The baseball world was focused on the All-Star game last night. Five Cleveland Indians were on the AL squad. But our sports commentator, Terry Pluto, says this is also a good time of year to look for the players who could be tomorrow’s greats, and there’s no better place to look than Akron...
Pluto runs through the current Indians lineup. He names five players – Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Roberto Perez – before he comes up with one, Yan Gomes, who didn’t come up to Cleveland through Akron.
“Usually about 80 percent of the guys you see in the big leagues with the Indians came through Akron.”
And Pluto says that’s likely to continue with some hot prospects showing what they can do.
"The most interesting to me and the one you may have a shot of seeing this year (in Cleveland) is Francisco Mejia, a catcher.”
He’s hitting tops in the Eastern League at .339, and he’s just 21.
“This kid … is already at that stage where they either move him up to AAA and he could possibly be in Cleveland because he is a catcher and the Indians catchers cannot hit.” He notes that Perez and Gomes have a combined batting average of just a little over .200.
“The only worse hitting group of catchers in the American League is Toronto.”
Mejia has company with some power
Pluto says Mejia is not the only young Akron talent worth watching. First baseman Bobby Bradley is also just 21. His defense is not his strong suit.
“It used to be they could hardly get him to play at all and now he’s playing some.”
But Pluto says that’s not what’s promising about him.
“You look at age and power, most the time players don’t start to hit a lot of home runs until they’re 24, 25, 26. Bobby Bradley’s 21, he’s got like 17 homers.”
“Akron is kind of the dividing line; if you play relatively well at AA and you’re relatively young, you probably will play in the big leagues at some point,” Pluto notes.
The best trade never made
But a move by the Indians last year nearly derailed that for some of the young players.
Cleveland made a move for Jonathan Lucroy, a catcher who could hit. But Lucroy’s contract allowed him to veto the trade, and he did.
“The Indians are so thankful that trade fell apart.”
Something else the Indians would have lost is diversity. Chang’s from Taiwan, Bradley from Gulfport, Miss., Mejia from the Dominican Republic.
“It’s baseball; the players come from all over the place."
And the guy who’s bringing them here, either through the draft or international signings is Brad Grant, the senior director of amateur scouting. Pluto says he has one goal.
“Your idea’s, ‘I just want to have a whole lot of players that the front office could use however best.’"
Meanwhile, Pluto says, Akron fans get a close-up look at his work.
“To me it’s kind of fun to say, ‘I went to Akron and I saw Lindor and I knew he could play. And I saw Jose Ramirez, I knew those guys were going to be good.’ … Or ‘I saw Josh Tomlin and I didn’t think he was going to be that good,’ … or I saw this guy and I thought for sure he’s make it and he didn’t.’
“So you kind of get to play scout or amateur general manager and that’s a lot of fun, too."
Pluto says Akron has one other advantage for baseball fans: Canal Park is a nice place to watch a ballgame.
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