For the second season in a row, the Mahoning Valley scrappers have inherited a rather uninspiring AZL team and turned them into a play-off squad, although for the second year in a row they were swept in the first round. This year, they went 42-33 to win the Pinckney Division before two losses against Tri-City last week ended their season.
It was still a good year for the Scrappers who had a good combination of stars and role players combine to make a special team.
The top hitter from the 2017 AZL Indians has become the top hitter on the 2018 Mahoning Valley Scrappers and not by a small margin. The Scrappers made it to the play-offs largely due to their offense, which was 5th best in the New York-Penn League and a full 25% of their 335 runs scored were directly produced by short stop Tyler Freeman.
Freeman not only lead his team in all three slash stats (he was also first in the league in average, second in slugging and third in OBP), but he was the only Scrapper to hit .300, slug .400 or get on base 40% of the time with a .352/.405/.511 line.
With a slugging percent above .500, you may expect Freeman to have had a big home run season, but that isn’t the case as no Scrapper reached even 10 home runs this year and Freeman had just two. Instead, Freeman lead the NYP in doubles with 29 and added four triples as well. His high batting average did inflate all his rate stats, but his BABIP was only .372 and he sustained that over 301 plate appearances. Given his profile, he could potentially sustain a BABIP closer to .330 than .300, so a huge fall shouldn’t be expected.
He added base stealing to his resume as well this season, taking 14 in 17 attempts, second to only Jose Fermin on the team, the only other regular base stealer. He was also superb in the field, playing both second and short as he split time with Fermin.
While we’re on the subject of Jose Fermin, the scrappy young middle infielder has significantly improved his prospect stock with a .279/.391/.382 line to go with his 17 steals and solid infield defense. In fact, he could be considered a Freeman light except that Fermin does one thing that Freeman doesn’t: walk. Fermin took 39 walks this year, 16 more than the second best (Clark Scolamiero) and 31 more than Freeman. This is the foundation for his OBP (2nd best on the team) and is an incredibly turnaround from his previous two seasons (12 total walks in 61 games, just 10 fewer than this season).
While he was promoted to Lake County prior to the post-season, Mitch Reeves had his second good offensive season while continuing his transition from outfield to first base despite his designation on the official team page (he was listed as an outfielder all year, but didn’t play it once in MV). While not a big power hitter, Reeves is a high OBP player like Fermin and finished the year with a .276/.358/.391 line between Mahoning Valley and Lake County.
The Scrappers rotation must have been the cause of much envy, although the top pitcher finished the season in Lake County. Luis Oviedo lead the team in ERA, K/9, BB/9 and WHIP after beginning the season by allowing just a single run over his first 28 innings, striking out 40 and giving up just 14 hits. This incredible start got him on the national radar and eventually promoted to the Captains.
Oviedo’s replacement, Yeffersson Yannuzzi, was having a comparable season in the Arizona League (2.21 ERA, 42 K’s in 36.2 IP) and continued to have success once promoted. He finished the season with a 2.70 ERA and 9.5 K/9 between the two levels.
One of the team’s mid-season All-Stars, left handed reliever Randy Valladares finished the season with a 2.29 ERA and 10.1 K/9, although his numbers need to be discounted a bit as he is 23 and in his second season in Mahoning Valley. He also played two seasons in Arizona, so while he does have good numbers, he may age out before reaching a high level.
Also in the bullpen was Adoni Kery, a hard throwing righty picked up in 2017 after he was released by the Astros. I first saw him pitch last year in the Arizona League where he had a K/9 of 12.7, but that number dropped to 9.3 in 2018 while his ERA rose above 5.00. He is already 22, but has the ability to be a quality reliever. Like Valladares, he has a lot of ground to make up in 2019.
In the rotation, Zach Draper was overlooked due to the excellence of Oviedo, but had a fine season of his own. The lefty had a 1.9 BB/9 with a K/9 of 8.2 including his 13.1 innings in Lake County. He likely has a ceiling as an end of the rotation pitcher in the upper minors, but deserves credit for his second positive season.
Offensively, two players had nearly identical lines, ranging within ten points of each other in average, OBP and slugging, despite coming into the season with very different profiles. Hosea Nelson was a powerless speed outfielder who was great at stealing bases and playing defense. Henry Pujols always had massive power and a lead glove at third, striking out 152 times in his first 104 games. Pujols was a more patient hitter in Arizona, but his walks plummeted in MV while his strike outs rose. Nelson maintained both rates, but saw a huge increase in power to match Pujols and stopped stealing bases.
Both players are still young and have room for improvement, with Nelson more likely to stick around longer with his greater number of skills.
Cause for Concern
I mentioned age as an issue with the relievers in the above section, but no player should feel his clock running out more than the 22 year old Simeon Lucas. He has now spent five seasons in short season ball after completing his third season in Mahoning Valley. He was a poor defensive catcher and is now a poor defensive first baseman, leading to extended play at DH. However, his three home runs and .260/.347/.417 don’t befit a third season DH. It’s amazing the Indians have had this much patience with Lucas and I fully expect him to be released before next season begins.
The Scrappers’ current catchers had as bad of a season as their former backstop as both Jason Rodriguez and Angel Lopez were simply awful at the plate. Lopez, however, was a 2017 draft pick and is just 21 years old, so he should get another chance to prove himself next year. Rodriguez, however, is 23 and has finished his fifth season with the team.
He has never hit well, but was somehow significantly worse this year in his second season with Mahoning Valley than he was in his first. With many talented catchers in both Arizona and the DSL coming up (including 2018 first round pick, Bo Naylor), Rodriguez is another player with a good chance of being cut prior to 2019.
An undrafted free agent from 2016, Cameron Mingo just celebrated his 25th birthday after posting an ERA of 5.03 in 62.2 innings in short season ball. Mingo actually started the season in AA, which was a much more proper league for his age, but was quickly demoted to Lake County, then Mahoning Valley. There, he played the role of innings eater, something the Indians shouldn’t need with two full pitching staffs from Arizona joining the A level in 2019.
Most Power: Henry Pujols
Best Bat: Tyler Freeman
Best Wheels: Tyler Freeman
Best Glove: Jose Fermin (2B)
Best Arm: Clark Scolamiero (CF)
Worst Glove: Henry Pujols (3B)
Best Control: Luis Oviedo
Best Stuff: Luis Oviedo
Most Likely to be an MLB Pitcher: Luis Oviedo
Most Likely to be an MLB Hitter: Tyler Freeman