Deflated Ducks, Injuries Mount in Minor League Wrap Up

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.

Wendle and Naquin are scheduled to meet with hand specialist Thomas Graham in Cleveland soon. The Indians are still awaiting word on the severity of Naquin’s fracture but it is thought that he will be out multiple weeks. All of the injuries are not considered to have any long-term implications for the players. With Lindor’s injury the RubberDucks hope not to lose much production in having promoted shortstop prospect Erik Gonzalez from Carolina. With Wendle and Naquin possibly out for the year the team is going to have to have some players step up to fill the void. Wendle was leading the team in runs batted in with 45 and extra base hits with 31. Naquin was leading the team in batting average at .313 and runs scored with 54. The RubberDucks just a month earlier lost another key piece to their lineup in outfielder Bryson Myles who went down with a knee injury and was having a great season. Myles is projected to start rehab this upcoming week. The question is with all the production missing from the offense can the Ducks continue to hang around first place for the rest of the season? If so who will step up to fill the void?

The Columbus Clippers have six wins out of their last 10 games since last Friday June 20.  With the six wins the (44-39) second place Clippers have cut the Indianapolis Indians lead in the division from five games down to only three games.

The hitting star of the week is infielder Audy Ciriaco. Ciriaco had some pretty gaudy numbers in scoring nine runs with 13 hits, three doubles, three home runs, nine runs batted in and five walks with a .394 average on the week. With all the injuries and call-ups this year utility infielder Ciriaco has seen plenty of playing time for the Clippers. Ciriaco, now 27-years old, was signed as a minor league free agent by the Indians in January. Ciriaco signed mostly for minor league depth has quietly put together some of his best numbers in his career. Ciriaco has never hit above .256, but currently has a .280 batting average and his eight home runs is only four short of his career high in just half a season so far. In his 10-year career Ciriaco has yet to step foot on a major league field. Still just 27-years of age, is Ciriaco coming into his own finally as a player or will he continue to just be minor league depth?

The pitching star of the week is right-handed, relief pitcher Austin Adams. Adams for the week pitched five innings, while allowing four hits, zero runs, zero walks, striking out three and adding a save. Adams was a two-way player in college and was actually drafted in 2008 by the Brewers as a shortstop but did not sign. In 2009 Adams eventually signed with the Indians as a pitcher. Adams started his career as a starting pitcher before he suffered a shoulder injury that cost him all of the 2012 season. At just 5’11, 190 lbs., the Indians were concerned about Adams durability especially coming off the missed year decided to convert him to a reliever. Adams fastball has been clocked up to 100 m.p.h. and he regularly sits in the high 90’s. After a dominant 2013 in Double-A with Akron, the Indians added Adams to the 40-man roster after the season. Adams 2014 season started out a little rough but he has turned it around over the last month and a half and currently sports a 2.65 earned run average with 29 strikeouts over 34 innings pitched. Adams should see his first major league action this year, most likely in September when rosters are expanded

Since Friday June 20, Akron has lost five of their last nine games and have fallen in the standings to second place in the division at 47-35, a half game back of first place Richmond. With all the injuries the RubberDucks have suffered it will be interesting to see if they can stay in the race. Manager Dave Wallace certainly has his work cut out for him over the final two months.

The hitting star of the week is infielder Ronny Rodriguez. Rodriguez for the week had a .394 batting average on 13 hits in 33 at-bats while scoring five runs and adding four doubles and one run batted in. Rodriguez, often the forgotten man in Akron’s infield, started the year blocked by Francisco Lindor at shortstop and Joey Wendle at second base. With second base and shortstop occupied Rodriguez still played regularly but found himself at times playing first base, third base and filling in for Lindor and Wendle when needed. Rodriguez, still considered a top prospect at just 22-years old, lost some of his luster last year after a breakout season with Carolina in 2012 when he hit 19 home runs while playing shortstop. Rodriguez in 2013, while making the jump to Double-A Akron, saw his power zapped as he hit only five home runs on the year. In 2014, Rodriguez got off to a horrid start for Akron, hitting around .200 through early June but has turned it on of late brining his average all the way up to .250, currently with four home runs on the season. With Lindor out a week or two and Wendle possibly out for the year, Rodriguez should find plenty of playing time at shortstop and second base his more natural positions. Akron will need Rodriguez to keep hitting and regain his top prospect status to help replace so much of the offense they lost.

An easy choice for the pitching star of the week for Akron this week is right-handed, starting pitcher Joe Colon. Colon has been Akron’s best starter on the year and has led the staff with consistent start after start. This week was no exception with Colon in his two starts, throwing 12 innings giving up eight hits, two earned runs while walking five and striking out 10, good for a 0.75 earned run average and two wins. Colon, with seven wins on the year and a sparkling 2.79 earned run average, has really come into his own in 2014. Colon has pitched well over his four prior seasons in the minor leagues for the Indians but never stood out as a major league starter prospect. Now 24-years old, Colon is starting to open some eyes with his breakout season. If Colon is able to maintain his success, a trip to Triple A Columbus this year is not out of the question. Colon’s ceiling is probably at best a fourth or fifth starter in the majors, but it’s another arm that the Indians might lean on soon for depth within their system.

The second half of the season started Thursday, June 19 for the Mudcats with all teams’ in the Carolina League records starting fresh at 0-0. The Mudcats have gone 6-5 in the second half and currently sit in second place in the division just a half game behind the first half champions, Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

The hitting star of the week is outfielder Luigi Rodriguez. Rodriguez, just 21-years old had an outstanding week, going 12-37 for a .324 average while scoring six runs, with two doubles, one triple, two home runs, three runs batted in, four walks and two stolen bases. Rodriguez once an infield prospect was moved to the outfield early in his career. In his first three seasons Rodriguez put up some tremendous numbers at such a young age the Indians pushed him aggressively through their system. Rodriguez and the Indians had high hopes for him going into 2013 as a 20-year old entering his second season already in A-ball. However, 2013 ended up basically a lost year due to nagging injuries that lasted most of the season. The 2014 season began as the 2013 season ended with Rodriguez getting injured on opening day and proceeded to miss a little more than a month of action. When Rodriguez returned he got off to a slow start to his year and worries continued about his durability and ability to stay healthy. Over his last 20 games however Rodriguez is hitting .369 while scoring 14 runs, four doubles, one triple, three homeruns, eight runs batted in, 16 walks, two stolen bases and a .488 on base percentage. Rodriguez’s play of late is very encouraging, and if he can stay healthy, hopefully he can reestablish himself as one of the better prospects in the Indians system.

The pitching star of the week for the Mudcats has been the pitcher of the year so far in the Indians system, left-handed starter Ryan Merritt. There are not enough adjectives to describe Merritt’s pitching this year and this week was no exception. Merritt in two starts threw 15.1 innings allowing just eight hits, just two earned runs, one walk, striking out 10 in earning the win in both games. The 22-year old Merritt currently in his fourth year with the Indians probably had his best year in 2013 but nothing spectacular with a 3.52 earned run average with 97 strikeouts in 135.1 innings pitched between Lake County and Carolina. Nobody could have seen what has unfolded so far for Merritt in 2014. Merritt in 14 starts has a microscopic earned un average at 1.58, which is third in all of minor league baseball. In his 91.1 innings pitched Merritt has only allowed 66 hits good for an opponent’s .198 batting average. Merritt has also only allowed 17 walks while striking out 69 batters. Merritt’s play has been noticed as he was selected as the All-Star game starting pitcher for the Carolina League team, throwing a scoreless first inning. Merritt has to be the most pleasant surprise in the Indians system so far this year and has certainly earned a promotion to Double-A Akron, which should come shortly down the road. With not much of a track record it will be fun to watch if Merritt can continue his breakout against stronger competition while moving up the ladder.

The Lake County Captains ended the first half of the season finishing in last place in their division at 27-43, 14 games in back of West Michigan. The team got a fresh start with the second half of the season starting last Thursday June 19. With the fresh start comes new opportunities as the Captains seem to be taking advantage of theirs with seven wins in their first 10 games. They currently are in first place, one game ahead of second place Lansing and West Michigan.

The Captains hitting star of the week is big, first baseman Nellie Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been very streaky this year. Just as it seems like he has got on track he seems to lose it just as fast. This last week Rodriguez seems to have found it, hitting for a .321 average with three doubles, one triple, one home run, and seven runs batted in while drawing six walks. There is no doubting Rodriguez’s tremendous power potential standing at 6’3, 250 lbs., he is currently tied for 10th in home runs in the Midwest League. Just turning 20 this month Rodriguez has a good eye and is second on the team in walks but he needs to have more consistent contact, striking out 79 times in just 262 at bats. Rodriguez is an exciting prospect and offers something that the Indians don’t have a ton of in the minor leagues, power. Hopefully Rodriguez can finally put it all together in the second half of the season for Lake County and emerge as one of the top bats in the system.

As was the same as last week’s column there was a ton of options again for the pitching star of the week for the Captains. The teams pitching staff has been great over the last three to four weeks, from Dace Kime and Mitch Brown turning around their seasons to Luis Lugo looking dominant at times as well. Right-handed, relief pitcher Ben Heller has been just outstanding of late. Heller this week threw five scoreless innings while allowing four hits, one walk, striking out 12 and earned a win. Heller’s 12 strikeouts in the five innings pitched doesn’t seem to be a fluke. Over his last 14 appearances spanning 21.1 innings pitched, Heller has struck out an astounding 40 batters! During the 21.1 innings Heller has only allowed seven hits, one run, seven walks and a 0.42 earned run average. Over this period Heller has a ridiculous 16.9 strikeouts per nine inning rate. Heller was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2013 First Year MLB Player Draft out of Olivet Nazarene College in Illinois. With his production so far in his second professional season, the Indians have to feel they might have found something special in Heller. If Heller continues to shine like he has he should be able to move through the system rather quickly as he will be 23 in August and is a former collegiate arm. Tribe fans should keep an eye on Heller as he has made a name for himself as an intriguing prospect in the system.

The Mahoning Valley Scrappers have had a tough time lately in winning only three of their last 10 games. The teams overall record now stands at 6-11 as they sit in last place already five games behind the first place in the division. Though early in the season the team needs to start winning soon to have any chance to remain close during the short season.

The first Mahoning Valley Scrappers got an influx of talent on their roster this week with the addition of many 2014 draft picks. One draft pick however got off to a tremendous start to his professional career. That player, outfielder Greg Allen, is the Scrappers hitter of the week. Allen a sixth round pick out of San Diego State was incredible as a leadoff hitter, setting the table for the rest of the lineup. Allen scored an amazing 13 runs scored in just eight games with 10 hits, three walks, three doubles, a triple and three stolen bases while hitting for a .323 average. An advanced bat being drafted after his junior year in college it would not be unexpected to see Allen promoted to Low-A Lake County before the end of the year as long as he continues to produce. Allen was lucky enough to play for MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn who was the head coach at San Diego State. Gwynn sadly passed away last week due to his battle with cancer.

The pitching star of the week for the Scrappers is 20-year old, left-handed starting pitcher Sean Brady. Brady in 2013 was the Indians fifth round draft pick out of Ida Baker High School in Cape Coral, Florida. Brady had been committed to attending the University of Florida before the Indians gave him the largest contract of any firth round pick in the 2013 draft. Brady did not disappoint last year in his debut in the Arizona Rookie League as he had a 1.97 earned run average in 32 innings pitched with 30 strikeouts. Brady this week put together his second consecutive strong outing after a rough first start of the season. Brady, in his start, went five and two-thirds scoreless innings allowing just one walk while striking out two in earning the victory. Brady coming out of high school was considered more polished than most of the high school pitchers in the 2013 draft and could move quicker through the Indians system than most young arms would. Brady came into the 2014 year ranked as the Indians 17th best prospect by

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

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