The 2016 Mahoning Valley Scrappers saw an uptick in prospect talent as compared to recent years. The short-season, Low-A level housed the beginnings of Triston McKenzie, Brady Aiken, Andrew Calica, and Todd Isaacs’ careers, among many others. The 2017 season will of course remain no different.
Debuting on the 2017 club in their first taste of professional action will be 2016 first round pick OF Will Benson, second round pick INF Nolan Jones, sixth round pick INF Ulysses Cantu, and others who spent the 2016 season in the Arizona League.
Also, Luke Carlin will make his managerial debut. The 36 year-old, who last played for the Indians in 2012, spent time in Tigers camp at the start of 2016, but later chose to hang ‘em up and took a coaching role within the Indians organization at AA Akron.
“I’ve loved my time here as a player, and it was beyond what I expected as a player development staff member, as well. It’s been a first-class organization,” Carlin quickly tabbed to the media.
Regarding his influences on his managerial approach, Carlin tossed several names up, including current White Sox manager Rick Renteria, Cubs third base coach Gary Jones, Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey, current Indians third base coach Mike Sarbaugh, and managers Bud Black, Bob Melvin, and A.J. Hinch.
“I never played for Tito (Francona), but I’ve been in the clubhouse with him. He’s got such a passion for the players, and he’s spent time with Minor league managers, setting the culture and understanding expectations of our young players, so I’ve held a lot from him,” he said.
Regarding his approach to the 2017 season, Carlin said that “I think the more guys we can send up, the more successful we’re going to be. Ultimately, that’s our goal… To get these guys performing so they can get out of here. That being said, there is a path of development that involves some failure. We understand that and the men understand that.”
Carlin also spoke of personal expectations going into 2017.
“Hopefully, I don’t make too many mistakes. We’ve seen a lot of baseball, so I don’t think anything new will jump out at us right away. It’s tough to look ahead and think about what it is that we’re not prepared for,” he said. “I would hope that we prepared as much as we can, but we’re also humbled enough to know we don’t know all the answers.”
Will Benson slashed .209/.321/.424 in 44 games played in the Arizona League in 2016. What impressed scouts and what stands out in the box score is how 19 of his 33 hits went for extra bases – 10 doubles, three triples, and six home runs. Not only was he a machine at the dish, despite his low batting average, he also scored 31 runs and stole 10 bases. His plus arm profiles him as either a center fielder or a right fielder, but most likely as a right fielder.
Benson talked about his path to his first season in professional baseball, and how he can continue to be a top prospect in this organization.
“The coaching staff has been a pleasure and a treat. They have been with me every step of the process. Walking through the (Scrappers) locker room and seeing Lindor and Kipnis’ pictures means they came through here, and you can get to the Big Leagues.”
He also pointed out a key current Major Leaguer who has influenced him thus far.
“One of the people I really picked on was Michael Brantley. He’s such a knowledgeable source,” he commented. “His philosophy, how he approaches at-bats… it’s a good brain to pick. I love his swing and how simple it is. He laid down some little bricks that I can use to build a nice little house.”
Nolan Jones fared well for different reasons in the Arizona League in 2016. He slashed .257/.388/.339 with five doubles and two triples in 32 games played. What impressed about the third baseman in 2016 was his selectiveness at the plate, as he nearly had dawn as many walks (23) as he had hits (28), which accounted for his high on-base percentage.
“I think I’ve learned more in the past year than I ever could’ve imagine learning in professional baseball,” he said regarding his 2016 season in the Arizona League. Honestly, I’ve been waiting on this for a while. I’m excited to play baseball. The coaches have made the transition (into the organization) easy for me.”
Even though the 2017 Scrappers are just kicking off, Jones noted that the workload does not limit to just half of a season.
“When you already have 200 at-bats, it’s not exactly a home opener… your body doesn’t feel the best. But this is where we were last year after a high school season. I’m still getting used to it. I’ve played more baseball (this year) than I have in my entire life, and I have a half of a season ahead of me still,” he commented.
Also on the Scrappers roster and returning from Tommy John Surgery is RHP Zach Plesac, whom the Indians selected in the 12th round in 2016 and is also the nephew of former reliever Dan Plesac.
“I definitely feel stronger and healthier now," the right-hander noted, "I’m really comfortable with where I’m at. The coaching staff is really happy with where I’m at. Overall, I think everyone is pretty confident with (the) post-surgery results. I can throw everything. It all feels good.”
“I don’t look at (having the family name) as pressure," he said regarding his family baseball pedigree, "I look at it as someone in my family I can look to as a resource if I am unsure of something. I know he’s been through it, and my family’s been through it. It’s good to have him for guidance.”
Scrappers fans in the Niles, Warren, and Youngstown areas can look forward to some interesting promotions in 2017. Bobblehead giveaways include Francisco Lindor (June 23), Cody Allen (July 4), Jose Ramirez (July 29), Paul Warfield (Aug. 5), and Jason Kipnis (Aug. 26). The promotional schedule includes seven fireworks nights, a Star Wars Night, and seven of their famed Buck Nights, which includes $1 general admission tickets. The full promotional schedule can be found on mvscrappers.com.
Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Cleveland Indians and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers on Indians Baseball Insider on Scout.com. You can listen to him on IBI’s Farm Report Podcast and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan.