The Cleveland Indians finalized their 40-man roster ahead of December’s Rule 5 draft on Wednesday night as they announced that three contracts had been purchased from minor league affiliates.
Two of the moves were expected, as top pitching prospect Triston McKenzie and outfielder Daniel Johnson were both added to the 40-man roster. Also joining them as new faces to the Tribe’s 40-man mix was left-handed pitcher Scott Moss, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Cincinnati Reds as part of the three-team trade that centered around Trevor Bauer, Yasiel Puig, and Franmil Reyes.
When the Akron RubberDucks have not been dodging rain drops, they have played with mixed results. To be fair, when six games have been rained out or suspended over the course of the first three weeks of a month, it may be hard to find a rhythm on the diamond.
Rains wiped away contests last weekend, washing out the rest of the ‘Ducks’ series after getting a pair of wins to open the five-game series from Binghamton. The team returned home soggy to Canal Park and performed well, taking two of three from the Richmond Flying Squirrels. After dropping a 3-1 decision in the opener last Monday, they put up 6-1 and 7-5 victories to take the series and inch within a game of the .500 mark. That would be as close to an even record as they would get as their tough series in Hartford against the Yard Goats ended in three consecutive losses to wrap up the weekend. Akron was dealt one-run losses on both Friday and Saturday before a 5-2 final in the finale.
The World Baseball Classic has deprived Major League spring training camps of countless players, but life carries on as the 30 teams prepare for the quickly approaching regular season slate of games.
The Indians, down eleven players from their organization, have continued on without some of the bigger names from their roster, including Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Andrew Miller. Despite the vacancies, the show must go on and the Tribe has put together a good stretch of play with their depleted roster, winning three straight over the weekend and four of their last five contests overall.
But with the good, generally comes the bad, and there was plenty of both over the course of the week.
While the focus right now may be on the Cleveland Indians’ Major League roster, things are going well throughout the Tribe’s farm system as well.
The importance on drafting strong and developing stronger is no more apparent than at the Major League level for the Indians. The current playoff roster is well-balanced between guys drafted/signed internationally and developed solely by the club (Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Cody Allen to name a few), others acquired via trades and developed on the farm (Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana, and other absentee names like Carlos Carrasco, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes), and other veterans still who were added via big trades or free agent moves (Andrew Miller, Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer, and Coco Crisp).
The names that compose the roster now all worked their way up through the minor league system, whether in the Indians organization or elsewhere. The names of the future are doing the same and some standout performers were recognized this week when MILB.com announced its picks for Cleveland’s organizational All-Stars.
Five runs batted in from left fielder Mike Papi were more than enough for the Akron RubberDucks as they defeated the Altoona Curve 9-4 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Eastern League Western Division Series from Canal Park on Friday night.
Akron took an early lead and doubled that score the following inning off of Altoona’s Nick Kingham. Nellie Rodriguez singled to left and went to second on a single from Papi. Kingham struck out Eric Haase swinging before walking Eric Stamets to load the bases. Mark Mathias came through with the big hit to put Akron on the board, driving home Rodriguez and Papi on the play. Mathias was thrown out trying to stretch it to a two-base hit and Ivan Castillo grounded out with a runner on third, but Akron was on top, 2-0.
The Carolina League season is rapidly winding down for the Lynchburg Hillcats, with just seven games remaining on their regular season schedule. Their ticket to postseason baseball in September was punched with a first half Northern Division crown, but they are sitting atop the league again with a 37-26 record and a one-game lead over the Potomac Nationals after breaking a tie in the standings with a walk-off win on Sunday. Earlier in the week, they had completed a sweep over Wilmington before dropping the first two games of their three-game set with the P-Nats.
The Hillcats will take their final road trip of the regular season this week, heading to Myrtle Beach for three games with the Pelicans beginning Tuesday before returning home for four straight against the Salem Red Sox. The playoffs are scheduled to begin on September 7.
In other Hillcats chatter:
Lynchburg’s Bobby Bradley is your Carolina League Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season, as the third-year pro brought home the second consecutive league MVP award for the Hillcats.
The Carolina League also announced its 13-man postseason All-Star roster, nearly half of which was filled by Lynchburg players. In addition to Bradley, outfielders Greg Allen and Anthony Santander, second baseman Mark Mathias, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, and catcher Francisco Mejia also were honored by the end-of-the-season accolades. Hillcats manager Mark Budzinski was named the league’s Manager of the Year.
The six players honored with postseason All-Star selections fell just one short of Lynchburg’s record for selections in a year, set in 2002 when the club had seven players picked.
The Lynchburg Hillcats may have already clinched a playoff berth with their strong first half, but it hasn’t stopped them from playing hard in pursuit of the second half crown as well. A 12-10 win on Saturday helped the club keep pace with the Potomac Nationals for the top spot in the Carolina League’s Northern Division, as both teams currently reside at 19-9 in the second half. The Hillcats have moved back into that top spot by winning ten of their last eleven games.
Last weekend, they swept the Wilmington Blue Rocks in four straight on the road to finish their road trip at 8-1 with one rainout. They returned home to host the Carolina Mudcats and won 3-0 on Thursday before splitting a doubleheader with a 15-1 win and a 10-3 loss. They won another slugfest on Saturday, 12-10. They will finish their series with Carolina on Sunday before hosting Wilmington for three, then will return to the road at Winston-Salem.
In other Hillcats chatter:
The Lynchburg Hillcats (45-24) will close out their dominant first half of the Carolina League season on Sunday as they wrap up their road series against the second place Frederick Keys.
They dropped just their second game of the season to the Keys on Saturday night, losing 4-3 to fall to 9-2 this season against Frederick. It has been a close and hard-fought series to wrap up the first half, as each of the first three games of the four-game set have been decided by one run. The Hillcats took a pair from the Keys on Friday, sweeping the day’s doubleheader with 2-1 and 3-2 wins from Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium. The Hillcats are now 7-1 in twinbills this season and 20-6 playing within the Carolina League Northern Division.
Mitch Brown (2-4, 4.25 ERA) will start the final game of the first half for the Hillcats in a 2 PM start from Frederick.
In other Hillcats chatter:
The High-A Lynchburg Hillcats have stormed out to a 29-14 record, good for first place in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. Their strong team effort has been just one part to the stellar start for the whole Cleveland Indians farm system. Given the #1 organizational ranking in a recent MiLB article by Sam Dykstra, the top four Indians farm clubs sported a combined 98-50 record. Only the Texas Rangers organization came close with 94 wins.
The past two weeks have been indicative of their overall season. Swept in a three-game series at the rival Salem Red Sox, they lost leads in the first two games from poor bullpen performance, before moving on to Zebulon, North Carolina. The Hillcats took three out of four games from the Mudcats before returning home for a rematch with Salem. With the wickedly hot Andrew Benintendi having been promoted to AA, the Hillcats only had to concern themselves with the remaining two top prospects in the Red Sox organization in Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers.
After a tough week that saw Lynchburg drop three straight in a series in Salem and the opener of a series against Carolina, the Hillcats have returned to their winning ways.
Since the unpleasant four-game skid, they have won six of their last seven, including wins in each of the final three games against the Mudcats (capped by an extra inning win on Monday) and in a doubleheader sweep over Salem on Wednesday (after Tuesday’s game against the minor league Red Sox was rained out). They dropped the finale with Salem Thursday before winning again on Friday against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
The Hillcats resume their four-game series against the Pelicans on Saturday at 7:05 PM. When their road trip concludes Monday night, Lynchburg will return home for a seven-game homestand to close out the month, beginning first with three against Wilmington before hosting Salem for four.
In other Hillcats chatter:
Life as a middle infield prospect in the Cleveland Indians farm system has to be a scary place for aspiring professional baseball players.
When the Indians selected junior second baseman Mark Mathias out of California Polytechnic State University in the third round of last year’s draft as their fourth overall selection, the 19-year-old junior had to know that his work was cut out for him with Jason Kipnis on his way to the second All-Star berth of his career.
While one of the better second basemen in the MLB is under contract through the 2019 season, with a team option for 2020, the final three years of Kipnis’ deal are set to pay him eight figures, including more than $13 million in 2018 and $14 million in 2019 before the $16.5 million team option hits. If changes to spending from the front office do not change by then, those substantial sums could lead to some movement by the club with several players locked in on large deals for those years, and Mathias could become an interesting name to know.