I was supposed to be the Cedar Rapids Kernels correspondent this year for you all at Twinkie Town. I sent out a Tweet and everything, which is how you know it was official.
Sadly, after a first couple of weeks where I was at Perfect Game Field almost every night, however, life conspired to keep me away. I'd still catch a game every now and then with my kids, sitting in the stands and keeping them as entertained as I could for 6-7 innings, before the three-year old lost it and prompted us to make a hasty retreat. But I was pretty distracted.
Tonight, I'm happy to report that the Kernels will be in the Midwest League playoffs in 2015, as they clinch a Wild Card in the Western Division for the 1st half of the year.
I'm also intrigued to report that the team I watched in mid-April bears almost no resemblance to this squad. The Kernels started 6-0 and stood at 11-4 through their first 15 games. Since then, they've gone 29-26. Hardly embarrassing, but a far cry from the red hot team they were in the early goings. That is the nature of the minor leagues, however, where rosters can turn over quickly and with little fanfare. Even if you lived in Cedar Rapids, without watching the team on a game-by-game basis, you would be surprised about the new names in the starting lineup.
Stephen Gonsalves, who was so dominant through nine starts (6-1, 1.15, 77 Ks, 15 BB, and 29 hits in 55 innings) got called up to Fort Myers. So did Zack Granite, who hit .358/.463/.463 and stole 7 bases in 19 games and little Matt Batts, who has continued his dominance as he move up the chain, combining for a 2.10 ERA and 59 Ks in 64 innings. Five players who have played for the Kernels this year are on the DL, including 1B/DH Trey Vavra and last year's third round pick, Michael Cederoth.
Even many of the players who stayed have tailed off. In particular, Nick Gordon has been a disappointment. He started off strong, hitting .305/.328/.407 through his first 15 games. Through his last 40 though? Just .214/.309/.239. Worse, he has struggled to barrel up the ball, pounding grounder after grounder into the grass. He has shown good speed and that he can handle shortstop, but looks utterly lost at the plate. Still just 19, and still one of the youngest hitters in the Midwest League, there's plenty of time for Gordon to right his ship. But more was expected out of the #5 overall pick in last year's draft.
On the pitching side, 21 year old Felix Jorge has been incredibly impressive after struggling at Cedar Rapids last year. After another commanding performance last night, Jorge has a 2.44 ERA in 63 innings with 57 strikeouts. Jorge doesn't look his listed 6'3", but he throws in the low-to-mid-90s, and has a developing curve and changeup that have baffled Midwest League hitters.
There are more big changes on the way as well. With the draft last week, new signees will begin pouring into Cedar Rapids soon. Terry Ryan has already said the #6 overall pick, Tyler Jay, will start his career here. Other college players like Kyle Cody, Alex Robinson, and Chris Paul may as well. Many of the youngsters who have been responsible led this club will find themselves either promoted or released. It's a sad fact that turnover is a merciless reality. By the time we finally do get to the postseason, the Kernels I'm watching now, already so different from the squad at the start of the year, will be still even more different, so as to be unrecognizable.