About David Freier
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.
Looking at the High-A Lynchburg roster you might be inclined to skip past shortstop Ivan Castillo and gravitate towards some of the more familiar names on the roster, as the 2105 Hillcats have been host to nine of the Cleveland Indians Top 30 prospects according to Baseball America’s 2015 Prospect Handbook. Not only are there a number of top prospects, but Castillo usually occupies the ninth spot in the Hillcats batting order, thus he is not the first player on the roster you would examine.
Last week Castillo erased this relative anonymity by winning the Carolina League player of the week award following on the heels of teammate Clint Frazier, who earned this honor the week before. This makes the fourth Hillcats player to earn weekly honors this season.
For the week of July 20 – 26 Castillo put up an impressive offensive output. His triple slash line for the week was .524 / .583 / 1.000 in 6 games where he tallied eleven hits, five RBI’s, six runs, two walks and only two strikeouts.
“That was so exciting,” Castillo says about winning the award, “I’ve been working on my hitting and every time I go to the plate I have a plan. Now it’s paying off for me.”
For sports aficionados the red zone concerns the potential for a team to score. For the past several weeks this term might be one you could apply to High Class-A Lynchburg outfielder Clint Frazier, the #2 prospect of the Cleveland Indians system.
He became the third individual 2015 Hillcats player to earn Carolina League Player of the Week honors, joining Bradley Zimmer and Nellie Rodriguez. For the week of July 13-19 he hit at a .462 clip with a double, two home runs, five RBI’s, four runs, and four stolen bases.
Asked about earning the award, Frazier said, “Winning the (Carolina League) player of the week award was awesome. I think it was the first time I’d won such an award in pro-ball.”
The number 38 seems to associate itself with High-A Lynchburg Hillcats left fielder Mike Papi. He and his best friend always had this number, as an inside thing, since his sophomore year of high school. He continued to wear it during his college playing days at the University of Virginia, and he was the 38th overall pick in the supplemental first round in 2014. He has kept the number 38 as he has played professionally, first for Rookie level Mahoning Valley, then the Low-A Lake County Captains and now the Hillcats.
Drafted by the Angels organization out of high school, he chose to attend the University of Virginia where he constructed a strong baseball resume. He captured the Atlantic Coast Conference batting title as a sophomore with a .381 average, and tied for the ACC lead in homeruns with 11 in his junior year, prior to being drafted.
It was not that long ago that Jose Canseco was rocketing baseballs over major league fences. During his seventeen year Major League career he earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1986, was named the American League MVP in 1988 with 42 home runs and 40 stolen bases – the first 40/40 season ever recorded. His final at-bat came with the Chicago White Sox in the 2001 season. Although he did go to spring training with the Montreal Expos the following year, he was released before the season began.
Now he tours minor league ballparks doing autograph sessions for avid fans and displaying his physical talents in home run hitting contests against groups of local players.
This tour started in the summer of 2014 when he and his agent called around to minor leagues teams throughout the Midwest to see if there was interest. There was.
“So we decided to buy a 40 foot RV. We went to 22 or 23 cities and did home run competitions.” said Canseco.
The 1971 #1 single It’s A Family Affair by Sly and the Family Stone’s was about the highs and lows of family life. Playing on a professional baseball team is very much the same kind of experience. The 25 plus players, coaches, and staff on a team become a family over the course of the challenging and taxing 140 game minor league season.
Not only is the team a family, but the atmosphere that minor baseball franchises encourage is one of family fun. Team mascots, wacky or silly on-the-field promotions such as sumo wrestling or the dizzy bat race, and touring acts like the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo or Zooperstars are there to attract and create a family friendly environment.
It is not uncommon for professional baseball players to have bloodlines that come with baseball connections. The 2015 High-A Lynchburg Hillcats feature a handful of team members that have family connections to the game including two with the Indians organization, past and present.
Without a doubt power is the calling card of the 2015 Lynchburg Hillcats. The team posted 25 homeruns in the month of May, which, at that point in the season, was a greater total than any other Carolina League team had amassed for their whole season. The division rival Frederick Keys were the next closest with 24 homeruns to that date.
The High-A Carolina League is generally considered to feature pitcher friendly ball parks, and to be a more difficult league for hitters. As the season passes the 70 game mid-point mark, this year’s Hillcats team has emerged as the most potent offense in the league.
With three or four games played for each team in the second half (weekend rainouts have made the schedule uneven) the Hillcats hitters have amassed a .398 team slugging percentage, featuring 52 homeruns, twelve more than the next closest team. They also hold the league lead for doubles, triples and total bases and have a team OPS of .731, also leading the Carolina League.
This potent attack is led by the Hillcats three mid-season Carolina League All-Stars, outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Luigi Rodriguez, and first baseman Nellie Rodriguez. The same trio also hold the top three spots for the league homerun leader board with Luigi Rodriguez at 11, Zimmer at 10 and Nellie Rodriguez in a third position tie with 9 (shared with Jacob Rogers of the Myrtle Beach club). Rounding out the top five is Clint Frazier with eight, yet another Hillcats hitter.
Virginia native D.J. Brown’s season has featured a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. His career path has taken the High-A Lynchburg pitcher from a professional career that might never happen to a regular in the 2015 Hillcat pitching rotation.
The road of his dreams of becoming a Major Leaguer began in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He had always planned on attending James Madison University to the point where he did not apply to any other schools and is unabashedly enthusiastic about the Dukes and Harrisonburg, Virginia where the school is located.
“If you talk to anybody that went to JMU they are going to tell you the same thing, it’s the best college on earth.”
Nellie Rodriguez continues to improve on past performances this year at High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League. He has a slash line of .357/.493/.850 generated from 29 extra base hits, 9 of which are homeruns. This goes along with a .274 batting average, a league leading 51 RBI’s and 29 walks. This walk total is already tied for his second best career total in free passes for a season. All this has earned him a spot on the mid-season Carolina League All-Star team.
He stands 6’2” 225 pounds giving him the impressive presence of a slugger. In 2014 he led the Midwest League in homeruns (22), total bases (234), and extra base hits (57). An impressive performance for a 19 year old at the Low Class A level. This performance vaulted him to #19 in the top prospect lists of the Cleveland organization.
Drafted in 2012 in the 15th round out of George Washington High School in New York City, Rodriguez came to the Indians system with an impressive amount of experience.
George Washington High also produced former Indians star Manny Ramirez, as well as Hall of Famer Rod Carew among the seven Major Leaguers who are alums. The reputation of the school, along with its renowned coach, Steve Mandl, who has over 30 years coaching and more than 1000 career wins, drew Rodriguez there.
The tools of ignorance is a longstanding euphemism in baseball for the catcher’s gear – mask, chest protector and shin guards. Various sources have credited the origin of this term to either longtime American League catcher Muddy Ruel, or Yankee Hall-of-Fame catcher Bill Dickey.
Regardless of its origin, the words create a strong sense of irony, as there is nothing about being a catcher that relies upon ignorance.
For Eric Haase High-A Lynchburg’s primary catcher, mastering the skills needed to excel at catching is his way of life. As of June 7th he has already caught 274 innings in 32 games played during the 2015 season. The job of catching can be a grind, but Haase plans his offseason so that he can maintain his health for each new baseball season.
Luigi Rodriguez possesses an intriguing set of tools; power, speed, and defense. These tools have had him on and off the Cleveland organizations top prospect list for the past several years.
At the age of 16 he was signed out of a baseball academy in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The somewhat diminutive outfielder, he stands 5’11” and 160 lbs., first got noticed for his on-field performance at Low-A Lake County in 2012. He put up a slash line of .338/.406/.744 that included 5 triples, 11 homeruns and 24 stolen bases. The power speed combination garnered attention, but he has been unable to capitalize on these talents in the several years since.
That trend seems to be reversing itself this year with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. He shares time in the outfield with the trio of number one picks, Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier and Mike Papi and of late has been manning the leadoff spot in the lineup for the Hillcats.