Arizona Fall League play is under way as some of the top prospects around the minor league landscape pair up for competition in the annual six-team offseason league.
Hopeful prospects are a week into the six-week schedule as players work to hone their craft against a collection of some of the best up-and-coming names working their way through the levels of professional baseball. The Indians are well represented in their home-away-from-home in Arizona, where eight of their minor leaguers help make up the roster of the Glendale Desert Dogs.
Those eight Indians prospects have teamed up with representatives from the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Pittsburgh Pirates for league action in Glendale this year, after Cleveland players worked with different clubs while playing for the Mesa Solar Sox last October and November.
A streaky May has turned into a very even month of June for the Akron RubberDucks, who won their last two games over the weekend to take their series in New Hampshire against the Fisher Cats, ending a six-game road trip.
At 5-5 in the month and 28-30 on the season, the ‘Ducks sit in fourth place in the Eastern League Western Division, three and a half games in back of the Altoona Curve. They have been as close to even across the splits this season, putting up a 13-16 record at Canal Park, a 15-14 record on the road, and a 15-15 mark within the division.
The Akron RubberDucks returned home from their six-game road trip Thursday with a 2-3 record and their second postponed contest of the year as rains continued to wreak havoc on professional baseball games across the country.
After dropping the final two games of their three-game series with Binghamton last week to bring an end to their five-game winning streak, Akron (11-14) hit the road for Bowie and earned a series win. The offense was big, outscoring the Baysox 22-11 in the series, as they won a 6-1 final on Friday and an 11-2 decision on Sunday as the ‘Ducks bats erupted for five home runs to pace Julian Merryweather to his second win of the week. Monday’s opener in Binghamton was rained out before the club lost two in the middle of the week, dropping a pair of tough games by 5-4 and 1-0 finals.
The Akron RubberDucks have put their five-game losing streak of a week ago to bed as they reeled off five straight wins through Monday night’s action to improve to 8-9 with the Eastern League’s longest active winning streak.
The ‘Ducks finished their two-city road trip with a pair of wins in Reading, including a resounding 12-2 victory in the finale last Wednesday. It capped off a series against the Fightin Phils in which Akron scored 24 runs and allowed 13 during the three-game set. They returned home for their second homestand of the season and swept the Altoona Curve in three straight over the weekend, including a pair of 3-2 victories on Friday and Saturday (including an 11th inning two-out walk-off single from Joe Sever on Saturday) before a more decisive 6-1 win on Sunday afternoon. They opened their three game series with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies with a 5-2 victory on Monday night, using a three-run sixth to break a 2-2 tie.
Weather played some havoc in the opening week of the season, forcing an early doubleheader. They won the first game of the double dip on April 9 and won the next day in the opener against the Trenton Thunder, but have struggled to find the win column since, dropping the final two against Trenton before hitting the road for three in Altoona. The first road trip of the season has started off on the wrong foot, as the club has lost one-run decisions in each of the first two games of the three-game set with the Curve.
The RubberDucks will finish their stay in Altoona on Saturday before taking Sunday off. They will play three in Reading against the Fightin Phils before coming home to host Altoona for three next Friday and Binghamton for three more before closing out April on the road.
The potential stars of the future united at Canal Park in Akron on Tuesday as members of the RubberDucks got settled into their new home after working out in Arizona over parts of the last two months.
The defending Eastern League champions will look to add a sixth title to the team’s mantel this season with a new skipper, some familiar faces, and an influx of new weapons with playoff experience who have advanced from High-A Lynchburg.
The quest for the championship begins Thursday night when the ‘Ducks host the Bowie BaySox.
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.
Baseball America released its minor league All-Star teams across all minor league levels on Monday and four prospects from the Cleveland Indians farm system claimed spots on the annual rosters.
The biggest winner was 19-year-old right-hander Triston McKenzie, who was not only named as one of the five starting pitchers selected to the roster, but was announced as the Baseball America Short-Season Pitcher of the Year for his 4-3 record in nine starts while with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
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.
Staring down elimination from the Carolina League playoffs, Lynchburg needed extra innings to extend its season at least one more day as Bobby Bradley’s 14th inning single to right with the bases loaded and two down gave the Hillcats a 6-5 walk-off victory in a dramatic postseason win over the Potomac Nationals.
P-Nats reliever Neil Holland was on for his second inning of work to start the 14th when Yonathan Mendoza singled to left to start the inning. Taylor Murphy dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move the runner up before Tyler Krieger grounded sharply off of Holland, who lost his glove but was able to recover the ball in time to throw Krieger out at first for the second out. With the winning run standing at third base, the Nationals elected to intentionally walk both Francisco Mejia and Anthony Santander, setting up force plays around the diamond, but bringing up the Carolina League MVP Bradley. As his award might suggest of his abilities, he came through with the clutch liner into right field, scoring Mendoza with the winning run.
It’s playoff time in the minor leagues and three Indians affiliates will begin their chases for postseason crowns on Wednesday night.
The Triple-A Columbus Clippers, Double-A Akron RubberDucks, and High-A Lynchburg Hillcats all punched tickets in their respective leagues behind solid 2016 seasons. The Clippers won the International League’s West Division with an eleven-game lead at year’s end. The RubberDucks clinched a playoff berth on Sunday and won the Western Division title outright on Monday. The Hillcats won the Carolina League Northern Division first-half crown and tied the Potomac Nationals for the division’s second-half title with a 39-31 finish.
Over the past several weeks, the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats have been a prominent feature in both Carolina League and national baseball news. Lynchburg’s on-field host, Kestrel Kerl, has awarded the team the moniker of “Thrillcats” and the team and the player continue to live up to this name.
All the excitement began with the continuation of what turned out to be a 50-game hitting streak for catcher Francisco Mejia. The streak began May 25 while Mejia was a member of the Low-A Lake County Captains and continued at Lynchburg under the watch of hitting coach Larry Day.
“You try to keep him focused on the things that matter and that is his daily preparation as both a hitter and a catcher,” said Day. “Rigo Beltran, our pitching coach, does a phenomenal job of educating him on the night’s starting pitcher so that he knows what he’ll be seeing, and what he’ll be calling as the catcher.”