Minor league baseball is finally back in 2021 after the lost year of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Akron remains Cleveland’s Double-A affiliate after MLB restructured the minor league set up. Akron is managed by Rouglas Odor, along with bench coach Michael Mergenthaler, hitting coach Junior Betances, and pitching coach Owen Dew.
Akron’s roster will likely have a few last-minute changes when the alternate training site wraps up and gives way to the Triple-A season in Columbus. Most of the players on the roster saw time with both Lynchburg and Lake County back in 2019, with two members of the team, Bo Naylor and Tyler Freeman, seeing time at the alternate site in 2020. Only a handful of players return from Akron’s 2019 roster that finished 61-79 and missed out on postseason play.
This roster currently has nine of our 2021 top ranked prospects. Be sure to check back at the depth charts pages this year to keep track of Akron’s roster and subscribe to IBI for $4.99 a month to read all our coverage from Akron this summer.
RHP Justin Garza
LHP Juan Hillman
LHP Eli Lingos
RHP Shane McCarthy
Justin Garza will likely be the oldest starter in the RubberDuck staff this season, at 27 years old. Garza spent all of 2019 in Lynchburg where he led the team with 109 SO and was second on the team in IP (119.1). Garza finished behind Juan Hillman for the team lead in innings pitched, who also will join him on the staff in Akron this year. Hillman had a very solid 2019, finishing with 3.85 ERA in 140.1 IP.
Filling out the rotation will likely be Shane McCarthy and Eli Lingos. McCarthy spent most of his 2019 in Lake County after starting in Arizona. McCarthy started in 11 games for Lake County, finishing with a solid 4.14 ERA and an impressive 11.0 K/9. Lingos figures to end up as a starter or possible swingman option for Akron, as he is the final pitcher with starting experience. Spending most of his time in Lake County before a brief callup to Akron in 2019, Lingos posted good numbers in 30 games (11 games started), with a 3.66 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings.
Carlos Vargas (#16 IBI) is currently listed on the Akron roster, even though he just underwent Tommy John surgery and is out for the season. He will likely stay on the roster, to avoid the RHP accumulating any service time on the 60-day IL, as he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. This will take up a 40-man spot all year for Cleveland, but it is the better alternative to the 21-year-old gaining service time before playing above A ball.
RHP Manuel Alvarez
LHP Sklyar Arias
RHP Dakody Clemmer
LHP Jake Miednik
RHP Aaron Pinto
RHP Jonathan Teaney
#68 RHP Juan Mota
Juan Mota figures to headline this Akron bullpen as the #67 ranked prospect in IBI’s 2021 Prospect Rankings. Mota, who will turn 25 on opening day, is known for an electric fastball that has reached triple digits in some outings. In 2019, Mota spent time in both Lynchburg and Lake County, accumulating a 4.77 ERA over 111.1 IP. Mota certainly has the stuff to be a solid arm at the Double-A but he must continue to work on his control (4.0 BB/9 in 2019) to truly unlock his full potential.
Akron will certainly have some good options to turn to in the pen this year, as many of the arms had some very good seasons in 2019. Two of the most impressive seasons of the six relievers currently on the roster were from Sklyar Arias and Aaron Pinto. Arias spent 2019 with both Lynchburg and Lake County and accumulated a 1.76 ERA over 66.2 IP, also recording 3 saves and 10.9 K/9. PInto also had an impressive 2019, as he had a 1.57 ERA over 74.2 IP, over the 2019 year with both Lynchburg and Lake County.
Manuel Alvarez seems to have the most closer experience from the 2019 season, as he recorded 9 saves for Lake County, with a 2.90 ERA. The rest of the pen is filled out by Dakody Clemmer (4.12 ERA, 3 SVs), Jake Miednik (2.13 ERA, 4 SVs), Jonathan Teaney (2.77 ERA, 4 SVs) who all posted solid numbers in 2019. Each bullpen arm on the Akron roster recorded a save in 2019, with 5 of the 6 recording a save with Lake County. It remains to be seen exactly who that role could fall upon with Akron in 2021, if manager Rouglas Odor intends to have an outright closer.
The headliners of this infield will clearly be Top-100 prospect (#87) Tyler Freeman, ranked #1 on the IBI 2021 Prospect Rankings, and Bo Naylor who checks in at #6 on the IBI Prospect Rankings. Freeman has seen a huge jump on prospect ranking boards after a breakout 2019 season in which he hit .306, recording 40 XBH. As noted in the IBI prospect reports, Freeman looks to have added strength, which should help him hit for more power this year. Bo Naylor, younger brother of Cleveland RF/1B Josh Naylor, is primed to have a big season of his own, and recently just entered the Top 100 prospect list at #100. Naylor looks to build off of a solid 2019, in which he recorded a .743 OPS, while hitting 18 2B’s, 11 HR’s, and 10 3B’s, and even contributed 7 SB. What will be most interesting to see is how time at the alternate site and at big league training camp have helped the 21 year old gain maturity in his game, especially from behind the dish.
Jose Fermin (#30 IBI 2021 Prospect Rankings) will likely be the double play partner for Freeman this year, as he played the majority of his games at second base in 2019. Fermin brings great on base skills (.374 OBP) and speed (28 SB) to this talented infield. Richard Palacios (#36 IBI 2021 Prospect Rankings), who missed all of the 2019 season, will look to get back his 2018 form after a near three year absence from professional baseball. Palacios turned heads back in 2018, when he dominated the NY-Penn League before earning a call up to Lake County.
The final two infielders will bring depth to the Akron infield in 2021. Josh Rolette was Naylor’s backup in Lake County in 2019 and will continue to see time there. Rolette could figure into the 1B conversation, as he played two games there in Lake County two summers ago, and is the only listed infielder with experience at the position. Marcos Gonzalez saw limited action in 2019 but figures to be the starting third baseman for Akron this year, as he is the only player with experience at the position as well. Gonzalez only played in 11 games back in 2019 but will look to regain the form he had in 2018 in rookie ball (.855 OPS).
Akron will bring a talented outfield to field in 2021, with many having seen their share of minor league success over their respective careers. Will Benson and Oscar Gonzalez are likely the two most recognizable names from the OF list and both will likely be penciled in the opening day lineup for Akron. Benson, who checks in at #39 on the IBI Prospect Rankings, is probably the most well known of the two, having been the Indians first round pick back in 2016. After struggling through his first three seasons, he found some success in 2019 (.785 OPS, 22 HRs) and will look to continue that in Akron this year. Gonzalez, who is #65 in the IBI Prospect Rankings, had a very good 2019 and was exceptional during his stay in Lynchburg that season.
The other four outfielders will look to compete for the spot not manned by Gonzalez and Benson, and Akron will have some good players to choose from. Trenton Brooks and Alex Call headline the RubberDuck returners this season, as each saw regular time here nearly two years ago. Brooks really found his footing at Akron in 2019, recording an OPS of .835 in 65 games. Steven Kwan comes from Lynchburg after a solid season there, and will vie for time. An interesting player to watch will be Chris Roller, who was claimed off of minor league waivers from the Great Lakes Loons, the Los Angeles Dodgers Single-A affiliate, after finishing with an .814 OPS in 2019. One of these four figures to work into the DH roll as well, as there will likely be a revolving door at the position during the season.
Overall, this should be a team that will find success at times this season. Most of that success will depend on a starting staff that lacks the high-end talent the Cleveland system is known for. It would not be surprising to see more arms added to the roster in the coming days. The bullpen has players that have all seen success at the minor league level and should continue to with that in 2021. Offensively, Freeman and Naylor will shoulder the load, with players like Fermin, O. Gonzalez, and Benson providing some good support for the two stars. Freeman and Naylor will likely be closely watched by upper-level management this season, as they begin to knock on the door of major league playing time.