Youngsters Make Major Impact on Lake County Roster

The Lake County Captains will always have a roster of younger names but, this season, the youngest members of the squad have been the most noteworthy as two 19 year-olds have dominated the field.

A few weeks ago, we profiled Bobby Bradley, the Lake County Captains first baseman who was drafted in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. Bradley, who is 19 years old, was drafted out of Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Miss., and has quickly become known around the organization for his impressive bat.

During his first season with the Indians organization in the Arizona League, Bradley hit .361 in 39 games with an OPS of 1.078. While he has not performed at that same level this season, Bradley has still taken the Midwest League by storm. He is hitting .269 in 100 games, and missed 23 games earlier in the season with an oblique injury. He has a Midwest League leading 27 home runs and 88 RBI, and his .541 slugging percentage and .896 OPS lead the league, as well. Sure, he has a high strikeout rate (146 strikeouts in 455 at-bats), but his youth does much to dissuade the notion that that statistic could be especially telling of the rest of his career.

Despite Bradley’s tremendous strength at the plate, however, he has been snubbed from appearing in any of the Midwest League end-of-season awards. With the contributions he provides at the plate, there was a strong case that Bradley could have been a contender for the Midwest League postseason All-Star team, as well as the Most Valuable Player award.

However, his name shows up nowhere on that list.

Bradley was looked over in favor of the Lansing Lugnut’s Ryan McBroom for the Midwest League MVP award, as well as for a spot on the postseason All-Star team at either first base or designated hitter. McBroom leads Bradley in average, hitting .320 to Bradley’s .269. He boasts only 11 home runs and 82 RBI in 117 games with an OPS of .883. At 23 years old, he is four years older than Bradley, which can account for more of his consistency and approach at the plate. He has struck out 87 times this season.

Yes, McBroom has an average higher than Bradley’s and less strikeouts. But should that account for a recognition over Bradley at the end of the season? Bradley has quickly emerged as one of the strongest prospects in the Indians system and seems to have caught the eye of others around the game. Manager Shaun Larkin even acknowledged that, while Bradley has always been known as a player to hit home runs, what has really become impressive has been the youngster’s approach at the plate and how he stays on the ball. His power on top of that, Larkin said, makes Bradley an elite hitter.

Although Bradley’s skills were not recognized by the Midwest League, he still emerged this season as one of the strongest prospects in the Indians system. He has delivered for the Captains when they need it most – an especially reassuring fact given that he is only 19.

Another teenager has been continuing to impress for the Captains this season. Justus Sheffield, who was also a member of Bradley’s 2014 draft class, has propelled himself to recognition not only with this season’s team, but with the Captains organization as a whole. On Sunday, Sheffield moved into the third spot on the list of Captains all-time strikeout leaders. Sheffield currently is third in the Midwest League with 123 strikeouts in 115.2 innings. He was a member of the five-man group of starting pitchers in Lake County who recently amassed 100-plus strikeouts each for the first time in Captains history, and first time in the Midwest league since 2004. Like Bradley, Sheffield is only 19, making his successes just as noteworthy as those of his teammate.

Larkin said he’s been impressed with how far Sheffield has come this season and his ability, especially later in the season, to work out of jams in places where they may have been a hinderance earlier in the year.

Sheffield said that he’s looking forward to finishing this season strong. “August is the hardest,” he admitted.

As both youngsters head into the final dog days of the season, they can rest assured that they have made their mark on the Indians organization. Sheffield joked that he might even like a chance at the plate at some point this season. “I have some power,” he laughed. However, he admitted what he, and many others in the Midwest League, regardless of award winners, know to be true.

“Do I have power like Bobby Bradley?” Sheffield laughed and shook his head in amazement while giving a definitive one word answer: “No.”

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer

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