Men of the Corn

The Cedar Rapids Kernels are on yet another winning streak, winning their eighth straight last night.

The Kernels won thirteen straight between May 22 and June 4, finished the first half with a 40-30 record, and clinched a post-season berth by finishing second, one game out of first, in the Midwest League’s Western Division in the first half.

Overlooked during all their success is the absence of one very big bat. 3B Luis Jimenez, known as “Lucho” to Orem fans last year, has been at Tempe on rehab all summer after a right shoulder injury. Jimenez hit fifteen homers for the Owlz last year in a half-season, the most in the Pioneer League.

OF Roberto Lopez, the 2008 Pioneer League MVP who hit .400, arrived a month late from extended spring training after recovering from minor injuries. Lopez got off to a bit of a slow start, although his AVG/OBP/SLG are now .262/.383/.417, acceptable numbers in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. His SO:BB ratio is 33:32 in 206 at-bats, which fits in nicely with the Angels’ Contactball style of play.

There are many success stories on this roster, but the Kernels’ starting pitching is the dominant force for their success. The team ERA is 3.30, #2 behind Clinton (3.16). Manaurys Correa (97.1) and Manuel Flores (93.1) lead the league in innings pitched, yet they don’t get as much publicity with the top prospect analysts as do Will Smith, Ryan Chaffee and Tyler Chatwood.

A popular stat among the sabermetric crowd is WHIP — (Walks + Hits)/(Innings Pitched). Here are the WHIPs for the Kernels’ starting rotation:

  • Ryan Chaffee 1.03
  • Tyler Chatwood 1.40
  • Manaurys Correa 1.19
  • Manuel Flores 1.22
  • Will Smith 1.10

There are sixteen teams in the Midwest League, so I don’t have time to crunch the numbers, but if there’s another team in that league with five better starters than the Kernels I’d be surprised.

Smith and Chaffee were on the 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report. I took a lot of grief last November for ranking them — Smith was #1 and Chaffee was #6 — but it would be hard to argue that now with their outstanding numbers.

I’ve been wrestling in my mind with a question I can’t answer, so feel free to post your opinion. Here goes: if you had one game on the line for the Midwest League title, who would you want on the mound — the 6’6″ lefty Smith or the deceptive righty Chaffee? Both are bulldogs on the mound.

Each day when I update the FutureAngels.com home page, I read online both the local papers for our affiliates and those of our opponents, so I can get a flavor for what everyone in the league thinks of our players. I’ve seen plenty of comments that validate what I wrote in November. Opposition managers have complimented Smith for how he changes speeds on his fastball. Chaffee was described by one writer as “the man of a thousand deliveries” because he can throw his repertoire from three different release points.

Let’s also praise Bill Mosiello, who right now appears to be the hands-down favorite for Angels’ minor league manager of the year. Mosiello wasn’t even supposed to be the manager. 2008 manager Keith Johnson was supposed to return. But when longtime field coordinator Bruce Hines left to join Don Wakamatsu on the Seattle Mariners’ coaching staff, a domino effect rippled through the system. Johnson moved up to Rancho Cucamonga, and Mosiello was hired on January 29. He was assistant baseball coach at the University of Southern California when the Angels hired him.

As of this writing, the Kernels are 50-32, a .610 winning percentage which if it holds would be the best by far since Cedar Rapids became an Angels affiliate in 1993. The best record during the Angels era was .583 in 2002, a team whose roster was largely comprised of all the talent reaped during the 2001 draft. Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson, Mike Napoli, Nick Gorneault, Tommy Murphy, Ervin Santana, Jake Woods, Steven Shell, Joel Peralta and Steve Andrade were all part of that team, with a late-season token appearance by Joe Saunders.

The last team to top .610 was the 1990 Cedar Rapids Reds. They finished 88-46 (.657).

A few years ago, some in Cedar Rapids argued that the team should dump the Angels as a parent club because they’d gone through a series of losing seasons. But the 2007 and 2008 teams went to the post-season, and the 2009 edition has already clinched a post-season appearance. Despite claims by some pundits that the Angels’ farm system is in decline, all they need to do is look at what’s happening in Cedar Rapids. The Angels’ future is on its way.

1 Comment

There are 14 teams in the MWL, not 16. You’re a year early on that front.

And, unlike the 2002 Kernels, this squad doesn’t have many legitimate prospects beyond the pitchers mentioned. It is a collection of older undrafted free agents and good organizational depth, the kind of team that does well at the A-ball level especially with solid pitching behind it. Most scouts that have visited Cedar Rapids in recent weeks have left unimpressed, and that’s straight from their mouths.

You continue to attack people and organizations for saying the Angels organization is tailing off but you are blind to the reality of the situation. Arkansas and Rancho are abysmal and Cedar Rapids is overachieving big-time.

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