Launching Off With The Aeros: 8/14/12-8/20/12
The Akron Aeros rebounded from a tough week in the first half of August, winning five of seven games against Harrisburg, Reading and Erie. Manager Chris Tremie and his players continued to play well at Canal Park, winning two of three against Reading, and the Aeros are now 45-23 at home. During the week, Akron held their opponent to just one run on four different occasions, ending up with a record of 3-1 during those games. Coming into the week, Akron held an 8.0 game lead over second place Bowie and still holds a 7.0 game lead over the Baysox, who have won eight of 10 games.
The team received a bit of a boost with the promotion of first baseman Jesus Aguilar who should help fill the void of injured players like Jeremie Tice and Adam Abraham. Aguilar, an interesting prospect because of his legitimate right-handed power stick, will look to bring some pop to the notoriously pitcher-friendly Eastern League.
On Monday, the Aeros started short three-game road series at Erie, but lost the first game of the series, 5-2. The team will return to Akron on Thursday to play four against the Trenton Thunder. On a side note, I’d like to extend my congratulations to the regular author of this column, Jim Piascik, who exchanged vows this past weekend. Best wishes to the bride and groom!
Right-hander Danny Salazar is really starting to shine in a minor league system lacking top-shelf starting pitchers. After starting the season in High-A Carolina, Salazar has been gingerly working toward higher pitch counts as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2010. In his start this week against Reading, he threw arguably his best ball of the year, pitching seven dominant innings. He allowed just three hits and one run while striking out eight hitters. The most impressive stat of the game might be his zero walks. Since the Cleveland Indians traded knuckleballer Steven Wright, Salazar has stepped into the ace role in the Aeros rotation and if he keeps pitching lights out, he might not stay in Akron long next season.
Second baseman Matt Lawson is one of the most interesting stories in the organization. After retiring last June, he came back to the game this season, adding an on-base machine to the Aeros for the second half of the season. In six games this past week, he batted .500 while hitting three doubles, and stringing together a seven game hitting streak. More importantly, Lawson scored five runs during the same span, serving as the team’s offensive catalyst. Lawson, who is posting a near 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio while maintaining a .433 OBP, has consistently performed at every level during his minor league career, but he’s on pace for a career best season. He appears to be stuck in Akron, however, at least as long as Cord Phelps remains in Columbus.
Yes, you read that right. Davis Stoneburner, a do-everything utility man for the Aeros, posted a strong offensive week, coming up with several timely hits. In five games this week, he’s hit .313 and driven in six runners, upping his RBI count from 19 to 25 for the season. On the other side of the diamond, Stoneburner has provided consistent play at several positions including shortstop, third base, second base, first base, right field and left field. Even with his strong play this week, he is still hitting under the Mendoza Line (.192) and has struck out over 25% of the time, but let’s not look at those statistics. Stoneburner has largely struggled this season, but it’s been a refreshing change of pace to see the him get a few knocks.
Preston Guilmet, Thomas Neal, Chun Chen
[Previous Winners: Adam Abraham (5/1, 5/8, 6/26, 7/24), Kyle Bellows (5/22, 5/29), Rob Bryson (6/19, 7/3, 7/31), Chun Chen (5/15, 5/22, 6/26, 7/10), Jose De La Torre (6/19), Juan Diaz (7/10, 7/31), Paolo Espino (5/29, 8/7), Tim Fedroff (4/17, 5/29, 6/5), Jared Goedert (4/17, 4/24), Preston Guilmet (6/19), Tyler Holt (8/14), T.J. House (7/17, 8/7), Kyle Landis (6/5, 6/19), Matt Lawson (7/10), T.J. McFarland (4/17, 5/15, 5/22), Toru Murata (8/14), Thomas Neal (5/1, 5/15, 6/19, 6/26, 7/3, 7/24, 8/7), Matt Packer (7/24), Roberto Perez (6/12, 7/31), Bryan Price (6/19), Ryan Rohlinger (6/5), Giovanni Soto (5/1, 5/8, 7/17), Bryce Stowell (4/24, 6/5, 6/19), Jeremie Tice (7/3), Loek van Mil (6/5, 6/19), Nick Weglarz (6/12, 6/19, 8/14), Steven Wright (4/24, 5/8, 6/12, 7/17)]
Aeros reliever Bryce Stowell has been up and down since his return from a left oblique injury that kept him out over a month. In his first appearance against Harrisburg on Aug. 14, he retired the side in order, striking out two. In his second appearance two days later, he went just two-thirds of an inning while giving up two hits (including a home run) and walking one. While Stowell struck out both batters he got out, he surrendered his third homer in his last 10 appearances, all coming after his first DL stint earlier in the season. He did rebound nicely against Erie on Monday night, pitching one and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief. The organization appears to be intent on treating Stowell gently, however, as he hasn’t pitched without at least three days of rest for most of the season. Even though his fastball sits in the mid-to-high 90’s and he has hugely decreased his walks allowed (38:8 strikeout to walk ratio in 24 innings), Stowell’s injury history is limiting his progression as a prospect.
Former top prospect Nick Weglarz posted another mixed week in what has been a wildly inconsistent season for the Canadian left fielder. He only appeared in four games, hitting just .090 in 11 at-bats. Weglarz continued to draw his walks (4), but continued to post high strikeout numbers (25%) and low power numbers (no extra-base hits) as well. He showed a glimpse of his former self in the month of June, when he hit .292 with a .415 on-base percentage while powering eight doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBIs. In an IPI feature in late July, Weglarz said that he wanted to prove that his June numbers weren’t a fluke, but he still keeps disappearing from the offense from time to time. In all likelihood, Weglarz will sign a free agent contract with another team after this season.
Third baseman Ryan Rohlinger brings a veteran presence and defensive versatility to the Aeros clubhouse, but he continues to struggle with the stick. While he hit .263 over six games this week, all his hits came in three games. While the 29-year-old Rohlinger consistently puts together solid at-bats (54:45 strikeout to walk ratio) and his BABIP remains abysmally low (.237), he is one part of a wildly inconsistent Aeros offense. Since his last extended cup of coffee with the San Francisco Giants in 2010, Rohlinger has struggled with the bat, hitting just over .230 in his last 694 minor league at-bats.
[Previous Losers: Adam Abraham (5/22, 5/29, 6/5, 6/12, 7/17), Kyle Bellows (4/24, 5/1, 5/8, 6/5), Eric Berger (4/17), Brett Brach (5/15, 6/12, 6/26, 7/10, 7/17), Rob Bryson (5/15, 5/22, 5/29, 7/24, 8/7), Ben Copeland (5/29, 6/19), Jose De La Torre (5/8, 5/15, 6/26), Juan Diaz (4/17, 5/1, 6/19, 7/3), Tim Fedroff (5/22), Preston Guilmet (5/22, 7/24), Jordan Henry (6/26, 7/17), Michel Hernandez (7/31), Tyler Holt (7/24, 8/7), T.J. House (6/19), Francisco Jimenez (6/26), Kyle Landis (5/22, 6/26, 7/24), Toru Murata (5/15, 5/22, 5/29, 7/24), Thomas Neal (6/12), Roberto Perez (4/17, 4/24, 8/7), Bryan Price (5/8, 5/22), Mason Radeke (5/22), Ryan Rohlinger (4/24, 5/15, 7/31, 8/14), Giovanni Soto (5/15, 6/5, 6/26, 7/31, 8/14), Davis Stoneburner (7/3, 7/24), Bryce Stowell (6/26), Tyler Sturdevant (6/26), Jeremie Tice (7/10), Justin Toole (8/14), Nick Weglarz (5/1, 5/8), Steven Wright (5/15, 7/3, 7/10)]
Paolo Espino has been one of the most consistent Aeros starters this season, eating 5-7 innings per start. Espino has been prone to the home run ball, however, giving up three in his last two starts. Espino has allowed just seven dingers on the season, but may be prone to giving up more if he continues to hang breaking pitches. That said, Espino is what he is: a solid, if unremarkable innings eater that is good for a spot start in Triple-A. In the future, Espino may fill the same role with the major league club.
As several IPI contributors have noted over the past two months, Thomas Neal should no longer be playing in an Akron Aeros uniform. In six games during the past week, Neal has been walked nine times while posting a .535 OBP over his last 10 games. Even if the Indians brass don’t think highly of Neal, he’s done everything he possibly could to earn a promotion for the last part of the season. Eastern League pitchers are just working around Neal at this point, as he represents one of the only consistent offensive threats on the team. After a rough start to the season, Neal has now raised his season OBP to .402 as he tries to put himself back on the prospect map.
In his first week in an Aeros uniform, Jesus Aguilar looked great at times and overmatched the rest of the time. With just six Double-A games under his belt, there’s no reason to harp about the 29.6% strikeout rate or the .130 average. In due time, those stats will rebound as Aguilar figures out Eastern League pitchers. The most impressive trait for him so far, however, is his plate discipline. After walking just under 9% of the time in 2011, Aguilar increased his walk rate to 10.5% with Carolina in 107 games this season. So far in Akron, he has walked 11.1% of the time, showing an improved eye, especially in a pitcher’s league. That number might fluctuate as he sees more breaking balls, but so far, Aguilar has looked like he’s adjusting well after his late season promotion.
Odds & Ends
Brett Brach has had an up and down season for the Aeros, but he got robbed of a win in his start this week. He went seven innings against Reading on Aug. 18, allowing just one run, but was outdone by R-Phils starter Ethan Martin who is undefeated since being acquired in the Shane Victorino trade. Brach has struck out nine hitters in his last two starts as he’s been missing more bats than usual.
Cole Cook made his first appearance with Akron on Aug. 19, pitching the final inning of a 10-4 blowout win. He followed up his first appearance with another one and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief on Monday in Erie. Cook, who can be found as @C_M_Cook on Twitter, has had a fair amount of success since being converted into a reliever and actually pitched better at Carolina (2.74 ERA) than Lake County (3.46 ERA) this season. On Twitter, Cook is one of the most interesting Indians prospects as he often interacts with fans and tweets about a lot of non-baseball subjects.
Jose Flores didn’t get into a single game during the week and has pitched in just five games since the end of July. Considering his success in Carolina, you’d think the Aeros would find space in their super-talented bullpen rotation to see if he can stick at the higher level. Fun fact: Flores was taken by the Seattle Mariners in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft, making him the third “Jose Flores” in the Mariners organization at the time. Flores was eventually returned to the Indians.
In five games with the Aeros, reliever Trey Haley has picked up three wins in relief. Haley has been another high-powered arm out of the Akron bullpen since his promotion, posting a 1.78 ERA while striking out 13 hitters in 10.1 innings pitched.
After missing a few games due to a re-aggravated injury in his thumb, Chun Chen made his way back into the lineup and is second in the Eastern League in batting average (.317).
Moves (Like Orbit)
August 14 - 1B Jesus Aguilar promoted to Akron Aeros from Carolina Mudcats.
August 14 - UT Justin Toole assigned to Carolina Mudcats from Akron Aeros.
August 18 - RP Cole Cook promoted to Akron Aeros from Carolina Mudcats.
Nathan Kemp graduated from The University of Akron in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. He plans to pursue a graduate degree through NEOMFA in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @NathanCKemp.