1st week of Midwest League season a great one for Travis Blankenhorn of C.R. Kernels

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CEDAR RAPIDS — His future position is up for debate.

Travis Blankenhorn is a third baseman for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He played a lot of second base here last season.

Some believe he profiles as a left fielder. We’ll all find out eventually.

The only thing the 20-year-old Minnesota Twins prospect knows is he doesn’t care. Third base, second base, outfield, catcher, pitcher, meh.

As long as his manager writes his name on the lineup card, it’s good.

“Wherever they want me to be. That’s it,” said Blankenhorn, whose Kernels lost Friday night to Wisconsin, 3-2, in 10 innings at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The game’s start was delayed two hours by rain.

“I don’t worry about that,” Blankenhorn said. “Wherever they put me in the lineup, that’s where I’m going to play. I’m not going to say anything. I’m just going to go out and play.”

That’s the appropriate response, for sure. It’ll curry a lot of favor with the Twins brass.

The bottom line is Blankenhorn’s hit tool definitely will put him somewhere. He went into the weekend with 12 hits in his first 30 at-bats, a .400 batting average that placed him behind only Lansing’s Dante Bichette Jr. (.412) in the Midwest League.

He led the MWL in hits, extra-base hits and total bases and was second in home runs with three. It’s just a week into this thing, but that’s about as good of a start as you can get.

Blankenhorn went 0-for-4 here.

“First of all, he’s a good player, both sides of the ball,” said Kernels Manager Tommy Watkins. “He’s a hitter, that’s the bottom line. He has been aggressive in the zone, hasn’t had any passive at-bats at all. He’s just swinging at good pitches and not missing them. That’s the key to hitting. Getting a good pitch and not missing it.”

Blankenhorn was a shortstop for Pottsville Area High School, a third-round pick of the Twins in the 2015 draft. He’s got good size at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, and a left-handed swing that has mean intentions.

Baseball America magazine listed him as Minnesota’s No. 10 prospect coming into this season.

“The goal this year for me is just to be consistent,” Blankenhorn said. “Just try and stay consistent the whole year. Being in the middle of the lineup, I’m going to try and drive in some runs. Be consistent, be a good defensive player and just be a better overall player.”

He was promoted to Cedar Rapids from Rookie ball late last season and got into 25 games. He thinks that has helped him hit (pun intended) the ground running in 2017.

“I learned that the pitching is just overall a little bit better,” Blankenhorn said. “They know how to use their offspeed more. So, like, 2-0 counts, I’m going to get offspeed a lot more here than I would back at Elizabethton. I got a lot more 2-0 curveballs and changeups. Especially being in the middle of the lineup, I know I’m going to get a lot more offspeed.”

Demi Orimoloye hit a two-out, three-run home run in the 10th against losing relief pitcher Alex Robinson (0-1) for the win. It was a blast down the left-field line measured at 409 feet with an exit velocity of 109 miles per hour.

The Kernels (5-4) got a two-run home run from Aaron Whitefield in the bottom half of the inning, but it wasn’t quite enough. The starting pitchers dominated here: Sean Poppen of C.R. allowing two hits and striking out eight in 7 2/3 innings, Wisconsin’s Thomas Jankins allowing just one hit in six innings.

The teams play again Saturday afternoon at 5:05.

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

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