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2013 Captains Reflect Importance of Development Over Record For Young Players

2013 Captains Reflect Importance of Development Over Record For Young Players

| On 05, Sep 2013

“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.”

Out of all the quotes that bounced around the Lake County press box and clubhouse during the 2013 season, it’s this one that sticks out when looking at the season as a whole. Not because it was one of the most original ones that was used, but because it most aptly describes the hit-or-miss nature of this year’s Low-A Lake County Captains.

Some days, the team was great. They had games where they looked like they had the makings of a solid team. Other days, they struggled on the field, giving away games in late innings and seeming to lack overall effort.

At the end of the day, however, the recurring theme of “development” is one that can just about sum up every aspect of the season – good, bad, or average, Low-A ball is about taking young players and honing their skills, turning them into guys who can climb through the system with ease in their attempts to make it to the bigs. With a new manager on board for the Captains with Scooter Tucker, development occurred at every level of the game. Tucker grew into the managerial role with his team growing into their own on the field.

Despite their lackluster record – they ended the season at 54-83, last in the entire Midwest League – the Captains’ roster reflects a group of young men on the brink of their professional careers, with a handful of them standing out as diamonds in the rough.

Outfielder Logan Vick was an early standout on the Captains roster. He hit .303 in the inaugural month of the season with one home run and 12 RBI. His numbers dipped a bit in May and June – .241 and .238, respectively – although he was quickly back up to his high marks with a .236 average in July and .313 in August before he was promoted to High-A Carolina with an overall .281 average in Lake County. Vick led the Captains in walks on the season with a total of 81 (the same as his strikeout count), demonstrating his ability to take careful at-bats and fully understand the situations he faced at the plate. His overall line for his time in Lake County was .413/.407/.820 with five home runs and 45 RBI. He also had 25 stolen bases on the year, furthering Vick as an asset for a team when he gets on base. After spending his last month in Carolina, Vick hit .225 with the Mudcats, posted two home runs, and drew 14 walks. After ending last season with a .181 average, 2013 was a vast improvement for Vick. He was selected as one of the Midwest League All-Stars in June, a recognition very much merited when looking at his numbers and steady climb throughout the season.

Another Midwest League All-Star who proved valuable for the Captains was right handed pitcher Louis Head. Head ended 2012 in Lake County, where he posted a 3.78 ERA and 2-0 record. Holding an 0-2 record and five saves with the Captains in 2013, Head was one of the strongest pitchers on the staff with a 1.82 ERA in 25 games. He pitched a game for the Clippers in June, going 1.2 innings, allowing two hits, no runs, striking out two and walking two batters. June was Head’s roughest month in Lake County, as he posted 3.24. 3.24 is hardly a bad ERA – but compared to Head’s April and May numbers of 1.00 and 1.46, June’s numbers seem relatively high. However, Head’s talent propelled him through Lake County and into Carolina, where he spent most of the second half of the season. He posted a 3.11 ERA and a 4-2 record with three saves in Carolina. Earlier in the season, Head admitted that he previously had an “immature approach” to the game of baseball, a mentality that seems to have left him as he dominated batters this season. He fanned 23 batters in Lake County this season and 41 in Carolina. He claimed his recipe for success was consistency and not changing any part of his performance – a notion that seems to have benefitted him just fine throughout the season.

Other dominant pitchers on the Captains’ staff this season were starters Dylan Baker and Ryan Merritt. Baker spent his entire season in Lake County, ending with a 7-6 record and 3.63 ERA. He threw 117 strikeouts and pitched 143.2 innings, including one complete game. Baker skipped over Mahoning Valley in the Indians organization, having spent all of 2012 with the Arizona League Indians. Pitching coach Steve Karsay, who worked with Baker in Arizona, noted that Baker was much more comfortable this season and was a much improved pitcher than he previously had been. Baker spent the season learning how to sequence his pitches and work effectively in specific situations. He was working on his curveball as the season drew to a close, hoping to add to his arsenal of an effective fastball, slider, and curveball in the dirt.

Merritt went 6-9 with a 3.42 ERA in Lake County before his promotion to Carolina late in the season. He spent previous seasons developing his skills and learning what it was like to throw to professional hitters. His work and dedication paid off, as he not only earned the promotion to High-A, but was named an Indians organization Minor League Player of the Week in early May. Have recognition that early in the season painted Merritt as a player to watch, and one who would boost the team later in the year. He didn’t let any of the difficulties of the team behind him on the field slow him down, instead rising to the occasion to win games as effectively as possible while on the mound.

A player whom much was expected of, but who may have contributed to the struggles on the field, was shortstop Dorssys Paulino. Only 18 years old, Paulino has much time to build himself into the strong and promising baseball player that the organization anticipates him becoming. However, following in the footsteps of top-ranked Francisco Lindor is no easy task, and Paulino would do well not to be measured up against him. For himself, Paulino started the season with a rough track record, and quickly put up high numbers in the error category. His performances were nothing to write home about early on, though the end of the season held glimpses of an emerging player in the youngster. He hit .246 with five home runs, 46 RBI and 12 stolen bases. Tucker summed up Paulino’s season by putting his performance in perspective: “He’s basically a high school senior. It doesn’t look so bad…We’re all convinced that one day he is going to be a really, really good hitter. The biggest thing for him is playing. This is the first time he’s played 140 games in a year. Again, he’s an 18 year old kid and what he’s found out is that the game is just not as easy as he thought it was. It’s more one of those learning curves for him.”

Despite a season marred by injury, LeVon Washington ended 2013 on a high note, as he ended the season with a .321 AVG in Lake County and posted .425/.477/.902. He hit .486 during his rehab stint in Arizona. Although it was his third season with the Captains, Washington continued to demonstrate the power he wields as a player. Had injury not struck yet again, there’s no telling what Washington could have done with this season – but hopefully, it’s something fans will be able to find out in 2014.

Other Captains’ players had their moments to shine and contribute to the team, either offensively or defensively. Catcher Jeremy Lucas ended the season strong, being named a Minor League Player of the Week in August and ending the season with a .274 AVG. The other catchers on the team had their moments as well, as Eric Haase led the team with 14 home runs despite a slump in the middle of the season. Richard Stock had a monster July, hitting .431 and posting a 1.002 OPS, demonstrating his potential to be developed into an effective position player who can hit for power if he finds himself with more playing time in future seasons. Joe Sever demonstrated his versatility in the infield and contributed heavily with 58 RBI on the season. Erik Gonzalez and Yhoxian Medina were both strong infielders, with both also moving up later in the season – Gonzalez to Carolina and Medina to Columbus. Grant Sides demonstrated effectiveness in the bullpen, earning seven saves for the Captains and a 2-0, 1.38 record before his promotion to Carolina for the last few games of the season.

A learning curve, development – however you want to put it, the Low-A season is a chance for players to really have their first taste at a full-season baseball schedule. They learn how to cope with the pressures and expectations of playing every day for a whole season, and develop and hone their skills as such. Records aren’t nearly as important as becoming the players these guys – and the organization – know that they can be.

And next season, we’ll do it all over again.

Photo: Jesse Piecuch/DTTWLN photographer