Monday, May 25, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (5/25): Kernels Roll

Happy Memorial Day! There's nothing like baseball on Memorial Day.

For the second week in a row, left-handed pitcher Tommy Milone was honored with the International League Pitcher of the Week. He saw his scoreless streak stretch to 37.2 innings that dates back to his lone start with the Wings in August last season. This is the longest stretch in the International League since at least 2005.

Milone started two games this week and was masterful in both. On Monday, he pitched a complete game shutout while striking out 13 versus Durham. He capped his week on Sunday by throwing 8.1 innings scoreless innings before giving up a solo home run to end the streak.

Max Kepler was also honored on Monday for his stellar week at the plate. The outfielder and first baseman went 11-for-27 (.407 BA) with two home runs and five doubles. He drove in nine runs and scored seven runs to go along with a 1.263 OPS.

Kepler had a hit in every game this week and he's in the midst of a nine game hitting streak. It would be a 16 game hitting streak if not for him being held hitless by the Birmingham Barons on 5-15. He currently leads the team in batting average and slugging percentage.

Rochester 4, Durham 5
Rochester jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in this contest but they weren't able to overcome giving up five runs in the sixth inning. In the top of the first inning, the Red Wings used doubles from James Beresford and Danny Ortiz to plate a couple runs. Besides another Ortiz double, Rochester's offense went cold until the eighth inning.

Doug Bernier's double was followed by a couple ground outs to cut the lead to two. Kennys Vargas hit a solo home run in the ninth, his third since being demoted. He's batting .409 with six RBI across 22 at-bats with the club.

Jason Wheeler was cruising through five innings before giving up five earned in the sixth without recording an out. Mark Hamburger pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Alex Meyer made his first relief appearance since college and pitched a perfect frame with two strikeouts.

Chattanooga --, Mobile --
Chattanooga and Mobile started playing their game before the rain and lightning filled the sky. The game was postponed and no make-up date was announced at this time. The Lookouts have won five of their last six game and have scored 10 run or more in four of those contests.

After a scheduled off day on Tuesday, the Lookouts begin a four-game series at home against Biloxi. Chattanooga is leading the Southern League North Division with a 28-16 record while Biloxi is leading the South Division with a 27-18 record. Needless to say, it will be an important series for both clubs.

Fort Myers (Scheduled Off Day)
The Miracle enjoyed an off day on Monday like many other employees across the country. Fort Myers is tied for second place in the Florida State League South Division with a 22-22 record. However, they are a distant eight games behind the Charlotte Stone Crabs. The club has gone 15-11 at home and struggled to a 7-11 record on the road.

Fort Myers starts a four-game road series with Clearwater on Tuesday night. The Threshers sit in second place in the Florida State League North with an identical record as the Miracle. Mat Batts starts the series opener for Fort Myers. 

Cedar Rapids 12, Peoria 3 
The Kernels pounded out a season high 12 runs with 19 hits. With the win, Cedar Rapids reached a season-best 11 games above .500 (28-17 record) after finishing their road trip with a 5-3 record. The Kernels have scored at least 11 runs three times this season with all three games coming against the Snappers.

Every hitter in the Kernels line-up collected a hit and seven of the nine hitters collected an extra-base hit. Pat Kelly was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate with a double, a home run, and five RBI. Jorge Fernandez drove in four runs, including a three-run home run, in his first game since May 15. Max Murphy and Tyler Kuresa each had three hits including a triple and a double from Murphy.

John Curtiss started the game but didn't figure into the decision as he was pulled from the game with an undisclosed injury. He allowed three runs over 4.1 innings, his second shortest outing of the year, while striking out three. Michael Theofanopoulos earned his first win by pitching 2.2 scoreless innings and striking out four. Over the last two innings, Randy LeBlanc struck out three and didn't allow a run.

Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Michael Theofanopoulos, Cedar Rapids Kernels.
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Pat Kelly, Cedar Rapids Kernels

Rochester @ Durham (6:05 am) – RHP Lester Oliveros
Chattanooga- Scheduled Off Day
Ft. Myers @ Clearwater (6:00 CST) – LHP Mat Batts
Cedar Rapids vs. Wisconsin (6:35 CST) - LHP Stephen Gonsalves

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Monday games.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Episode 131: It Feels Good to Win

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn/Twins
You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

It’s just a whole lot more fun to watch a team that’s winning baseball games. 

This may not be a sustainable pace for this ball club, but that doesn't make it any less fun to watch. This ball club is playing great, highlighted by Glen Perkins and (gasp) Blaine Boyer at the back of the bullpen coupled with quality starts from the starters and very timely hitting from the offense. 

This week’s show is all about feeling good. E Rolf is away on his honeymoon after his wedding last week (congrats!), but Cody, Jay and Paul put together a show that covers all the baseball we've missed in the last two weeks. 

We reflect on Aaron Hick’s time with the big league ball club, Paul eats crow (Blaine Boyer Talk), Target Field gets compostable (NOT combustible) cups, and Joe Mauer hits the ball over the outfield fence. All of this, a look at the budding young star, Max Kepler, and more on this week’s show.

If you enjoyed the show, please take a moment to tell a friend (or two, or three, or four hundred) and give us a rating/review on iTunes. Ratings and reviews help the Twins to keep up their current pace.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Max Kepler Shows Breakout Potential

Max Kepler has been featured up and down Twins prospect lists since the Twins signed him as a teenager out of Europe. The list of successful major league players born in Europe is small but there's always been a little something extra with Kepler.

His parents were both professional dancers so he's got a strong athletic background. Minnesota took it slow with Kepler allowing him to play three years in the rookie leagues. Over the last two seasons, he has worked through both Low-A and High-A and spent the fall in the Arizona Fall League. The Twins added him to the 40-man roster following the 2013 season and he's spent the majority of 2015 at Double-A.

The 2013 season had to be a low point for Kepler. He suffered an elbow injury early in the season and he didn't make it onto the field until the end of June. When he returned, he struggled at the plate hitting .237/.312/.424 with 23 extra-base hits in 61 games. In the AFL, he managed a .618 OPS with five doubles in 72 plate appearances. It wasn't a full season debut to write home about.

Things started trending in the right direction during the 2014 campaign. He was healthier and played in over 100 games with Fort Myers. His slugging percentage dipped a little bit (.393 SLG) but his batting average (.264 BA) and on-base percentage (.333 OBP) both improved. Kepler was also close to two years younger than the other hitters in the league so there were signs of good things to come.

This season Kepler is part of a stacked line-up in Chattanooga that includes the likes of top prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jorge Polanco. Up to this point in the season, he is outperforming many of the names ahead of him on top prospect lists.

Across 23 Double-A games this season, Kepler is batting .326/.363/.500 with 11 extra-base hits (entering play on 5/19).  He hasn't had a slugging percentage of .500 or higher since his second trip through the Appalachian League back in 2012. He's also never hit over .300 at any level.

Besides improving his numbers at the plate, Kepler is also making waves with the other parts of his game. He's already stolen six bases this year after totaling six steals all of last season. His career high in steals is seven so he should be well on his way to breaking that mark.

On defense, he's split time between all three outfield positions and first base. He's been perfect fielding in the outfield to go along with an assist from right field, the outfield spot he's played the most. At first base, he's committed two errors but his fielding percentage is still higher than it was last season.

Kepler's improvements this season definitely make him a player to watch. There's a good chance the Twins will see many of the top prospects debut at some point this season and this could mean Kepler shoots up prospect lists next off-season with the potential to be a top 100 prospect in all of baseball.

There's still a lot of season left but Kepler has shown some early season signs that he's ready to breakout in a big way.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (5/18): Masterful Milone

Another Monday means that each minor league level announces their player of the week honors. Twins affiliated players have been littering the awards so far this season and that trend continued on Monday.

Left-handed pitcher Tommy Milone was named the International League Pitcher of the Week. He only made one start over the last week but he tossed eight shutout innings while allowing three hits, all singles, striking out 12 without issuing a walk. To start the game, he struck out five straight batters. No batters reached scoring position against him and he faced the minimum in six of his eight innings of work.

Top prospect Jose Berrios was also honored on Monday. The right-handed pitcher was honored as the Southern League's Pitcher of the Week. He tossed a nine innings complete game shutout for his fourth win of the season. He struck out eight and walked two while limiting the opposition to two hits, both singles.

Both pitchers were scheduled to be on the mound today so let's see how the fared.

Rochester 3, Durham 0
Tommy Milone is sick of being in the minor leagues and he is making that pretty clear with his performance since being demoted. On 115 pitches, Milone tossed a complete game shutout. He scattered six hits but used 13 strikeouts to get out of any jams. In three starts since being demoted, he has yet to allow a run and he has struck out 33 batters in 23.1 innings.

Josmil Pinto provided the most important hit when he cranked a two-run home run with two outs in the sixth inning. Eric Farris reached base three times, scored a pair of runs, and stole a base. James Beresford drove in a run and collected a double. Wilkin Ramirez hit his second double of the season.

With the win, Rochester improved to 21-16 ahead of their double header with Durham tomorrow. The team has won three of their last four games and they haven't lost a series since May 8-9 against Louisville.

Chattanooga 2, Montgomery 4
Jose Berrios couldn't follow up his memorable performance from last week. He was limited to five innings in this game as he allowed three runs on five hits while striking out five and walking one. Some of the outs he gave up were long fly ball outs so the results look better than they could have looked. Even with the rough day, Berrios still has an ERA under 2.90 for the season.

The bullpen trio of Nick Burdi, Zack Jones, and DJ Johnson combined to pitch four perfect innings. Burdi struck out three in two innings of work and Jones struck out the side in the eighth. Dallas Gallant gave up a run on a couple hits without recording an out.

The Lookouts didn't have many opportunities on the offensive side of the ball as the team went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Jorge Polanco picked up a couple hits to raise his average to .314. Max Kepler had the only other hit in the game, a 2-run home run. It was his first home run of the season.

With the loss, Chattanooga drops to 23-15 on the season. It was their second consecutive loss after winning five games in a row. The Lookouts had yet to lose two game in a row this month until today.

Fort Myers 11, Bradenton 5
The fireworks were out in Fort Myers on Monday evening as the club pounded out 12 hits and 11 runs including two three-run innings. Chad Christensen went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and a run. Jason Kanzler scored three times, drove in three runs, and both his hits were for extra-bases. Engelb Vielma hit his second double, scored two runs, and stole his tenth base. Niko Goodrum also crossed the plate twice.

The offensive explosion meant the Miracle were able to dance around three fielding errors. Vielma had a throwing error, his sixth of the season. Goodrum was charged with a fielding error, his eight of the season. Logan Wade was the only starter not to reach base and he had his sixth error.

Aaron Slegers started and didn't allow an earned run over five innings of work. He struck out two and walked two. Alex Muren pitched two perfect innings while striking out one. Todd Van Steensel got beat up a little in his two innings of work as he allowed three runs on five hits but he did strikeout three.

Cedar Rapids 7, Peoria 3 
Box Score Completion from 5/14
In a game started last Thursday, Cedar Rapids found themselves in an early hole after Stephen Gonsalves surrendered two runs in the top of the first inning but the Kernels offense came pouring back. Over the next two innings, Cedar Rapids plated six runs to take the lead for good. The only thing that slowed the offense down was rain and a wet playing surface that suspended play.

Trey Vavra had a good game at the plate with two hits including his fourth home run and his eighth double. He knocked in three of the teams runs and all of his RBI came with two outs. Tanner English reached base three times including a triple as he was on the way to scoring two runs. Nick Gordon drove in a run and scored two runs.

After the rough top of the first, Gonsalves calmed down before the rain started to fall. He pitched four innings while allowing two earned runs on four hits with four strike outs and no walks. Keaton Steele started the game today in his Kernels debut and earned his first victory. He pitched five innings and allowed one earned run.

Cedar Rapids 0, Peoria 1 (7 innings)
Box Score Regularly Scheduled Game
The Kernels bats cooled off for the second game of the night. In fact, the team was one Zack Larson single away from being part of a seven inning no-hitter. Nick Gordon had the only opportunity to bat with a runner in scoring position after Tanner English had stolen second base with two outs. This is the closest the Kernels came to scoring a run.

Matt Batts took the loss after pitching all six inning but he put together some impressive numbers. He only allowed one earned run and he struck out 12 including multiple strikeouts in five of his six frames. It was the first time all season where he had struck out more than seven and it was his first loss of the month.

Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Tommy Milone, Rochester Red Wings
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Chad Christensen, Fort Myers Miracle

Rochester vs. Durham (10:05 am CST) – RHP Chih-Wei Hu (Triple-A Debut)
Rochester vs. Durham (6:05 CST) – RHP Alex Meyer
Chattanooga vs. Montgomery (6:15 CST)- RHP Greg Peavey
Ft. Myers vs. Bradenton (6:05 CST) – TBA
Cedar Rapids @ Peoria (11:00 am CST) - RHP John Curtiss

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Monday games.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (5/11): Dean Dominates, Hicks Promoted

Adam Brett Walker hit his ninth home run.
With the major league version of the Twins having the night off, there were plenty of story lines to follow with Minnesota's minor league affiliates.

There was strong starting pitching performances at multiple levels including a complete game shutout. A couple of star prospects added to their impressive numbers in Chattanooga. One team's winning streak reached a season high while another team's winning streak came to a tragic end.

Let's find out what happened down on the farm.

Rochester 4, Toledo 0
Pat Dean scattered three hits on his way to a complete game shutout and Aaron Hicks continued his hot hitting ways as Rochester tip-toed by Toledo. Dean struck out four and didn't walk anyone for his third victory. With the shutout, Dean's ERA dropped under 2.00 for the season and it was his first nine inning shutout since June 29, 2013 with the New Britain Rock Cats.

Aaron Hicks was making it tough for the Minnesota Twins to keep him in the minors and shortly after this game word began to spread that he would be called up. Hicks went 2-for-4 with a double, his tenth of the season, and a run scored. Danny Ortiz drove in three runs and Brock Peterson reached base three times including his first double.

With the win, Rochester improves to 17-13 on the season and stops a two-game losing skid. It was only the second victory in the last six games for the Red Wings.

Chattanooga 6, Birmingham 2
Byron Buxton wasted little time adding to his streak of consecutive games with an RBI. As the lead-off hitter in the top of the first inning, Buxton cranked his fourth home run of the season to stake the Lookouts to an early 1-0 lead. It was his tenth straight game with a run batted in and he's driven in 23 for the season.

Not to be outdone by Buxton, Adam Brett Walker hit his Southern League leading ninth home run of the season. The three-run shot stretched the Kernel's lead to 6-2. Walker finished the night 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Travis Harrison and Max Kelper each added doubles while Stuart Turner picked up a couple hits. 

Former first round pick Alex Wimmers went six strong innings allowing two earned runs and striking out nine while walking four. Tim Shibuya pitched one shutout inning and Jake Reed was asked to get the last six outs to preserve the lead.

Fort Myers 2, Dunedin 5
The big news in this game was the return to the mound of Kohl Stewart but his return didn't last long. In 2.1 innings of work, Stewart gave up four runs (1 ER) on two hits with a pair of walks and no strikeouts. David Hurlbut was asked to pitch six relief innings to close out the game. The only run he allowed was unearned and he struck out five.

Three defense errors from the Miracle really hurt them in this contest. Niko Goodrum was charged with two errors and Engelb Vielma had the other. The most costly error happened in the third inning with Stewart still on the mound. While attempting to start a double play, Goodrum's throw ended up in right field and two runs scored.

The Miracle managed seven hits in the game but none were for extra bases. Alex Swim has now hit safely in 15 straight contests, the longest streak in the Florida State League. Zach Granite and Marcus Knecht each picked up a couple of hits.

Cedar Rapids 3, Peoria 1
Earlier in the day it was announced that outfielder Max Murphy was selected as the Midwest League Player of the Week. From May 4-10, Murphy went 10-for-25 (.400) with two doubles, one triple, one home run and nine runs batted in. He's the fourth Kernels player to pick up a league honor this season. 

The Kernels also made a roster move on Monday. Infielder Blake Schmit, an Eden Prairie native, joined the Kernels from Extended Spring Training. The 26th round pick in 2014 played 22 games last season for Elizabethton, hitting .162 with four RBI. In a corresponding move, Jonatan Hinojosa was sent to Extended Spring Training.

On this night, the Kernels extended their winning streak to a season high seven games. Jared Wilson improved to a perfect 4-0 after pitching five scoreless frames. He walked three and struck out two. Randy LeBlanc and Trevor Hildenberger each pitched two innings with LeBlanc surrendering the only run of the game. Hildenberger improved his ERA to 0.50 for the season.

Max Murphy continued his hot hitting ways by going 2-for-4 with an RBI. Nick Gordon and Trey Vavra each added two hits with Vavra notching his seventh double. TJ White reached base three times and Jorge Fernandez clocked his first home run of the season. Zack Larson snapped his streak of 10 consecutive games reaching base.

Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Pat Dean, Rochester Red Wings
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Adam Brett Walker, Chattanooga Lookouts

Rochester vs. Toledo (6:05 CST) – LHP Taylor Rogers
Chattanooga @ Birmingham (5:30 CST)- TBA
Chattanooga @ Birmingham (Game 2)- RHP Tyler Duffey
Ft. Myers vs. Dunedin (6:05 CST) – RHP Aaron Slegers
Cedar Rapids vs. Peoria (6:35 CST) - LHP Mat Batts

Please feel free to ask any questions and discuss the Monday games.