The Minor League schedule kicks off this week and young prospects are reporting to their respective homes to start the season.
The Akron RubberDucks announced the members of their Opening Day roster on Tuesday as players settled in to Canal Park before the club hits the road for Altoona for their season opening series with the Curve (Pirates affiliate) in Pennsylvania.
The ‘Ducks will look to improve upon a 69-71 third place finish last season. Following their four-game set against the Eastern League champions, they will head to Binghamton to face the Rumble Ponies (Mets) from April 9 to April 11 before returning home to Akron for a four-game series against the Trenton Thunder (Yankees), starting on Friday, April 13.
Akron will field a brand new coaching staff for the 2018 season. Last season’s manager, Mark Budzinski, was promoted to a role with the parent Cleveland Indians over the winter. Taking over at the helm will be Tony Mansolino, who spent last season at High-A Lynchburg in his second season as a manager in the Indians organization. It will be a homecoming of sorts for the 35-year-old, who worked as the hitting coach in Akron in 2015. Two of his coaches from his Hillcats staff, pitching coach Rigo Beltran and hitting coach Kevin Howard, will join him in Akron, as will bench coach Dennis Malave, who spent the last seven seasons working with the Arizona League Indians in Goodyear.
“I am excited to be back in Akron,” Mansolino shared in January when his position was announced. “Without a doubt, Akron is the best affiliate and experience in the Eastern League and one of the premier places to be in all of Minor League Baseball. I am certainly looking forward to leading the RubberDucks in 2018.”
Mansolino will be reunited with quite a few familiar faces from his time in Lynchburg. A total of 16 players starting the year as ‘Ducks spent time at Akron a season ago.
Bieber, 22, was a fourth round pick by the Indians in 2016 out of UC Santa Barbara. He has been on the fast track through the Tribe’s farm system, appearing at three stops last season (Lake County, Lynchburg, and Akron). The right-hander posted a 10-5 record with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in 28 starts in his first full season of professional baseball. Brady, the lone left-hander in the rotation, was limited to just ten starts last season dealing with a left shoulder strain. After starting his year in the middle of July, the 23-year-old appeared in games with Lake County and Lynchburg (in his second stint with the Hillcats), going 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in ten games. Chiang, 24, is a right-hander out of Taiwan who has spent six years in the Indians’ farm system, including his first three in the Arizona Rookie League. He split last season with Lynchburg (8-8, 3.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP in 19 games) and Akron (1-2, 6.61 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and threw a no-hitter for the Hillcats on July 29. Civale, like Bieber, is on the fast track – the 22-year-old right-hander and third round pick in 2016 split last season with Lake County and Lynchburg, posting a 13-6 record with a 3.28 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 27 starts. Peoples is the elder statesmen of the staff as he begins his third season with the ‘Ducks. He worked in 17 games last season, nine at Akron and eight with Columbus, but it equated (3-9, 6.27 ERA, 1.72 WHIP) to the worst season of his six-year pro career.
The RubberDucks bullpen will consist of left-handers David Speer and Matt Whitehouse and right-handers Argenis Angulo, Mitch Brown, Dominic DeMasi, Luke Eubank, Leandro Linares, and Jordan Milbrath, the latter of whom returns to the Indians organization after being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule 5 draft.
The infield will see several of the Tribe’s top prospects return to start another year with the RubberDucks because of a logjam of players at Triple-A Columbus.
The biggest name of the bunch is easily Bobby Bradley, the 21-year-old first baseman who enjoyed a trip to Goodyear this spring as one of the Indians’ non-roster camp invitees. He showed off a good defensive mindset in the field and hit .251 with a .331 on-base percentage, 25 doubles, three triples, 23 homers, and 89 RBI in his fourth year in the Tribe’s system. While the power numbers were down some from his previous production, as were his walks, he did trim nearly 50 strikeouts off of his numbers in the same amount of games as the previous year.
Krieger is one of the top prospects in the Indians’ system and will return to his spot at second base. The 24-year-old fourth rounder in 2015 out of Clemson hit .225 at Akron a season ago with 25 doubles, two triples, six homers, and 43 RBI in 119 games for Akron. He split his first pro season between Lake County and Lynchburg in 2016. Castro is a member of the Indians’ 40-man roster. The 20-year-old fourth-year pro had a breakout season in his return to Lynchburg last season, hitting 24 doubles, three triples, eleven homers, and 58 RBI while batting .290. Mathias could see the bulk of his time at third base for Akron in his third season with the club. The 24-year-old third round pick in 2015 out of Cal Poly San Luis has played second, third, and short during his three seasons in the minors. He played in just 35 games last season while missing time with a left shoulder injury. The 27-year-old Sever will be back in Akron for his fourth season and could see time on the corners in the infield and outfield. Young switch-hitting utility man Haggerty, 23, will also fill out the infield depth after spending an All-Star season with Lynchburg a year ago.
Behind the plate, Daniel Salters will return to Akron for his third stint with the organization after ending last season with the RubberDucks. He will be joined by fellow catcher Sicnarf Loopstok, who was an All-Star both mid- and post-season for Lynchburg last year. He spent little time calling games last year and instead worked more at first base, but that should change this season with Bradley in his way at first now.
In the outfield, Taylor Murphy and Dorssys Paulino will return to the grass at Canal Park and will be joined by new teammates Andrew Calica and . Murphy (25) played just 25 games last season for Akron due to a thumb ligament injury, while Paulino (23) missed three weeks in August during his first year at Akron. Calica (24) was an eleventh round pick by Cleveland in the 2016 draft and spent last season at Lynchburg, hitting .274 with 22 doubles, three triples, six homers, and 40 RBI. Tom, 23, was a fifth round pick out of Kentucky in 2015. He has climbed the organizational ladder steadily, spending his third pro season last season with the Hillcats, hitting .254 with 31 doubles, seven triples, ten homers, 65 RBI, and 23 stolen bases in 29 attempts.
Photo: Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal