The Double-A Akron RubberDucks are coming off a Double-A Northwest (which has thankfully been changed back to the Eastern League) Championship in 2021. The 2022 squad is set to feature […]
The Double-A Akron RubberDucks are coming off a Double-A Northwest (which has thankfully been changed back to the Eastern League) Championship in 2021. The 2022 squad is set to feature several top prospects (including the consensus top three players) for the Cleveland Guardians, and the team will be offering its usual array of fun events and activities to attract baseball fans and people who just want to have an entertaining evening. Here are some of the players you can expect to see on Akron’s roster to begin the year:
2021 was a disappointing year, offensively, for the Guardians’ best catching prospect and 2018 first-round draft pick, Bo Naylor, as he slashed .188/.280/.332 putting up a 69 wRC+. Coming into 2021, Josh Naylor’s younger brother was ranked eight on Fangraphs, but seems likely to have slipped in their rankings for 2022 whenever those are released. Guardians Baseball Insider ranks him as the team’s ninth best prospect, the Athletic’s Keith Law ranked him 13th in the Cleveland system, and MLB Pipeline slotted him in at 16th. The good news is that Naylor continues to rate well as a defender and as a handler of pitching staffs. Fans who attend RubberDucks games will want to see if he can lower that 31% strikeout-rate and make good contact that sees him find some of his missing power from 2019 as his number of extra-base hits went from 39 that year in Single-A to 24 in Akron in 2021. This is only his age 22 season so he’s still got some time to figure it out, but this should be the year he makes some strides if those strides are coming.
Seth Caddell is a 22-year-old right-handed catcher out of East Carolina, where Guardians 2022 first-round draft pick Gavin Williams pitched, will back up Naylor. Eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Caddell made the Ducks’ roster, but it may reveal the lack of catching depth in Cleveland’s system more than anything else. Still, it will be intriguing to see what Caddell is able to do while spelling Naylor on his days off and waiting to see if his former battery-mate, Williams, joins him at some point this season.
First a brief note on a player not starting 2022 with the Ducks but expected to see significant time there: Guardians Baseball Insider’s 14th-best Guardians prospect, Jhonkensy Noel figures to see a lot of time at first base for Akron, if he continues to destroy pitching as he did in Lynchburg and Lake County in 2021. He sustained a minor throwing arm injury in Spring Training and is ramping his way up to things in High-A, while we remain unsure what the plan currently is for first base on the Ducks roster. It may be Micah Pries, but more on him when we get to the Ducks’ outfield.
Playing some second, short and third for Akron will likely be just turned 21-year-old, left-handed-hitting Jose Tena, who also features prominently on some prospect lists, ranked 13th in the Guardians’ system by Guardians Baseball Insider, fourth by the Athletic’s Keith Law, ninth by MLB Pipeline, and third in the Cleveland farm by FanGraphs ZiPS top 100 prospect list. Tena put up a 115 wRC+ at Lake County in 2021 and some have argued he is the best defensive player of the Rocchio/Freeman/Arias/Tena bunch. With Rocchio’s skillset playing best at short, it seems likely he’ll get the majority of starts there, at least until Arias graduates from Columbus to the majors, so fans attending Akron games should get to evaluate Tena’s versatility in the field (he did play 11 games at second and 13 at third for Lake County in 2021).
The consensus top three prospects in the Cleveland system seem set to start the year in Akron, and the best of the bunch may very well be Brayan Rocchio, ranked (within the Guardians’ system) third by Guardians Baseball Insider, first by Keith Law of the Athletic, second by FanGraphs, second by ZiPS, and fourth by MLB pipeline. The now 21-year-old put up a 135 wRC+ in 44 games for Akron last season. The only issue, as noted above, is how long Rocchio will stay at Akron before heading south to Columbus, as he, Arias, and Valera have been aggressively promoted and shown themselves up to the challenge every time. A highlight of viewing any Ducks’ game in April and May, at the very least, should be seeing what this switch-hitting shortstop nicknamed “the Professor” is doing to help his team win.
Marcos Gonzalez has shown up on some prospects lists in the past, listed as a prospect of note in FanGraphs’ list for the 2021 Guardians, but he had a disappointing year in Akron in 2021, only putting up a 82 wRC+, striking out a third of the time and making 11 errors in 61 games. However, Gonzalez is still only 22 years old and, certainly, deserves some grace trying to find his way after the pandemic took a year of development away. The right-handed hitter figures to see some time at second or third-base.
Akron’s outfielders will feature two players who are flying a bit under the radar and a rock-star of the Cleveland farm system.
Micah Pries, 24-year-old left-handed hitter, figures to handle most of the duties in left, but also can play first-base, so he may be featured there, at least to begin the season. Pries hit noine homers between Lake County and Akron last year and put up a 117 wRC+ during his time with the Ducks. Fans attending Ducks’ games should watch to see if Pries can lower a 30% K-rate that he registered in Akron in 2021. Pries was ranked as Cleveland’s 44th best prospect by Guardians Baseball Insider.
24-year-old Will Brennan is somewhat of a forgotten player in many Cleveland prospect circles, while being ranked 47th by Guardians Baseball Insider. The left-handed hitter plays a solid centerfield and put up a 107 wRC+ for Akron, buoyed by a 10% walk rate. If Brennan can add a little bit more of the pop to his game in Double-A that saw him put up 27 extra-base hits in Lake County in 2021, he’ll be a core piece in the top of the Ducks’ lineup and probably earn himself a promotion to Columbus at some point.
As a Guardians and Rubber Ducks fan, you cannot forget about George Valera, of course, ranked as the organization’s top prospect by Guardians Baseball Insider, MLB Pipeline and the ZiPS Top 100, while coming in at second on Keith Law’s list for the Athletic and sixth among the Guardians on FanGraphs Top 100. Valera destroyed High-A with a 165 wRC+ and lit up Guardians fans’ Twitter feeds with some electric bat flips after home runs while he was at it. He only managed a 104 wRC+ in 23 games for Akron, but the left-handed hitter is just now entering his age 21 season, with plenty of time to show what he’s capable of in Double-A. Expect to see Valera in the middle of the lineup, playing right-field and centerfield and flipping his bat after every epic home run. Akron fans should expect to receive an extensive revelation of the messianic outfield bat Guardians fans have been longing for in the 2022 season. Check out Patrick Ellington’s story on Valera published on Guardians Baseball Insider earlier this offseason.
Left-handed hitting outfielder Julian Escobedo can play any outfield position and has a little pop in his bat. Expect the soon-to-be 24-year-old to spell the three starters listed above and give them a chance to play DH now and then.
Daniel Espino, RHP – The consensus top pitching prospect in the Guardians farm, 6’2” Espino had a very solid 2021 with a 3.08 FIP in Lake County and an eye-popping 16.16 strikeouts per 9, and 2.94 walks per 9. Most recently, he has been lighting up the scouting blogosphere this Spring Training, forcing Eric Longenhagen from FanGraphs to move him all the way up to #10 in the FanGraphs top 100 prospects list. With a fastball that sits 98-100 mph, and a devastating slider, as well as a plus curveball and changeup, 21-year-old Espino looks like a future top-of-the-rotation starter, and if Cleveland would make a run at the playoffs in 2022, he might force the issue in a Danny Salazar-like manner at the rate he is developing. The big question with Espino has always been command, but at the end of 2022, it seemed he had begun to figure this out, and reports are that this trend of limiting walks and throwing strikes has continued in minor-league camp this Spring. Within the Cleveland system, Espino was ranked second by Guardians Baseball Insider, third by the Athletic’s Keith Law, first by FanGraphs top 100, eighth by ZiPS top 100, and second by MLB Pipeline. His starts should be appointment viewing in Akron.
Logan T. Allen, LHP – The younger Logan Allen pitched exceptionally in Lake County in 2021, putting up a 2.80 FIP, 11.75 strikeouts per 9 innings, and 2.28 walks per 9. After making the jump to Akron, his FIP went up to 3.73, predictably, but his walk rate dropped to 1.95 and his strikeout rate held serve at 11.40. The 23-and-a-half-year-old, six-foot lefty is a name to watch, as his command and an excellent changeup make him the kind of pitcher Cleveland is well known for developing into a valuable major-league piece. Allen came in at eighth on Guardians Baseball Insiders rankings of the Cleveland system’s top prospects and was included on FanGraphs’ list of “Picks to Click” for 2022.
Tanner Burns, RHP – Burns started 18 games in Lake County in 2021, putting up a 4.35 FIP with 10.82 K/9, and 3.45 BB/9. Like a lot of Cleveland pitchers, he’s a little undersized but seems to get the most out of his mid-90s fastball. Look to see how well he mixes in a curveball, change, and a plus slider because all will be key for his continued development as he enters his age 23 season. The 23-year-old Burns was ranked 20th on Guardians Baseball Insiders’ list of top Cleveland prospects, and was also included on FanGraphs’ list of “Picks to Click.”
Joey Cantillo, LHP – Only 22 years old, Cantillo had most of his 2021 wiped out due to an abdominal injury, but he ended up starting one game and coming on in relief in four other games for the Ducks in their championship run last year. His big weapon is a plus changeup, which helped him strike out 12 in 8 innings for the Ducks… while also walking 10 batters. It will be important to see if a year of offseason training can help Cantillo find his command, display a little increased velocity (seeing a fastball in the low 90’s would be a great sign), and get some additional chances to start. Otherwise, he’s looking at a future role in the pen.
Xzavion Curry, RHP – Another shorter pitcher (5’11”) with great command and a fastball that plays up – sound familiar anyone? Curry will turn 24 this year and try to build on a 2021 season that saw him put up some good numbers in Lake County where he had a 3.99 FIP, 10.64 K/9, and only 1.6 BB/9. He popped his head into Akron before the regular season ended, but it will be fun to see him get a chance to continue to defy the general expectations placed on pitchers who are shorter in stature than typical for the majors, or if he may find himself in more of a bullpen role, eventually. Curry can get up to 94 with his fastball, which he mixes with a curve, slider and change. Guardians Baseball Insider ranked him as the organization’s 18th best prospect, and he was also included on FanGraphs list of “Picks to Click.”
Hunter Gaddis, RHP – Ranked 39th in the Cleveland system by Guardians Baseball Insider, Gaddis features a fastball in the low-to-mid 90’s with a plus changeup that has good separation from his fastball. At 6’5” he breaks the mold of the pitchers on this staff but may be the closest to being moved to more of a relief role of anyone on the list if the team determines his stuff may play up there. He did start 19 games for Lake County where he struck out 11.74/9IP, walked 2.59/9IP, and had a 5.04 FIP. Cleveland’s handling of these young arms will be fascinating to watch, and it will be telling to observe which three of the starters not named Espino or Allen get the most starts, and which see time in relief, especially as Gavin Williams, starting the year in Lake County, figures to be knocking on the door to take a spot in the Akron rotation as well, perhaps when Espino and/or Allen move up to Columbus.
There are some interesting names in the Akron bullpen, highlighted by Tim Herrin (LHP, 25 years old, 3.38 FIP, 10.38/3.91 K/BB per 9 in 2021 at Lake County), Jerson Ramirez (RHP, 55th on the Guardians Baseball Insider Guardians prospect list, 23 years old, 2.81 FIP, 12.21/3.21 K/BB at Lake County), Nic Enright (RHP, 58th on the Guardians Baseball Insider Guardians prospect list, 25 years old, 3.16 FIP, 12.71/2.27 K/BB per 9 in 2021 at Akron), and Kevin Kelly (RHP, 24 years old, 2.99 FIP, 13.02/1.29 K/BB for Lake County in 2021). Ramirez had a forearm injury late last season after opening some eyes, but he threw in a Spring Training game this past month, so hopefully he is ready to go for the beginning of the season. Considering the short run-up to Spring Training and the lack of any major-league signings other than Bryan Shaw, any of these four guys who impress in Akron could find themselves on the Guardians roster at some point in 2022, and there are some decent arms here to dream about.
Nick Gallagher (26-year-old RHP) and Andrew Misiaszek (24-year-old LHP) round out the relief corps for the Ducks to start off the year.
Rubber Ducks Promotional Schedule Highlights
The Akron Rubber Ducks have something special for fans every home game, and 2022 is no different. Some highlights for promotions include:
- April 16th – Championship ring replica giveaway
- May 10th – NFT Night (Nice Freaking T-Shirt given to the first 1,000 fans)
- June 1st – Dinosaur Day, June 3rd – Star Wars night with themed fireworks
- June 25th – Halfway to Christmas, Santa Hat and beard Giveaway to first 1,000 fans and fireworks
- July 9th – Salute to the Negro Leagues
- July 22nd – Rubber Ducks Idol and Fireworks
- August 14th – Family Fun Day with Princess Tea Party
- September 14th – Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice.
These are just a few highlighted promotions that seem especially fun or notable, check out the full promotional schedule at https://www.cleveland.com/entertainment/2022/03/akron-rubberducks-2022-promotional-schedule-released.html.
The best prospects in the Cleveland system will start their years off at Akron, so make your way out to see them before the calendar hits June/July and they push their way into Columbus. If you’re frustrated with the Guardians not keeping stars late into their careers, I recommend enjoying the earlier years of those careers by catching the future stars like Rocchio, Valera and Espino in the minors. It’s great to think of all three of them developing chemistry and comradery while leading the Ducks. With a strong, deep Guardians system, the Rubber Ducks look primed to make another run at the playoffs and a defense of their 2021 Northeast Double-A title.