pitching staff. Tommy Watkins is his manager. His hitting coach is Brian Dinkelman. While he is a hitter, he also spends a ton of time working and communicating with pitching coach JP Martinez. He said, “(The coaching staff is) very approachable, which is always awesome. I almost talk to JP more than he talks to his pitchers. We always feed off each other. He always says that you can call me the quarterback and he’s the offensive coach. I’m pretty much his mind on the field. I try to stick to his plan, and if it’s not working, we’ll talk about it. I just go out there and try to perform.” Like all catchers in the Twins system, Rortvedt calls the game for and with the pitchers. He says that is part of his and the pitchers’ development. If there are disagreements, the coaches will speak with the catchers between innings. Manager Tommy Watkins has a high level of confidence in Rortvedt. He knows there is work to be done, but he keeps putting his name in the lineup most games because he believes in his defense now, and what his offense can be in time. He fully understands just how young Rortvedt is relative to the league. “I don’t think it’s a big deal. Ben is young. He’s got some learning to do. We’ve all got some learning to do. You can tell he’s young at times, but he does a good job for his age. Dink and I tell him that if we were in this league at 19, we’d have no shot. So, what he’s done is pretty good. So we try to just keep explaining to him not to get down on himself and it’s a process. You’ve got to work the process. Older guys have been through it a bit more. Think about it, Ben was in high school a year ago.” Overall, Rortvedt is enjoying the pro baseball life, and he’s glad to be with the Kernels. “Full season ball. Road trips. It’s a lot more of what you expect from pro ball instead of in Florida, waking up early. You get to sleep in, and play at night in front of some fans, which is cool.” He also happens to think that this Cedar Rapids team has a chance to do a lot of winning this season, and so far, they are leading their division in the first half. How good can his team be? “Really good. We have pitchers who can throw strikes. Our bullpen, when they’re on, they’re unhittable. They’re nasty. And the hitters, when they’re hitting, we can all rake. When all the pieces of the puzzle come together, I don’t think anybody’s going to beat us.” And probably to no one’s surprise, Rortvedt’s goals for the remainder of the 2017 season are more team than individual in nature. “No matter how I’m doing, just win games. Help the team win games. Just add some value to the team, offensively and defensively. Just be a team player.” Rortvedt certainly displays the tools behind the plate to become a plus defender. While the offense has started out slowly, he’s got an approach and the strength to be a productive hitter as well. There is good reason why he was found quite high on many Twins prospect rankings before the season. It will be fun to watch him continue to develop the rest of 2017 and for the next few years.
  7. With less than 40 games left in their 2017 campaign, the Cedar Rapids Kernels need a strong finish to clinch a Midwest League playoff spot, something they’ve accomplished every season since affiliating with the Minnesota Twins in 2013. The Peoria Chiefs and Clinton Lumberkings finished one and two in the Division’s first half standings, automatically qualifying them for the postseason. Their Division rivals with the two best records in the second half will join the Chiefs and Lumberkings in the playoffs. If the season ended today (Monday), Clinton would have the best second half record in the West, while Cedar Rapids and Quad Cities (currently second and third in the Division) would fill out the Western half of the postseason bracket. However, Burlington and Wisconsin sit one game or less behind Quad Cities, so the race is likely to be tight over the final weeks of the season. Jake Mauer has been at the helm of the Kernels from the beginning of the club’s affiliation with the Twins. His 292-226 record with the Kernels makes him Cedar Rapids’ winningest manager in the modern era (1949-present) and places him third all-time. He’ll catch up to Ollie Marquardt in the second spot with his next win, but Mauer’s going to have to stick around a very, very long time to top Belden Hill’s 831 wins.While winning takes a back seat to player development in modern minor league baseball, the local fans definitely like to follow a winner and Mauer has given the locals plenty of success, beginning with a squad that was loaded with top prospects in the inaugural season of the Twins/Kernels relationship. That team made winning look easy – at least a lot easier than it has looked in the two-and-a-half seasons since. 2016 has, perhaps, been the most challenging of Mauer’s four years of wearing number 12 for the Kernels. This year’s group is short on players you would find among “top prospect” lists published by the likes of Baseball America, MLB.com or any other group in the business of tracking minor leaguers’ paths to the big leagues. Nonetheless, in an interview late last week, Mauer was unwilling to say that the lack of blue chippers on his team makes this season his most challenging. “Each year is different,” Mauer said. “If you have a lot of high-end (prospects), you’re expected to win and if you don’t have a lot of high-end guys, you’ve got to find ways to win. It’s all part of development, it’s all part of the process. “The second year (2014), I thought we had a lot of challenges, they were comparing the ’13 team to the ’14 team and that wasn’t fair to that ’14 team.” Winning is obviously a lot easier when you’ve got a lot of those high draft choices and big money international free agents. Several of them, including first-round draft choice Byron Buxton and six-figure bonus international signee Max Kepler (both now playing the outfield for the Twins) spent much of their 2013 seasons in Cedar Rapids uniforms. “You get blessed with years like ’13 where you have seven of them, eight of them. They’re all panning out at different speeds,” reflected Mauer. “You know, some of the clubs I had at Fort Myers I don’t think we had one. So it just depends on what you have.” When you’ve got a team of projected stars, a manager in Mauer’s position will generally stick with a pretty consistent lineup. “Obviously, guys that are higher end guys as a player," he said, "you’ve got to find out what they can and can’t do, that’s the nature of the beast.” Not so this season. “I wonder how many different lineups we’ve used,” Mauer pondered. “It’s probably been fifty or sixty of them, would be my guess. “Clubs like this, some of these guys that aren’t necessarily Baseball America guys get an opportunity to kind of put themselves on the map. As you can see, there’s no way to get buried on our bench here. Everybody plays. “Pitching’s a little bit different,” he conceded. “They earn (consistent playing time) a little bit more. They’re all going to get an opportunity, it’s just a matter of what they’re going to do with it. “It’s all getting these guys to understand themselves, first, in order for us to do anything - in order for them to have any impact down the road. This is the league where we start to shake out the guys that aren’t as mentally tough as others. Find out who can play every day, find out who can do what it takes. So, they’re going to get tested, they’re going to get innings, they’re going to get at-bats, get all that stuff. Then we’ll kind of look back in September at how everything unfolded.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MartinezMauerDinkelman900.jpg(L-R) Cedar Rapids Kernels pitching coach JP Martinez, manager Jake Mauer and hitting coach Brian Dinkelman (behind screen) (Photo: SD Buhr)Throughout most of the first half of the season, it looked like the Kernels would easily clinch an early playoff spot by finishing in one of the top two spots in the Western Division’s first-half race, but they faltered badly during the final couple of weeks before the midpoint and ended up in third place. “You hate to say it,” Mauer commented on his squad’s late first half implosion, “but we scored the same amount of runs, but we lost two guys in the back end of the bullpen and lost probably the best starter in the league. “We weren’t necessarily blowing the doors off of anybody in the first half. It takes you a while to figure out who can step up and take those roles.” Mauer is starting to see some guys stepping up. Last week, the Kernels went on one a six-game road trip over into the MWL Eastern Division territory and came away with a perfect 6-0 record against Lake County and Fort Wayne. “We swung the bats really well,” he said of their Eastern sweep. “We rode (Luis) Arraez, (Zander) Wiel and (Jaylin) Davis, really. Other guys chipped in here and there, but those guys had a monster week. You’re scoring 6, 7, 8 runs a night, it gives you a pretty good chance to win. “(Wiel) can carry a team, which he did the last week. Jaylin Davis is probably in the same boat, he can carry a team. Arraez has been pretty consistent, but we kind of go where those three guys go. When the three of them are having a pretty good week, we’ve got a pretty good chance. If they’re not, it will be more difficult for us.” Finding pitchers to fill the holes left following promotions has been more challenging for Mauer and pitching coach J.P. Martinez. “Pitching is still kind of up in the air who we’ve got,” the manager said. “It’s so different,” Mauer said, of the Kernels’ bullpen situation. “We’re not as pitching-deep as we were last year. If we had a lead going into the fifth inning, we pretty much knew we were going to win last year. That’s not the case this year. You’ve got some guys that need to step up and take control. I’d say (Anthony) McIver has, to a point. We’ve got to find out about (Tom) Hackimer. But we still have several guys you don’t quite know what you’re going to get in given situations. We’ve got to find out.” Mauer’s clearly also looking for some improvement among his starting rotation. “(Cody) Stashak’s probably our number one (starting pitcher). (Lachlan) Wells has been good. Those two guys have been pretty good. If we can just get some of these (other) guys to take that next step, it would make the process better.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/WellsSenzelSilva900.jpgKernels pitcher Lachlan Wells strikes out Reds first-round draft choice (2nd overall) Nick Senzel July 25. Catching is Rainis Silva. (Photo SD Buhr)The season’s second half is shaping up to be at least a four-team dogfight with the Kernels, Burlington Bees, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Quad Cities River Bandits playing leapfrog with one another in the standings on virtually a daily basis as they jockey for one of the coveted second-half playoff spots. “That’s our division,” said Mauer. “There really isn’t a team that’s head and shoulders above anybody. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night and I think you’re going to see that kind of as we go through. Things change, obviously, as these draftee guys (from the 2016 draft) starting to come and some of these first full season guys that tend to hit a wall a little bit.” Mauer’s working with a pair of coaches, in his fourth season with the Kernels, that he hasn’t been teamed with before. Martinez and hitting coach Brian Dinkelman are in their first seasons by Mauer’s side after coaching with the Twins’ Gulf Coast League team, where games are played on back fields at the organization’s spring training complex in front of few, if any, fans. But the manager says things are going, “good,” on that count. “(Martinez and Dinkelman) have been real good. Their first ‘real baseball’ compared to that ‘complex ball’ that’s a lot different. They’ve done a good job. For them, their first year, this is unusual to have so many different guys coming through.” Forty-nine players have already worn a Kernels jersey in 2016. It’s not unusual for fewer players than that to suit up for Cedar Rapids in an entire season. “What’s nice is that these guys know most of the kids that have come up,” Mauer added. “They’ve had them, they know what makes them tick, the things to do with them, what they need to work on.” High roster turnover, few top prospects, new assistant coaches. Those things, on their own, might make a manager’s job challenging, but last week the Twins added a little something extra to the load that Mauer and his staff have to carry. Long-time General Manager Terry Ryan was fired by the Twins ownership. “It’s unfortunate,” Mauer said of Ryan’s dismissal. “Obviously, he’s a great baseball man. He’s all I’ve ever known as a GM, other than Bill Smith, but Terry wasn’t far away (during Smith's tenure as GM). I think it came as a shock, the timing of it, to everybody. He’s done so much for us and for our organization and whoever comes in after him is going to have big shoes to fill.” As a result, Mauer and his coaches now are essentially lame ducks, uncertain whether the new GM will choose to retain them going forward. How’s that for adding a little anxiety to the manager’s life? But, as Mauer observed, the anxiety goes well beyond just he and his coaches. “It could be for scouts, all the way down to the athletic training guys and strength guys. You don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know who is the next guy, if they have somebody in mind, if they don’t. So, we’ll see. I’m sure they’ve got a game plan up there for what they’re going to do. “But, if you’re confident in what you’re doing and you do a good job, you can’t control that,” Mauer concluded. “This is just like we tell the players, if they look at what’s going on ahead of them or who’s doing what behind them, they can’t control that. Same with us, (we can’t) worry about who’s coming in and fret about it, and not do the task at hand. We’ve got to do the task at hand first of all and see what shakes out.” The “task at hand” for the manager and his charges is to finish the final six weeks of the season strong. How does Mauer see the remainder of the season shaping up? “We’ll see. I wish I could answer that, honestly. I have no idea. We look like a million bucks for three or four days, then we have a tough time for three or four days. It’s just kind of how it is. We talk extensively about, we need leaders to step up and to lead and to be our guys so you kind of know what you’re going to get day in and day out. “They’ll keep playing hard and they’ll keep competing and we’ll just see how it ends up.” (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com) Click here to view the article
  8. While winning takes a back seat to player development in modern minor league baseball, the local fans definitely like to follow a winner and Mauer has given the locals plenty of success, beginning with a squad that was loaded with top prospects in the inaugural season of the Twins/Kernels relationship. That team made winning look easy – at least a lot easier than it has looked in the two-and-a-half seasons since. 2016 has, perhaps, been the most challenging of Mauer’s four years of wearing number 12 for the Kernels. This year’s group is short on players you would find among “top prospect” lists published by the likes of Baseball America, MLB.com or any other group in the business of tracking minor leaguers’ paths to the big leagues. Nonetheless, in an interview late last week, Mauer was unwilling to say that the lack of blue chippers on his team makes this season his most challenging. “Each year is different,” Mauer said. “If you have a lot of high-end (prospects), you’re expected to win and if you don’t have a lot of high-end guys, you’ve got to find ways to win. It’s all part of development, it’s all part of the process. “The second year (2014), I thought we had a lot of challenges, they were comparing the ’13 team to the ’14 team and that wasn’t fair to that ’14 team.” Winning is obviously a lot easier when you’ve got a lot of those high draft choices and big money international free agents. Several of them, including first-round draft choice Byron Buxton and six-figure bonus international signee Max Kepler (both now playing the outfield for the Twins) spent much of their 2013 seasons in Cedar Rapids uniforms. “You get blessed with years like ’13 where you have seven of them, eight of them. They’re all panning out at different speeds,” reflected Mauer. “You know, some of the clubs I had at Fort Myers I don’t think we had one. So it just depends on what you have.” When you’ve got a team of projected stars, a manager in Mauer’s position will generally stick with a pretty consistent lineup. “Obviously, guys that are higher end guys as a player," he said, "you’ve got to find out what they can and can’t do, that’s the nature of the beast.” Not so this season. “I wonder how many different lineups we’ve used,” Mauer pondered. “It’s probably been fifty or sixty of them, would be my guess. “Clubs like this, some of these guys that aren’t necessarily Baseball America guys get an opportunity to kind of put themselves on the map. As you can see, there’s no way to get buried on our bench here. Everybody plays. “Pitching’s a little bit different,” he conceded. “They earn (consistent playing time) a little bit more. They’re all going to get an opportunity, it’s just a matter of what they’re going to do with it. “It’s all getting these guys to understand themselves, first, in order for us to do anything - in order for them to have any impact down the road. This is the league where we start to shake out the guys that aren’t as mentally tough as others. Find out who can play every day, find out who can do what it takes. So, they’re going to get tested, they’re going to get innings, they’re going to get at-bats, get all that stuff. Then we’ll kind of look back in September at how everything unfolded.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/MartinezMauerDinkelman900.jpg (L-R) Cedar Rapids Kernels pitching coach JP Martinez, manager Jake Mauer and hitting coach Brian Dinkelman (behind screen) (Photo: SD Buhr) Throughout most of the first half of the season, it looked like the Kernels would easily clinch an early playoff spot by finishing in one of the top two spots in the Western Division’s first-half race, but they faltered badly during the final couple of weeks before the midpoint and ended up in third place. “You hate to say it,” Mauer commented on his squad’s late first half implosion, “but we scored the same amount of runs, but we lost two guys in the back end of the bullpen and lost probably the best starter in the league. “We weren’t necessarily blowing the doors off of anybody in the first half. It takes you a while to figure out who can step up and take those roles.” Mauer is starting to see some guys stepping up. Last week, the Kernels went on one a six-game road trip over into the MWL Eastern Division territory and came away with a perfect 6-0 record against Lake County and Fort Wayne. “We swung the bats really well,” he said of their Eastern sweep. “We rode (Luis) Arraez, (Zander) Wiel and (Jaylin) Davis, really. Other guys chipped in here and there, but those guys had a monster week. You’re scoring 6, 7, 8 runs a night, it gives you a pretty good chance to win. “(Wiel) can carry a team, which he did the last week. Jaylin Davis is probably in the same boat, he can carry a team. Arraez has been pretty consistent, but we kind of go where those three guys go. When the three of them are having a pretty good week, we’ve got a pretty good chance. If they’re not, it will be more difficult for us.” Finding pitchers to fill the holes left following promotions has been more challenging for Mauer and pitching coach J.P. Martinez. “Pitching is still kind of up in the air who we’ve got,” the manager said. “It’s so different,” Mauer said, of the Kernels’ bullpen situation. “We’re not as pitching-deep as we were last year. If we had a lead going into the fifth inning, we pretty much knew we were going to win last year. That’s not the case this year. You’ve got some guys that need to step up and take control. I’d say (Anthony) McIver has, to a point. We’ve got to find out about (Tom) Hackimer. But we still have several guys you don’t quite know what you’re going to get in given situations. We’ve got to find out.” Mauer’s clearly also looking for some improvement among his starting rotation. “(Cody) Stashak’s probably our number one (starting pitcher). (Lachlan) Wells has been good. Those two guys have been pretty good. If we can just get some of these (other) guys to take that next step, it would make the process better.” http://knuckleballsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/WellsSenzelSilva900.jpg Kernels pitcher Lachlan Wells strikes out Reds first-round draft choice (2nd overall) Nick Senzel July 25. Catching is Rainis Silva. (Photo SD Buhr) The season’s second half is shaping up to be at least a four-team dogfight with the Kernels, Burlington Bees, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Quad Cities River Bandits playing leapfrog with one another in the standings on virtually a daily basis as they jockey for one of the coveted second-half playoff spots. “That’s our division,” said Mauer. “There really isn’t a team that’s head and shoulders above anybody. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night and I think you’re going to see that kind of as we go through. Things change, obviously, as these draftee guys (from the 2016 draft) starting to come and some of these first full season guys that tend to hit a wall a little bit.” Mauer’s working with a pair of coaches, in his fourth season with the Kernels, that he hasn’t been teamed with before. Martinez and hitting coach Brian Dinkelman are in their first seasons by Mauer’s side after coaching with the Twins’ Gulf Coast League team, where games are played on back fields at the organization’s spring training complex in front of few, if any, fans. But the manager says things are going, “good,” on that count. “(Martinez and Dinkelman) have been real good. Their first ‘real baseball’ compared to that ‘complex ball’ that’s a lot different. They’ve done a good job. For them, their first year, this is unusual to have so many different guys coming through.” Forty-nine players have already worn a Kernels jersey in 2016. It’s not unusual for fewer players than that to suit up for Cedar Rapids in an entire season. “What’s nice is that these guys know most of the kids that have come up,” Mauer added. “They’ve had them, they know what makes them tick, the things to do with them, what they need to work on.” High roster turnover, few top prospects, new assistant coaches. Those things, on their own, might make a manager’s job challenging, but last week the Twins added a little something extra to the load that Mauer and his staff have to carry. Long-time General Manager Terry Ryan was fired by the Twins ownership. “It’s unfortunate,” Mauer said of Ryan’s dismissal. “Obviously, he’s a great baseball man. He’s all I’ve ever known as a GM, other than Bill Smith, but Terry wasn’t far away (during Smith's tenure as GM). I think it came as a shock, the timing of it, to everybody. He’s done so much for us and for our organization and whoever comes in after him is going to have big shoes to fill.” As a result, Mauer and his coaches now are essentially lame ducks, uncertain whether the new GM will choose to retain them going forward. How’s that for adding a little anxiety to the manager’s life? But, as Mauer observed, the anxiety goes well beyond just he and his coaches. “It could be for scouts, all the way down to the athletic training guys and strength guys. You don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know who is the next guy, if they have somebody in mind, if they don’t. So, we’ll see. I’m sure they’ve got a game plan up there for what they’re going to do. “But, if you’re confident in what you’re doing and you do a good job, you can’t control that,” Mauer concluded. “This is just like we tell the players, if they look at what’s going on ahead of them or who’s doing what behind them, they can’t control that. Same with us, (we can’t) worry about who’s coming in and fret about it, and not do the task at hand. We’ve got to do the task at hand first of all and see what shakes out.” The “task at hand” for the manager and his charges is to finish the final six weeks of the season strong. How does Mauer see the remainder of the season shaping up? “We’ll see. I wish I could answer that, honestly. I have no idea. We look like a million bucks for three or four days, then we have a tough time for three or four days. It’s just kind of how it is. We talk extensively about, we need leaders to step up and to lead and to be our guys so you kind of know what you’re going to get day in and day out. “They’ll keep playing hard and they’ll keep competing and we’ll just see how it ends up.” (This article was originally posted at Knuckleballsblog.com)
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