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Minor League Notebook: Former Hawkeye Joel Booker off to great pro start

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CEDAR RAPIDS — There is no stop sign for Joel Booker.

"I’ve got a great light," the Great Falls Voyagers outfielder said. "When I get on base, I just run. That definitely feels good. I’ve always got the mindset that I’m going."

Booker has gone and gone and gone since turning professional in late June. The former Iowa Hawkeye speedster has 33 stolen bases in 48 games for two Rookie-level teams in the Chicago White Sox farm system.

Chicago’s 22nd-round draft pick this year, Booker was 26 for 27 in stolen-base attempts for the Arizona Rookie League White Sox and seven for nine since being promoted to Great Falls of the Pioneer League. His total is higher than any other player in half-season ball.

Of course, you’ve got to get on base to steal bases, and Booker has done a lot of that. He hit .296 in 33 games in the AZL and went into Saturday with a .323 average in 15 games at Great Falls.

Needless to say, it has been a great start to his career.

“Surreal,” Booker said. “I expected to play OK, but my previous experiences with wood bats, I didn’t do that great.”

Learning to swing a wood bat takes time for many guys. They’re generally heavier and have a smaller sweet spot than aluminum bats that are used in high school and college.

But Booker, 22, apparently has made the adjustment. He rebounded from a subpar junior season to hit .370 this past spring for Iowa, leading to him getting drafted.

Interestingly, he had only 23 stolen bases in 56 games this spring for the Hawkeyes.

“I shortened up my swing a lot,” Booker said. “During my college career, my swing was a lot longer. But my senior year, I worked hard to really shorten it up, and that helped a lot.”

Booker has played almost strictly center field since turning pro, but has previous experience at playing the corners, which should help him as he continues to advance in the minor leagues. Versatility is key.

The White Sox wanted him to attend their fall instructional league in Arizona, but he has elected to return to school to finish off the three classes he needs to obtain his degree in sociology. He was asked if he feels he has made a good impression on Chicago already.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t worry about that. All I can do is go out and play hard. If they notice me, they notice me.”

A NEW CEDAR RAPIDIAN

First-year Cedar Rapids Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman and his wife have decided Cedar Rapids is a pretty good place. The couple have purchased a home on the southwest wide of town and will remain here full time.

Dinkelman is a Centralia, Ill., native and played college baseball at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., before turning professional. He played 23 games in the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins in 2011.

Dinkelman’s sister also lives in the area, working at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

BONILLA TO THE BIG LEAGUES

Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said 2015 pitching coach Henry Bonilla will join the big-league Twins once his season at high-A Fort Myers is completed.

Minnesota “promotes” a pair of its minor league staff each season to observe and get a feel for the major leagues. Mauer got the opportunity last season.

Joining Bonilla in September is Gulf Coast League Twins Manager Ramon Borrego.

How They're Doing

Scott Schebler (Cedar Rapids Prairie): Has struggled since being recalled to Cincinnati Reds and given everyday outfield spot. Hitting .179 in 36 games, with two home runs and 12 RBIs.
Matt Dermody (University of Iowa): Relief pitcher has no record and a 2.53 earned run average in 10 relief appearances for Triple-A Buffalo (Blue Jays). Is 3-1 with a 1.66 ERA and three saves in 42 appearances this season at three levels of the minors.
Jon Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier): Is 0-1 with a 1.76 ERA in four starts at high-A Frederick (Orioles). Has allowed just seven hits and struck out 19 in 15/1 3 innings. Also has spent time at Double-A Bowie.
Mitch Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier): Threw a two-hit shutout Friday night for Class A West Virginia (Pirates) in the first game of a double-header against Kannapolis. Is 8-5 with a 2.56 ERA in 22 starts this season, allowing just 93 hits and 16 walks in 119 1/3 innings. Also has 124 strikeouts.
Derrick Loveless (Solon): Outfielder hitting .212 in 45 games at Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays), with seven homers and 18 RBIs.
Jake Yacinich (University of Iowa): Shortstop remains on the disabled list for Class A Burlington (Angels). Was hitting .241 in 51 games, with four home runs and 27 RBIs.
Kris Goodman (University of Iowa): Outfielder was released last week by the Florida Marlins. Hit a combined .215 in 42 games this season at Class A Greensboro and Shortseason-A Batavia. Was a career .223 hitter in 72 career professional games.
Nick Roscetti (University of Iowa): Shortstop continues to be on the disabled list for high-A Brevard County (Brewers).
Eric Toole (University of Iowa): Outfielder hitting .253 in 23 games for Shortseason-A Boise (Rockies). Has seven RBIs.
A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids Washington): First-round pick of Oakland Athletics threw 3 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts in his start last week for Shortseason-A Vermont. Is 0-2 in seven starts, with 27 strikeouts in 20 innings.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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