116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels concluded the Midwest League regular season Monday with a 3-0 loss at Beloit. The playoffs begin Wednesday at home against Kane County.
By virtually every measure, it has been another successful season. Five years as a Minnesota Twins affiliate for the Kernels, and five postseason appearances.
It has been a good ride, too, for first-time manager Tommy Watkins. The longtime hitting coach got an opportunity to lead a club for the first time.
He, hitting coach Brian Dinkelman and pitching coach J.P. Martinez improved players, moved many on to high-Class A Fort Myers and won games. Not much else you can do.
Now Watkins, Dinkelman and Martinez wait to see their assignment for next season, if there is one. Derek Falvey is completing his first year as baseball operations chief for the Twins and let go of several scouts in July.
Changes in player development are assumed as well, which puts the 2017 coaching staff in a unique position. They've done their jobs well, but will that be enough to be offered the opportunity to remain with the organization?
'You never know what's going to happen,' Watkins said. 'We've been going through some changes, so we don't know anything. Hopefully I'll have a job next year, but you never know.'
He was asked how difficult that is, especially considering he signed with the Twins as a player out of high school in 1998, had a cup of big-league coffee with them in 2007, then began his coaching career with them a couple of years later. Minnesota is the only professional organization he, Dinkelman and Martinez have known.
'Yes, that's tough,' he said. 'But it's part of the game, part of baseball. All you can do is the best you can, do what you think is right and hope for the best.'
Watkins said 2017 was a 'learning experience for me.' It's a lot different being a manager than a coach.
Lots more responsibility, for sure. The Kernels qualified for the MWL playoffs by going 39-31 and finishing second in the Western Division in the first half, completing second-half play 36-34.
That's an overall record of 75-65, fourth best in the 16-team league.
'Just learning the ropes of daily stuff that goes on,' Watkins said. 'Dealing with different personalities. Like I said, these guys were easy to deal with, so that wasn't too hard. Just trying to prepare them every day and keep them positive and energized. One thing that's hard is trying to figure out ways to get guys a day off and keep them fresh.
'You've been in the game so long, you've seen a lot of stuff already. (What was different) I guess I'd have to say when a guy comes in and says something. How to respond (to that) sometimes, knowing that it's best sometimes to bite your tongue. Trying to find an answer for them. You're just dealing with the guys every day in a different role. You're in charge. When you're a coach, you're in charge, too. But when you are the manager, you are running the show. It's about keeping everybody accountable.'
Cedar Rapids finished tied for eighth in the Midwest League with a .247 team batting average and second in earned run average at 3.26. Shortstop Jermaine Palacios had the team's best batting average of.320, though he was promoted after the first half.
Infielder Travis Blankenhorn led the club with 13 home runs, first baseman Lewin Diaz in doubles (33) and RBIs (68). Watkins said he could make a case for Diaz, Blankenhorn and outfielder Aaron Whitefield (33 stolen bases) as C.R.'s position MVP.
Clark Beeker won the MWL's ERA title by a lengthy margin (at 2.03), made a couple of starts for Fort Myers but has been sent back to the Kernels for the playoffs. Of the relievers here all season, Hector Lujan probably made the best impression, finishing with 17 saves and a 1.33 ERA.
2017 first-overall draft pick Royce Lewis came to the Kernels from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in August and has provided a spark.
'We took a little hit in the middle (of the season), where we lost some guys (to promotion), tried to get (new) guys on board and to buy into what we're doing,' Watkins said. 'It took a little while to put things back together, but here we are now.'
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