CEDAR RAPIDS – Major League Baseball’s amateur draft begins Thursday, and while it remains to be seen who the parent Minnesota Twins will select with the fourth pick, Wednesday night showcased two stars from last season’s draft.
Nearly 30 years after Tim Belcher of the old Madison Muskies took the mound against Kurt Stillwell and the Cedar Rapids Reds, the Midwest League again played host to the draft’s top two picks - Quad Cities shortstop Carlos Correa and Cedar Rapids star outfielder Byron Buxton.
Throw in the pregame announcement that both were elected starters on the Midwest League’s Western Division All-Star team, and you had a tasty match-up at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“Just thankful that I got selected for the All-Star team,” Buxton said before Cedar Rapids crushed Quad Cities, 14-5, in front of 1,885 fans. “We’ll be on the same All-Star team together so we’ll get to play together as teammates, but playing against each other, just going out and having fun, being able to play against the no. 1 pick.”
Buxton returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing the Kane County series with a bruised thumb and showed no ill effects. He got the better of the two stars, reaching base in every at-bat with a 5-for-6 night that included two singles, two triples, a double, and three runs scored. It was another star-making performance for the 19-year-old Georgia native, who raised his average to .348 to take over the league lead, finishing a homer shy of hitting for the cycle.
“Yeah, my last two at-bats, I took a few hacks,” Buxton said. “I felt pretty good tonight, I hit the ball, I hit the ball well. Considering I was off for three days with this thumb injury, I was well-rested. I was seeing the ball real good tonight, I hit the ball hard.”
Trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Kernels nearly batted around twice, sending 15 batters to plate, scoring 10 runs on 12 hits. The first nine batters in the inning had base hits, the last seven of which drove in a run.
Three other Kernels elected to start the All-Star game also had big nights. Dalton Hicks drove in four runs, Jorge Polanco had four hits with two RBIs and two runs scored, and Adam Brett Walker had an RBI double.
The Kernels tallied 21 hits and every starter drove in at least one run. Reliever Alex Muren (4-0) tossed 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief for the win.
Cedar Rapids (37-20) has rebounded nicely from last month’s six-game losing streak by winning six of seven and now lead second-place Beloit by 4 ½ games. Quad Cities (32-25) fell to third with the loss.
“We just had to get one win and we’ve been back on track and that’s what we did,” Buxton said. “So far we’ve been hitting the ball better and our pitching is getting better, and every day is always somebody new coming through.”
The Correa-Buxton matchup could have transpired earlier had Correa not missed 14 games with two stints on the disabled list, including an April series against Cedar Rapids. The native of Santa Isabel, P.R. had an RBI single and a strikeout in four at-bats.
“Yeah, thank God I’m fully healthy now,” said Correa, the first top pick to hail from Puerto Rico. “I feel good, I feel happy now that I made the All-Star game and stuff, and I just keep working hard, keep having a great season. Keep focused on what we’re doing.”
Correa and Buxton are the first high school position players selected one, two in the draft since Chipper Jones and Tony Clark in 1990.
“I just want to do everything, five tools,” said Correa, who signed for $1.2 million less than Buxton’s $6 million bonus. “That’s one of the strengths when I signed, my hitting obviously. I want to be a player that can do everything on the field.”
Correa dismissed the notion that his 6-foot-4 frame may necessitate a position switch at the next level.
“I’m working to be a shortstop, I want to be a shortstop,” Correa said. “I want to play shortstop so just working for it to keep my agility, my range, to stay at shortstop, and work on it. I will be able to play shortstop.”
Kernels’ infielders Travis Harrison and Niko Goodrum were elected as All-Star reserves, along with pitchers Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey.
“Well, it’s good for the kids, it’s good for them to get recognized,” Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said. “It’s something nice that the other managers in the league voted them in, so that’s always nice to get recognized and everything. Hope they go out there and have a good experience.”
Duffey, however, won’t be joining his mates in Dayton. The right-hander was promoted along with reliever Manuel Soliman to high-A Fort Myers (Fla.). To complete the 25-man roster, the Kernels promoted pitcher Christian Powell from extended spring training and signed free-agent pitcher Caleb Brewer.The teams play again Thursday at 6:30 p.m.