Checkpoint: Cedar Rapids


Kernels outfielder Mike Trout has an OPS of 1.000 — on-base percentage of .442 plus slugging percentage of .558.

 

This is the first in a series of articles I’m going to write looking at each Angels affiliate as they currently stand. This is just a “checkpoint” in time.

We’ll start with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Angels’ Class-A affiliate in the Midwest League.

This is a team that came loaded out of spring training. After a slow start, they’ve won seven in a row and are 27-17 with a two-game lead in the league’s Western Division.

The Kernels finished April 10-12 but in May are 17-5. The turnaround began the day before I arrived in Cedar Rapids on April 30. The team won the night before 7-5 against Clinton (Mariners affiliate), then swept a four-game series against Kane County (A’s affiliate).

I covered all four games of the Kane County series, including the April 30 combined no-hitter by Fabio Martinez Mesa, Kyle Hurst and Mike Kenney. Click here to watch video from the no-hitter. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection are required.)

Randal Grichuk and Mike Trout, the Angels’ two first-round draft picks in June 2009, saw their power bats awaken in that series. Grichuk hit three homers in the series, while Trout hit the first two of his five this season.

Grichuk went on the disabled list May 9 with a left thumb sprain. After a very slow start, Randal hit .300/.344/.700 in May (30 AB) before he was hurt. For the season, he was .229/.280/.431 with a SO:BB ratio of 30:6 in 109 at-bats. Click here to watch Grichuk’s May 3 home run.

Trout was considered more polished than Grichuk, and it showed. He ended April batting .372/.427/.465 but didn’t hit a dinger. The feedback I had last winter within the organization was that Grichuk projected as more of a pure power-hitter while Trout would be the more all-around hitter, with occasional power. April fit that projection, but his five homers in May — including a 426-foot shot at Cedar Rapids on May 3 — served notice that he can bash too. Click here to watch Trout’s May 3 home run.

Another power hitter I came to Cedar Rapids to watch was third baseman Luis Jimenez. “Lucho” missed all of 2009 after injuring his right labrum, spending the year on rehab at Tempe. Jimenez led the short-season Pioneer League with 15 homers in 2008, so there’s thunder in his bat, but when I got to Cedar Rapids he hadn’t hit a single dinger and seemed a bit frustrated by it. Lucho hit homers on May 23 anf May 24 at Beloit, and went 8 for 15 in his last three games, so maybe he’s shaken off the rust. His overall 2010 numbers are .300/.331/.493. His defense has been a concern, having committed seven errors in 27 defensive appearances, but there’s plenty of time for the 22-year old to improve.

Second baseman Jean Segura was just named the Midwest League player of the week for May 17-23. In that period, Segura hit .435/.519/.696. Segura had a 19-game streak from April 12 through May 2 in which he was just 15 for 76 (.197) but since then he’s 26 for 75 (.347). His overall numbers are .287/.355/.402. If I had to profile Jean, he would be a cross between Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick. He has Aybar’s reckless abandon in the field but is more of a contact hitter that rarely walks as Kendrick does. I think Segura’s build projects him as a second baseman more than a shortstop.

Catcher Carlos Ramirez hit .376/.500/.638 in 2009 for Rookie-A Orem, but in his first full season he’s hitting only .181/.306/.295. The Pioneer League, a hitter’s haven, can be deceptive especially with older players who have college experience. Carlos is 17 for 40 in catching baserunners; his .425 percentage is fourth-best in the Midwest League.

The Kernels’ starting rotation began 2010 with six projectable starting pitchers, so that problem was solved by “piggybacking” the two Tylers, Kehrer and Skaggs.

Kehrer has definitely strugged, posting a 6.12 ERA with a 28:28 SO:BB ratio in 32.1 IP. Skaggs has done well, with a 2.37 ERA and 41:9 SO:BB ratio in 38.0 IP.


Kyle Hurst, Fabio Martinez, and Mike Kenney combined to throw a no-hitter for Cedar Rapids on April 30 against Kane County.

 

The two pitchers with the best raw “stuff” are Garrett Richards and Fabio Martinez. Richards, drafted after his junior year in college, has a 3.54 ERA in 56.0 IP with a 50:18 ratio and a 2.55 Ground Outs to All Outs (GO:AO) ratio. He didn’t start while I was in Cedar Rapids but I did film his bullpen session; click here to watch. As for Fabio, he reminds me of a young Ervin Santana, complete with the exaggerated head tilt. The 20-year old has a 4.68 ERA in 42.1 IP with a 64:31 SO:BB ratio. He has “filthy” stuff but little control of it. Click here to watch video from Fabio’s April 30 start.

At 8-0, Pat Corbin remains undefeated. He has a 3.86 ERA in 58.1 IP with a 42:10 SO:BB ratio. He doesn’t have the dominating power of Richards or Martinez but is still effective. Click here to watch video of Corbin’s May 1 start.

He wasn’t a top-round draft pick, nor is he flashy like Martinez, but Orangel Arenas quietly is pitching a fine season. He has a 2.03 ERA in 48.2 IP with a 32:14 SO:BB ratio and a 2.38 GO:AO ratio.

Jon Bachanov was the Angels’ first pick in the June 2007 draft but suffered an elbow ligament injury and underwent “Tommy John” surgery before he threw his first pitch in official game action. The Angels decided to move him to relief, and Cedar Rapids is his first full-season assignment. He has a 4.58 ERA in 17.2 IP with a 18:10 SO:BB ratio and 1.83 GO:AO ratio. Based on the radar reading on the Cedar Rapids video board, his velocity appeared to be in the mid-high 80s, but I’m told that radar can be off up to 7 MPH. It’s not unusual for a “Tommy John” survivor to have diminished velocity for the first year coming back. He didn’t allow a hit in his last two relief appearances.

The Kernels are playing like we all expected. Every once in a while, you’ll see a “bubble” of talent move through an organization. The Angels’ draft class of 2001 was one example, with Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson and more. The 2009 draft is showing early signs that they’ll surpass that group in potential. But potential is only that, not major-league production, and for all of them that day is still far away.

Lots more video of the Kernels is coming … when I have the time.

(Sorry that I didn’t write about everyone, I focused on the players who’ve received the most attention in the media from analysts and fans.)

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