Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids is prospect city this minor league baseball season

C.R. Kernels arrive in town, including pair of 1st-round draft picks

CEDAR RAPIDS — The temperature was 87 degrees early Sunday afternoon in Fort Myers, Fla., home of the Minnesota Twins spring training complex.

When the Cedar Rapids Kernels arrived in town later Sunday afternoon from that complex, it was not 87 degrees. Not even half that.

Try 31, officially. Welcome to the Midwest League in April, boys.

“I’ve never felt this before,” shivered Royce Lewis, as he and his teammates unpacked their gear in the home clubhouse at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “This is bone chilling right now.”

Lewis is a Southern California kid who has never had to play baseball in this kind of weather. Most of his teammates are in the same freezing boat.

Then there’s second-year catcher Ben Rortvedt. He was playing high school ball in Wisconsin two years ago at this time.

This is nothing to him.

“They were all looking at the weather earlier this week in spring training and seeing it was supposed to be really cold,” Rortvedt said, with a smile. “Some of them were acting tough, acting like it’s not that cold. But they’re standing 10 minutes outside, and they are freezing their (butts) off.”

It’s part of development for a club that is chock full of prospects. Eight players on the opening-night roster are ranked among Baseball America’s top 30 Twins minor leaguers, with others on that list being held back in extended spring training but likely to play for the Kernels at some point this season.

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The best-known guy, of course, is shortstop Lewis, the top-overall pick in last June’s MLB Draft. The 18-year-old was promoted from Rookie ball late last season and impressed with his ability and off-the-charts makeup and demeanor.

It wouldn’t have been outrageous for him to start this season in high-Class A, which is in Fort Myers, but the Twins wanted him to get used to, what else, playing in cold weather.

“I’m most excited for the full season. Playing 140 games,” Lewis said. “I know I’ve got a couple of days off scheduled (already). Trying to take advantage of recuperating my body, getting ready for the full season. Trying to play to the best of my ability.”

Lewis isn’t the only first-rounder on this team. Outfielder Alex Kiriloff was Minnesota’s top draft pick in 2016, a home-schooled kid from Pennsylvania who missed last season after having Tommy John elbow surgery.

He is third on Baseball America’s list of Twins prospects.

“This team as a whole has been a lot of fun, so far,” Kiriloff said. “Seeing us throughout spring training, I feel like we’ve got a chance to be something special. I’m excited about this group, it’s a great group of guys. They are fun to be around.”

Akil Baddoo (11th on BA’s prospect list) should be the most-day’s center fielder for C.R., with Shane Carrier, Mark Contreras and Trey Cabbage also seeing time in the outfield. Cabbage and Ben Rodriguez will play first base, with Jose Miranda (24th prospect) at second, Andrew Bechtold (25) at third and Jordan Gore as a versatile utility type infielder.

Rortvedt and David Banuelos (28) are the team’s catchers. Rortvedt is one of 10 guys who saw time last season with the Kernels, joining Cabbage, Gore, Lewis, Carrier and pitchers Logan Lombana, Ryan Mason, Bryan Sammons, Tyler Watson and Randy Dobrak.

Sammons is expected to start opening night at Quad Cities. Watson is Baseball America’s 20th-ranked Twins prospect and fellow starter Blayne Enlow ninth.

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The home opener is Saturday afternoon against QC, which features former University of Iowa slugging first baseman Jake Adams.

“We’ve got a good group of kids,” said first-year Manager Toby Gardenhire, son of Detroit Tigers Manager Ron Gardenhire. “We’re young, for sure, but talented. A lot of guys the organization thinks pretty highly of, so it should be a lot of fun. I know it’s going to be fun to watch. I’m looking forward to getting them out on the field and seeing what they can do.”

“I was saying I feel like the Yankees this year,” Lewis said. “They got Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and all those people. We’ve got all our boys. We’re hoping we can get a lot of wins out here, have a lot of fun. It’s a good young core. It’s going to be fun.”

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

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