Under Dennis Malave, the 2021 Hillcats had a great start to the season, but ended up finishing under .500, partially due to mid-season promotions to Lake County. Now under the helm of Omir Santos, the Lynchburg squad will feature many players from the 2021 ACL Indians in addition to a handful of returning players.
The Hillcats catching trio features no true prospects with 20 year old Richard Paz leading the way following a .360/.446/.640 season with the 2021 ACL Indians. Also from the 2021 ACL Indians will be Victor Planchart, who had a rather lackluster season offensively, although provided a bit of power. Rounding out the group will be 22 year old 2020 undrafted free agent Joe Donovan who played with the Captains in 2020.
Will Bartlett will be returning for his second season in Lynchburg after a disappointing 2021. He is the only non shortstop in the infield and needs to significantly increase his offensive production to make his mark. Jake Fox, Dayan Frias, Wilfri Peralta, Milan Tolentino, Carson Tucker and Yordys Valdes will man the other infield positions despite all initially joining the franchise as short stops. Tolentino and Valdes ended 2021 with the Hillcats while Fox, Frias and Tucker are up from the ACL Indians and Peralta is down from Lake County.
Of the infielders, 2020 4th round pick Tolentino and 2018 international signee Frias are the most interesting. Tolentino started in Arizona in 2021 where he had a great beginning to his career, but struggled some once reaching Lynchburg. If he turns things around, he could be in line for an early promotion to Lake County. Frias is best known for his high walk rate, but really had an overall breakout season in 2021 and is quickly rising on prospect rankings.
The Hillcats outfield group is the most exciting part of the team as Jorge Burgos is returning after playing just half the season with Lynchburg in 2021 and will be joined by Luis Durango, Isaiah Greene and Skeiling Rodriguez. Burgos, Durango and Greene are all skilled defenders and all were impressive offensively in 2021 with the ACL Indians. Rodriguez is the least known of the group, but shouldn’t be slept on as he could ultimately be the top power prospect in the Hillcats outfield.
Will Dion, LHP – Dion made just four appearances in 2021 after being a ninth round draft pick last year, but is still the top pitching prospect with the 2022 Hillcats. He didn’t allow an earned run during that season and struck out 21 with just five walks in 12 innings.
Brauny Munoz, RHP – Munoz made 11 starts for the Hillcats in 2021 and pitched 57.2 innings overall. Repeating low A at 20 years old, he doesn’t have much prospect status, but will likely be a big innings eater for a fairly weak rotation.
Rodney Boone, LHP – Boone was the Guardians 8th round pick last year following his third strong season with UC Santa Barbara. He will be debuting with the franchise in Lynchburg after striking out 239 with 79 walks and a 2.52 ERA across 199.2 innings during his college career.
Franco Aleman, RHP – Drafted by Cleveland in the 10th round in 2021, Aleman will be skipping the Arizona League and heading straight to Lynchburg in 2022. He had a bit of a rough time with the University of Florida in 2021, but was great in 2019 with Florida International. In his last college season, Aleman was used mostly in relief and he could wind up there with Cleveland as well.
Trenton Denholm, RHP – Denholm will also be making his professional debut in 2022 following his 14th round selection in 2021. Out of UC Irvine, he played all four seasons with the anteaters and was originally drafted by the Red Sox in 2017.
Zach Pettway, RHP – Pettway was the Guardians 16th round pick last year following four years with the UCLA Bruins. He was best during the shortened 2020 season, but overall struck out 241 with 58 walks and a 3.77 ERA in 264.2 innings.
Reid Johnston, RHP – The 22 year old Johnston was taken by Cleveland in the 19th round last year out of NC State. In his four years there, he struck out 227 with 69 walks and a 3.93 ERA across 251.2 innings.
Reny Artiles, RHP – Originally an international signee out of the Dominican Republic, Artiles made eight starts for the 2021 ACL Indians, striking out 43 with 12 walks across 27.1 innings.
There aren’t any huge names in the relief group to start the season for Lynchburg, but they will feature Hugo Villalobos, Serafino Brito, Yeury Gervacio, Juan Zapata, Elvis Jerez and Trey Benton returning from 2021 as well as 2021 draft picks Jack Leftwich (7th round), Jake Miller (20th round) and Davis Sharpe (13th round).
It should be an interesting year for the Hillcats as a ton of 2021 draft picks will be making their debuts in the rotation and bullpen while the more established (at least by a year or two) players will make up the offense. The outfield should be particularly exciting, but don’t sleep on Fox, Frias and Tolentino in the infield.