Lake County 2015 Roster to be Filled with Young, Well-Known Names
Laurel Wilder | On 16, Apr 2015
The roster is riddled with familiar names, but not many because they’ve seen the grass of Classic Park before.
This season, the Lake County Captains roster boasts more than a few names that those who follow the Indians organization will recognize as up-and-coming prospects within the system. There are a few repeat names from last season but, as a whole, the 2015 Captains are a new, young team.
The 2014 Captains made their way to the Midwest League championship series last year, coming up short in the final series against the Kane County Cougars. However, most of the players who took the Captains that far last season have earned much-coveted promotions to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, giving the Captains a new group of players with which to work.
The new names to grace the roster should also bring some power to the Captains lineup and give new Manager Shaun Larkin an exciting group to work with heading into 2015. Justus Sheffield, Bobby Bradley, Francisco Mejia, and Yu-Cheng Chang come to Eastlake as fairly well-known and highly-touted prospects within the Indians system. Sheffield, Bradley, and Chang played for the Arizona League Indians last season and were part of the team that took home hardware to close out their 2014 season. Bradley and Chang were both at the top of the minor league organizational leaderboard in batting average last season; Bradley ended the season hitting .361 and Chang posted a .346 average.
At 18, Bradley is a young addition to the Lake County roster. However, his performance in Arizona last season demonstrated that his age should not be a hinderance to his abilities. Bradley had 56 hits, 13 doubles, four triples, and eight home runs in Arizona last season, walked 16 times and was intentionally walked once. He had 1.078 OPS in 39 games. After six games in Lake County, Bradley has already had four hits, one triple, and one home run; he has walked five times. He is hitting .250 and has a .991 OPS to start the season. He is touted as one of the best prospects in baseball; Baseball America ranked him as the third-best player in the Arizona League last season (they ranked Sheffield as fourth-best and Chang came in at #12). Bradley won the Arizona League’s triple crown last year.
“His swing is pretty sound, especially for his age. And you put power behind it — you saw the numbers he put up last season,” Larkin said. “This season will be different for him, as it will for a lot of these guys. Not only the length of the season, but some of the elements you deal with throughout the season.”
Larkin said that the strong Bradley will likely hit near the top of the lineup this season.
Chang was signed by the Tribe in 2013 as a free agent from Taiwan and has a .986 OPS. He is a tall shortstop but hasn’t let that hinder his ability; he has also spent time at third base and has a .919 fielding percentage in his career. In Arizona last year, Chang had 55 hits, nine doubles, four triples, and six home runs. He already has four hits and three doubles in five games in Lake County this season.
Despite his height — Chang is 6’1” — Larkin joked that the 19 year-old will “play short until he can’t. Who knows when that will be, if ever!
“Right now, he plays great shortstop and, as he grows up, we’ll see. He plays small; he’s light on his feet and doesn’t play like he’s oversized. He has a simple and easy swing. He’s consistent. That’s all you can ask for anybody, let alone a 19 year-old.”
Mejia spent last season with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and ended the season with a .282 average. The catcher started with the Indians in 2013 at age 17 and played 30 games with the Arizona League Indians, ending the season with a .305 average and .872 OPS. He accumulated 32 hits, four home runs, and drove in 24 runs while stealing three bases in his first season with the organization. Last year, Mejia amassed 32 hits and two home runs while driving in 36 runs and stealing two bases. He has committed 13 errors as a catcher throughout his first two seasons with the Indians organization, giving him a .979 career fielding percentage. Sicnarf Loopstok will assume the role of backup catcher, and Martin Cervenka is on the roster as a third catching choice. Loopstock, from Aruba, was drafted by the Indians in the 2013 draft and spent his first season with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. He split 2014 between the Arizona League Indians and Lake County. Loopstock has a .256 career average and .771 OPS. He claim to fame is winning the 2013 edition of MiLB.com’s Moniker Madness.
Cervenka is one of seven non-drafted free agents on the Captains roster and was acquired by the Indians in 2009, when he was 17 years old. Cervenka hails from the Czech Republic and has bounced around the lower echelons of the Indians organization since his acquisition. He hasn’t had a ton of playing time, however. Since 2011, Cervenka has only played 129 total games. He has a career .190 batting average and has 78 total hits in five seasons. He has committed 18 errors in those seasons and has a .982 fielding percentage.
Also in the infield for the Captains this season is returning third baseman Grant Fink, who was also drafted in 2013. Fink hit .225 in Lake County last season and was described by then-Manager Marc Budzinski as a quiet leader who brought maturity to the team. At 24, Fink is one of the oldest members of the Captains’ roster and will bring that same leadership to the squad this season. If he can also bring some power, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, as Fink hit 13 home runs last season for the Captains.
Claudio Bautista and Ordomar Valdez round out the infield, both non-drafted free agents from the Dominican Republic. Bautista has spent time in Lake County before and has a career .241 average in Low-A. Valdez is new to full season ball, which could affect his performance this season, but has 55 stolen bases to his name throughout his tenure with the Indians. His speed should be an asset to the team.
The outfield this season is comprised of Greg Allen, Bobby Ison, David Armendariz, and returning Captain Dorssys Paulino. Allen and Ison are both valuable players to have in the lineup should they get on base; last season, Allen stole 30 bases in Mahoning Valley and has already stolen two this season. Ison had 11 stolen bases with the Arizona League Indians in 2014 and has three in Lake County thus far. Paulino will be the other outfielder to keep an eye on this season, as 2015 could be the season to make or break the young player. This will be Paulino’s third season in Lake County, and his first full season as an outfielder, should things not change. Paulino was originally brought into the Indians system as a shortstop but, after a 2013 and early 2014 riddled with errors (he committed 39 errors in 2013 and 13 at short in 2014), he was transitioned into the outfield. He committed only nine total errors in the outfield last season, but has already committed one so far this season.
Paulino is young — he is not yet 21 — but even young players can only struggle in the lower levels of the system for so long before it’s time to reevaluate their potential in the system. Paulino does not have a bad bat; he’s knocked in 120 runs throughout his career and has an overall .263 average and .705 OPS. Larkin said Paulino will likely find his way into the middle of the lineup.
On the mound, the Captains are currently working with a rotation of Dace Kime, Anderson Polanco, Sheffield, Thomas Pannone, Jordan Milbrath, Sean Brady, and Julian Merryweather. Pitching Coach Steve Karsay, who was with the Captains in the same role in 2013, said Pannone and Merryweather will piggyback Sheffield and Brady respectively starting with the second go-around through the rotation. Karsay also said that the main thing many of the pitchers in Lake County, both starters and relievers, will be working on this season is ironing out their delivery and keeping the ball down in the zone.
Karsay will be working with a mix of pitchers he has and hasn’t seen before, but he already seems to have a good feel for what each player brings to the table.
“I haven’t seen Dace all that much,” Karsay said. “He’s really working on a lot of good things, like using his lower half a little bit better and maining a better pace and tempo.
“[Polanco] has grown a lot in the last two years; the last time I had him was 2013,” Karsay continued. “He really solidified his delivery and his pitch mix has gone a long way. He can locate his fastball a lot better and his curveball has gotten stronger; he has an outstanding changeup. He’s a 90-92 mph guy and isn’t going to overpower hitters; he’s going to have to pitch, learn how to move the ball to both sides, and elevate the ball a bit to older hitters.”
Karsay said that two of his younger starters, Sheffield and Brady, are mature players given their age within the organization. He said that Sheffield has a “good aptitude and has a good feel of his pitch mix. He’s not a real big kid, but he can leverage the ball in the bottom of the zone. He’s going to have to pitch down in the zone.”
“He knows how to pitch. Sometimes he tries to overpower guys and that’s where he gets in trouble,” Karsay said of Sheffield. “He may overpower hitters with his raw stuff but, as you go up the ladder in the organization, you don’t get away with nearly as many mistakes up in the zone.”
“[Brady] has to stay within his delivery and not try to overpower guys,” Karsay said. “He has a good mix of pitches and is able to spin the ball well.” Karsay also said that Brady’s biggest task will be to learn to harness his breaking ball.
“We have a good mix in the bullpen,” Karsay said, also stating that the team will not name a traditional closer. “It’s hard to do at this level. We don’t use guys back to back so we don’t have a technical closer. We’ll use a couple guys and will mix and match.”
“It’s good [to develop real young players],” Larkin said of his new role with the team and outlook as manager. “It’s not that they’re more open-minded, but they know where they’re at and there’s still a lot of room to grow. You can play with a lot of different things and a lot of growth is to be had. It’s fun for a manager to manage and for our coaches to coach. There’s a lot of ways to go when you begin at the ground level and it’s fun because of that. [The players] are not coming in to get reps, they’re coming in to get better. and there’s always things to get better at and that’s what makes it a lot of fun, at this level especially.”
The season will be challenging to some players, Larkin admitted, but said it’s a challenge he looks forward to being part of alongside his team.
“[It will be rewarding] not only to get through it, but to handle some adversity along the way,” Larkin said. “That’s what seperates the men from the boys and where the line is drawn. Because when it’s going great, anyway can [perform well], but when the going gets tough, that’s when we really find out who we are as individuals, and as a team, and that’s really fun to see.”
Photo courtesy of Lake County Captains