Despite a late comeback attempt in New Hampshire on Thursday night, the Akron RubberDucks lost for the 12th time in their last 13 games in a 7-5 defeat against the Fisher Cats.
It marked a second consecutive ugly week for the ‘Ducks, who lost three of four to close out their last homestand against the Bowie Baysox. After taking Monday off, they arrived in New Hampshire, only to lose 6-4 on Tuesday and 9-6 on Wednesday before taking another L on Thursday night.
The tailspin by the RubberDucks has dropped the club below the .500 mark for the first times this season. At 55-57, they trail Altoona by six and a half games and are also chasing Harrisburg. They have fallen to 26-32 on the road this season. They are now 1-9 since the promotions of Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier to Triple-A Columbus.
In other ‘Duck tales this week…
The tools of ignorance is a longstanding euphemism in baseball for the catcher’s gear – mask, chest protector and shin guards. Various sources have credited the origin of this term to either longtime American League catcher Muddy Ruel, or Yankee Hall-of-Fame catcher Bill Dickey.
Regardless of its origin, the words create a strong sense of irony, as there is nothing about being a catcher that relies upon ignorance.
For Eric Haase High-A Lynchburg’s primary catcher, mastering the skills needed to excel at catching is his way of life. As of June 7th he has already caught 274 innings in 32 games played during the 2015 season. The job of catching can be a grind, but Haase plans his offseason so that he can maintain his health for each new baseball season.
If you had told me four months ago that I’d still be writing about the Lake County Captains this late in the year, I would have laughed. Yes, I’m an optimist, but the first half of Lake County’s season led even the most eternal of optimists to shake their heads. The team won 27 out of their first 70 games — that’s a .386 winning percentage. They were, to be blunt, bad.
They about broke-even at home, going 18-17 in the first half while playing on the new field at Classic Park, but could not pull it together on the road. As they explored the Midwest, the Captains went a paltry 9-26.
Yet, somehow, they turned it around. And here I am, in the middle of September, writing a recap about a season that ended on Saturday, the 13th, when that same under-.400 team played for the Midwest League Championship.
Akron RubberDucks second baseman was some kind of hot this past week. Joe Wendle went 11-21 for an obscene .524 average with three runs scored, three doubles, one triple, eight runs batted in and added a stolen base. Wendle got off to a slow start to the season having multiple hot and cold streaks. Over his last 26 games, however, Wendle has been consistently hot hitting .333 with eight extra base hits and 24 runs batted in during the time frame. Wendle leads the team with 41 runs batted in, one more than fellow prospect shortstop Francisco Lindor. Wendle has his batting average up to .264 with his recent surge but is still well below his career .307 minor league average coming into the season.
Wendle a sixth round pick in 2012 out of West Chester University has some uncanny similarities to a current Indians star Jason Kipnis. Both Kipnis and Wendle are listed at 5’11 190lbs, both bat left-handed and throw with their right hand. Take a look at the stats for both players in their first two years in the minor leagues.
The first half of the season is over, and it’s time for a clean slate for the Lake County Captains. In the Low-A Midwest League, a first-half winner is crowned for both the Eastern and Western Divisions, and the records are then wiped, paving the way for a second half of the season with completely new possibilities.
For the Captains, that restart could not have come at a better time.
Lake County finished at a Midwest League worst 27-43, a .386 winning percentage. They were 14 games back of the Eastern Division first half champions, the West Michigan Whitecaps (41-29), who are at least giving their parent organization, the Detroit Tigers, some wins and bragging rights (Justin Verlander’s younger brother, Ben Verlander, is on the Whitecaps roster, likely making family dinners a little tense). Being in first, the Whitecaps secured a playoff spot for the September post-season, with the South Bend Silver Hawks (40-29) also clinching a spot for the Eastern Division. In the Western Division, the Kane County Cougars finished first (45-25), followed by the Burlington Bees (38-31).
This week the All-Star rosters were named for both the Carolina League and Midwest League. The Carolina Mudcats had three players named to the Carolina League team in LHP Ryan Merritt, SS Erik Gonzalez and OF Anthony Gallas. Merritt a left-handed starting pitcher is tied for the league lead in wins with fellow teammate Shawn Morimando with six. He leads the league with a 1.71 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Shortstop Erik Gonzalez, who has missed sometime with a finger injury, is sixth in the league with a .309 batting average. Gonzalez has 15 extra base hits, 26 runs batted in along with eight stolen bases and is a tremendous defender. Outfielder Anthony Gallas got off to a tremendous start to the season but has cooled off some lately. Gallas leads the league in doubles with 21 in only 54 games. Gallas sports a .279 average with seven homeruns and 27 runs batted in.
Despite Lake County struggling and sitting in last place, the Captains have three players representing them in the Midwest League All-Star game in RHP Robbie Aviles, RHP Jordan Milbrath and C Eric Haase. Aviles has been in another world leading the league with a 1.45 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. His ERA is so good the next closest pitcher is more than a half a run higher at 2.02. Aviles control has been outstanding giving up only seven walks in 56 innings pitched. Jordan Milbrath has been a pleasant surprise as a 35th round draft pick in last year’s first year player draft. Milbrath has a 2.92 ERA and has only allowed 42 hits in his 52.1 innings pitched. Eric Haase is third in the league in homeruns with 10 despite only playing in 37 games on the year. Haase along with the 10 homeruns has four triples on the year helping him to lead the league with a .522 slugging percentage.
Indians farmhand Adam Plutko may have started his professional career slower than expected, but he’s speeding up quickly.
Plutko was drafted last year in the 11th round of the First Year Player Draft out of UCLA. Unlike most players making their professional debut in the same year that they were picked, the Indians held Plutko out until the 2014 season as they were concerned over the amount of innings he had already thrown for the Bruins in the 2013 collegiate season.
In 2013 Plutko was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player helping the Bruins win the College World Series. Plutko was on the same pitching staff with the Bruins as Pittsburgh Pirates starter Gerrit Cole and the Indians own Trevor Bauer. Plutko actually came into college with what most scouts thought better stuff than both Cole and Bauer with a fastball that sat around 95 mph as a freshman. Plutko saw his velocity drop down to around 90 mph over time for the Bruins and witnessed Cole and Bauer also become first round picks. As a junior in 2013 Plutko had become the workhorse and the ace of a staff in which many didn’t have high hopes for. While Plutko and the Bruins proved many wrong in 2013, it still didn’t help his draft status as the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series wasn’t taken until the 11th round by the Indians.
Looking at the lockers in the Lake County Captains’ clubhouse, most are filled with typical male athlete trinkets – food, clothes, extra gear, protein powder, maybe a picture or two of family or friends from back home, phone chargers, iPads, and other things to entertain the players before or after games.
Look at the locker of Eric Haase, however, and you notice one photo that stands out from the rest.
Prominently displayed in Haase’s locker is a picture of the 21-year-old catcher from Westland, Michigan, holding a red-faced, dark-haired newborn boy. Haase proudly took the photo off his locker and extended it to the media, a broad smile on his face.
This season – the year of “Unfinished Business” and redemption, of proving that last season was only the beginning of a road to success. This notion, however, is not just limited to the Major League club. The Indians’ minor league affiliates are showing shades of the same theme heading into the 2014 season.
The 2014 Lake County Captains are no exception. Coming off a lackluster 2013, a season that fell below expectations and served to demonstrate the notion of “development over winning,” the 2014 Captains seem to be more in line for a successful season than they were this time last year.
The roster boasts a number of returning names, as well as some newcomers who spent 2013 with either short season Mahoning Valley or the Arizona League Indians. Surprisingly, last year’s first round draft pick Clint Frazier is missing from the roster, though it stands to reason that he will make his way to Lake County before the season gets too far underway.