A Month of Sweeps for the High-A Hillcats

Individual success in sports, and baseball in particular, is common and sparks thoughts of broader cultural references to inspirational words that spur success. Perhaps your personal favorite is Larry the Cable Guys’ Git-R-done, or maybe it is Yoda from the Empire Strikes Back, “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try”. For the High-A Hillcats latest acquisition, pitcher Rob Kaminsky, it is the mantra acquired from his favorite book, Tim Grover’s Relentless. Do it or don’t.

“It’s quite simple,” says Kaminsky, “there is no such thing as trying. If you say you’re going to try, then it’s an open invitation to failure. You either do it or you don’t, and you don’t sulk.”

Kaminsky was acquired by Cleveland from St. Louis in a deadline deal for Brandon Moss. As a competitor, his dogged mental approach to the game will fit right into the Hillcats team which has swept its way into first place in the second half standings of the Carolina Leagues Northern Division with a 26 – 18 record. This brings the team to 59 -55 record overall, the first time they have had a winning record on the season since they were 2-1.

The addition of Kaminsky was not an expected move. The #2 rated prospect in the Cardinals farm system was swapped straight up for Brandon Moss the same night that Cardinals stalwart Matt Holliday went down with injury, shortly after he returned to action from the disabled list.

The move was as surprising to Kaminsky as it was to anyone else.

“It was a whirlwind for me. I was in the Florida State League. We had just won a series at Brevard County. I’m on the bus with my buddies and I get a call at 1:00, 1:30 in the morning. I didn’t have the number saved in my phone, so the funny part is I wasn’t going to answer, but it said Missouri so I decided to answer it. It’s the Cardinals rep and he says, ‘Hey Rob, we’ve made a trade and you’re involved in it.’ I asked where am I going and is anyone coming with me. He says no, we traded you to Cleveland.”

Kaminsky joined the Hillcats in the midst of their hottest stretch of the season. In the twenty games beginning with the July 21st matchup at Winston Salem, the Hillcats team has a 17 – 3 record. They have won six consecutive series including a three sweeps of teams visiting Lynchburg City Stadium, first Myrtle Beach in three games, then a four game series against Salem, and most recently a three game sweep, of the first half winners of the Northern Division, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Of their three losses two came on the road, in Winston Salem and in Wilmington. The third loss, to the Potomac Nationals, was the only home loss in this period. The significance here is that Kaminsky was scheduled to pitch his first game in the Cleveland organization the day after this loss.

The diminutive, 5’11” 190 pound left hander demonstrated why he was such a highly rated talent. He pitched effectively for five and one third innings, leaving the game with a two run lead, and without yielding any runs to the P-Nats.

“It’s 60’ 6” and there’s a batter in the box, so nothing’s going to change at that end.” said Kaminsky about how he would approach his first start in the Carolina League. “I’m going to go and compete and trust the defense, and get a lot of ground balls, hold the ball longer than their starter and have the lead when I leave.”

He did exactly what he said he would, only coming up short in that he left the game in the middle of the sixth inning while Potomac’s starter, Reynaldo Lopez had not yet departed the game. Though he did not earn the win, the Hillcats did in dramatic fashion.

In the bottom of the 12th inning the Hillcats scored the winning run by combining a walk to Mike Papi, a single to right by Yhoxian Medina that advanced Papi to third, and a dying quail liner by Ivan Castillo that dropped short in front of Potomac right fielder Estarlin Martinez to bring home Papi with the winning run.

This victory was just one recent example of how a different member of the Hillcats team has stepped up in almost every game over the past month to generate the winning that has vaulted the team into first place.

During this span three Hillcats players have won four Carolina League player of the week awards. Clint Frazier started the Hillcats weekly honors sweep in July and his repeat of this award sandwiched the efforts of teammates Ivan Castillo and Dorssys Paulino.

“It was very good.” said Paulino about his wining the player of the week award. “I see my team play very good, we won three awards and it was nice for us. I hope the team keeps winning.”

The awards have not been limited to the Carolina League as Clint Frazier was the Cleveland Indians Minor League Player of the Month for July. Building on his first weekly award, he hit at a .363 clip for the month with 7 doubles, 2 triples, 3 home runs and 17 RBI’s. A strong performance out of the three hole in the batting order where he has stormed to 30 doubles on the season sandwiched between his teammates Mike Papi (29) and Nellie Rodriguez (31) for the top three spots in doubles rankings for the league.

“It has helped me to stay hot when everyone around me is hitting.” said Frazier. “I think it’s about me being able to drive the ball right now. It’s fortunate that I am racking up the doubles, because that was a goal of mine for the season.”

His stretch of five doubles in three games led to his most recent honor in garnering the current Carolina League player of the week award by hitting at a .429 clip (9 for 21), with five doubles, and a homerun for a stellar .810 slugging percentage. He also had six walks during this span to achieve an eye popping 1.387 OPS. Not only has Frazier been putting a charge to the ball on a regular basis, but so have his teammates.

Since his promotion from Low-A Lake County Dorssys Paulino has also wielded a hot bat. Paulino is one of a handful of Indians farmhands who has a family connection to baseball. He has learned a great deal from his father, former major league pitcher Jesus Sanchez, who played parts of seven seasons in the Major Leagues with the Marlins, Cubs, Rockies and Reds.
“He talks with me every day.” Paulino said in regards to his father. “He says to be positive, try not to do too much, do what you can and help the team.”

Paulino has played in 24 games in a Hillcats uniform. He has tallied 19 RBI’s.329 batting average, with a .400 / .573/ .973 slash line. His first month at the High-A level has coincided with what appears to be a breakout based upon his more pedestrian numbers from the past two and half years with the Low-A Lake County Captains.

Since taking over as the regular left fielder when Bradley Zimmer was promoted to AA Akron, Paulino has clearly helped the team with his offensive performance and is making strides in re-establishing himself as one of the many solid young prospects in the Cleveland organization.

The promotion of Zimmer also opened up playing time for another name that die-hard fans of the Indians minor leagues might recognize, LeVon Washington. A second round pick in 2010 out of Chipola Junior College, one year after being drafted by the Tampa Rays, he chose not to sign as a 17 year old, and instead has worked to establish himself in the Cleveland system.

He has only played sparingly over the past four seasons, reaching a high of 70 games in 2014, due to injuries, including surgery on both hips, some knee problems, and a run in with heat exhaustion. Considering all of that he has been another hot bat on the Hillcats over the past ten games hitting at a .317 clip with 13 hits including three triples and three home runs to produce 12 RBIs.

“Now that I’ve got both of those hips taken care of, it’s about me getting to the off-season without having to rehab and getting stronger for next year.” says Washington. “I can still run but I don’t think that’s my number one skill.”

Though his speed no longer grades out at a 70, he uses it to good effect and is getting consistent playing time for the Hillcats either in left field to spell Paulino or as the designated hitter. Washington demonstrated his all-around game August 5th against the Potomac club. With the game tied 6 – 6 he led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a towering home run to right field that nearly hit in the lights above the field.

The team gets an off-day before a six game road trip with the first three games at Frederick to face the Keys. This is a matchup that might well decide the second half pennant. They have been nipping at the Hillcats heels the last few weeks, only dropping to four games back this past weekend by losing two of three against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

With the obvious confidence now evident in the Hillcats, manager Mark Budzinski reflected on how they have performed as a team following the promotion of Indians top prospect Bradley Zimmer to AA Akron.

“When you have a three or four hole hitter moving up its going to change things a little bit, but guys pick each other up. With Clint moving from the two to the three hole and with Nellie (Rodriguez) in the four hole all year, and then Paulino in the fifth or sixth spot, swinging the bat well the team has come together.”

With only 26 games left in the regular season, the Hillcats looked to sweep themselves into Mills Cup contention.

Photo: Patrick Cavey/MiLB.com

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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