CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Kernels begin the 2019 Midwest League season Thursday night at home against the Peoria Chiefs. The Kernels are the low-Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
If you aren’t aware, the Kernels are part of the 16-team Midwest League, which features franchises that stretch west to east from Iowa to Ohio and north to south from Wisconsin to Kentucky.
The schedule is 140 games, divided into 70 for each of two halves. The top two teams in the Eastern and Western Divisions in each half qualify for the MWL playoffs in September.
There are eight teams in each division: Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Quad Cities, Burlington, Peoria, Wisconsin, Kane County and Beloit in the West, and Lake County, South Bend, Bowling Green, Dayton, Fort Wayne, West Michigan, Lansing and Great Lakes in the East.
Here are five questions as the season begins:
1. Can the Kernels get to the playoffs again?
The Kernels and Twins have been partners since 2013, and Cedar Rapids has been to the postseason every season. That includes a division finals appearance last season.
With a promising starting pitching rotation and a lineup that includes eight guys with prior playing experience here, things, at least in the first half, look promising.
2. Who are the top prospects on this Kernels team?
According to Baseball America, the highest-ranked prospect is pitcher Blayne Enlow (8).
Second baseman Yunior Severino is Minnesota’s 10th-ranked prospect, according to BA, pitcher Jordan Balazovic 20th and outfielder Gilberto Celestino 30th.
3. Who are some other players to watch?
First baseman-catcher Chris Williams hit 15 home runs in a half-season of Rookie ball at Elizabethton last season.
Outfielder DaShawn Keirsey was a fourth-round pick of the Twins last year out of the University of Utah and hit .301 in 26 games at E-town.
On the pitching side, Cole Sands will be making his pro debut after being a fifth-round pick of the Twins out of Florida State. He started 54 games with the Seminoles.
Luis Rijo, a 20-year-old righty, was acquired in a trade from the New York Yankees that involved big league pitcher Lance Lynn and has posted good numbers in three previous minor league seasons.
4. Are there any new rule changes?
The big one came last season when Minor League Baseball adopted a new extra-inning rule in which each team begins with a runner on second base. That was done to shorten games and prevent them from going extra long, thus taxing pitching staffs.
The only change in the lower minors this season is mound visits have been trimmed from 10 per game to nine. In the upper minors (Double-A, Triple-A), all relievers must face at least three batters before being removed.
5. What are some of the more interesting promotions?
Check out kernels.com for all of the particulars. The special jersey nights include the Kernels wearing Snoopy jerseys (May 3), Star Wars jersey (May 25), Especially For You pink jerseys (June 15), Iowa State jerseys (June 28), ALS patriotic jerseys (July 4), Harry Potter jerseys (July 12) and Iowa Hawkeye jerseys (July 26).
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On April 13, kids 12 and younger can search for $300 in quarters that will be dispersed throughout the outfield.
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