CEDAR RAPIDS — Believe it or not, Cedar Rapids is not the ultimate destination for a lot of people. Especially those who play on the city’s minor league baseball team.
You move up in the game, or you move out.
For seven Cedar Rapids Kernels position players, they’ve actually moved back to begin the Midwest League season. That’s how many of those guys saw time in the City of Five Seasons all or part of 2018.
You tend to get disgruntled when you have to repeat a level. But the veteran seven, if you will, at least publicly, are saying all the right things about this being another chance to grow and improve and eventually get promoted on up out of here.
“I’m not really disappointed,” said catcher David Banuelos. “You’ve just got to be grateful for the opportunity. This is another opportunity to get better. Just play every day. That’s another thing, too. Being down here is being able to play every day. Just try and have a good year and move up as fast as you can. But also try and win ballgames down here with everyone else. It’s all about having a positive mindset. You can’t mope about it. Be positive, and good things will happen.”
Banuelos played in 73 games last season for the Kernels. Infielder Andrew Bechtold got in the most of the returnees (106).
Outfielder Trey Cabbage was next at 99. With the exception of about a week at high-Class A Fort Myers, Ben Rodriguez also spent beginning to end with the Kernels.
All 78 of outfielder Jacob Pearson’s minor league games last season came with Cedar Rapids. Outfielder Jean Carlos Arias played 79 times as a Kernel.
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Infielder Michael Davis came here in July, replacing top prospect Royce Lewis at shortstop, and played in 42 games. Infielder Joe Cronin actually is an eighth “veteran,” as he was at Fort Myers and Double-A Chattanooga last season after playing 48 games for Cedar Rapids in 2017.
That is a lot of experience in the lineup. The Kernels host Peoria in Thursday night’s 6:35 opener.
“I learned last year that the season is really long,” Pearson said. “All the way up to August, it seemed to fly by. Then from August, it kind of dragged out, especially since I wasn’t hitting well. That just intensified the length of it. This year, I’m expecting a long year, so it’s just nose down. Then when I look up, it’ll be the end of September.”
“Sometimes guys get frustrated having to repeat a level,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “But we’ve talked to them and said ‘Hey, you can’t let it affect the way you play.’ If you let it affect you, things start going downhill, and you’re not putting up the results you want. You just focus on what you need to do. Just be happy you’re here playing. You play well, we hope to get you out of here.”
Dinkelman was asked to comment on his seven (eight) position player returnees. Here’s what he had to say.
“We talked a little bit, and he said he wasn’t surprised about coming back here. He didn’t have the year he wanted to last season (.216 batting average). I think he’s out to prove that he is a good player, wants to get out of here and go to the next level. As far as his hitting, a lot of his stuff has to do with timing. He seems to be late to the ball a lot. So if he can work on that, I think his swing plays.”
“He was young (19), and I think he had a mental grind last year. It was new to him, first time playing a 140-game season. I don’t know if he knew what to expect playing that many games. I think he has a better feel for it this season, is prepared and will be all right.”
“If he can just cut down his strikeout rate just a little bit. The more balls he puts in play, the better opportunity he has because he has such good power. When he puts the barrel on the ball, he hits it a long way. It’s more pitch selection. The pitches he’s swinging at.”
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“Ben is going to play around. He’s going to catch some, play some first base. I know he’s still working on the catching aspect of it. It was his first year last year doing it. He has come a long way with it from the beginning of last season. We’re glad to have him back.”
“He has been working on his swing. I know he has made some adjustments from last season. He’s been working with our new hitting coordinator (Pete Fatse) and done some of our data stuff. He swung the bat really well in spring training. Had some extra-base hits, even hit a home run the last day of spring. So as long as he can catch and throw the way that he always does and provide a little bit of offense back there, he’ll be all right.”
(On Davis and Cronin)
“Davis will play some shortstop for us, as will Joe ... (Davis) has got some power, kind of in the same boat as Cabbage. His strikeout rate is really high, doesn’t walk a whole lot. If he can just put a few more balls in play, his power is there.”
The Kernels also have five pitchers who threw innings last season here: opening-night starter Blayne Enlow, Jordan Balazovic, Carlos Suniaga, Zach Neff and Jose Martinez.
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