If you were a manager of a minor league ballclub and you lost your two best relievers, your two best starting pitchers and your two best hitters via promotions or trades and then proceeded to lose 12 straight games, how would you respond?
If you’re Akron Rubberducks coach Dave Wallace, you’d suck it up and win the whole *&^-ing thing.
Wallace knows the Tribe farm system well, he signed with the Indians as an undrafted free agent in 2002 as a catcher, making it as high as Triple-A Columbus before calling it a career and transitioning to coaching, where he’s managed Low-A Mahoning Valley, Single-A Lake County, the High-A club and is now in his third year with Akron.
The third time was the charm, because Baseball America awarded Wallace the 2016 Minor League Manager of the Year honors, joining an elite club which includes Buck Showalter (1989), Grady Little (1992) and current Indians skipper Terry Francona (1993).
Wallace is the fourth member of the Indians organization to win the award in the past 17 years joining Joel Skinner (2000), Marty Brown (2004) and current third base coach Mike Sarbaugh (2010).
This season, he overcame some major hurdles. With Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier, Adam Plutko, Shawn Morimando, Ben Heller and JP Feyereisen no longer on his club, he was forced to get a more rag-tag unit of wide-eyed youngsters who had just been promoted to his club to gel quickly.
And that’s exactly what they did.
On the starting pitching side of the equation, Rob Kaminsky, someone nearly everyone had given up on after a slow start to 2016, became one of the Indians’ most dominant starters in the second half. Michael Peoples refused to give up more than three runs in any of his final six starts and Julian Merryweather finally adapted to Double-A ball after a rough promotional debut and started blowing away hitters in the final few weeks.
Wallace got great contributions from another pair of newcomers during the playoff run, Mike Papi and Greg Allen, who, alongside powerful slugger Nellie Rodriguez and heavy-hitting catcher Eric Haase, helped the Rubberducks sweep their way to an Eastern League championship.
Wallace’s future looks just as bright as the current Indians farm system. We could be seeing him in Cleveland in some capacity sooner rather than later.