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Double-A Akron RubberDucks season preview

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Top prospects Tyler Freeman and Bo Naylor headline an intriguing Double-A team in Akron

Cleveland Indians v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The minor league season begins Tuesday. Rosters were recently announced, although the full Akron roster was not fully unveiled on the below tweet because some players were participating in the alternate site (I’ve added the extra players below the listed roster).

Here’s the expected roster for Double-A Akron:

There also were four players added to the roster from the team’s alternate site on Monday.

Not listed are pitcher Francisco Perez (promoted from Lake County) and outfielder Alex Call.

Pitching

The Akron pitching staff is noticeably light in regards to top prospects, with the lone CTC standout being No. 14-ranked Joey Cantillo, who was just added to the roster Monday. Cantillo was one of the returns in the Mike Clevinger trade, and this is his first taste of Double-A. Cantillo was flat out dominant at Single-A in 2019, earning “Pitcher of the Week” three times and a late-season promotion to High-A. He could quickly add himself to the MLB starting pitching depth conversation if he performs well.

Former second-round pick Juan Hillman is on the heels of the best season of his career, sporting a 3.85 ERA spanning 25 starts at High-A in 2019. Shane McCarthy has posted strong strikeout numbers at every level he’s pitched thus far and has a golden opportunity to stand out here. Juan Mota hasn’t had incredible numbers yet, but he’s been clocked at 101 mph on the radar gun, which makes him plenty interesting.

Skylar Arias, Jake Miednik, Aaron Pinto, and Jonathan Teaney were lights out in relief in 2019.

Catching

The biggest surprise on the team is Bo Naylor, who is exploding through the system. Naylor skipped Low-A entirely in 2019, beginning the season at full-season Single-A (where he had a 10+ double, 10+ homer, and 10 triple season). After the pandemic canceled the 2020 season, Naylor is skipping High-A and rocketing straight to Double-A. He looked great on the MLB team in spring training and is primed to vault himself into the top 100 in all of MLB prospects if he can perform well as one of the youngest players in all of Double-A at 21 years old.

Infield

The standout in the infield is CTC No. 3 prospect Tyler Freeman, who has the best bat-to-ball contact ability in the entire Cleveland system. Freeman will likely play shortstop the whole season, with occasional time at second base if he wants to improve his chances of being a starter in Cleveland in 2022.

Jose Fermin is another intriguing infield prospect who had the best season of his career in 2019, slashing .293/.374/.379 while walking (42) more than he struck out (40). Richard Palacios had the Nick Sandlin treatment in 2018, advancing three levels after being drafted, but then he missed all of 2019 with a shoulder injury, so he hasn’t played professionally in two and a half years. Marcos Gonzalez will likely man third base. He was a top international signing in 2016, the year before Cleveland had its vaunted class.

Outfield

In the outfield, former 2016 first-round pick Will Benson will have a chance to show improved contact in his first taste of Double-A. Benson showed great patience at the plate in Spring Training this year, but high strikeout rates have kept him from elite prospect status.

Free-swinging Oscar Gonzalez could learn a thing or two from Benson, as he’s yet to walk 20 times in a full minor league season, although he impressively slashed .319/.342/.455 at High-A in 2019. Steven Kwan is a solid prototypical leadoff hitter, sporting above-average speed on the base paths, walk-rates, and outfield defense. Trenton Brooks also is coming off the best season of his career in 2019, although he’s still stuck repeating at Double-A two years later.