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2013 Lake County Captains preview

2013 Lake County Captains preview
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The Cleveland Indians have already kicked off their season in Toronto, but the Lake County Captains are braving the cold at home in Eastlake.

The Captains open up their season on Thursday night, and they’re preparing for the cold weather to come. Despite the unfavorable Cleveland chill, the team is warming up to the anticipated new season.

This year’s team has nine players returning, though some had a very brief stint with the Captains last year, such as LeVon Washington who was sidelined with a hip injury, and Luis DeJesus, who was sent to short-season Mahoning Valley. The pitching staff is youthful, but it’ll also be one of the most exciting aspects of the team this year. Youth also lies at the shortstop position again this year. Last season, it was 18-year-old Francisco Lindor. This time, it’s 18-year-old Dorssys Paulino.

Scouting reports and in-depth looks can be found in Tony’s annual prospect countdown on the site and in his book, but here’s a season preview of what to expect from the Captains, and who to look out for.

PITCHING

As of today, the tentative Lake County starting rotation is as follows:

Luis DeJesus (RHP)
Ryan Merrit (LHP)
Mitch Brown (RHP)
Jake Sisco (RHP)
Dylan Baker (RHP)

This rotation is exciting, as three of the five starters were drafted in the top five rounds. DeJesus, who will be toeing the rubber tonight for the home opener, had a fantastic impact last season with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. He went 4-2 with a 2.02 ERA through 14 games there, and his opponents posted a notable .197 average off of him. This season, he’ll be focusing on staying back in his delivery, but his overall goal is to maintain continuity.

“I want to stay consistent,” DeJesus noted. “I want to give my team a chance to win. I just want to go out there, throw strikes, keep the walks low and stay consistent the whole season.”

Ryan Merrit is the only lefty starter. The Texas native struggled last season with the Scrappers, but he had an impressive junior college career. Mitch Brown is a prospect many are excited about. The second-round pick spent last season in Arizona, where he appeared in eight games. Sisco is another intriguing arm, as he has good size and power and an interesting delivery. Baker was the fifth round pick last year out of community college in Nevada. Baker also tossed eight games in Arizona last year, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of arm he progresses into this year.

The bullpen has some returnees in Louis Head, Nick Pasquale, Francisco Valera and Felix Sterling. Sterling struggled tremendously last season as he seemed to fall victim to him own mental game and was sent back to Arizona to work on some things. Pasquale fared well in his stint with the Captains. He piggy-backed Cody Anderson once Anderson was reduced to limited innings and Pasquale proved to pitch well under pressure. Valera has been around the organization for some time, as he signed back in 2007. Injuries have impeded him greatly, but he showed flashes of decency last season. Louis Head quietly had a decent season, though he did not receive much playing time. Though he is rarely spotlighted, the 18th-round pick crafted a fine first year.

Luis Morel, Josh Martin, Jack Wagoner and Michael Peoples are the fresh arms in the pen, though they’re not new to one another as they all spent time in Mahoning Valley last year. Martin was the 10th round pick of last year’s draft, and some reports suggest he may have been a steal for the Indians. Peoples pitched well for the Scrappers through 16 games, posting a 2.28 ERA with 21 strikeouts. Wagoner is a Florida Gulf Coast alumnus and no, he had not expected his former college’s basketball team to make it so far into the NCAA Tournament. Wagoner spent 24 games with the Scrappers last season, and six with them back in 2011. Morel has been a part of the organization since 2010 and has remained primarily in Arizona until last season when he joined the Scrappers for 12 games.

Though youth is always a factor within low-A ball, the roster on paper is striking, especially with the youngest player to ever wear a Captains uniform (Paulino). That being said, manager Scooter Tucker isn’t concerned and plans to let the story unfold on its own.

“As much as age, you’ve got some inexperience,” Tucker said. “So how these guys adjust to a 140-game schedule, how they adjust to maybe different roles, I’d be a little bit hesitant to say right now.  I think this will just have to play itself out.”

INFIELD

Most eyes will probably be on the infield this season as all fans are excited to get a glimpse of Paulino. He has some big shoes to fill as Francisco Lindor has advanced to high-A Carolina, but the organization is serious about Paulino, especially after the impression he made last year. He hit .355 through 41 games in the Arizona rookie league and .271 through 15 games with the short-season Scrappers. His feel for hitting is the source of the buzz surrounding him, so it will be important to see how he develops defensively. Watching him during a team practice on Tuesday, his throwing accuracy seemed to be weak.

Tucker’s had the opportunity to observe Paulino and it’s difficult to deny that he likes what he sees so far. “Dorssys is a guy I had the majority of the spring,” Tucker said. “You’ve got an exciting young player. You’ve got a lot of upside offensively. Defensively, he’s steady at shortstop and he’ll obviously improve there. He’s going to be a solid player.”

Robel Garcia is returning to start the year in Lake County again and will play second base, though he was sent down last year to Mahoning Valley during the year to give way to Jose Ramirez. Garcia struggled miserably at the plate, and his 112 strikeouts will need to decline this year.

Nellie Rodriguez will be taking over first base, and it’ll be exciting how the 6’ 6” 250 lb. New Yorker will produce offensively. He was drafted as a catcher, so he could also serve as a third-backup if need be. He seems to have a lot of character, so his presence will also be intriguing to watch.

Leonardo Castillo is also back again to man third base. While it seems he’ll never be a big offensive player, his defense has always been admirable. He hit fairly well during his first two seasons, so perhaps he’ll rebound after last year’s glitch.

Joe Sever, kin of John Elway, and Erik Gonzalez are versatile and will move all around the infield. Sever had an offensive tear with the Scrappers last season, hitting .274 with 20 RBIs through 46 games.

Behind the dish, Eric Haase and Martin Cervenka will switch off. Haase, a Michigan native, was drafted in the 7th round in 2011 and spent almost the entire 2012 season in Arizona, where he hit .282. His strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t pretty, 29/5, but he only appeared in 28 games. Cervenka’s an intriguing case, as he was signed as a free agent in 2009 out of Prague.

Tucker noted there is no clear favorite candidate to start as catcher. Playing time is most important. “I’m going to say it’s probably split down the middle right now,” Tucker said. “We’d like to get both of them as many at-bats as possible, so you’re going to see a little bit of an oddity at this as you’re going to see both of them playing a lot.”

OUTFIELD

Lake County will once again be witness to “WashTime” as LeVon Washington will continue his bid for a major comeback. He sat almost the entire season in 2012 due to a hip injury that required surgery, so he’ll be looking for consistent playing time. It’s a big year for Washington as his Rule 5 mark is approaching, but he’s made it clear he’s determined to catch up to lost time.

Luigi Rodriguez spent the entire year in Lake County last year, and the organization may feel he needs to cut back the strikeouts and learn a bit more in the outfield before he’s ready to take on the challenging Carolina League.

Logan Vick has advanced from Mahoning Valley, where he did not produce much offensively, and Jorge Martinez will be making the transition from third base to the outfield. Martinez raked in Arizona last season, and his offensive output may carry over the more he tunes his skills.

Tucker mentioned that the outfielders are all versatile and interchangeable, and will not adhere to one spot in the grass.

“You’re going to see them potentially in all three spots,” Tucker explained. “You can mix them around.”

STAFF

Scooter Tucker takes over the team this year as former manager Dave Wallace has departed to manage the Carolina MudCats. Tucker was the MudCats’ hitting coach last year and played professionally for nine seasons.

Steve Karsay will oversee the arms as team pitching coach after two years of coaching. Last season, he was with the Arizona rookie team. Fans may remember Karsay from 1998-2001, when he was a member of the Indians’ bullpen.  Karsay was traded from Atlanta to Oakland for Rickey Henderson in 1993, and was also swapped for John Rocker in 2001.

Tony Mansolino moves up from Mahoning Valley as the team’s hitting coach this year. Mansolino played professionally for six seasons and retired in 2010. He’s a Vanderbilt alumnus with a degree in Human and Organizational Development.

OVERALL

The season outlook for the Captains is intriguing, as this group of guys is full of chemistry and commitment. The pitching staff is buzzworthy with guys like DeJesus, Baker and Brown on the bump and a bullpen with plenty to offer. While not a lot is known about the two catchers, their handling of the young pitching staff will be imperative. Paulino is the marquee name on the roster, and his development is just as exciting as any other top prospect in the organization. Washington’s determination to leave his injuries in the dust will have him playing harder than ever and Martinez’s shift to the outfield will be an intriguing observation.

Tucker said he doesn’t quite know what to expect these first few weeks, but he knows he has a tight-knit group of guys ready to prove themselves. Overall, he thinks the pitching staff and team speed are its best assets. Personally, he’s most looking forward to the process of teaching these young players to become professional baseball players.

“We’re trying to teach them to become their own best coach,” he said. “We’re trying to teach them to be able to diagnose their swing and understand that there’s ups and downs of the game and understand how to learn to deal with it.”

The learning is just starting for the Lake County Captains -- even off the field as some of the players unfamiliar with the area arrived without jackets. As they adjust to the Cleveland climate, they’ll also be adjusting to life in low-A ball. Some may hate the cold more than others, but all are ready to play some baseball.

Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.

User Comments

jwahoo
April 4, 2013 - 3:02 PM EDT
Some very interesting but raw players here.

I don't see much in the rotation outside of Brown but Baker could develop into a decent back of the rotation arm.

Obviously Paulino is the guy to watch but the outfield is also very intriguing.

Martinez-Washington-Rodriguez. They all sound like star baseball names and they have the raw talent to break out this year and all be in the top 25 prospects next season.
Matthew
April 4, 2013 - 2:15 PM EDT
It does say 6'6" but NelRod is listed at 6'2" in every other publication I've seen. Regardless, he is being moved to First Base permanently. As Stephanie notes, he would only catch in an emergency situation as the 3rd catcher.
Roger
April 4, 2013 - 2:05 PM EDT
did i read that right Nellie Rod is 6'6 if so i dont not want him behind the plate at six foot six knee injuries are much more prevelent when a catcher is over 6/4. sounds like post season is possible for lake county again lot of talent on that team and could be fun in eastlake again.

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