It took an extra day, but the Indians got their season opened on Tuesday afternoon in a 6-2 loss to David Price and the Boston Red Sox. Four of the Tribe’s minor league affiliates will get their turn on Thursday, but hopefully with far less interference from nature than that experienced by the parent club.
The Triple-A Columbus Clippers will begin their season with a four-game rematch against the Indianapolis Indians, the affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their playoff opponent last year. The Clippers, coming off of an 83-61 season and a Governors’ Cup victory in 2015 over the Indians, will boast a roster full of potential options for Cleveland throughout the 2016 season.
A Wednesday afternoon practice, open to the public, will give fans a tease of the team to come. The rotation has several viable and enticing options, from lefty T.J. House to hard-throwing righty Mike Clevinger, who excelled in his first games against Triple-A batters in the International League playoffs last season after spending the regular season in Akron. Giovanny Urshela will look to build upon his half-season in Cleveland last year and improve his play at the plate. Erik Gonzalez is just one of several Clippers on the 40-man roster awaiting an opportunity in Cleveland.
Cleveland’s Double-A affiliate, the Akron RubberDucks, will spend the first week of their year on the road, which may not be a bad thing given the region’s unpredictable and unreliable April weather. They will play four straight in Bowie against the BaySox, an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, before three in Altoona. They will then return to their Canal Park home to rematch Bowie. The club is set to host their Media Day on Wednesday afternoon and players were expected to get in a final full-squad workout before departing for Maryland.
The RubberDucks finished 2015 with a 73-69 record and in fourth place in the Western Division of the Eastern League. Manager Dave Wallace will welcome several exciting young arms into his rotation, including Justin Brantley, Rob Kaminsky, and Adam Plutko. Several late call-ups and prospective options for Cleveland in the future, including the dynamic outfield duo of Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer and first baseman Nellie Rodriguez, will fill a potent lineup.
The Advanced-A Lynchburg Hillcats will host the Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago White Sox) beginning Thursday night at 6:30 PM in the first of four before welcoming in Potomac. The Hillcats finished 33-37 in the first half, but a strong 39-31 record and first place finish in the Northern Division of the Carolina League last season in their first year as an Indians farm club earned them a postseason berth. They lost the best-of-three series in two to the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals affiliate). They hosted a team workout on Tuesday and will hold their Media Day Wednesday evening.
The Hillcats are bringing back 14 members of their club from last season. While they saw several top prospects advance to Akron last season, they will welcome in several new MLB candidates this season, including slugger Bobby Bradley, starting pitcher Justus Sheffield, infielders Yu-Cheng Chang and Mark Mathias, outfielder Greg Allen, and the popular Mike Papi, who was drafted out of the nearby University of Virginia.
The Lake County Captains will also open at 6:30 PM on Thursday as they welcome in the San Diego Padres’ Class-A club, the Fort Wayne TinCaps, for a pair on the front end of a home-and-home series. After a two-game set in Fort Wayne and three against the West Michigan Whitecaps, the club will return home for four against the Great Lakes Loons next Thursday.
The Captains are looking to build upon a 36-32 first half and a 35-34 second half in Midwest League play out of the Eastern Division last year. In each instance, the club finished in fourth place. New manager Tony Mansolino, 33, will make his managerial debut as the eleventh field manager for the squad. He was the hitting coach in Lake County in 2013 and spent last season coaching in Akron. Their roster will have at least three of the top 30 Indians prospects (according to MLB Pipeline) – catcher Francisco Mejia, shortstop Tyler Krieger, and right-handed pitcher Casey Shane.
The short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers will open their season on June 17 at Eastwood Field.
Photo: Chris Russell/The Columbus Dispatch