Prospects to watch: Akron RubberDucks
If you want to pinpoint one Cleveland Indians farm team to pay close attention to at the outset of this season, then the Double-A Akron RubberDucks are your team.
Not only do they have a new name, fresh uniforms and all kinds of new stadium amenities which make it exciting to go to downtown Akron and take in a game, but the players on the field will be well worth the price of admission as their 25-man roster boasts 17 of the Indians top 50 prospects – four of them top 10 prospects. Aside from first base, they will have a legit major league prospect starting at every position.
After winning the Eastern League championship in 2012, Akron fell to a 68-73 record last season and fifth place in the Western Division of the league. This season, they have the talent to win a lot of games. In the minor leagues though, talent often does not equal wins because players are often working on the limitations in their games to improve and rosters can turnover rather quickly as several key players could see a promotion to Triple-A Columbus by June.
Here is an overview of the roster and who to keep an eye on…
Cody Anderson (RHP): Anderson came out of an unknown small school, Feather River College in California, and didn’t get picked up until the 14th round of the draft, but in two years has gone from a raw and inexperienced pitcher to the second best starting pitching prospect in the Indians system (only behind Trevor Bauer). He is big and strong, throws low-to-mid 90s heat, has some good secondary stuff and most importantly has the demeanor and makeup to be a front to middle of the rotation guy.
Francisco Lindor (SS): This one goes without saying, as all eyes will be on Lindor at Akron as he is the heir apparent to Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop in Cleveland. Unless Cabrera is injured or traded, there is a good chance Lindor will spend at least two to three months in Akron before finishing the last two or three months of the season at Triple-A Columbus to get him ready for his full time gig in Cleveland in 2015. His exceptional defense, good bat and energy on the field and the bases will be fun for all to see while he is in Akron.
Bryson Myles (OF): Myles is still somewhat raw and growing into his game, but has flashed a nice power-speed combination that makes him exciting as a prospect. Built like a linebacker, he runs well and has some untapped power potential to be an average power hitter. He has struggled with injuries his first three years in the organization, but he has impressed with his defense and offense when healthy. He is a guy to keep tabs on this season as a potential breakout candidate.
Tyler Naquin (OF): Naquin is a guy who will not wow you if you watch him play one game or if you just peruse the box score on an occasional basis. But if you watch him play every day you come away impressed with his day-to-day approach, how consistent he is, and how he can impact a game in so many ways. He has a cannon for an arm, has turned into a solid, average defender in center field, along with decent speed and a good feel for the bat head. If he hones in on his plate discipline, he could really be a nice top of the order hitter in the big leagues.
Ronny Rodriguez (IF): Rodriguez spent all of last season at Akron as a 21-year-old. There were some growing pains and he struggled with a few minor injuries, which stalled some progress he was making throughout the year. He has a lot of athleticism and a rocket arm, and because of his versatility will probably move around the diamond and play several positions. The bat is exciting as he has some nice pop in it and can really impact a game, though he needs to continue to work on his approach.
Jordan Smith (OF): If you love Michael Brantley, then you are going to love Jordan Smith, as he is almost an exact clone of Brantley. Smith is the ultimate professional and combines some nice size, athleticism, instincts and physical gifts that allow him to be a nice defender in the outfield with a strong arm. He has near elite bat-to-ball ability and looks like he could be a regular .300 hitter in the big leagues, and if the power ever comes he could be a pretty special player for the Indians.
Joey Wendle (2B): Wendle is another good story as a guy who came out of a little known Division-II college as a college senior and has done nothing but hit since coming into the Indians system. There are still some naysayers, but he proved a lot of them wrong last year and will be tasked with doing the same this year at the Double-A level. His defense is shaky, but there is no question he can hit. He was the top hitter in the Indians minor league system last season and should be one of the most productive hitters in what is a talented and deep Akron lineup.
Tony Wolters (C): Wolters is a fan favorite and just gets it. He is a relentless worker who is always doing what he can to improve and goes out of his way to connect with the fans. He transitioned from the middle of the infield to catcher last spring and the strides he has made at the catching position in such a short time are nothing short of remarkable. The bat may be only average, but with the way he moves behind the plate and his potential to be an above average receiver, he can be a major league catcher.
Joe Colon (RHP): Colon is a guy who has struggled with some injuries throughout his career, but when able to stay on the mound has shown some good stuff and really improved each year. He is a sinkerballer who saw a velocity spike last season, and is a starting pitching prospect on the rise for the Indians.
Kyle Crockett (LHP): Crockett came out of the draft last season and just dominated the minors with a 0.36 ERA in 21 appearances across three levels of the Indians system and reached Akron for the last six weeks or so of the season. His low 90s fastball and very good slider have him on track to be a dominant lefty reliever out of the Indians bullpen at some point very soon.
Giovanni Soto (LHP): Soto was at Triple-A Columbus last season and was on pace to get to Cleveland at some point, but a back injury derailed his season and shut him down all year. He is now trying to prove he is healthy and re-establish his value to the Indians, which is as another good lefty out of the pen with a nice fastball-cutter combination.
Giovanny Urshela (3B): Urshela’s calling card is his defense and he is one of the top defensive third basemen in the minors. He is repeating at Akron in order to see if his age catches up with the league and his questionable bat can finally show some consistency. He has solid decent power and good bat-to-ball, so if he can bring that out on a regular basis he is a legit major league third baseman.
Gabriel Arias (RHP), Shawn Armstrong (RHP), Jordan Cooper (RHP), Kyle Davies (RHP), Tyler Holt (OF), Alex Lavisky (C), Jake Lowery (C), Toru Murata (RHP), Will Roberts (RHP), Jerrud Sabourin (1B), Tyler Sturdevant (RHP), Enosil Tejeda (RHP), Justin Toole (INF), Francisco Valera (RHP)