For as long as he can remember, High-A Lynchburg’s Steven Kwan has been singularly obsessed with baseball. Standing 5’9” and weighing in at 175 lbs., he wears uniform number one, bats at the top of the order, and has been the Hillcats’ sparkplug through the first month of the season.
The product of Washington High School in Fremont, California, he attended Oregon State, and was selected by Cleveland in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. A center fielder by trade, Kwan brings energy and excitement to the field.
“My parents took me to this sports camp when I was a kid, but I only went one time because they were too embarrassed to take me back,” he recalled as he talked about his focus on baseball, “I would grab a basketball and play by myself, I wouldn’t play with the other guys, and when we played baseball that was the only thing I wanted to do.”
Baseball is a game where rhythm matters. The hitter is trying to get into a pattern where he can predict the trajectory and rotation of a pitched ball, and the pitcher is trying to throw the hitter off to get him to swing and miss, or to ineffectively make contact with the ball, inducing a pop-up, or a weak fly, or a groundout. For the 2019 High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, Eli Morgan has been one of the most effective pitchers at keeping opposing Carolina League hitters off-balance and unable to generate a consistent rhythm in the batter’s box.
Morgan, now in his third year out of Gonzaga University, was an 8th round selection by Cleveland in 2017. The right-handed 5’10”, 190 pounder finished the previous season pitching 143.1 innings, the most he had ever thrown in a baseball season.
As Spring Training drew to a close for 2019, the Cleveland Indians traveled from Arizona to Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, for a two-game set. Along with the expected Major League roster, the club took along a handful of players expecting to start their seasons in the minor leagues.
For one of these players, High-A Lynchburg’s Luke Wakamatsu, the two games would mark a special occasion. On Monday, March 25, Luke got to stand across home plate from his father while lineups were exchanged. The 6’3” tall, 185 lb. fifth-year professional would be playing against the team on which his father serves as bench coach.
“It was amazing,” said Luke. “I wanted to try and beat him so bad, so that I could talk smack to him.”
A strong start to the season for Lynchburg’s Eli Morgan earned him the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week award for games played between April 4 and April 14.
The third-year pro Morgan had previously won his league’s Pitcher of the Week award three times last season, doing so at the end of April in the Midwest League with the Class-A Lake County Captains before winning the Carolina League’s version at the end of June and again in the beginning of July while with the Hillcats.
Success is no mystery to High-A Lynchburg center fielder Austen Wade. In Little League, he played on successful teams in his hometown of Midland, Texas, winning city championships between the ages of ten and twelve. Also a football player at that age (who in west Texas doesn’t play football?), baseball remained his first love.
“Growing up in west Texas, high school football is big. You play junior league football, then high school football,” said Wade, “but my parents said play whatever sport you want, and we will get you wherever you need to be in order to play. Honestly, my first love was baseball.”
The 2018 season ended with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats going down to defeat under the bats, gloves, and arms of division rival Potomac. It was the fourth time in four years as a Cleveland Indians affiliate that the Hillcats went to the playoffs. In that span, the club has achieved only a single League title, in 2017, when they split the Mills Cup Championship with the Down East Wood Ducks due to cancellation of finals because of an impending hurricane.
To open the season the club is marked by a veteran presence, including first-year Hillcats manager Jim Pankovits. Nine of the 13-member pitching staff toed the rubber in a Hillcats uniform last year. Reliever Jared Robinson heads up the list of veteran arms, having spent parts of the three previous seasons in the Carolina League. In addition, newcomer to the Cleveland organization, Yapson Gomez, pitched ten games for Myrtle Beach in the 2018 season, adding yet another league veteran to the pitching staff.
“We have quite a few kids back from last year that have a couple of years under their belt,” said Pankovits before the season’s first game. “I think the strength of the Indians’ organization is causing a little bit of logjam.”
The Cleveland Indians announced Monday the acquisition of minor league infielder Andruw Monasterio from the Washington Nationals to complete the two clubs’ previous swap revolving around All-Star catcher Yan Gomes.
Just 21 years old, Monasterio completed his fifth pro season in 2018. He has logged innings at second, third, and short, but the two positions up the middle have been his primary residences on the diamond. It marks the second time in the span of four months that he has been on the move, as the Nationals had only acquired him in the back half of August as the return for veteran second baseman Daniel Murphy ahead of the waivers trade deadline.
The Cleveland Indians did not participate in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, but they did lose a player along the way.
Pitcher Kyle Dowdy was selected with the tenth overall pick by the New York Mets. The right-handed pitcher recently joined the Indians organization, acquired in July’s trade with the Tigers that brought outfielder Leonys Martin to Cleveland and sent infielder Willi Castro to Detroit.
The Rule 5 draft, held annually on the final day of the Winter Meetings, allows eligible players to be selected if not protected by placement on their club’s 40-man rosters. Players are deemed eligible if they have played five or more seasons of professional baseball after signing at 18 or younger or if they have played four or more seasons after signing at 19 and up. Rule 5 picks cost selecting clubs $100,000 to make.
The Cleveland Indians added three more prospects to the 40-man roster on Tuesday, protecting three young talents from selection in next month’s Rule 5 draft.
First baseman Bobby Bradley, starting pitcher Sam Hentges, and pitcher Jean Carlos Mejia became the newest members of the farm system to earn a spot on the 40-man roster of the Indians, ensuring that Cleveland does not lose any of the three during the Major or Minor League portions of the draft in December. The moves filled the team’s roster at 40, following the addition earlier in the day of right-handed reliever Walker Lockett in a minor trade with the San Diego Padres.
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.