When asked about his fondest memory as a player, new RubberDucks manager David Wallace joked that there wasn’t one.
With young talents like Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin on this year’s team, Wallace is sure to experience some good memories from the dugout.
Wallace enters the season with three years of managing experience in the Indians’ organization already under his belt.
He started his managerial career at short-season Mahoning Valley in 2011, moved up to Class-A Lake County in 2012 before spending last season as the manager of the Advanced Class-A Carolina Mudcats.
During his time at Carolina last season, Wallace worked with many of the RubberDucks players on this year’s Opening Day roster, including Tony Wolters, Cody Anderson, Joe Colon and the aforementioned Lindor and Naquin.
“I think it’s a nice advantage for all of us,” Wallace said. “They know what to expect out of me, I know what to expect out of them. It’s like that for not only [Lindor and Naquin], but a lot of the guys that are here. There won’t be that kind of ‘feeling each other out’ stage that might take place over the first month. We’re all pretty comfortable and familiar with each other that we’re confident we’ll hit the ground running this summer.”
Lindor, a 20-year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico, figures to be the main attraction during his time in Akron this summer.
The Indians’ No. 1 prospect and 2011 first-round draft pick, Lindor is ranked as the No. 13 prospect in the MLB by Baseball America.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, the switch-hitting Lindor projects to be a top-of-the-order hitter who brings an advanced approach to the plate, walking 49 times with just 46 strikeouts and a batting average over .300 in split time between Carolina and Akron last season.
He also brings good speed to the table, stealing 25 bases in 32 attempts.
But Lindor’s greatest value will not come from his efforts in the batter’s box or on the base path, but in the field.
Lindor is already regarded as an elite defensive shortstop, with his quick first step, plus range and cannon of an arm.
Lindor joined the Indians in Arizona for his first major-league spring training this year and fit right in.
“He belongs,” Wallace said. “He believes he belongs. Watch him and he’ll make you believe he belongs, too. With the amount of coverage that he gets and deserves, it’s a balance that he has to deal with that I certainly didn’t have to deal with as a player. You read all these great things about yourself and it’s hard not to lose sight of what got you to this point: his work ethic and focus combined with his talent. If he continues to do the things that he’s done to get here, he’ll be fine.”
Joining Lindor in the spotlight and atop the batting order will be Naquin.
Naquin, 22, the Indians first-round pick in 2012, is a left-handed batting center fielder who also spent the majority of last season in Carolina before joining the Aeros late in the season.
Naquin has good speed and a plus arm in center field but has posted just modest offensive numbers in the minor leagues so far with a high strikeout rate for a contact hitter.
However, an adjustment in widening Naquin’s stance last season has him feeling more comfortable at the plate as he looks to improve his power output.
“He’s got power in there,” Wallace said “It’s just a matter of putting him in the best position possible so when he puts the barrel on the ball, he’s in a good position to let that power play out. We’re not focused on his home run numbers or anything like that, we’re focused on his at-bats and positioning and timing. We know if he gets in good positions with good timing, that power will be there.”
No longer in Akron this season are Jesus Aguilar and Carlos Moncrief following their promotions to Triple-A Columbus.
Aguilar led the Eastern League with 105 RBI and Moncrief had 75.
Though Wallace doesn’t expect there to be another 100 RBI producer in the middle of his lineup, he sees a complete lineup top-to-bottom that will produce runs despite the absence of a power bat in the middle of things.
“Everybody’s going to have to pick up some of the production that those guys gave us. As I look at our lineup, there’s not maybe that standard four-hole guy, but you look at one-through-nine and there’s not a hole in that lineup. Everybody is accomplished, puts up good at-bats and are a threat to do some damage at any point. I wouldn’t be surprised if a guy like Jake Lowery has a breakout year and puts up some nice power numbers.”
Last season for the Aeros, Lowery posted top-five marks in on-base percentage (.363) and slugging percentage (.449), knocking six home runs and 21 doubles in 70 games.
The RubberDucks’ starting rotation is highlighted by 23-year-old right-hander and 2013 Indians Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Cody Anderson.
Anderson, ranked as the Indians’ top pitching prospect by FanGraphs prospect analyst Marc Hulet, posted a 2.65 ERA in 26 starts between Carolina and Akron last year.
Anderson works in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball and demonstrates solid command. He throws a plus slider to go along with a curveball and change-up.
Joe Colon, a 24-year-old right-hander, flew under the radar with injuries last season but is a starter to watch, according to Wallace.
Also in the rotation are big left-hander Will Roberts, righty Gabriel Arias and big-league veteran Kyle Davies.
Davies pitched six seasons in the majors, splitting time between the Kansas City Royals and the Atlanta Braves and having last pitched in 2011.
“It’s going to be a great benefit to our younger guys [having Davies] because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the now and lose that big picture perspective that Kyle has,” Wallace said. “He’s going to be able to talk to our guys and help them out, whether it’s something on the field or off the field. I’m really looking forward to having him.”
The Ducks open their regular season Thursday with a four-game series at the Binghamton Mets. They will then travel to Altoona for a series against the Curve before returning to Akron for their home opener against the Bowie Baysox on April 10.
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