Minor League Sports

Minor league notebook: 1st-year Twins farm director gets good look at Cedar Rapids Kernels

Cedar Rapids Kernels shortstop Royce Lewis (30) looks in a ground ball before throwing to first for an out during the fourth inning of their game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Kernels shortstop Royce Lewis (30) looks in a ground ball before throwing to first for an out during the fourth inning of their game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The hot rumor going around last week was that Cedar Rapids Kernels shortstop Royce Lewis’ promotion to high-Class A Fort Myers was imminent.

When Minnesota Twins farm director Jeremy Zoll and his assistant, Alex Hassan, showed up in town to watch the Kernels’ series against Quad Cities, the rumors intensified. But it was a previously scheduled visit, and, as of Saturday, Lewis remains with the Kernels.

“You tell me. You know more than I do,” Zoll said, tongue in cheek, when asked when Lewis was moving up.

Fair enough, Jeremy. Fair enough.

“Royce is doing a great job. Controlling counts, controlling his ABs, good pitch recognition,” Zoll said of last year’s first-overall draft pick. “Doing a nice job with his bat control, using the whole field. He’s doing a nice job at shortstop, too. Making strides in all facets, just like we were hoping.”

Zoll was asked about a few other Kernels and his general thoughts on the team.

“Got a really exciting, energetic club,” he said. “Obviously, (outfielder Alex) Kirilloff is swinging it really well. It’s great to see him doing his thing. Really the whole group here is coming along nicely, playing good baseball.”

Kirilloff was Minnesota’s top pick in 2016 and has done a good job of knocking off the rust of missing the entire 2017 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery. The 20-year-old leads C.R. in virtually every offensive category, from batting average (.313) to doubles (13) to triples (3) to home runs (6) to RBIs (30) to OPS (.949).

“You never know, missing a full year of live pitching and all those things,” said Zoll, who came to the Twins after spending time with the Los Angeles Dodgers. “To see him doing the damage he’s doing, driving the ball the opposite way, is really encouraging. Think he’s going to continue on that special trajectory that we see for him.”

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Zoll mentioned second baseman Jose Miranda as someone he predicts will begin to break out soon. Center fielder Akil Baddoo also is an interesting player in that he’s young (19) and has the ability to draw walks.

Going into Saturday’s doubleheader at Clinton, he had 33 of them in 33 games, which is why he was third on the team in on-base percentage despite hitting just .212.

“He took big strides last year in E-town (Elizabethton) in that regard,” Zoll said. “We continue to see that with the walk numbers he has posted so far in Cedar Rapids. You can just see with him on borderline pitches how he has a lot of quality takes. I think he’s going to use that as a strength moving forward.”

Zoll was asked about starting pitcher Brusdar Graterol, the 19-year-old Venezuelan who hit 101 miles per hour with his fastball in his previous start last week. Graterol has allowed just one run in 14 1/3 innings, with 21 strikeouts.

“I didn’t get to see it, but I read the reports. Brusdar, for sure, has a special arm,” Zoll said. “Fun to see him put it all together and do his thing right now.”

Graterol has thrown just 65 innings as a pro and had Tommy John surgery two years ago. He has not thrown more than 77 pitches in any of his starts for the Kernels, meaning the Twins are being cautious with him.

“That was part of the whole plan coming into the 2018 season,” Zoll said. “Keeping him in extended spring training for a little while before sending him out. That was all a part of our plan in controlling his innings. Now that he’s here, excited to see him compete and go do his thing.”

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

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