Patience a Virtue for Indians Prospect Papi

In 2015 Mike Papi was the 5th ranked prospect in the Indians system, according to Baseball America. As we get close to a month away from opening day 2016, he has fallen to 19th on the organizational rankings. The former first round pick, number 38 overall in 2014, did not live up to his billing in the 2015 season, but there is still reason for the Cleveland faithful to have hope that Papi can get it together and turn into a valuable piece of the Indians future.

The drop in ranking was due to the inconsistent showing Papi put up at High Class-A Lynchburg for the 2015 season. After only 141 at-bats during the 2014 season, spread between Short Season Mahoning Valley and Low-A Lake County, Papi was assigned to the Hillcats, just an hour south of his alma mater the University of Virginia.

Being so close to Charlottesville made playing in the Hill City a very supportive environment.

“You always hear people yelling in the stands, ‘Go Wahoos!’ and it’s good to have that support and that backing here.” said Papi.

At the University of Virginia Papi was a business and religion major while playing primarily first base on a team that made it to the College World Series Championship game in 2014.

“Religion picked me,” he said. “I was trying for the commerce school, which is very competitive and didn’t get in. This put me a bit behind the eight-ball on deciding on a major and UVA had a rule that you had to declare a major after two years to be eligible for sports.”

After being drafted, the Cleveland organization shifted him to left field, a position he had played some early on in college. This made sense as there are several other first baseman already in the system, with Jesus Aguilar being slated for AAA, and teammate Nellie Rodriguez joining him on the Hillcats, and Rodriguez does not possess the flexibility to play in the outfield. Beyond that, the Indians had also drafted Bobby Bradley in 2014 and he too profiled as a first baseman, so shifting Papi to left field was the most logical direction for him to be on a path towards the Major Leagues.

During the course of 2015 Papi actually played three positions on the field – 74 games in left field, 44 games in right field and 6 games at first base. Looking at his combined outfield play, he had nine errors in 199 total chances, with 175 putouts, 15 assists and three double plays, not too bad for a first full season as an outfielder. As he learns better routes and positioning these numbers should improve.

Where Papi needs to make the greatest strides in 2016 are with his bat.

On the plus side he has excellent plate discipline. He led all Indians minor leaguers with 80 walks. This was a continuation of the plate discipline he had shown while in college.

What has initially deserted him as a professional is his power. He did not hit his first home run of the 2015 season until Sunday, June 28, on the road against the Salem Red Sox. For the season he finished with the following batting line: in 416 at bats he had a triple slash of .236/.362/.356, with 34 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 45 RBI. Not quite what he or the Indians had been expecting.

The under-performance could be attributed to several factors. He had suffered a thumb injury near the end of 2014 and it is possible this had an early effect on his performance. He also is exceptionally patient at the plate. Often he would be rung up on a called third strike when he let a pitch go by clearly considering it to be outside the strike zone.

Speaking with Hillcats 2015 hitting coach Bobby Magallanes about Papi, he said, “His thing is to make sure he loads his hands on time. When his hands are on time, the ball takes off.”

At the end of the 2015 season Papi also began to take off. As the Hillcats team made a drive for the playoffs they did so on the bats of Papi and outfield teammate Clint Frazier. Over the final ten games of the season Papi hit .314 with three home runs and six RBI. This surge to end the season bodes well for Papi to rebound and to show the Cleveland brass he can be a valuable part of their future plans.

“I do fall into the category of being too passive sometimes.” said Papi about his hitting style. “When I go up to the plate aggressive, it helps me to take pitches that aren’t in the zone.”

Speaking on the Carolina League and his difficulties in 2015, he said, “It’s a cat and mouse game here. You’ve always got to be changing your approach and thinking the game through. It’s give and take with the pitchers. You’ve just got to find a way to be as consistent as possible.”

It is quite likely Papi will bring the expectation of consistency and patience at the plate back to Lynchburg to open the 2016 season. As he works to refine and elevate his game and put up some batting stats more in line with his collegiate performance, he will do so to more howls of Go Wahoos! from the stands. With luck and determination he will find his way to AA Akron during the season and put himself firmly in the future plans of the Cleveland Indians.

Photo: Max Oden/The News & Advance

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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