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Buxton Off To Torrid Start As Kernels Take To Road

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Baseball America magazine ranks its top minor-league teams periodically, and it's rankings after April have the Minnesota Twins all over them.

The Twins' high-Class A affiliate Fort Myers is BA's top-ranked team. The Miracle have the minors' best record of 21-4.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota's low-A affiliate) are ranked No. 2 on the list. Cedar Rapids took a nine-game win streak and 18-5 record into its game Wednesday night at West Michigan.

Here is the writeup from Baseball America's J.J. Cooper:

Led By Miguel Sano, Fort Myers Stands As April's Top Team

No minor league team had a better April than the Fort Myers Miracle.

It's a pretty easy claim to make. The Miracle finished April with the best record in the minors, 21-4. They are third in the minors in run differential (+50) and fifth in runs scored despite playing in the high Class A Florida State League, where runs are scarce. As you would expect, the four teams ranked above them are all clubs that play either in the California or Pacific Coast leagues, far and away the two highest-scoring leagues in the minors.

And the Miracle have done it behind the hitting of one of the top prospects in the game, third baseman Miguel Sano. The 19-year-old leads all of minor league baseball with nine home runs. In itself, that isn't all that surprising. Sano threatened the Appalachian League home run record when he launched 20 for Elizabethton in 2011. Last year, he led the Midwest League with 28 for Beloit.

But what Sano is doing in Fort Myers is nearly unprecedented for an FSL hitter because of how difficult it is to hit home runs in the spacious parks and ever-present humidity. He has more home runs than one FSL team (Dunedin) and has equaled another (Jupiter).

While the modern single-season home run record for every other full-season league is 40 or more, Jim Fuller's 33 home runs in 1971 is still the FSL standard. If Sano can come close to equaling his April rate, he ought to challenge that mark.

As good as Sano has been offensively, he's also making strides defensively. Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz and Twins infield coordinator Paul Molitor have worked to get Sano to set up a few steps farther back at third base. By playing deeper, Sano is getting eaten up by in-between hops less often, while his double-plus arm gives him a little extra time to get to a ball and still make a timely throw.

Sano has gotten plenty of help. Second baseman Eddie Rosario is hitting for average and power (.346/.386/.583). The catcher combination of Kyle Knudson (.400/.481/.578) and Matt Koch (.364/.453/.473) has been equally impressive.

"The reason they are off to good start is they have players who are there to win," Twins farm director Brad Steil said. "They're playing together and they never think they are out of the game. They've had guys getting on base at the top of the lineup, and Rosario and Sano have done a good job of getting them in."

The Fantastic Five

It's been a great first month for the Twins. While the big league club has been a better than expected 11-12, it's in the minors that Minnesota has had plenty to celebrate. Not only does it have the winningest team in the minors in April, they also have the No. 2 club in the low Class A Cedar Rapids (18-5).

And if Sano's nine home-run April has caught the eye of scouts, then top prospect outfielder Byron Buxton has been arguably even more impressive in his full-season debut. Playing for Cedar Rapids, Buxton leads the Midwest League with a 1.194 OPS thanks to his .392/.510/.684 line that includes four home runs, nine steals and more walks (19) than strikeouts (17).