Twins' Single-A team Cedar Rapids loaded with talent
JUN 17, 2013 9:00a ET
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- It's clear that Byron Buxton is the main attraction in Cedar Rapids. Many of the fans who flock to Veterans Memorial Stadium are there to see the Twins outfield prospect in action. His No. 7 jersey T-shirt is the only one sold in the Kernels' team store.
But there's more to Cedar Rapids' success story than just Buxton.
In fact, the Kernels can proudly say they have eight Midwest League All-Stars on their roster. Buxton is one, of course, but he will have seven teammates joining him for Tuesday's event. While Buxton is near the top of many offensive categories, he's not the only one from his team swinging well.
Dalton Hicks' 12 home runs? They're third most in the Midwest League through Sunday. Teammate Travis Harrison is just one homer behind Hicks, who was named a starter on the MWL All-Star team at first base. Hicks, a 17th-round pick in 2012, also leads the league with an impressive 63 RBI in 66 games, including six RBI in Sunday's game against Peoria.
Buxton has eight triples on the year, tied for second in the league. Joining him at that mark is second baseman Jorge Polanco, who is now hitting .294 after going 2-for-4 Sunday and will start Tuesday's All-Star game at second base.
Outfielder Adam Brett Walker is near the top of many categories, too, and also earned a starting nod Tuesday. He's hit 10 homers and five triples along with 54 RBI, second most in the MWL behind his teammate, Hicks.
"The middle of our lineup has been really good," said Kernels manager Jake Mauer. "Polanco, Hicks, Walker, Harrison have all had good years."
By now, fans may have heard Walker's name mentioned a bit. The Milwaukee native was the Twins' third-round pick in last year's draft out of Jacksonville University. His power numbers were impressive in college -- he hit 12 homers and 14 doubles while batting .343 as a junior -- and so far it's translated to pro ball.
At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Walker is an imposing figure at the plate. The 21-year-old right fielder has raised some eyebrows with his hitting through the first few months of the season.
"He hits the ball a long way," Mauer said. "He's learning his swing still. He's another young man that's getting pitched differently. He tattoos a fastball, can hit it 500 feet. But we've got to understand that sometimes they're going to spin it a little bit. Take what they give you; taking a walk is OK, things like that. He's done a really nice job."
Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor currently serves as a roaming minor league instructor for the Twins. He was recently down in Cedar Rapids to work with the Kernels' hitters.
Like Mauer, Molitor raved about Walker's pop at the plate. Still, he'd like to see Walker cut down on the strikeouts (he's struck out 62 times and drawn just 15 walks).
"Position wise, Walker's probably got as much power as anybody in our organization," Molitor said. "It's a matter of him learning how to hit and be more consistent."
Niko Goodrum, 21, was one of Cedar Rapids' eight All-Stars. A second-round pick in 2010, Goodrum is batting .280 with 13 doubles in 49 games.
Harrison was taken by the Twins 50th overall in the 2011 draft out of Tustin (Calif.) High School. While he's committed 15 errors at third base this year, he's batting .263 with 11 homers.
"It's going to be a matter of how his bat develops," Molitor said of Harrison. "Some people think in the long run he's going to turn out to be a pretty quality hitter with power."
And then there's the pitching at Low-A Cedar Rapids. Mason Melotakis, a second-round pick last year out of Northwestern State University of Louisiana, has arguably been the Kernels' best starter so far this year. The 21-year-old left-hander is currently 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA.
Melotakis was not named to the All-Star team, but two other Kernels pitchers were: right-handers Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios. Duffey, a fifth-round pick last year out of Rice University, is 3-2 with a 2.78 ERA in nine starts. Berrios, a native of Puerto Rico, was the 32nd overall pick last year. He's 4-3 with a 3.17 ERA in nine starts and represented his country in the World Baseball Classic this spring.
The young players at Cedar Rapids are likely several years away from the major leagues -- for those who even make it to that level, that is. Fans in Minnesota (and even outside the region) have heard about what Buxton has been able to do this year for the Kernels.
It's not a one-man show, though. His supporting cast has been equally impressive.
"We had eight guys named to the All-Star team. We probably could have had a couple more," Mauer said. "That's saying a lot to these young men, how hard they've worked. It's nice to get recognized and all that, but hopefully we play well here this last week and give ourselves a chance to play in some playoff baseball."
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