The Akron Aeros open the 2013 season as the reigning Eastern League Champions. The defending champs have plenty of young talent to take the field and make a push for a repeat. The Akron lineup is one filled with speed and power. Their rotation has experience and youth. A new manager, a new atmosphere, and a slew of top Indians prospects promise a fun and exciting season at Canal Park.
Akron is skippered by former Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez. He is an incredible leader that knows most of their players quite well. Rodriguez managed the Indians High-A affiliate Carolina Mudcats last season and many of the players filling this Aeros roster spent significant time with the Mudcats under his management. Mirroring the Tribe, the atmosphere around the Aeros clubhouse is high energy and upbeat.
The Aeros have several starting pitchers returning in 2013. T.J. House made 23 starts for Akron last season winning eight of those contests and posted a 3.98 ERA. Paolo Espino is a long time Aeros veteran making 40 career starts and appearing in 16 games out of the bullpen. He holds a career record at Akron of 22-8 and a 3.22 ERA. Left-hander Matt Packer and righty’s Toru Murata and Brett Brach round out the starting rotation.
A trio of top right-handers returns in the bullpen for Akron. Kyle Landis was very dependable out of the pen last year, relieving 41 games with a 6-4 record, a 3.55 ERA and two saves. Bryce Stowell has been with the Aeros since 2010, compiling a career record of 4-1 with a very good 2.04 ERA. Shawn Armstrong is one of the top relievers in the Indians system. He came up to Akron from Carolina in July and dominated with a 0.89 ERA and three saves in 17 games.
Eric Berger is back in Akron after a call-up to Columbus in 2012. He will be a swing man for the Aeros, pitching mostly out of the pen but making a few starts here and there as well. He is joined by Jose Flores who appeared in six games at Akron before going on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain. Newcomers Cole Cook, Fabio Martinez, and lefty Edward Paredes round out the bullpen.
On the offensive side of things the Aeros bring back slugging first baseman Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar started last season in Carolina but made his Akron debut in August. He batted .292 with three home runs and 13 RBI in just 20 games in Akron last year. The Aeros hope the powerful right-hander will bring plenty of long balls to Canal Park. Joining Aguilar in the infield is returning first baseman, designated hitter, and catcher Chun Chen. He is a returning Eastern League All-Star thanks to his .304 batting average, good enough for fifth place in the league. Chen will primarily play DH in the Aeros lineup, batting fifth in the lineup behind Aguilar. Matt Lawson returns at second base, he batted a team high .327 in 60 games in 2012.
Ronnie Rodriguez is new to the Akron Aeros; he spent the entire 2012 season in Carolina. He hit 19 home runs with the Mudcats and the 20 year old Rodriguez will bring much needed pop to the bottom of the Aeros order. Another new youngster on the Aeros infield is 20 year old Jose Ramirez. Ramirez tore up the pitching for Lake County last year batting .354 in 67 games. He skipped Carolina and will start at second base for Akron and bat in the two hole. Giovanny Urshela will man third base for Akron. He slugged 14 home runs last season for Carolina.
The Aeros two main catchers are returning starter Roberto Perez, and former Lake County Captains catcher Alex Lavisky. Perez plays outstanding defense but batted just .212 for Akron in 2012. Lavisky has played his entire career in the state of Ohio. He is St. Ed’s graduate and spends the entire last season at Lake County where he crushed 12 home runs. He skips Carolina to preserve his Ohio history and will get plenty of time behind the plate.
In center field is the Aeros leadoff man Tyler Holt. He is one of the top defenders in the Eastern League, but he still needs work with his bat. Holt hit .250 last season with 29 stolen bases. He looks to lead this offense out of the gates as the top man in the order. Holt is joined by former Carolina star Carlos Moncrief. Moncrief hit 15 home runs and stole 17 bases in 2012. He will play right field and bat third for the Aeros. Rounding out the starting outfield is left fielder Quincy Latimore. Tribe fans may remember Latimore as he was recently acquired from the Pittsburg Pirates in exchange for Jeanmar Gomez. Latimore has some shown some pop with his bat, hitting 15 home runs in each of his last two minor league seasons. Former Aeros and Carolina outfielder Delvi Sid will play the fourth man in Akron for 2013. He hit .281 last year with the Mudcats.
The Aeros will look to continue their winning ways from 2012. This new roster is filled with young stars and players to watch. Rodriguez, Ramirez, Aguilar, Urshela, Armstrong, House, and Salazar are all top 25 prospects in the Indians system. Opposing team will have a tough time navigating this lineup and pushing runs across against the Aeros pitchers. With strong arms, speed and power, this will be a fun exciting team that is sure to compete again for another Eastern League title.
Photo: Jesse Piecuch/DTTWLN photographer