America's heartland conjures an image of agricultural expanse and bounty, which seems entirely fitting in the context of one of the Midwest League's youngest pitching staffs.
But they're not growing crops exclusively in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. With the prospects the Angels have stationed there, in their low Class A outpost, the city stands to produce its share of pitching prospects, too. According to calculations by Baseball-Reference, the Kernels pitching staff averages 21.2 years in age, the third youngest staff in the MWL, just a hair behind Lake County (Indians) and Burlington (Royals) at 21.1.
Cedar Rapids boasts six capable starters who in the aggregate have compiled an ERA of 2.30 over 66 2/3 innings, while striking out 64 batters and allowing two home runs. The staff does not lack for diversity, either. Of the six, three are righthanded and three are lefties. Two attended four-year universities; one a junior college; one a Southern California high school; and of the international hurlers, one is Dominican and one hails from Venezuela.
Angels roving pitching instructor Kernan Ronan was gracious enough to provide his thoughts on the promising sextet in a recent interview. To find a group of Halos hopefuls so talented as this crew, Ronan referenced the 2006 edition of the Kernels, which featured the late Nick Adenhart as well as Stephen Marek, Tommy Mendoza and Bobby Mosebach.
Let's tackle the pitchers in alphabetical order:
Orangel Arenas, rhp, age 21
Signed out of Venezuela, 2007
Early output: 2 starts, 3.27 ERA, 2.14 G/F, 8-3 K-BB in 11 IP
"He ranges from 90-95 mph with a plus sinker and a nice slider. He's a strike thrower. I like him quite a bit. It only seems like he came out of nowhere, but he started for (Rookie-level) Orem last season. The big things for him this year are fastball command and consistency with the slider. Like a lot of young guys, we're trying to get him to use his changeup."
Pat Corbin, lhp, age 20
Second-round pick from Chipola (Fla.) JC, 2009
Early output: 2 starts, 2.08 ERA, 1.70 G/F, 7-3 K-BB in 13 IP
"His first start was great, very efficient—68 pitches to complete six innings. He showed that he would throw the ball over the plate, and I'm very encouraged by that. He has an average fastball—it's above-average at times—and a nice slider. He made strides with his changeup last season, but we want to continue to see it more. We (temporarily) took away his breaking ball during instructional league to help him focus on the changeup."
Tyler Kehrer, lhp, age 22
Supplemental first-round pick from Eastern Illinois, 2009
Early output: 1 start, 1 relief outing, 4.76 ERA, 2.25 G/F, 4-6 K-BB in 5 2/3 IP
"We have six good starters, so we're going to piggyback Kehrer with (Tyler) Skaggs. We want them to start clean innings. (Kehrer's) first outing was the best I've seen from him. He was very confident, and I thought the (his fastball and breaking ball) came out of his hand well. He was aggressive, with good poise in a 1-0 game. Even when he hit a batter, he didn't let that bother him. (He struck out three batters in three innings, inducing five groundouts of six outs in play.)"
Fabio Martinez, rhp, age 20
Signed out of Dominican Republic, 2007
Early output: 2 starts, 1 relief outing, 3.38 ERA, 1.29 G/F, 16-9 K-BB in 10 2/3 IP
"His delivery can be slow in the beginning, and then he gets on it at the end. We've talked about better flow, rhythm and direction to the plate. For him, it's just about throwing the ball over the plate. He's got electric stuff—a mid-90s fastball and a slider that has always been good. It's just about the tendency to overthrow. When he does, he pulls off and the pitch sails up and to his arm side."
Garrett Richards, rhp, age 21
Supplemental first-round pick from Oklahoma, 2009
Early output: 3 starts, 1.10 ERA, 1.17 G/F, 20-8 K-BB in 16 1/3 IP
"He was pretty clean in minor league camp, but then we sent him to pitch with the major league team and he struggled to throw strikes that day. Then he was just OK in during his last outing in spring. But I was very pleased with his first outing for Cedar Rapids. He pitched at 90-95 mph and sat at 93. For him, it's just refining what he has, because he has plus stuff across board. It's about staying online with his delivery, because he can get out of rhythm. He has ability to command his fastball already, but he might be too fine with it. He could benefit by being even more aggressive in the zone with it."
Tyler Skaggs, lhp, age 18
Supplemental first-round pick from Santa Monica (Calif.) High, 2009
Early output: 2 starts, 0.90 ERA, 0.91 G/F, 9-4 K-BB in 10 IP
"We're focusing on repeating his delivery and finding better rhythm in the delivery. His fastball had a bit more life this spring, maybe because he was very pumped up. Either way, I was pleased to see it. We'd like him to pick one breaking ball and develop that. He's throwing a curveball, but he was really throwing two types of curveballs, taking a bit off at times. We like him to try to basically pick one and throw it for strikes. Down the road you can always go back (to the slower curve). But for now, we'd like him to pick one and go with it; concentrate on throwing one in the zone."
• Two promising Angels righthanders began the season on the disabled list as they built arm strength in extended spring training. Trevor Bell got hit hard in eight games for the big league squad last year, but he enjoyed a breakout on the minor league side, ranking second among organization pitchers with a 2.70 ERA. A hamstring injury in camp landed Bell on the Triple-A Salt Lake DL.
Ryan Chaffee experienced shoulder tendinitis this spring and landed on the Cedar Rapids DL. When he returns, he could get a bump to high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He led all MWL pitchers by holding batters to a .206 average last season.
• Padres lefthander Aaron Poreda, one quarter of the bounty for Jake Peavy last July, concluded his 2009 season in San Diego's bullpen. But when the bell rang for 2010, the 23-year-old found himself two levels lower down the chain, in Double-A San Antonio. He pitched last night, walking one batter but otherwise completing 1 1/3 innings without incident.
Randy Smith, the Padres' director of player development, explains that the assignment was the residual effect of the organization's pitching depth. "With the trades we made last summer, we picked up a number of arms and most of them ended up in (Triple-A) Portland," he said. "Poreda's age and experience made him the logical one to go to Double-A."
The Portland bullpen currently consists of seven pitchers (plus a rehabbing Joe Thatcher): Greg Burke, Ernesto Frieri, Scott Munter, Luis Perdomo, Adam Russell, Ryan Webb and Mark Worrell. Russell came from the White Sox with Poreda in the Peavy trade, while Webb (Scott Hairston) and Worrell (Khalil Greene) are also products of trades.
• The Mariners were set to send 18-year-old outfielder Julio Morban to low Class A Clinton, but a late spring training injury put the kibosh on that. He tore a thumb ligament. "(Morban) came on strong in spring training," said Pedro Grifol, the organization's director of minor league operation. "But late in camp when he slid feet first into second base, he dragged his hand and jammed his thumb."
Morban, a hitting prodigy who signed out of the Dominican for $1.1 million in 2008, experienced a similar setback last season, when the club appeared set to challenge him and send him to Rookie-level Pulaski. Instead, he sprained his left shoulder and spent most of the summer serving as DH in the Arizona League.
In a similar fashion, 20-year-old third baseman Jharmidy DeJesus missed out on a full-season assignment as he recovered from shoulder surgery to repair the ACL joint. A shoulder ailment limited him to first base duty last summer with Pulaski. He signed with the Mariners out of the Dominican for $1 million in 2007.
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