Written by Mark Firkins
Minor League Baseball has started. With three weeks of play behind us we’re starting to see trends appear from some of the games younger talents. It seems like an eternity since I last visited a baseball stadium. However now that the weather seems to be turning in my favor, I’m making the most of it. I’m getting out to the ballpark as often as I can and visiting as many teams and cities as my schedule allows this season.
It’s no secret that North East Ohio is a favorite road trip of mine. There’s plenty of Major and Minor League baseball in and around Cleveland. Located only 15 minutes east of Cleveland, in East Lake, Ohio, is Classic Park. Home of the Lake County Captains, the Cleveland Indians A affiliate of the Midwest League. Plenty of the Indians current roster have made this a stop on their way to big leagues, including Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, and Francisco Lindor.
A lot of the players on this years Captains roster are familiar to me as I saw plenty of them in action last season in their rookie years with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the NY PENN League. Their manager Luke Carlin is also a familiar face. Carlin managed the Scrappers last season and led them to the NY PENN League playoffs and finals. It was wise of the Indians to promote Carlin as the Captains manager as well. He’s familiar with most of the roster, the players have a good rapport, respect, and will continue to develop with him for another year.
Two names from last season that are off to an impressive start this season are SS Ernie Clement and Starting Pitcher Eli Morgan. Ernie Clement is not a name that most baseball fans are familiar with, yet. After being drafted in the 4th round by the Cleveland Indians with the No. 132 overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Clement has flown under-the-radar a bit. Those who do know about him are excited for his future with the Indians.
In his first MiLB season, he split time between second base and shortstop. In 149 innings at second he fielded a perfect 1.000 FPCT. At SS, he played 187 innings, with a .951 FPCT. At the plate Clement went 49 for 175 for a .280 AVG. So far in 2018 Clement has appeared in 14 of the 16 Captains games as their SS. He’s off to a fast start with the bat, going 20 for 59, a .339 AVG. Clement is definitely a tough out for opposing pitchers. He has an excellent batting eye and rarely strikes out. He has an open batting stance, quick level swing, squares the ball on the barrel, and makes hard contact. He features the potential for a being a top of the order table setter with good base running skills and the ability to steal a few bases.
Clement is known for his enthusiasm and extreme work ethic. I caught up with Ernie during a rain delay, before a game last season and asked him what it was like to be a player in the Indians farm system. He answered “It’s been amazing. First of all the organization has treated me so well. From the coaches to the strength and conditioning department, everyone is fully invested into your development as a player. And then all the guys around me on the field are amazing. Every teammate I’ve had so far has been positive and wants to work hard. It’s really cool to be a part of. I just love playing the game. I have fun and try to make that positive energy contagious. It’s not a job for me, I look forward to showing up to the park every single day.” With a positive attitude like that, strong work ethic, and the skills he has, Clement is likely to have a stellar season with the Captains.
Elijah Morgan was an 8th round pick by Cleveland in 2017. Last season for Mahoning Valley, Eli went 3-2, with a 1.03 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and struck out 58 batters in 35 innings of work. So far in 2018 he has started 4 games, has a 1-0 record, 1.74 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts through 20 2/3 innings. Morgan mixes a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s with a hard slider and a change-up that rates as on of the best in the Indians’ farm system. Morgan is a classic power pitcher who is not afraid to challenge opposing hitters. He idolized Pedro Martinez growing up and said he likens his approach to pitching like Pedro did. “The guy wasn’t afraid of any batter, he threw hard strikes, challenged them to swing at his stuff, and had swagger on the mound.”
Morgan has learned a lot from former MLB catcher and now manager Luke Carlin and his fellow pitchers from last season at Mahoning Valley. He has confidence in himself and teammates after their 44-29 record and run in the NY PENN League playoffs last summer. “The pitchers we have here this season dominated last year at Mahoning Valley. Our goal is to do the same this season in the Midwest League and win a champion-ship.” Morgan’s confidence and abilities will make him a positive addition to the Lake County pitching staff.
Spring baseball has just begun. Summer is just around the corner. One that promises to be one full of adventurous road trips. New stadiums, cities, and exciting baseball at different levels of play for me to view. The opportunity to see how players I’ve enjoyed in the past mature and develop. The chance for me to watch new players show off their baseball skills all summer long.
Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster for more MLB prospect news and updates!