April 17, 2014

Poppin’ Champagne: Akron Aeros 2009 Championship Season-in-Review (Part 2)

aeros-championship21It is difficult to truly encapsulate all of the accomplishments of the team this season. A smashing 95-54 record between the regular season and playoffs was about as good as it gets in the minors, and this team was dominant throughout the year. Exploding to a 28-8 start, the Aeros led the Eastern League from start to finish and ended their season on Saturday night by sending the Connecticut Defenders all the way to Richmond, VA. Three championships in seven years is quite a success rate for any sports team, regardless of this being the 12-team Eastern League.

The 2009 Akron Aeros, a team that will always be close to me because it was my first full-time professional sports job, finished just T-5th in the league in batting and fifth as well in home runs. The team then was third in the EL in on-base percentage, and thus finished second with 682 runs scored, just behind the Erie SeaWolves.

It was not the offense that paced the team all season however, as the pitching staff led by Hector Rondon, Jeanmar Gomez and others dominated the circuit for five months plus. Akron led the EL by a fairly large margin with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, while also hitting 15 fewer batters than any team in the league. Top to bottom, starters to relievers, the Aeros just cruised to yet another magical playoff run.

Now I will start to break down the rest of the Akron roster as I started yesterday. The players that I featured in yesterday’s post were the top seven individuals who I thought would certainly lead the Clippers next season along with another four that suffered injuries throughout the season and could be back in Double-A again in 2010. Today’s players will include some other top prospects as well as some recently acquired pitchers and even the Eastern League Post-Season MVP. I hope you enjoyed all the Aeros coverage during the regular season and the playoffs and stay tuned for some collaborative prospect ranking action in the coming weeks!

(Note: The players excluded from this list were either individuals previously reviewed in excess by DP such as Hector Rondon and Niuman Romero or individuals like Mickey Hall and Armando Camacaro, organizational glue-guys and good clubhouse characters.)

Such a Stud Muffin – These prospects here began the season in various places across the country, but gradually ended up contributing on the playoff roster and should all be the main stars of yet another loaded Aeros roster next year.

lazy-sunday

3B Lonnie Chisenhall, Age 20 (.183 avg, 4hr, 13rbi, 5 2b, 7 bb, .238/.387) – 24 gms
Including Kinston: .258 avg, 22hr, 92rbi, 31 2b, 44 bb, .325/.472) – 123 gms

The regular season numbers are not too pretty in Double-A for Cleveland’s 2009 first-round draft pick out of Pitt Junior College, but he made up for it with a sensational playoff run. He led all Eastern League players with a .467 (14-30) batting average and .500 on-base percentage in those seven games, moving his 31-game average with Akron up to a respectable .252. He is still learning the nuances of third base, but considering he is already doing decent in Double-A at age 20 he is on the right track.

LHP Scott Barnes, Age 22 (2-2, 5.68 era, 6 st, 29 k, 14 bb, .292 avg, 31.2 ip)
Including KIN & SJG: 14-5, 3.41 era, 27 st, 138 k, 49 bb, .243 avg, 142.1 ip

Acquired from the San Francisco Giants organization for 1B/OF Ryan Garko, Barnes was Akron’s #4 playoff starter and thus had the honor and pitching the clinching game against his former organization. He was one of the top pitching stars in the offensive-heavy California League, and the season-ending numbers are pretty solid. An ’08 selection out of St. John’s, he should have time to develop with the Aeros next season and there is less pressure on him because of what Rondon/Gomez did this past year.

LHP Eric Berger, Age 23 (3-1, 2.67 era, 6 st, 33 k, 16 bb, .250 avg, 33.2 ip)
Including Kinston: 10-9, 2.50 era, 27 st, 133 k, 61 bb, .231 avg, 144.0 ip

There were three 2008 draft pick pitching prospects that came up to Akron around late July/August, and Berger was the only home-grown of the bunch. A Carolina native, he put up Ryan Edell-like numbers in Kinston as shown by his meager 10-9 record yet impressive ERA. He was decent in the post-season as well, and probably will be considered the ace of the the Aeros rotation to start next season. Based on his age, I would not be shocked if he makes a few appearances in Cleveland in September 2010.

RHP Connor Graham, Age 23 (1-3, 4.93era, 8gms/7st, 39k, 25bb, .268avg, 38.1 ip)
Including Modesto: 8-7, 3.72 era, 24gms/23st, 126 k, 66 bb, .235 avg, 118.2 ip)

Acquired from the Colorado Rockies for RHP Rafael Betancourt, Graham came in and probably performed the worst out of the three new pitchers. In his first two Double-A outings he had seven walks and seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings pitched, and it is definitely his control that he will need to work on in the off-season. My expectations are that he should be transformed into a reliever quite soon because of his upper-90′s fastball and quirky up-and-down delivery, but he has not lost his prospect status yet.

RHP Josh Judy, Age 23 (4-3, 3.10 era, 36gms/1st, 63k, 18bb, .198 avg, 49.1 ip)
Including Kinston: 4-3, 2.83 era, 41gms/1st, 70 k, 18 bb, .201 avg, 54.0 ip

I really wanted to put him in the category based on his success this season as probably the most consistent reliever in the Cleveland system, but his inexperience and age are probably holding him back in comparison to guys like Steven Wright. He will get his fair share, but I will still expect him to begin 2010 in Akron based on the number of arms there now are in the system. He replaced Vinnie Pestano as the closer around the All-Star Break and did marvelously well, converting 11-of-13 opportunities.

RHP Zach Putnam, Age 22 (4-2, 4.13 era, 33gms, 57 k, 18 bb, .261 avg, 56.2 ip)
Including Kinston: 6-2, 4.13 era, 38gms/5st, 80 k, 23 bb, .260 avg, 80.2 ip

When called up to Akron in May, he became the first Cleveland draft pick since Trevor Crowe to ascend to regular duty in Double-A within a year of being drafting. The former DH/RHP for Michigan and 2008 fifth-round pick showed some signs of his success, especially in his K/BB ratios, but he still was inconsistent at times. The organization will always need more hard-throwing relievers, and his upside remains pretty high and he should begin as the Steven Wright-type middle reliever for the Aeros in 2010.

shapetti“Milk was a Bad Choice” – Here is the best of the rest from Akron’s 2009 roster. All of the players in this grouping had a large impact on the team’s success throughout the year, but their future in the organization may depend upon this fall’s Rule 5 Draft. As pictured in the right, big decisions will have to be made about the roster status of these 10 players in the coming weeks and months. Expect many to be thankfully saved from the cutting board, but some could be gone because of a lack of extra space on the 40-man roster.

IF Cristo Arnal, Age 24 (.275 avg, 0hr, 16rbi, 26 bb, 18 sb, .348/.307) – 79 gms
Including KIN & COL: .284 avg, 1hr, 22rbi, 29 bb, 19 sb, .352/.334 – 95 gms

An organizational utility infielder who just stuck with Akron for the better part of the season, Arnal got pushed around the diamond after the call-up of 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and return of 2B Josh Rodriguez in August. His 18 steals were second on the team, but he has absolutely no pop as he had just eight doubles total in 79 games for the Aeros. Unlikely a team will take a chance on him and put him on their Major League roster, and thus he should stick with either Columbus or Akron as a utility man next year.

RF John Drennen, Age 23 (.274 avg, 8hr, 40rbi, 23 2b, 21 bb, .320/.449) – 93 gms
Including Kinston: .273 avg, 8hr, 45rbi, 29 2b, 33 bb, .333/.441 – 110 gms

Another name I wanted to put up higher on this list, Drennen struggled for the first two months of the season including a return trip to Kinston for a third straight year. Cleveland’s 2005 first-round draft pick out of San Diego, CA then found the light, as he batted .296 with 18 doubles, seven home runs and 30 RBI in his final 72 regular season games for Akron. When he is healthy and streaky, he was one of the best right fielders in the EL, and he is still pretty young, but who knows where he could fit long-term.

IF Jared Goedert, Age 24 (.224 avg, 5hr, 37rbi, 22 2b, 34 bb, .309/.348) – 92 gms

Another streaky bench infielder for the Aeros in 2008, this former ninth-round pick out of Kansas State was replaced as the everyday third baseman when Chisenhall came to town. As my boss Rob Sinclair kept saying however, all that mattered was playoff production and thus Chinsenhall’s late burst was a huge momentum swing for the team. Goedert’s prospect status is gone after his last few years of poor offensive numbers, but due to a lack of infield prospects in the system he could begin in Akron yet again.

IF/OF Jerad Head, Age 26 (.282 avg, 6hr, 47rbi, 23 2b, 23 bb, .350/.433) – 98 gms

Joining the ranks of former greats Tyler Minges and Nathan Panther, Head assured his rank in obscurity with a great playoff run and the Eastern League Post-Season MVP honors. A utility everything who appeared in 15+ games at second, third, left and right, he batted .345 with six doubles, two triples and nine RBI during the playoffs. He is nothing more than an organizational utility man despite continuously impressing manager Mike Sarbaugh this year, and should begin as a backup in Columbus.

1B/OF Matt McBride, Age 24 (.247avg, 12hr, 63rbi, 29 2b, 18bb, .301/.427) – 98 gms
Including Kinston: .287 avg, 18hr, 99rbi, 44 2b, 29 bb, .340/.489 – 129 gms

His numbers were insane for Kinston in early April before getting the call in replace of John Drennen in May, but overall McBride did not show too much for the Aeros this season. A converted catcher and the pride of Bethlehem, PA, McBride was one of the few sluggers in the Indians system in 2009. The position he plays however, keeps him from many opportunities at the next level and thus,  he is going back to catcher this fall. His roster spot in the organization depends upon his re-transition.

SS Carlos Rivero, Age 21 (.242 avg, 7hr, 58rbi, 24 2b, 50 bb, .309/.344) – 132 gms

Rivero came into the season with oodles of expectations as another one of those top 10 prospects from Baseball America, but had never really proved anything offensively in his career. He proceeded to lead qualifying EL shortstops with a .972 fielding percentage (14 errors in 132 games) but didn’t quite produce with his bat. His batting average hovered around the Mendoza Line until the end of June and his season-ending OPS of .653 is not too special. He is one of the few middle infield prospects in the entire organization and thus they should be careful with his development, but he is also Rule 5 Draft eligible. There is mass upside here because he just turned 21 in May, but I sincerely hope another team doesn’t take a chance on him yet because the Indians probably can’t put him on the 40-man roster this off-season.

LHP Matt Meyer, Age 24 (0-1, 7.36 era, 23gms, 22 k, 20 bb, .310 avg, 22.0 ip)
Including KIN & COL: 3-2, 5.16 era, 44gms, 48 k, 30 bb, .261 avg, 52.1 ip)

One of the few pitchers to truly struggle for the Aeros all season, this left-handed specialist did exactly what relievers should not do for extended periods of time: walk almost a batter an inning. Any time you have a WHIP of 2.14, you will not be very good and that is exactly what plagued Meyer for Akron this season. He should stick around the organization however, becuase left-handed relievers are always a commodity. Expect him to be back with the team for the forseeable future as a bullpen mop-up guy.

RHP Carlton Smith, Age 23 (6-2, 2.72 era, 37gms/2st, 40 k, 23 bb, .230 avg, 79.1 ip)

The cousin of former Aeros scapegoat Corey Smith, this native of Piscataway, NJ replaced closer Vinnie Pestano on the All-Star roster back in Trenton and actually ceremoniously earned the save by recording the last out. Smith had an overall solid year for the team despite moderate to low expectations, and a K/9 inning ratio of just about 4.5. His numbers are not as solid as Wright’s but he should find his way to Columbus next year as this entire relief corps for Akron was one of the best ever.

RHP Erik Stiller, Age 25 (8-3, 3.23 era, 41gms/5st, 68 k, 30 bb, .215 avg, 69.2 ip)

Another hard-throwing bullpen guy, this Texas product had a brief stint in the starting rotation that make his relief split numbers almost as shocking of those of Wright’s. He was 8-0 with a 2.32 ERA in 36 relief outings which begs the question of what to do with his future? He is a 25-year-old who just had an awesome year as a reliever in Double-A, but based on the number of Quadruple-A relievers in the system it would be hard to ever protect him. Hopefully he sticks around, but I am not as sure as I am about Smith.

RHP Neil Wagner, Age 25 (1-3, 2.95 era, 46gms, 69 k, 32 bb, .214 avg, 61.0 ip)

Ever the intellectual, Neil Wagner actually kept a pretty decent blog going throughout the year through MiLB.com. A North Dakota State product, Wagner had an awful beginning to the season before calming down and allowing just five earned runs in his final 22 relief appearances in the regular season. A strikeout expert, he led the team in strikeouts per nine innings at 10.2 on the year, but his age and relative inexperience (first year in Double-A) work against him. Should be in Columbus for most of 2010.

(Once again, the lead photo is via Tony Lastoria’s massive photo album from the celebration over at Indians Prospect Insider. The next snap shot, of Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live, epitomizes their epic video “Lazy Sunday” which can be viewed in its glorious entirety here. I also discovered this old picture of GM Mark Shapiro and Assistant GM Chris Antonetti in a RockKing article on the Tribe and was found here.)