Collectively, this was a poor week for the affiliates, none of whom managed to achieve a winning record, with the Clippers particularly disappointing with just 1-6 including their current five-game skid. However, there were a few fine individual performances, as we shall see below.
Angling for position players
All eyes were on Nick Swisher this week, as he continued his rehab with four more games in Columbus. His current (potentially final?) AAA line is 9-24 (.375) with a couple of 2B hits, a homer and three walks in six games. Zach Walters and Giovanny Urshela have also performed decently since their return from injury, but both are probably still a while away from a possible MLB call-up.
Tyler Holt was rewarded for hitting .328/.438/.393 in his first 19 games with a call up to the Indians on Friday, where he replaced Jerry Sands. Sands has since cleared waivers and been assigned back to Columbus (he could have refused the assignment to become a free agent, if he so desired).
The return of lead-off hitter Tyler Naquin certainly seems to have sparked some life into a previously rather quiet Ducks offense. Since Naquin's seasonal debut on April 24 the team has gone 6-3, while scoring four runs or more in each of the past eight games.
Third baseman Yandy Diaz has also been batting well for on-base percentage, although he hasn't shown his 2014 power yet and has already made five fielding errors. Likewise Erik Gonzalez is performing decently with the bat but making a lot of errors (six so far).
The "potentially" powerhouse Hillcats offense is spluttering right now, scoring only ten runs combined in the team's current four-game losing skid.
To the surprise of no-one, Bradley Zimmer was named as the Tribe's "MiLB player of the month" for April. Zimmer has yet to record a hit in three games this month, but it will be surprise if he isn't in Akron by the end of June at the latest. Fellow prospect Clint Frazier had a poor week (3-20 with no extra bases), as did Mike Papi (1-12 with one extra base). Luigi Rodriguez has slowed down after his hot start, but his namesake Nellie has been on fire over the past fortnight, going 14-42 with five doubles and three HRs.
Lake County (A)
With Bobby Bradley sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Captains' line-up is sorely missing a power hitter. Infielders 2B Claudio Bautista, SS Yu-Cheng Chang and 3B Taylor Murphy have been hitting OK, but the latter two have already made 15 fielding errors between them. The outfield of Ison, Allen, Paulino and Armendariz isn't hitting well at all, while the young catching prospect Francisco Mejia has been very disappointing — he still hasn't got going at all.
State of the rotation
It was a poor week for the Columbus rotation, lacking any outstanding performances and including two poor outings from Nick Maronde. Veterans Bruce Chen and Shaun Marcum have clearly been the pick of the starters in the early going. With a sixth SP required due to a postponement last week, Jordan Cooper was called up for another spot start, but at some point one of the promising Akron arms will surely earn a permanent promotion.
The Akron rotation continues to go from strength to strength. Although Will Roberts is still struggling, the other four pitchers have been consistently outstanding. Cody Anderson was named the Tribe's "minor league pitcher of the month" for April as well as "Eastern League pitcher of the week" for Apr 20-26, while Ryan Merritt has been typically solid, Shawn Morimando very effectively wild (28 SO and 14 BB in 26.2 IP) and Mike Clevinger simply a revelation. Together those four pitchers have a combined 18 G, 105.1 IP, 87 H, 25 ER 28 BB, 91 SO, 2.14 ERA (stat courtesy of Todd Paquette).
After keeping a strict order in the rotation through the first 21 games, Cody Anderson missed his "regular" spot on Saturday. I have no idea whether this absence is injury/illness related, and at the time of writing it hasn't yet been announced who will be pitching tonight (Monday). [Monday late afternoon update - the Ducks just announced Anderson on their web site and then shortly afterwards tweeted that Merritt would be the starting pitcher. Anderson must be ill or something!?]
Overall, the Hillcats' rotation has been struggling, a situation which was hardly helped this week when (having already lost Dylan Baker after just one start) Luis Lugo went to the DL soon after his great performance on Apr 24 (6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO). It looks like Clayton Cook will be taking Lugo's spot in the rotation for the time being, although D.J. Brown has also made a couple of spot starts in the opening weeks.
On the plus side, Adam Plutko continues to dominate at this level. His promotion to AA seems almost inevitable.
Lake County (A)
Justus Sheffield continued to live up to his lofty draft status with a lights-out performance last week. Together with Dace Kime and Sean Brady, Sheffield has been a lynchpin of the Captains' rotation. Anderson Polanco has been up-and-down (albeit very much up in his tremendous seven innings effort on Sunday), but Jordan Milbrath has been struggling in the early going, while Thomas Pannone appears to have been relegated to a "piggyback" role.
After a promising spell in Columbus, Ryan Webb was promoted to the Indians, but most of the other AAA relievers have been struggling. Giovanni Soto, who is yet to give up an earned run after 10 IP, has by far the best numbers early doors, while closer Shawn Armstrong has also been excellent apart from one disastrous outing in which he gave up three runs.
Of the two relievers that we have already seen in Cleveland this year, Kyle Crockett has been something of a train wreck since his demotion, whereas Austin Adams was doing well until he had a nightmare blown save on Saturday, conceding two runs on two hits and two walks in 0.1 IP. C.C. Lee, Dustin Molleken and Jeff Manship all have pretty poor numbers so far and may be vulnerable to a promotion of one of the AA relievers before too long.
With the RubberDucks having been involved in so many extra-innings battles (three in the past six days including 18 and 14 innings games), their relievers have been working overtime. However, they have been proving well up to the task. Closer Jeff Johnson has been outstanding in giving up just five hits and one walk in 9.2 scoreless innings, and consistently good performances from Josh Martin, Trey Haley, Louis Head and the recent (unlucky) AAA demotion Enosil Tejada. It can only be a matter of time before one of these 24-25yo pitchers earns a promotion to the erratic Columbus bullpen.
Nick Pasquale certainly had an eventful week, beginning the week at Lake County, pitching three clean innings for Akron on Wednesday, going back down to LC and then up to the Hillcats the following day, where he pitched another 2.2 scoreless innings on Sunday. Benny Suarez was also promoted to the Ducks on Saturday and pitched a couple of clean innings.
Apart from the odd meltdown inning, the Hillcats' bullpen has done a pretty good job. Benny Suarez has already earned a bump up to AA, while Clayton Cook is now in the rotation. The over-aged Casey Weathers seems to have finally got his walks under control (just two allowed in his last 4.2 IP) and is making encouraging progress. Ben Heller, Delvy Francisco and Robbie Aviles have also all pitched well lately after encountering some speed bumps earlier in the season.
Lake County (A)
Another week, another week without a run against J.P. Feyereisen, who is now up to 26(!) clean innings since turning professional. Cameron Hill and Luke Eubank have been almost as impressive this year with only one earned run conceded in 11 IP and 9 IP respectively, while David Speer has been very good as well. Justin Garcia was promoted from extended spring training on Saturday and was clean through two innings.
Minor league players of the week (as voted by LGT)
Week 1 (Apr 9-19): Bradley Zimmer (72% of the vote)
Week 2 (Apr 20-26): Voting still open (since the poll only went up on Saturday). Please cast your vote here.
Week 3 (Apr 27-May 3): See poll below.