Monday, September 21, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (9/21): Chattanooga Champs!

One game to rule them all.

The Lookouts have combined for quite a season leading into tonight's decisive game five. Stud prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton started the season in Chattanooga before eventually making their big league debuts. Max Kepler and Jose Berrios both spent time with the Lookouts before being named the Twins Daily Minor League Hitter and Starting Pitcher of the Year.

Chattanooga won the first half title in the Southern League North Division and finished the season with an overall record of 76-61. The club was just one game over .500 at home but they were a stunning 42-28 away from AT&T Field.

Tonight they played at home with a chance to be crowned kings of the Southern League.
Chattanooga 4, Biloxi 0
Box Score
The Lookouts had a chance to jump out to an early lead in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs in the frame, Southern League MVP Max Kepler walked. Travis Harrison followed with a single to give Chattanooga their first chance with runners in scoring position. Adam Brett Walker came up in a big spot but he grounded out to third to end the frame.

DJ Baxendale started for the Lookouts and he ran into a little trouble in the top of the second. After a single and a double to start the frame, Baxendale gave up a free pass to load the bases without recording an out. He came up with two big swinging strikeouts and a ground out to get out of the jam.

The bottom of the second would see the first runs of the game. Heiker Meneses stepped up to the plate and cracked a triple. Two batters later Stuart Turner would drive in Meneses with a double to left field. Shannon Wilkerson followed Turner's double with a RBI-single to stretch the lead to 2-0 in favor of the Lookouts.

Max Kepler has been carrying the Lookouts for large portions of the seasons so it seemed fitting that he would help add to the team's lead in their most important game of the year. He had gone 0-for-7 in the last two games but he lead-off the third with a solo-home run, his third of the series.

Baxendale used 95 pitches to get through five shutout frames before turning the game over to the bullpen. He gave up four hits, three walks, and struck out three. Jason Wheeler took over for Baxendale and was outstanding. In four shutout innings, he allowed two base runners and struck out three.

The Lookouts picked up a big insurance run in the bottom of the seventh inning to push their lead to 4-0. Stuart Turner walked to start the inning and was thrown out at second on a bunt attempt from Shannon Wilkerson. Stephen Wickens stepped to the plate and cracked a double to left field that was deep enough to score Wilkerson from first to add to the lead.

Wheeler stayed in for the top of the ninth inning. The first batter popped out to second base and the Lookouts were two outs away. The next batter walked to be only the second base runner against Wheeler. However the next batter would hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and the season.

Your 2015 Southern League Champions, the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Twins 2015 Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year - Trevor Hildenberger

Relief pitchers can get a tough rap with one bad outing resulting in inflated numbers that they have to work to improve for the rest of the season. With a limited amount of appearances to leave their mark, relievers need to show their stuff in short appearances in order to continue their path to the major leagues.

The Twins Minor League Report authors each voted for the five awards being handed out this week. Today, we'll take a look at the top relief pitchers in the Twins minor league system for 2015. We each voted for out top six performers in this category.

You'll see short profiles of our Top 6, but first, here are some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention
  • Michael Theofanopoulos - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 37 G, 5-3, 3.82 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 68.1 IP, 68 H, 29 BB, 74 K 
  • Cameron Booser - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 32 G, 1-2, 3.72 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 46.0 IP, 31 H, 40 BB, 64 K
  • Nick Burdi - Chattanooga Lookouts/Fort Myers Miracle - 43 G, 5-6, 3.82 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 63.2 IP, 52 H, 35 BB, 83 K
  • Alex Muren - Chattanooga Lookouts/Fort Myers Miracle - 44 G, 3-3, 3.03 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 71.1 IP, 62 H, 24 BB, 54 K  
  • Randy LeBlanc - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 33 G, 9-5, 3.03 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 89.0 IP, 78 H, 28 BB, 69 K
  • Luke Bard - Cedar Rapids Kernels - 28 G, 7-1, 2.41 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 52.1 IP, 45 H, 15 BB, 47 K


Here are the top six vote-getters for the Twins Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.

#6 - JT Chargois - Chattanooga Lookouts/Fort Myers Miracle - 48 G, 2-1, 2.63 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 48.0 IP, 38 H, 25 BB, 53 K
In his first professional action since the Appalachian League in 2012, Chargois made a strong impression back on the mound. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2013 and he enter the season with a lot of buzz out of the Instructional League. In his second appearance back on the mound, he was lit up for four earned runs on five hits while only recording one out. Over his next 14 appearances with Fort Myers, Chargois wouldn't allow an eanred run while holding opponents to a .137/.214/.196 batting line. His streak continued after being promoted to Chattanooga and it only came to an end after two months and 20 appearances. He'd end the year with another impressive run as he gave up one earned run on 11 hits over his last 19.2 innings with 24 strikeouts.

#5 - Todd Van Steensel - Fort Myers Miracle - 46 G, 2-4, 2.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 66.0 IP, 53 H, 32 BB, 81 K
Van Steensel started back in the Florida State League after finishing the 2014 campaign with the Miracle. Fort Myers relied a lot on the Australian native throughout the year as he compiled the best professional numbers of his career. He got off to a strong start in the month of April with a 1.35 ERA and 22 strikeouts in just over 13 innings. June would also be a good month as he held opponents to a 0.796 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 16.1 innings. Right-handed batters actually hit worse against the righty as their OPS was 17 points lower. He led the Miracle in saves, games finished, appearances, and he finished second on the team in strikeouts even though he never made a start.

#4 - AJ Achter - Rochester Red Wings - 43 G, 4-2, 2.63 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 48.0 IP, 28 H, 13 BB, 47 K
The Twins have gotten quite the run out of the 46th round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. Achter has made appearances with the big league club in each of the last two seasons and he continued to improve himself in the minor leagues. Throughout the entire season, he only allowed opponents to hit over .190 against him in one month (June) and that was the month he made his fewest amount of appearances. Achter put up some crazy numbers in May (12 appearances) with a 0.75 ERA and a 0.42 WHIP while opponents hit .103/.125/.179 against him. He tied for Rochester's team lead with 14 saves and lead the relief pitching core with 48 total innings.

#3 - Brandon Peterson - Chattanooga Lookouts/Fort Myers Miracle - 41 G, 2.07 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 61.0 IP, 44 H, 28 BB, 77 K
After some up and down appearances through the first month of the season, Peterson hit a nice groove near the beginning of May and stretched it all the way to July. During that time he didn't allow a run over 26.0 innings while striking out 33 and holding opponents to a .103/.161/.115 batting line. During that stretch he was promoted from Fort Myers to Chattanooga where he'd finish the season. His time in the Florida State League was outstanding as he posted a 0.85 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. The jump to the Southern League saw his ERA jump to 3.38 and his WHIP bump up 55 points. Peterson was almost a year and a half younger than the other pitchers at Double-A so it was an overall very impressive season.

#2 - Michael Tonkin - Rochester Red Wings - 33 G, 2-1, 1.10 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 41.0 IP, 25 H, 5 BB, 46 K
Tonkin hasn't been able to stick at the big league level over the last handful of years but he showed that he can thoroughly dominate hitters at the Triple-A level. Tonkin changed rosters nine different times this year including one stretch where four straight appearances on different teams between Rochester and Minnesota. From June 30 to August 29, he allowed two earned runs in 28.0 innings with 28 strikeouts and two walks. Opponents hit .160/.186/.202 against him during that stretch and Rochester handed over the closer role to him to end the year. Even with all the trips to Minnesota, Tonkin stilled tied Achter for the Rochester team lead with 14 saves and he had the best ERA of any pitcher on the staff. Tonkin doesn't have much left to prove at Triple-A so it will be up to the Twins to find him a big league role for 2016.

Relief Pitcher of the Year - Trevor Hildenberger - Cedar Rapids Kernels/Fort Myers Miracle - 41 G, 3-2, 1.55 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 64.0 IP, 39 H, 7 BB, 80 K
Hildenberger, a 22nd round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, spent all of his debut season pitching for the Twins two rookie league affiliates. His numbers were good but that can be expected for an experienced college pitcher going against younger hitters. He finished the 2014 season with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP with 32 strikeouts in 29 innings. This year would be a test as he would be asked to make the jump to the full season leagues and test his stuff against some older competition.

He wasted very little time making his mark in Cedar Rapids. In the month of April, he allowed one earned run on six hits in ten innings with 13 strikeouts. He continued his masterful mound performance into May as he didn't allow a run for the entire month while striking out 23 in 18.2 innings. In fact, Hildenberger had a stretch from April 19 to June 21 (31.1 IP) where he allowed one run on 11 hits with 40 strikeouts and four walks. Batters could only compile a .107/.148/.117 line against him and he struck out 36% of hitters during this impressive run.

Hildenberger's numbers jumped up a little during his 13 appearances in the Florida State League and he has been older than the competition at every stop along the way. Next year will be huge for him as he will likely spend some time back in the Florida State League before making a jump to the higher levels of the minors. It was a very impressive season but there's still room for him to grow in the coming years.

In an attempt to be transparent, here are the ballots from our Twins Daily minor league writers.

  • Seth Stohs - 1.) Trevor Hildenberger, 2.) Michael Tonkin, 4.) AJ Achter, 4.) Brandon Peterson, 5.) Todd Van Steensel, 6.) JT Chargois 
  • Jeremy Nygaard - 1.) Trevor Hildenberger, 2.) Michael Tonkin, 3.) AJ Achter, 4.) Todd Van Steensel, 5.) JT Chargois, 6.) Nick Burdi
  • Cody Christie - 1.) Trevor Hildenberger, 2.) AJ Achter, 3.) Brandon Peterson, 4.) Todd Van Steensel, 5.) Cameron Booser, 6.) JT. Chargois
  • Steve Lien - 1.) Trevor Hildenberger, 2.) Michael Tonkin, 3.) Brandon Peterson, 4.) AJ Achter, 5.) JT Chargois, 6.) Todd Van Steensel
  • Eric Pleiss - 1.) Trevor Hildenberger, 2.) Brandon Peterson, 3.) Michael Tonkin, 4.) Michael Theofanopoulos, 5.) JT Chargois, 6.) Todd Van Steensel

Feel free to start the discussion and explain who you think should be on the ballot

Monday, September 14, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (9/14): Lookouts Moving On, Hurlbut Dominant

The Cedar Rapids Kernels already moved on to the Championship Series of the Midwest League and the Chattanooga Lookouts were looking to join Kernels by qualifying for the Championship Series in the Southern League.

It was going to take a strong performance from some of the Twins top prospects to push the Lookouts further into the playoffs. Which players would step up under the pressure of a postseason run?

Photo Credit: Craig Gordon
Chattanooga 4, Montgomery 1
Box Score
David Hurlbut was on the mound for the Lookouts in this pivotal contest and he found himself in trouble early. He gave up a very long home run in the second inning and this was followed by two more hits to leave runners on the corners with two outs. Hulbut got out of the inning and he was locked in for the rest of the game.

From the third into the seventh inning, Hulbut retired 11 straight batters. He'd finish the night by scattering six hits, striking out four, and walking two. The lone run surrendered against him was the solo home run in the second where the batter used an unnecessary bat flip that might have turned a switch on for Hulbut.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Lookouts turned a four double plays with Stephen Wickens and Heiker Meneses being part of two plays each. Both men also helped out at the plate with Wicken finishing with a double and a run scored while Meneses reached base three times.

It seems like no Lookouts game is complete without a longball from Adam Brett Walker and he helped cement the lead with a solo home run in the top of the eighth. It was his second home run in as many nights. Max Kepler used a walk, a double, and a stolen base to score two of the team's four runs.

Nick Burdi and JT Chargois each pitched scoreless frames in relief of Hurlbut to close out the win. Burdi struck out one and picked up his first hold of the postseason. Chargois earned the save even though he allowed one runner to reach on a walk.

With the win, the Lookouts move on to the Southern League Championship Series against the Biloxi Schuckers, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. The first game of the series will be played on Wednesday night in Biloxi with the first two games of the series scheduled to be on the road for the Lookouts.

Pitcher of the Day - David Hurlbut, Chattanooga Lookouts
Hitter of the Day - Max Kepler, Chattanooga Lookouts

Midwest League Championship Series Game 1 - Wednesday, September 16
Cedar Rapids Kernels @ West Michigan (5:35 CST) - TBA

Southern League Championship Series Game 1 - Wednesday, September 16
Chattanooga Lookouts @ Biloxi Shuckers (TBA) - TBA

Monday, September 7, 2015

Twins Minor League Report (9/7): That's All Folks

Monday marked the final day of the regular season for the Twins minor league affiliates with three of the organization's minor league team's taking the field. Two of the Twins affiliates, Cedar Rapids and Chattanooga, qualified for the playoffs so there will be continued coverage of the MiLB Postseason in the coming days.

For now, each team tried to end their regular season on a high note.

Rochester 8, Lehigh Valley 1
Box Score
Jose Martinez ended the season on an extremely high note as he put together a strong performance at the plate. He finished 4-for-5 with two home runs and two doubles while driving in four and scoring four runs. Argenis Diaz reached base four times as part of a three hit effort and collected his 12th double. Danny Ortiz ended the season with his 31st double.

After losing two of his last three appearances, Taylor Rogers won his 11th game after pitching six frames. He scattered seven hits and allowed one earned run with four strikeouts and no walks. Alex Meyer allowed one base runner in two innings of work for his fourth hold and Aaron Thompson finished the game off in the ninth.

Rochester finished the season 10 games over .500 and four and a half games out of first place in the International League North Division. Despite the winning record, the club will be home for the postseason after finishing six games behind Indianapolis for a Wild Card spot.

Chattanooga 4, Jackson 6
Box Score
It wouldn't be a fitting end to the regular season without another home run from Adam Brett Walker. With two outs in the second inning, Walker clubbed a solo-shot, his 31st home run of the season. Unfortunately, a late-inning rally wasn't enough to push the Lookouts to victory.

Aaron Slegers started for Chattanooga but was charged with the loss after allowing five runs, four earned, on eight hits with three strikeouts and a walk. Nick Burdi allowed an unearned run in his inning of work while JT Chargois struck out the side in the eighth frame and Alex Wimmers reached the 100 strikeout mark for the season.

Chattanooga ended the regular season with a 76-61 record and will start their Southern League Playoff Series on Thursday. The Lookouts will play host to the Montgomery Biscuits, an affiliate of the Tampa Bays Rays. Montgomery ended the season with a 77-61 record and a 43-27 record in the second half.

Cedar Rapids 2, Clinton 6
Box Score
Even in Monday's loss, Sean Miller and Rafael Valera both looked prime for the playoffs. Both players collected three hits and Valera posted a pair of doubles. Chris Paul went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI but it wasn't enough as the team went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base.

Randy Rosario took the loss in his first relief appearance for the Kernels. He allowed four runs, three earned, on five hits in less than two innings. Sam Clay started and picked up one out in the fifth before being removed. He walked five and struck out five while surrendering two earned runs.

The Kernels start their Midwest League Playoff Series on Wednesday at 6:35 pm as they host the Quad Cities River Bandits, an affiliate of the Houston Astros. The best of three series could be toufgh for Cedar Rapids as the Kernels went 4-9 against the River Bandits during the regular season.

Twins Daily Minor League Pitcher of the Day – Taylor Rogers, Rochester Red Wings
Twins Daily Minor League Hitter of the Day – Jose Martinez, Rochester Red Wings

Wednesday, 9/9/15: Cedar Rapids vs. Quad Cities (6:35 CST) – Felix Jorge
Thursday, 9/10/15: Chattanooga vs. Montgomery (6:15 CST) – TBA
Cedar Rapids @ Quad Cities (7:00 CST) – TBA