Baseball is back. Minor-league baseball, that is.
For the first time since September 2019, baseball will be played down on the farm. And the landscape in 2021 is a bit different than it was a couple years ago.
There are fewer teams and gone are longtime circuits such as the International League, Southern League, etc., replaced by generic designations such as Triple-A East, Double-A Central and so on.
Need a reminder of where the Minnesota Twins minor-league teams are located? And which prospects are playing where? We’ve got you covered.
TRIPLE-A: ST. PAUL SAINTS
As we know, there’s a long history of baseball in St. Paul. The Saints played for five seasons in the state’s capital from 1894-99 before they were moved to Chicago and became the White Sox. In 1901, another team named the St. Paul Saints was born. St. Paul competed in the American Association from 1901-60 and served as a farm club for several MLB teams, often playing the rival Minneapolis Millers right down the road, which is the inspiration for the Minnesota Twins’ “Minnie and Paul” logo. In 1993, under the ownership of Mike Veeck and actor Bill Murray, the current Saints franchise was formed. St. Paul competed in the Northern League for 12 campaigns before starting up the American Association, another independent league, in 2005. The franchise was known more for its wacky promotions -- like starting a game at 5 a.m. on May 8, 2005 -- than baseball, although the Saints won an American Association title in 2019.
However, when MLB realigned its minor leagues ahead of the 2021 season, Minnesota ended its 18-year affiliation with the Rochester Red Wings and added the Saints as its Triple-A teammate. CHS Field -- the Saints’ home park -- is now the closest Triple-A affiliate to its MLB parent club, a mere 12.6 miles apart.
Toby Gardenhire: The son of former Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, Toby played seven seasons in the Twins system from 2005-11 but never made it to The Show. He coached for five years at UW-Stout before joining Minnesota’s minor-league coaching staff in 2017. In 2020, Gardenhire was named the manager of the Triple-A Red Wings. Since that season was canceled, Gardenhire will make his managerial Triple-A debut Tuesday night.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jhoan Duran, RHP: Acquired from Arizona in the Eduardo Escobar trade in 2018. … In 2019, logged a 5-12 record, 3.76 ERA and 136 K in 115 IP. … Listed as the Twins’ No. 2 pitching prospect by MLB.com. … Has a fastball that can reach triple-digits on the radar gun to go along with a “splinker,” a splitter-sinker hybrid.
Trevor Larnach, OF: A first-round draft pick by the Twins in 2018 (No. 20 overall). … Minnesota’s third-ranked prospect by MLB.com. … In 2019, registered a .309/.384/.458 slash line with 13 homers and 30 doubles at High-A and Double-A.
Brent Rooker, OF: 35th overall pick by Minnesota in 2017. … Made the Twins’ opening day roster in 2021 but was optioned to Triple-A after batting .103 (3 for 29) in eight games. … Registered a .281/.398/.535 slash line with 14 homers in 65 games at Triple-A in 2019.
DOUBLE-A: WICHITA WIND SURGE
The New Orleans Baby Cakes (formerly known as the New Orleans Zephyrs) were an affiliate of the Miami Marlins from 2009-19 before moving to Wichita ahead of the 2020 campaign. With the move to Kansas brought a name change -- Wind Surge -- along with a new logo which features the mythical winged horse from Greek mythology, Pegasus.
Wichita was set to play as Miami’s Triple-A affiliate in 2020 before the season was canceled. When MLB reorganized the minor leagues in 2021, the Wind Surge dropped down one level and will take the Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ place as the Twins’ Double-A partner.
The Wind Surge will play at Riverfront Stadium in downtown Wichita and will compete in the Double-A Central.
Ramon Borrego: Borrego will be the first manager in Wind Surge history, but he’s no stranger to the Twins organization. He played in Minnesota’s minor-league system from 1996-2002 and is entering his 12th season as a manager in the organization. In 2019, Borrego led Pensacola to a 76-63 record and the playoff semifinals in his first season at the Double-A level.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Gilberto Celestino, OF: Ranked as the Twins’ No. 8 overall prospect (No. 3 OF) by MLB.com. … Batted .277/.349/.410 with 10 homers and 54 RBI at Low-A and High-A in 2019. … Went 4 for 15 (.267) with two doubles in 12 exhibition games this spring.
Jose Miranda, INF: Plays mostly 2B and 3B. … Ranked as Minnesota’s No. 19 overall prospect by MLB.com. … Wasn’t protected on the 40-man roster in the offseason but wasn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft. … Logged a .252/.302/.369 slash line in 119 games at High-A and Double-A in 2019.
Josh Winder, RHP: Seventh-round pick out of the Virginia Military Institute in 2018. … Stands 6-foot-5, 210 pounds. … Can consistently reach 98 mph with the fastball. … In 2019, tallied a 7-2 record, 2.65 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings at Low-A.
HIGH-A: CEDAR RAPIDS KERNELS
Minnesota’s Low-A affiliate since 2013, Cedar Rapids gets bumped to High-A in 2021. The Kernels will play in the High-A Central League, residing in the West Division along with Beloit (Marlins), Peoria (Cardinals), Quad Cities (Royals), South Bend (Cubs) and Wisconsin (Brewers).
There’s a long history of baseball in Cedar Rapids with the first minor-league team in 1890. Among the nicknames used over the years have been Bunnies, Canaries, Rabbits, Raiders and Rockets.
The Kernels started playing in a rebuilt Veterans Memorial Stadium in 2002.
Brian Dinkelman: An eighth-round draft pick of the Twins in 2006, Dinkelman played in 23 games for Minnesota in 2011. He managed Cedar Rapids to a 78-62 record in 2019.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matt Canterino, RHP: Ranked as the Twins’ No. 3 pitching prospect by MLB.com. … A second-round pick out of Rice University in 2019. … Has a four-pitch mix of a fastball, changeup, curveball and slider. … Projected to be a starter in the big leagues. … Allowed four earned runs in 25 IP (1.44 ERA) in seven starts two years ago.
Blayne Enlow, RHP: A third-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2017. … Ranked as the organization’s fourth-best pitching prospect by MLB.com. … Logged an 8-7 record, 3.82 ERA in 21 appearances (20 starts) at Low-A and High-A in 2019.
Matt Wallner, OF: Smacked 54 home runs over three seasons (2017-19) at Southern Mississippi, which ranks first in program history. … Drafted 39th overall in 2019 by Minnesota. … Batted .258/.357/.452 with eight homers in 65 games for Elizabethton (Rookie ball) and Low-A Cedar Rapids in 2019.
LOW-A: FORT MYERS MIGHTY MUSSELS
Formerly the Fort Myers Miracle, the affiliate for the Twins since 1993 changed their name last year to the much more interesting Mighty Mussels. Since no baseball was played in 2020 in the minors, this will be the first actual season with the new nickname.
That’s not the only change for Fort Myers. The team has been a High-A club since joining the Minnesota organization, but this year moves down a slot to Low-A.
The Mighty Mussels will be in the Low-A Southwest League’s West Division, along with Bradenton (Pirates), Clearwater (Phillies), Dunedin (Blue Jays), Lakeland (Tigers) and Tampa (Yankees).
Brian Meyer: Meyer was Fort Myers’ hitting coach but was tabbed in mid-April to be manager. Aaron Sutton, who had been manager, decided to leave baseball in late March. Meyer played and worked in college baseball for 13 years before being hired by the Twins in 2020.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Keoni Cavaco, SS: First-round pick (No. 19 overall) in 2019. … Debuted that same year with the Twins’ Gulf Coast League team and hit .172 with one home run in 92 plate appearances. … Won’t turn 20 years old until June 2.
Aaron Sabato, 1B: First-round pick (No. 27 overall) in 2020 will be making his pro debut. … In 2019 at North Carolina hit .343/.453/.696 with 18 HR and 63 RBI in 64 games. … In 19 games last season hit .292/.478/.708 with seven homers.
Yunior Severino, 2B/SS: Signed out of the Dominican Republic and debut as a pro at age 17 in 2017. … Has shown power at an early age, owning a .438 slugging percentage with 12 home runs in 103 games in rookie ball. … Played in 28 games in 2019, 22 at Low-A Cedar Rapids.