Cedar Rapids Kernels find success with new Minnesota Twins parent club

BY KEVIN GLUECK | APRIL 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Cedar Rapids Kernels have undergone a change in identity. They haven’t changed their moniker or revamped their colors, but they have traded in their halos.

During the off-season, the team ended its 20-year affiliation with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and have teamed-up with with a major-league team that’s 1,500 miles closer — the Minnesota Twins.

In their first season as a Twins affiliate, the Kernels have had success in a multitude of ways — a 17-5 season record to date, and team officials said there’s been an increase in ticket sales, resulting in higher attendance numbers.

“It really became almost a no-brainer for us to go with the Minnesota Twins,” Kernel general manager Doug Nelson said. “Obviously, having a major-league affiliate that’s much closer than Los Angeles brings a much larger local fan base.”

Assistant general manager Scott Wilson has noticed quite an increase in the interest in the local area.

“Immediately, we’ve seen an impact,” he said. “Season ticket sales are up, group sales look like they’re coming up strong.”

In fact, groups from outside the Hawkeye State have been attending games.

“We had fans at the first series of games from Minnesota,” Wilson said. “We have season-ticket holders in Rochester, Minn. It’s really neat to have someone that far away buy season tickets.”

Major-league clubs fill the rosters of their four minor-league team affiliates with prospects taken from the 40-round, first-year player draft. The players sign contracts with the big league club, so when an affiliation switch occurs, a lot of prospects have to relocate.

The Twins used to be affiliated with the Beloit Snappers, based in Wisconsin. The Angels chose to affiliate with the Burlington Bees in Iowa, so former Kernels are only moving 102 miles south.

Acquiring players from the Twins farm system should benefit Kernels baseball. The Angels have the seventh-biggest payroll in all of Major League Baseball — more than $127 million — but have neglected to maintain a high talent level throughout their minor-league ranks.

The Twins, on the other hand, have a payroll a little more than half of that of the Angels. This frugality requires the organization to emphasize player development through the minor leagues rather than paying premium salaries to established big-leaguers.

“The Angels traded out everybody out of their farm system. There’s almost no one left in their lower levels that are top-quality talent,” Wilson said. “Whereas with the Twins, the big club may not be that good, but they’re always drafting in the top 10 every year.”

One of those high draft picks is Byron Buxton. He was the top-rated prospect in the 2012 first-year player draft, according to MLB.com, and was the No. 2 pick overall. He now leads the Midwest League in batting average at .389 and on-base percentage of .511. Nelson has seen ticket sales have gone up to catch one of the Twins’ budding stars.

“Minnesota Twin fans realize that the Twins are relying on their prospects and farm system to stock the big-league club,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot more interest in the farm system.”

The Kernels currently hold the best record in the Midwest league. The prospect of having a good team has Kernel and Twin fan Eric Nole excited about the season.

“We’ve decided to upgrade our season package to a half season this year,” Nole said. “It’s been fun. We’re winning, too, so that never hurts.”

For the entire Twin and Kernel organizations, Nelson hopes that the new partnership is an opportunity for both clubs to benefit.

“Eastern Iowa is an opportunity to build a Twin fan base and, hopefully, have them to go up to catch a game at Target Field,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of reasons this relationship is a win-win for both parties.”

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