Launching Off With The Aeros: 5/7/13 – 5/13/13
Akron moves to .500 on a successful road trip
The Akron Aeros spent most of the past week on the road in Reading and Binghamton, and before departing from Canal Park, manager Edwin Rodriguez was frank about his goals for the team on the road trip.
"To be honest, I keep telling the guys one game at a time, it's a long season," Rodriguez said. "You go out there, we won today [Wednesday], turn the page, we think about tomorrow, and then we go from there. If you start saying 'win four out of seven,' then you're putting pressure on the guys."
Well, going one game at a time managed to get the Aeros to win four out of seven as the team moved to 19-19 on the season. Akron is five games behind the Erie SeaWolves, who lead the Western Division, but are in a tie for second place with the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
The Aeros will finish their road trip in Binghamton with games on Wednesday and Thursday before beginning a seven-game homestand on Friday.
Justin Toole, 2B
.476/.577/.571 line, .493 wOBA, 10-for-21, 6 R, 2 2B, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 1:4 SO:BB, 1 HBP, 0 SB in 27 PA
With regular second baseman Jose Ramirez heading to the disabled list and no clear backup to take the temporary starting spot, Toole was called up from High-A Carolina to fill in for about a week. Toole seized the opportunity, lighting up opposing pitching and playing a key role in Akron's wins.
After Wednesday's game, Toole said that he just wants to help however he can.
"I got an opportunity to come up here and I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help the team," Toole said. "Being an older guy, I've played with quite of a few guys on the team. I've just been around, moving up and down in the organization, so it's pretty comfortable with everyone."
Toole is far from a priority prospect, but he is one of the good guys in the organization. In order to make the minor leagues work, an organization needs players who know that they are there to be backups and do not have a real major league future. Toole accepts this, does his job admirably, and is a real credit to the organization.
Chun-Hsiu Chen, DH
.333/.423/.571 line, .455 wOBA, 7-for-21, 4 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 7:4 SO:BB, 0 SB in 26 PA
The greatness of Chen this year has been undisputable. He is currently hitting .331/.435/.562 for the season, and while that is inflated by a .420 BABIP, the power looks like it is back. He has six home runs -- one more than in all of 2012 -- eight doubles, and a triple so far this year.
Though his manager did not coach him last year, he has a hypothesis as to why Chen is hitting better now two years removed from playing catcher full-time.
"He's fine playing first [base], definitely he's very comfortable DHing," Rodriguez said. "But I think it was more the catching. Not only on him, on any catcher; that would take something away... The catching takes a lot of energy, not only physically but mentally from the catcher."
Being a first baseman/designated hitter limits Chen's future, but with it helping his offense flourish, it may actually work out for him better in the long-term after all.
12 G, 0.95 ERA, 1.31 FIP, 14.21 SO/9, 3.79 BB/9, 1.11 WHIP, 13 H, 2 ER, 30:8 SO:BB, 1 HBP in 19.0 IP
The Akron bullpen struggled earlier in the season, but the majority of the team's relievers have really turned it on over the past week. The combination of Adams, Flores, Haley, Price, and Stowell absolutely shut down opponents, striking out 41.1 percent of batters.
It really is amazing how much bullpen depth Cleveland has amassed in its minor league system. All five of these pitchers easily could be in Columbus right now if not for the sheer number of relievers in the system. I would expect all five of these guys to get a shot in 2013 and hopefully they all keep pitching this well.
(Honorable Mentions: Kyle Bellows, Quincy Latimore, Jake Lowery, Matt Packer, Roberto Perez, Danny Salazar, Giovanny Urshela)
(Previous Winners: Chun-Hsiu Chen (4/16, 4/30), Tyler Holt (4/23), T.J. House (4/9, 4/23), Quincy Latimore (4/16), Carlos Moncrief (4/16, 5/7), Toru Murata (4/9), Jose Ramirez (4/9, 4/30), Danny Salazar (4/23, 4/30, 5/7), Giovanny Urshela (5/7))
Jesus Aguilar, 1B
.207/.233/.414 line, .305 wOBA, 6-for-29, 3 R, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6:1 SO:BB, 0 SB in 30 PA
The power began to show for Aguilar over the past week with two home runs, though he struggled to get on base again. He also only owns a .123 ISO for the year, which is quite troubling for the slugging first baseman.
Aguilar has 32 RBI on the season -- tied for first in the Eastern League -- though his manager thinks that Aguilar is leaving too much on the table.
"He's getting those RBI, but I think that he could do better," Rodriguez said. "Like today [Wednesday], he had many chances to drive in a lot of runs and he didn't come through. He's the guy that we need him to start swinging better. He's the four-hole hitter."
I still like Aguilar a lot long-term, but as a hitting-first guy not known for his defense, he does need to get his .246/.309/.370 line up quite a bit. Some of that could be helped by working on his strikeouts a little bit (37:13 SO:BB in 35 games), though power is the main problem right now.
Ronny Rodriguez, SS
.154/.185/.192 line, .199 wOBA, 4-for-26, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 4:1 SO:BB, 1 SB in 28 PA
I hate putting players in this section frequently, but sometimes it just has to be done. Such is the case with Rodriguez, whose .154/.185/.192 line is unfortunately close to his line for the whole season (.220/.240/.312).
A lot of Rodriguez's ills in Carolina last year were hidden by his power, which brought his line up to .264/.300/.452. The 19 home runs and 20 doubles made up for the low on-base percentage, something that is not happening in 2013 (four doubles, one home run in 37 games).
The encouraging part about Rodriguez's power surge last year was that Carolina's stadium -- and the Carolina League in general -- are not power-friendly. One could be forgiven for assuming the power transition would be for real, but I would still give the 21-year old time.
As much as we hate it, Francisco Lindor still needs some time in Carolina and Rodriguez is a high-upside, slow-starting prospect who needs time to figure things out in Akron. Patience is needed here and Rodriguez should not go anywhere for the time being.
Cole Cook, RHP
1 G, 5.40 ERA, 9.80 FIP, 5.40 SO/9, 0.00 BB/9, 0.60 WHIP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1:0 SO:BB, 1 HR, 0 HBP in 1.2 IP
I always hesitate to put relievers in either the In Orbit or Temporarily Grounded sections due to the small sample size, but this is more of a reflection on Cook's entire season.
In 12 appearances and 19.0 innings, Cook owns a 9.47 ERA, 6.78 FIP, 8.53 SO/9, 6.16 BB/9, and 2.16 WHIP. Cook's reputation is one of a strike thrower, making his early season walks troubling. I would expect his command to improve as the season goes on, but now the question is whether he will be given the time.
As stated above, Akron is a beneficiary of Cleveland's deep bullpen depth. With that, it would not surprise me if Cook loses his spot to another up-and-comer from Carolina in the near future. Cook has potential, but not enough to stay in Akron if he keeps throwing like this.
(Dishonorable Mentions: Brett Brach, Paolo Espino, Bo Greenwell, Tyler Holt, Kyle Landis, Carlos Moncrief, Will Roberts)
(Previous Losers: Austin Adams (4/23), Jesus Aguilar (5/7), Shawn Armstrong (4/23), Brett Brach (4/23), Cole Cook (4/23), Paolo Espino (4/16), Tyler Holt (4/9), T.J. House (4/16), Kyle Landis (4/23), Quincy Latimore (4/23), Fabio Martinez (4/16), Carlos Moncrief (4/9, 4/30), Toru Murata (4/16), Matt Packer (4/9, 4/16, 4/30), Edward Paredes (4/16, 4/23), Jose Ramirez (4/16, 5/7), Ronny Rodriguez (4/9, 4/23, 5/7), Danny Salazar (4/16), Giovanny Urshela (4/9, 4/30), Robert Whitenack (4/23))
See full weekly and yearly Aeros stats here.
Before being promoted after his start last Tuesday, right-hander Danny Salazar struck out 38.3 percent of batters in 33.2 innings.
133 batters, 51 strikeouts.
Few high-impact starting pitchers have gone through Akron over the past few years but that does not detract from how impressive Salazar was during his time with the Aeros. Since 2010, when I started watching Aeros games regularly, the only Cleveland pitchers to be in the same sentence as Salazar are Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. In fact, I may be a prisoner of the moment, but I think I might put Salazar above both of them.
Pomeranz and White may not be too good right now, but they were both top prospects in baseball at the time of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Hopefully Salazar will keep progressing into the top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher he is capable of becoming and will anchor Cleveland's rotation in the years ahead.
Whereas his fellow left-side infielder, Rodriguez, has struggled early on in 2013 just like in Carolina last year, third baseman Giovanny Urshela has actually put together a pretty decent line. We are all still waiting for the walks to be higher (3.2 BB%), but his overall line of .294/.315/.429 with a .743 OPS is quite impressive considering his past.
Urshela started very slow in Carolina last year, but this year he has actually posted an average batting line. If Urshela comes on as the weather heats up as he did in Carolina, then suddenly we will be looking at an above-average hitter with major league-caliber defense.
Urshela has made seven errors so far this year, but the real important fact about his defense is the scouting reports. Scouts say his defense is ready for major leagues and I believe them over faulty error stats. If Urshela's bat has made the jump to Double-A then he will soon leave IBI's preseason #19 ranking behind and move up toward the top 10.
For whatever reason, left-hander Matt Packer has been utterly hittable in 2013. In just 42.0 innings, opponents have managed 58 hits off of him, good for a 12.4 H/9. That number is probably unsustainable -- especially considering it is propped up by a .366 BABIP -- but the concern is real.
Earlier in the year, Packer's velocity was very low (in the 84-86 MPH range). When I saw him recently, the velocity was back up near his past levels (88-90 MPH) and he pitched well. Monday's outing was bad again, however, raising the question of whether the regained velocity (assuming it was there; I was not in Binghamton) actually will fix the problem.
Packer's overall stats are average at best (4.07 ERA, 3.99 FIP), but as a control pitcher without many strikeouts (4.71 SO/9), he needs to limit his walks better (3.64 BB/9) in addition to the hits. I am more hopeful than I was earlier in the month after seeing Packer's velocity rise but he still has a ways to go.
Odds & Ends
Center fielder Tyler Holt had a substandard week (.154/.281/.231 line, .167 BABIP), though bad BABIP weeks happen. Overall he is still looking good at the plate and has decent stats to back it up (.257/.349/.368 in 170 plate appearances).
Fellow outfielders Quincy Latimore (.250/.318/.400) and Carlos Moncrief (.217/.296/.348) had average weeks with some good and some bad. Both need to show a little more to make this year a success, though Moncrief gets more slack as this is his first time in Double-A and Latimore is on his third time through.
The starting pitching carousel in Akron did not yield much fruit this past week, with right-handers Brett Brach (7.20 ERA, 5.20 FIP), Paolo Espino (6.00 ERA, 5.87 FIP), and Will Roberts (7.11 ERA, 8.73 FIP) each struggling in their starts. None of them are more than organization soldiers, however.
Right-hander Jordan Cooper, on the other hand, continued his decent showing in Akron with a six-inning, two-run outing. He owns a 1.93 ERA and 3.34 FIP in his 14.0 innings with the Aeros, though he too is an organizational soldier.
Second baseman Jose Ramirez was activated from the disabled list after missing the minimum of seven days with a right hip flexor injury. Like I wrote last week, the biggest reason for putting him on the DL seems to have been getting roster flexibility to call Toole up from Carolina to temporarily take the starting spot.
Right-hander Kyle Landis was put on the DL with a right lat strain after an ineffective outing Tuesday night. He joins catcher Alex Lavisky (fractured left big toe), right-hander Shawn Armstrong (right hand contusion), and left-hander Mike Rayl (left forearm strain).
Moves (Like Orbit)
May 7 - RHP Blake Wood removed from rehab assignment
May 8 - RHP Kyle Landis placed on 7-day DL (right lat strain)
May 10 - RHP Brett Brach demoted from Triple-A Columbus
May 12 - 2B Jose Ramirez activated from DL (right hip flexor)
May 12 - RHP Danny Salazar promoted to Triple-A Columbus
May 12 - RHP Rob Bryson demoted from Triple-A Columbus
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