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.
With a win on Sunday, the Akron RubberDucks clinched a playoff berth in the Eastern League playoffs and became the third Cleveland Indians’ minor league affiliate to guarantee bonus baseball this season after previous efforts from the Triple-A Columbus Clippers and the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats.
The RubberDucks took a page out of their parent club’s book on Labor Day, as Akron decided on a bullpen game with the Eastern League Western Division title on the line. With their ticket already punched for postseason play, they opted to rest their starting rotation, but instead, they stole the crown as Daniel Salters’ first Double-A home run, a two-run shot in the sixth, broke a five-all tie as the ‘Ducks held on for an 8-6 win to clinch the top spot in the division.
The Hillcats (35-20) have cooled off some after their hot start, but they are still staying on top of things in the Carolina League, sitting in first place with a five-game lead in the Northern Division over the Potomac Nationals. They have the second-best record in the Carolina League, trailing only Salem’s 37-19 start.
Last weekend, they wrapped up a split against Salem, a team that has had their number this season. They finally had their lone scheduled off-day of May on the 31st before jumping back on the road for three against Wilmington. The trip was successful as the Hillcats took two of three, but another series with those pesky Red Sox has started this weekend.
The Sox took game one in Salem on Saturday on a bizarre and lucky walk-off. The series moves back to Lynchburg for Sunday and Monday before the clubs head back to Salem to wrap up the unique four-gamer on Tuesday night. Lynchburg will then return home, playing four games at the end of the week against Myrtle Beach and three at the beginning of next week against Carolina as the All-Star break is just over two weeks away.
In other Hillcats chatter from Virginia:
Adam Plutko was drafted last year in the 11th round of the First Year Player Draft out of UCLA. Unlike most players making their professional debut in the same year that they were picked, the Indians held Plutko out until the 2014 season as they were concerned over the amount of innings he had already thrown for the Bruins in the 2013 collegiate season.
In 2013 Plutko was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player, helping the Bruins win the College World Series. Plutko was on the same pitching staff with the Bruins as Pittsburgh Pirates starter, Gerrit Cole, and the Indians own, Trevor Bauer. Plutko actually came into college with what most scouts thought better stuff than both Cole and Bauer, with a fastball that sat around 95 m.p.h. as a freshman. Plutko saw his velocity drop down to around 90 m.p.h. over time for the Bruins and witnessed Cole and Bauer also become first round picks. As a junior in 2013, Plutko had become the workhorse and the ace of a staff in which many didn’t have high hopes for. While Plutko and the Bruins proved many wrong in 2013, it still didn’t help his draft status as the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series because he wasn’t taken until the 11th round by the Indians.
The first half of the season is over, and it’s time for a clean slate for the Lake County Captains. In the Low-A Midwest League, a first-half winner is crowned for both the Eastern and Western Divisions, and the records are then wiped, paving the way for a second half of the season with completely new possibilities.
For the Captains, that restart could not have come at a better time.
Lake County finished at a Midwest League worst 27-43, a .386 winning percentage. They were 14 games back of the Eastern Division first half champions, the West Michigan Whitecaps (41-29), who are at least giving their parent organization, the Detroit Tigers, some wins and bragging rights (Justin Verlander’s younger brother, Ben Verlander, is on the Whitecaps roster, likely making family dinners a little tense). Being in first, the Whitecaps secured a playoff spot for the September post-season, with the South Bend Silver Hawks (40-29) also clinching a spot for the Eastern Division. In the Western Division, the Kane County Cougars finished first (45-25), followed by the Burlington Bees (38-31).
This week the All-Star rosters were named for both the Carolina League and Midwest League. The Carolina Mudcats had three players named to the Carolina League team in LHP Ryan Merritt, SS Erik Gonzalez and OF Anthony Gallas. Merritt a left-handed starting pitcher is tied for the league lead in wins with fellow teammate Shawn Morimando with six. He leads the league with a 1.71 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Shortstop Erik Gonzalez, who has missed sometime with a finger injury, is sixth in the league with a .309 batting average. Gonzalez has 15 extra base hits, 26 runs batted in along with eight stolen bases and is a tremendous defender. Outfielder Anthony Gallas got off to a tremendous start to the season but has cooled off some lately. Gallas leads the league in doubles with 21 in only 54 games. Gallas sports a .279 average with seven homeruns and 27 runs batted in.
Despite Lake County struggling and sitting in last place, the Captains have three players representing them in the Midwest League All-Star game in RHP Robbie Aviles, RHP Jordan Milbrath and C Eric Haase. Aviles has been in another world leading the league with a 1.45 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. His ERA is so good the next closest pitcher is more than a half a run higher at 2.02. Aviles control has been outstanding giving up only seven walks in 56 innings pitched. Jordan Milbrath has been a pleasant surprise as a 35th round draft pick in last year’s first year player draft. Milbrath has a 2.92 ERA and has only allowed 42 hits in his 52.1 innings pitched. Eric Haase is third in the league in homeruns with 10 despite only playing in 37 games on the year. Haase along with the 10 homeruns has four triples on the year helping him to lead the league with a .522 slugging percentage.
It’s been a weak of streaks throughout the Indians minor league system, starting with the most impressive streak in Carolina Mudcats shortstop Erik Gonzalez, who has a hit in sixteen straight games. Not far behind is the Columbus Clippers catcher Roberto Perez who has a hit in 12 straight games. Clippers infielder Jose Ramirez has a streak of a different kind going. Ramirez has reached base in all 19 games that Columbus has played this season. How about a pitcher with a streak? Carolina Mudcats left-handed pitcher Ryan Merritt has not allowed a run in 16 straight innings and has a ridiculous 0.37 earned run average on the season in 24.1 inning pitched. Finally a negative streak to talk about, the Lake County Captains have lost their last six games in a row. Remarkably they already had an 8 game losing streak prior to the current one.
Read more about the streaks, and lots more action this past week in the Indians minor League system.
A player’s first professional win is always going to be a moment to remember. Perhaps the only thing that can make the moment sweeter is combining that first win with pitching a complete game.
For 22 year-old Jordan Milbrath, that was exactly what happened during the Lake County Captains first scheduled doubleheader on Saturday, April 5.