Clippers Start Season With Many Recognizable Names Returning
Bob Toth | On 07, Apr 2017
Columbus is going to be at the center of the excitement in the International League this season as the Triple-A Clippers return an experienced roster to the field before hosting both the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 11 and the Triple-A National Championship Game between the International League and the Pacific Coast League on September 18.
The Clippers raced to an 82-62 record in 2016, capturing the West Division with the third best record in the IL overall while earning a first round playoff series against the Gwinnett Braves. The series ended in a disappointing 3-1 series loss to the 65-78 Braves, spelling a quick postseason end for the young Columbus team.
Manager Chris Tremie is back in the dugout for his fifth season leading the Clippers. His coaching staff remains largely unchanged, as pitching coach Steve Karsay and hitting coach Rouglas Odor will rejoin him. The team will have a new bench coach, as Jerry Owens joins the staff after an eleven-year professional playing career.
The Columbus starting rotation may be the most exciting part of the club to watch. Returning to the squad are right-handers Mike Clevinger and Adam Plutko and left-handers Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando. Joining the mix is 35-year-old left-hander Chris Narveson, who signed with the Indians on a minor league deal in the offseason with an invite to Major League spring training after spending the last two years in the Miami Marlins organization.
The four young arms all spent time as members of the Indians pitching staff last season, with Clippers’ Opening Day starter Clevinger leading all with ten starts and seven relief appearances. All are on the 40-man roster and could be called upon again if the Indians are in need of a starter. Narveson brings 17 years of pro experience working as both a starter and a reliever.
The bullpen is comprised of left-handers Kyle Crockett and Tyler Olson and right-handers Joe Colon, Steve Delabar, Carlos Frias, Perci Garner, Nick Goody, Louis Head, Jeff Johnson, and Josh Martin. Delabar has had success in the past at the Major League level, while Frias and Goody were added by the Indians in the offseason and both are part of the 40-man mix. Will Roberts and Enosil Tejeda were both assigned to the club on Thursday.
Delabar and Garner will start the season on the 7-day disabled list. They are joined on the list by left-hander Tim Cooney, who was released from the Indians to create room on their 40-man roster.
Behind the plate, Adam Moore returns for a third season in Columbus. He is joined by veteran Erik Kratz and 25-year-old Jeremy Lucas, who spent the final days of his 2016 campaign on the Clippers roster and was an Eastern League All-Star with Akron at the midway point.
Around the infield, the most visible change is at first base. Gone is Jesus Aguilar, who was designated for assignment and lost on waivers to the Milwaukee Brewers and made their club out of spring training (and is hitting .714 through his first four games). Nellie Rodriguez has been promoted from Double-A Akron after hitting 26 home runs with the RubberDucks in 2016. He will split time at the position with a former IL MVP, Chris Colabello, who was a free agent addition by the Tribe over the winter to provide experienced depth at the first base position before the team added slugger and former Toronto teammate, Edwin Encarnacion.
The rest of the infield is largely unchanged from a year ago. Ronny Rodriguez is back at second base. Erik Gonzalez will start the season at shortstop after spending much of the second half of the 2016 season as a utility man on the Indians roster. He had a strong effort in the spring, but some high strikeout numbers may have emphasized a need for the 24-year-old to see consistent playing time to continue to improve the offensive side of his game. Third base will be manned again by Giovanny Urshela, who spent a portion of his spring playing for the Colombian team in the World Baseball Classic. He was passed over for a temporarily open spot in Cleveland at the hot corner by his former Clippers teammate, Yandy Diaz.
Rounding out the infield depth is 25-year-old Dublin, Ohio, native Eric Stamets, who returns to Columbus for a second year.
Eyes on the outfield will be watching Bradley Zimmer closely. The 24-year-old top prospect in the organization will return to the Clippers lineup after spending the last two months of the 2016 season in Columbus. He had a spring worth noticing, hitting .358 with five doubles, a triple, three home runs, and 14 RBI.
Jordan Smith will start the season with the Clippers after splitting time between Columbus and Akron last season. He will be joined by Richie Shaffer, claimed off of waivers earlier this year, and free agent addition Daniel Robertson, who showcased his versatility in Goodyear, Arizona, while in camp with the Indians. The latter will start the season on the 7-day DL.
The Clippers opened their season on Thursday night in Louisville against the Bats. It took 13 innings, but a leadoff home run by Rodriguez put the Clippers ahead and Johnson closed it out in the bottom half, despite loading the bases with two outs on two singles and a walk before a called third strike to end it. Clevinger worked six innings, giving up a run on two hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in the no-decision.