Kernels Class of 2018 “Should Be Pretty Entertaining”

It seems like just yesterday, doesn’t it?

Byron Buxton as a Cedar Rapids Kernel in 2013 (Photo: SD Buhr)

The Minnesota Twins and Cedar Rapids Kernels were entering the very first year of their brand new affiliation agreement in the spring of 2013 and there was plenty to be excited about with the baseball talent the Twins were planning to send through Cedar Rapids that season.

Three of that year’s Kernels had been handed signing bonuses of over $1 million and 11 more from their opening day roster that season had received six-figure bonuses. In short, it was as loaded as any Cedar Rapids roster had been in several years.

Optimism was high and not only for the Kernels. That Cedar Rapids class of 2013 represented, to many, the future of the Minnesota Twins franchise – a franchise that had fallen on tough times after nearly a decade of postseason participation.

As with any roster of Class A ballplayers, you don’t have to look too hard to find players that, despite being early round draft picks or well-regarded international free agents, would ultimately fall short of their goals of having successful Major League careers.

But you also don’t have to look far down that 2013 roster to find names that have since become part of the core group of players that led the Twins to a wild card berth in 2017, with even greater expectations for the next several seasons.

Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco were on that opening day roster in Cedar Rapids in 2013, as were pitchers Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers. Then there were two more mid-season additions to the Kernels that are also now playing major roles in Minnesota, Max Kepler and Jose Berrios.

But that was five years ago.

Several additional Cedar Rapids alumni are poised to contribute to whatever success the Twins have in the near future, as well, but that class of 2013 will long be remembered by Kernels fans.

But is it possible that the class of 2018 could end up being even better? It’s certainly not impossible.

The class of 2013 had Buxton, the Twins’ 2012 first round pick in the amateur draft (second selection overall), but ┬áthe 2018 Kernels roster will include a pair of first rounders.

Shortstop Royce Lewis, the first overall selection in 2017, will start the season in Cedar Rapids after suiting up for the Kernels for the final month of the 2017 season. He will be joined by the Twins’ first round pick in 2016, as well. Outfielder Alex Kirilloff missed last season after elbow surgery, but will wear a Kernels uniform on Opening Day this year.

Royce Lewis with the play at shortstop (Photo: SD Buhr)
Alex Kirilloff (Photo: SD Buhr)

That’s not bad for a start, but when you look over the Kernels’ roster, It’s easy to find plenty of other players who were highly touted draft picks and international signings.

That group includes two Compensation round picks, outfielder Akil Baddoo and infielder Jose Miranda, and a second rounder, catcher Ben Rortvedt (who spent 2017 in Cedar Rapids).

Kernels manager Toby Gardenhire and Akil Baddoo (Photo: SD Buhr)
Jose Miranda (Photo: SD Buhr)
Ben Rortvedt (Photo: SD Buhr)

Right handed pitcher Blayne Enlow was selected by the Twins in the third round of 2017’s draft and will open 2018 in Cedar Rapids’ rotation.

Blayne Enlow (Photo: SD Buhr)

Trey Cabbage, who is slated to be part of the Kernels’ outfield, but could also play the corner infield spots, is also returning to Cedar Rapids, where he finished the 2017 season. Cabbage was the Twins’ fourth round pick in 2015.

Trey Cabbage

The Kernels will have 2017 fifth round pick Andrew Bechtold at third base and┬áDavid Banuelos, who was Seattle’s fifth round pick in 2017, will share time with Rortvedt behind the plate. Banuelos was obtained by the Twins from the Mariners over the off-season in return for a million dollars worth if international bonus cap space.

Andrew Bechtold
David Banuelos

Lewis, Rortvedt and Cabbage aren’t the only Kernels alums who are returning to open the 2018 campaign.

Randy Dobnak, Bryan Sammons and Tyler Watson are all slated to open the season in Cedar Rapids’ starting rotation after seeing time with the Kernels last year.

Randy Dobnak (Photo: SD Buhr)
Bryan Sammons (Photo: Seth Stohs)
Tyler Watson (Photo: SD Buhr)

Logan Lombana and Ryan Mason return to the Kernels’ bullpen after playing key relief rolls for Cedar Rapids in 2017.

Logan Lombana (Photo: SD Buhr)
Ryan Mason (Photo: SD Buhr)

Infielder Jordan Gore and ouitfielder Shane Carrier also returning to Cedar Rapids to open the season.

Jordan Gore (Photo:SD Buhr)
Shane Carrier (Photo: SD Buhr)

Other players slated to suit up for the Kernels for the first time to start the season include pitchers Nick Brown, Edwar Colina, Calvin Faucher, Jared Finkel, Kevin Marnon, Jose Martinez and Jovani Moran.

They’ll be joined by first-time Kernels position players Ben Rodriguez (1B) and Mark Contreras (OF).

New Cedar Rapids manager Toby Gardenhire is optimistic about his Kernels and knows he’s being entrusted with a number of the Twins’ most prized young prospects.

“It should be a lot of fun. We’ve got a really good group of kids,” Gardenhire said as spring training was winding down. “They’ve been playing really hard and they’re ready to get (to Cedar Rapids), I know that.

“We’re definitely young, but there’s a lot of guys that have a lot of ability – a lot of talent, that the Twins think very highly of. It makes them fun to watch. I’ve been watching them all spring and we’ve got some exciting guys, so it should be pretty entertaining.”

Today’s Twins fans are hoping that Buxton, Kepler, Berrios and other Kernels alumni of the past five years will lead the parent club through a period of postseason success. Five years from now, will the Cedar Rapids class of 2018 be preparing to step in and join – or perhaps take over for – their predecessors?

Only time will tell.

But Kernels fans in Cedar Rapids will soon be getting a good opportunity to see just how good this next wave of young Twins prospects can look.

Kernels Rolling with Royce

Ever since the Minnesota Twins used the first overall pick of the 2017 amateur draft to select California high school shortstop Royce Lewis, fans or the Kernels and/or Twins in Cedar Rapids have been wondering if and when we’d get a first-hand look at the athletic 18-year-old.

On Saturday, when the Twins and Kernels announced that Lewis was being promoted from the Gulf Coast League Twins up to Cedar Rapids, skipping the normal interim stop at Elizabethton, we got our answer.

Manager Tommy Watkins had Lewis’ name in the leadoff spot on his lineup card Saturday night and again Sunday afternoon, as his team finished up a four-game series with Midwest League Western Division second-half leading Quad Cities.

Neither the Kernels nor their highly heralded new arrival disappointed the locals.

In his Kernels debut on Saturday, Lewis singled in each of his first four at-bats, finishing the night 4 for 5 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored. He accounted for four of his team’s 11 hits as they topped the River Bandits 9-1.

On Sunday, Lewis led off the bottom of the first with another single, then came around to score when number two hitter Aaron Whitefield launched a home run.

The Kernels sent seven batters to the plate in the first, scoring three runs, then did almost nothing at the plate for the next seven innings. They trailed QC 6-3 heading to the home half of the ninth.

The Kernels still haven’t made an out in their half of that inning of Sunday’s game.

Jimmy Kerrigan led off with a single and Lewin Diaz followed with one of his own. Caleb Hamilton worked a walk and Shane Carrier made it a 6-4 game with a single.

Trey Cabbage came back from an 0-2 count to work a walk that plated Diaz to make it 6-5.

Joe Cronin shot the first pitch he saw up the middle, scoring Hamilton and pinch runner Christian Cavaness and setting off a celebration as Cronin’s teammates mobbed him in the infield.

The arrival of Lewis and the inspired efforts the his new teammates could prove to be just what the Kernels need as they prepare for the postseason. The club’s pitching has generally been good enough to win games lately, with particularly effective work coming from the bullpen, but the offense has often struggled to score runs.

With Lewis and Whitefield at the top of the order, Shane Carrier riding a hot streak, Lewin Diaz continuing to 100+ mph rockets off his bat and, hopefully, Travis Blankenhorn back soon from the Disabled List, a playoff run is not at all out of the question.

It’s something to look forward to watching.

In the mean time, a few pictures from the Sunday and, no, they aren’t ALL of Royce Lewis!

Royce Lewis with a pregame bro-hug for Mr. Shucks
Royce Lewis
Manager Tommy Watkins congratulates Aaron Whitefield on his home run
Royce Lewis and Aaron Whitefield
Aaron Whitefield
Jordan Gore
Charlie Barnes
Joe Cronin
Charlie Barnes tags out a Quad Cities batter after a comebacker
Evan Sanders
Christian Cavaness scores the winning run
Kernels mobbing Joe Cronin after his walkoff single
Fans lineup for Royce Lewis’ autograph during the traditional Sunday autograph session
Royce Lewis signing autographs
Kernels autograph signings
Trey Cabbage signing autographs
Manager Tommy Watkins signing autographs