The five-time defending Southern Division champions are on pace for greatness again here in 2009 as the Akron Aeros currently stand at 53-28, a mark that is good for the second best record in full-season professional baseball. Led by several marquee prospects, the Aeros look as good as ever this year as they look to win their third Eastern League championship in franchise history (also won in 2003 and 2005). Instead of going with my “Double Dose of Double-A” feature, I decided to simply recap the season as it stands right now, just a handful of games over the halfway mark.
I could go on and on about every single one of the players on our team, but I first want to mention the incredible pitching staff. While the Indians have had their struggles on the mound thus far this season prompting several responses of varying degrees from our very own TD, Akron has just been amazing this season and especially recently. Over the past 28 games, the Aeros pitching staff has a combined 2.02 ERA while holding opponents to one run or less a spectacular 11 times en route to a 19-9 record. On the season, the Aeros now lead the entire 12-team Eastern League with a 3.17 team ERA.
The Akron pitching staff also leads the league with only 220 walks and 600 hits allowed total in 686.0 innings pitched. It has been absolutely amazing how despite a merely average team batting average (.250) Akron is doing so incredibly well but you can certainly credit the fact that they know how to draw walks. The team now also leads the EL with 313 walks on the season, a huge reason why their 10th place ranking (out of 12 teams) in batting average and 11 slot in slugging percentage really do not mean that much at all in terms of overall success.
The Aeros tied a league-high with five players named to the Eastern League All-Star Game to be played in Trenton, New Jersey in just over a week. Here is a look at the contributions put forth by these fine young players, and what they have done for Manager Mike Sarbaugh en route to this phenomenal season thus far:
Beau Mills – Cleveland’s first round pick in the 2007 draft, this native of Visalia, CA has been one of the most consistent performers this season for the Aeros. He has started 74 of a possible 81 games at first base and leads the team with 21 multi-hit outings. He is now batting .249 with six home runs and 40 RBI, while ranking sixth in the Eastern League with 301 at-bats. Last season he was named the 2008 Carolina League MVP with the Class A Kinston Indians, hitting .293 with 21 homers and 90 RBI.
Vinnie Pestano – Pestano has been almost automatic at the back end of contests this season, going 2-3 with a 3.02 ERA and racking up an astonishing 23 saves in 26 chances. The 23 saves are the most in the Eastern League by a wide margin (no one else has more than 16), and Pestano has allowed just two runs in his last 13 appearances spanning 14.1 innings. He ranked second in the Indians chain with 24 saves last season, and is on pace to smash Randy Newsom’s single-season franchise record of 29 saves set just last year.
Hector Rondon – This 21-year-old Venezuelan native who started the year 5-0 in his first five starts, remains among the league leaders in several different categories. He is one of only six pitchers to accumulate seven wins or more, and currently ranks fifth with a 2.75 ERA in 15 games (13 starts). His 73 strikeouts lead the team and are tied for fifth in the EL, and he has allowed just 10 hits and three runs in his past four starts (20.1 innings pitched) since suffering right biceps soreness on June 4th against Reading.
Carlos Santana – The top-ranked prospect in the Indians organization according to Baseball America, Santana is batting .274 in 76 games and ranks among the leaders in the Eastern League in runs scored (53 is 2nd), home runs (14 is 5th), RBI (54 is tied for 4th), on-base percentage (.410 is 6th) and slugging percentage (.527 is 7th). He also leads the Eastern League with 58 walks and is currently on pace for 102 on the season, which would shatter the franchise record of 82 set by Ken Ramos in 1992. Acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, Santana won the 2008 California League MVP award despite playing only 99 games for Class A Inland Empire.
Nick Weglarz – Weglarz was one of the hottest players on the planet from the beginning of May until late June as his 23-game on-base streak ended Tuesday, June 30th. After collecting just five hits in April, the 2008 Olympian for Canada has been carrying the Aeros offensively for the past two months plus. Since May 1st he is batting .298 with 14 doubles, 11 home runs, 36 runs scored, and 49 runs batted in. His .569 slugging percentage during this time would rank fourth in the entire Eastern League, and he entered the season rated as the third-best prospect in the organization by Baseball America.