The Akron Rubber Ducks kicked off the 2019 season on Thursday April 4th at home vs. Altoona. This begins the organization’s 41st baseball season, the last 30 of which.have been played in the Akron-Canton area.
This season looks to be an exciting year for the team. There are 4 MLB.com top 30 prospects on the opening day roster, with more to come as the season unfolds. Akron is looking for there 3rd playoff appearance in the last four years.
The Rubber Ducks will be managed by first year manager Rouglas Odor. Odor joined the organization as a player back in 1988. He played in the minors for 8 seasons before joining the Indians organization as a coach in 1996. Over the years he has had many positions in the organization including, hitting coach for both the Rubber Ducks and the Columbus Clippers. Last year he managed the Lynchburg Hillcats to their 7th straight playoff appearance in his only season as manager there. His knowledge of personnel throughout the organization should help him as manager of Rubber Ducks.
As far as the personnel he will be working with, let’s start with the outfielders. They have five outfielders that have all distinguished themselves in some way. Connor Marabell leads the way. Between Akron and Columbus last year he hit .275 with 13 home runs and 74 RBIs. Marabell has consistently exceeded expectations over the years and I would look for that to continue. There are quite a few outfielders ahead of him currently, but don’t be surprised if he makes his way to Cleveland sometime this summer. When he does I would expect him to continue to exceed expectations and work his way onto the Indians roster permanently.
Andrew Calica and Ka’ai Tom are also in the outfield. Both spent the entire season last year with Akron. Calica batted .278 with a .389 on base percentage. He also stole 27 bases. Calica is behind Marabell and many others but, he is a professional hitter, an above average fielder, and if given a chance he may also move some higher rated prospects out, on his way to Cleveland. Tom can play all three outfield spots. He tied with Marabell, last year, for team lead in RBI with 64. He also had 37 extra base hits, stole 13 bases and a .728 OPS. Tom numbers have not been overwhelming, however, with this being his second year in Akron, don’t be surprised if he improves his numbers in such a way that he also starts to open some eyes as well.
Mitch Longo spent last season in Lynchburg. He had a very solid season there. He batted .275, with 41 extra base hits and 18 stolen bases. He has consistently hit well throughout his time in the minor leagues and I would expect that to continue this season.
Finally, the last outfielder is Daniel Johnson. He is the Indians number 22 rated prospect according to MLB.com. He is a 4 or 5 tool player who is truly on the rise. He impressed the Indians brass in spring training at the major league camp. He is very fast, he as a great arm and is above average with the glove. If he can hit for any kind of a decent average, consistently, he could be on his way straight to Cleveland. Other than Johnson, the Akron outfielders have similar profiles. The depth and competition in the outfield in Akron should bring out the best of all of them.
The infield also has some excellent prospects. Ernie Clement leads the way. He moved up three levels last year because of his excellent play. He slashed .289/.358/.732 across those three levels. He walked 41 times, while only striking out 35 times. He also impressed Tito Francona with his play in spring training with the major league team. If Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor continue to deal with injuries, don’t be surprised if management turns to Clement for a significant contribution in the majors. Clement is a key prospect who will be needed at some point this season in Cleveland.
The rest of the infield is a little less distinguished than Clement but still important nonetheless. Tyler Krieger is playing in Akron for his 3rd straight season. His versatility is his calling card. He had been exclusively a middle infielder until last season. He played outfield last year due to injuries and circumstances. This has just increased Krieger’s worth as a prospect due to his increased versatility. Krieger had a rebound season at the plate last year and still has a place in the organization moving forward. He could end up in Cleveland sometime this summer as a utility player or part time replacement.
Andruw Monasterio will man another infield position. He came to Cleveland from Washington as part of the Yan Gomes trade. He has been in pro ball since 2014, however, he is still only 21 years old. The Tribe will get a long look at him this year to find out exactly what he can do.
At first base the Ducks will have Wilson Garcia. Garcia was picked up by Cleveland, from Baltimore, through the minor league portion of the rule five draft in December. He is a switch hitter who batted an impressive .293 with 23 HR and a .832 OPS in class A ball last year. He also went 6-15 in spring training with the Tribe this spring. He is 25 already but he could be an interesting prospect as well.
Three catchers are on Akron’s roster with Daniel Salters, Logan Ice and Li-Jen Chu make up the trio. Salters spent last season as the backup in Akron and seems to be headed for a similar role this year. Ice, a 2016 2nd round draft pick, has had trouble establishing himself. He hasn’t hit much but he is only 23 and because of the investment, Cleveland will work with Ice to see if he can get unlocked at the plate and continue to improve defensively. Chu has separated himself from the other two with his bat. In Lynchburg last year he hit .278 with 10 HR. Tribe management sent Chu to Arizona fall league at the end of the season. That usually means that you are on managements radar as a prospect. Chu needs to continue to hit and work on his catching and throwing to see if he can raise the ceiling on skills. He will not be in Cleveland this year but it is not out the question to think he could someday be catching in Cleveland.
The pitching staff in Akron has some prospects that may help the big league club this summer and others that will impact the big league pitching staff in the future.
The starting pitchers in Akron are a talented group. They are led by Sam Hentges. Hentges is the 10th rated Tribe prospect (MLB.com) and the number one rated left handed pitching prospect in the organization. Hentges had a solid season in Lynchburg last year and seems ready to take off. Although he should not be needed in Cleveland this summer, Hentges is in line for a spot in Cleveland’s rotation if he can continue to improve and stay healthy. If Trevor Bauer or Cory Kluber get traded in the off season it’s possible Hentges could end up in the big league rotation as soon as next season.
Sean Brady and Jake Paulson man two more spots in the Akron rotation. Brady is a left hander. He started 27 games with Akron last season. He had an 8-7 record and took his turn in the rotation all summer. With this being his second season in Akron, he now needs to see if he can improve the precision and effectiveness of his pitches. Brady hasn’t been on any prospect lists but sometimes players take a while to reach there full potential and hopefully this summer Brady gets a little closer to his ceiling. If he does there is always room in the major leagues for a left hander that can pitch. Paulson was signed as a free agent last summer after being released by Cincinnati. He went from being released, to becoming pitcher of the year in the Eastern League with Akron. After he got into rotation in Akron he took off. He ended up with a 8-5 record and a 3.04 ERA. Paulson is 6’7″ and obviously looks imposing on the mound. Although he was a 27th draft pick with the Reds, and never been on any top 30 lists, last year’s results at the Double A level speak loudly. If Paulson can duplicate or improve on last year he could pitch himself from being unemployed last summer, to a major league rotation in the next year or two.
The fourth starter we will discuss is Zach Plesac. Last year, in his first full minor league season, Plesac went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA. His uncle Dan pitched in the majors. Plesac knows what it takes to pitch in the majors. Plesac is another starting pitching prospect whose ceiling could be as high as a number 2 or 3 starter in the majors. If he can stay healthy look for Plesac to improve and possibly crack the Indians top 30 prospect list.
Tanner Tully is another potential starting pitcher for Akron. Tully started for Lynchburg last season. He went 6-11 with a 4.47 ERA. He has pitched out of the bullpen in previous seasons, but last year he pitched exclusively as a starter. He should open the year as Akron’s fifth starter.
The last starter we will discuss is the Indians number 1 minor league prospect. Triston McKenzie. McKenzie has been discussed over and over. He is only 21 years old and has been wildly successful thus far in his minor league career. He has the potential to be a major league All-Star. The only reason we are discussing him last is his health. McKenzie is currently on the shelf for about six weeks with an upper back strain. If McKenzie comes back healthy, just give him the ball and admire his work.
Finally we get to the Ducks bullpen. This part of the Ducks roster is most likely to have a direct impact on the Indians roster this season. Over the course of 162 games there will be a call from Cleveland for a reliever or two from Akron.
My favorite prospect right now is probably James Karinchak. Karinchak started last season with Lake County and pitched his way all the way to Akron with a stop in Lynchburg. Over those three levels combined Karinchak ended up with a 4-2 record with 14 saves and a 1.29 ERA. In 48 innings he struck out 81 batters. When he improves his control (36 walks last season) he is headed straight to the back end of the Indians bullpen, either as a setup guy or as the closer.
Ben Krauth is another one of my favorites. He arguably had the finest season of any Indians minor league pitcher last season. His numbers were eye popping. He had a 4-2 record with 2 saves. Not so exceptional. However, in 39 appearances he pitched 70 innings, with a 1.92 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. On top of that he struck out 100 with only 26 walks. We will see if Krauth can maintain his success this year in double A. If he does, his next stop will be Cleveland also.
Matt Whitehouse, Dalbert Siri, David Speer, Rob Kaminsky, Luke Eubank and Angenis Angulo make up the rest of the bullpen. Any reliever in Akron could be one hot start away from an opportunity in Cleveland.
Overall the Rubber Ducks have a good mix of a few veterans mixed in with some legitimate big time prospects. Between now and the end of the year many other prospects will make a stop in Akron on there way to another opportunity. Anticipate a strong season from the Rubber Ducks hopefully ending with a playoff !appearance. More importantly let’s hope the Daniel Johnson’s and Ernie Clement’s of the world maintain good health and continue to improve there games. Winning games in Akron is great. Developing players in Akron is essential for the big league clubs future.