Notes from the Field: Cedar Rapids Kernels

Last weekend was absolutely filled with baseball, and I’ve come to the realization that there just isn’t much else in the world like relaxing on a warm summer night and watching minor leaguers play in front of a few hundred people. This experience is only enhanced when the minor leaguers you’re watching are very talented, and fortunately that was the case this weekend.

All I saw of Byron Buxton on the the field last weekend.

Byron Buxton – First Base Coach

The Twins have done a fantastic job of amassing high-ceiling talent, and the Cedar Rapids roster is stacked with legitimate prospects. Byron Buxton is possibly the best prospect in the minors right now, but was sidelined with a thumb injury. Even without him in the lineup, the Kernels were starting 4 impressive young prospects and throwing a few well thought-of pitching prospects. The strong Kernels lineup ended up outscoring the Cougars 33-11 over the course of the four-game series, a shellacking of the highest order. I blame Lendy Castillo.

The prospect I was most impressed with was shortstop (for now) Niko Goodrum. Despite a 6’4″ 200 lb frame, Goodrum plays a smooth shortstop with good range. He did bobble a fairly routine grounder Saturday night, but he made up for it with an absolute laser of a throw to get the runner. I saw him flash his great arm multiple times, and if he grows out of shortstop he easily has the defensive tools and arm to be a great defensive outfielder.

Goodrum has had an acceptable season with the bat, his season line propped up by a great walk rate. Whether that can hold up against better pitching is largely going to rely on how much power he can add to his game. He generates good bat speed and I saw him sting a couple of balls. There is some bat wrap at the beginning of the swing, but after that his hands are very quick to the ball. If he adds muscle and works out some of the kinks in his swing he looks like he could be an average or better hitter in the future.

Kenny’s thoughts on Goodrum:

A huge SS standing 6-4 at 200LB’s but he was an excellent fielder.  Even after bobbling a ball he picked it up spun and fired a strike right to the first basemen for the out.  He is pretty good with the bat too sporting a .377OBP.

(A side note on Goodrum – he was removed from the Saturday game after trying to railroad Wilson Contreras at home plate and is now on the DL with a concussion. It was a terrible send by the 3B coach. Such plays should not exist in the minors. I’ll have a piece on that for next week)

The second most impressive play I saw was right fielder Adam Brett Walker, who is as physically developed as any player I have seen at the level. The Milwaukee native is 6’4″ 225 lb and has a ton of raw power. Walker drove the ball well in the series while also taking two walks.

Walker’s K% is extraordinarily high, but his speed and the quality of the contact he makes are so great that he still has an .852 OPS this season. He will need to close up some of the holes in his swing if he is to succeed at higher levels, though. The Cougars’ Maples absolutely embarrassed him with some good curveballs Monday night, and he was frequently way out on his front foot on off-speed pitches. The good news is that he often made contact on those poor swings. I enjoyed watching Walker play (except for his throws – possibly the worst throwing mechanics I’ve ever seen, and it shows when he releases the ball and it lands 30 feet from its target), and though he is very raw I think he’s got the tools to be dangerous down the road.

Kenny’s thoughts on Walker:

This guy is a physical specimen, the guy amazed Tommy and me, and then he started playing catch.  Walker looked like he was throwing grenades; we thought he was kidding until he threw the same way in the game and he overthrew the cutoff by about 6 feet.  He strikes out too much but has some pretty good numbers and looked good at the plate.

The other prospects I had set out to see were less than impressive…

  • Jorge Polanco was the prospect, after Buxton, that I was most excited to see, but I left the series with little positive or negative opinion on him. I did not get the chance to see him flash the leather at second, which is reportedly the best part of his game. At the plate, Polanco has a very quick bat that should allow him to stroke line drives all over the field but he does not have the body or swing to add much power down the road. The .800 OPS as a 19 year old has me reserving judgement until I get the chance to see him again, but nothing I saw him do this weekend made me think his ceiling is all that high.
  • Travis Harrison, the 50th overall pick in 2011, looked pretty bad this weekend. He made a lot of poor contact, and that was if he could even put the bat on the ball as he struck out 5 times in the three times I saw him. He looked somewhat shaky in the field, getting a few late jumps, but he did make one fantastic play – on a sharp grounder to his right, Harrison picked the ball clean, planted in foul territory, and fired a strike to first base. He certainly has the ability to play 3B, he just needs to get more comfortable and more consistent. (Small nit-picky note: Harrison is not a great athlete by “getting paid $1 million out of high school to play a sport” standards. He’s a bit stocky, a little awkward looking in a uniform. He just doesn’t quite look like what you expect the average baseball player to look like)
  • Mason Melotakis was not sharp when I saw him. His command was poor and he got knocked around because of it, and his secondary stuff was very fringy. His curveball needs serious work for it to become a usable pitch. That said, Melotakis gained velocity late in the game, touching 93 in his final inning after sitting 88 in the first, and his secondary stuff was sharper too. I cannot say if he just found his mechanics all of a sudden or if he wasn’t loose enough early in the game, so I cannot really say why he got better.
  • Unrelated to the guys above, Kernels 1B Dalton Hicks had two of the hardest hit home runs I’ve see this season. He isn’t much of a prospect but he is absolutely dripping with raw power.
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