Join Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we dig through the archives to help count down to Opening Day!
Countdown to Opening Day – 45 days
Of the 23 former Cleveland Indians to don the #45 on their back, no player wore it longer – or better – than former southpaw reliever Paul Assenmacher.
For the second consecutive season as a Cleveland Indians’ affiliate, the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats reached the Carolina League playoffs. This year they took it one step further, winning the Northern Division playoff against the Potomac Nationals and advancing to the Mills Cup Championship before bowing to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, who would win their second consecutive Carolina League title.
The Hillcats’ success as a team was achieved through a combination of a strong offense and consistent pitching.
Growing up in Pearland, Texas, a suburb south of Houston, Brock Hartson was naturally a fan of the Astros and their famous Killer B’s lineup. In fact, he played baseball against the sons of Craig Biggio.
“I really liked Biggio. He went about the game the right way,” said Hartson. “Playing against his sons, I had a pretty good understanding of who he was as a person and who he was as a player.”
The 6’3”, 195 lb. pitcher was drafted in the 21st round of 2015 out of the University of Texas-San Antonio. He won 22 games in three seasons as a starter in college, never getting a chance to pitch out of the bullpen.
The High-A Lynchburg Hillcats had clinched a guaranteed playoff berth by winning the first-half Northern Division title in the Carolina League.
The team fought valiantly to win the Northern Division second half title. That victory would insure all three divisional series games be played at Calvin Falwell Field in Lynchburg.
Alas, the Hillcats finished the second half with the identical 39-31 record of Potomac. With Potomac holding the tiebreaker – head-to-head wins – this meant the first game of the Northern Division Championship would take place at Pfitzner Stadium in Potomac.
For most players, a repeat assignment to a minor league level is not a sign of team commitment or individual progress. For High-A Hillcats pitcher Luis Lugo, this is not the case.
The 6’5”, 200 lb. left-hander out of Barquismento, Venezuela, turned 22 just before the season began. This leaves him on the younger side of the ledger for players in the High-A Carolina League and with his experience, he has surpassed his performance of last season.
“My work ethic has been a lot better this year,” said Lugo about where he has made the most strides in improving his overall game. “I’ve been focusing on mechanics and keeping my body in shape to be able to compete and be successful. My delivery has gotten better, and working with Rigo Beltran [the Hillcats pitching coach], has been a foundation for me to figure out what I need to work on and then apply in the game.”
One of the starting pitchers more recently added to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats staff is the 6’0”, 195 lb. left-hander Thomas Pannone. He was promoted from the Low-A Midwest League on July 13 and made his first appearance for the Hillcats the next day. Pannone pitched five and one-third innings in relief in a game suspended by rain to earn his first win in the Carolina League.
He was originally drafted out of Bishop Hendricken High School in Rhode Island as an outfielder, but chose not to sign.
“I had signed with the University of Miami, but didn’t want to go three years of college and then try to get redrafted,” said Pannone. “My advisor at the time knew people at the College of Southern Nevada and helped get me on the team.”
Tyler Krieger, a 22-year-old second baseman who grew up in Duluth, was born in Orange County, California, but moved to Georgia at the age of five. He still maintains ties with family back in California, and spent some summers out there playing baseball before he went on to college.
Originally drafted by Seattle in the 35th round of the 2012 draft, he chose to attend Clemson and was their starting shortstop for his freshman and most of his sophomore year before suffering a right shoulder injury.
“They treated me well in my time there [Clemson],” says Krieger. “I learned a lot, grew as a person, and I’ll always be following them just because of what they have done for me.”
He is the quintessential southern California guy. Taylor Murphy grew up alternately surfing and playing baseball in the San Diego area. The 6’2”, 200 lb. righty hails from Torrey Pines, just north of the city proper, and had to decide early whether to follow the athlete’s path to surfing or baseball.
“I’ve surfed just about as long as I’ve played baseball,” said Murphy. “I was eleven years old when I had to make a decision on surfing competitively or picking up travel ball. I think I made the right decision.”
Coming out of Torrey Pines High School, he was drafted by the hometown Padres in the 40th round of the 2011 first year player draft.
You generally only see Cameron Hill at two times between when the gates open and the end of the game – pre-game, when he is wearing his headphones and getting his mind focused on the upcoming game, or late in the game, when he is summoned from the bullpen to shut down opposing hitters.
For the current season, Hill has made 29 appearances out of the bullpen – 28 for High-A Lynchburg, and one for the AAA Columbus Clippers. The 6’1”, 185 lb. right-hander out of El Reno, Oklahoma, has put up strong numbers, earning a brief promotion to AAA when the organization was short on pitching following the 19-inning marathon game between Cleveland and Toronto to open the month of July.
Hill grew up with a love of baseball, in part because his father had been a ballplayer.
Sean Brady was selected out of Ida Baker High School in Cape Coral Florida in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Though he has only been pitching professionally for four seasons, baseball has been part of this life for as long as he can remember.
“Like everybody, I’ve been playing since I was 3 years old,” said Brady.
As we’ve seen all throughout baseball, the middle of the season is the time for transition. There comes a time when the guys that were signed to minor league deals end up getting released, or maybe a player whose team thought they’d be a big contributor hasn’t lived up to expectations.
Usually it’s just a case of a prospect doing well and has deserved a promotion to the next level, and that’s what we’re seeing with Julian Merryweather in Double-A Akron.
Anthony Santander hails from Margarita, Venezuela. He began playing baseball at the age of four and has been playing professional baseball since the age of 16. Now at 21, his current season is shaping up as the high water mark for his personal performance.
“Growing up in Venezuela, I played basketball, volleyball and baseball,” said Santander. “When I was 14 I was told I could play [baseball] professionally, so I started to take it more seriously.”