As William Shakespeare almost once said, “It was the winter of our discontent in Eastlake, Ohio, now made glorious by the chill of April.”
Such is the call as another season of Lake County Captains baseball begins on the east side of Cleveland as a new host of young minor league ball players take the stage for, often, their maiden voyage into professional baseball, their hopes set on Progressive Field a mere 20 minutes down Route 2. Their journey will take them many more miles before culminating at the big league stage, for those who make it that far. Some may have their journeys stopped sooner, some may find themselves separated from the Indians in a few seasons. But now, at Classic Park, they are all young, all hopeful, and all ready to work as hard as possible to leave their marks on the Indians system.
This year, not all of the names on the Lake County roster are newcomers to Eastlake. Catcher Francisco Mejia, who is currently ranked eighth on Cleveland’s prospect list, will start another season in Eastlake and will be joined behind the plate by Martin Cervenka who, at 23, is the second-oldest player on the Captains roster this year. Mejia ended last season with nine home runs and threw out 34 percent of would-be base stealers while behind the plate. He was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League last season, and will this season be playing among more similarly-aged players. He has been highly touted throughout his time with the Indians organization, and it will be interesting to see how he fares during his second full season of professional baseball.
Other notable names returning to Eastlake this season are pitchers Thomas Pannone, Casey Shane, Dominic DeMasi, and Cortland Cox. Pannone spent the most time in Lake County last season, with Shane appearing in two games, DeMasi in eight, Cox in three, and Pannone in 20. Pannone was also one of the Lake County starting pitchers who contributed to the record of five starting pitchers all reaching 100+ strikeouts for the first time in Captains history. It’s likely that the 21-year-old will not spend his entire season in Eastlake again, and will get to spend some time with the Lynchburg Hillcats if he repeats his last year’s performance.
Shane is currently ranked among the Indians organization’s top 30 prospects, according to MLB.com, and is coming off a 2-4, 3.45 ERA season in Mahoning Valley. In 60 innings, the 20-year-old struck out 41 batters while walking 15 and gave up two home runs during the short season.
Bobby Ison, Silento Sayles, and Yonathan Mendoza return to the Captains this year as well. Ison started last season in Lake County before spending time in both Lynchburg and AA Akron during the later half of the season. He hit .251 with 86 hits, ten doubles, three triples, and one home run in Lake County, and stole nine bases before his promotion to Lynchburg where he hit .240 in 14 games. Ison is best defined as a scrappy player and is characterized by his energy and enthusiasm on the field. He brings a lot to a team in his attitude alone, which is indispensable around a group of younger players.
Sayles spent 16 games in Lake County last season, hitting .283 with five doubles and 15 hits in total. Most of his season was spent in short season Mahoning Valley, where he posted a .609 OPS prior to his promotion. Mendoza, who spent the majority of his season in Lake County last year, hit .286 in his 60 games with the Captains.
Despite seeing some old friends, new faces will still be aplenty for Captains fans this season. The Captains pitching staff will welcome Sam Hentges, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft; Christian Meister, who joined the Tribe last year in the 29th round; Shao-Ching Chiang, a non-drafted free agent from Taiwan who was signed by the club in 2011; Matt Esparza and Billy Strode, both 2015 draft picks; Yoiber Marquina, a 2012 non-drafted free agent from Venezuala, Kieran Lovegrove, the Tribe’s third round pick in 2012; Jared Robinson, a 2014 draft pick; and Matt Whitehouse, a 2013 draft pick who is hoping to bounce back after a year spent in the Arizona League due to injury. Lovegrove, a high-round draft pick, has suffered a number of injuries since his drafting and has spent the past two seasons in Mahoning Valley. It will be interesting to see how – and if – he can rebound to his earlier days of success.
In the infield, the Captains will welcome Sam Haggerty, Willi Castro, Tyler Krieger, Nathan Winfrey, and Anthony Miller to the mix, and Connor Marabell and Nathan Lukes will round out the outfield. Castro and Krieger are both ranked on MLB.com’s top 30 Indians prospects list, with Castro coming in at number 21 and Krieger following behind at 22. Castro is 18 years old and spent last season in Mahoning Valley, where he stole 20 bases in 67 games. Krieger was drafted last year in the fourth round of the draft out of Clemson University. He will be making his professional debut with the Captains this year after having a three-year career average of .312 at Clemson, with a total of 210 hits, 42 stolen bases, and 99 strikeouts in 180 games.
Haggerty and Miller join Krieger as 2015 draft picks making their debut in Lake County. Haggerty spent time last season in Mahoning Valley, where he hit .283 in 16 games, and Miller spent the season with the Arizona League Indians. He hit three home runs in 46 games with the rookie league. Winfrey, a 2014 pick, hit .270 in 58 games with Mahoning Valley last year, driving in 20 runs.
Marabell and Lukes are also 2015 draftees, each having spent their first seasons playing with the Scrappers. Marabell was selected in the 25th round of last year’s draft and hit .222 in 61 games with the Scrappers. Lukes, who was drafted in the seventh round, hit .313 in the five games in which he appeared in Mahoning Valley.
The Captains will be led this year by manager Tony Mansolino, who returns to Lake County after serving as the team’s hitting coach in 2013. Mansolino is in his sixth season with the Indians organization and is making his managerial debut this season. He is joined by hitting coach Kevin Howard, who was last season’s Mahoning Valley hitting coach, and pitching coach Steve McCatty, who joins the Indians organization after spending the past seven seasons as pitching coach for the Washington Nationals.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer