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CEDAR RAPIDS — The first thing you notice about him are his forearms. They’re huge.
He’s too young to understand the comparions, but think Popeye or Steve Garvey here. Those kind of forearms.
“I don’t know. I’m kind of a gym rat,” Ben Rortvedt said with a sheepish smile. “I’m smaller, so I’ve always taken pride in being strong. Not being outworked in that way.”
The 19-year-old catcher is the highest draft pick on the Cedar Rapids Kernels’ opening-day roster. He was a second-rounder of the parent Minnesota Twins last summer, eschewing a commitment to the University of Arkansas and signing a pro contract that included a $900,000 bonus.
He’s a Wisconsinite, from Verona High School in suburban Madison. In the 50-year history of the MLB Draft, he was just the 27th Wisconsin prep to have been drafted and signed in the first 10 rounds.
Rortvedt is coming from the road less traveled, for sure.
“I try to ignore that,” he said. “Now days, with all the showcases and stuff going on, there seem to be more guys popping up from the Midwest and up north. The playing field has evened a bit, even though the southern kids get more exposure and they are playing outside a lot. I’ve always just tried to put that in the back of my head when I’m playing.”
Rortvedt hit a combined .222 in 33 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Rookie-level Elizabethton last season but broke spring training with the Kernels. That’s a heck of a jump for a kid who was playing high-school ball in a cold-weather state exactly a year ago.
The Twins like the potential of Rortvedt’s left-handed bat. He is said to have great makeup and competitiveness, which should help him adjust to low-Class A.
“He works hard in the gym and on the field,” Kernels Manager Tommy Watkins said. “He’s a young one. He can swing the bat. Everyone has to work, defensively he’s got to work. But that’s part of the game.”
“(Pro ball) has been fun,” Rortvedt said. “Baseball every day, you can’t really complain about it. A lot of learning experiences on the mental side. Learning how to call games, going through ups and downs and all that stuff you hear about. But it’s true, it is what it is. It’s every day, it’s a grind, and you love it.”
Rortvedt has familiarity with Veterans Memorial Stadium from previous tournaments and player showcases. He said the last time he played there he was on a team that won a tournament here in the fall of 2015.
He is excited because Cedar Rapids is just three hours from home. That means you’ll see a lot of family and friends at the ballpark.
The same could be said for road games at Beloit and Wisconsin. In fact, the Kernels’ season opener in Thursday at Beloit.
“My parents are really fired up,” he said. “They’ve been talking to me a lot about it. I’ve got a couple of family members that live in Iowa, too. We open up at Beloit, which is, I want to say, only about 40 minutes from my house. My last high-school game was actually at the Snappers field, so we’ll be going back there again. Pretty cool.”
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