While plenty of focus has been given to the big name free agents departing the Cleveland Indians organization this offseason, there has been plenty of movement down on the farm for the club’s minor league free agent class.
The names are nowhere near as big as Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, and Joe Smith, who have all signed lucrative contracts in Philadelphia, Colorado, and Houston, respectively, nor are they as big as Jay Bruce, who is still testing the free agent waters while waiting for the right deal, but the moves cut into some of the existing depth in the team’s minor league system.
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.
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.
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.
Lynchburg’s bats were silenced again on Tuesday night as the Hillcats were blanked 7-0 by the visiting Myrtle Beach Pelicans in Game 3 of the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship.
Myrtle Beach used a pair of doubles from its first three batters to take an early 1-0 lead off of Lynchburg lefty Luis Lugo. Charcer Burks doubled to right and after a strikeout from Donnie Dewees, David Bote doubled to center to put the Pelicans on the board. He was erased at third by catcher Francisco Mejia to defuse the rally, and Cubs top prospect Eloy Jimenez grounded to short to end the inning.
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.
For most players, a repeat assignment to a minor league level is not a sign of team commitment or individual progress. For High-A Hillcats pitcher Luis Lugo, this is not the case.
The 6’5”, 200 lb. left-hander out of Barquismento, Venezuela, turned 22 just before the season began. This leaves him on the younger side of the ledger for players in the High-A Carolina League and with his experience, he has surpassed his performance of last season.
“My work ethic has been a lot better this year,” said Lugo about where he has made the most strides in improving his overall game. “I’ve been focusing on mechanics and keeping my body in shape to be able to compete and be successful. My delivery has gotten better, and working with Rigo Beltran [the Hillcats pitching coach], has been a foundation for me to figure out what I need to work on and then apply in the game.”
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.”
The Lynchburg Hillcats have won on the field all season long and have received plenty of hardware off of it. Monday was more of the same as first baseman Bobby Bradley and starting pitcher Luis Lugo each took home their first Carolina League weekly honors of the season.
The Indians’ High-A affiliate has now won four Player of the Week awards and four Pitcher of the Week awards this season.
The Lynchburg Hillcats continued their fight for the second half crown in the Carolina League’s Northern Division, but ended the day on Saturday four games in back of first place Potomac. The Hillcats have already secured a playoff berth with their first half title, but remain in the hunt for home field advantage in the High-A postseason.
The Hillcats finished last weekend on a down note, dropping three straight in a four-game set to the rival Salem Cubs. After a day off on Monday, they took two of three from the Nationals to cut into that deficit in the division, winning the games on Tuesday (2-1) and Thursday (3-2). Returning home for three against Winston-Salem, the Dash won 10-2 on Friday and won on Saturday 7-5 on a two-run home run in the tenth inning.
Lynchburg will wrap up their series with Winston-Salem at 4:00 PM on Sunday before hitting the road for seven straight with Frederick (four games) and Myrtle Beach (three). After that road trip, they will play ten of their final 13 regular season games at Calvin Falwell Field.
In other chatter from Lynchburg:
It was a bit of a rough week for the Lynchburg Hillcats as the roster was the target of plenty of trade rumors over the course of the week while the club lost a series at home to Wilmington before splitting a four-game set in Winston-Salem against the Dash to close out the month of July.
The Blue Rocks took the opening and closing games of their series at the beginning of the week, with the Hillcats holding on to a 5-4 eight-inning win in a rain-shortened game on Tuesday. Winston-Salem scored eight times on nine hits in the fourth inning on Thursday and dealt the Hillcats their first shutout of the season on Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the Dash. Lynchburg bounced back to split the series with a pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday by 5-2 and 5-3 finals.
The Hillcats return home for four games in three days with the Potomac Nationals on Monday before hitting the road for four games in Salem to wrap up the week. They will follow the trip with a three-game stay in Potomac.
In other Hillcats chatter:
The Lynchburg Hillcats may have already clinched a playoff berth with their strong first half, but it hasn’t stopped them from playing hard in pursuit of the second half crown as well. A 12-10 win on Saturday helped the club keep pace with the Potomac Nationals for the top spot in the Carolina League’s Northern Division, as both teams currently reside at 19-9 in the second half. The Hillcats have moved back into that top spot by winning ten of their last eleven games.
Last weekend, they swept the Wilmington Blue Rocks in four straight on the road to finish their road trip at 8-1 with one rainout. They returned home to host the Carolina Mudcats and won 3-0 on Thursday before splitting a doubleheader with a 15-1 win and a 10-3 loss. They won another slugfest on Saturday, 12-10. They will finish their series with Carolina on Sunday before hosting Wilmington for three, then will return to the road at Winston-Salem.
In other Hillcats chatter: