When you are looking to make a name for yourself professionally, there is no such thing as an offseason, especially in Major League Baseball. Such is the case for a number of farmhands of the Cleveland Indians from this most recently completed season whom are active in league activities in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Venezuela.
In addition to the seven Indians minor leaguers who are in Glendale, Arizona, participating in the Arizona Fall League (position players Yu Chang, Li-Jen Chu, and Connor Marabell and pitchers Justin Garza, Rob Kaminsky, Jared Robinson, and Dalbert Siri), four members of their farm system are getting in work in the six-team Dominican Professional Baseball League, two are in the eight-team Venezuelan Professional Baseball League, and one is working in the eight-team Mexican Pacific League, running up and down the Gulf of California.
The postseason hangover in Cleveland has extended all the way to Arizona for the Indians organization, as the team’s participants on the shared roster of the Glendale Desert Dogs have taken four straight losses to open the Arizona Fall League schedule.
Seven Indians prospects are members of the Desert Dogs club, joining representatives from the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees. Glendale is winless at 0-4 to start the season, which began Tuesday from the desert. They trail the first place Surprise Saguaros by three games in the AFL West Division.
The Indians have sent four pitchers – Justin Garza, Rob Kaminsky, Jared Robinson, and Dalbert Siri – and three position players – Yu Chang, Li-Jen Chu, and Connor Marabell – to Arizona for offseason work. Joining them in Glendale is Double-A Akron pitching coach Rigo Beltran.
Lynchburg’s Anthony Miller lived on the base paths over the final week of the 2018 Carolina League schedule, earning him the league’s Player of the Week award for games played between August 27 and September 3.
The 23-year-old first baseman took home his first professional award on Tuesday after a solid week at the plate that saw him go 16-for-35 (.457) with a pair of walks to boast a .513 on-base percentage in the eight days. In the nine games played by the Hillcats in that stretch, he hit six doubles, knocked two balls over the fence, scored four times, and drove in eleven. He hit safely in all nine games played to put together a season-high nine-game hitting streak, and the stretch included an impressive 5-for-5 day on August 31 against the Red Sox, when he finished just a triple short of the cycle in Lynchburg’s 8-0 win over Salem.
Jared Robinson is a Carolina League veteran. A member of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats for all or part of the past three seasons, he understands the challenge and demands of professional baseball. With experience comes established success and a chance to climb the organizational ladder towards the Major Leagues.
Hailing from West Covina, the 23-year-old right-handed pitcher is a southern California native. Robinson’s interest in baseball began when he was very young, watching his older brothers play.
“I liked watching their games,” he said. “I think that’s where it all started, visualizing being out on the field in front of all the fans.”
Every ball player has a different journey. For Robert Charles Orlan, who goes by R.C., it started in Pennsylvania. Born in Bryn Mawr, a suburb of Philadelphia, his family moved to Houston, Texas, and it was there that baseball became a part of his life.
“I had this plastic tee growing up, basically a big wiffle ball attached to a piece of string so I could hit all day, my parents didn’t have to do anything,” he said in a kind of self-deprecating tone of voice.
Imagine traveling over 8,000 miles away from home for your career. Beyond the distance, you learn a new language, you must become exceptionally proficient at your job, and when the journey began, you were only 18 years old.
This is the odyssey of High-A Lynchburg Hillcats catcher Li-Jen Chu. A native of Taichung, Taiwan, he has been playing baseball as a professional since signing with the Cleveland Indians organization in 2012. Now 24 years old, Chu shows signs that his performance is catching up with his talent.
The Indians snuck in a second deal prior to the trade deadline on Tuesday afternoon, acquiring outfielder Oscar Mercado from the St. Louis Cardinals for a pair of outfielders in the Cleveland farm system.
If you meet the 6’0″, 170 lb. Ernie Clement out of uniform, you might not know that he is one of the Cleveland Indians’ Top 30 Prospects, as determined by Baseball America. He came in at 24 in their preseason rankings. Currently, MLB Pipeline has him in the number 28 spot.
Raised in Rochester, New York, the 22-year-old has been playing baseball since the age of three. His parents encouraged him to play other sports – he excelled at hockey – but he always returned to his first love, baseball.
“I love the team aspect and everybody coming together for one common goal,” said Clement about his deep passion for baseball. “All of my friends played baseball so that made it really fun.”
It was a great week for Li-Jen Chu, as the 24-year-old catcher of the Lynchburg Hillcats was named the Carolina League’s Player of the Week for games played between June 16 and June 22.
Chu’s big week included appearances in six games – four behind the plate and two at designated hitter. In his six starts, he combined to go 12-for-20 (.600) at the plate with two doubles, two homers, and six RBI while drawing five walks to post a .680 on-base percentage. He used a pair of three-hit games and a four-hit effort to tally his extensive hit total, going hitless in just one game during the week.
Right-handed pitcher Eli Morgan began his professional baseball career a little more than one year ago. Now the number 29 ranked Indians prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is in his first full season. Morgan has reached the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats working as a starting pitcher. This path to a career in baseball is a recent development.
“Through high school, I wasn’t even sure about college baseball,” said Morgan. “I wasn’t getting looked at.”
Dalbert Siri is a solidly built right-hander out of Moca in the Dominican Republic. The 6’2”, 190 lb. 22 year-old reliever, signed when he was 19, rather late for players coming out of the Caribbean. The strongest prospects usually ink a contract the day they turn 16, the earliest legal age they can sign with a Major League organization.
Those top international signings often have the benefit of playing at one of the various training centers where they go to school, play ball, and get exposure to one or more Major League organizations. Siri, on the other hand, only started to play baseball at the age of 14 in Little League.
“I had to do a lot of hard work to get noticed,” Siri said. “My mother paid to have someone teach me baseball, so I took it seriously and played every day.”
It is not often that a player marks two rare baseball achievements before becoming a professional. For High-A Lynchburg Hillcats starting pitcher Zach Plesac, this happened in high school. The nephew of former three-time All-Star reliever Dan Plesac went to the mound for the first in-conference game of the 2012 season for Crown Point, Indiana, High School. In the ninth inning, their opposition, Chesterton, led 2-1 from a combination of a hit batter and errors, but had no hits.
“I came to bat in the bottom of the ninth and hit a three-run homer over the left field wall,” recalled Plesac. “It was just incredible. It was one of those things you dream about.”