About David Freier
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.
At the opening of the 2015 baseball season Dace Kime was ranked as the #20 prospect in the Cleveland Indians system. The 23 year old 6’4” 200 lb. right-hander was drafted in the third round of 2013 out of the University of Louisville.
An avowed user of Twitter, Kime has the quintessential growth mindset, a hunger to learn, be it about the world around him, or the game which he so much enjoys.
“I like to learn, I enjoyed school and I’m going back to school even though I graduated this year.” he said. “I use Twitter as a medium to share my passion with people. When I tweet some weird stuff out, some people like it, some people don’t. In Frederick last week I had two physicists come up to me before the game. They were asking me stuff about black holes, about crazy things. It blew my mind, but it made my day.”
Luis Lugo stands 6’5” 200 lbs., an imposing figure on the mound. Ranked as the Indians #21 prospect by Baseball America, the young left-hander from Venezuela, who turned 21 just before the start of the season, has made significant gains in his proficiency on the mound this year.
The 2015 season is Lugo’s fifth in the Cleveland farm system. His offerings include a fastball clocked in the low 90’s, a change-up, a sweeping curveball, and a hard slider that was added to his repertoire late in the 2014 season.
Where he has really made gains this year is in his consistency.
“He’s starting to mature, not only physically, but emotionally and mentally.” said High Class-A Lynchburg pitching coach Rigo Beltran, a former Major League pitcher himself.
Over the past month or more of the season the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats players have been dominating in the Carolina League with four consecutive player of the week awards and a player of the month award. Only the most diehard aficionados of minor league baseball will know is that there is another significant award winner on the Hillcats roster, catcher Sicnarf Loopstok.
His award is for the Best Name in Minor League Baseball, otherwise known as Moniker Madness on Milb.com. Loopstok won the 2013 title joining such previous winners as Rock Shoulders (2012) and Seth Schwindenhammer (2011) by defeating Stryker Trahan, the Diamondbacks 2012 first round pick.
“It was a good experience.” Loopstok said about his run to the title. “I didn’t know I was in it, and then I started getting a lot of messages on Facebook, fans saying ‘Hey we are voting for you in Moniker Madness.’ so I checked it out.”
Individual success in sports, and baseball in particular, is common and sparks thoughts of broader cultural references to inspirational words that spur success. Perhaps your personal favorite is Larry the Cable Guys’ Git-R-done, or maybe it is Yoda from the Empire Strikes Back, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try”. For the High-A Hillcats latest acquisition, pitcher Rob Kaminsky, it is the mantra acquired from his favorite book, Tim Grover’s Relentless. Do it or don’t.
“It’s quite simple,” says Kaminsky, “there is no such thing as trying. If you say you’re going to try, then it’s an open invitation to failure. You either do it or you don’t, and you don’t sulk.”
Kaminsky was acquired by Cleveland from St. Louis in a deadline deal for Brandon Moss. As a competitor, his dogged mental approach to the game will fit right into the Hillcats team which has swept its way into first place in the second half standings of the Carolina Leagues Northern Division with a 26 – 18 record. This brings the team to 59 -55 record overall, the first time they have had a winning record on the season since they were 2-1.