With ten days until the start of the regular season, the Cleveland Indians made their biggest camp cuts of the spring on Monday as eleven players were optioned, reassigned, or released by the club. The moves lowered the team’s spring training population at the Goodyear complex from 50 residents to 39.
Most of the moves were expected, but a pair were much more significant to the makeup of things come March 29 when the season kicks off. Yandy Diaz and prospects Eric Haase and Eric Stamets were optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Offseason additions Brandon Barnes, Preston Claiborne, Stephen Fife, and Neil Ramirez, in addition to returning minor leaguers Cameron Hill and Richie Shaffer, were reassigned to minor league camp. Veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan and outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. were given their releases from their previously agreed upon minor league deals to search for jobs elsewhere.
Diaz and Upton were the most significant moves of the day.
Six members total between the Akron RubberDucks and Columbus Clippers earned the honor of playing in their respective league’s All-Star Games this week and several took advantage of the opportunity on a big stage to shine.
The International League faced off with the Pacific Coast League on Wednesday night from Tacoma, Washington. A four-run fourth inning by the PCL All-Stars would prove to be too much for the IL squad to overcome in a 6-4 contest. Columbus’ Richie Shaffer was one of the players to best utilize his time as his performance for the losing squad earned him the league’s All-Star Game MVP award.
All-Star games are the theme of the week as one day after Major League Baseball hosted its annual Midsummer Classic and several days after top prospects united for the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday, both the International League and the Eastern League will play their respective games on Wednesday night.
The Indians’ top farm affiliate, the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, have just two representatives in Tacoma, Washington, for the Triple-A All-Star Game between the best of the International League and the Pacific Coast League. Richie Shaffer received the early invitation through voting, but middle infielder Eric Stamets was also asked to participate as a reserve.
A quality start by left-hander Shawn Morimando sent the Columbus Clippers to an 8-1 victory over rival Indianapolis on Friday night.
With less than a month to go until the All-Star break, the Clippers have climbed back within two games of the .500 mark at 29-31 on the season. Their surge towards a winning record has been made possible by a 6-2 record in June. The bats in general have come to life for the Clippers over the course of the last three weeks, as since the final week of May, they have put up six runs or more in eight of the 15 games played.
The Akron RubberDucks roster received a big blow this week when the club placed outfielder Greg Allen and catcher Francisco Mejia on the 7-day disabled list with injuries. The moves will deprive the Akron lineup of a pair of its two more exciting players to watch.
The RubberDucks sat in the middle of the Eastern League Western Division pack heading into action on Saturday, winners of three straight to post a 15-17 record on the year, five games in back of the first place Altoona Curve while sitting in the fourth spot in the division.
The Cleveland Indians announced on Friday afternoon that the guest list for Spring Training at their Goodyear, Arizona, complex beginning in February has grown by eight.
The Tribe will welcome minor league pitchers Josh Martin and Tyler Olson, infielders Nellie Rodriguez, Ronny Rodriguez, and Eric Stamets, outfielders Greg Allen and Bradley Zimmer, and utility man Yandy Diaz to their spring camp on non-roster invites.
The eight will audition for jobs with the Indians while getting a good opportunity to warm up for the 2017 season against other Major League caliber competition.
The Akron RubberDucks are the 2016 Eastern League champions after sweeping the Trenton Thunder for a third straight game on Friday, claiming a 2-1 victory on the road to bring home the title.
The RubberDucks had one-out walks in the first two innings off of Sheffield, but could not score. A third walk on the night, this one leading off by Ivan Castillo, had much better results for Akron. Greg Allen bunted him over to second on a sacrifice and Castillo moved to third on a single by Eric Stamets. Jordan Smith put the ‘Ducks on the board with an RBI grounder to short, scoring Castillo to make it 1-0. With another runner standing at third and two outs, Nellie Rodriguez struck out looking to end the threat.
A six-run onslaught in the seventh inning, plus three more for good measure in the eighth, pushed the visiting Akron RubberDucks past the Altoona Curve, 12-8, in Game 1 of the Eastern League Western Division Series on Wednesday night.
Akron started fast as shortstop Eric Stamets homered with one out in the first off of right-hander Alex McRae to give the ‘Ducks the early 1-0 lead. It would not last for long, however, as Akron starter Julian Merryweather quickly loaded the bases, giving up back-to-back singles and a walk to start the bottom half of the frame. A wild pitch allowed one run to score before he locked in and struck out Edwin Espinal and Anderson Feliz swinging, but Jin-De Jhang (older brother of Merryweather’s former teammate in Lynchburg, Yu-Cheng Chang) doubled to left, scoring both base runners to give Altoona a 3-1 lead.
Thursday’s loss to Hartford dropped the Akron RubberDucks to seven games in back of first place Altoona for the top spot in the Eastern League’s Western Division. At 58-60, things have not been going as well as hoped in Akron in the second half after some significant changes to the roster. With an 8-19 record since hosting the Eastern League’s Midsummer Classic, it is easy to see the time frame that the season got away from the ‘Ducks and there has been little slowing the losing skid down along the way.
August has been no better for the club. The RubberDucks dropped a three-game set in New Hampshire and followed it with losses in two of three in Portland. Returning home, they did find the win column twice in three games against the Yard Goats to win a series and will welcome in the Sea Dogs to Canal Park for three more this weekend before heading on a six-game road trip through Trenton and Bowie.
In other tales from the Rubber City:
It has not been a fun week for the Akron RubberDucks, who will start a brief four-game road trip to Harrisburg to take on the Senators on Friday night.
On the road to start last weekend against Bowie, they won the first two games by 7-6 and 2-1 finals before the BaySox swept a doubleheader with a 6-0 victory by former Indians farmhand Jayson Aquino and a 12-7 loss in the nightcap Sunday. After a day off, Akron returned home to Canal Park to play three against the Reading Fightin Phils, but instead of bouncing back, the RubberDucks got squeezed in three straight to the team with the best record in all of minor league baseball. The ‘Ducks fell 11-1 on Tuesday, before losing 3-2 in extras on Wednesday and 6-2 on Thursday to complete the sweep by the Phils.
Despite the five-game losing streak, Akron remains in the driver’s seat of the Eastern League’s Western Division with a 38-22 (.633) record and has a four and a half game lead over the Altoona Curve.
In other RubberDucks tales…
In the midst of a dwindling season, the Indians were holding on to one of their outfielders, who wasn’t exactly needed on the team anymore. In order to capitalize on value, and trade an asset when there was an offer available, the Indians front office jumped on the opportunity. That is how the Indians came to acquire infielder Eric Stamets from the Los Angeles Angels for outfielder David Murphy.
Stamets, 24, was initially drafted by the Angels back in the sixth round of the 2012 amateur draft. He made his debut with the Angels Low-A affiliate in 2012 where he played in 62 games and hit .274/.323/.347. In those games, he had 20 RBI, 13 doubles, one triple, one home run, and seven stolen bases. He then followed up his solid debut season with an even better 2013 at High-A Inland Empire where he hit .281/.335/.375 and had 53 RBI, 28 doubles, four triples, four home runs, and 16 stolen bases in 126 games.
Unfortunately, his offense never seemed to blossom after that season.
Baseball makes its return to Akron on Thursday as the last of the full season minor league affiliates of the Cleveland Indians finally opens the home portion of its schedule.
The RubberDucks will host the Bowie BaySox, the Double-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, for four games beginning Thursday night at 6:35 PM ET. Gates open at 5 PM.
The RubberDucks are off to a quick start after sweeping the BaySox in their home opening series before taking two of three versus the Altoona Curve, dropping a 9-5 decision on Wednesday. The young lineup for the 5-1 club features several notable top prospect names, including pitcher Rob Kaminsky and position players Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier, and Nellie Rodriguez, and turned a triple play in Tuesday night’s win over the Curve.
If that isn’t enough to get you out to the ballpark, Indians one-time All-Star Michael Brantley will continue his rehab assignment with the RubberDucks on Thursday night.