Akron is the longest tenured Cleveland minor league affiliate, joining the franchise in 1989 as the Canton-Akron Indians, then becoming the Akron Aeros in 1997 before rebranding as the RubberDucks in 2014. As we continue through our look at the top Indians minor league performances at each level throughout the last decade, we will see players from each of those last two names.
10. Bobby Bradley – 1B – 2017 & 2018
Bradley is just barely sneaking on to his third top ten list in this series after being named #1 on the AZL list and #1 with Lake County. After hitting 27 home runs with Lake County in 2015, he hit another 29 with Lynchburg in 2016 and continued that streak into Akron in 2017 and 2018, hitting 23 and 24 respectively. While his average and OBP dropped off a bit from his previous seasons, he continued slugging with 25 doubles in 2017 and 19 more in 97 games in 2018.
Over the last decade, Bradley’s home runs rank fourth and fifth for a single season in Akron while his 47 total home runs are #1 (tied with Nellie Rodriguez).
9. Bryan Price – 2010 through 2014
The lesser known name in the Victor Martinez trade from Boston along with Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone, Price played in Akron from his first through his last season with the Indians organization. Beginning right at the start of the decade, he held a 3.25 ERA across 40 relief appearances and 69.1 innings in 2010. While this was a solid performance and he added to it with an appearance in the Arizona Fall League at the end of the year, he returned to Akron for the entirety of 2011 as well.
By ERA (2.79), this was his best season in AA, although his strike outs dipped from 69 in 2010 to 33 in 51.2 innings. This wasn’t good enough, however, as Price began his third straight season in AA in 2012. This time, after posting a 3.02 ERA over 50.2 innings, he was finally promoted to Columbus to end the year. He was absolutely pulverized there, however, and after two more games to start 2013, he was back in Akron again. He allowed just one run across 16 innings in 12 appearances this time before moving back to Columbus. It was now or never in 2014 for Price, but an injury delayed his season start until June and he began the year in Akron yet again.
This time, he allowed two runs (both on solo home runs) in 10 innings before his final promotion to AAA. He did hit the big leagues in September 2014, but it went even worse than his time in Columbus and he was released following the season’s end. In all, he threw 197 innings for the Aeros/RubberDucks with a 2.78 ERA, 181 K’s and just 55 walks.
8. Eric Haase – C – 2016 & 2017
When picking the top 10 players from each level, no player has been closer without making it to this point than Haase (pictured at top). But finally, in Akron, he has broken though. He was solid in Arizona in 2012, then Lake County in 2013 and 2014, but was generally a pure power threat without much other value. In 2016, that was largely the case again in Akron when he hit .208/.265/.238 across 63 games. This wasn’t good enough to make this list on its own, but his 14 doubles and 12 homers helped add to his career numbers.
Repeating Akron in 2017, Haase had one of the top offensive seasons in the last decade. He hit another 26 home runs (a career high) and 14 doubles leading him to be third in career home runs in Akron over that span and first in slugging percent (.519). In addition to being a power hitter, Haase was always a great defender as well. He caught 43% of base stealers in 2016, then 38% in 2017 and his work with pitchers was one of the major reasons for his promotion to Columbus and then the big leagues in 2018.
7. Bryce Stowell – RHRP – 2010 through 2013
Stowell made it to Lake County as a rookie in 2009, then advanced to Akron in just his second pro season. Immediately thrown into the closer role, he saved seven games in 14 appearances and didn’t allow a run across 22.1 innings. He was gone just as quickly, moving to Columbus in his second season.
However, he struggled with injury in 2011 and had to work his way back up the system, eventually posting a 1.86 ERA across 19.1 more innings in Akron. In 2012, he then spent the entire season back in AA with a 3.72 ERA across another 29 innings then spent all of 2013 still in Akron with a 2.58 ERA over 45.1 innings. Despite hitting Columbus in his second season, he never made it back and was let go following this last season with Akron.
Overall, Stowell’s 2.25 career Akron ERA was second over the last decade behind Enosil Tejeda while his 13 saves are the franchise record since at least 2006. His 12.9 K/9, 35% K-rate and 2.73 FIP are all records as well for all qualified pitchers over that span.
6. Chun-Hsiu Chen – C/1B – 2011 through 2013
Chen was originally signed as an international free agent out of Taiwan and debuted with the Aeros in 2011 at 22 years old. As a rookie catcher, he hit .262/.330/.451 with career highs in home runs (16) and RBI (70). In 2012, he was back in Akron and added to his counting stats, despite playing fewer games. Splitting time between catcher and first for the first time, he hit .308/.394/.426 with a personal best 30 doubles and 62 walks. He significantly reduced his strike out rate this year although the change in strategy possibly cost him some power.
In 2013, he returned for his third season in Akron and quickly proved he shouldn’t have stayed back. He hit .328/.427/.547 with 10 doubles and six home runs over 38 games, prompting a promotion to Columbus. Chen played exclusively first base from 2012 on with Akron, then was tried in the outfield with Columbus, but didn’t hit in AAA like he did in AA and was released at the end of the season. He has played in the Chinese Professional Baseball League ever since (including 2020) where he has hit 120 home runs over seven seasons.
Looking back at his time in Akron, his career slash line of .291/.372/.455 ranks in the top ten across the board and his 129 wRC+ was fourth best over the last decade. Both his 64 doubles (4th) and 27 home runs (6th) also rank among the leaders and his 30 doubles in 2012 were the most for Akron since Beau Mills in 2009.
5. Mike Clevinger – RHSP – 2015 & 2019 (Rehab)
Clevinger had never played above high A prior to coming to Cleveland in exchange for Vinnie Pestano, but had one of the best single seasons ever for an Akron pitcher. Across 27 appearances (26 starts) and 158 innings. As good as he was all year with a 2.73 ERA (second best single season mark over the last decade behind Steven Wright in 2012), he was even better at the end.
Over his final six starts in Akron, he held a 1.40 ERA, a .169/.203/.235 slash line against and 40 K’s in 38.2 innings. His success would continue in the play-offs in Columbus and made his big league debut the following season. In 2019, Clevinger dealt with injuries early on in the season and made one more start in Akron on rehab assignment, going 5.1 shut out innings with five strike outs, three hits and no walks.
4. Yandy Diaz – 3B – 2015 & 2016
Diaz didn’t make his debut in the US until he was already 22 in 2014 after joining the Indians out of Cuba, but the late start allowed him to reach Akron in his second year. Playing nearly the full year there in 2015, he batted .315/.412/.408 with 78 walks to 65 strike outs in 132 games. His 150 hits (125 of which were singles), ranked #1 for Akron over the last decade in a single season with his walks setting another team best and his strike outs being the tenth least by a qualified hitter. Not surprinsly, his average and OBP were also #1 while his wRC+ was #2 behind the next hitter on the list.
Diaz was promoted for the last week in Columbus in 2015, but began 2016 back in Akron again. He played 26 more games for the Ducks and batted .286/.445/.381 with another 24 walks and 24 hits. With both seasons combined, he moves to #2 in average, but remains the best OBP Akron hitter of the last decade. His mid-season promotion to Columbus would be the end of his time in AA as he advanced to Cleveland in 2017, then was traded to Tampa in 2019.
3. Thomas Neal – OF – 2012
Neal was acquired by the Indians in 2010 from San Francisco in exchange for Orlando Cabrera and was already a 23 year old AAA outfielder. He had a great season with Fresno in 2011, but struggled in Columbus over the final ten games, so he was sent to Akron to begin 2012. This turned out to be an extreme undervaluation of his talent as he hit .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs, 51 RBI and 11 steals over 117 games.
Over the last decade, Neal’s career average was the best for Akron, his OBP was second and his slugging was seventh. His 144 wRC+ also ranked #1, just ahead of Yandy Diaz. To make the story stranger, Neal was a September call-up for the Indians and had five hits in nine games. Apparently, this wasn’t enough as he was released prior to 2013 spring training. He signed with the Yankees, but never had a MLB starting chance and was out of affiliated baseball following the 2014 season and all professional baseball following 2015.
2. Enosil Tejeda – RHRP – 2013 through 2015
Tejeda was a fairly old international signing as he didn’t debut in the DSL until he was 21 (and he was named the #4 DSL Indians player of the last decade for his effort), but this helped him jump through the system quickly, reaching AA just three years after his DSL debut at the age of 24. There, he had an incredibly dominant season out of the bullpen with a 0.89 ERA across 40.2 innings and 33 appearances. Tejeda was amazingly efficient in this season, striking out 36 with 13 walks and just 23 hits. He didn’t allow a home run all season, an accurate statement for his 2011 and 2012 seasons as well.
Despite his success and age, the Indians decided Tejeda needed another year in AA and he didn’t disappoint, although it wasn’t as amazing. This time, he had a 3.23 ERA, struck out 60 and walked another 13 in 55.2 innings across 44 starts. This was enough to push him to Columbus to start 2015, but he didn’t stick around long. Through no fault of his own, he was sent back to Akron after just four appearances in AAA and he would make just one more there in 2015. In Akron, he was again extremely dominant against his now familiar foes. He wrapped up his professional career with a 1.27 ERA and 29 more K’s in 35.1 innings. For his career, his 1.98 ERA in AA leads all Indians affiliates since at least 2006 and his 23.7% K-rate ranks fifth. With 131.2 total innings, his numbers not only qualify his rate stats, but make them more significant than many starters.
1. Paolo Espino – RHP – 2009 through 2013
This one is a doozy. Espino was born in Panama, but moved to Florida and was drafted by the Indians out of IMG Academy in the tenth round in 2006. From 2007 through 2009, he moved between Lake County and Kinston, making one three inning relief appearance for the Akron Aeros in April, 2009. That game falls outside of our decade of consideration, but he pitched plenty more times in Akron since 2010.
In 2010, he began the year as a starter in Akron and saw fair results, spent a disastrous month of June in the bullpen, then rejoined the rotation with even better results in July. That success pushed him into AAA for the first time, where he ended the season. His numbers overall in Akron in 2010 were a 4.00 ERA with 92 K’s in 101.1 innings, but he was just getting started. Despite the seven starts in Columbus to end the season, he was pushed to the AAA bullpen in 2011 and, after a pair of poor performances, was sent back to Akron.
Used almost exclusively out of the bullpen, Espino was dominant. He posted a 2.79 ERA with 65 strike outs over 71 innings, earning him a short stint in Columbus. After four more appearances, he came back to Akron as a starter and threw two straight shut outs of five innings each, earning him a final promotion to Akron. Overall, he held a 2.44 ERA over 24 appearances (five starts) with 78 strike outs in 81 innings.
You might think he would have finally earned his spot in AAA by now, but he began 2012 back in the Akron bullpen. After dealing with a DL stint and making just three appearances, he jumped to AAA for two games, then rejoined Akron as a starter. He finished the year out in Akron with a 3.09 ERA and 106 K’s over 116.1 innings. Incredibly, he began 2013 still in the Aeros rotation and, despite a 4.80 ERA over 54.1 innings in 10 starts, was promoted to Columbus yet again. There, he was even worse as a reliever and rejoined Akron in July. Despite further struggles including a game where he allowed 11 runs in three innings, he was promoted to Columbus again, this time as a starter. He then ended the year in Akron as a starter, pitching poorly and finishing with a 5.35 ERA with 79 innings for the year.
Overall, over the last decade Espino ranks third in innings (377.2), first in total K’s (349) and 16th in career ERA for Akron. His 21.9% k-rate was tenth over that time and his numbers would obviously been significantly better excluding his final season. His peak season in 2012 featured the fifth best single season ERA and ninth most K’s. Incredibly, despite this extremely lengthy time in AA, Espino became a big leaguer in 2017 at 30 years old with Milwaukee and Texas, then joined the Nationals again in the big leagues in 2020.