The Suburbanite
  • New look, talent make Akron Aeros team to watch

  • This season’s version of the Aeros takes the idea of change to an entirely different level. Not only is the roster full of new faces, but the team is under new ownership and leadership this season.

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  • Akron Aeros fans have grown accustomed to winning baseball, postseason appearances and Eastern League championships.
    With the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians coming off its fourth EL championship since moving to Akron more than a decade ago, hopes for another successful season are high as the 2013 campaign begins to unfold.
    Through 20 games, the picture hasn’t quite come into focus the way first-year manager Edwin Rodriguez and his staff would like it to. Struggles have been plentiful in the early going, but Rodriguez isn’t panicking.
    “That’s part of the development process,” Rodriguez said. “They have to understand it’s a long season and that’s the beauty of baseball. One day you strike out four times, but you have to come in the next day and turn the page.”
    Following a 5-4 win over Trenton on Thursday, the Aeros stand at 8-12, last in the Eastern League’s Western Division.
    As with virtually any minor league team, the Aeros have experienced plenty of turnover. Players have been traded, promoted or released and when championship rings were handed out for last year’s league title, just 16 players who were on the team at the end of last season were on hand to receive them.
    This season’s version of the Aeros takes the idea of change to an entirely different level. Not only is the roster full of new faces, but the team is under new ownership and leadership this season.
    Owner Ken Babby took over the franchise in October and has made plenty of changes thus far, including the team’s massive new video board and cosmetic improvements around Canal Park. There is also a fresh face in the dugout, as Rodriguez replaces Chris Tremie, who was promoted to Triple-A Columbus.
    He takes the helm as the next step in what has already been a busy year. A native of Puerto Rico, he headed back home to manage a winter league team before leading Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic in March. Once the team was eliminated from the WBC, Rodriguez headed back to Akron to continue his baseball odyssey.
    “It’s been a long season for me with winter ball, then the WBC, but I’ve been in baseball for 30 years and I’m used to making the adjustment wherever I go,” he said.
    With 163 games as a major league manager on his resume, having managed the Florida (now Miami) Marlins in 2010-11, and three seasons of playing experience at the MLB level, Rodriguez brings credibility and authority to the Aeros’ clubhouse and says his past in the game definitely helps in getting players to listen and accept his instruction.
    “It helps not only from my perspective knowing what lies ahead, but also provides instant credibility,” Rodriguez said. “With pitchers and position players, they listen more.”
    Page 2 of 3 - YOUNG TALENT
    Finding the cause for the team’s early struggles isn’t a simple exercise. Four of the team’s losses have come on days when the pitching staff surrendered 13 or more runs, but six defeats have come by one or two runs. The year began with a pair of 2-1 losses to Binghamton, so finding a pattern has been tough.
    Pitching has been a trouble spot thus far, with a team ERA of 4.85 ranking the Aeros 10th in the EL.
    One bright spot has been starter T.J. House, who has won his last two starts, including a six innings of shutout baseball against Trenton in a 5-1 win on April 16. House fits the definition of a crafty left-hander well and has settled in despite not having overpowering stuff on the mound.
    “T.J. has been pitching well, even though all of the numbers don’t show that,” Rodriguez added. “He’s not a power pitcher and relies on location and changing speed. When you’re a lefty and have command, you’re always going to have a chance to succeed and get a shot.”
    Some of the pitching staff’s initial stumbles are related as much to what’s between their ears as to their fastballs and command of the strike zone, according to Rodriguez. Having young pitchers, many of them at the Double-A level for the first time, can lead to those pitchers questioning whether their stuff is good enough to succeed against a higher level of competition. Adjusting to the better competition and learning to think through at-bats and keep hitters off-balance by mixing pitches better takes time and a one-month sample size is tough to draw significant conclusions from.
    “For a lot of them, it’s a matter of wondering they belong there and believing that they belong at this level,” Rodriguez continued. “In a month, or so, I think they’ll believe that their abilities will get it done. They know how to pitch here, but they have to make the adjustment where, at 3-1, they’re (batters) expecting a festal, so you have to learn to throw a change in that spot.”
    Jesus Aguilar (.275 avg.) and Jose Ramirez (18 runs scored) have led the Aeros offensively so far, with Aguilar topping the EL in RBI with 22. With a lineup full of players who have strong track records at the plate, the coaching staff is confident that the team’s production at the plate will climb as the season moves forward.
    Even with the slow start, the Aeros haven’t fallen too far off the pace in the EL Western Division. The first-place Erie SeaWolves are just three games ahead of the Aeroes and only two games above .500 at 10-8. Even in the Eastern Division, no team made it through the first 20 games with fewer than eight losses, leaving both divisions bunched tightly after nearly a month.
    Page 3 of 3 - The focus remains on player development for the Aeros, but their recent past is a testament to the fact that winning games and developing players are not mutually exclusive.

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