CEDAR RAPIDS — Some new, some old. Just like every season.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels arrived in town Monday afternoon from spring training in Florida, and about half of the 25-man, opening-day roster includes familiar names and faces.
Thirteen players spent time here last Midwest League season, including half of the six-man, starting pitching rotation. The Kernels open the season with games Thursday and Friday at Beloit, hosting the Snappers in the home opener Saturday afternoon at 5:05.
“One through nine, we’ll definitely compete,” Manager Tommy Watkins. “The pitchers will throw it over. Defensively, we played really well in spring training. We swung the bats well. I think overall we’ll do a little bit of everything. I think they’ll be a fun group to watch.”
Watkins was a hitting coach for Cedar Rapids its first three years as a Minnesota Twins affiliate, spending time last season at Double-A Chattanooga. This is his first chance to manage at the professional level.
He said the most-days lineup will include returnees Jermaine Palacios (shortstop), Jaylin Davis (outfield) and Travis Blankenhorn (third base). Blankenhorn, who played mostly second base last season, hit .293 with 10 home runs in just 59 games at two minor-league stops.
Outfielder Christian Cavaness and infielder Brandon Lopez also had stints last season in Cedar Rapids. The newbies include 6-foot-3, 254-pound first baseman Lewin Diaz (.310 with nine homers last season in Rookie ball) and Australian outfielder Aaron Whitefield, whom Watkins said can really go get the baseball in center field.
Whitefield swiped 31 bags in just 51 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season.
Outfielder Shane Carrier and infielder Ariel Montesino also are Kernels position players. The catching corps consists of Ben Rortvedt, Caleb Hamilton and Mitchell Kranson.
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Rortvedt is the highest draft pick on the team. He was a second-rounder of the Twins last year out of Verona High School in Wisconsin.
“The chemistry part, I think we’ve really bonded as a team,” Rortvedt said.
Holdover Eduardo Del Rosario will be the starting pitcher opening night at Beloit. The right-hander went 6-2 with a 3.45 earned run average in 16 starts last season for Cedar Rapids.
He’ll be followed in an all right-handed rotation by (in order) Tyler Wells, Sean Poppen, Alex Schick, Clark Beeker and Tyler Beardsley. Poppen and Beardsley pitched for the Kernels late last season.
Expect righty sidearmer Tom Hackimer to be a primary closer. He had five saves and a 2.31 ERA in 21 relief appearances last season for the Kernels.
Brady Anderson, Max Cordy, Andrew Vasquez and Colton Davis pitched late last season for the Kernels and return. Anderson was a starter but will convert to long relief.
Also in this year’s bullpen are lefties Alex Robinson and Hector Lujan. Zack Tillery, who had 28 appearances here in 2015 and six starts here last season, was supposed to break with the club but likely will begin the season on the disabled list after incurring a biceps injury very late in spring training.
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