Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Trip to Cedar Rapids: Kernels 5, Cougars 1

The Cedar Rapids Kernels -- the Twins affilate in the Midwest League and the organization's entry point to full-season professional ball -- are wrapping up the 2018 regular season. But they'll have at least a few more games after their schedule ends this weekend; on Monday night the Kernels clinched the second half divisional title, so they'll be in the playoffs again.

The striking part about this to me is that they put up a better record after their top-shelf prospects -- Royce Lewis, Alex Kiriloff and Brusdar Graterol are all easily among the top five talents in the organization -- were moved up to Fort Myers and the Florida State League.

That kind of player movement is pretty standard in low A. But that they got better after having to replace so many top talents speaks to the developing depth of the organization.

Four of Monday's starters were 2018 draftees: second baseman Michael Helman (11th round, Texas A&M); catcher Ryan Jeffers (2nd round, North Carolina-Wilmington); right fielder Trevor Larnach (1st round, Oregon State); and shortstop Michael Davis (24th round, Texas Tech). The first three listed hit 2-3-4; Davis was the No. 8 hitter, but he homered and singled for three RBIs. His one out was also well hit.

But the star for the Kernels was starting pitcher Randy Dobnak, who allowed one run on three hits in seven innings. Dobnak was signed as an undrafted free agent last summer after pitching college ball for a D-II school in West Virginia, and he leads the Kernels in wins and innings.

The rest of his stat line isn't that impressive. He's allowed more hits than innings pitched, and his strikeout rate is the worst of the 22 pitchers who've taken the mound for the Kernels at least three times. He's old for the league as well.

What Dobnak does do well is pound the strike zone. And that has worked well for him at this level. The odds are against him -- he's not going to get as many chances as Kohl Stewart has, because the organization hasn't much invested in him -- but he's nowhere near as excruiating to watch work as, say, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Pelfrey.

And on Monday night, when the game ended, he got to spray some sparkling beverage on his teammates outside the dugout.

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