Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher Tanner Kiest gets 2nd chance after release, drug suspension, extensive indy ball travels

CEDAR RAPIDS — He believed.

Through the myriad of different uniforms, through being in seemingly every independent league you could ever think of, through a release and a 50-game suspension he received for failing a drug test, Tanner Kiest believed. The Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher always had faith he would get another shot at affiliated baseball.

He’s determined not to throw it away, no pun intended.

“I never gave up,” Kiest said. “There were some times where I thought it wasn’t going to work. But I stayed faithful and just kept going.”

Kept going until the Minnesota Twins signed him to a contract over the winter. Kiest made his first appearance Thursday night with the Kernels, getting the start against Wisconsin.

It was a no-decision, yet a huge victory for the 23-year-old right-hander from Yucaipa, Calif.

“I don’t think I took the path anyone necessarily wants to take,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve learned a lot from it. I am definitely very happy to be here. It just feels good.”

Kiest’s baseball career has literally been all over the place.

He pitched his freshman year at Riverside Community College in California, his sophomore year at Chaffey junior college in the state. The Philadelphia Phillies drafted him in the 28th round in 2014, and he signed with them, spending two mediocre seasons in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

Kiest got released in late August 2015, then it was announced publicly in March 2016 that he had failed a drug test administered late in the 2015 season. It was the second time he had tested positive for a drug abuse, which meant a 50-game suspension.

That was “if” he ever got signed by another major league team.

Kiest tooled around the country in the summer of 2016 to try and make that happen. He pitched for the Florence (S.C.) Freedom of the Frontier League, the Sussex County (N.J.) Miners of the Can-Am League and the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs of the American Association.

Last summer, he found himself in Michigan, pitching for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of something called the United Shore Professional Baseball League. He threw a fastball in a game there clocked at 99 miles per hour.

That’ll get the attention of MLB teams, and the Twins were one of them. Intrigued with Kiest’s arm, they contacted him in November and offered him a contract in January of 2018, despite knowing he couldn’t pitch for any of their minor-league affiiates until at least late May.

“That phone call was exciting,” Kiest said. “I was standing there with my mom. We just talked about never giving up and stuff like that. A lot of work yet to do. There have been some ups and downs, but hopefully we can finish with some ups.”

Kiest’s first Kernels appearance lasted only three innings, and he struggled with control, but he was “back.” Out of extended spring training and officially back in affiliated ball.

“Extended can be a little brutal, monotonous. I was happy to get out of there,” he said. “But more grateful than anything to get that (suspension) out of the way. Grateful to the Twins, definitely.

“Though all this, I learned not to take anything for granted. You get a lot of time to reflect on what’s important and what’s not. I just think I gained overall maturity.”

Brusdar Graterol on the DL

The Kernels announced Saturday that pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol has been placed on the seven-day disabled list with a right hand contusion.

Graterol, whose fastball has been clocked as high as 101 miles per hour, had a 2-1 record and 1.78 earned-run average in five starts this season. He missed the 2016 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery.

To replace him on the active roster, the Kernels activated pitcher Bryan Sammons from the DL.

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Midwest League playoff talk

There are two weeks left in the Midwest League’s first half, which means it’s time to take a hard look at the standings in each division.

Going into Saturday, only eight games separated Western Division-leading Peoria and last-place Burlington. The Chiefs had a half-game lead on Clinton, a game lead on Quad Cities and two-game lead on Kane County. Cedar Rapids was 4 1/2 back.

In the Eastern Division, Lansing had a league-best 36-19 record, a game up on Bowling Green and 7 1/2 ahead of West Michigan. Great Lakes already was eliminated from playoff contention.

The top two teams in each division in each half qualify for the MWL playoffs in September.

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

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