A Promising Season Ended Too Soon for the RubberDucks

After an offseason of rebranding, fresh faces, and boat load of renovations, the Double-A Akron RubberDucks came into the season with a promising season ahead of them. In his inaugural season as the RubberDucks manager, Dave Wallace looked on to lead what could have been one of the best Cleveland Indians minor league team in recent history. Unfortunately, the season ended earlier than expected as the RubberDucks were eliminated from the playoffs in four games against the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Regardless of how the season ended, in their first season as RubberDucks, this team was still impressive from the get-go, and continued to do so all season long.

To start off the season, the RubberDucks had one of the deepest lineups that a team could possibly have when it comes to having bench options, solid starting pitching, and an experienced bullpen. The infield consisted of some of the Indians top prospects in Francisco Lindor, Joe Wendle, Ronny Rodriguez, and Tony Wolters. Along with these infielders, the outfield was full of great players as well, including one of the Indians top prospects Tyler Naquin. Along with Naquin, the RubberDucks also had Bryson Myles, Tyler Holt, and Jordan Smith to compliment Naquin. For the starting pitching, Cody Anderson was deemed the opening day starter after having a successful season in High-A Carolina the season before where he was named the top starter in the Indians minor league system in 2013. Following Anderson, Gabriel Arias, Joseph Colon, Will Roberts, and Kyle Davies were the other members of the starting rotation. Arias and Davies were quickly promoted to Triple-A Columbus after having hot starts to the season.

The RubberDucks had a good start to the season as they won 14 out of 25 games in April, but it wasn’t a great month for everyone. Naquin started the season on the wrong foot as he only hit just above the Mendoza line for the first two weeks of the season. He eventually started to turn it by the end of the month as he ended the month with a slash line of .267/.344/.384. Naquin was not alone with early season struggles, Wendle also had his issues in April as he only hit .193/.297/.318 in 25 games in April. The two batters eventually began to feel comfortable in May, but their early season struggles were troublesome for the RubberDucks. Players like Giovanny Urshela, Lindor, and Wolters were all able to pick up their teammates in the early part of the season.

Urshela, who had one of his best seasons in the minors to start off the 2014 season, was eventually promoted to Columbus after hitting .300/.347/.567 with 5 home runs and 19 RBI in 24 games with the RubberDucks. His defense has always been solid, but once his hitting started to come together, there was nothing left for him to learn at Double-A Akron and was rewarded the promotion to Columbus. Holt also joined him in Columbus shortly after for starting off the season on the right foot as well. After losing Holt and Urshela to promotions, the RubberDucks had to find a way to make up their lost bats in the lineup and have some guys step up. That’s when the RubberDucks started to get into a groove as their top three hitters began to get comfortable with their new team. Naquin, Lindor and Wendle all started to step it up in May, and it showed as the RubberDucks won 21 games in the month of May. Granted this was not achieved alone, as their starting pitching had also found its groove as well. Most notably was Colon as he was posting career numbers in May. In 5 games, Colon had an ERA of 1.5 and posted a record of 3-0. Throughout the season, Colon become the bonafide ace of the rotation as he was having a fantastic season, and Anderson had not been.

Anderson, who is considered one of the Indians top prospects, had his troubles with the RubberDucks this season. In 25 games, he posted an ERA of 5.44 and a record of 4-11. Anderson just never looked like he felt comfortable on the mound this season. He had a short span of quality starts between May and June, but then lost it again in the second half of the season. His velocity had been sitting around 93 mph all season long, but his control was off and he was getting hit hard almost every single outing. In 2013 he had 122 strikeouts in 136 innings pitched, but in 2014 he only had 81 strikeouts in 125.2 innings pitched. The Indians are hoping for great things out of Anderson in the future, but if he continues to pitch like he did in 2014, then his future may not be so bright with the Tribe much longer.

June was not as great for the RubberDucks as the previous two months had been. They lost Myles early in the month to an injury in his right knee that required him to have surgery to repair it. He was out until July 24, and by that point the team had changed drastically since he had left. During his absence, both Wendle and Naquin had gone down with injuries of their own. A broken right hamate and a broken right hand for Wendle and Naquin respectively. Also, Lindor had missed some time in June and July after taking a bad hop from a ball in the infield. He had only sat for a short time though before he returned to the field. Due to these injuries, the RubberDucks were forced to call in reinforcements from High-A Carolina. Those reinforcements came in the form of Anthony Gallas, Ollie Linton and Erik Gonzalez.

Gallas, a North-East Ohio native, had not spent much time playing baseball last season due to injuries of his own. He was off to an incredible in High-A Carolina before he was promoted to Akron, and he continued to rake in runs once he arrived. In his first season in Double-A, Gallas impressed many as he posted a slash line of .293/.337/.536 with 16 home runs and 49 RBI in 73 games. After losing Lindor, Myles, Naquin, and Wendle to injuries, Gallas’ power bat was very welcome to help bolster an injury ridden lineup. Even after Wendle and Myles returned to the lineup, Gallas continued to work his way into the everyday lineup. There was no way that Wallace would have not sat Gallas unless he had to. He is one of the major reasons as to why the RubberDucks were still contending for the playoffs in the late season.

Another player who provided a nice boost to the lineup was shortstop Erik Gonzalez. After Lindor had been promoted the Triple-A Columbus, Gonzalez was called up to replace him and fill the big shoes that Lindor had left behind. Gonzalez was able to fill the void left by Lindor, and then some as he provided a spark that this team had been looking for in the latter half of the season. In his short time at Double-A Akron, Gonzalez hit .357/.390/.473 with 1 home run, 16 RBI, 6 doubles, 3 triples and 6 stolen bases. Gonzalez is a big lanky guy and has the ability to cover a lot of ground at short. These characteristics are the reason why he is such a talented shortstop, and his offense is not something to be ignored either.

The second half of the season for the RubberDucks did not fare as well as they had hoped. Between July and August, they posted a record of 25-33. Even after calling up Gallas and Gonzalez, the RubberDucks had a hard time putting together a consistent win streak. Underperformances by players like Rodriguez, Bryan LaHair, Jake Lowery, and Wolters proved to be costly to the team. Smith also had a disappointing season overall, but he started to turn it around in July, but fell off again in August as he only hit .202 during that time. With a lack of offense, and the pitching being unable to put up consistent quality starts did not bode well for the RubberDucks chances.

The RubberDucks were able to make it into the 2014 Eastern League Playoffs, but it did not go as well as expected. After dropping their first game to the Flying Squirrels, they gave the ball to Roberts in their second game. He pitched a glorious game as he threw a gem against the Flying Squirrels and struck out 11 during the contest. The RubberDucks went on to take the second game of the series and went on to play in Richmond for the second half of the series. They sadly did not make it past the first round of the playoffs as they were eliminated after dropping the next two games. Regardless of how the playoffs ended, the RubberDucks still had a successful season as they posted a record of 73-69 and landed in second place in the Eastern League Western Division.

Overall, the RubberDucks should be happy with how their season went.  After starting the season with some of the Indians top prospects, even after they left, whether by injury or promotion, they still contended all season long. If they would have just relied on the bats of Lindor and Naquin, then this team would not have gone as far as it did. These guys worked well as a team, and that bodes well for the future of the Cleveland Indians. They are deep in infielders and outfielders that will continue to grow during their time in Akron next year and for years to come.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

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