Coming off a 2012 season that saw the Akron Aeros win the Eastern League Championship, many changes were made to the staff and the roster. A new owner, Ken Babby, came in and made an immediate impact on the franchise. He purchased a $3M scoreboard and made a more family friendly, fan friendly atmosphere at Canal Park. New Manager Edwin Rodriguez, former manager of the Miami Marlins, moved up from Carolina to coach much of the roster he captained last season for the Mudcats. The team struggled to a 68-73 record and a fifth place finish in the EL Western Division. The poor record does not reflect the improvements made by owner and management, and the young, exuberant roster.
Arguably, the most prominent Aero coming into this season was returning first baseman Jesus Aguilar. Last year Aguilar spent the majority of the season playing for the High-A Carolina Mudcats, but got the call up to the Aeros in mid-August. He was a big power threat and a young, middle of the order hitter and he was ready to show what he could do in Akron. This year he started the season for the Aeros, and spent the entire 2013 campaign playing first base and designated hitter. On the year he hit .275 with 16 home runs. He finished sixth in the Eastern League with 137 hits, tenth in the league with 28 doubles, and seventh in the league in total bases with 213. Hit most notable accomplishment on the season was his league leading and new Aeros franchise record 105 RBI. For his achievements, Aguilar was honored this season as an Eastern League All-Star. He has made big strides defensively, and at only 23 years old, is one of the most promising hitters in the Indians minor league system. He is certainly a player to watch and is well on his way to becoming a future Cleveland Indians.
One of Aguilar’s counterparts in the middle of the Aeros’ order was an unlikely offensive powerhouse. Carlos Moncrief was possibly the Aeros’ most complete all-around player and the biggest weapon on the team. The reason he is such an unlikely hero is he began his minor league career as a pitcher. He moved to the outfield in 2011 to give himself a better chance at making an impact as a prospect. In two short seasons, he went from Lake County to Akron and became a legitimate five tool threat. Moncrief led the Aeros with 17 home runs and 227 total bases. He also led the team (among players with at least 250 PA) in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and batting average. He finished in the top ten in the EL in runs, hits, home runs, RBI, total bases, batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. He has speed to go along with his power as he stole 13 bases on the year, and he was voted the best outfield arm in the Eastern League. He proved he deserved the honor by leading the EL in outfield assists.
A mainstay at the top of the Aeros order was returning center fielder Tyler Holt. Spending much of the year as Akron’s leadoff hitter, Holt shined offensively and defensively. He led the team and finished second in the EL with 83 runs scored. He also finished fifth in the EL with 139 hits and was third with nine triples. His 28 stolen bases were good enough for third place, and his 80% stolen base success rate was fourth in the league. He made himself a fan favorite with his high risk defense, diving for balls and crashing into walls, and his All-Star personality.
Jose Ramirez was a bit of a surprise player to start the year with the Aeros in 2013. Last season he split the season between Mahoning Valley and Lake County, he skipped Carolina to make the move all the way to Akron. The moved proved to be a good one as Ramirez played with very good all-around skills. He hit .272 with Akron and racked up 131 hits spending most of the season playing second base. He led the team and the EL in stolen bases with 38, and finished fifth in the league in runs scored with 78. Ramirez also has the distinction of being the only Akron player called up the Cleveland Indians when he earned the September nod and made his Major League debut on September 1.
Two other very young infielders made a big impact with the Aeros this season. Shortstop Ronny Rodriguez was only 20 years old when he began the season with Akron. He had shown a great deal of power in Carolina in 2012, and that power waned a bit in Akron. The very young Rodriguez hit only four home runs on the season, but this is not atypical of a player this young. He hit a career high .266 and stole 12 out of 15 bases.
The other impactful youngster was third baseman Giovanny Urshela; also 20 at the start of the season, Urshela performed well offensively for the Aeros. He moved up and stayed consistent, hitting eight home runs and batting .272. He made some major improvements defensively over the course of the season and looks like a player on the rise in the Indians organization.
The starting rotation was the achilles heel of the Aeros all season. Despite the struggles of the starters, the Aeros’ ace, Matt Packer, had a very good season. He led the EL in wins with 12, and finished third in with a 3.27 ERA. He finished fourth with 154 innings pitched, and struck out 119 batters. Much of his success can be accredited to a little tweak in his wind-up. To avoid thinking too much and focusing too much on his target, the catcher mitt, Packer started looking down for a moment in the middle of his delivery. The tweak worked, and helps Packer to pitch well enough to be named to the EL All-Star team.
The bullpen had some success on the season. Closer Jose Flores was also named to the EL All-Star team, and his 15 saves were fifth in the EL. He finished the season with a 7-3 record and a 2.76 ERA. Fireballer Austin Adams got his velocity back after arm surgery and performed well. He finished the season with a 2-2 record and a 2.67 ERA. Bryce Stowell had a good year out of the pen with a 2.64 ERA and a 4-1 record. Possibly the most successful reliever on the team was 24 year old Enosil Tejada. He pitched 41 innings in 33 appearances with a 1-1 record and a 0.89 ERA.
The Aeros struggled through a tough season, with a new manager and many new faces on the field. The young players made big strides and huge improvements and are sure to improved greatly next season. Owners and management created a great, positive atmosphere at Canal Park. The future looks bright for the Indians farm system, and Indians fans can look forward to seeing some of these players wearing an Indians uniform in the near future.
Photo: Jesse Piecuch/DTTWLN photographer