About David Freier
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.
If someone described a draft pick as 6’1” 195 lbs. out of Rochester, Minnesota, most sports enthusiasts would assume you are talking about a hockey player. In this case the player is Mitch Brown, the Cleveland Indians 2nd round selection in 2012.
Rated the 14th best prospect in the Indians farm system, the 21-year old right-hander grew up with a love for the outdoors, not uncommon for those raised in the Northstar State.
“I love to fish and hunt,” says Brown. “I really like to spend time out on the lakes and when I’m home just hang out with my family.”
Joe Sever is not the amongst the most recognizable names on the High-A Hillcats roster, but this former Pepperdine Wave second baseman has been instrumental in catalyzing the team’s recent winning ways.
After beginning the season 9–19 the Hillcats have …
He was the 8th overall pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and joins three Cleveland first round picks on the High-A Lynchburg team in 2015. The time between has been filled with challenges, but Casey Weathers is determined to persevere in pursuit of his dream of playing in the majors.
Casey was not always a pitcher, having been an outfielder at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove, California, and then at Sacramento City College. It was in junior college that he was converted to the mound, featuring a 94 mph fastball. He transferred to Vanderbilt in for his junior and senior years, joining a team led by current major leaguers David Price and former Lynchburg Hillcat Pedro Alvarez.
Asked if he would go back to hitting if he couldn’t get his arm fully healthy, Weathers said, “Absolutely not! There is a reason they converted me to a pitcher really fast.” With only a slightly diminished grin, “I don’t think hitting was my calling, ever.”
By each and every measure Bradley Zimmer is emerging as an elite prospect. His standard five-tool talent is obvious to those who watch him play, but he stays humble and remains focused on developing his talent in the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats outfield he shares with fellow first round picks Clint Frazier and Mike Papi.
Power – Leads the Carolina League with 4 homeruns.
Speed -Twelve bags, good for second in the Carolina League.
Average – A robust .318 as the season nears the end of its third week.
Fielding /arm strength – He has yet to make an error this season, has two assists, one each in right and center fields and his speed and focus make difficult plays look routine.
Hillcats outfielder Clint Frazier is a player to watch. You will never have any difficulty in picking him out on the field when you go to see him play. This is because he is one of a small number of baseball players to have red hair. At some point in the future it is likely that Frazier will join pitchers Charles “Red” Embree (1941 – 1947) and current ESPN baseball broadcaster Rick Sutcliffe (1982 – 1984) as red-headed Cleveland Indian major leaguers, based upon his pedigree as the 5th overall pick in 2013.
Traditional baseball scouting is based upon five tools, while noted prospect analyst John Sickels prefers to about seven tools. By either measure current Frazier is an up and coming player. He features power, speed, running skills and a plus arm and is one of three first round picks by the Indians to be featured in the High-A Lynchburg outfield.
A first glance at the 2015 High-A Lynchburg roster will pull your attention to the all outfield prospects, but don’t overlook the pitching. The pedigree of Adam Plutko may be amongst the most intriguing of all the pitchers in the Cleveland Indians farm system. Drafted in the 11th round following his junior year at UCLA in 2013, the third year professional from Upland, California now has 20 starts at the High-A level.
Plutko is a prospect on the rise, but this should be no surprise following his college career. The leader of a UCLA team that captured the Bruins first College World Series championship in 2013, that pinnacle was bracketed by his freshman experience. That season he was part of a Bruins’ staff that featured two current major league starters in Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, and the Indians own Trevor Bauer as the team won the Pac-12 Conference. In Plutko’s sophomore year the team earned a birth in the College World Series and his junior year was capped by UCLA’s first national title on the diamond.
The Hillcat green and gold are set to take the field again for another season. For 2015 this marks the 20th season of the Hillcats moniker for a team in Lynchburg and the 75th anniversary of professional baseball in the hill city. On top of all these momentous milestones the Hillcats will be at the start of a new four-year affiliation as a farm club of the Cleveland Indians. With this new affiliation the hometown fans will kick off their connection to Cleveland with a team comprised of some of the best and brightest prospects the Indians farm system has to offer.
The coaching staff is headed up by second year manager, Mark Budzinski. He was once a Cleveland minor-leaguer himself and a product of the University of Richmond. Budzinski makes his home in Richmond, Virginia so this season provides added opportunities to see his family. As any devotee of professional baseball knows family time is precious as there can be long periods of absence when you are far from home and there the breaks in the season are few in number.