2012 Mahoning Valley Scrappers season review
Halfway through the 2012 campaign, the Scrappers hopes of securing a playoff berth weren’t so far fetched. They ended that first half a game over .500, and just a few games back of the Pinckney Division lead. In a sense, they were almost a mirror image of their mother-club, who found themselves in a similar position at their halfway mark. But as it turned out, both teams took a turn for the worse, with each registering brutal second halves to erase all hope of procuring an elusive playoff spot. For the Indians, the team's chances were doomed because of a decision to stand pat at the break and rely on what turned out to be a severe lack of talent. For the Scrappers, without having the luxury of even trying to add personnel, a series of ice-cold stretches sank their postseason ship.
But at the short-season single-A level, making the playoffs is not much more than a treat for the fans. The real goal is player development, and the lack of team success didn’t hinder a plethora of stellar individual seasons. And while there were many players that put up solid numbers, there was one player who absolutely separated himself from the rest. That player was Joey Wendle.
It would be safe bet to call Wendle the MVP for the Scrappers. A senior underslot pick in the ’12 draft, not much was known about him coming out of Division II West Chester University. But one thing was clear – he had an ability to hit. He didn’t quite match his college campaign where he batted .399, but he was as consistent and reliable as the sun, batting .327 for the year with 23 extra-base hits. Perhaps even more impressive was his glove work. He may never win a Gold Glove, but he is versatile. Prior to his first professional season, Wendle had only ever played middle-infield. But with the Scrappers lacking a true third baseman, Wendle had the opportunity to play 21 games at the hot-corner for the first time. His strong arm and deceptively good range made him a solid option at both second and third.
Beyond Wendle, there were plenty of other representatives from the Indians’ 2012 draft. Most notably was Tyler Naquin, the Tribe’s top selection. Naquin was slowed up in the second half with some lower back issues, but he had a very productive first half where he showed off his above average defense and gap-to-gap double hitting ability. He ended his first season with an average of .270 with 11 doubles and three triples. He’s obviously not the power bat the Indians so desperately need, but his speed and cannon arm should make him a reliable centerfield option in the future.
Joe Sever was another draftee that impressed. He didn’t sign right away and joined the team a bit late, but he didn’t wait long to begin to put up some dandy numbers. In July, Sever batted a stellar .316 with five doubles and 10 RBIs. He’s another player that, like Wendle, moved over to third quite a bit from his natural position of second base and showed solid skills. Sever finished the year with a batting average of .274, and turned in an on-base percentage of .368, good for third behind Naquin and Wendle.
Another position player worth mention was Charlie Valerio. The switch-hitter didn’t lead the team in any offensive categories, but finished second in RBIs, hits, total bases, walks, doubles, home runs and slugging percentage. He also showed good skills behind the plate, improving his athleticism and feel for calling games as the year progressed. His performance earned him a call-up at the end of the season to help Lake County in their playoff push.
Dorssys Paulino, destined to be one of the Indians' top prospects heading into next season, also saw brief action with the Scrappers. After setting the Arizona dessert on fire, he brought his bat to Niles, where in 15 games, he batted .271 with five doubles, a home run and eight RBIs.
As for the pitching, the clear ace of the starting staff was Luis Dejesus. Dejesus’ stuff won’t earn him a comparison to Justin Verlander, but it may elicit one to a guy like Orel Hershiser, who himself lacked overpowering velocity. But what Dejesus showed this year was excellent command and ability to get himself out of trouble, parlaying that into a 2.02 ERA. He did a good job of using his fastball to get ahead and getting guys to swing through his breaking pitches. As with any pitcher lacking a dominant fastball, it’s hard to say just how far his command can take him. He’ll certainly need to improve on his 7.50 ERA that he put up in a brief stint in Lake County. But he has committed himself to getting bigger and stronger in the offseason, and a bump in his fastball velocity wouldn’t hurt his chances at progressing through the system.
Jacob Lee was another pitcher that impressed. The 2012 ninth rounder started the season in the bullpen, but moved into the starting rotation on a strict pitch count later in the season. He was effective in both roles, going 4-2 on the season with 3.12 ERA in 43 innings. What was really surprising was how fresh he looked late in the season, considering he stacked those 43 innings on top of 97 he’d already thrown earlier in the year at Arkansas State. Despite that, he showed a good fastball all year, not completely overpowering, but consistently in the low to mid 90’s. His ticket to the show is going to be his high strikeout rate, if he can keep it up. With Mahoning Valley, he notched a K/BB ratio of 47/12. If that continues, the only question will be whether the Indians elect to put him on a track to become a starter, or choose to make him a reliever.
Of mention from the Scrappers starting staff are Jake Sisco and Robbie Aviles. Both are high profile guys that struggled a bit in Niles, albeit for different reasons. For Sisco, it’s mostly just about getting guys out. He allowed far too many base hits, many of those with runners on base. He’s got lots of good stuff, but he led the team in walks and finished with an ERA of 5.03. Aviles’ struggles can be attributed to his flat out terrible luck. After working his way back from Tommy John surgery a couple years ago, he ran into more injury woes this year when some elbow issues flared up. That cost him time and his spot in the rotation. He ended up pitching in 15 games, but he was only able to make five starts. He was able to see some starting action towards the end of the season, and hopefully he can use this offseason to get himself all the way back to 100%.
From the relief corps, there were a few names that impressed. Many of the better pitchers from the staff were called up early, guys like Louis Head and Enosil Tejada, who registered ERA’s of 2.03 and 1.74, respectively, in their time with the Scrappers. But of those that hung around for most of the season, Scott Penny and Rafael Homblert were the most impressive. Homblert needs to reign in his wildness quite a bit, but he has a good fastball out of the bullpen. In Penny’s 13 appearances, he tossed 20 2/3 innings and struck out 18 batters. Also impressing out of the ‘pen was Scott Peoples. Like Pennym he’s a high-strikeout guy out of the bullpen, registering 21 in 23 2/3 innings.
Despite a lackluster second half that had the Scrappers finish with a dismal record of 30-45, the young talent in Niles gives at least some hope that the Indians will be able to replenish the mostly depleted upper levels of the farm system. There may not be a superstar in the lot, but there certainly a few Jason Kipnises or Michael Brantley’s or Shin-Soo Choo’s. And maybe, just maybe, there will even be a Victor Martinez or Cliff Lee among them. For the sanity of those still watching the misadventures of the Chief Wahoo’s Tribe, let’s hope.
Enjoyed your writeups on all these guys. Like you, I hope the two high profile starters get it together soon.