Mahoning Valley Scrappers 2013 Preview

On June 15, a sunny afternoon in Niles, Ohio the 2013 edition of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers suited up in their uniforms for the first time for a meet and greet with the press. This year the club’s 15th season in existence features a squad that stands as the epitome of the team mascot, they are a scrappy bunch.

A mixture of recent draft picks, seven of the men on the roster are members of the 2013 Indians draft class, and international free agents every member of the squad has similar goals regardless of what language they speak.

For a majority of them this is the commencement of their 2013 professional season, although four members of the squad spent time with other Indians’ minor league affiliates getting in some early reps. The club is skippered by Ted Kubiak, who is making his fourth tour of duty as the Scrappers’ manager; he managed 1999-2000, 2003, and 2012. Overall, Kubiak has been a member of the Indians’ organization for 20 years and before that, a major league career that lasted ten years including three World Series rings with the Oakland Athletics from 1972-1974.

Joining Kubiak’s staff this season is Scott Erickson, pitching coach, and Shaun Larkin as the hitting coach. Erickson pitched for 15 years in the majors and in 1991 with the Minnesota Twins won a World Series along with being named an All-Star and finishing second in the Cy Young voting with a record of 20-8. Shaun Larkin was a ninth round pick by the Indians and spent six years in the Indians’ minor league system, including 2002 with the Scrappers.

Last years’ squad finished 30-45, good for fifth in the Pinckney Division. When asked how this year’s squad stacks up to last years’ Kubiak chuckled, “Honestly right now I couldn’t tell you. I think they’ll be alright. We did really well in spring training. This counts, it just changes things when it counts like this. This game is totally different under the lights, with the travel, the people in the stands, and how they deal with all that is totally different. They’ll get excited and nervous, can they do the same thing they did down there when there’s nobody watching.”

Short Season Single-A is a key level in development for professional ballplayers as many fundamentals are taught at this level and a guy like Kubiak perfectly fits the job to teach them. He has an understanding of today’s ball playing youth, “The kids are different so different now, just the way they grew now they are so different than in my day. Their upbringing is different, their discipline is different, their parents are different, society is different, the leniency and everything that goes on. They are great kids; they don’t understand the game of baseball at all. Their talent is probably better, they’re more athletic, they’re bigger and stronger, they don’t know how to play we need to teach them how to play the game.”

For a lot of these guys lifestyle as a professional baseball is an adjustment just on the daily level of the playing schedule. Short Season allows these guys to get acclimated to playing a longer season before the grueling 100+ game seasons the other affiliates face. Kubiak wisely mentioned that the biggest adjustment these kids make is just that, playing every day. “You know being out here every day, going through everything they have to do every day. You know there’s psychological stuff and the physical stuff. Just going out here day after day and doing it consistently is a hard thing to do. You gotta learn to come out here when you don’t feel good, when you’re tired or when you’re hurt and that’s the biggest thing.”

The players seemed anxious and eager to get started for the season. Ryan Battaglia, an import from Australia signed as an international free agent in 2009, is primarily a catcher but is getting ready to take reps at first as well.

Australia is not exactly a country that comes to mind when thinking baseball but with the Australian Baseball League, a branch of major league baseball things are up and coming. Battaglia, who spent time as a member of the Brisbane Bandits smiled when asked about his time there and the difference between it and American ball, “I mean it’s pretty similar just the atmosphere is different. It’s a pretty good league, a lot of imports, good competition.”

As for his time earlier this season playing for High Single-A Carolina Mudcats, Battaglia felt it was a huge step up but one that was exciting for him as a player. “It was a great experience, so much fun.” His goals for the season in Mahoning Valley seem to shadow Kubiak’s wise words as Battaglia said with a smile, “Just play every day and do the best I can.”

Every team has to have that light-hearted, happy-go-lucky player on their squad to make light of the bad times and keep the guys laughing during the good times and outfielder Josh McAdams is just that guy. Drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 draft out of high school, McAdams saw some playing time in the Arizona League last season.

The professional atmosphere sometimes overmatches some young guys out of high school but McAdams has taken it in stride, “The hitting coach [in Arizona] really helped me find myself and my swing and that’s why I’m here this year.”

When asked what he’s looking to do this season, McAdams with as big a smile as you can imagine a 19-year old playing the game he loves as a career, “Just increase every stat I had last year, you know. I’m not trying to do too much. I’m trying to stay within myself. Hit for more power and better average, cut down on the strikeouts and be a better all-around player in general and do what I can to help my team win.”

Then of course, you have your quieter folks who always put their best foot forward in a performance and no matter what the outcome always have an optimistic outlook and that’s starting pitcher, Caleb Hamrick. Hamrick was drafted in the eighth round of the 2012 draft from high school by the Indians, just one round after McAdams. Like McAdams, Hamrick seems to have a level head and seems ready to go for the challenge of pro ball.

“The transition from pro ball out of high school went pretty well and I’m excited to be here.” When asked what role the Indians had in mind for the righty, he said with a smile “I was starter and high school and I believe I’ll be starting this year.”

Like all the others, Hamrick has the right mentality looking forward to the season and one Kubiak no doubt is happy to hear. “Statistically, I’m not really worried about anything. I just want my team to win and perform good.”

It’s always interesting to see if these guys have ever visited Northeast Ohio and Hamrick, a native Texan, chuckled, “I’ve never been up in the northeast, but I like it, I like the weather so far.” As for how he’s feeling physically, with a grin he said, “I feel great. I’m ready to see some fans.”

The Scrappers also have a celebrity of sorts for Cleveland Indians fans. Long time Cleveland Indians’ radio announcer Tom Hamilton’s son, Nick Hamilton, drafted in the 35th round of the 2012 draft out of Kent State is a member of this years’ squad.

The Scrappers kicked off their season with a three game series against the Jamestown Jammers on June 17. Things were rough early as the Scrappers were held scoreless through the first two games and partially into the third extending their scoreless streak from last season to 37.2 innings. Luckily, Mahoning Valley ended up winning the rubber match Wednesday night and ending the opening series 1-2.

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