While most of us were focused on the highs and lows of an opening weekend
in against Toronto, the Indians' full season minor league affiliates had a pretty solid opening weekend of action. Here are some of the highlights from Columbus, Akron, Kinston and Lake County.
Much as with Cleveland, the Clippers strength in their opening weekend was their starting pitching. Kevin Slowey, after giving up a leadoff homerun, pitched masterfully for seven innings on Friday, giving up just one additional hit, a walk and no additional runs while striking out six. On Saturday, not wanting to be outdone, the less heralded Corey Kluber struck out the first four Louisville batters he faced. He went on to strikeout 10 in five innings, while allowing four hits and three walks and no runs. Kluber's low prospect status, coupled with his strikeout rate, seems to make him an ideal candidate should the need for a swing-starter/long-man emerge. Today, Scott Barnes stepped up and held Louisville to a single hit in six innings, giving up one run, two walks and striking out seven. Zach McAllister, who started the Clippers' opener on Thursday had the least success, giving up a pair of longballs, but still earning a quality start for six inning and three runs of work.
Offensively, there were a few good showings as well. Lonnie Chisenhall limited himself to just one K in the opening four games, while going 5-15 with his first HR and 2B of the season. Matt LaPorta, who is not far from the point of no return as a prospect, did what he needs to do throughout this season, hitting two HRs and two doubles in the opening series. Russ Canzler had the most notable struggles on offense, getting just one hit in his 14 plate appearances. I was kind of intrigued that former first round pick Beau Mills only logged one start in the series and, in that game, was removed early. These efforts combined helped Columbus to a 3-1 start to the season.
Akron is the least interesting team from a prospect-watching standpoint, at the moment, but did come away with two victories in their opening series. The most notable showing might have been from Nick Weglarz, who continues his downward plunge with no hits and seven Ks in 11 plate appearances. Chun Chen, perhaps reflective of the poor level of play at this time of year, walked in six of his 12 plate apppearances. Marginal prospects Juan Diaz, Tim Fedroff and Roberto Perez were all solid. TJ McFarland did what he is good at, going five innings while minimizing baserunners and getting a bunch of groundball outs. Steven Wright, the only pitcher in the system who legitimately throws a knuckleball had a strong debut, going 5.2 innings and allowing just one run. The best outings were probably from relievers Bryce Stowell (a perfect inning with 2 Ks), Preston Guilment (perfect inning) and Matt Langwell (two perfect innings, 4 Ks).
The Mudcats, in their debut as a Cleveland affiliate, lost the lead late this afternoon but came back in the bottom of the ninth to grab a 2-1 opening series victory. Carolina was carried by its offense, led by should-be Akron centerfielder Tyler Holt (stuck in Carolina because of the veteran detritus in Columbus), who went 8-13 with two walks, a double and a triple. Unfortunately he got caught stealing in three of four attempts, something he should be and has been better at. Jesus Aguilar, hoping to solidify his status as a top prospect and also set himself up for an Akron promotion, had a couple of doubles as part of an excellent opening weekend. 2011 college draftee and possible catcher, Jake Lowery, had a double and a HR over the weekend. The younger guys on the squad, Ronny Rodriguez, Giovanny Urshela and especially Tony Wolters had less impressive debuts, but for all of them their placement in Carolina is pretty aggressive and a positive statement about how they are viewed within the organization.
For now, at least, Carolina's pitching is less impressive than its hitters. The best performance of the weekend came from likely fast-moving reliever Cody Allen, who struck out five in two innings without allowing any hits, walks or runs. Starters Michael Goodnight and Mike Rayl ran into problems with big innings, while Clayton Cook was successful despite walking five.
Arguably the epicenter of Cleveland's minor league talent, Lake County also emerged from the opening weekend with a 2-1 record. Top prospects Francisco Lindor, LeVon Washington and Luigi Rodriguez all had moments that flashed their vast potential as part of a solid weekend. Of the young hitters, only Robel Garcia really struggled, striking out seven times while logging just a single hit. Elvis Araujo showed his potential by striking out seven in four innings of work. Felix Sterling had a solid five inning opening start. Will Roberts, another 2011 draftee, also had a strong start, allowing just one run in six innings.