2012 Mahoning Valley Scrappers preview
With most major and minor league squads already well into their respective 2012 campaigns, mid-June doesn’t seem like a particularly natural time to start a baseball season. But that is exactly what the Mahoning Valley Scrappers will do when they hit the road to do battle against the Jamestown Jammers tonight.
The 2011 Scrappers finished at 41-34, and showcased some of the Indians’ good young talent, including, albeit for a brief stint, top prospect Francisco Lindor. This year, Scrappers fans will be treated to an eclectic mix of rookie, second, and third-year talent, including the Indians’ first overall pick in the 2012 draft, Tyler Naquin.
Ted Kubiak will return to Mahoning Valley in 2012 to lead the Scrappers after spending the previous two managing the Lake County Captains. Kubiak spent the 2000, 2001, and 2003 seasons in the Scrapper dugout. During those seasons, he amassed a managerial record of 129 wins against 97 losses.
Joining Kubiak are pitching coach Greg Hibbard and hitting coach Tony Mansolino, both of who return after spending the 2011 season in Mahoning Valley.
The starting staff for the Scrappers figures to be a strong crew, with arms that have plenty of collegiate experience. Leading the rotation is big right-hander Jake Sisco. Sisco was dominant at Merced College in 2011, going 11-1 in 14 starts with a 1.66 ERA. After being selected with the Indians’ third pick in in the 2011 draft, Sisco pitched in the Arizona Rookie League, tossing 35 innings with a 5.24 ERA. He has a very good low-to-mid 90’s fastball, and is working to find better command of his off-speed pitches.
Two lefties, Ryan Merritt and Geoffrey Davenport, will work into the rotation. Davenport was the Indians 43rd round pick out of Arkansas from a year ago, and is seeing his first professional action after having season-ending Tommy John surgery last March. He features an above average changeup to compliment an 88-90 mph fastball and good curveball.
Two righties that figure to mix into the rotation are Luis Dejesus and Robbie Aviles. Dejesus started 2012 in extended spring training before moving up to Class-A Lake County at the end of May. He struggled a bit, giving up 10 runs in 12 innings. He looks to improve on that output in Mahoning Valley.
Righty Jacob Lee, the Indians’ ninth round pick in 2012 from Arkansas State, should also be in the fold. Lee went 9-1 with a 2.77 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 2012, which was good enough to earn him Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year honors. He exits Arkansas State the all-time leader in strikeouts with 280. Lee features a fastball, slider, changeup, and sinker.
The 2012 relief corps features a pair of returning Scrappers, right-hander Enosil Tejada left-hander Jack Wagoner.
Tejada had a solid 2012, pitching 34 innings and allowing only 11 runs while striking out 57 batters. If he continues to display shades of dominance, he shouldn’t spend too much longer at Mahoning Valley. Wagoner signed late in 2011 because of an injury, and thus only spent a short time in Mahoning Valley. He was successful in his brief stint, however, tossing 8.0 innings in six appearances with a 1.13 ERA, walking six and striking out six.
The bullpen also features a plethora of right-handed 2012 draftees that should share time out of the pen, including Louis Head, Josh Martin, Nick Pasquale, Cody Penny, James Stokes, and Scott Peoples. Martin is expected to figure into the rotation once he gets settled in and is able to be built back up.
Predictably, the big story at media day was Indians’ top pick Tyler Naquin. The Indians came to terms with Naquin a few days before the Scrappers opener, giving him a chance to jump right into a full season of professional baseball.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, you dream about it day in and day out when you’re little,” Naquin said. “You’re not sure how minor league ball is going to pan out this early in your career, but I’m glad to get it started.”
Naquin’s first big hurdle to overcome is his shift from right field, which is where he primarily patrolled in three seasons in college, to center field, where he’ll play everyday in Mahoning Valley. In his mind, the transition won’t be much of a challenge.
“I believe [center field] is easier to play than right field as you don’t have to worry about the slices or the walls or anything," Naquin said. "You see it, pitch location, everything, and get a great jump on the ball.”
Naquin did play centerfield throughout his high school career, so the position isn’t completely foreign to him.
Kubiak, though, has slightly tempered expectations for such a transition.
“Any time you move a guy from one position to another, it’s not that easy…there’s a lot that goes into that. You’ve got your number one coming in here, you know, he’s under pressure because of that....,” Kubiak said.
Naquin does have very good range in the outfield, and displays a fantastic arm, which was a better fit in right field at Texas A&M to help keep the run game in check.
The left-handed hitter will also look to carry over his excellent collegiate offensive stats to Mahoning Valley. The 2011 Big 12 Player of the Year hit an impressive .380 in his 2012 season, amassing 92 hits, 27 of the extra-base variety, and 49 RBI. He also displayed savvy on the basepaths, swiping 21 bags on 26 chances.
Joining him in the outfield lawn is returning Scrapper Aaron Siliga. Siliga, a lefty, struggled on both offense and defense a year ago in Mahoning Valley, batting .171 in 181 at bats and committing nine errors in the outfield. It wasn’t all sour, though, as he did end up with seven doubles, three triples, and two home runs. He’s got plenty of offensive potential, and having the comfort of a season in Mahoning Valley under his belt should correlate with continued improvements at the plate.
Also scheduled to make appearances in the outfield are a trio of players who played in the Arizona Rookie League last year; Mark Bradley, Hunter Jones, and Juan Romero. Romero will look to build upon the power he displayed in Arizona, where he had a combined 13 homeruns in 2010 and 2011, while cutting down on his 137 strikeouts.
The Scrappers infield will feature the Indians sixth round pick in 2012, second baseman Joseph Wendle. The left-handed Wendle had a fantastic 2012 at West Chester University, winning the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Triple Crown, leading the conference in batting average (.399), homeruns (12), and RBI (59).
Coincidentally, Wendle’s draft day call from the Indians came as a bit of a surprise to him.
“Actually, I wasn’t expecting a call from the Indians, I was hearing from some other teams, but sure enough when the sixth round came around, the Indians came calling," Wendle said. "I’m excited to be here.”
Wendle is a very good defender with a decent arm, having played shortstop through high school before moving to second in college. In 2010, he won an NCAA Division II Rawlings Gold Glove after converting 260 of 266 chances. He should find plenty of playing time up the middle.
Playing opposite Wendle will be Dominican switch-hitting shortstop Jairo Kelly. Kelly spent his the first part of his 2011 playing in the Arizona Rookie League before his season came to an abrupt end due to a hand injury. In his 15 games, he hit .278 with a double and a pair of triples.
Handling the hot corner will be right-hander Erik Gonzales. Gonzales struggled with the bat last year, and will look to improve upon his power numbers. He’ll spend time and first base as well. Utility man Evan Frazar will also split time around the infield.
Behind home plate, the Scrappers will give fans a look at a pair of 2012 draft picks, 12th round pick Jeremy Lucas and 23rd round pick Richard Stock. Lucas is a right-handed catcher from Indiana State University. He is confident with the bat, batting .350 with 52 RBI in 2012, earning him the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award.
Due to an injury, Stock didn’t catch at all at Nebraska last year, instead working in at first base and corner outfield. He had a big offensive year, hitting .351 and slugging .531, with 45 RBI and 4 home runs. He figures to get time at first base.
Also splitting time at catcher will be a pair of switch-hitters, Charlie Valerio, and the Aussie Mitch Nilsson. Both spent 2011 in the Arizona Rookie League.
The big story to watch this year in Mahoning Valley is clearly the early signing of Tyler Naquin, who will get a chance to spend the next two and a half months learning the ins and outs of professional baseball. Beyond that, though, are enough subplots to keep the interested Indians fan checking up on the team, including the developments of early picks Jake Sisco and Joseph Wendle, the maturation of returning Scrappers Aaron Saliga and Enosil Tejada, and rebound from injury for Geoffrey Davenport. The next Jason Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall may be somewhere among this group, and will hopefully be dazzling Tribe fans with the mother club soon enough.