For the first time since 2009, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers took hold of first place and landed themselves in the postseason with the third-highest record in the league (44-29). Also, for the first time since 2011, they ended above .500. From game one this team had a vibe about them completely different from past teams, resulting in the best season, and two games of a post season, they’ve put together in years.
They’re best asset? Consistent pitching. Mahoning Valley has seen it’s share of good pitching push through the gates of Eastwood field over the years, but usually by a single pitcher or two before they get promoted. This season, they were home to quite a few pitchers with a multitude of promising abilities, two of which, starter Gregori Vasquez and closer Jean Carlos Mejia, showing the most promising dominance from the mound.
Going into the month of September, Vasquez led the Indians minor league pitchers (w/ at least 30+ IP) in ERA (1.50), finishing his 2017 in game two of their postseason, with a 2.38. His single game in September did no justice to the starter’s talent, being “one of those games” in his season where his stuff wasn’t quite there. Vasquez’ August was his best month of the season, going 2-1 in five starts, with an opposing 1.89 average and 0.80 WHIP.
A few other pitchers that made an impact on the team, RHP Felix Tati, who led the team in wins (7), strikeouts (59 through 59.2 IP), Francisco Perez, who proved to be the season’s workhorse on the mound for the starting rotation leading in innings pitched, , and Zach Plesac, posting the second lowest WHIP (0.85) with 10.7 K’9 through 26 innings of work.
As a team, Mahoning Valley posted the second-lowest ERA in the New York Penn League (2.92) behind Staten Island, a huge boost from 2016’s 3.23 (also, the lowest ERA as a team since pitching a 2.96 in 2013). They also ended with the third most saves (23), second lowest number of earned runs, and fourth lowest in hits (546) allowed.
Now, for the bats. Two big names come to mind, who were both drafted last season by the Indians, third baseman Nolan Jones and right fielder Will Benson. Like two other highly-toted former top prospects, Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, I believe these two will be packaged together as they progress through the minors. One bat that made a dent in the stat lines for the Scrappers early on was former Indians prospect Samad Taylor, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal for major league reliever Joe Smith at the July trade deadline.
From top to bottom, this squad had the pieces to reach the goal of the playoffs, and though their time in the post season lasted just two games in, the trip was a one this short season team hadn’t gone on for a long time. They ended their 2017 in the first round of the playoffs against Oakland A’s affiliate, the Vermont Lake Monsters.
Right fielder Will Benson, already had the high expectations set on his shoulders being the Indians first round pick (14th overall out of Westminster HS) from 2016. In his first professional season, Benson slashed a .238/.475/.823 and led the team in RBI (36 – also third in the league), HRs (10 – tied for best in the league) and holds the second highest OPS (fifth in the league). His bat continuously got better as the season progressed, hitting a hot streak to end the season, hitting three HRs, two walks, three RBI, and five runs through the four games played in September.
Nolan Jones managed to hit into some impressive numbers for his first season with the Scrappers since being drafted in 2016. Like Benson, Jones occupied the top of the stat charts over the NYPL, leading in walks (43), OBP (.430) and OPS (.912). He also hit the second most doubles (18) and ended with the third highest average (.317). In the middle of August, Jones had an 11 game hitting streak going, with 12 runs, five doubles, a triple, eight walks, two HRs, and 13 RBI. Other future stars could definitely include 1B Ulysses Cantu, LF Oscar Gonzalez and closer Jean Carlos Melia.
Mejia, yes there is another Mejia, rallied from the pen, giving up a grand total of zero earned runs since being called up to Mahoning Valley from AZL. Through the 22.2 inning he pitched, he only allowed six men to hit their way on base, while five more walked and two were hit by pitches.
None of them came home to score, nor did they get anyone else home due to their efforts, leaving Mejia to post an astounding 0.49 WHIP to end his single A season. What’s even more impressive is how this guy works, moving quickly through the bats with his two-seam, four-seam and off speed to strike them down (31Ks) one by one.
Being that the Scrappers are so low on the totem pole of the system, I figure there are many players who can qualify for being under appreciated. From outfielder Mitch Reeves who only recently made his way to Mahoning Valley the first week of September, to RHP Jonathan Teaney, who had been drafted in the 20th round of the 2017 amateur draft by Cleveland. It can be a mix of heated hitting streaks (11 games, seven RBI, .485 AVG and nine walks) and filthy precision (30.1 IP, 5 SV, 15.1 K/9) that go quietly unnoticed.
Cause for Concern:
There is but one large error machine standing 6-4/185 lbs on the left side corner of the infield, the same guy who can also be a future star, Nolan Jones. Over the course of the season, Jones committed a team high 22 errors with an .835 FLD%. Lucky for him, he still has time, being just 19 years old, to figure things out along with probably getting plugged elsewhere on the field until something begins to click. He’s prove in this short amount of time that he definitely has an asset the Indians will want to pursue with his bat, which will probably be the main thing that keeps him afloat while working on his glove.
Most Power: Will Benson
Best Bat: Nolan Jones
Best Wheels: Hosea Nelson
Best Glove: Oscar Gonzalez
Best Arm: Gian Paul Gonzalez
Worst Glove: Nolan Jones
Best Control: Jean Carlos Mejia
Best Stuff: Felix Tati
Most Likely to be an MLB Pitcher: Jean Carlos Mejia
Most Likely to be an MLB Hitter: Nolan Jones