If the Midwest League season ended today, the Lake County Captains would make the Eastern Division Midwest League playoffs with a 24-24 record in the second half. Despite a paltry first half, the Captains have rallied to put together a much-improved second-half team.
Impressively, it’s not so much that the Captains have developed a much-improved roster in the second half – it’s that their usual roster has stepped up in the second half to deliver stronger and more effective results.
Among those players stepping up to the plate (pardon the pun) and coming into their own is catcher Richard Stock, who is in his second year with the Lake County Captains. Stock was called up from extended spring training in Arizona in May 2013 to join the Captains, where he stayed throughout the rest of last season, and found himself back on their Opening Day roster this past April.
Stock has never been an everyday player with the Captains, sharing catching duties with Eric Haase (also on his second season in Eastlake) and acting as a designated hitter for the team. He has seen limited playing time this season, appearing in seven games in April, 13 in May and 10 in each June and July, though his recent performances are indications that more time in the lineup could be beneficial for the Captains.
Stock hit .211 in 26 games in the first half, with a .240 average in April and a dismal .170 average in May. June and July truly brought Stock’s potential to the forefront, though, as he hit .333 in June and .286 in July with a combined three home runs and 17 RBI. He has an overall .197 average in the second half and posts .313/.547/.860 in total numbers. Despite having the same number of hits in the first and second half (19), Stock has been able to capitalize on his playing time much better later in the season, scoring 11 runs since the Midwest League All-Star break compared to only 4 pre-break. though not a player known for speed, Stock has even improved his performance when on base, as he was caught stealing once in the first half and has stolen one base in the second half.
Last season in Lake County, Stock showed glimpses of being a power hitter desperately needed within the organization. He hit .431 in July 2013 with one home run and five RBI in 12 games and accumulated a 1.002 OPS. Sharing catching and DHing duties with Haase and Jeremy Lucas, Stock again suffered from limited playing time. He made his most appearances of the year – 17 – in August 2013, where he hit .250 and triple-slashed .292/.500/.792 with 13 strikeouts. He hit four home runs to close out the season and knocked in 15 runs. Stock’s second half average in 2013 was .313 with an .826 OPS in 35 games, which gave him a .280 average on the season with eight home runs, 31 RBI, 52 strikeouts, and a .773 OPS.
Among Stock’s 2014 improvements is his average against left-handed pitchers. In 2013, Stock was plagued by southpaws and hit only .154 against them compared to his .299 average against righties. This season, Stock has overcome that curse, as he is hitting .250 against left-handed pitchers and a lower .246 against right-handed throwing.
Stock said that this season as compared to last hasn’t been too different, despite the new coaching staff. He said he enjoys working with new skipper Mark Budzinski, and laughed when asked how this year’s staff compares to Scooter Tucker and those in charge of the 2013 Captains.
“This year, [Budzinski] is probably more traditional than last year – and it’s hard to get more traditional than Scooter,” Stock said.
Traditional seems to be working, though, as Stock is getting a chance to exercise his potential for the team. He has only DHed one game this season and has caught the other 43 in which he has appeared, committing eight errors and turning four double plays, amassing a fielding percentage of .977.
Stock’s future is likely not going to be based on his performance behind the plate, however, as the organization has a number of strong catchers moving through the system. Stock’s true benefit comes at the plate, as long as he can continue his strong hitting and increase his plate appearances to make a true impact on the organization.
Stock’s hitting is not the only thing propelling the Captains through a strong second half, however. Other players on the team have rebounded from struggling first halves to put together impressive performances as the season approaches its end. Infielder Ivan Castillo, who joined the Captains in May, was recently named the Midwest League Player of the Week for August 4-10. During that time, 19 year-old Castillo, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2012, hit .464 with two home runs, five RBI, four doubles, and seven runs. He is hitting .240 overall for the season and three home runs, 18 RBI, and six stolen bases in 65 games. he hit only .207 in the first half with five RBI and 17 hits, and has already improved to .259 since the All-Star break with 13 RBI and 37 hits.
Pitcher Mitch Brown has also rebounded for a successful second half of the season, earning the organizations attention this past week as he was named the Indians’ Minor League Player of the Week for August 4-11. He earned his third straight win after pitching a season-high 7.0 shutout innings on August 6 against the West Michigan Whitecaps in Eastlake in a game that the Captains won 3-0. From July 25 through August 12, Brown was riding a consecutive 17.0 scoreless innings. He started for Lake County on August 12 and threw nearly 5.0 innings before the game was postponed due to weather with one out to go in the top of the fifth.
Brown started the season with an 0-6 record and 4.43 ERA in 14 starts, but has gone 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts in the second half. He is holding opposing batters to a .203 average and has a 0.78 ERA in his last four outings, in which he has thrown 25 strikeouts as opposed to only eight walks.
The Captains have just over two weeks left in their season and are making every game up until that last one count. Despite entering the dog days of summer, players are thriving under the excitement of a possible play-off appearance, delivering performances that demonstrate potential, power, and, above all, heart.