2014 Lake County Captains Preview
The Lake County Captains season technically started on April 1 during an exhibition game, but the regular season starts April 4. The team will host the Lansing Lugnuts at Classic Park before heading to Clinton, Iowa for its first road trip April 8.
New manager Mark Budzinski is optimistic about the team. Though he hasn’t had much time with his players, considering rosters were just set a few days ago, he said he sees the team’s work ethic as its biggest strength.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are improving,” Budzinski said. “They know what they’re doing and eyes will be on all of them.”
Budzinski, 40, is new to the Midwest League, as well as the realm of professional coaching. A University of Richmond alumnus, Budzinski was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 21st round of the 1995 draft.
Budzinski said his biggest overall goal for the season is to simply help his players improve and advance. “The biggest thing is making sure these guys develop,” he said. “I just want to make sure they’re working on what they need to work on. It’s about helping them rely on their strength to get them to the next level.”
Joining Budzinski is hitting coach Shaun Larkin, 34, who joins the Captains from the 2013 Mahoning Valley Scrappers staff. Drafted in the 9th round in 2002, Larkin played in the Indians organization until 2007. The following two years, he served as a member of the Akron Aeros staff.
Managing the mound is pitching coach Rigo Beltran. Beltran, 44, joins the organization after seven years of coaching in the Cincinnati Reds’ system. He spent the last three years as the pitching coach for the Bakersfield Blaze. Beltran played professionally for 16 years, his career beginning with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The roster currently holds more than the usual five starters, which will result in routine piggyback situations, Budzinski said. Three of five days will consist of pitchers piggybacking one another.
This year’s group features some intriguing arms. Two arms return with Midwest League experience from last season, while the remainder anchored a strong rotation in Mahoning Valley.
As of April 1, the roster lists the following starting arms:
Robbie Aviles, RHP (@raviles11)
Mitch Brown, RHP (@BrownieOutDaOv)
Dace Kime, RHP
Luis Lugo, LHP (@luislugo94l)
Adam Plutko, RHP (@Papaplut36)
Caleb Hamrick, RHP (@HamrickCaleb)
Kenny Mathews, LHP (@Kmathews133)
Aviles was a starter last year, though he made a few relief appearances. Assuming he retains his starting role, he’ll be one of the rotation’s returning Captain arms. In 2013, Aviles held a 5.09 ERA in 69 innings in which he allowed 72 hits, seven home runs and recorded a 30:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The tall righty had an inconsistent season that ended early due to injury, but his former high status maintains him as an interesting arm to watch.
Brown began last season in Lake County as well, but his time with the Captains was short-lived. He posted an 11.49 ERA yielding 21 hits, four home runs and a 18:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio through five starts. The 19-year-old returned to Arizona for the remainder of the season, where his numbers improved. As a young 2nd-round pick, it's too early to draw too many assumptions about him.
Kime was the third-round pick of 2013 and he made an impressive showing in his first season with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. A 2.92 ERA, 19 hits allowed and 26:16 strikeout-to-walk ratio during 24.2 innings of work gave Kime plenty of success to continue.
Lugo may arguably be the most intriguing arm among the starters, given the success he saw last season. Lugo logged more than 50 innings with the Scrappers, in which he recorded a 1.97 ERA, 30:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio and surrendered 39 hits, including one home run. Lugo also saw three starts with the Captains as a late-season call-up. Through those 14.1 innings, he held a 3.77 ERA, struck out 14:5 walks and allowed 14 hits.
Plutko signed out of UCLA as a steal. As the team’s 11th round pick, Plutko inked his deal for $300,000, significantly lower than the seven-figure signing bonus he walked from as the Astros’ 6th round pick in 2010. Plutko’s resume is highlighted by his college career, where he posted a collective 2.25 ERA, allowing 256 hits and 16 home runs, with a 272:101 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- not to mention he went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA during the Bruins’ last College World Series run.
Caleb Hamrick was another Scrapper who made a notable showing last season. The Texas native tossed 76 innings of work, posting a 3.20 ERA as he yielded 73 hits, nine home runs and recorded a 47:23 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 15 starts.
The other lefty in the starting bunch is Kenny Mathews, 2013’s 7th round juco pick from California. Mathews also generated some nice numbers, though he didn’t log as many innings as some of the other starters. Mathews’ final ERA was 2.52 and he struck out 37 hitters, walking just 11 in 39.1 innings. He surrendered 35 hits and had a four-game stretch in July during which he didn’t allow a single run.
The entire bullpen will be new to the Midwest League. All move up from the Scrappers squad with the exception ofWander Beras, who spent his 2013 season in Arizona.
Wander Beras is older than most low-A players. At age 25, he’s got some years on the remainder of the roster. As a non-drafted free agent, he signed with the team back in December. He previously played in the Los Angeles Dodgers' organization.
Trevor Frank posted nice numbers in Mahoning Valley last year. A 2.83 ERA and 31 hits allowed through 35 innings served him well, but most noticeable was his control -- he served just two walks compared to the 39 batters he struck out.
Heller struggled on the road last year as his 5.21 road ERA differed from his 0.98 home ERA. He had one particularly ugly outing August 31 during which seven earned runs scored as he recorded just one out, but he kept the ugly outings to a minimum for the majority of the season.
Milbrath didn’t put up the best numbers in Arizona last season, but he had a brief stint with the Captains for just one game. In Arizona, he tossed 20.1 innings of relief, posting a 4.87 ERA, 17:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and allowed 14 hits, none of which were home runs.
Paredes suffered bouts of inconsistency in the New-York Penn League last year, but overall, opponents didn’t hit him in overwhelming amounts. He crafted a 3.35 ERA that included 32 hits, two home runs, 39 strikeouts and 16 walks through 43 innings.
Whitehouse submitted an impressive first resume in 2013. The lefty crafted a 0.72 ERA through 37.1 innings and walked just four compared to the 29 hitters he struck out. Batters managed 22 hits off of Whitehouse for a .165 opponent average.
Behind the dish:
The roster lists a trio of catchers, but Eric Haase is probably the most exciting to follow. Haase was assigned to Lake County last year, and some may find it surprising he’s back. What makes Haase exciting is his impressive speed for a catcher and strong arm. Converted from a third baseman, he’s still working on elements behind the plate. Offensively, he hit .250 with bouts of inconsistency, but he proved his bat has some pop as he notched 14 home runs. His strikeouts were on the high side at 117 compared to the 40 walks he drew, but his bat retains plenty of possibility.
Stock caught a fair share of games for the Captains last season as well, but his role as a DH seemed to be more beneficial. Stock raked a .280 average and knocked eight home runs, but patience was a problem as he drew just eight walks and struck out 52 times. He’s hit for average his first two seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against more advanced pitching when he heads to the Carolina League.
Battaglia jumped the Midwest League last year as he split time between Mahoning Valley and Carolina. Collectively, he hit .212 over the course of 113 at-bats between the two levels.
On the infield:
Nellie Rodriguez is among the more intriguing returns from last season. Rodriguez struggled in his start with the Captains, hitting .194 through 47 games with one home run. He struck out 53 times and drew 26 walks. Many times, he appeared to be pressing during at-bats, possibly due to high expectations surrounding his power. He was sent down to Mahoning Valley, where he provided a much more promising performance, hitting .287 with nine home runs, 29 walks and 61 strikeouts. With his first full season behind him, it’ll be exciting to see Rodriguez return.
Bautista was also a Captain last year, though it was rather brief. He struggled to hit during 16 games with the team, but had a nice year with the Scrappers, hitting .272 with four home runs, 20 walks and 55 strikeouts.
At age 23, Fink is a bit older than standard Midwest League players, but he has yet to play above short-season ball. He played most of the 2013 year in Arizona and just five games in Mahoning Valley, but hit .444 with a home run during that time.
Paulino is the other exciting return from last year’s squad. Touted for his bat, Paulino’s 2013 numbers didn’t speak volumes, but it’s important to remember his age. Now 19, Paulino has his first season in the books. He hit .246 in 120 games in addition to five home runs, 30 walks and 91 strikeouts. His defense last year was tough to witness at times as he led the league in errors, but he also proved he was capable of making some tough plays at short.
Roberts comes from the 2013 Mahoning Valley squad as well, where he hit .235 with one home run, 12 walks and 28 strikeouts through 52 games. Though he’s listed as a shortstop, it’s assumed that Paulino will receive most of the playing time at short, so Roberts may fill in at other infield spots.
In the outfield:
Three outfield names are familiar with the confines of Classic Park while two will be fresh from Mahoning Valley.
Ferrell joined the Captains in July after earning a promotion from Mahoning Valley, where he logged a .279 average. His average dipped to .246 when he joined the Captains for 17 games, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares after a bit of low-A experience. He’ll likely play centerfield.
Martinez had a tough year in 2013. He hit .191 in 112 games and struck out 120 times. Defensively, he also struggled in left field at times as he made routing balls look more complicated than they really were.
McAdams didn’t hit well in Mahoning Valley, posting a .200 average in which he struck out 76 times and drew 15 walks. He didn’t hit well during his first year with the organization in Arizona, but the 20-year-old still has time to craft his swing.
Ruiz is the roster’s one and only Cleveland native. The 22-year-old was selected in the 41st round of the 2011 draft out of Lincoln West High School. Ruiz spent 2012 with the Arizona League Indians and 2013 with the Scrappers, where he hit .132 with a 33:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 32 games.
Santander spent some time in Lake County last year, hitting .242 with five home runs, six stolen bases and a 43:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio until July, when he suffered an injury. He remains injured and will likely remain in a designated hitter’s role until he heals more.
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.
Plutko and Kime are the guys are Lake County to watch, though Lugo is a high end prospect to keep tabs on as well. Milbrath might be another Cody Anderson type who the Indians unearthed from an unknown school and location (not Anderson per se where he becomes a top flight prospect, but a guy who turns out good). The rotation has so many other options with Whitehouse, Hamrick, Aviles, Brown and Mathews. It is an 8-man rotation with two regular starters (Kime/Plutko) and three piggybacks where the other 6 guys will split games with one another. Just part of the new starting pitching philosophy for the Indians I mentioned several times last year and in the offseason where they really want to stay on guys as long as possible as possible starters.