Baseball Notebook: Our players, pitchers of the year

Kernels pitcher Hector Lujan throws a pitch during practice at a Kernels pre-season meet and greet at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Kernels players mingled with fans, signed autographs and showed off their skills on the field during an open practice. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Kernels pitcher Hector Lujan throws a pitch during practice at a Kernels pre-season meet and greet at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Kernels players mingled with fans, signed autographs and showed off their skills on the field during an open practice. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There’s a week to go in the regular season for most of the minor leagues and a month to go in the major league season. So it seems the perfect time to pick our bests of 2017.

Here we go:

Local/Area Position Player of the Year

Got to be Scott Schebler. The former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep has hit 25 home runs this season for the Cincinnati Reds, a total that probably would have been higher had he not injured a shoulder making a diving catch in a June game.

He tried to play through the injury, saw his offensive numbers plummet and finally went on the disabled list a couple of weeks ago. He has returned and went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, coming up a double shy of the cycle Friday night against Pittsburgh.

Local/Area Pitcher of the Year

That would be a tie between former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Mitch Keller and former Cedar Rapids Washington product A.J. Puk. They’re both considered among the top 50 minor league prospects: Keller with Double-A Altoona and Puk with Double-A Midland.

Right-hander Keller is 1-1 with a 3.13 earned run average in four starts since being promoted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lefty Puk leads the minors with 166 strikeouts this season in 112 1/3 innings. Barring injury, you’ll see both guys in the big leagues, perhaps as soon as next season.

Cedar Rapids Kernels Position Player of the Year

Tough call here, in part because some candidates got promoted to high-Class A Fort Myers at the start of the second half. Of the guys who have been in Cedar Rapids all season, you could make a case for outfielder Aaron Whitefield and infielder Travis Blankenhorn, without question.

But my vote goes to big first baseman Lewin Diaz.


The 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic was hitting .287 in 116 games through Friday, with team highs in doubles (32), home runs (12) and RBIs (66). His defensive game has noticeably improved as well. The kid’s got a chance.

Cedar Rapids Kernels Starting Pitcher of the Year

Sean Poppen was consistent from the first day of the season until he got promoted to Fort Myers in early August. Tyler Wells was mostly dominant in the starts he made between a pair of visits to the disabled list. But it’s got to be Clark Beeker.

The right-hander went 11-3 with a 2.03 ERA in 20 starts before getting the call to the Florida State League last week. When he left, he was carrying a shutout streak of 32 2/3 innings.

Beeker doesn’t throw hard and probably isn’t much of a prospect, but the way he went about his craft was impressive. Move the ball in and out, up and down, change speeds and pump the zone with strikes. That’s pitching, and it was beautfiul to watch.

Cedar Rapids Kernels Reliever of the Year

Tom Hackimer was great before his promotion to Fort Myers. Alex Robinson was just plain fun to watch, pumping high-90s gas from the left side before he got moved up. Andrew Vasquez has had an awesome season for the Kernels and Miracle. But this vote goes to Hector Lujan.

The righty had a 5.30 career ERA in his first two seasons but is 3-1 with 16 saves and a 1.41 ERA in 40 games this season for C.R. He has allowed just 40 hits in 51 innings and struck out 51, attacking hitters with a cutter and low to mid-90s fastball.

The guy has definitely made the parent Minnesota Twins stand up and take notice of what he has done in 2017.


Jake Adams (University of Iowa) — First baseman’s batting average down to .169 in 42 games for Short Season-A Tri-City (Astros). Has eight home runs and 18 RBIs.


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Joel Booker (University of Iowa) — Outfielder had three hits in his game Friday night for high-A Winston-Salem (White Sox). Hitting .227 in 50 games for the Dash and .277 in 115 games this season with Winston-Salem and low-A Kannapolis.

Matt Dermody (University of Iowa) — Lefty reliever has picked up his first major league win this season for the Toronto Blue Jays. Is 1-0 with an 8.64 ERA in eight games, spending the majority of the season with Triple-A Buffalo.

Ryan Erickson (University of Iowa) — Pitcher has no record, two saves and a 7.31 ERA in 12 games for Arizona Rookie League White Sox.

Blake Hickman (University of Iowa) — Pitcher placed on the disabled list with low-A Kannapolis (White Sox). Has 4-6 record and 4.08 ERA in 15 starts.

Jon Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier) — Pitcher is 0-1 with a save and 7.04 ERA for high-A Frederick (Orioles).

Mitch Keller (Cedar Rapids Xavier) — Pitcher has allowed two earned runs in each of his four starts since being promoted to Double-A Altoona (Pirates). Went six innings in each of his first two starts, five in each of his last two.

Derrick Loveless (Solon) — Outfielder holding his own with Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays), hitting .253 in 64 games, with a homer and 22 RBIs.

Mason McCoy (University of Iowa) — Shortstop still over the magic .300 mark (.301) in 44 games at Short Season-A Aberdeen (Orioles). Has a homer, 26 RBIs and more walks (24) than strikeouts (22).


Tyler Peyton (University of Iowa) — Pitcher hasn’t given up a run in his last two appearances for low-A South Bend (Cubs), lowering his ERA to 3.43 in 16 games, four starts. Has 3-3 record and a save.

A.J. Puk (Cedar Rapids Washington) — Six innings, one run and seven strikeouts for lefty pitcher in his last start for Double-A Midland (Athletics). Has 2-3 record, 4.91 ERA in 11 starts, with 68 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings overall for RockHounds.

Scott Schebler (Cedar Rapids Prairie) — Cincinnati Reds outfielder went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and a double short of the cycle Friday night. Has .236 batting average in 108 games, with 25 homers and 50 RBIs.

Jake Yacinich (University of Iowa) — Shortstop hitting .269 in 85 games for high-A Inland Empire (Angels), with five homers and 27 RBIs.

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