Minor League Sports

Top draft pick Royce Lewis continues to shine with Cedar Rapids Kernels

Kernels complete sweep of South Bend Cubs

CEDAR RAPIDS — Don’t take away Royce Lewis, yet. Please.

The shortstop and first-overall pick of last year’s MLB Draft is really playing well right now for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He went 2-for-3 with a walk and RBI in Thursday night’s 6-5 win over the South Bend Cubs at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The only out he made was a deep flyball to the warning track in right-center field. Defensively, he’s been rock steady as well.

The biggest question from Minnesota Twins fans and everyone else is how long the 18-year-old wunderkind will last in the Midwest League before he ultimately gets the promotion to high-Class A. When you’ve got a .354 batting average, that question gets asked louder and louder by more and more people.

“I just keep that out of my mind, because it’s not necessary,” Lewis said. “I can only control the controllables. What I can control is trying to get more hits. I’m just trying to get a win at the end of the day. Tonight was a good one.”

Kernels Manager Toby Gardenhire wouldn’t bite when asked if he feels Lewis is ready for another challenge.

“That’s above my pay grade to decide that,” he said with a smile. “I mean, he’s playing well. He is swinging the bat well, his defense is definitely improving. He does a nice job with his hands. He’s doing a nice job.”

Lewis’ run-scoring single up the middle with two outs in the sixth inning scored what turned out to be the winning run for the Kernels (13-8), who swept this series. It came with two strikes, which has been a theme of late for him.

Alex Kirilloff, another first-round pick, hit a three-home run for Cedar Rapids.

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“How am I feeling at the plate? I’m feeling like normal,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve always felt like I’ve been seeing the ball well. My struggles come when I get myself out, swinging at bad pitches. Right now, I have a lot better plate discipline, I’m swinging at better pitches in the zone, having a good two-strike approach. Every time I have a two-strike count, I feel like I’ve had a lot of my RBIs. I’d like to see that stat, because I feel like it’s been a lot.”

Carlos Suniaga and Jose Martinez combined for five innings of good relief to allow Cedar Rapids to hang on here. Suniaga (1-0) got credit for the win, with Martinez retiring seven of the eight hitters he faced for his first save.

The Kernels host a three-game series against West Michigan (affiliate of the Detroit Tigers) that begins Friday night at 6:35. Flamethrowing right-hander Brusdar Graterol, who has touched 100 miles per hour with his fastball, is scheduled to start for C.R.

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

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