There’s a lot of change coming to Akron, Ohio this spring. After Ken Babby purchased the club at the end of the 2012 season, he’s been making all kinds of changes to the club. Last year a new scoreboard was purchased to replace the much outdated previous one. This upcoming season, even more changes have been brought to the club. Over the last two seasons, there have been some debate on if the name should change from the Akron Aeros to a name that better represented the city of Akron. As of this spring, the formally known Akron Aeros will now be called the Akron RubberDucks. The name originates from the rich history of the rubber factories that started in Akron which inevitably led to the creation of tire factories such as Goodrich, Goodyear, and Firestone.
Along with all the new renovations that have happened to Canal Park, there have also been changes within the team as well. On the managerial side, Dave Wallace has been promoted as the new manager of the team. Previously, Wallace had spent some time as the manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2011 the Lake County Captains in 2012 and the Carolina Mudcats in 2013. Each of the years that top prospect Francisco Lindor was a part of the Indians minor league system, Wallace has been his manager. It has been huge for some of the guys who are on the current Akron RubberDucks roster that Wallace is in Akron this year. They credit him for their development due to his laid back and friendly attitude, while also knowing when they need to be serious.
“We’re comfortable with him, we know how he manages. We know how he goes about his business, and we know his expectations,” says catcher Tony Wolters.
Taking a look at the RubberDucks lineup, it’s obvious that this may be the deepest team that Akron has seen in a long time. As of right now, the RubberDucks are carrying three catchers on their team in Alex Lavisky, Jake Lowery, and Wolters. Wolters, being a converted infield to catcher last season, is looking to receive a good chunk of the catching time as he was invited to the big league camp this past spring and is looking to find more time to improve on his new position.
“We’re going to do our best to give our guys time back there,” Wallace said. ” (It) looks like Tony gonna get a tick more and the majority of the time. We’re excited about what he’s done in his short year of experience of catching. Jake and Alex will both find themselves back there… Exactly how that’s going to look, I can’t tell you right now…..it’ll be a fluid situation.”
Along with a deep set of catchers come an even deeper group of infielders and outfielders. For the infield, three promising prospects with high ceilings will be with the RubberDucks. Infielders Ronny Rodriguez, Joe Wendle and Indians top prospect Lindor will be leading the charge for the infield this season. The challenge that Wallace will have to face this upcoming season is figuring out how to give all three of these players ample amount of time to play. Having the chance to be able to manage these players though is something that Wallace is especially looking forward to.
“It’s exciting, it’s going to be fun looking at a lineup and when we’re giving Francisco a day off we can plug in Ronny Rodriguez and not a lot of organizations can do that. It’s impressive.”
As far as the outfield goes, top five prospect Tyler Naquin will be manning centerfield along with Tyler Holt, Bryson Myles, and Jordan Smith on the corners. All of these guys have huge potential and any one of them could see big league time in the next year or two. Naquin, the first round draft pick in 2012, will have a small leg up on the group as he has spent some time in Akron already in 2013, along with Holt.
For the pitching staff, right-hander Cody Anderson will be the opening day starter on Thursday April 3. Along with Anderson will be Jose Colon, Will Roberts, Gabriel Arias, and veteran Kyle Davies. Davies is three years removed from the MLB while recovering from a shoulder injury suffered in 2011 when he was with the Kansas City Royals. Davies will be huge for the RubberDucks as he can act as a mentor for Wallace.
“He’s one of the guys willing to help out anyway that he can,” Wallace said. “It’s a very comforting feeling the same way, probably how Tito feels about having Jason Giambi.”
One of the more interesting stories in the bullpen this season will be the rise of lefty prospect Kyle Crockett. Crockett was drafted by the Tribe last year in the fourth round of the First Year Player Draft. After he was drafted, he started his season with Mahoning Valley, then quickly moved to Lake County, and ended his season with Akron. This kind of rise through the system has been seen in recent years with players like Cody Allen and Danny Salazar. It is not such a far-fetched idea that Crockett could continue this type of progress and see some time in the big leagues before the end of the season.
The Indians minor league system has got much deeper over the last couple of years, and looking at the 2014 Akron RubberDucks team, it can certainly be seen. The rise of players like Lindor, Naquin, Wolters, and Wendle have been incredible to witness. Moving together from Carolina to now Akron, they hope to continue their success in the minors and continue to develop in Akron and beyond. With this current lineup, the RubberDucks are probably the deepest minor league team that the Indians have had in many years, and it will be fun to watch them all develop. With having a manager like David Wallace leading the team this is going to an intriguing team to follow. The future is in Akron, and the future is not far from Cleveland.
Along with a new name and new roster the RubberDucks also have changes for fans and citizens of Akron. The team has revamped their extreme food menus. In the past, the Double-A Akron team has been known for their extreme menu items, and they continue to add onto it for this upcoming season. Such items include their five new floats that they call “Duck Floats.” Each float is named after a cartoon duck such as the “Donald” or the “Daffy.” These floats are geared toward anyone at the park, but specifically children. Along with the “Duck Floats” there is also the “Ugly Duckling.” This float is for adults that are 21 and over because it contains an Irish stout along with three scoops of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and chocolate sprinkles. These floats can all be found in the newly added Sock Hop Ice Cream shop which is one of the many restaurants that have been added to the ball park.
The biggest addition to the park is the new Game Grill and Bar. This bar is open not only to fans that are attending a game, but also to the general Akron public. In recent years, there has been just one restaurant at Canal Park that you could go to eat at to watch the game from the outside in, but it was not available to the general public. The Game is looking to change that. This is allowing more people to come and participate in the action of the Rubber Ducks, even if they aren’t physically at the game. It’s pretty clear that owner Ken Babby is trying to incorporate his new team with the city of Akron. By doing so, this could create a bigger following for the team, and make the area a little more family friendly. Other renovations include the new Fowl Pole section down the left field line where fans can sit at picnic tables to enjoy the game, and the removal of the old bleacher seats.