The annual Winter Meetings concluded on Thursday morning with the Rule 5 draft. In the Major League phase, the Cleveland Indians selected left-handed pitcher Hoby Milner from the Philadelphia Phillies organization with the 27th pick (15th overall) of the first round to fill one of two vacancies on the 40-man roster.
The Indians lost one player in the Major League portion of the draft and four more during the Triple-A portion. Outfield prospect Anthony Santander, last with the Indians’ High-A Lynchburg Hillcats affiliate, was selected by Baltimore in the second round of the draft with the Orioles’ second Major League selection. Cleveland also lost pitchers Trevor Frank (San Diego) and Jon Fitzsimmons (Arizona) early in the first round of the Triple-A portion of the draft and relievers Grant Sides (Arizona) and Nick Maronde (Miami) in the second round.
A six-run onslaught in the seventh inning, plus three more for good measure in the eighth, pushed the visiting Akron RubberDucks past the Altoona Curve, 12-8, in Game 1 of the Eastern League Western Division Series on Wednesday night.
Akron started fast as shortstop Eric Stamets homered with one out in the first off of right-hander Alex McRae to give the ‘Ducks the early 1-0 lead. It would not last for long, however, as Akron starter Julian Merryweather quickly loaded the bases, giving up back-to-back singles and a walk to start the bottom half of the frame. A wild pitch allowed one run to score before he locked in and struck out Edwin Espinal and Anderson Feliz swinging, but Jin-De Jhang (older brother of Merryweather’s former teammate in Lynchburg, Yu-Cheng Chang) doubled to left, scoring both base runners to give Altoona a 3-1 lead.
Two very different All-Star games took place on Wednesday with two very distinctly different results as the Double-A Eastern League and Triple-A International League participated in their own midsummer classics.
The Double-A All-Star Game pitted the Eastern and Western Division clubs against one another from Akron’s own Canal Park. The Triple-A contest featured the International League versus the Pacific Coast League from BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Akron RubberDucks and the Eastern League of Professional Baseball announced on Sunday the addition of Grant Sides to the Western Division roster.
Sides, 27, a right-handed reliever with the ‘Ducks, will replace Bowie left-hander Jayson Aquino, a former member of the Indians farm system who spent the final month of last season with Cleveland’s High-A affiliate at Lynchburg. Aquino was unable to participate in the contest after his start on Saturday was pushed back until Sunday.
When looking at things in the context of wins and losses, particularly given the success of several of the other teams in the Cleveland minor league system, it would be easy to dismiss the 2014 edition of the Carolina Mudcats as unproductive. A 62-74 overall record for the campaign will not look good in the media guide next season. Of the top-four teams in the Tribe’s organization, only the Mudcats failed to advance to the playoffs.
While winning is important, Minor League baseball is predicated on other things. It is important to discern whether the Carolina Mudcats as an organization provide an environment conducive to learning and have a coaching staff that sends players upward in the organizational ladder.
High-A baseball is typically referred to as the level in the Minor Leagues that is the “great separator.” It is where baseball players that perhaps have a chance to make the Majors distinguish themselves from those who do not.
Grant Sides pitched 27 games at High-A for the Carolina Mudcats in 2013. It did not go well. Sides had a 2-3 record in 27 games with a 6.58 ERA and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.3/1. Opponents batted .264 against the right-hander.
Sides was not deterred by his initial struggles in Zebulon. Selected by the Cleveland Indians out of Samford University in the 12th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, he had experienced pain on the diamond before while in college. The previous stumble was of the injury-variety but Sides rebounded from that malady nicely and was picked by the Tribe
The Carolina Mudcats have seen several of Cleveland’s top prospects pass through Zebulon, N.C. since linking with the Tribe in 2012. Five County Stadium has been a popular place for players that the Indians have invested heavily in. The lineups, along with the coaching staffs, of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers and Double-A Akron RubberDucks are littered with former Carolina talent.
As the already-blossoming relationship between Cleveland and Carolina grows, there is certain to be much more top-tier baseball players on the diamond for the Mudcats. To have a Minor League system that rates among the best it takes not only success from the young players that were deemed worthy of a top selection but also growth from prospects that fall under the radar. The Mudcats have several players who, despite not being selected in the first few rounds of the Major League Draft, could have an impact at Progressive Field in the coming years.