Baseball returns to Niles, Ohio, this weekend as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers kick off the short-season New York-Penn League season against the West Virginia Black Bears at Eastwood Field on Friday night.
Manager Edwin Rodriguez is at the helm for the Scrappers and is joined by pitching coach Tighe Dickinson and former Indians farmhand (and published author) Justin Toole in his new capacity as the team’s hitting coach. Plenty of young and fresh faces will fill out the roster for Mahoning Valley as several look to begin or continue their paths towards potential Major League careers.
A pair of names to watch are pitchers Juan Hillman, a second round pick in last year’s draft by the Indians, and Triston McKenzie, selected with the last pick of the first round in the same draft class. Hillman appeared in eight games, including six starts, in the Arizona League last season, going 0-2 with a 4.13 ERA. He is listed as the tenth-ranked prospect in the Indians organization according to MLBPipeline.com. McKenzie pitched in four games for the Tribe in the Arizona League late last season and is ranked sixth on the same prospect list.
Shortstop Luke Wakamatsu, a 20th round selection by Cleveland last season and the son of Kansas City Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu, will appear in his first games outside of the Arizona League. He is ranked 19th on the same prospect list on MLB Pipeline.
One of the most recent additions to the Indians organization will make his professional debut this season with the Scrappers. Mitch Longo, a 14th round selection by Cleveland in this June’s draft, will help man the outfield. He attended college at Ohio University.
A familiar name on the roster serves as the team’s elder statesman. Catcher Juan Gomes, brother of Indians starting backstop Yan Gomes, is one of three options behind the plate for the Scrappers. The 24-year-old played 18 games with the Indians’ Arizona League club last season and was a 37th round pick by the Tribe in 2014.
Players returning to the Mahoning Valley roster after previous stays there include pitchers Ping-Hsueh Chen, Leandro Linares, Henry Martinez, Micah Miniard, Ryan Perez, and Devon Stewart, catcher Jack Goihl, outfielders Jodd Carter, Gabriel Mejia, and Silento Sayles, shortstop Alexis Pantoja, first baseman Emmanuel Tapia, and corner infielder Nathan Winfrey.
Miniard will start the home opener on Friday. Sayles was recently transferred to the Scrappers after appearing in 18 games for Lake County this year. Winfrey was assigned to the club on Monday after appearing in 39 games for the Captains earlier this season.
Earlier this week, the Scrappers announced that their Player Development Contract with the Indians had been extended for two more seasons, keeping them an affiliate of Cleveland through the 2018 season. Since their debut season in 1999, they have only been affiliated with the Cleveland Indians organization.
“Our affiliation with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and the community of Niles is an outstanding match,” said Carter Hawkins, Cleveland Indians Director of Player Development. “The support and resources that HWS Baseball and the Scrappers provide is crucial in building a strong foundation for our young players’ development, while the community’s involvement and excitement creates an ideal environment for our team. We are thrilled to extend the relationship, and look forward to many more Indians players beginning their journey towards the Major Leagues as a Scrapper.”
There will be postgame fireworks and a magnet schedule giveaway to the first 2,500 fans in attendance for Friday’s game. Saturday night will be Superhero Night, with an online jersey auction of the special jerseys worn by the two clubs, and a youth jersey giveaway to the first 500 children 12 and under. The Scrappers will head on the road after the brief two-game home series for six games in Auburn and Williamsport before returning to Niles for six games to close out the month of June.