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2010 Lake County Preview: Captains Make History

April 9, 2010
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On Thursday night, the Lake County Captains made history, as they played their first game in the Midwest League.

The team announced the switch from the South Atlantic League at the end of the 2008 season. The team had wanted to make the move for several years, but needed a partner, and when the Columbus Catfish moved to Bowling Green, KY and became the Bowling Green Hot Rods, the Captains had their collaborator and the two teams made the switch. Playing in the Midwest League will reduce travel for the Captains and allow the fans a variety of opponents as when they were in the SAL fans frequently complained that the Captains seemed to only play three other teams.

Last year the Captains made a spirited run for the second half Northern Division title in the SAL, but failed to duplicate 2008’s playoff season. Lefty TJ House lead a staff that also included elite-level prospects Alexander Perez and Trey Haley and right hander Steve Smith seemingly came out of nowhere to post 26 saves. OF Donnie Webb hit his stride in the second half and after a slow start, OF Bo Greenwell put together a solid season. Another top prospect, Abner Abreu was having an outstanding season before suffering a season ending injury.

This year, in the dugout Ted Kubiak will make his debut as Captains manager, succeeding Aaron Hobert who got bumped up to Kinston. Kubiak managed the Indians rookie level team in the Arizona League in 2009, after spending several years as the Indians minor league defensive coordinator. Kubiak sports three World Series championship rings from his years with the Charlie Finley-era Oakland A’s.

Joining Kubiak on the coaching staff is pitching coach Mickey Callaway, in his first coaching stint. Callaway retired last year after several years playing in Korea, Taiwan, the independent leagues as well as the Majors. Hitting Coach Phil Clark also begins his first season with the Captains, and fourth with the Indians organization after spending 2009 as Travis Fryman’s hitting coach at short season Mahoning Valley.

Overall, the Captains start the season with 9 players who spent all or part of 2009 in Eastlake.  RHP Trey Haley one of the returnees and he got the Opening Day assignment last night. The 19 year old Haley, drafted out of high school in the second round of 2008, is a promising, if somewhat raw, talent. He pitched in 19 games for the Captains last year, ending up with a 4-8 record, 5.56 ERA, with 65 walks and 57 strikeouts in 78 innings. Obviously, he had some problems with control, but he is young and the organization thinks highly enough of him to make him the Opening Day starter.

Haley is joined in the rotation by right handers Joe Gardner, Danny Salazar and Austin Adams. The Tribe drafted Gardner, 22, out of UC Santa Barbara and he did not pitch last year professionally because of a minor injury. The 23 year old Adams was drafted in the 5th round out of Faulkner University, an NAIA school in Montgomery, Alabama. In 2008, the Brewers drafted Adams in the 27th round as a shortstop, but he elected to return to college. Adams pitched in 17 games for the Scrappers last season, all in relief, going 3-1, 4.86 ERA and 15 BB and 29 SO. Danny Salazar, 19, rounds out the rotation. Salazar spent all of 2009 with the Captains pitching in 21 games, with 20 starts. He finished the season with a 5-7 record, 4.44 ERA with 40 walks and 65 strikeouts.  Right-handers Clayton Cook and Marty Popham round out the rotation, as Popham will piggyback with Adams to alternate starting duties each time through the rotation.

In the bullpen, right hander Rob Bryson - on the DL for much of 2008 and all of 2009 with a shoulder injury - returns to the Captains bullpen. Bryson, of course, came over from Milwaukee in July, 2008 with Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley in the CC Sabathia trade.  Besides Bryson, the bullpen will include returning players Chris Jones and Fransico Jimenez, along with fellow southpaw Matt Packer.  Righties Cory Burns, Antwonie Hubbard and Nicholas Sarianides who had “a cup of coffee” with Captains in late 2009, round out the bullpen. Burns saved 11 games for Mahoning Valley and is could be the Captains closer for 2009.

In the catching department, Roberto Perez is another player who came up to Lake County late last year and he will be the starter.  Newcomer Chun-Hsiu Chen will also see some time behind the plate. As a trivia note, Chen is the first player from Taiwan to wear a Captains uniform.

In the infield, after an injury-plagued 2009, Jeremie Tice returns as the third baseman. Fellow returnee Adam Abraham, a University of Michigan product, will play third, first and DH and even catch when needed. SS Kyle Smith will team with 2B Argenis Martinez as the starting keystone combo. (In an unusual twist, SS Kyle Smith was drafted in the same year by the same team as pitcher Kyle Smith of Kent State.) Ben Carlson, a 6th round pick out of Missouri State in 2009 and Casey Frawley, a 17th round pick out of Stetson University, complete the infield. Both earned promotions from Mahoning Valley.

The Captains outfield boasts two top level prospects in LF Bo Greenwell and CF Delvi Cid, and both spent time with the Captains in the second half of 2009. Greenwell, the son of Red Sox star Mike Greenwell, started to blossom toward the end of last year (.290/2/26/.761 OPS in 60 games with the Captains) after an injury plagued start to his career. The bloodlines are there and he started to develop confidence and poise at the plate and in the field. He also has some speed with 7 stolen bases, so this could be a break out year for him. Cid is considered one of the best baserunners in the system, and he stole 33 bases last year to go along with a .673 OPS) .271 BA, with 2 HR and 27RBI. Greg Folgia, a 40th round pick from Missouri and Jason Smit round out the outfield. To add to the international flavor of the team, the Indians signed Smit, now 20, as a 16 year out of Australia.

It should be an exciting season in Eastlake as the Captains try to emulate the 1950 Cleveland Browns, who won the championship in their first year in the league.

Terry Evitts is a management consultant and baseball historian who is a life-long resident of Lake County. He will be following the Captains for IPI and may be reached at terrance56@msn.com.

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