RubberDucks Strive For The Post Season Heading Into the Second Half

With the All-Star break closing in this week, it’s time to take a moment to look over what has been nothing less than an awesome first half for the Akron RubberDucks. After changing the name from the Akron Aeros to the RubberDucks prior to this season, owner Ken Babby along with manager Dave Wallace were looking to bring some new life to this Akron team. Aside from all the new renovations that had been added to Canal Park, a team full of young competitors were experiencing their first time in Double-A baseball.

Going into this season, a good portion of the team had never played a game in Double-A baseball as they had spent their previous season with High-A Carolina. These players included Indians top prospect Francisco Lindor, converted catcher Tony Wolters, second basemen Joe Wendle, and outfielders Jordan Smith and Bryson Myles. Along with them came a plethora of fresh pitchers including Joseph Colon, Will Roberts, Gabriel Arias, and Duke von Schamann. Von Schammann did not start the season with the Indians organization, but was received from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the Colt Hynes trade. These guys joined the team along with some more promising players who had already spent some time up here including Tyler Naquin, Tyler Holt, Shawn Armstrong, Ronny Rodriguez, and Cody Anderson.

At the start of the season, by looking at the roster it was blatantly obvious that this team had not only the potential to be great, but it was also one of the deepest minor league teams as far as versatility and overall production. Prior to the 2013 season, Wolters had been an infielder who had then begun converting to catcher. So add him to the infield depth that already included Lindor, Rodriguez, and Wendle and that left a pretty wide variety of ways for Wallace to setup his lineup. The lineup was also deep in the outfield along with the catching as Jake Lowery and Alex Lavisky were also able to play behind the dish when Wolters was not manning the position.

Along with some younger guys on the team, Bryan LaHair was also assigned to the RubberDucks after spending some time with Triple-A Columbus. He’s had a decent season, but as the season has progressed forward, LaHair’s luck has gone down. In June, he only batted .207/.300/.310. His role on the team is more to provide a veteran leadership towards these young players. With Jesus Aguilar manning first base in Columbus, it made more sense to have LaHair in Akron to help players grow and mature and allow him to still work on what he needs to in order to still be a depth option for the Indians.

This team was built to contend right from the get go, and that is exactly what they have done. Hot starts from Lindor, Myles, and Wolters led the team for the first month. Lindor hit his first walk off home run in April. What was disappointing though in the first month was the lack of production from both Naquin and Wendle. The two of them hit on top of the lineup, but were not able to produce and that was detrimental to the team’s beginning of the season. As the season progressed on, both players began to turn it on.

In the month of April, the RubberDucks held a record of 14-11, and the best way to describe the team in April was that they were very streaky. At times they would be on a streak of winning three or more games at a time, only to follow that up with a streak of three or more consecutive losses. It also didn’t help that weather was a huge factor at the beginning of the season as they had four postponed games in April alone.

In May, they won even more games than in the month before as they held a record of 19-10. One of the biggest reasons they had so much success in May was thanks to Naquin. During this time, he batted .328/.370/.434 with five doubles, one triple, two home runs, and 10 RBI. With that increased production on the top of the lineup, this opened more opportunities for Lindor to drive him in and benefit the RubberDucks.

Naquin wasn’t the only one who turned his season around in the month of May. Wendle began to figure out his swing and made adjustments as the season went along. In April, he batted .193/.297/.318, but between May and June he improved his fortunes as he hit .288/.326/.481 with 16 doubles, three triples, six home runs and 39 RBI in that time. By the end of June, he was among the team leaders in RBI and became a solid producer batting third behind Lindor.

One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the solid production of Colon. In May, he posted an ERA of 1.50 and had a record of 3-0 where he had a complete game shutout against the Altoona Curve on May 21. On the season so far, Colon has an ERA of 2.56 and a record of 8-4. Colon is going to represent the RubberDucks in the Eastern League All-Star game along with Lindor and Armstrong. The development of Colon has been incredibly nice to see this season. With the lack of production from Anderson, Colon has stepped it up in his place as the best starting pitcher in this rotation. Along with Colon, both von Schamann and Roberts have posted solid seasons for the Ducks. At the start of the season, Kyle Davies was a member of the rotation, but he was quickly moved up to Triple-A Columbus to help bolster their rotation. Along with Davies, Arias has also spent time with Columbus.

The RubberDucks rotation has been somewhat a revolving door at times with their starting pitchers. We’ve seen the rotation consist of Anderson, Roberts, Colon, Arias, von Schamann, and also Toru Murata. Murata and von Schamann have spent a great deal amount of time though traveling between Akron and Columbus to be used as spot starts when they were needed.

In the bullpen, the two biggest contributors to the success of the team have been Armstrong and Enosil Tejada. Along with them, Kyle Crockett had started the season with the RubberDucks, but he was quickly promoted to the Indians in May. The two of them have been stealing the spotlight in the bullpen as they’ve been the most reliable pitchers, but there have been some nice stories for some guys in the pen as well. Adam Miller joined the RubberDucks as the Indians brought him back after several years of being away from the club. Along with Miller, Giovanni Soto is back with the team after sitting out the most of the 2013 season because of a back injury. In 2012, Soto was a member of the Akron rotation, but after the surgery in 2013, he’s been limited to just the bullpen.

To start the season, Giovanny Urshela was the starting third basemen, but he didn’t end up spending much time in Akron. During his time in Akron, he hit .300/.347/.567 with nine doubles, five home runs, and 19 RBI. He was then later promoted to Columbus and hasn’t returned since. Along with Urshela, Tyler Holt was also moved up to Columbus. After already spending two years with the club, his promotion to Columbus was well-deserved.

The biggest disappointment of the season thus far has been the lack of success from starting pitcher Anderson. In April, he was named the opening day starting pitcher after having a great season in High-A Carolina the season before. He posted a solid 3.60 ERA in April and had a record of 1-2 with 13 strikeouts. May didn’t fare as well for him as he posted an ERA of 4.96 with a record of 1-1 where he struck out 20 and walked 11. He had a stretch of four consecutive quality starts before the wheels started to fall off again. Things only continued to get worse in June as he lost four out of five starts and had an ERA of 7.15 and had a record of 0-4. Anderson is looking to improve on his season in the second half, he’ll need to if he wants to continue to hold on to his high prospect status in the Indians system.

June had been an interesting month for the RubberDucks as the injury bug began to plague the team. After losing Myles to an injury on June 11, they also lost Lindor, Naquin, and Wendle within a matter of three days due to freak injuries. Luckily, Lindor only sat out for about a week, but Naquin and Wendle both had to have surgeries on their hands which is causing them to be out for the foreseeable future.

Due to the injury to Myles, Anthony Gallas was promoted to Akron to fill in his spot in left field. Gallas, a northeast Ohio native, has been the best possible replacement for Myles as the RubberDucks could have asked for. During his time with the RubberDucks, he has hit .351/.371/.632 with ten doubles, two triples, six home runs, and 21 RBI. He has filled in nicely, and became a critical member of the RubberDucks after the injuries to Naquin and Wendle.

The RubberDucks are currently sitting on top of the Eastern League Western Division with a record of 55-40, a winning percentage of .579. They are not alone on top though as they’re currently tied with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. The RubberDucks are the highest offensive producing team in the Indians minor league system. They hold the highest batting average, hits, and stolen bases. Lindor leads the Indians minor league system in stolen bases at 24 and is among the leaders in RBI. Overall, this team is full of players who can produce, and look to continue do this as the second half of the season continues to creep closer.

This team has been tested during the first half of the season, and they have risen to the challenge. Even after some injuries to key players, they are still finding ways to continue to compete. If they keep up this type of attitude throughout the season, then good things should come their way. As of now, the playoffs don’t seem too far away, but the need to keep their focus on continuing to win. The second half should be exciting, and the RubberDucks are a team that everyone should be paying attention to come August.

Photo: Lianna Holbu/DTTWLN photographer

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