The Akron RubberDucks opened the 2019 slate with a 5-0 loss to the Altoona Curve on Thursday night.
The ‘Ducks were limited to just two hits in a tough start to the season, with 25-year-old second baseman Tyler Krieger accounting for both hits. He was stranded at third after a first inning one-out single, reached safely in the third on an error, struck out in the sixth, and singled in the ninth before being forced out at second.
Opening Day starter Sam Hentges was charged with all five runs scored by the Curve (four of which were earned). The left-hander allowed six hits and walked four while striking out six over four and one-third innings in his first start since being added to Cleveland’s 40-man roster.
The loss spoiled the debut of new Akron manager Rouglas Odor, who took over as skipper of the RubberDucks after last season’s manager, Tony Mansolino, was promoted to fill the same vacancy with the Columbus Clippers. A former minor leaguer in the Indians farm system from 1988 to 1994, he has filled a variety of roles for the Cleveland organization. Last year, he managed the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats in his return to the managerial ranks. He previously worked with the Indians rookie league and short-season clubs as skipper from 2002 to 2008.
Odor has several friends around him in the dugout. Tony Arnold will serve as the team’s pitching coach and Justin Toole returns as hitting coach. Both coaches worked as part of Odor’s staff in Lynchburg a year ago. Juan De La Cruz continues life after playing while working as Odor’s bench coach for the first time. He spent 2018 as the hitting coach for the Indians’ Arizona League affiliate after ending his eight-year pro career.
“I’m excited to be back in Akron,” said Odor back in January about his new role with the RubberDucks. “I was a player there, a hitting coach there, and now I have an opportunity to manage there. It’s amazing! I know many of the places and people there, so I can’t wait to get started.”
This season will mark Odor’s 32nd within the Indians organization and his 19th as a coach.
Odor and his staff will have plenty of talented players to watch, with quite a few familiar faces in the Akron clubhouse from a year ago.
Clement spent his spring as a non-roster invitee with the Indians to help absorb the camp loss of Francisco Lindor. The 23-year-old was a fourth round pick out of Virginia in 2017 and spent last season flying through the farm system, working at Class-A Lake County, High-A Lynchburg, and with Akron. He hit .346 with Lynchburg prior to his promotion to Akron for the final 15 games of his season in his second year of pro ball. With the Indians in the spring, he played in 14 games, hitting .241 with a .290 on-base percentage and .414 slugging mark with two doubles, one homer, and two RBI. He is ranked as the 15th-best prospect in the Indians’ organization, according to MLB Pipeline.
Garcia is a 25-year-old switch-hitter who joined the Indians organization in December when he was selected by Cleveland in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft from Baltimore. The first base and catching prospect showed plenty of pop last season between the High-A levels for the Philadelphia Phillies and Orioles, slashing .293 with a .323 OBP and a .510 slugging mark in 115 games with 27 doubles, 23 homers, and 76 RBI. He hit .400 for the Indians in 12 games in the spring.
Krieger was a fourth round pick by the Indians in 2015 out of Clemson. After splitting 2016 with Lake County and Lynchburg, he has spent the last two seasons in Akron. He struggled with a low average and a high strikeout rate in 2017, but showed improvements in those areas last season. In 123 games, he hit .276 with a .332 OBP with 22 doubles, four triples, five homers, and 55 RBI with 19 stolen bases. He added outfield to his responsibilities a season ago, playing 34 games in center and 54 in left after previously working exclusively as a second baseman.
Monasterio, 21, joins the Akron affiliate after spending last season with High-A Myrtle Beach (Chicago Cubs) and Potomac (Washington). The middle infield prospect was one of three players acquired by the Indians in their November trade of catcher Yan Gomes to the Nationals. In his fifth season of pro ball last season, he appeared in 122 games in his two stops and hit .267 with a .363 OBP and a .338 slugging mark with 14 doubles, three triples, three homers, and 36 RBI.
Pantoja is a light-hitting 23-year-old infielder who also makes his return to Akron for a second stint. He split last season between Lynchburg and Akron, combining to slash .201/.237/.237 in 100 games.
The RubberDucks return three familiar faces to the outfield in Andrew Calica, Connor Marabell, and Ka’ai Tom, along with the promoted Mitch Longo and new addition Daniel Johnson. All five are left-handed hitters.
Calica and Tom spent all of 2018 with Akron and are back for a second year as the lineup in Columbus is crowded after the Indians added Carlos Gonzalez and Cameron Maybin on minor league deals. Calica, 25, hit .278 with a .389 OBP last season with 27 stolen bases in his third season of pro ball. Tom, 24, returns to a level for the first time in his pro career. He hit .245 with a .329 OBP last year with 21 doubles, four triples, 12 homers, and 64 RBI while being hit by ten pitches.
Marabell was pushed out of the Columbus picture after ending last season there. The 25-year-old played in 89 games for Akron (.296/.341/.481) and 31 for Columbus (.214/.233/.350) in 2018 before heading to the Arizona Fall League for further work. He played 22 games there for Glendale and hit .294.
Johnson, 23, joined the organization in the Gomes trade. The Tribe’s new outfielder and the Nationals’ 2017 Minor League Player of the Year lost a month and a half on the disabled list after breaking his hamate bone midseason. He played in 96 games total, hitting .269 with 19 doubles, seven triples, seven homers, and 35 RBI while stealing a career-high 22 bases. He is the 22nd-ranked prospect in the Indians’ farm system, per MLB Pipeline.
Longo starts the season in Akron for the first time in his pro career. He played in 119 games for Odor in Lynchburg last season, hitting .275 with a .337 OBP and a .410 slugging with 28 doubles, five triples, eight homers, and 52 RBI while stealing 18 bases in his third year in the Tribe farm system. The 24-year-old will play closer to home now, as he is a Mayfield, Ohio, product and attended Ohio University before his 14th round selection by Cleveland in 2016.
Behind the plate, the RubberDucks will have three familiar faces. Li-Jen Chu, Logan Ice, and Daniel Salters are all on the roster in Akron, but Salters was placed on the 7-day injured list on Friday with a right elbow injury. The 25-year-old Chu spent time at the top three levels of the Indians farm system last season and hit a combined .272 with 10 homers and 51 RBI in 99 total games. Ice, 23, is a switch-hitter who spent 43 games at Lynchburg and 17 with Akron in his third year of pro ball after being selected in the second round of 2016 out of Oregon State University.
Akron’s 13-man pitching staff has seven different left-handers, including one of the team’s top prospects.
Hentges leads the rotation after spending all of last season at Lynchburg. The number ten prospect in the organization is a 6’8”, 245 lb southpaw who is just 22 years old. He was a fourth round pick in 2014 out of high school and is coming off of his heaviest pro workload last year, when he appeared in 23 games and posted a 6-6 record with a 3.27 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP while averaging 9.3 strikeouts per inning.
Behind Hentges in the rotation are right-handers Jake Paulson and Zach Plesac and left-handers Sean Brady and Tanner Tully. Four of the five starters pitched for Odor in Lynchburg last season, with Brady, Paulson, and Plesac moving on to Akron over the course of the year. Brady, 24, went 8-7 in 28 games with a 4.50 ERA. Paulson, a 6’7” 27-year-old, worked in 23 games, going 10-7 with a 3.30 ERA. Plesac, 24, won eleven times in 26 games with a 3.79 ERA. Tully, a 16th rounder out of Ohio State in 2016, went 6-11 in 26 games for the Hillcats.
The Indians’ number one prospect, 21-year-old Triston McKenzie, is expected to return to the Akron rotation at some point this season, but he is opening the year in Arizona in extended spring training after sustaining an upper back strain that shut him down for six to eight weeks. He missed two months to open last season and made just 16 starts, going 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. The same could be said for right-hander Aaron Civale, the Indians’ 24th-ranked prospect who made 21 starts for Akron last season, but was pulled after eight pitches in his last start of the season on August 27 with a right shoulder strain.
The bullpen will be made up of righties Argenis Angulo, Luke Eubank, James Karinchak (#30 on MLB Pipeline), and Dalbert Siri and lefties Rob Kaminsky, Ben Krauth, David Speer, and Matt Whitehouse. Kaminsky was a non-roster invite to spring training with the Indians.
The rest of the opening weekend for the ‘Ducks will include TGIF theme song fireworks on Friday night, a Pop Socket giveaway on Saturday afternoon, and a Candyland themed day on Sunday. Akron will host Trenton from Monday through Wednesday before kicking off its first road trip of the year in Bowie next Thursday.