Baseball has not always been the focus of High-A Lynchburg’s left-handed starting pitcher Juan Hillman. The 6’2”, 200 lb. second round pick of the Indians in 2015 out of Winter Haven, Florida, spent most of his time playing quarterback. He knew very little about baseball.
“I picked up a baseball one day and a friend of my mom’s asked if I wanted to try and play,” he recalled about his first time taking the mound to Did The Tribe Win Last Night. “I just knew you had to throw it to the catcher every time. I was throwing pretty hard back then.”
The first half of the Lynchburg Hillcats’ 2019 season came to a conclusion on Sunday afternoon, June 16. The Hillcats were facing their Northern Division rivals, Wilmington, for the seventh consecutive day. They had been eliminated from first half contention the previous weekend in Potomac and were now facing the victors of the Northern Division.
The late afternoon contest would be the second of the four-game homestand to go into extra-innings. Never leading Wilmington, the Hillcats would post three runs in the ninth to tie the game at five, and push it to a tenth inning. Unlike Friday evening, where Lynchburg would win with a run scoring walk-off single from Steven Kwan, Wilmington would send the Hillcats to their third straight defeat thanks to a run-scoring balk called on reliever Yapson Gomez that was hotly contested by manager Jim Pankovits.
Despite giving it a remarkable run late, Mahoning Valley saw its Pinckney Division title hopes lost as the State College Spikes officially eliminated the Scrappers on Saturday night with their win over Auburn.
That the Scrappers were even in a position to be the last team eliminated in the division is astounding, given the horrible start to the short-season schedule for Mahoning Valley in 2016. At 35-33 after Monday night’s 6-5 win in extra innings, the Scrappers have done well to overcome that start and put together a promising season full of growth.
The Scrappers have two more games with Williamsport on the schedule to wrap up August before hosting State College in the final three home games of the season. They will finish the year on the road, playing two against West Virginia.
In other notes from the Scrappers’ scrapbook…
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ hopes of staying above the .500 mark and tracking down a wild card spot hit a bit of a bump in the road as play has resumed following the brief All-Star festivities last week.
The third place Scrappers (30-31) traveled to Batavia, splitting a doubleheader on Wednesday with the Muckdogs while splitting the final two games of the series on Thursday and Friday. They returned home over the weekend to host State College, the top team in the Pinckney Division, who reminded the Scrappers of that fact by taking two of the three contests.
Mahoning Valley will finish up the week with three in Brooklyn starting Tuesday night before returning home this weekend for three against West Virginia from Niles. The season is rapidly coming to its conclusion, as they will journey to Williamsport for three to wrap up the month before a week of September play.
In other news and notes from the Scrappers’ scrapbook:
The New York-Penn League held its annual All-Star Game on Tuesday night. A few early rain drops could only temporarily slow down the festivities from Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, New York, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades.
Many of the six players from the well-represented Mahoning Valley Scrappers got to partake in their first professional midsummer classic and Erlin Cerda played the hero of the game as his South team defeated the North team, 9-5. Cerda took home MVP honors for his three-run home run in the fourth inning that gave the South All-Stars a 4-3 advantage at the time, a lead that they would never relinquish.
It has been a common theme throughout the Cleveland Indians farm system this season, so it should be no surprise that the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers will be well represented when the New York-Penn League plays its All-Star Game on August 16 from Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, New York, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades.
Six members of the Scrappers, including left-handers Juan Hillman and Tanner Tully, infielder Erlin Cerda, and outfielders Andrew Calica, Todd Isaacs, and Gabriel Mejia, were selected to the South team from the Mahoning Valley roster.
A good start to the month of August was negated for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, who were swept in three straight close contests against Hudson Valley on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
The week began better for the Scrappers, who salvaged their series at home against Williamsport with a 2-1 win last Tuesday before heading to West Virginia for three with the Black Bears. They swept the set with three one-run victories, but lost 4-2, 3-2, and 5-2 to Hudson Valley to spoil the four-game winning streak.
The Scrappers (22-27) return home on Tuesday for a six-game homestand with Batavia and Williamsport. They trail State College by 12.5 games in the Pinckney Division, but will look to gain a little ground while hoping to improve on an 11-12 home record this season.
In more news and notes from the Scrappers’ Scrapbook:
Things may have finally turned a corner for the Cleveland Indians’ Mahoning Valley Scrappers affiliate, who endured nearly a month of tough games to start the New York-Penn League season.
After a 3-11 start to its season and a 3-7 mark to begin July, Mahoning Valley has gotten into the win column with much more regularity, posting an 8-3 record over its last eleven games, including a season-high four-game winning streak from July 12 through 15.
The Scrappers (14-21) are now nine games in back of the State College Spikes in the Pinckney Division, fifth out of six teams, but with a sizable lead over the cellar-dwelling Batavia Muckdogs. The club will look to continue taking series by series, as the Scrappers have won four straight sets, including a three-game matchup against Lowell to start their current six-game homestand. They will welcome in Connecticut on Sunday for three games before hitting the road for Aberdeen.
In other news and notes from the Scrappers’ scrapbook:
The Class-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers are starting to find the win column a little more consistently as the young club gels in Niles, Ohio.
Mahoning Valley took a tough 2-0 loss last Saturday with star pitcher Triston McKenzie on the mound before Juan Hillman led the club to a 6-4 win in the series finale with Staten Island on Sunday. After losing the opener at home against Tri-City, the Scrappers bounced back with 4-3 and 5-3 victories on Tuesday and Wednesday to win their first series of the season. They won Thursday’s opener at State College, 7-4, before a strong 8-5 win on Friday night.
The Scrappers are now 10-18 on the season and have won four consecutive games. Their season-high winning streak has helped to propel the club past the Batavia Muckdogs and out of the cellar of the New York-Penn League’s Pinckney Division. They are now in fifth place in the six-team league, trailing the first place State College Spikes by eight games.
In other notes from the Scrappers scrapbook:
The successful development of young ball players generally takes precedence over wins and losses in minor league baseball, especially at the lowest levels. That may be the focus for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, who have won just five times in their first 21 games and are tied for the worst record in the short-season New York-Penn League.
On the road against State College last weekend, the Scrappers dropped the first two games of the series before winning a 4-0 finale on Sunday to avoid the sweep. They followed a similar recipe after returning home to host Vermont Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, dropping the first two before winning a 6-0 final to avoid the sweep again. After taking Thursday off, they started a three-game set in Staten Island against the Yankees, losing a 4-2 decision on a three-run fifth inning.
After finishing the series on Sunday, Mahoning Valley will return home from July 11 through 13 for three games at Eastwood Field in Niles when they host the Tri-City ValleyCats in three 7:05 PM ET starts.
More from the Scrappers’ scrapbook:
Baseball has returned to Niles, Ohio, as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ short-season is now underway.
Debuting on Friday, June 17, the Scrappers dropped each of their first two games to open the Class-A season last Friday and Saturday at home against West Virginia. They hit the road and claimed their first win on Sunday in Auburn behind a 14-3 offensive explosion. Mahoning Valley lost the final two games of their series with Auburn before moving on to Williamsport, where they lost three heartbreakers, 1-0 in the first game and 2-1 in the final two.
The late loss on Friday, after the Crosscutters scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth to take the final at bat lead, knocked the Scrappers to 1-7 on the season and left Mahoning Valley buried deep in the New York-Penn League Pinckney Division.
In other scraps from the Scrappers:
Baseball returns to Niles, Ohio, this weekend as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers kick off the short-season New York-Penn League season against the West Virginia Black Bears at Eastwood Field on Friday night.
Manager Edwin Rodriguez is at the helm for the Scrappers and is joined by pitching coach Tighe Dickinson and former Indians farmhand (and published author) Justin Toole in his new capacity as the team’s hitting coach. Plenty of young and fresh faces will fill out the roster for Mahoning Valley as several look to begin or continue their paths towards potential Major League careers.