Prior to the season we’re previewing the 12 Eastern League teams in reverse order of last season’s record. Rosters won’t be finalized until the week before Opening Day, so my Players to Watch is pure speculation at this point.
Up next, we have the Akron RubberDucks…
2015 record: 73-69
Affiliation: Cleveland Indians
Manager: Dave Wallace
Hitting coach: Tim Laker
Pitching coach: Tony Arnold
Five Players to Watch
OF Clint Frazier – Frazier had a huge second half last season where he slashed .325/.422/.539 at High-A Lynchburg. The 21-year-old has made great strides in cutting down his strikeouts (36 less from 2014 to 2015) while increasing his power numbers across the board (18 more extra-base hits).
OF Bradley Zimmer – Zimmer struggled in 49 games with Akron last season, but the outfielder was also playing through a painful foot injury. The University of San Francisco product’s 6’4” frame is mostly long legs that allow him to cover a lot of ground quickly in the field and the basepaths.
LHP Luis Lugo – The southpaw has proved to be a durable starter as he has logged over 125 innings each of the last two seasons. But Lugo has shown a propensity for surrendering the long ball and in 2015 his strikeout rate dipped back to 8.5 K/9 and his walks increased.
1B Nellie Rodriguez – Rodriguez had a lot of issues making contact in 105 plate appearances with Akron last season. The native New Yorker struck out 37 times and hit only .118. Rodriguez is a big boy (listed at 6’2” and 250 pounds) which means his calling card has to be his offense and 2016 is a make or break season for adjustments.
1B/OF Mike Papi – Papi brings a good batting eye and solid approach at the plate, but a lack of power since his time at UVa is worrisome. A 2014 thumb injury may be to blame, but Papi will need to prove that to his doubters in the upcoming campaign.
Akron’s accomplishments in 2015 were on the strength of a solid rotation and even better bullpen. The RubberDucks will struggle to repeat that success as most, if not all, of those pitchers have moved onto Columbus or Cleveland. The Indians’ young, highly touted arms like Justus Sheffield and Rob Kaminsky will most likely begin the season at High-A Lynchburg and won’t reach Akron until at least after the All-Star break. All of that adds up to a sub-.500 record and a stay in the bottom half of the standings.