Mahoning Valley Scrappers
They grew up just about 12 miles apart on the San Diego Freeway, but now only Eastwood Field’s right-centerfield gap in Niles, Ohio separates two of the Indians most promising picks from the 2014 first-year player draft.
Bradley Zimmer of La Jolla, California, has been the regular centerfielder for the Class-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers this season, while Greg Allen of San Diego patrols the area just to the left of Zimmer in right field. Zimmer was the first pick by the Cleveland Indians in June’s draft—21st overall—while Allen was taken in the sixth round. Zimmer was hopeful for the chance to be taken in the first round, while Allen said it didn’t matter as long as he got there.
“It was definitely in my mind about having a chance to go in the first round,” Zimmer said. “It’s obviously an honor to get selected in the first round of the amateur-player draft.”
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 athletic Dominic DeMasi played two sports in college, football and baseball. He was successful in both sports during his college career, but eventually he was going to have to choose one of the other.
He chose baseball.
DeMasi, 21, is a big right-handed pitcher at 6 ‘3” 190 pounds. He was selected by the Indians in the 31st round of the First Year Player Draft. He opted to attend college out of high school instead of going straight to the draft. He attended Valdosta State University out of Valdosta, Georgia. During his time there he was able to refine his skills as a pitcher, and better prepare himself for playing professional baseball when his opportunity arose.
Nellie Rodriguez has been on an absolute tear lately. Rodriguez has been the hottest hitter out of all of the Indians minor league affiliates. Rodriguez for the week had 11 hits in 26 at bats hitting .423 while scoring eight runs, with two doubles, five homeruns and 12 runs batted in. Rodriguez is currently riding a 10-game hitting streak in which he scored 12 runs and added three doubles, six homeruns, 16 runs batted in with a .372 batting average. During the streak Rodriguez has seen his average go from the low .224 up to .249 and is now second in all of the Midwest League in homeruns with 15, which is also the most in all of the Indians minor leagues.
Rodriguez started out in Low-A ball for Lake County in as an 18-year old in 2013, which proved to be a tough task as he struggled out of the gate hitting only .194 with one homerun in 160 at bats. The Indians transferred him down to their Short-Season team the Mahoning Valley Scrappers during the middle of the season last year. Still only 18-years old, Rodriguez found success and regained his confidence, finishing the season leading the Scrappers in hits (75), home runs (9), doubles (16), RBIs (37), total bases (118), walks (29) and OPS (.818) and was named the New York-Penn League’s Player of the Week for July 22.This year as a 19-year old, Rodriguez found himself starting the 2014 season in a familiar place back in Lake County with the Captains. Rodriguez had a strong start to his 2014 season but has struggled since until the past week and a half.
It’s a long journey for any ball player to reach the Major Leagues, but for Kieran Lovegrove the journey is even a little longer.
Lovegrove was born in Johannesburg, South Africa—a region of the world that does not have the strongest baseball following or level of play. When Lovegrove was just five years old, his family moved he and his sister to California and his love of baseball was discovered and flourished.
“Things in South Africa were pretty rough at the time,” Lovegrove said. “My parents thought it would be a good time to get us out, my sister and I.”
The Columbus Clippers will be represented by two players this year at the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game. Both first baseman Jesus Aguilar and catcher Roberto Perez were selected to be on the International League roster, and will be taking on …
Three days, that’s all it took for the RubberDucks to lose arguably their three best players.
Wednesday June 25, Indians top prospect and current RubberDuck shortstop Francisco Lindor took a bad hop on the infield directly to his face and suffered a small non-displaced nasal fracture. The good news on Lindor is he should only be out for 7-10 days. Thursday June 26, second baseman Joe Wendle, suffered a right hamate fracture which will most likely require surgery and is a couple month process to return. The hamate bone is a small bone located in the wrist and it is usually fractured while a player is hitting. Friday June 27, Tyler Naquin, the top outfield prospect in the Indians farm system, was hit-by-pitch fracturing his right hand.
The First Year Player Draft every June is a fun time for each and every ball club. Each team gets the opportunity to bring in fresh new faces that are eager to get their professional baseball careers started. The Indians were fortunate enough to have plenty of picks on the first day of the draft, but beyond their first two rounds they were able to grab some quality players at a much lower risk. One of the guys the Indians should be excited about is right-handed pitcher Julian Merryweather.
Merryweather, 22, was drafted by the Indians in the fifth round of the 2014 First Year Player Draft. He pitched for Oklahoma Baptist University this past year. In his senior year, he went 12-3 with a 1.07 ERA while striking out 132. He was then named to the 2014 NAIA Baseball All-American team. Before he began his time with OBU, he spent some time in junior college right out of high school. In his time at junior college, it would have seemed that Merryweather’s dreams of becoming a professional baseball player may be something of the past.
“I started at junior college for two years. Didn’t see a lot of success, faced a lot of adversity,” Merryweather said. “In my sophomore year in heading out of junior college I went 0-8 with like a six something ERA. Oklahoma was my only option out of junior college so it just worked out great…It made me stronger for sure.”
Every student who leaves college has a nervous feeling as they set out into the real world to look for a job and pursue a career.
For Mahoning Valley Scrappers shortstop Austin Fisher, finding a job and career took only about three weeks while the adjustments continue. Fisher is currently the highest drafted player from the 2014 First Year Player draft to be assigned to a team.
The 6-foot, 1-inch, left-handed hitting infielder from Kansas State University was selected in the 13th round of this year’s draft. As a member of the Wildcats he was First Team All-Big 12 and a Brooks Wallace Award Semifinalist in 2013. He is on the watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award again this year. Fisher hit .361 in 2013 at Kansas State during his sophomore year and .300 this year in 2014. Upon signing his contract, Fisher was immediately assigned by the Indians to Mahoning Valley where he will serve as the team’s shortstop this season. He welcomes the challenge of transitioning quickly from the college game to a minor league season.
“I’m excited and glad they sent me out right away,” Fisher said. “The sooner I get out here, the more at-bats I can get and quicker I can get adjusted.”
It seems like an unlikely match, but instead, it might be the perfect one.
Former big leaguer Ted Kubiak will lead the Mahoning Valley Scrappers into New York-Penn League action this evening for the third straight season. The Scrappers open at Jamestown against the Jamestown Jammers at 7:05 p.m. Kubiak manages a team that has several players on it that weren’t born 21 years ago, when he began providing minor league instruction with the Cleveland Indians.
But, for a 72-year old who has two World Series rings and a 10-year big league career under his belt, Kubiak enjoys the challenge and development of managing the Short Season-A team.
“It’s different, we’re developing,” Kubiak said on Thursday. “We’re more or less letting these kids play. What I’m imparting to them is maybe a little bit of how to deal with the game. We can teach them all the fundamentals, but I think what they see in how we handle things can calm them down a little bit.”
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers celebrated their 15th season of playing baseball in Niles, Ohio this season and although it did not end in a playoff berth, it did provide for a fun and interesting season of minor league ball. The Scrappers for their part finished with a record of 30-44, good for fifth in the Pinckney Division, a half game better than the 2012 squad even in the midst of a streaky season where they set the franchise record for a losing streak at 12 games. Overcoming a tough string of losses like that is a testament to all the kids who suited up in a Scrappers uniform and their dedicated staff.
Even though this sets a second straight losing season for the club, the fans have still showed up to the gate for some summertime fun as the overall attendance marked climbed over 104,000.
Minor league baseball is a huge element of professional baseball. These teams serve the purpose of providing avenues for young ballplayers from all over the world to continue to develop their playing skills in a professional environment with the hopes of one-day stepping foot onto the big league stage. For the thirty teams of major league baseball this provides them the ability to invest in dozens of young players with the hopes of investing in the future of the franchise for years to come.
Aside from the baseball side of things, the 160 teams of minor league baseball allow for fans all over the country that may not be in close proximity to a big league club to catch professional game. Of course in a competitive sport, winning is important but at the minor league level most fans are not necessarily invested in the team’s record as they would with the big league club. The job of the minor league franchises is to create a fun family environment for all to enjoy.