Mahoning Valley Scrappers Ready to Take the Field Tonight
By Dave Roberts
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers will commence their 2012 season opener on tonight in Jamestown, New York, in the first of 76 games this season in search of becoming the New York Penn League Champs. It’s an honor the Scrappers achieved once in 2004. Before the season formally kicked off players and media met together at Eastwood Field in Niles, Ohio, on Saturday to introduce this year’s squad to the public.
Last year’s squad played to a 41-34 finish, good for third place in the Pinckney Division. The labeling of last year’s team with a third place finish can be quite deceiving as they finished just four games out of first with their second best finish in the last seven seasons. With four players returning from last season, intermixed with guys from Lake County and the Arizona League, and of course, a selection of 2012 draft picks the team looks to pick up where it left off last year.
Manager Ted Kubiak, who coached these same Scrappers for the 1999, 2000, and 2003 seasons, has seen some very good squads in his time but spoke of this year’s bunch as “Some of the best I’ve seen in my 20 years with this organization.”
Kubiak’s familiarity with the New York Penn League will no doubt lend a hand with the team’s progress, especially since he took the organization in its first two years of existence to the top of the Pinckney Division. He felt the team really impressed in Arizona but like any other would not go without some challenges. “You never know once the season starts,” Kubiak said. ”Once the bell rings and they see people in the stands instead of cactus, things change.”
Here’s how the 2012 Mahoning Valley Scrappers look to stack up to begin the season:
The Scrappers’ outfield will boast the most high profile player of the roster in the Indians’ number one draft pick, Tyler Naquin. Scouts regarded him as the best arm and bat in this year’s draft and he arrived into camp with glowing reports. Kubiak has him batting second going off his profile as a good hitter who can get on base, with the hopes that he lives up to the billing as the best throwing arm and bat in the draft.
As the number one pick, Naquin is sure to need adjustments and Kubiak will no doubt be patient with the 21-year old. No doubt for the Indians the new rule changes for signing players will be realized in the progression of Tyler Naquin, as his quick signing has him in uniform ready for action at the start of the Mahoning Valley season.
Of course, the other obstacle for Naquin besides adjusting to professional competition is his switch from right field, which he played all throughout college, to center field a position he played up through his days of high school. The prospect of playing center instead of right field didn’t seem to faze him as he comfortably said, “I believe it’s easier to play. You don’t have to worry about angles or the wall.”
Besides Naquin, the outfield will feature three players from last year’s rookie team and Aaron Siliga, who played right field for the Scrappers last season. Siliga in 47 games with the Scrappers last season batted just .171 but showed significant talent especially in his plate discipline as he walked 22 times to 25 strike outs in 158 at bats.
Moving to the infield Joseph Wendle is the lone new addition via the 2012 draft, who the Indians’ made their sixth pick. The 22-year old is a natural second baseman who put together a solid college career hitting for good average and power for a middle infielder. When asked what he thinks about starting his pro career he talked about it as, “a little different scenery but I’m excited to get started.”
Evan Frazar will return at third base for Scrappers, in 19 games last year he batted .304 with one home run and six runs batted in. The other three players all played in rookie league last year and all register as shortstops. This leaves first base without a clear position player.
Behind the plate, the roster features four players, two who arrived through this year’s draft while the other two arrive from rookie ball. One of the catchers arriving from Arizona is Mitchell Nilsson, an Australian ballplayer who spent a few years playing in the Australian Baseball League with the Brisbane Bandits before making the jump to the minor leagues last season. Nilsson when discussing about the differences playing in Australia and the United States said, “I found it easier [in the US] since the ball carries more.” He’s a light-hitting catcher but very much able to hit for a high average as proven by his time in rookie ball last season.
Finally, onto the pitching staff which Kubiak spoke very highly of from what he had seen so far down in Arizona. Highlighting their strong points, “Davvy [Geoffrey Davenport] has a great changeup which is gonna be really effective,” Kubiak said. ”[Ryan] Merrit, a little lefty, was glad to be out of Arizona had a little bit more stuff on the ball. [Jake] Sisco is working on curveball and control. [Luis] Dejesus came from Lake County; he’ll fit into the rotation.”
Geoffrey Davenport is the lone 2012 draft pick in the Scrappers starting rotation and he will take the mound Opening Night in Jamestown. When talking about the bullpen Kubiak affirmed much of the same thing as the starters with a mix of new draftees, rookie ball players, and a few holdovers from last season’s Scrappers.
“The other guys in the bullpen, I mean they have some great arms,” Kubiak said.
One of the new additions–Louis Head–talked about how similar Coach Kubiak is to his college coach from Texas State focusing on the fundamentals since it’s the little things that truly matter in the game. Speaking about his pitch arsenal, “I throw a fastball, slider, and a changeup I have been working on.” Kubiak didn’t readily establish pitching roles for each of the arms listed but as the season progresses surely the roles for each of these players will emerge.
It seems this 2012 Scrappers team has its fair share of new young talent infused with some guys who have had some time in professional baseball, no doubt presenting this club with a well-rounded roster that will aim to compete throughout the season. If Coach Ted Kubiak’s previous track record speaks anything about this team’s odds, the team will have a solid shot at a postseason berth, their first since 2009.
Photo: Texas A&M Athletics