Kernels catcher Garver working on his defense

Cedar Rapids blasts Wisconsin, 15-5

CEDAR RAPIDS – Offense is not a problem for Mitch Garver. That much has become obvious by this point in the season.

But what’s going to make his professional baseball career is what he does behind the plate, not just at it.

“In my opinion, he’s going to hit. No doubt about that,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, whose team blasted Wisconsin, 15-5, Tuesday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “How long of a career he is going to have is going to depend on how good he is (catching). There are a lot of guys up there (in the big leagues) that are making a bunch of money that don’t have his offensive ability. If we can get him to the point where his defense is as good as his offense, now all of a sudden you’ve got something. He’s going to have a chance to play for a long, long time.”

Garver went 2-for-6 with an RBI as the Kernels (37-50, 6-11) generally assaulted Wisconsin’s pitching staff. Cedar Rapids had 19 hits, at least one from each starter, including a 4-for-4, four RBI game from J.D. Williams

The teams play the second of their three-game series Wednesday night at 6:35.

A ninth-round draft pick of the parent Twins last June out of the University of New Mexico, Garver leads the Kernels in virtually every significant statistic. He has 18 doubles and 47 RBIs and ranks top 10 in the Midwest League in average (.304) and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging).

Yet he has caught in only 35 of his 73 games, spending much of his time as a designated hitter.

“Offensively, I’ve been able to put up some numbers that I was kind of expecting out of myself,” Garver said. “I set a few goals this season. I wanted to make the all-star game, but that didn’t quite work out … I also wanted to hit .300 and throw out 40 percent of basestealers. I feel like I’m getting better behind the plate, feeling more confident. Learning how to control a staff. All the things are kind of adding up together.”

Garver has not caught since being activated from the disabled list a little more than a week ago after incurring a concussion on a foul tip that also cut his chin bad enough to require stitches. You can guarantee he’ll be back doing it before long, though, because he needs the time.

“Catching wise, he is improving,” Mauer said. “He has gotten a lot better, throwing especially. He has gotten way better there. You are starting to see some of his leadership abilities, and that’s what we need him to do. Really take over and run the pitching staff.”

“I’m always going to hit, hopefully,” Garver said. “It’s just a matter of how I can separate my defense from my offensive approach. Being more controlling, more assertive, more vocal as a defensive leader. That’s where I want to take leaps and bounds moving ahead, my defense.”

The Kernels placed shortstop Engelb Vielma on the disabled list Tuesday. He suffered a freak concussion in Sunday’s game after being hit in the back of the head by leaping teammate Williams while they chased a bloop single.

Infielder Logan Wade is expected to be activated from the DL to replace him. He has been at the Twins’ minor-league complex in Fort Myers, Fla., rehabbing.

The Kernels have had players serve stints on the DL a whopping 16 times this season. They have had 44 players get into games, including reliever Jake Reed, who made his debut Tuesday night.

Pitcher Chih-Wei Hu will make it 45 when he gets his first start, perhaps Thursday night.

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