The annual Winter Meetings wrapped up on Thursday from Orlando, Florida, with the completion of the Rule 5 draft.
Despite having an open 40-man roster spot, the Cleveland Indians did not make a selection during the Major League portion of the procedures, but the club did lose right-handed pitcher Jordan Milbrath to the Pittsburgh Pirates with the eighth pick in the draft.
During the minor league phase, the Indians selected left-handed pitcher R.C. Orlan from the Washington Nationals farm system during Round 1 of the Triple-A phase. The Tribe lost two more minor leaguers, when outfielder Junior Soto was nabbed by the New York Yankees several picks earlier in the round and shortstop Ivan Castillo was selected with the 41st pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in Round 3.
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.
Akron’s Eric Haase was the hero of Sunday night, clinching an Eastern League Western Division Series win with a walk-off single in the tenth inning. He still had a little magic left in that bat of his on Tuesday as his grand slam in the fifth inning powered the RubberDucks over the visiting Trenton Thunder by a 6-3 final in Game 1 of the Eastern League Championship Series.
Trenton jumped on top with two runs in the first against Akron starter Michael Peoples. Tyler Wade singled to start the game but was picked off by Peoples at first. Dustin Fowler singled, but was erased on a force out at second on a grounder to short by Miguel Andujar. Nearly out of the inning, Mike Ford homered to right, scoring Andujar to make it a 2-0 Trenton lead.
Akron could not score in the second after getting back-to-back two-out walks from Haase and Eric Stamets, but they did not miss out on a scoring opportunity in the third as they tied the game against Trenton starter Ronald Herrera. Ivan Castillo and Greg Allen singled to start the inning, putting runners on the corners for Yan Gomes. The rehabbing Indians catcher singled on a liner to center to score Castillo and move the speedster Allen to third. Jordan Smith grounded into a force at second, but Allen scored on the play to make it a 2-2 game.
Altoona jumped out to an early lead and used a strong pitching performance from starter Clay Holmes and three relievers to shut down Akron, 3-1, in Game 2 of the Eastern League Western Division Series on Thursday night.
The Curve had a 2-0 lead three batters into the bottom of the first inning against Akron starter Michael Peoples. Kevin Newman singled to center and scored on a double from Erich Weiss. He advanced to third on the throw to the plate, enabling him to come home himself on a sacrifice fly from Barrett Barnes to give Altoona a two-run advantage.
Despite the hot start to their 2016 season, the Lynchburg Hillcats ran into a bump in their road this week, as they were swept in a series for the first time this season when they visited Salem for three. The three straight losses marked the longest losing streak of the year for the Indians’ Class-A Advanced affiliate, who is off to an impressive start while holding down the top spot in the Carolina League Northern Division.
Lynchburg began a four-game series in Carolina on Friday night to start the final half of a seven-game road trip. They will return home to Calvin Falwell Field for three games at City Stadium before heading back out on the road to Myrtle Beach next weekend.
In other Hillcats chatter:
The Lynchburg Hillcats, Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, used several big extra base hits to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 12-6 victory on Wednesday afternoon in a road win over the Winston-Salem Dash.
The Dash raced to an early lead with a run in the second off of Hillcats starter Sean Brady. The Lynchburg lefty gave up a leadoff homer to Nick Basto, but evaded further trouble despite a two-out double from Mason Robbins, who would have himself an incredible day at the plate for the Dash.
Looking at the High-A Lynchburg roster you might be inclined to skip past shortstop Ivan Castillo and gravitate towards some of the more familiar names on the roster, as the 2105 Hillcats have been host to nine of the Cleveland Indians Top 30 prospects according to Baseball America’s 2015 Prospect Handbook. Not only are there a number of top prospects, but Castillo usually occupies the ninth spot in the Hillcats batting order, thus he is not the first player on the roster you would examine.
Last week Castillo erased this relative anonymity by winning the Carolina League player of the week award following on the heels of teammate Clint Frazier, who earned this honor the week before. This makes the fourth Hillcats player to earn weekly honors this season.
For the week of July 20 – 26 Castillo put up an impressive offensive output. His triple slash line for the week was .524 / .583 / 1.000 in 6 games where he tallied eleven hits, five RBI’s, six runs, two walks and only two strikeouts.
“That was so exciting,” Castillo says about winning the award, “I’ve been working on my hitting and every time I go to the plate I have a plan. Now it’s paying off for me.”
If you had told me four months ago that I’d still be writing about the Lake County Captains this late in the year, I would have laughed. Yes, I’m an optimist, but the first half of Lake County’s season led even the most eternal of optimists to shake their heads. The team won 27 out of their first 70 games — that’s a .386 winning percentage. They were, to be blunt, bad.
They about broke-even at home, going 18-17 in the first half while playing on the new field at Classic Park, but could not pull it together on the road. As they explored the Midwest, the Captains went a paltry 9-26.
Yet, somehow, they turned it around. And here I am, in the middle of September, writing a recap about a season that ended on Saturday, the 13th, when that same under-.400 team played for the Midwest League Championship.
If the Midwest League season ended today, the Lake County Captains would make the Eastern Division Midwest League playoffs with a 24-24 record in the second half. Despite a paltry first half, the Captains have rallied to put together a much-improved second-half team.
Impressively, it’s not so much that the Captains have developed a much-improved roster in the second half – it’s that their usual roster has stepped up in the second half to deliver stronger and more effective results.
Among those players stepping up to the plate (pardon the pun) and coming into their own is catcher Richard Stock, who is in his second year with the Lake County Captains. Stock was called up from extended spring training in Arizona in May 2013 to join the Captains, where he stayed throughout the rest of last season, and found himself back on their Opening Day roster this past April.