2013 Akron Aeros Preview
Aeros look to repeat as Eastern League champions with new faces, new manager
By Jim Piascik
April 4, 2013
The Akron Aeros will take the field at Canal Park Thursday night at 6:35 looking to repeat as Eastern League champions. The team has a new owner in Ken Babby, a new state-of-the-art scoreboard that is breathtaking in person, and a young team loaded with top prospects.
There are plenty of new faces on the team this year, as well as a few returning guys from the championship team. It may not have Francisco Lindor, Trevor Bauer, or Dorssys Paulino, but make no mistake: a trip to Canal Park in 2013 will not be a wasted trip.
Note that players are listed in alphabetical order with their rank in the IBI Top 100 in parentheses. If you want a better breakdown of each player, buy the IBI Top 100 prospects book.
The Aeros will have a star-studded infield in 2013, as each of their starters is a top-20 prospect in the system.
At first base, Aguilar returns after helping the team during the stretch run in 2012. He has struggled at times with plate discipline and strikeouts, but manager Edwin Rodriguez is excited for what Aguilar could do this year after he made some adjustments in the offseason.
"He's made the most impressive adjustments," Rodriguez said. "[His] strike zone is much better and he's driving the ball to all fields ... He did play winter ball in Venezuela, so he took advantage of that."
Up the middle Akron will run out Ramirez and Ronny Rodriguez, a new double play pairing for the both of them. Ramirez jumped from Low-A Lake County to Akron -- skipping High-A Carolina -- though his manager is not worried about the switch-hitter.
"Everywhere he's been playing, he's been hitting .300," Rodriguez said. "I have only seen him for five games, because I was with the WBC, and I've been very impressed with him. He has a very good strike zone knowledge, he handles the bat very well, very confident at the plate. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes.
"For being at such a young age and showing that kind of confidence, that's pretty impressive.”
Moving up from Carolina with Ronny and Edwin Rodriguez, Urshela will be the primary third baseman. Urshela took some real steps forward in 2012 and his manager is confident that both Ronny and Urshela he will continue to improve and impress in 2013.
"After the first six weeks of the season, he [Ronny Rodriguez] was hitting .205," Rodriguez said. "And he ended up hitting almost .285 with 19 home runs. So that's what it's all about, development, and he was able to make that adjustment throughout the season. I think he's going to be pretty much the same this year.
[As for Urshela], I haven't seen any better third baseman defensively in this organization. It's a matter of him developing his offense. I had him also last year, and [it's] the same: you can see him throughout the season getting better and better."
Chen, Lawson, and Perez return to the Aeros in 2013 after playing roles in last year's championship run. Perez will split catching duties with Lavisky and is the Opening Day starter, though time will tell who gets more starts behind the plate. Chen will serve as the primary designated hitter while seeing time at first base and Lawson will back up the other three spots of the infield.
Not counting Cid's short time as a late-season callup, Holt is the only returning member of last year's outfield -- not that Holt spent all of 2012 in Akron either, coming up in July. He will serve as the leadoff man, tablesetter, and center fielder for the Aeros this season, though he could use a little more power than he showed in 55 games in Akron last year (only a .250/.326/.292 line).
Moncrief will be the primary right fielder for the Aeros and is also the top prospect in the Akron outfield. He has only been an outfielder for three years now after being signed as a pitcher and Moncrief is feeling more comfortable as a position player nowadays. His improvements last year at the plate -- hitting .249/.339/.465 with 15 home runs and 17 steals in 101 games for Carolina -- stem from learning more about hitting.
"Understanding hitting, it's an art really," Moncrief said. "Being a young player -- high school, college -- you don't really know that having an approach at the plate is necessary. You just get up there and you swing, try to pull [it], hit a home run or whatever. Just starting to understand how to hit, the concept of hitting, is helping me get this far."
Latimore comes to Akron as the return from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Jeanmar Gomez trade. As of Tuesday, Rodriguez was unsure who would start the first game in left field, though I would wager that Latimore will be the starter.
Akron's starting rotation will be headlined by Salazar, the electric right-hander who really came on strong in last year's playoffs. Salazar has easy velocity on the mound and really justified the team adding him to the 40-man roster two offseasons ago with his performance. He will start on Thursday night and is looking forward to the Opening Night start.
"It's going to be fun," Salazar said. "It's my first time throwing Opening Day, so I guess it's going to be good and fun. And I'm going to be a little bit nervous [laughing], but I'll be fine... The only thing I don't like [is] the cold weather."
Following Salazar will be House, another high-profile prospect in the Cleveland organization. House is also on the 40-man roster and looking forward to the season in front of him, even if he was not promoted up to Triple-A Columbus just yet.
"I'm not really too concerned with being here," House said of starting in Double-A. "I love Akron. We got to win a championship here last year, so it's a familiar place and it's something that I'm conformable with."
Rounding out the rotation will be Packer, Espino, and Murata, a trio of decent starters who do not really have much raw stuff. All of them are effective pitchers, however, and should help Akron win quite a few games in 2013.
The organization's bullpen depth extends down to Akron, with notable names like Armstrong and Stowell still stuck down in Double-A. Armstrong is not too upset, though, as he really has taken to Canal Park.
"This was my favorite park that I've pitched in throughout my career," Armstrong said. "I love the park, the stadium setup. I love the bullpen out in the outfield and I love this mound. I love the mound here. I was out there looking at it today [Tuesday]. I don't know. It's just my favorite place to pitch."
The bullpen is far from finished, especially with new addition Whitenack claimed off waivers earlier today and his role undefined. Rodriguez is confident that the bullpen order will develop in time, however. He noted that they have so many options and will sort through them in the coming days.
Manager Edwin Rodriguez, Pitching Coach Greg Hibbard, Hitting Coach Jim Rickon
Hibbard moves up to Akron after spending last year as the pitching coach for short season Mahoning Valley and Rickon joins the team from Low-A Lake County, but the headliner here is Rodriguez. He managed in the major leagues with the Florida Marlins in 2010 and 2011 and that experience helps him now that he is coaching in the minors.
"Whenever you show something to the players," Rodriguez said. "How they're doing it at the big league level, they pay attention. So it's a matter of them believing that they belong at this level and they belong in the big leagues, and it's a matter of teaching them.
"When they get to this level, it's because they have the physical abilities to play the game. It's a matter of them believing that they belong in the bigs."
Rodriguez is tasked with trying to get the Akron Aeros to repeat as Eastern League champions in 2013, a tall task for anyone. The team may fall short -- after all, winning is hard -- but one thing is for certain: Rodriguez is going to be a great influence on the players under his care in Akron as they continue their quest to make it to the major leagues.
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Love the infield. Power at first, a great double play combo and GG caliber defense at the hot corner and behind home plate.