AKRON When the Akron RubberDucks and Cleveland Indians announced the roster for the organization’s Double-A affiliate in early April, it was clear there would be plenty of offensive firepower in the lineup for manager Dave Wallace’s squad.
Still, raw talent and potential don’t always materialize into production on the field and plenty of teams stocked with top draft picks and power bats don’t succeed at the plate. The RubberDucks are not one of those teams, and through the first month and a half of the season, they lead the Eastern League in home runs (49) and rank second in runs scored.
“Our team is as explosive as it gets … our offense is able to put up runs whenever we need it and pitching can go out and shut out teams,” outfielder Clint Frazier said. “For us to be able to battle back (in games) says a lot about our character.”
The power surge has been a collective effort for Akron, with five players with five or more home runs. First baseman Nellie Rodriguez, a fire plug of a man at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, tops the list with nine long balls and ranks among the Eastern League leaders. Top outfield prospects Bradley Zimmer and Frazier are close behind with seven and six home runs, respectively.
An early power surge by longtime RubberDucks outfielder Bryson Myles, who hit five home runs in his first 31 games, was enough to earn Myles a promotion to Triple-A Columbus. Wallace noted that with the RubberDucks averaging more than five runs a game and riding high atop the Eastern League's Western Division at 31-12 (as of Tuesday), the offense is feeling good about what it can do.
“I would be confident in labeling us a confident team right now and we should be … the best part about it to me is that we get contributions from everybody up and down our lineup,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t matter where we are in the lineup, it doesn’t matter where we are in the game or in an inning - no outs, two outs - we feel like we’re a threat to score. We’re just trying to have professional at bats, get on base and set it up for the next guy.”
Canal Park isn’t the easiest place for power hitters to succeed, as its dimensions of 331 feet down the left field line, 337 feet to right field and 400 feet to right center make it one of the most spacious minor league parks in the country.
Still, Frazier said the players love their home park, and suggested that despite the outfield walls being harder to reach with a fly ball, the atmosphere within the stadium makes it a great place to play.
“When I’m here, I feel my best. It’s a great ballpark to be around, the fans are very enjoyable … they come out here and they want to see us win, so to come out and have that be the atmosphere, it’s great for us. We like hitting here because the ball flies and it’s a fun place to play,” Frazier said.
With a 12-2 start to the home season, the RubberDucks have given their fans plenty to cheer about. Often, that comes with a long ball or extra-base hit, but Akron has also shown the ability to win when the ball isn’t flying over the fence.
In a recent extra-inning, day-game win over Erie, the RubberDucks didn’t hit a home run, but rallied from three separate deficits - including an early four-run hole - and won in extra innings thanks to two walks and a walk-off hit-by-pitch for the 8-7 victory.
“No doubt about it … I don’t know if I’d call it small ball, but if we need to do it other than hitting home runs, that’s fine and we never set out to go hit home runs,” Wallace said. “We’re just trying to get good pitches and put good swings on them, but obviously with some of the guys and just the raw power they have, they’re going to go out and that’s nice.”
As the weather heats up and the ball travels better, the most powerful lineup in the Eastern League has designs on riding its big bats to another playoff appearance and chasing the fifth league title in RubberDucks history, keeping in mind that, as always, chicks dig the long ball.
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