The Cedar Rapids Kernels will start the 2018 season stacked with top Minnesota Twins prospects, including two former first-round draft picks.
Eight of the 25 players on the roster are ranked among Minnesota’s top 30 prospects (per Baseball America): shortstop Royce Lewis (No. 1), outfielder Alex Kirilloff (No. 3), RHP Blayne Enlow (No. 9), outfielder Akil Baddoo (No. 11), LHP Tyler Watson (No. 20), second baseman Jose Miranda (No. 24), third baseman Andrew Bechtold (No. 25) and catcher David Banuelos (No. 28).
With both Lewis and Kirilloff on the roster, the Kernels have two first-round draft picks on the team for the first time since Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk played for Cedar Rapids in 2010.
Lewis, last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, advanced quickly in his debut season. He started in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he batted .271 with 11 extra-base hits (including three homers), 17 runs batted in, and 15 stolen bases in 36 games. In August he was promoted to the Midwest League, where he batted .296 in 18 regular-season games with the Kernels.
After being drafted No. 15 overall in 2016, Kirilloff made a big splash in his debut assignment. He batted .306 with 7 HR and 33 RBI in 55 games with the short-season Elizabethton Twins, earning him the Appalachian League MVP award. Unfortunately his 2016 season ended early because of an elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery, and his missed the entire 2017 season as a result. Twins fans should be pleased to know that, according to Baseball America, Kirilloff has drawn comparisons to fellow outfielders Max Kepler and Christian Yelich.
Enlow pitched well in his first pro assignment, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA, 19 strikeouts and four walks in 20.1 innings (six games/one start) in the Gulf Coast League. Baseball America rates Enlow’s curveball as the best in the Twins farm system, and projects his ceiling as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
The left-handed Baddoo was impressive at the plate last season, batting .323 with four home runs, 19 doubles and 29 RBI in 53 games split between two rookie-level teams. Perhaps more impressive than those numbers is the fact he walked more often than he stuck out (36 BB vs. 32 Ks), which seems like an uncommon occurrence in baseball’s current power-first, patience-last climate.
Watson joined the Kernels last season after the Twins acquired him from the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline. He struggled in the Midwest League, going 1-3 with a 4.28 ERA, 18 strikeouts and eight walks in 27.1 innings/five starts during the regular season, but looked better in the playoffs.
Miranda had a good year at the plate in 2017, batting .283 with 11 HR and 43 RBI in 54 games in the Appalachian League. Baseball America says that, offensively, he “shows advanced plate discipline and projects to hit for both average and power as he climbs the ladder,” and defensively he is extremely athletic and has above-average range.
Bechtold also looked good at the plate in the Appy League last year, batting .299 with two home runs, 19 RBI, and 27 walks in 43 games. Baseball America says he is “extremely athletic with a mature mindset and approach” and “has the potential to be a high-end defender at third.”
Banuelos batted .236 with 4 HR and 26 RBI in 36 games in the short-season Northwest League last year, but it’s his “elite defensive ability” that impressed Baseball America, who calls him “a born leader with outstanding makeup” including above-average arm strength, ability to assess situations well, and bilingual fluency.
A couple more Kernels to keep an eye on:
RHP Edwar Colina was named an Appalachian League Post-Season All-Star last year after he finished fourth in the league with a 3.34 ERA, fifth with a 1.30 WHIP, and 56 strikeouts in 59.1 innings.
First baseman/catcher Ben Rodriguez batted .290 with four home runs, 11 doubles and 40 RBI (tied for the league lead) in 50 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
The Kernels are being managed by Toby Gardenhire, son of Detroit Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire. You can read about the entire Kernels coaching staff here.
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