A championship squad requires some special players, and Akron had them in spades
Akron RubberDucks 73-46 (Northeast Division Champions)
The 2021 season was an exciting one for the Akron RubberDucks. Akron started the season strong and continued to win all year, finishing with an elite +134 run differential. The team’s pitching staff was bolstered late when Cleveland acquired Konnor Pilkington and Peyton Battenfield, as well as when Xavion Curry and Logan T. Allen were promoted from High-A Lake County, and they helped the RubberDucks sweep Bowie 3-0 in the Northeast Division Championship Series.
Here’s a quick look at the key contributors for the RubberDucks this season.
SS Tyler Freeman was terrific when he was healthy in 2021, slashing .323/.372/.470. His strikeout rate was a career-high, but it was still excellent (11.7%). He smacked 14 doubles and two home runs in 41 games. His major issue was health, missing time with a left shoulder strain in July, then aggravating the injury upon his return and being shut down for the rest of the season on July 30th. The team was hoping he’d avoid surgery, but Freeman went under the knife Aug. 9 to repair a small labrum tear in his shoulder.
OF Will Benson was excellent in 2019 and he was solid again in 2021, doing what he does best, showcasing patience at the plate and smacking dingers to offset his high strikeout rate. Benson struck out a hefty 31.3% of his plate appearances for Akron, but he also posted an elite walk rate of 18.3%, which was a career-high. He stole 14 bases and slugged 14 home runs as well, slashing .221/.374/.469 and posting a rock-solid 131 wRC+. Benson even earned a late-season promotion to Columbus, although his strikeout rate skyrocketed to nearly 40%.
C Bo Naylor jumped two levels to Double-A, and he played like it for most of the season. While his defense was above average, his offense took a step back against the advanced pitching he was seeing. Naylor posted a brutal .188/.280/.332 slash over 87 games played and his strikeout rate exploded over eight points to 31.5%. On the bright side, when he did hit the ball, he hit for extra bases relatively well, hitting 10 home runs and 13 doubles while stealing 10 bases. Don’t be surprised if Naylor repeats at Akron at least for the beginning of 2022.
OF Alex Call had the best stint of his career with Akron, slashing .310/.389/.503 over 43 games to earn a promotion to Columbus, where he struggled in 66 games. Call was acquired in the Pedro Alonzo trade with the White Sox, and he’ll likely provide extra depth at Triple-A in 2022.
Util Andruw Monasterio also had the best stint of his career with Akron. The 24-year-old, who was acquired in the Yan Gomes trade, slashed .287/.371/.441 over 74 games repeating in Double-A, which earned him a promotion to Columbus over the final month of the season.
2B Jose Fermin had an average season in his Double-A debut with a 97 wRC+, although like Naylor, he also skipped High-A. Fermin played 84 games for Akron, maintaining a strong strikeout rate (11.3%) although his walk rate dropped. Fermin earned a four-game cup of coffee with Triple-A Columbus at the end of the season.
Other top performers Richard Palacios, Oscar Gonzalez, and Steven Kwan were discussed in yesterday’s article on the Clippers. Bryan Lavastida will be discussed in the Lake County article tomorrow.
LHP Juan Hillman was dependable for Akron in 2021, leading the RubberDucks with 107.1 innings pitched. His 3.77 ERA with Akron was the best of his entire minor league career and earned him a one-start promotion to Columbus at the end of the season. Hillman’s 7.13 K/9 was the best strikeout rate he’s posted since the year he was drafted. Hillman will be a minor league free agent and will have to resign with Cleveland to stick around in the system.
LHP Adam Scott missed the first half of the season, but he really came into his own over a 10 game stretch that saw him post a 2.72 ERA and strike out 57 batters while walking 17 over 47.1 innings. Scott earned a promotion to Columbus for the final month of the season, but he struggled in his first taste of Triple-A.
LHP Konnor Pilkington was acquired from the White Sox in the Cesar Hernandez trade and he immediately paid dividends. Over eight appearances that included seven starts with the RubberDucks, Pilkington posted a 2.33 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and struck out 49 batters in 38.2 innings pitched, while walking 18. Pilkington will have to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid being taken in the Rule 5 Draft this year.
RHP Peyton Battenfield was acquired from Tampa Bay in the Jordan Luplow trade. Battenfield also impressed in his stint with Akron, sporting a 3.28 ERA over seven starts while striking out 36 batters and walking just seven over 35.2 innings pitched. His 0.87 WHIP was elite. Unlike Pilkington, Battenfield won’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until 2022.
RHP Nick Mikolajchak was a sleeper prospect entering 2021 and he had a coming-out party this season. Mikolajchak whiffed 57 batters over 39.2 innings pitched, good for a 12.93 strikeout rate as the regular closer for Akron, and he only walked nine batters all season. He will be in the mix for Cleveland’s bullpen in 2022, although will likely begin the season in Columbus.
Aaron Pinto and Thomas Ponticelli also had strong seasons for Akron. Logan T. Allen and Xavion Curry will be discussed in tomorrow’s article about Lake County.
Possible RubberDucks roster for 2022
C: Bo Naylor
1B: Joe Naranjo
2B: Aaron Bracho
3B: Viktor Nova
SS: Brayan Rocchio/Jose Tena
LF: Will Brennan
CF: George Valera
RF: Micah Pries
Util: Raynel Delgado
Rotation: (some combination of) Logan T. Allen, Xavion Curry, Daniel Espino, Tanner Burns, Hunter Gaddis, Mason Hickman, Matt Turner.