In this third edition of the Top 10 in 10, looking back at the best Indians minor leaguers over the last decade, we’ll take a final look at the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Following the 1998 season, the Indians moved their New York/Penn League short season affiliate from Watertown New York a little closer to home in Niles, Ohio. Playing in the backyard of the Eastwood Mall, the team became known as the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (they had been the Indians previously) and existed through 2019. However, restructuring (removal) of the low level A teams across baseball almost certainly means the Scrappers will not be returning for 2021. With that in mind, here are the best players over the last decade for the dogs.
10. Mike Rayl – LHSP – 2010
After being taken in the 15th round of the 2009 draft, Rayl pitched one season in Arizona, then began his Scrappers career with 4.2 innings without an earned run against Jamestown. Twice more he would allow no earned runs through at least four innings in a start, but much more often he was simply really good. Only once in 14 starts did Rayl allow more than two earned runs and he gave up more than five hits just three times.
All in all, this efficiency lead to a 2.81 ERA and .234/.305/.307 batting line with a very exceptional 20.1% strike out rate. Rayl ended up pitching his last 2010 appearance in Lake County, then made 17 starts there in 2011 and was just as good as he was in 2010. He was unable to repeat these performances above A, however, and was released after a short appearance with the Hillcats in 2015.
9. Nellie Rodriguez – 1B – 2013
There were really only two candidates for this, the last position player in the top ten: Will Benson and Nellie Rodriguez. The pair hold the #1 and #2 spots in Scrappers history for single season home runs with Benson with 10 in 2017 and Rodriguez with 9 in 2011. The slight edge goes to Nellie, however, as he just edged him out in wRC+ 148 to 146 and greatly edged him out in average and OBP with a .287/.366/.452 batting line.
That line marked a career high for Rodriguez in average and second best marks to his first year in Arizona. The home runs and 16 doubles also showed a preview of his insane accumulation to come as he hit 169 doubles and 127 home runs as an Indians minor leaguer. Going back to 2006, only Bobby Bradley, Jesus Aguilar and Eric Haase have outhomered Rodriguez as an Indians minor leaguer while only Aguilar and Giovanny Urshela hit more doubles.
8. Danny Jimenez – LHSP – 2011
Jimenez was drafted twice, signing with the Indians in 2009. He pitched two fair seasons in relief for the AZL Indians, then joined the Scrappers in 2011 where he became, not just a starter, but one of the most effective starters in franchise history. Once he joined the rotation fully in July, Jimenez held opposing hitters to a .243/.303/.304 batting line with a 2.66 ERA across 61 innings in 12 appearances. Of his 2011 games, he didn’t allow an earned run in nine of 17 appearances.
While this lead to a team record 2.39 ERA over 71.2 innings, it didn’t come with a ton of K’s. Heading to Lake County in 2012, Jimenez was absolutely demolished and he was released before 2013. He then pitched three more seasons in independent ball, but never returned to the form of his 2011 Scrappers season.
7. Gabriel Mejia – CF – 2015, 2016 & 2018
This is the third installment of top minor leaguers by level over the last decade and no player has appeared on multiple lists except Mejia, who is on all three (don’t worry, he’ll never be on another after this). Mejia played 16 games with the Scrappers in 2015 following his amazing debut with the AZL Indians and hit .304/.316/.321 with six steals in seven attempts. Still a teenager heading into 2016, Mejia was held back in Mahoning Valley and spent the entire season there, batting .322/.378/.375 and earning him a place on this list. His 28 steals that year were a far cry from his 118 over his first two seasons, but still rank second most for a Scrappers single season in the last decade (two behind Greg Allen in 2014). His 39 total as a Scrapper, however, remain the team record.
In 2017, Mejia started with Lake County, but missed nearly all of May and all of June due to hamstring problems. He rehabbed in Arizona and jumped back to Lake County to finish the year. Injuries plagued Mejia again in 2018 and lead to his return to Mahoning Valley to begin the season. He continued to hit, but had lost his speed and batted .283/.333/.358 over 15 games with five steals in six attempts. He ended up reaching as high as Akron mid-season in 2019, but was ultimately released.
6. Zach Draper – LHSP – 2017 & 2018
Draper is an interesting case as he spent parts of two seasons with Mahoning Valley and played both at an elite level, but was fairly old during his best season, 2018. Drafted in a late round in 2017, Draper pitched poorly in Arizona, but was promoted to the Scrappers despite this. There, he was used mostly in relief and was fantastic with a 2.13 ERA and 12 K’s in 12 innings. After starting 2018 with the Captains, Draper was sent back to short season where he made 13 starts (14 appearanes) and held a 3.04 ERA over 68 innings with 65 strike outs. Overall, he had a 2.90 ERA across 80.2 innings and 20 appearances with Mahoning Valley. All these, as well as his 77 strike outs, rank among the top 10 Scrappers leaders in the last decade.
In addition, on August 9th, 2018, Draper pitched the only Scrappers complete game shut out over the last decade, although it was a rain shortened five innings. This was one of three scoreless appearances for Draper in 2008. Due to his advanced age, Draper isn’t really considered one of the Indians top pitching prospects, but he did have another solid season in 2009 with the Captains.
5. Joey Wendle – 2B – 2012
A sixth round pick in 2012, Wendle (pictured at top from the 2013 AFL season) flew up and out of the Indians farm system very quickly. He started off as hot as can be as a 22 year old rookie in Mahoning Valley where he hit .327/.375/.469 with 15 doubles, four homers and four triples. This marked the fourth best Scrappers SLG in the last decade and his resulting 148 wRC+ was second best in Scrappers history at the time (behind Todd Martin’s 166 in 2007) and was fourth in the past decade.
Wendle had an even better year the following season, skipping another level and going straight to Lynchburg. From there, he went to Akron, the Oakland in the Brandon Moss trade. Another trade sent him to Tampa where he was the fourth place finisher for rookie of the year in 2018.
4. Bryan Lavastida – C – 2019
You could claim some recency bias here as Lavastida was a member of the final Scrappers team, but his numbers speak for themselves. Starting with his batting line, Lavastida’s .335/.408/.483 came in second over the last decade in all three numbers behind Tyler Freeman’s 2018 campaign in average and slugging and Nolan Jones’ 2017 in OBP. He deserves bonus points for being a good defensive catcher while providing such offensive output, but possibly even more for cutting down on K’s in an era full of them.
Lavastida struck out just in just 11% of plate appearances and walked 25 times compared to 27 K’s, keeping his numbers in line from his rookie season in Arizona. Following the end of the short season, Lavastida was promoted for one game in Lake County where he had the most prototypical game possible going 1 for 3 with a walk and a K.
3. Alex Kaminsky – RHSP – 2010
The best starting pitcher for the Scrappers over the last decade pitched in the first season being considered never pitched again for the Indians. Born in Ohio in 1988 and signed as an undrafted free agent following his graduation from Wright State in Dayton, Kaminsky made 14 starts for the Scrappers in 2010. As a 22 year old rookie, he posted the fourth best ERA over the last decade for Mahoning Valley at 2.48 across 69 innings with the fifth most strike outs (58) and fourth best K% (21.2%).
Kaminsky essentially had just two bad starts where he allowed nine of his 19 earned runs across 7.2 innings. Otherwise, he had five scoreless appearances of at least five innings and six games with at least five strike outs. Following the Scrappers season, he was promoted to Akron for one final appearance where he went three scoreless innings. Strangely, despite his amazing start and Ohio roots, Kaminsky was released following his first season and spent the next four seasons in Independent and Australian ball.
2. Tyler Freeman – SS/2B – 2018
Freeman follows #1 on this list in many things including the fact that he was the next second round draft pick, was second on the wRC+ list since 2006 for the Scrappers (168) and played one year after #1. Where Freeman sticks out, however, is in his efficiency in multiple parts of his game. First, he was an astounding defender at two skill positions, short and second, splitting time with Jose Fermin. Next, he struck out in just 7.3% plate appearances, second best for the Scrappers since 2006 behind Connor Marabell’s 2015 season. Like Marabell, Freeman didn’t walk much, but made up for it with a Scrappers best (over the last decade) .352 average while his .405 OBP ranked third over that span.
In addition to his ability to get on base, he was very dangerous once there, stealing 14 bases in 17 attempts. While his counterpart Freeman won’t appear on this list despite also having a very fine offensive season, he stole another 17 bases in 21 attempts, making this a very dangerous middle infield combination. Freeman has since played for Lake County and Lynchburg in 2019, continuing to keep his strike outs and walks to a minimum while adding a slight bit of power with good base running and defense.
1. Nolan Jones – 3B – 2017
Jones has put together quite a few good seasons on the way to becoming the Indians #1 prospect heading into 2020, but on a game-by-game basis, his 2017 season in Mahoning Valley was his best. Still just 19 despite being in his second season following his second round draft selection, Jones hit .317/.430/.482, all personal records. These numbers also rank fourth, first and third, respectively, for the Scrappers over the last decade. His 171 wRC+ is also a Scrappers record going back to at least 2006.
While he was consistently hot throughout the season, he was particularly scorching during his late July, early August 11 game hitting streak where he went 20 for 43 with five doubles, two home runs and eight walks. This would be Jones’ final season playing in just one level as he jumped from Lake County to Lynchburg in 2018, then Lynchburg to Akron in 2019, finishing the year with Mesa in the Arizona Fall League. He remains the Indians top hitting prospect and spent 2020 at the alternative site.