Player Promotions Help Lead Akron to Playoff Push

As we enter the middle of August, there’s only one thing on the minds of the Double-A Akron RubberDucks: Playoffs.

Currently the RubberDucks are sitting in second place in the Eastern League Western Division, 4.5 games behind league leading Bowie Baysox. The RubberDucks are currently sitting at a record of 65-56, and have won eight of their last ten games. They’re coming home to Akron on Tuesday to enter a long home stand which will span until the end of August, aside from one short road trip to Trenton.

After starting off the season with what seemed like little to no hope of entering the playoffs this season, the RubberDucks have played much better baseball in the second half of the season. There were plenty of guys on the team to start off who were going through their first trip through Double-A, along with some who had spent some time at this level before. Players like Tyler Naquin, Cody Anderson, Will Roberts, and Anthony Gallas were all returning members of the RubberDucks, who have thus seen promotions to either Triple-A Columbus, and even to the big league club. While these moves were huge to the RubberDucks because of the roles these players provided, they’ve since  had some players come to Akron who can be partially credited to the reason the RubberDucks are even sniffing the playoffs this season.

Among the other outstanding players that have appeared on the scene for the RubberDucks, there have been three notable promotions from High-A Lynchburg that have helped the RubberDucks this season as they make their playoff push. The three promotions I refer to are the Indians top prospect Bradley Zimmer, right-hander Adam Plutko, and newly promoted first basemen Nellie Rodriguez.

Zimmer has started to fit into the RubberDucks lineup quite nicely since his promotion. He’s been a dream in centerfield as he fields his position as gracefully as you could ask for, and he’s been an offensive machine as of late. He struggled out of the gates after his promotion, but now that he’s feeling comfortable in Akron, he’s starting to tear it up in Akron as he has at most levels of the Indians minor league system. In 29 games with the RubberDucks, he’s batting .271/.378/.514 with 6 doubles, 1 triple, 6 home runs, 23 RBI, 7 stolen bases, and 13 walks to 26 strike outs. Of those six home runs, five of them have come in his last fifteen games. This is the type of production you would expect out of Zimmer, and he’s settling in at Akron, and leading this team during their potential post season push.

Plutko has also been outstanding for the RubberDucks this season. After starting his season with High-A Lynchburg, he posted an ERA of 1.27 in 8 games there with a record of 4-2. He struck out 47 in 49.2 innings pitched and only walked 5 guys. He’s been as consistent as you could hope for in a pitcher, and he’s been dominant on the mound. So far at Akron, in 15 games he’s put up an ERA of 2.72 and a record of 8-4. He’s struck out 68 batters in 92.2 innings pitched, and he’s only walked 17 guys during that time. With the promotions of Anderson, Roberts, and Ryan Merritt to Triple-A Columbus, Plutko, Michael Clevinger, and Shawn Morimando have taken over as the leaders of this rotation. While Clevinger and Morimando have been dominant on the mound this year as well, Plutko has been leading the team by example.

As one of the newest members of the RubberDucks, Rodriguez has already made an impact in his short time at Akron. In High-A Lynchburg this season, Rodriguez was batting .275/.357/.495 with 17 home runs, 32 doubles, 2 triples, and had 84 RBI. While he struck out 122 times, he also only walked 51 times. That could be an issue going forward, but for now it’s a focus point for Rodriguez to work on in the future. After his promotion, in his first at bat, Rodriguez cranked a grand slam to put his team on the board in the first inning. Since then he has scuffled a bit. In 5 games for the RubberDucks, Rodriguez is batting .095/.136/.286 with 1 home run, 1 double, and 5 RBI while striking out 8 times. His bat may not be up to par in Double-A yet, but the potential power that he brings from the right side of the plate helps replace the missing power bat that they lost when Gallas was promoted to Triple-A. The RubberDucks have also not had a true first basemen man the position all season long. We’ve seen the likes of Jeremy Lucas, Ronny Rodriguez, Joe Sever, and Jake Lowery all play first, but that is none of their primary positions. With a true first basemen now, it only helps the RubberDucks keep their infield defense tight.

These additions have been beneficial for the RubberDucks late season push, but this does not discount some of the great work that has been shown by the guys who have been here all season. This team will be relying on a couple of guys to help push them to the finish line. Guys like Yandy Diaz, Todd Hankins, Jeff Johnson, and Josh Martin as they continue to produce at the Double-A level.

With Only half a month left in the season, the RubberDucks will need to make up some ground if they want to get a good position in the playoffs. As they prepare for playing some potential late September baseball, they’ll need to make sure they’re keeping their focus on playing the game, instead of trying to do too much. They’re in the position now to make a strong push to the finish line, but only time will tell if they will truly have enough in them to see the post season baseball in Canal Park after all.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer

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