5 Key Questions - Focus: Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels 2010
By David Saltzer - AngelsWin.com Senior Columnist
As both the Major League and Minor League seasons start, it’s time for Angels fans to get back into the rhythm of the game. Over the next few days, we’ll be taking a close look at each of our minor league affiliates to get to know the 5 key questions that each team needs to answer over the course of the season. Today we focus on our Single-A team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels to see what key issues are affecting this team and to see what the fans should be most interested in watching.
Question #1: Is This The Future of the Franchise?
According to Baseball America, 10 out of the Kernels 25-man roster ranked in the Angels’ Top 30 prospects. According to AngelsWin.com, 11 players ranked in the Angels’ Top-50 prospects. While we can agree to disagree over 10 or 11 players, where both sites can clearly agree is that this team is loaded with talent.
When asked by Bill Plunkett from the Orange County Register if the talent comes in waves, Abe Flores, Director of Player Development for the Angels said “It does come in waves, you’re correct.” A lot of that has to do with the parent club’s success at the Major League level (leading to lower draft choices) and the parent’s club free agent maneuvers (leading to several years without a first round draft pick and then five picks in the first 50 overall last year due to free agent departures).
The good news is that fans in Cedar Rapids will have a lot to watch. They will have top-shelf pitching. They will have speed on the bases. They will have hitting. They will have power.
The Angels will also benefit. Much like the nucleus of Aybar, Kendrick, Morales and Wood on the infield, and Weaver, Saunders, and Santana in the rotation, they will have a team that will substantially move together through the organization. They will learn to play with each other and will raise the bar for all of the players on the team.
More importantly, though, they Angels are in a position where they will not to rush any of these players through the organization. They already have a strong nucleus on the parent club. So, they can let this group meld on the field and develop keener and sharper instincts for the game and for each other’s style of play.
Question #2: Who Will Be the Ace of the Staff?
The Kernels are loaded with quality starters. In terms of talent, this may be the best starting rotation from top to bottom in our Minor League system.
The Kernels feature two prominent righties in the rotation. They are Fabio Martinez Mesa and Garrett Richards. This past offseason, AngelsWin.com ranked them 12th and 6th respectively. Both are hard throwers who generate a lot of strikeouts. Both need to refine their off-speed pitches and location a bit more in order to dominate at the higher levels. But, at the same time, both have the potential to be front of the rotation pitchers in the Major Leagues.
The Kernels also feature three prominent lefties in the rotation. They are Patrick Corbin, Tyler Kehrer, and Tyler Skaggs. This past offseason, AngelsWin.com ranked them 29th, 22nd, and 17th respectively. All three are projectable, and all three could add some velocity as they mature. All three have good upside, and will form a strong rotation that is left-hand dominant.
The good news is that all of these starters are young and the Angels do not need to rush them. All of them will be given plenty of opportunity to develop and should continue to rise to the occasion.
Question #3: Do You Spell Closer Jon or John?
In our last chat with Eddie Bane, we learned a few things. In response to a question about which relievers from last year will have a breakout year this year, Eddie Bane said “[John] Hellweg and at some point this year you guys will get to see Jon Bachanov our 1st selection a few years ago. After some tough bouts with arm trouble Jon is throwing well thanks to tremendous work by himself and Trevor Wilson. You will like what you see.”
Bachanov ranked 21st on our Top-Prospect list last year. After recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2007, Bachanov made his professional debut last year, striking out 52 in 32 IP while walking just 5 batters. He throws in the 92-93 range, but can crank it up to 96. He also throws a changeup sparingly and a good slider.
Hellweg, on the other hand, went unranked by AngelsWin.com. He fell into our “Keep An Eye On” category. About John Hellweg, though, Eddie Bane said “If I [were] to tout one guy to watch I would put the heat on John Hellweg. You guys will have a blast with him. Up to at least 97 and he is 6'7" maybe even 6'8". Trevor Wilson and Zeke ironed him out and now he throws more strikes and is really fun.” With an endorsement like that, we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him!
Question #4: Who Hits?
As with the pitching, the hitting is loaded on this team. The Angels have everything from table setters to power hitters to drive in the runs.
Leading off for the Kernels, Mike Trout (CF) has already made quite a name for himself. He has speed and power with patience at the plate. A gifted fielder, Trout could end up hitting in the top third for a future Angels’ lineup. Whether he will stick in center or get moved to a corner will depend a bit on how he matures and upon the Angels’ needs at the time.
Behind him, Jean Segura (2B) is healthy and playing. A 5-tool player, Abe Flores gave Segura strong praise for what he brought to the offense during our interview with him this past offseason. He’s another player who could bat in the top-third of a future Angels’ lineup and the Angels are hoping for a healthy year out of him.
Randal Grichuk (OF), Carlos Ramirez (C), and Luis Jimenez (3B) are the main threats to drive in the runs. Grichuk, the Angels first overall selection in 2009, has a mighty bat that needs to refine his pitch recognition. Ramirez is a strong catcher who can handle the staff well in both English and Spanish. Jimenez is recovering from a torn labrum last year, which cost him the whole season. So, he will need some time to reestablish himself as a premiere threat from the hot corner.
Although the Midwest League is known for being a pitcher’s league, the 2010 Kernels are stacked offensively from top to bottom in their lineup. For fans of the team, this should be one of the better offenses that they’ve seen in a while.
Question #5: Who Will Reach the Majors the Fastest?
At AngelsWin.com, we get asked this question quite often. With a team as talented as this, it’s often hard to predict who will reach the Majors the fastest. There are too many variables such as the needs of the club, players ahead on the organization’s depth chart, the organization’s philosophy to have players earn each promotion, etc.
However, having said that, if I were to place my bets on who would reach the Majors the fastest, I’d put my money on Bachanov. Now that he’s healthy and converted into a reliever, his command and control should put him on more of a fast track. Mike Trout might be a close second, as he showed advanced skills both last year and this year in Spring Training. But, with Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos ahead of him, the Angels can afford to be a bit more patient with him, which should only make him that much better when he reaches the Major Leagues.
Overall, the 2010 Kernels are loaded with talent, and, the staff at AngelsWin.com expects to see many of them topping our weekly Hot Prospect columns throughout the season.