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Mahoning Valley Scrappers 2015 season in review

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The third installment of our MiLB season recaps focuses on the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, who received strong contributions from the newly drafted Mark Mathias, Ka'ai Tom and Daniel Salters, among others.

Eastwood Field, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers
Eastwood Field, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers
Lindsay Semple/Getty Images

Mahoning Valley Scrappers 31-44 (joint last in division)

The 14-team New York-Penn League is a short-season league that typically features second- and third-year players along with freshly acquired college draftees. The team plays at Eastwood Field in Niles, Ohio. They won their first and only league title in 2004, when they were managed by the current Tribe third base coach, Mike Sarbaugh. In 2014 they fnished a disappointing 33-42 despite fine seasons from Bradley Zimmer, Francisco Mejia, Steven Patterson, Sean Brady, Cameron Hill and J.P. Feyereisen, among others.

MVS alumni include recent MLB debutants Giovanny Urshela (2010), Francisco Lindor (2011) and Cody Anderson (2011), so one or more of the 2015 Scrappers might make the team around about June 2019 or June 2020! (In actual fact, given that both Cody Allen and Kyle Crockett started their pro careers with the Scrappers, one of the relievers might conceivably make it much sooner than that.)

Given that this year's Scrappers featured many of last season's championship-winning Arizona League team, as well as a strong batch of highly-rated college hitters, hopes were high that this would be a strong season. However, it didn't play out this way as injuries and some variable starting pitching took their toll.

Hitters

SS Willi Castro is still only 18, so the fact that he was able to hold his own in the NY-Penn League, hitting .264/.304/.330, was most encouraging. He figures to be the starting shortstop for the Captains next year.

C/1B Juan De La Cruz bounced back after a disappointing 2014 to hit .302/.347/.405 with the Scrappers (and also played nine early games with the Hillcats as an injury replacement). He's played more games at 1B than as catcher in the past two years, so continued success with the bat is essential for him to progress.

2B Sam Haggerty (24th rd, 2015) belied his low draft status by hitting .283/.361/.453 in 16 games before suffering a leg injury on Aug 9th that cost him the rest of his rookie season.

CF Nathan Lukes (7th rd, 2015) made a promising start to his pro career, but was then shut down after only five games due to a hand injury that required hamate surgery.

2B Mark Mathias (3rd rd, 2015) put up really excellent numbers for a second baseman (.282/.382/.408), leading the team in wRC+, OPS and OBP. Zaza Baggins recently suggested that Mathias might possibly follow the same path as Joey Wendle, fast-tracked to the Hillcats for Opening Day 2016, and one way or the other he should find himself in Class A+ sooner rather than later. He probably won't make any top 20 prospect lists, but he's a very intriguing "sleeper".

C Daniel Salters (13th rd, 2015) was a very pleasant surprise, hitting .279/.330/.358, and he was rewarded at the end of the season with an (injury-cover) promotion to the playoff-bound Hillcats, while also making the Baseball America short-season prospect team.

1B Emmanuel Tapia was in his third year in the system, but he is still only 19. Not surprisingly, his numbers regressed following his tremendous breakout year in the AZL, but he still hit .286/.350/.763 before being shut down at the end of July due to a fractured ankle.

OF Ka'ai Tom (5th rd, 2015) almost exactly matched Mathias' numbers (.283/.374/.403). The fact that he plays a less valuable position obviously counts against him somewhat in terms of prospect rankings, but it was still an excellent rookie campaign for the 21yo.

3B Nathan Winfrey built on his rookie year with a solid .270/.358/.342 sophomore campaign. He is very likely already pencilled in to start at 3B with the Captains next year.

A couple of the top AZL prospects, LF Jodd Carter and SS Alexis Pantoja struggled after they were promoted to the Scrappers in mid-season, while Gabriel Mejia (featured in our AZL review) also joined the team for the last few weeks.

Pitchers

Arizona League Indians regulars Sam Hentges, Christian Meister and Micah Miniard (all of whom were featured in our AZL Indians review) each appeared in the rotation in the last couple of weeks of the season, while relievers Erick Algarin and Henry Martinez also made some late appearances. Here we shall focus on the players who spent most of the year with the Scrappers.

RHP Shao-Chiang Chang failed to make it through the whole season yet again, shut down on Aug 11th. The 21yo has still never made more than eight starts (or pitched 50 innings) in a year despite the fact that this was his fourth year in the organization. Tommy John surgery and other injuries have taken their toll, and this lack of durability suggests that he will almost inevitably end up in the bullpen.

RHP Cortland Cox enjoyed a fine ride in his third season since being drafted in the 32nd rd in 2013. The 20yo began the year with five games in Arizona, spent a big chunk of time with the Scrappers, and ended the season all the way up at Lake County.

RHP Matt Esparza (14th rd, 2015) was terrific as a reliever and was switched to the rotation late on. The 22yo amassed a gaudy 54 strikeouts in just 43 IP.  It wouldn't be a surprise to see him fast-tracked through the system as a reliever next year, like Cody Allen was.

RHP Brock Hartson (21st rd, 2015)  was even more effective as a reliever than Esparza. The 22yo was another who was given a few turns in the rotation in late August.

RHP Yoiber Marquina began his pro career as a catcher with the DSL Indians in 2013, but was switched to pitcher when he arrived at Arizona last year. The Venezuelan certainly has strikeout stuff and is still only 19, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in Lake County next year.

RHP Jared Robinson comfortably led the team in innings pitched, as he followed up an excellent 2013 relieving performance in Arizona by turning in a solid year in the rotation (3.25 ERA/1.33 WHIP). The 20yo wasn't much of a strikeout pitcher (just 42 in 74.2 IP), but he'll almost certainly get a shot in the rotation with the Captains next year.

RHP Casey Shane was disappointing in his rookie year back as a 6th rd pick in 2013. However, he has reportedly worked hard on his conditioning and has turned in back-to-back good years, culminating in a late-season promotion for a couple of starts at Lake County. He has been in the top 25 of Baseball America's Tribe preseason farm rankings in each of the past two seasons, so he's certainly one to keep an eye on next season.

RHP Devon Stewart (9th rd, 2015) was probably somewhat unlucky with sequencing in recording a 3.68 ERA. The 22yo struck out 19 in 22 IP with a 1.18 WHIP.

LHP Billy Strode (10th rd, 2015) turned 23 in August, so time is not on his side. However, he certainly made the most of his opportunities in racking up a 1.71 ERA/0.99 WHIP with 25 strikeouts in 26.1 IP.

RHPs Kieran Lovegrove (14 starts) and Leandro Linares (12 starts) were the other two staples in the rotation, but they were both terrible with ERAs over 6.00. Linares actually walked the same number of batters as he pitched innings (44).

One should also bear in mind that the promising starter LHP Grant Hockin and reliever RHP Jordan Dunatov would almost certainly have played for the Scrappers had they not needed to undergo TJ surgery earlier this year.

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