The 2016 baseball season is off to a hot start on all levels for the Cleveland Indians and their minor league affiliates, despite the early weather-related interferences provided by the environment. This week was a much different week than the first week of play, as the Tribe and all of their active farm clubs got in a full slate of work and looked good in the process.
The week was highlighted by several impressive individual pitching performances, hitting streaks at the plate and winning streaks in the standings, and even a player of the week award.
With so many games and names to know, here’s a breakdown of some of the things you may have missed.
The Lynchburg Hillcats took home some hardware last season, bringing home ten different weekly league awards during the 2015 season. After the first full season of play in 2016, they already have one to their credit.
Mike Papi was recognized on Monday as the Carolina League Player of the Week for games played from April 7 through 17 for an impressive stretch that put him near or at the top of the list of prospects in the league in several offensive categories.
While late comebacks and shutouts were the tale for several of the Indians’ minor league farm clubs heading into the weekend, the long ball became the hero for two of the Cleveland affiliates on Saturday and Sunday.
After a tough 3-2 loss in eleven innings in Indianapolis to the Indians on Friday night, the Clippers looked to even things up on Saturday. The home team took an early 1-0 lead as Daniel Ortiz homered off of Columbus’ Jarrett Grube in the second, but a two-out RBI-double in the top of the fifth from Michael Choice scored Anthony Recker, who had reached on a single, to tie the game at one apiece.
In 2015 Mike Papi was the 5th ranked prospect in the Indians system, according to Baseball America. As we get close to a month away from opening day 2016, he has fallen to 19th on the organizational rankings. The former first round pick, number 38 overall in 2014, did not live up to his billing in the 2015 season, but there is still reason for the Cleveland faithful to have hope that Papi can get it together and turn into a valuable piece of the Indians future.
The drop in ranking was due to the inconsistent showing Papi put up at High Class-A Lynchburg for the 2015 season. After only 141 at-bats during the 2014 season, spread between Short Season Mahoning Valley and Low-A Lake County, Papi was assigned to the Hillcats, just an hour south of his alma mater the University of Virginia.
Being so close to Charlottesville made playing in the Hill City a very supportive environment.
“You always hear people yelling in the stands, ‘Go Wahoos!’ and it’s good to have that support and that backing here.” said Papi.
The number 38 seems to associate itself with High-A Lynchburg Hillcats left fielder Mike Papi. He and his best friend always had this number, as an inside thing, since his sophomore year of high school. He continued to wear it during his college playing days at the University of Virginia, and he was the 38th overall pick in the supplemental first round in 2014. He has kept the number 38 as he has played professionally, first for Rookie level Mahoning Valley, then the Low-A Lake County Captains and now the Hillcats.
Drafted by the Angels organization out of high school, he chose to attend the University of Virginia where he constructed a strong baseball resume. He captured the Atlantic Coast Conference batting title as a sophomore with a .381 average, and tied for the ACC lead in homeruns with 11 in his junior year, prior to being drafted.
The Hillcat green and gold are set to take the field again for another season. For 2015 this marks the 20th season of the Hillcats moniker for a team in Lynchburg and the 75th anniversary of professional baseball in the hill city. On top of all these momentous milestones the Hillcats will be at the start of a new four-year affiliation as a farm club of the Cleveland Indians. With this new affiliation the hometown fans will kick off their connection to Cleveland with a team comprised of some of the best and brightest prospects the Indians farm system has to offer.
The coaching staff is headed up by second year manager, Mark Budzinski. He was once a Cleveland minor-leaguer himself and a product of the University of Richmond. Budzinski makes his home in Richmond, Virginia so this season provides added opportunities to see his family. As any devotee of professional baseball knows family time is precious as there can be long periods of absence when you are far from home and there the breaks in the season are few in number.
He wore number 38 for the University of Virginia Cavaliers to start last season. In June of 2014, 38 took on a whole new meaning for Mike Papi when he was selected as the 38th overall pick in the first round of the MLB First Year Player draft.
Papi did not shed his collegiate uniform right away, however, as the Cavaliers made a run at the College World Series last season. Papi was one of eight players from the 2014 UVA squad to be drafted, which made it to Omaha last season but fell short of winning the College World Series. For Papi and his teammates, being drafted in the midst of playing in the CWS required strong mental focus that kept his mind on his collegiate performance, not his impending future with the Indians.
It’s late July and Mike Papi, one of the newest members of the Lake County Captains, is wearing a University of Virginia Baseball sweatshirt. It’s not supposed to be cold enough to need a sweatshirt when leaving the clubhouse at this point in the summer.
Papi is from Tunkhannock, PA, a small town of less than 2,000 people. He’s no stranger to the weather woes that plague Cleveland and its surrounding areas.
“You play in April,” Papi said, laughing, when explaining how the change of weather does not affect him on the field.
It seems like an unlikely match, but instead, it might be the perfect one.
Former big leaguer Ted Kubiak will lead the Mahoning Valley Scrappers into New York-Penn League action this evening for the third straight season. The Scrappers open at Jamestown against the Jamestown Jammers at 7:05 p.m. Kubiak manages a team that has several players on it that weren’t born 21 years ago, when he began providing minor league instruction with the Cleveland Indians.
But, for a 72-year old who has two World Series rings and a 10-year big league career under his belt, Kubiak enjoys the challenge and development of managing the Short Season-A team.
“It’s different, we’re developing,” Kubiak said on Thursday. “We’re more or less letting these kids play. What I’m imparting to them is maybe a little bit of how to deal with the game. We can teach them all the fundamentals, but I think what they see in how we handle things can calm them down a little bit.”