2014 Akron RubberDucks Preview
Top prospects Lindor, Anderson headline the 2014 RubberDucks roster
The 2013 Akron Aeros failed to repeat as Eastern League champions, finishing with a 68-73 record, but the first year under new owner Ken Babby proved to be a success. Babby brought a new energy to Canal Park, an energy that spread into the offseason.
Canal Park now features a new restaurant above right field, picnic and premium seating in the outfield, and most importantly, a rebranded team: the Akron RubberDucks.
The RubberDucks will make their debut in Binghamton Thursday night, starting the season with a seven-game road trip. Their first home game is next Thursday, April 10 against the Bowie Baysox.
Note that 26 players are listed; the team still has to make a move before Thursday's game.
In-text photos from MiLB.
After successfully making the transition from middle infielder to catcher last season, Wolters is the marquee name to watch here. Wolters posted a .277/.369/.353 line in High-A Carolina in 2013, results that are even more impressive considering he was learning a new position on the fly. There was not much power in Wolters' bat, but considering the low offensive threshold for catchers and Wolters' ability to control the zone (58:41 SO:BB in 340 plate appearances), he should be fine. The early returns on Wolters' defense are strong and he should continue that all-around growth this year.
Lowery had a surprising showing last year in Akron (.275/.363/.449 line in 70 games), but he is hurt by his struggles on defense. There is some question as to whether Lowery can stay behind the plate long-term and Wolters' presence on the roster may accelerate his move to a new position. Lowery should still see some time behind the plate, but Wolters is the main guy here.
Lavisky has the local angle, graduating from St. Edward's in Lakewood, but following a broken toe early in 2013, the catcher lost a lot of ground. He is the clear backup and has seen his stock fall greatly, especially considering how many catchers the organization has pressing up through the system.
Lindor is Lindor; what more do you want to see here? The switch-hitter is ready for the majors on defense, posted a .303/.380/.407 line in 104 games between High-A and Double-A in 2013, and is one of the top prospects in baseball. Go see him now so when he is the starting shortstop in Cleveland you can say you saw him before he was a star. There is some concern after Lindor ended 2013 early with a back injury, but as of right now, that issue seems to be a one-time thing.
Following an offensive explosion in High-A in 2013 (.295/.372/.513 line in 104 games), Wendle should be the starter at second base. Wendle was a little old for High-A last year, but Rodriguez and Jose Ramirez were blocking any promotion to Akron. Plus, in only his first full professional season, the organization let Wendle settle in at Carolina and make it through the year without any massive changes. Wendle is a work in progress defensively, and with hitting as his calling card right now, success at Double-A will help the second baseman prove he was not just an advanced college bat taking advantage of younger pitching last year.
Normally, Rodriguez would get playing time up the middle, but Lindor and Wendle seem to have squeezed him out. There is still plenty of potential with Rodriguez, especially considering how he has cut down on strikeouts every year despite graduating up a level each season. But the offense has not come together yet (.265/.291/.376 line in 116 games), nor has the consistency on defense. Right now it appears he will play second base and shortstop when Lindor and Wendle need a day off, possibly fill in for Urshela at third from time to time, and DH to get at bats. Rodriguez is still young, but right now, circumstances could force him into a utility-type role, at least in the short-term.
Urshela remains an interesting prospect despite stumbling on offense in 2013, posting a .270/.292/.384 line in 116 games. The glove is there for Urshela; if he takes another step forward with the bat, he will find himself in the major league mix.
Sabourin has been a great veteran to have around in recent years, but his lack of power as a first baseman could catch up to him this year (.079 career ISO). It is conceivable that the Sabour-Tooth Tiger will cede time to Lowery at first base throughout the year. The other infielder, Toole, remains the most versatile man in the system and will get time backing up every position on the diamond.
In his first full professional season, Naquin had a decent year (.277/.345/.424 line in 108 games in Carolina), though his late season callup to Akron left something to be desired (.225/.271/.300 line in 18 games). Naquin worked through some swing adjustments last year, and with a full season under his belt, could see some payoff in 2014. Despite being a college draft pick, Naquin only turns 23 later this month; starting the year in Double-A is essentially right on schedule for the 2012 first round pick.
Everyone is still waiting to see some more power out of Smith (.108 ISO in Carolina in 2013), but his overall package is still appealing without the pop. Smith limits his strikeouts, knows how to draw walks, and posts consistently high on-base percentages thanks to a BABIP regularly in the .330-range. Much like Michael Brantley, Smith does not fit the traditional profile of a corner outfielder, but he could find a way to make it work without the power.
Myles, on the other hand, has power, speed, and everything else you want out of a corner outfielder. The problem for Myles has been health. Injuries have cost Myles precious development time, something especially harmful considering how raw he was when he came into the organization. Still, when Myles is on the field, he has played well (.285/.357/.427 line in 92 games in 2013 in Carolina) and should continue developing in 2014.
Holt is one of the best defensive outfielders in the system and should spend his time in Akron refining his ability in the corners (Holt has spent 343 of 397 games in center field). His bat has never been elite, but Holt has improved his offense (.267/.338/.359 line in 133 games last year in Akron) and should hit enough to make a run at a major league fourth outfielder spot.
Along with Trevor Bauer, Anderson is the top pitching prospect in the entire organization. The 23-year-old broke out in Carolina last year, posting a 2.34 ERA, 2.89 FIP, and 112:31 SO:BB in 123.1 innings. Listed at 6'4", 220 pounds, Anderson has the size to haul innings and pitch in Cleveland for years to come. He is still fairly inexperienced on the mound (last year was only his fourth year as a pitcher) and the right-hander will look to continue on his quick learning curve in 2014. Anderson's first taste of Double-A was less than pleasant (5.68 ERA, 5.81 FIP in 12.2 late-season innings), though that could just be the right-hander tiring at the end of his longest season to date.
Like Anderson, Colon has not been a pitcher all that long and is showing some pretty impressive stuff. His velocity jumped up from the low-90s to the mid-90s in 2013, a result of working hard in the offseason. What that work was not able to do, however, was keep Colon healthy, as the right-hander only had 17 starts in 2013. Colon has always been good when he is on the mound (3.61 ERA, 3.48 FIP in 327.0 career innings) and gets a ton of groundballs. Provided he stays healthy, Colon could turn some heads in 2014.
Roberts is not an overpowering pitcher (6.04 SO/9 in 134.0 innings in Akron last year), but the right-hander limits walks and posted a decent 3.86 FIP in 2013. The right-handed had issues limiting runs (4.57 ERA), however, which was also a problem in High-A in 2012 (5.68 ERA, 3.86 FIP in 122.0 innings). Roberts has improving velocity, and while he does not necessarily stand out in any one area, his overall package could turn into something valuable assuming the ERA starts to fall in line with his FIP.
Arias is still relatively young and has some intriguing stats in his career (2.52 ERA, 2.54 FIP in 385.1 innings), but the right-hander was never a top-30 prospect in the Phillies organization and was let go following 2013. Cleveland signed him as a minor league free agent -- which says something about his value -- but he will get a chance. Davies, on the other hand, is an older major league veteran looking to make a comeback. He last pitched in the majors in 2011 with the Royals (6.75 ERA, 4.39 FIP in 61.1 innings).
Crockett ended his meteoric rise through the system last year in Akron, posting a 0.36 ERA and 1.86 FIP in 24.2 innings between Mahoning Valley, Lake County, and Akron. Picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Crockett has quickly established himself as the best left-handed relief prospect in the system and could see the majors as soon as this season.
Even though he is one of the youngest reliever in the bullpen, this will be Armstrong's third season in Akron. The right-hander has the stuff to be an impact arm, but he is still working on limiting his walks (5.73 BB/9 in 33.0 innings last year in Akron) and his emotions after a self-inflicted hand injury cost him 10 weeks of the 2013 season.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tejeda has done nothing but perform in his minor league career (1.74 ERA, 2.10 FIP in 196.1 innings), though a lack of raw stuff has held him back. He may not have much projection, but Tejeda is another minor league reliever in the mold of Preston Guilmet and Jose Flores who does more with less.
Soto missed most of last year with a back injury, but the 22-year-old left-hander still has an elite weapon in his cutter that should make him at least a major league LOOGY. There is a chance he will be stretched back out as a starter or piggyback with someone like Arias or Davies, but for now, he is in the bullpen.
Cooper is in a similar situation as Soto in that he started 14 games last year but finds himself listed in the bullpen. The right-hander posted a strong 3.11 ERA in 72.1 Akron innings last season, though his 4.15 FIP was less impressive.
Following shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2013, Sturdevant will look to recapture the 2011 form that got him on the major league radar (2.65 ERA, 2.68 FIP in 73.2 innings between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A). Like Sturdevant, Murata is 28 years old, though while Sturdevant still has some major league potential due to his past performance, Murata's future is likely limited to minor league swingman. Valera is four years younger than Sturdevant and Murata, and though he does not have the best stuff, he did find success last year (2.98 ERA, 3.19 FIP in 81.2 innings between Lake County, Carolina, and Columbus).
Manager David Wallace, Pitching Coach Jeff Harris, Hitting Coach Rouglas Odor
Wallace, a former Cleveland minor league catcher, has moved steadily up the ranks since retiring following the 2008 season. The 34-year-old has managed at Mahoning Valley in 2011, Lake County in 2012, and Carolina in 2013. In his three-year managing career, Wallace is 169-185, though he has gained a reputation of helping prospects develop (which is, after all, the point of the minors).
Harris was Wallace's pitching coach in 2013 and is also a former Cleveland minor leaguer. The 39-year-old pitched in the majors with Seattle in 2005-06, posting a 4.26 ERA and 5.38 FIP in 57.0 innings. Harris ended his career in 2007-08 with the Buffalo Bisons, then Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate.
Odor was Akron's hitting coach in 2012 before filling that role with Wallace in Carolina in 2013. The 45-year-old has spent the last 26 years in the organization as either a player, coach, or manager and is the uncle of Baseball America's #1 Texas Rangers prospect Rougned Odor.
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I may be a wet blanket for saying it, but I think Lindor should spend quite a bit of the year in Akron. He just hasn't played much at this level and could use the experience. I'm not really expecting him in Cleveland this year, though he could force his way up if he keeps playing well.
Same with Anderson and Colon. Neither has much experience at Double-A and I'd like to see them conquer the level. That's how the organization treated prospects like Moncrief and Aguilar last year, not calling them up, and I'd bet it'll be a similar story this year for players like Anderson.