About David Freier
There is no doubt that 2016 is an important year in Mike Papi’s career. The former first round pick out of the University of Virginia has been considered an advanced hitter by scouts, and was expected to move quickly up the organizational ladder based upon his extensive college experience.
His 2015 season did not live up to the promise of his college performance. With a full season of 416 at-bats, he had 34 doubles, four home runs, 45 RBI, and walked 81 times while striking out 118 times. His season batting average ended at .236. He dropped from the #5 prospect in the Cleveland organization at the start of 2015 to the #19 prospect when the 2016 season dawned.
In the prospect profile on him back in March, I wrote, “Where Papi needs to make the greatest strides in 2016 are with his bat.”
Now, just over three weeks into the season, Papi is doing just that.
In the classic episode of Seinfeld called “The Doll” (#127 for those of you who want to check it out) Elaine tries to get the signature of the least well known of the Three Tenors who will be on The Charles Grodin Show along with Jerry Seinfeld. Throughout the episode this Tenor is known only as ‘The Other Guy’.
For the 2016 edition of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats rotation, Julian Merryweather is that Other Guy. He is slotted in the number four spot in the rotation between Luis Lugo and Sean Brady. The number one and two spots in the rotation are held down by Justus Sheffield and Mitch Brown. All three of the pitchers ahead of Merryweather are in the top 30 prospects in the Indians organization and Brady has the pedigree of having been a member of the 16 and under group of Team USA in 2010 while he was still in high school.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft, Merryweather began the season with 34 professional games pitched to his credit, only 16 of those coming as the starter. He was drafted out of Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU), a place he had arrived at by a circuitous route.
OBU is a Division II school with a strong record in athletics, including baseball. With no offers to play Division I baseball when he graduated from High School in Berkeley, California, he instead went to Junior College.
In a professional career that has spanned parts of three seasons and a total of 194 games Greg Allen has stolen 89 bases while being caught just 21 times. This gives him a career stolen base percentage of 81%. In his short professional career this level of excellence compares favorably with well-known speedsters in the Hall of Fame, such as Lou Brock, who had a 75% rate, and Rickey Henderson, whose stolen base rate was just over 80%.
Allen was drafted by Cleveland in the sixth round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft. He attended college at San Diego State and was among the final class of players to benefit from the tutelage of “Mr. Padre” and Aztec head coach Tony Gwynn.
“I had enough time to get close to Coach Gwynn.” said Allen, “His insight, his love and passion for the game and being successful at it and his ability to share that with the players he coached was a great experience.”
On a cool and sunny Tuesday, the pop of baseball hitting glove and the dull thwack of fungo bats returned to the Hill City from their winter hiatus. This chilly workout presaged the events of Thursday, April 7th, 2016, when their second year of affiliation with the Cleveland Indians season began for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats.
Similar to last season, the Hillcats roster features nine of the top 30 prospects in the Indians organization as determined by Baseball America. Fourteen members of the current Lynchburg roster spent time with the club in 2015, and the new additions replace such noted prospects as Clint Frazier, Nellie Rodriguez and Bradley Zimmer, all of whom will begin the season at AA Akron.
Going into 2016, Bradley Zimmer is the top prospect of the Cleveland Indians organization as rated by Baseball America. In 2015 his performance earned him a spot on the Baseball America Minor League All-Star team, the Carolina League All-Star team and a trip to the Future’s Game. At the Future’s Game he was the starting center fielder of the U.S. team. His triple slash numbers for his first full season of professional ball were .273/.368/.446. A similar performance during the 2016 season could have him patrolling center field at Progressive Field before the season’s end.
So what makes Bradley Zimmer such a strong prospect?
In old school scouting language, Zimmer has “the goods”.
In 2015 Mike Papi was the 5th ranked prospect in the Indians system, according to Baseball America. As we get close to a month away from opening day 2016, he has fallen to 19th on the organizational rankings. The former first round pick, number 38 overall in 2014, did not live up to his billing in the 2015 season, but there is still reason for the Cleveland faithful to have hope that Papi can get it together and turn into a valuable piece of the Indians future.
The drop in ranking was due to the inconsistent showing Papi put up at High Class-A Lynchburg for the 2015 season. After only 141 at-bats during the 2014 season, spread between Short Season Mahoning Valley and Low-A Lake County, Papi was assigned to the Hillcats, just an hour south of his alma mater the University of Virginia.
Being so close to Charlottesville made playing in the Hill City a very supportive environment.
“You always hear people yelling in the stands, ‘Go Wahoos!’ and it’s good to have that support and that backing here.” said Papi.
A decade ago Rajai Davis was poised to make his Major League Debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Drafted by the Bucs in 2001, the 38th round pick out of the University of Connecticut-Avery Point, he had risen from a low-round pick on the strength of his legs and defense. He had led the High-A Carolina League in batting, hits, runs and stolen bases on his way to an All-Star season in 2004. He followed this in up 2005 with a strong season at AA Altoona setting the franchise record for stolen bases with 47. As the 2006 season dawned, he had a career minor league batting average of .308 and had stolen 179 bases. This included 40 or more stolen bases at every full season stop he had played in the Pirates organization. His only road block to the majors was Chris Duffy.
At the time, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook described his principle weakness as the need to tighten his strike zone and polish his routes on defense in center field. He would make his Major League Debut with a single at-bat on August 14, 2006, against the Milwaukee Brewers and totaled 13 more at-bats while appearing in 20 games that season.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
These famous opening words of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities could easily describe the 2015 season of Indians prospect Luigi Rodriguez.The now 23-year-old outfielder began the season at the High Class-A level for his sixth professional season. Even though it was his third season at the level, he had only 133 games with 449 at-bats there entering the year.
Injuries during the 2013 and 2014 seasons while in Carolina had derailed the progress he had made in 2012 while playing for the Low-A Lake County Captains. In that season he had eleven home runs, 48 runs batted in, and 24 stolen bases backed up by a .338 on-base percentage and a .744 OPS. With two seasons marred by an initial shoulder injury, his power and speed had fallen off to where he only hit a single home run in 2013 and his combined stolen base totals for the 2013 and 2014 seasons only reached 23, one shy of his previous season high.
With the election this past week of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza to the Hall of Fame, it is an opportune time to ask the question – who should the Cleveland Indians consider honoring at Progressive Field?
Seven former Indians players have been previously honored, either in number or statue or both. Four have had their uniform number retired – Earl Averill, Lou Boudreau, Mel Harder and Bob Lemon. Jim Thome has a statue in his honor, and both Bob Feller and Larry Doby have been memorialized with both a statue and their number retired. What is significant is that of these seven stars of Cleveland Indians history, only Thome played in a single game after the 1958 season. Therefore it is time to consider some players of the more recent eras to be honored at Progressive Field.
Eight months ago Rob Kaminsky was beginning his second full professional season with Palm Beach in the High-A Florida State League as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Now Cleveland fans know him as the swag acquired from St. Louis for Brandon Moss at the trade deadline. With late-season injuries mounting the Cardinals dealt Kaminsky, their pre-season number five prospect, straight up for Moss, to enhance their playoff chances.
It was a surprising deal, and one likely to benefit the Tribe, as they free themselves of Moss’ $6.5 million in salary and get a pitcher back who has been close to dominant in his two full seasons in the minors.
“It was like Christmas in July.” opined Lynchburg pitching coach Rigo Beltran about the influx of pitching talent to the Hillcats roster at the trade deadline. “I was excited to pick up not just two lefties, but two lefties of that kind of caliber.”
On Opening Day of 2015 it was likely that only diehard fans of the Cleveland Indians would have known the name Clint Frazier. The organization’s first round draft pick (2013) had completed his first full season in the minors and second season overall with enough success to place him third in the Baseball America ranking of Tribe prospects.
Opening the season on the High Class-A Lynchburg Hillcats roster, he and fellow outfield prospect Bradley Zimmer shared outfield duties alternating between center field and right field. Unlike Zimmer, who got off to a hot start with the Hillcats, Frazier limped out of the gate with a .263 batting average, six home runs, eleven doubles, and a triple slash line of .347/.416/.744 through April and May – not necessarily poor numbers for the High-A Carolina League, but not the kind of performance that one would expect from a highly touted pick out of high school.
The Lynchburg Hillcats team clinched the second half Northern Division title of the Carolina League on Tuesday September 1 with a loss by the trailing Frederick Keys. This set a matchup with first half Northern Division winner Wilmington for the evening of September 9.
The Hillcats finished the second half with a 39 – 31 record, bringing their season record to 72 – 68, best overall in the Northern Division. The second half resurgence was headed up by two key performers, starting pitcher Michael Peoples and center fielder Clint Frazier, who would lead them into the playoffs.