2012 Akron Aeros Preview
Considering the amount of turnover and adversity the 2011 Akron Aeros went through, it is amazing that they managed to get to a 73-69 record. That team lost top players Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Alex White to promotion and lost Drew Pomeranz, Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride to the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. On top of that, the Aeros had to deal with injuries ruining Nick Weglarz’s effectiveness, the suspension of John Drennen for performance enhancing drugs midseason, Matt Lawson sudden retirement, and players like Jordan Henry and Kelvin De La Cruz not living up to their expectations.
Despite these problems and obstacles, there were plenty of good things to come out of 2011 for the Aeros. The emergence of Austin Adams, Tim Fedroff, Cory Burns, Chen-Chang Lee, Juan Diaz, and even Beau Mills to an extent were bright spots for fans and the organization. These players were a big part of what success the Aeros had last year and will look to continue improving in 2012. Unluckily for some of these players (but luckily for those of us who follow the Aeros), they will return to Akron in 2012 – at least for the start of the season. If they continue to improve this year, however, they will get their tickets to Columbus and Cleveland soon enough.
The 2012 Aeros will likely be more of the same mediocrity that the 2011 team offered, but they may impress as the season goes on. The big issue with this Akron team is the lack of top talent on the roster. With Austin Adams starting on the DL, the Aeros will not have any of IPI’s top 20 prospects on their Opening Day roster. Most of the Tribe’s best talent is still down in the lower levels of the minors, meaning the majority of the Aeros’ roster consists of uninspiring, low-ceiling prospects or non-prospects. The Aeros will be a solid team, but without top-end talent, it is hard to see them competing at a high level.
2012 will see the return of manager Chris Tremie for his second year at the helm of the Aeros, and he will be joined by pitching coach Tony Arnold and hitting coach Rouglas Odor. Let’s break down each position of the Akron Aeros’ roster and see what Tremie and company have to work with in 2012. (Each prospect’s ranking in IPI’s top 100 is in parenthesis after their name).
LHP T.J. McFarland (#23), LHP Giovanni Soto (#39), RHP Paolo Espino (#62), LHP Eric Berger (#64), RHP Steven Wright (#82)
With RHP Austin Adams (#8) and LHP Matt Packer (#21) starting the year on the DL, the Aeros’ rotation is not all that impressive. Personally, I love watching Espino and Berger pitch, but they are slated to return to the bullpen when Adams and Packer return. They are only in the rotation because they have started recently and have their arms stretched out. Along with Wright – who is trying to resurrect his career with a knuckleball – most of the Aeros’ rotation is filled with players unlikely to make much of a name for themselves in the big leagues.
The other two pitchers in the rotation, McFarland and Soto, show real promise though. McFarland isn’t an overpowering strikeout pitcher, but he gets tons of groundballs and eats innings well. With a little more improvement, he will be a serviceable back-of-the-rotation starter. Teams can never have enough of those guys – see how the Indians had injury scares with Derek Lowe, David Huff, and Jeanmar Gomez over the span of two days. The Indians have been blessed with good rotation depth (Huff, Gomez, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Barnes to start) and McFarland is close to adding to that depth. Soto, on the other hand, is more of a strikeout pitcher with some upside. He has had injury problems to this point in his career and may end up in the bullpen down the road, but for now, he will try to stick as a starter. At best, it seems like Soto will be another back-of-the-rotation starter, but if he can refine his mechanics and solidify his curveball and changeup to pair with his great cutter, he could be more. While unlikely, if he can find a way to maintain his 8.5 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.64 ERA and 1.17 WHIP he owns to this point in his minor league career while remaining a starter, the Indians will be very happy.
With McFarland and Soto already in the rotation and Adams and Packer likely to join before too long, the Aeros have the makings of an intriguing, if not exciting rotation. Those four will likely help the Aeros win quite a few ballgames in 2012 and they all should help the Indians at the big league level before too long.
RHP Bryce Stowell (#31), RHP Rob Bryson (#33), RHP Bryan Price (#53), RHP Matt Langwell (#58), RHP Preston Guilmet (#67), RHP Toru Murata (#84), RHP Kyle Landis (#86), RHP Jose De La Torre (Unranked)
Last year, the Aeros’ bullpen was full of up-and-comers and impressive performances. From Cory Burns to Tyler Sturdevant to Chen-Chang Lee to Nick Hagadone, the Aeros saw many high performers come out of the bullpen in 2011. As a reward for those performances, these players have now moved up the minor league ladder from Akron (except Burns, who was traded in the offseason for OF Aaron Cunningham) and a less impressive stock of relievers will hang out behind the right-center wall of Canal Park this season.
The most striking thing about the 2012 Aeros’ bullpen is the lack of a left-handed pitcher. Some of that is circumstance, since LHP Eric Berger should end up in the bullpen before too long, but it is still surprising. Most of these players have some sort of flaw – which is why they have ended up in the bullpen in the first place – but the Aeros will need at least a few of these guys to step up their game and impress in 2012 for Akron to compete in the Eastern League.
The pitchers to keep an eye on in the Aeros bullpen in 2012 will be Stowell, Bryson, Price, Langwell, and Guilmet. They all have their flaws, but of these five, I would expect two or three to take the same steps that Lee, Hagadone, and Sturdevant took last year. Stowell was IPI’s #12 prospect going into the 2011 season, but his lack of control (4.8 BB/9 in his minor league career) ruins his excellent strikeout rate (12.1 K/9). Bryson and Price have all the makings of a good bullpen prospect (Stowell: 11.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 3.07 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in his minor league career; Price: 8.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 3.92 ERA, 1.35 WHIP), but they have not been able to stay healthy. Langwell has overachieved since being drafted 2008, but his lack of a plus pitch in his arsenal hurts his chances. Guilmet, like 2011 Aeros’ closer Cory Burns, may not succeed in the long run because he uses an unorthodox delivery to make up for less-than-stellar stuff. Guilmet has proven that he has the proper mental capacity to handle pitching in the 9th inning, however (35 saves in 2011 at Kinston).
With the relatively few innings that relievers pitch, it is next to impossible to know who will seize their limited opportunity and who will have a bad outing or two sidetrack their stock. Without a top-30 prospect, the 2012 Aeros’ bullpen will be all about who rises up to the challenge and succeeds and who will struggle and blow leads left and right.
Chun Chen (#22), Roberto Perez (#70), Michel Hernandez (Unranked)
2011 certainly could have been kinder to Chun Chen. Despite having high expectations coming off of his .320/.442/.523 slash line in 52 games at Kinston in 2010, Chen came back down to Earth in 2011. While a .262/.330/.451 slash line is nothing to sneeze at, Chen’s 122 strikeouts in 113 games is a real problem. Chen also took a step back on defense, raising real questions as to whether or not he can stick as a catcher. His bat will not play at first base, so Chen will need to work very hard on his defense and plate discipline if he wants to ever make it above the AA-level. This will truly be a make or break year for Chen.
On the other side of things is Roberto Perez. No one will mistake Perez (.225/.365/.310 slash line at Kinston last year) for Mike Piazza or Mike Napoli, but he draws a lot of walks (79:62 SO:BB ratio last year in 94 games) and is very good behind the plate. Perez will likely see a lot of time at catcher with Akron this year (with Chen playing more DH), but if he does not start hitting, he will find himself on the bench more and more. There are plenty of players out there who are good on defense who never make it to the Majors because of their bat (see one of my favorite Aeros of all time, Cristo Arnal). Perez will need to learn to hit this year if he wants to avoid having that end up as his fate.
The other catcher on the roster, Michel Hernandez, will likely see a decent amount of playing time because of his pedigree (he has 127 plate appearances at the big league level), but he is past his prime now and just organizational depth. He has found more power and pop recently, but it likely will not be enough to get him to Cleveland. 2012 will be a big year for the other two catchers in Akron, Chen and Perez, and will likely decide their fates as major league ballplayers. It will certainly be exciting to see what those two do with their opportunity.
SS Juan Diaz (#50), 1B/3B/OF Jared Goedert (#60), 3B Kyle Bellows (#61), 1B/3B Adam Abraham (#81), 2B/SS Dave Stoneburner (Acquired this spring in the Kelvin De La Cruz trade), SS/3B Ryan Rohlinger (Unranked)
Here is where the 2012 Akron Aeros are going to run into problems. The lack of upper-level talent slated to start the season in Akron is terrifying, especially if the Cleveland or Columbus rosters suffer injuries that force these players to get called up. Juan Diaz will be the starting shortstop, and while he has good defensive ability, was named to the Eastern League All-Star team last year and was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, his offense (.255/.310/.368 slash line, 116 strikeouts in 133 games) and consistency (20 errors last year) leave much to be desired. Dave Stoneburner will be the starting second baseman, but he entering his age-27 season and is a low ceiling prospect that should not be counted on for much.
The corners of the Aeros’ infield promise to be crowed and will separate the men from the boys as the season goes along. For now, Kyle Bellows will be the starting third baseman and Adam Abraham will start at first base, but both will be on a short leash. Bellows has all the defensive ability in the world, but as long as he posts .229/.295/.310 slash lines (a .605 OPS from your third baseman will never cut it), his future is limited. Abraham took a step forward as a hitter in Kinston last year (.252/.360/.432 slash line, 70 walks in 130 games), but he still strikes out too much (114 strikeouts in 130 games) and does not profile defensively at any position. Jared Goedert will likely spell Bellows and Abraham and also spend some time in the outfield, but he is headed into his age-27 season, also is a below-average defender, has had health issues, and is probably nearing the end of his prospect road.
The good news for the Aeros is that Jesus Aguilar, IPI’s 14th best prospect, should be promoted to Akron if he can hit in High-A Carolina like he did in Lake County last year (.292/.370/.544 slash line, 19 home runs in 95 games). There is not much upside going on in Akron’s infield at the moment, so all Aeros’ fans will be waiting on the edge of their seats for Aguilar to get the call.
RF Nick Weglarz (#32), CF Tim Fedroff (#44), LF Ben Copeland (Unranked)
For now, the Aeros only have three pure outfielders on their roster. With the injury-prone Nick Weglarz currently slated to start in right field, it may not be long before the Aeros will need outfield help. It was only last year that Weglarz was ranked 5th in IPI’s prospect rankings and seemed ready to make his major league debut. After posting a .286/.392/.497 slash line and hitting 6 home runs in 50 games at Columbus in 2010, 2011 should have been Weglarz’s final year in the minors before he established himself as a major league player. Instead, Weglarz battled through numerous injuries in 2011 that sapped his power and left him with an ugly .179/.360/.306 slash line and 3 home runs in only 41 games. Luckily, Weglarz’s plate discipline remained (43:36 SO:BB ratio), and if he can stay healthy (and what a big if that is), he should still be able to re-establish himself as a prospect.
One of the best stories out of Akron last year was the emergence of Tim Fedroff, who will come back to Akron in 2012. Fedroff stormed out of the gates in 2011 with a .338/.399/.447 slash line in 70 games in Akron before earning a call-up to Columbus. Fedroff cooled off after his promotion, however, only hitting .272/.370/.362 the rest of the way. The biggest issue with Fedroff is that he is a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none type of player. He has good plate discipline (74:62 SO:BB ratio last year), but next to no power (only 11 home runs in 372 career minor league games) and is average at best in center field. His bat does not profile well in the corners, so it seems like he is yet another Indians’ outfielder with a 4th outfielder ceiling. He will likely help the Aeros win some games this year, but his long-term outlook does not look great.
The final Aeros’ outfielder is Ben Copeland, whom the Indians signed as a minor league free agent midway through last season. He is a former top pick by the Giants, but he is already 28 years old and was decent offensively (.257/.317.422 slash line in Akron last year), but not great. He is another 4th outfielder type that fills some depth here in Akron easily, but is another guy that likely will not make it to Cleveland. The Aeros’ outfield is not very impressive, but players like LeVon Washington and Luigi Rodriguez working their way up through the system, it is not going to be long before Akron’s outfield will be electric and eye-catching.
The key to the 2012 Aeros’ season will be having most of their players fulfill the promise they have. They need Nick Weglarz to stay healthy and rake. They need T.J. McFarland to take the next step as a starting pitcher. Mostly, they need players to overachieve and help the Aeros (and their own prospect stock) rise as the season goes on. It will certainly be an exciting year in Akron as we watch prospects grow into the players they are capable of being and make you sit on the edge of your seat and take notice when they walk into the batters’ box or take the mound.
If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at email@example.com