Third Time’s the Charm (Sort Of) For the Lynchburg Hillcats


The Lynchburg Hillcats were the dominant team in the High-A Carolina League. They won both halves of the Northern Division and finished the season with an 87-52 record. The next closest team was the Buies Creek Astros at 74-65, who failed to qualify for the playoffs in either half of the Southern Division.

One significant contributor to the Hillcats success was the stability of their roster. Of the 12 position players on the Opening Day roster, only one was not with the team when the season ended on September 9 (infielder Yonathan Mendoza, who received a promotion to AA Akron on July 6). Seven of the original 13 pitchers also lasted the full season on Lynchburg’s roster. For a minor league team whose primary goal is player development, that level of stability is unusual.

The performance of a number of players who have spent time on the Hillcats roster creates depth for the Cleveland organization. It also will likely provide opportunity for some of those players in December at the Rule V draft. Too many players have demonstrated their value to a Major League organization, and the 40-man roster will not have enough slots for all of them.

“It is a problem,” said Hillcats manager Tony Mansolino, “but it is a problem they would rather have. You can’t have too many good players.”

This wealth of talent was more evident on the pitching side of the ledger, but a number of the hitters have also taken steps forward. Catchers Sicnarf Loopstok and Martin Cervenka topped their career playing time by significant margins. Loopstok had never had more than 225 at-bats in a season. In 421 at-bats, he punched 17 home runs and 65 RBI and topped almost every personal best in his career, expect stolen bases. He had eleven, the same total as his previous season.

Cervenka anchored the Hillcats lineup. Without fail, you could expect him to be penciled in to the four or five spot on the lineup card each night. He also topped his career best in every offensive category, racking up 24 doubles, 8 home runs, 57 RBI, and finishing with a .278 batting average.

“Getting consistent at the plate has really helped me out this season, just seeing pitching, playing every day, and getting ready every day,” Cervenka shared.

The 25-year-old veteran catcher signed with the Indians in 2009 as a 16-year-old. Having earned his position as the team’s primary backstop, he handled a pitching staff that was often dominant.

“All year long we’ve had really good pitching. Four of our starters got called up to AA, which says how good our pitching is,” said Cervenka. “I think our bullpen has been really good, too. They’re able to command their fastballs down in the zone and they can throw their off-speed stuff for a strike when they need to.”

After losing a heartbreaker to Frederick in the first game of the Northern Division Championship, the team geared up to take two games at home, and clinch the Northern Division title.

“I thought we played pretty good yesterday, a little bit of unluckiness. In a 10-9 ballgame you would think we didn’t pitch well, but I thought we threw the ball better than it showed and if we continue to do what we did yesterday, I think we have a chance, especially playing back home,” said Brock Hartson after the victory.

Hartson was one of the top Hillcats pitchers on the season. He started the year in the bullpen coming off hip surgery and shifted to the rotation with the promotion of Thomas Pannone to AA. Like every other player on the Lynchburg team, Hartson was relaxed and confident about the Hillcats pursuit of a title.

Triston McKenzie took the mound for the first home playoff game. On that Friday evening, no one was more confident or dominant than McKenzie. Battered several times during the season by a strong hitting Frederick club, McKenzie had no doubts about the outcome of this playoff game.

“I’ve seen this team, I’ve pitched against them four times now and it’s knowing they’ve gone against me and they’re going to have a game plan and you are going to have to mix stuff up,” said McKenzie.

He would toss seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 Hillcats victory. Only five Frederick batters would reach base (three by a hit and two by a walk). McKenzie struck out ten in a game where the Keys only threatened to score once, with a walk followed by a hit in the third inning. Lynchburg closer Argenis Angulo would come on to pitch two perfect frames, striking out three more Keys batters to seal the victory and set up game three where the winner would clinch the Northern Division title.

The threat of Hurricane Irma led the Carolina League to cancel the Mills Cup final round and install co-champions, with the Northern and Southern Division winners sharing the accolades. After working so hard all season to win both halves of the Northern Division season, disappointment did not dominate the Hillcats players thinking.

“A little bit, but knowing that we’re going to get rings, this game means everything to us,” McKenzie shared regarding disappointment in being co-champions. “After we won the first half, I think that’s been the goal the whole time, just come out here and win every game that we can. I think that showed in the second half, and the playoffs.”

McKenzie’s confidence and optimism were a common feature of the Lynchburg Hillcats team this season. With solid play, excellent pitching and a well-balanced coaching staff, the team turned in an honest effort every day.

“The reason why we’ve won is we’ve worked hard at it,” said manager Mansolino.

That work ethic and the need to push through the tough parts and work through the whole season was evident in outfielder Andrew Calica. In his first full season of professional baseball, Calica needed to learn how to manage his efforts to get the most from his talent. His attitude exemplified that of the Hillcats players. Even with no championship round, the team was not sulking.

“You don’t think about that much,” Calica said ahead of winning the shared championship. “Regardless of what happens, we had a really good season. We’re going to go out there and play just like the last 140 games and see what happens.”

In the first home playoff game, Calica batted in the three hole in the lineup, going 2-for-3 with a walk, stealing two bases and scoring one of the three Hillcats runs.

“I wasn’t trying to do too much at the plate. Just trying to go the other way and get on base,” said -Calica. “We’ve got good hitters behind me – Gavin Collins, Mitch Longo, guys like that. Let them do the work.”

The late season addition of outfielder Longo sparked the team as they prepared for the playoffs. Promoted from Low-A Lake County on August 31, he played in five regular season games and all three playoff games for the Hillcats. In only one of those contests did he fail to get a base hit, hitting .462 over that eight-game stretch, scoring 12 runs and driving in eight runs – a stellar performance at any level.

Longo also had the unique experience of joining a clubhouse for a team that has grown into its own over the course of the season.

“Everybody’s just really relaxed. We’re real close,” Longo said. “Everybody does their own thing, but at the same time we pick each other up and we all have fun. It’s just a good clubhouse environment.”

This winning attitude has permeated the Hillcats and the Cleveland Indians organization. As the Lynchburg ball club was charging to a Co-Championship of the Carolina League, the Major League -team was in the midst of running off a 22-game winning streak of their own, the best in Indians history and the longest stretch since the 1916 New York Giants.

The effectiveness of the 2017 edition of the Lynchburg Hillcats is summed up by pitcher Sean Brady, who joined the roster on August 17 from Lake County. A starter on the 2016 Hillcats team, Brady spent most of the season in rehab for shoulder issues.

“They’ve got a good clubhouse in there. I’ve just sat back and let these guys do their thing.”

The only real disappointment is that of the fans who did not get to see this Lynchburg Hillcats team go on to two more home games in the Mills Cup Championship round.

There is always next year.

Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats



The High-A Lynchburg Hillcats Streak into the Carolina League Playoffs


The Carolina League plays a split season schedule, with the winner of each half gaining entry into the postseason festivities. The Lynchburg club earned a spot by winning the first half in the Northern Division. Finishing out the season strong by sweeping its final three home games against the Potomac Nationals, and then traveling to Wilmington, Lynchburg completed a four-game sweep against the Blue Rocks to conclude the season and win the second half Northern Division crown. Overall, the team finished its season with a league best 87-52 record, posting the best winning percentage for a Lynchburg team since they were a Mets farm club in 1985.

Looking at the roster for that Mets club, the most recognized name is shortstop Kevin Elster. He would go on to play for the Mets’ 1986 World Series Championship before establishing himself as their everyday shortstop in 1988. This year’s edition of the Lynchburg team is similar in that few players are top draft picks or rising stars. Instead, the Hillcats play as a team in the truest sense of that word.

“That’s kind of how we are built,” said manager Tony Mansolino. “At the beginning of the year, coming here, we thought we’d have pretty good pitching. That’s held true. The rest of it we weren’t so sure, no big strengths team wise.”

The pitching has indeed been the core of the team, leading the Carolina League in a number of team and individual pitching stats. The defense and hitting consistently backed the impressive Lynchburg pitching staff.

A number of hitters have put up strong seasons, including catchers Martin Cervenka and Sicnarf Loopstok. Cervenka was second on the team with a .278 average. Anchoring the catching position in his first full season with 400 at-bats, he was a constant presence in the middle of the line-up. Loopstok earned his keep as well, hitting seventeen home runs, surpassing his season best of five in two different years.

The second half play of shortstop Willi Castro also sparked the team, and he finished fourth overall in the Carolina League batting race with a .290 average.

Even with these breakout performances on the hitting side, the exemplary starting pitching for the Hillcats carried them through the season. Examining the Carolina League’s pitching leaders, Hillcats pitchers are prominent. Cleveland’s number two prospect (according to MLB Pipeline), Triston McKenzie, heads up the list of stellar performers. McKenzie, named Carolina League Pitcher of the Year, led the circuit in wins with 12 and strikeouts with 186. He ranked second in WHIP behind teammate Brock Hartson. Hartson paced the league with a 1.04 ratio, and led in ERA with a 3.06.

“I do think we feed off each other a little bit,” said Hartson. “You see one guy do well and it makes you want to do well.”

Mansolino agreed, saying “You always hear people talk about lineups feeding off one another, and making each other better. I would think that’s what has happened with our starting pitching.”

With Hartson, McKenzie, and former Hillcats starter Shao-Ching Chiang (promoted to AA Akron in August) claiming the top three ERA spots on the leaderboard, it might be easy to overlook the pitcher who will start the first game of the Northern Division playoff series, Aaron Civale. His name fails to appear in any of the league leader lists for ratio stats because he came in four innings shy of the minimum qualification for innings pitched.

Promoted to Lynchburg from Low-A Lake County on May 30, Civale turned in an impressive performance. He made 17 starts in the blue and green of the Hillcats, tossing 164 2/3 innings. He had a 1.06 WHIP, which would have been good for third behind Hartson and McKenzie, and recorded an 11-2 record. His ERA was 2.59, nearly half a run better than teammate Hartson, who took the league’s ERA crown.

The Hillcats pitching staff, from top to bottom, is their strength. Without fail, each pitcher gives credit to the teams pitching coach, Rigo Beltran, for helping them to this success.

“The number one thing to have them work on is a repeatable delivery so everything keys off their delivery,” Beltran said about helping his staff become better pitchers.

Nearly every pitcher who has donned a Hillcats jersey has pitched successfully. The most recent example is Sean Brady, who played for the team in the previous season, but spent most of 2017 in rehab for shoulder issues.

“It feels good to be back on the mound, getting back out against other guys and competing for a championship,” says Brady. “I was here last year but these guys have been battling all year here, so I’m kind of staying back and letting them do their thing.”

Brady was part of the 2016 roster who came up short against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the 2016 Mills Cup Championship.

Since joining the team on August 17, Brady has made four starts, putting up a 3-1 record, a 3.18 ERA, and limiting opposing hitters to a .221 batting average against while striking out 15 in 22 2/3 innings. His final two starts were part of the seven-game streak to end the Hillcats season, where he allowed only a single earned run to Wilmington in the season’s final game.

As the team turns its attention to the Frederick Keys, who stormed past the Salem Red Sox to claim the second playoff slot, Mansolino talked about what the team needs to do as they make their third playoff appearance since becoming a Cleveland farm club and their sixth straight in the Hillcats record books.

“I don’t think you sit on your hands. We’re not that type of team. We have to do all the small things right. We don’t have a lineup with three guys with 20 homers. The reason why we’ve won is we have worked at it.”

That work ethic has made the Hillcats the class of this year’s Carolina League. It will carry them forward into the playoffs and with consistency and a bit of fortune could bring a championship back to the Hill City for the first time since 2012.



Dominic DeMasi – Taking Advantage of Opportunity with Lynchburg


Pitching is an inherently difficult activity. It takes many years to master the art of hurling the baseball over home plate with consistency and accuracy. The minor league system provides opportunities for pitchers to hone their craft. For Dominic DeMasi of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, his journey through the Indians farm system has been about developing that consistency.

“When I got drafted I was actually more over the top mechanically,” said DeMasi. “I throw a sinker, cutter, and slider. I’m just trying to repeat the same stuff. The change from when I was drafted is now just getting repetition.”

The Indians selected DeMasi in the 31st round of the 2014 draft out of Valdosta State. In his professional career, he has operated primarily as a reliever, having started only four games prior to the current campaign. This season, when pressed into duty as a starter, he performed quite well, on par with most of the other pitchers who have taken turns in the Hillcats rotation.

“It’s pretty crazy. They keep telling me I’m still a reliever, and I have like eleven starts now,” says DeMasi. “It’s just baseball both ways. I don’t think about it. I started in college as a junior, so I have a feel for what my routine is as a starter.”

In eleven starts, he achieved a 4-1 record with a 2.14 ERA and held opposing batters to a .197 batting average. In the second of those starting assignments, he pitched five innings against the Salem Red Sox, facing the minimum 15 batters while allowing only a single hit. The lone base runner was promptly erased by a double play.

His most recent start, number 12, was on the road in Kinston, facing off against the Down East Wood Ducks. He tossed seven strong innings, allowing only three hits and a walk and no earned runs. Multiple errors put two runs on the board before DeMasi left the game, and he got tagged with a loss to move his record to 4-2.

A native of East Rockaway, New York, on Long Island, his family relocated to Georgia when he was just three years old, so he considers himself a southerner, having lived in Georgia his whole life since. He attended Calvary Baptist High School where the team he played on made it to the final four his sophomore and senior years, and the final eight during his junior season. His hitting coach was an alum of Valdosta State and had attended his high school and got DeMasi a tryout with the Blaze.

“I had signed with South Georgia, a junior college,” DeMasi said. “My coach got me a showcase and I fell in love with Valdosta State at the get go.”

The school is more of a football environment, and DeMasi played on both the football and baseball teams while in college, alternating seasons between pitching and punting. Notable Valdosta State athlete alumni include Jessie Tuggle, a Pro Bowler for the Atlanta Falcons, Maurice Leggett, and Antonio Edwards, among other NFL players. On the baseball side, the most notable figure is Jason Bulger, who was a first round selection of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and saw time in the Majors over seven seasons, first with the D-Backs and then the Los Angeles Angels.

“It was a lot of fun,” says DeMasi. “During football season, I would go to baseball three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just to throw and get my arm moving. During baseball season, I wouldn’t throw the football, I would wait till summer.”

Two experiences motivated DeMasi to target the baseball draft. Conditioning from summer workouts for football increased his endurance. During a scout day during his junior year football season a coach observed DeMasi and urged him to follow in the tradition of previous Blaze athletes and pursue a chance to be drafted in baseball.

“I hit 94 on scout day and he [DeMasi’s pitching coach] said, ‘You have a shot at this if you keep working.’ I put all my chips in and did what I had to do to get drafted.”

DeMasi rejoined the Hillcats after making eleven appearances for them in 2016. After putting up a 7.04 ERA in 23 innings, for a Hillcats team that lost the league championship to Myrtle Beach, he has come back and refocused himself in the current season. In addition to taking on as starting role, even if temporary, he has made a short one-game appearance for AA Akron, and he got to pitch an inning in a spring training game.

“That was pretty exciting. We were at Kansas City and we went to the tenth inning. They said, DeMasi, you’re in. I’d backed up for two or three games before that but I didn’t expect to get in. It gives you a lot more energy when you are playing in front of 12,000 fans”

He threw a perfect inning, including getting Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas out.

At Akron, DeMasi got a spot start in mid-July against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. He pitched five innings, earning the win on a two-hit, six-strikeout effort.

“It was a change of scenery,” DeMasi said. “I’d been here all year. It was good to get away and see those guys who I’d played with and got drafted with. Some of the starters up there had come up from Lynchburg, like Esparza. It was good getting to see what it’s like at AA. Coming back it gave me more confidence that I can compete at that level.”

With that renewed confidence and a repeatable set of mechanics, DeMasi has quietly put up strong numbers for a Hillcats pitching staff that is dominating the Carolina League. In 94 innings, DeMasi has a 2.68 ERA, with 64 strikeouts to only 21 walks, and has limited batters to a .231 average. In addition to getting credit for six victories, he also has two saves. Whether he is on the mound for the National Anthem, or when there are only three outs remaining, his approach is the same.

“Getting outs. That’s all it comes down to. It doesn’t matter if it’s the beginning of the game or the end of the game.”

This season, DeMasi has turned the corner and has shown himself and the Indians organization that he is capable of pitching effectively at an elite level. Being part of a strong Hillcats rotation has put him in position to further his career. Right now, completing his communications degree at Valdosta State will have to wait. He has found that elusive consistency as a pitcher and has all his chips in as he contributes to a run at a championship.

Photo: Jay Westcott/The News and Advance



Hartson Leads a Strong Lynchburg Hillcats Pitching Corps


Thirteen pitchers have started a game for the 2017 edition of the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. That much turnover in the starting rotation usually indicates that successful pitchers have moved up to a higher rung in the developmental ladder or injuries have forced pitchers into the starting rotation. In either case, that much turnover would indicate a variable level of performance from the pitching staff. The starters’ success has been a prime contributor to the rotation’s turnover, but for each player who has moved up to AA Akron this season, another one has stepped in and successfully contributed.

At the head of this year’s standout starters is Brock Hartson. He began the season pitching out of the bullpen while taking the final steps in his recovery from offseason hip surgery.

“Going into the season my main focus was to be healthy,” said Hartson. “Bouncing back from [surgery] was goal number one.”

After four appearances out of the bullpen to open the season, Hartson shifted to the starting  rotation. With 18 starts this season, and six in the previous year, Hartson has become a leader of the Hillcats pitching staff. It does not hurt that he leads the league in WHIP with a 1.00.

“This year I’ve worked a lot on my lower half. I think there has been improvement. Last year was subpar, to say the least,” Hartson said. “I think with the hip surgery, giving me the mobility I needed to get stronger definitely helped.”

Even with frequent turnover, the Hillcats pitching has been the class of the Carolina League. They lead the ten-team circuit in ERA (3.29), WHIP (1.17), fewest runs allowed (474), and fewest walks (335). This last statistic is perhaps the most telling one of the bunch. The Cleveland Indians have been drafting pitchers who fill up the strike zone. Many of them have college careers where they were effective in limiting free passes, and the Indians development system has proven to be very effective at turning these players into quality pitchers.

Strikeouts usually go along with a pitcher’s control, but the Hillcats staff ranks only seventh in strikeout totals for the Carolina League with 1,006. That is a good distance from the leader, Buies Creek, whose pitchers have rung up 1,162 batters on the year.

This is not to say that Hillcats pitchers are ineffective. Top prospect Triston McKenzie leads the league in strikeouts with 165, a 30-strikeout lead over Jeffrey Springs of the Down East Wood Ducks. What has made the Lynchburg rotation successful has been their ability to pitch deep into games. It is common for Hillcats starters to go six, seven, or more innings each time they take the mound. The team is second in the league with 11 shutouts, tied with Wilmington and second only to 15 by Myrtle Beach.

“It’s always difficult for your first full season to make it all the way through,” said pitching coach Rigo Beltran. “He’s [McKenzie] showing some signs of fatigue, but has bounced back in recent starts.”

With McKenzie getting some down time, first during the Carolina League All-Star break, and then while he attended and participated in the Futures Game, he has been able to learn how to handle a long season and remains among the top pitchers of the Carolina League.

Helping in the development of the pitchers has been a three-man catching core. Veterans Daniel Salters and Sicnarf Loopstok returned to the Hillcats, while newcomer Martin Cervenka has been a mainstay both behind the plate and in supporting the team with his bat.

“I think this year has been the most preparation I’ve had for each game,” said Cervenka. “As a player I have benefited [from the use of the Trackman system] understanding the game and trying to manage the pitchers through the game.”

The most outstanding of Cervenka’s nights behind the plate was Shao-Ching Chiang’s no-hitter. Chiang pitched the first complete game nine-inning no-hitter for the Hillcats. The most recent previous nine-inning no-hitter for the Lynchburg franchise was 1992. They were a farm club of the Boston Red Sox and Tim Van Egmond was the pitcher of record. Two years later, they would adopt the nickname Hillcats.

Not only was this Chiang’s most impressive outing of the season, it was his last in a Hillcats uniform, sort of. That Saturday night was Lynchburg Mets throwback night, so Chiang’s record performance came in an L-Mets uniform. Throwing only 106 pitches to frustrate the Winston-Salem hitters was notable, but the Hillcats only managed two hits themselves, pushing three runs across the plate to back Chiang.

The success of Lynchburg’s pitchers is a growing organizational strength, built on the ability of coach Beltran to develop the talent on the roster.

“I think it has to do with the mindset and the culture we’ve created with the Cleveland Indians,” Beltran said. “It starts at the top and trickles down. You just want to create that environment where there is positive support for development.”

This support helps McKenzie and Hartson continue to anchor the rotation. Midseason additions have also performed well, with the Hillcats producing a 78-49 overall record, best in the Carolina League. Matt Esparza and Thomas Pannone began the season as part of the rotation. Pannone was promoted to AA Akron after only five dominant starts, and later traded to Toronto as one of the players that helped to net Joe Smith for Cleveland’s Major League bullpen. Esparza, the opening day starter for the Hillcats, received his promotion to AA on May 30.

First Shane Bieber and then Aaron Civale arrived from Low-A Lake County to take their places, Bieber started 14 games for Lynchburg, producing a 6-1 record, while limiting batters to 95 hits and only 4 walks while striking out 82. He has continued his success following a promotion to AA Akron, where he has a 2-1 record and a 2.86 ERA in six starts.

Since arriving from Low-A Lake County on May 30 with Esparza’s promotion, Civale put up a 9-2 record with a 2.69 ERA in over 90 innings pitched. His 1.01 WHIP is just a hair above Hartson’s, but he does not yet have enough innings to qualify for ranking among the league leaders. Like Bieber, Civale exhibits control on the mound, with 72 strikeouts, to only eight walks since joining the Hillcats.

“I just take pride in not allowing a free pass,” Civale says. “My biggest goal each game is to limit walks and limit base runners.”

A recent home start for Hartson is an example of how the whole pitching staff has worked successfully all season long. Facing the Down East Wood Ducks for the first time this season, Hartson stymied opposing hitters. In seven innings, he allowed six base runners – three hits and three walks. With a slim one-run lead over opposing pitcher Jonathan Hernandez, any mistake could result in a Hillcats defeat.

“I try to treat it the same, zero to zero, every time I take the mound,” said Hartson. “I try to go out there and get back in the dugout as quickly as possible, letting my defense play for me.”

On this night, the defense would do just that. Jodd Carter would make a running catch in dead center field to prevent an extra-base hit. In the fourth inning, with runners on first and third and two outs, his catcher Salters would field a pitch in the dirt and throw a rocket to second baseman Sam Haggerty in time to apply the tag for the final out ending Down East’s only scoring threat of the game.

The final two innings would feature Luke Eubank, and Argenis Angulo holding the Wood Ducks scoreless to notch another Hillcats victory. Angulo would get the save, his 14th on the season, by striking out the side.

With a dozen games remaining in the regular season schedule, the Hillcats staff is gearing up for the postseason. For the third season in a row as a Cleveland affiliate, the Hillcats will pursue the Mills Cup. With Hartson, McKenzie, and Civale making up the starting rotation, there is excitement and hope for victory in Lynchburg.

Photo: Lindsay Carico/



Tanner Tully – Rising Up the Ranks


Tanner Tully is a 6’0”, 200 lb. left-handed starter out of Elkhart, Indiana, selected by Cleveland Indians in the 26th round. He was the last of six Ohio State Buckeyes taken in 2016.

Growing up in Indiana, he developed an appreciation for hunting, fishing, and sports. These made up a rotation across the seasons that kept him engaged.

“I played football and baseball during high school,” Tully said. “During the summers I played summer ball, up until football season. Eventually I got recruited to go to Ohio State.”

At Elkhart’s Central High in 2013, Tully earned Indiana’s Mr. Baseball award for his performance, joining a list that includes current Major Leaguers such as Lance Lynn, Adam Lind, Clayton Richard, and Tucker Barnhart, as well as a former member of the Lynchburg Hillcats, Bryan Bullington.

As a Buckeye, he played three years, choosing to forgo his senior season to sign with Cleveland. Eventually he expects to return and complete his degree in sports management and communications.

As the Buckeyes’ number one starter in 2016, he earned All-Big 10 honors, with an 8-3 record in 16 starts over 107 2/3 innings pitched. His 78 strikeouts to only 23 walks exemplify his ability to pitch to the strike zone and limit base runners.

Ohio State won the Big 10 championship by defeating Iowa in front of a raucous crowd in Omaha, Nebraska. It is one of Tully’s strongest memories of his time in college.

“It was a lot of fun, a good team and good chemistry,” said Tully about his championship comrades.

Iowa, the number eight seed, mowed down its competition, getting to the championship round undefeated to face off against Tully and the Buckeyes.

“The packed house against Iowa was incredible,” he said. “It’s a lot different, but you keep the same mindset, you go out there and do your job and get the work done.”

Tully did exactly that. He pitched three scoreless innings. Backed by the strong hitting of teammates and fellow draftees Ronnie Dawson, Troy Montgomery, and Jacob Bosiokovic, the team pulled out an 8-7 victory to win the Big Ten Championship and advance to the College World Series Regional in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Buckeyes would lose to the University of Louisville in the final game of the regional, ending their hopes of a trip to Omaha and the College World Series.

After being drafted and signing, the Indians organization sent Tully to short-season rookie ball at Mahoning Valley of the New York-Penn League. He added 13 games of professional baseball to his resume, seven of those with the starting assignment. In 46 innings for the Scrappers, he went 4-1 with a 1.17 ERA and 26 strikeouts to only nine walks – a very successful year by any measure.

“Everybody else is in the same shoes as you,” he said about making the move into professional baseball. “Most of the guys just got drafted. We’re all working on how to get started, and go from there.”

In college, he pitched by mixing up his fastball and curveball. With the Indians organization, he has added a changeup into the mix.

“I’ve been working on the changeup this year and getting it better, throwing it in the zone and getting better movement on it,” said Tully. “I had a little bit of a changeup before, but never really threw it that much.”

The Indians assigned Tully to Low-A Lake County to open the 2017 season. He pitched very effectively for the Captains over the first two-thirds of the season. In 77 innings, he had 76 strikeouts and only ten walks. He limited opposing hitters to a .243 average and had an ERA of 3.16, an effective start to his first full season. His success earned him a surprise promotion to AA-Akron for three starts.

“It was a big surprise,” Tully said about his move across Ohio and up two levels in the minor league development chain. “I’m thankful for that opportunity. It helped me out a lot, to see hitters and the strike zone.”

The game is a bit faster at Double-A, where players first encounter the 20-second pitch clock, but Tully adjusted smoothly, picking up a 1-1 record over 16 2/3 innings. He moved down to High-A Lynchburg following the promotion of Shane Bieber to Double-A Akron.

He has not been quite a successful when taking the mound for the Hillcats. With an 0-3 record, he has struck out only seven in 16 2/3 innings pitched.

His second outing in a Lynchburg uniform was his best. Facing the Down East Wood Ducks, he pitched eight innings while allowing only three runs on six hits. Unfortunately, a collection of four Down East hurlers limited the Hillcats to only two runs, and Tully was tagged with the loss.

Like many of the starting pitchers in Cleveland’s farm system, Tully is a control pitcher who is trying to limit base runners. He is most effective when not giving out free passes to the opposition. With Cleveland’s use of analytical systems, Tully is still adapting to the use of that type of data to inform how he develops his pitching style.

“It’s different,” he said, “but it can be very helpful. They are tools to use to see what you are doing, and what you can work on and grow.”

As the Hillcats work to maintain their five-game lead in the season’s second half, Tully will continue to work on his pitching with the hope that the team can win the Mills Cup Championship after being so close the past two seasons.

Once the season is complete, he will attend fall instructional league, and then head home for some family time, relaxing with his dad and going out to hunt and fish.

Photo: David Monseur/AIPPhoto



Kieran Lovegrove – Building Success in the Bullpen


Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Kieran Lovegrove moved to California when he was five years old. Growing up throwing a ball around, and hitting golf balls, he readily became enamored of baseball.

“When I came to the states, I picked up baseball very quickly,” said Lovegrove. “It became this infatuation I had with the sport. One of my earliest memories is going to a Dodger game and getting to meet Paul Lo Duca. Then I got to see Eric Gagne’s 55th consecutive save. I started following the game and never looked back from there.”

Lovegrove is a 6’4” right-handed pitcher from Mission Viejo, California. He had been familiar with the game cricket before coming to the United States, and still follows the game – in particular power bowlers.

“You always talk about the different styles of pitching you have,” said Lovegrove. “There’s the same feeling in cricket, you have spin bowlers and power bowlers. I’ve always been fascinated with power bowlers, the way they can continue to do it for such an extended period.”

The Indians selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft. He had signed to go to ASU, but at 17 years old, he was off to Arizona for his first experience as a professional athlete.

“The Indians gave me a great offer and I couldn’t turn it down,” Lovegrove said.

The transition to the professional ranks was not as smooth as he anticipated. An admitted hot head, he was young and thought he knew more about baseball than he really did. He credits the Indians organization for being patient and working with him to mold him into a ball player and conscientious young man.

“I came in at 17 and at that point was still a high school kid. Over the next six years, I spent more time with them than I did with my own family,” Lovegrove said. “Through all the mistakes and effort, they were the people molding me into the man I am today. I owe so much to the Indians organization.”

Lovegrove pitched as a starter for his first four seasons, spending two years in the Arizona League, and then two more at short-season Mahoning Valley. In 2016, the organization converted him to a reliever and he is beginning to have success.

Now 23 years old, he has appeared in 31 games for the High-A Lynchburg club. Lovegrove has a 3.92 ERA in 41 1/3 innings, with 44 strikeouts and only 19 walks. Even better, he has a .212 average against, an important stat for a relief pitcher.

“I would definitely consider myself a power pitcher,” said Lovegrove. “I’ve got a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. This year, I started throwing a knuckle-curveball to get a little more depth. It’s been more successful than my slider was in the past.”

Lovegrove said he must throw regularly, whether in games, during bullpen sessions, or other aspects of practice. It keeps him sharp for games, and this season he has learned how to balance his energy and drive to be successful.

Over his last six games, he has pitched nine and two-thirds innings, allowing only a single earned run, and striking out 14. In the same span, he has only allowed seven hitters on base by a hit or a walk.

“I think I’m trending in the right direction,” he said. “There is definitely growing pains in learning how to pitch, learning how to set guys up and being comfortable throwing a breaking ball in any count.”

Exclusively a pitcher since becoming a professional, Lovegrove does have a good story behind his lone at bat since joining the Indians organization. It came while he was with Mahoning Valley in 2014. An error in the line-up card forced him to hit.

“I had not hit in about three years. They handed me a bat, a helmet and gloves,” he said. “I was batting fifth and I thought to myself, ‘They’re going to hear Kieran Lovegrove, pitcher, announced, so I was hoping for one down the middle’. I was swinging a big bat, Martin Cervenka’s actually, but too big for me. I planned to jump on the first one. I got around on it, but close to my hands, and popped it up to the catcher. Luckily, I didn’t get hit on the knuckles. I realized then maybe it’s time to hang up the bat.”

Watching a video of kids trying to play baseball without equipment or facilities in a township in South Africa motivated Lovegrove. With two of his high school friends, Adam Salcido, Kyle Candalla, and Lovegrove started a charitable organization, the Going-To-Bat Foundation.

“We grew up in Southern California, where there was a big surplus of baseball and baseball equipment,” said Lovegrove. “We collected like three pallets worth of gear and shipped it to South Africa.”

Since that initial foray to provide equipment, the Going-To-Bat Foundation has participated in baseball outreach activities in Louisiana, Alaska, and Minnesota. Lovegrove said he wants to get back to being more involved, but his baseball career has forced him to be less attentive to the direction of the foundation.

“I want to get back to taking a head role in this. Moving the organization more towards the education of the game, teaching young players who don’t have access to knowledge of the game.” Lovegrove said.

The Going-To-Bat Foundation is planning a golf tournament prior to next year’s Spring Training in order to raise funds for this type of outreach.

Outside of baseball, golf is one of the pursuits Lovegrove enjoys.

“I’ve been golfing since I was a kid,” he says. “We get out every so often and play Poplar Grove or London Downs [two courses in the Lynchburg area]. Say I have a career-ending injury. These are the morbid things we talk about in the bullpen. I can always go back to college and play golf since I didn’t use up any of my eligibility.”

In addition to his love of golf, Lovegrove has taken an interest in body art, particularly tattoos.

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to have a body covered in tattoos,” he said.

The whole of his lower left leg and left arm and ribs are decorated with tattoos. One of those on his ribs is his favorite.

“The owl on my ribs is for my grandmother,” he shared. “That’s my favorite and I think it will always be my favorite.”

As the Hillcats pitching staff continues to be successful, Lovegrove has become an important part of the bullpen. His high energy power pitching will continue as he refines his game and works to earn a promotion to the next level of the Indians farm system.

Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance



Lynchburg’s Gavin Collins – Making the Most of His Opportunities


A 13th round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 2016, Gavin Collins is holding down the hot corner for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. Promoted to the Hillcats from Low-A Lake County on July 5, Collins has fit right into the team. A catcher in high school and college, Collins has primarily played at the infield corners during his professional career, catching only seven games earlier this season with Lake County.

“I’m still a catcher. It’s just that right now we have three really good catchers, so those guys are getting the reps and doing the job back there and I’m at third base,” Collins said. “I love both positions. I’m here just trying to help the team any way I can and third base is where I can help the team the most right now.”

Measuring up at 5’11”, 205 lbs., Collins has the build of an athletic catcher, but has shown the ability to pick it at third base quite effectively. In 22 games at the hot corner for the Hillcats, he committed a single error in 59 chances, turned two double plays, and earned 38 assists.

Collins has always enjoyed baseball, starting with T-ball when he was four years old, and continuing on through grade school and high school. From Newport Beach, California, he attended El Toro High School and, based upon geography, you would expect him to have grown up an Angels or a Dodgers fan.

“I grew up a Boston Red Sox fan because I thought Fenway was the coolest thing ever when I visited it when I was ten years old,” said Collins.

Going into his senior year of high school, Collins was unsure if he wanted to attend college. The baseball draft was in the near future. That all changed with the first game of the season.

“That first game I had a little fracture to my tibia and my ankle and that kind of messed up the catching thing. I ended up playing third,” said Collins, who would go on to college. “It was a blessing that I did end up going to Mississippi State.”

Prior to his senior year at El Toro, he played in a tournament in Georgia and his performance took the notice of a recruiter for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

“The Mississippi State recruiting coordinator liked the way I played. He asked if I had any reservations about going all the way to the south and playing in the SEC. I said I want to go play in the best conference in the country, so I got that opportunity.”

The competition in the SEC is fierce. As a freshman, Collins rose to the challenge. In 48 games, he hit .304, driving in 19 runs on one homer and eight doubles. For his efforts, he was named All-SEC catcher, the first freshman to earn such honors at that position in Bulldogs history.

“It was a fun year,” Collins said in reflecting back on that season. “I felt like we could have gone a lot further but we just had a hiccup in the playoffs. The accomplishment was one everyone voted me for. I felt it was fortunate for me.”

The Bulldogs finished third in the SEC, behind Mississippi and LSU, ending up ranked 28th in the nation. Two of his teammates on that squad, Jonathan Holder and Jacob Lindgren, have already reached the Majors with the Yankees, and Collins credits the SEC competition in the development of his teammates and himself.

“Every game, even the mid-week games, it’s always intense because those games still count towards something, either the playoff standings or the RPI,” said Collins. “Every weekend series, against LSU, or Florida, those are what you live for. You can’t sleep during the week you’re so excited to play.”

Drafted in 2016 after a 60-game college season, it made for a very long year of baseball and a tough transition from college to the professional ranks. He started as a pro with an assignment to rookie level Mahoning Valley.

“There was definitely an adjustment that I didn’t set my mind to at first. Playing baseball every day, no school, what’s the matter with that? It’s going to be awesome,” said Collins. “You really have to learn to take care of your body because you don’t have the giant ice baths we had at school. You don’t have the downtime. I got a little excited, probably like most new players. They do a lot of extra things because they think they need it. It kind of wears on you a little bit, but you learn from it. The learning curve from that first year really helped me going into the offseason.”

Starting this year in the Midwest League, Collins put up solid numbers. Since joining the Hillcats, after the July 4 holiday, he has been the only player promoted to Lynchburg to crack the starting lineup for a strong Hillcats team. Collins moved in at third base and nailed down the cleanup spot for Lynchburg.

Working with Hillcats hitting coach Kevin Howard, Collins has been central to the continued success of Lynchburg in the season’s second half.

“His biggest thing is timing,” says Howard about what Collins is working on to improve his batting. “We talk about getting some rhythm. The rhythm has a lot to do with are you balanced, are you controlling your body.”

In 24 games wearing the blue and green Hillcats colors, he has controlled his rhythm to a .293 batting average, 23 RBI, three home runs, and ten doubles in 92 trips to the batter’s box.

“I’m looking to drive the ball to the middle of the field each time because if you set your eyes and all your energy to the middle of the field, that’s creating that great path to the baseball,” said Collins about his hitting approach. “If the pitcher throws it in you just get the barrel out a little sooner, if he throws it away you get there a little later.”

His consistent timing and straightforward approach have fit in well on a Hillcats team that continues to battle with the rival Salem Red Sox. Lynchburg holds a slim one game lead atop the Northern Division standings in the Carolina League. A Hillcats second-half victory would mean all three games for the first round of the playoffs would be at Calvin Falwell Field, giving the Lynchburg club a distinct advantage in advancing to the Mills Cup Championship finals for the second straight season.

“This is a winning group of guys,” Collins said about his teammates. “They love to compete, love to win. You don’t find that often in the minor leagues. Of course Manso [manager Tony Mansolino] does such a great job, as do Howard and [coach Kyle] Hudson in developing us.”

In his first full season in the minors, Collins has shown he has the talent and tools to perform. Whether he remains at third base or returns to catcher is yet to be determined, but either way, he will devote all of his energy to being the best player he can be on and off the field.

Photo: Jay Westcott/The News and Advance



Aaron Civale – Engineering Success on the Mound for Lynchburg


High-A Lynchburg Hillcats starting pitcher Aaron Civale got started in baseball by following his older brother.

“I wanted to do everything he did, compete at what he did,” he said. “He played baseball, basketball, and soccer. I did the same.”

In grade school, he rotated through the three sports – soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. Baseball was the sport that captured his attention and affection, even when he was playing other sports.

As he advanced through little league and other organized levels of baseball, he remained both a hitter and a pitcher. Eventually, as the right-hander found a comfort zone on the mound, pitching began to be the object of his baseball attention. It was not until college that he shifted to pitching full time.

Not getting the attention of scouts while coming out of Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut, he sought a college experience with strong academics and an opportunity to play baseball. He found both at Northeastern University under head coach and alumnus Mike Glavine (brother of Hall of Famer Tom Glavine).

“I wasn’t on the radar for the pros at that point,” said Civale. “Northeastern was a good program and I was looking for schools that had good baseball and good academics.”

A mechanical engineering major, Civale pitched in a relief role during his freshman and sophomore seasons, getting only a single start. The thought of a professional career in baseball was not yet the focus of his future.

That would change. First, he had the opportunity to pitch an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at their spring training home, JetBlue Park in Florida. Second, he spent the summer between his sophomore and junior seasons in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

Civale had not started a game all season long for the Huskies, but on this spring day, he would go out and pitch against some of the most well-known names in Red Sox history, including David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.

“I found out the night before, at a team dinner,” he said about when he knew he would get the starting nod. “We had a game the day before and I was in the bullpen possibly ready to go in the game. We scored six or seven runs in the seventh inning. So I wasn’t needed for that game, I was available for the next day.”

Being rested, coach Glavine offered him the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Coach Glavine asked me at the dinner, ‘So you want to start tomorrow?’. Absolutely!” said Civale.

Reflecting back on this game, he describes the experience as surreal.

“Being there, taking it all in beforehand, it seemed as big a deal as it was. Once I got on the mound, it was about baseball again.”

Facing Big Papi (Ortiz) was an experience he will never forget.

“I grew up a Red Sox fan, following his whole career. He is one of my favorite players, still. A bigger-than-life personality, both on and off the field. The opportunity to pitch against him was an honor.”

Ortiz was one of four strikeouts Civale tallied against the Boston lineup that day. Red Sox manager John Farrell was impressed with him. According to comments in the Boston Globe, ‘He had a good late cutter and attacked the strike zone.’

That summer, he would go on to pitch for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks as he prepared himself to be a starting pitcher for his junior season.

“I’d been to some of the games as a kid up to the Cape for a weekend,” Civale shared. “It was a big summer, learning and experience wise. I went into it as a temp, and was fortunate enough to pitch well early and gain the trust of the coaches and earn a full contract.”

Civale did more than just earn a contract. He was named the top New England prospect for his summer efforts. Civale also participated in the summer league’s All-Star game, pitching a single inning with one strikeout. Even with this success, he took nothing for granted.

“Every day I went into it that this was my last day, that temp contract still in my mind.”

This changed his path toward baseball as a professional. Cleveland selected him in the third round, the 92nd position overall, in the 2016 First Year Player Draft, making him the top pitcher drafted by the Indians that year.

After signing, he got 13 starts for rookie level Mahoning Valley, building on his college experience. This earned him the number 20 organizational prospect spot in the Cleveland farm system as determined by Baseball America. He has not slowed down in 2017.

Unlike many pitchers, Civale has five offerings he can deal out to opposing hitters. He features a two-seam fastball, and mixes that up with a cutter, a slider, a curveball, and his most recent addition, a change-up.

“The goal this season is development of that change-up,” he said. “As a reliever for two years, I didn’t really need a change-up. I relied on my fastball, cutter, and slider. In high school, I didn’t throw the change-up, so it’s not a pitch I’m familiar with.”

Working on the change-up with Hillcats pitching coach Rigo Beltran gives him an off-speed offering that can mix-up hitters and keep them off balance. Since entering the Indians farm system, Civale has worked as a starter, taking the mound every fifth day. In 34 starts as a professional, he has 138 strikeouts and only 21 walks – all in just a shade over 160 innings.

Promoted from Low-A Lake County on June 1, Civale won his Advanced-A debut with a 3-1 victory over the Potomac Nationals. In ten starts since, he has a 5-2 record and a 3.04 ERA. Along with teammate Triston McKenzie, the two look to continue their success as the Hillcats pursue the second half Northern Division title in the Carolina League.

His continuing success hinges on learning to adapt to the longer season and to maintain his conditioning and endurance through August and the playoffs.

“Staying healthy is a big goal of mine,” said Civale. “My first full season, just gaining nuances, understanding everything your body goes through. Learning what you need to push through on and what you need to pull back on.”

So far he has pushed and pulled successfully in a Hillcats uniform.

Like many of his teammates, he enjoys golfing and video games, but there is not too much down time during a 140-game minor league season to pursue those activities. As Civale continues to toe the rubber every fifth day, he aims to be balanced and maintain a consistent level of performance.

“I just take pride in making sure I’m 100% every fifth day.”




Getting to Know Lynchburg’s Jodd Carter


At the age of 17, Jodd Carter joined the rookie level Arizona Indians for his first taste of professional baseball. Selected in the 24th round of the 2014 first year player draft, Carter was following in the footsteps of other recent Hawaiians who have entered professional baseball. This includes friends he grew up playing ball with in the Hilo area, most notably Kolten Wong of the St. Louis Cardinals, Kean Wong (Kolten’s younger brother), and Kodi Medeiros (who is currently pitching for the Carolina Mudcats, also in the High-A Carolina League).

Now 20 years old, Carter reflected back on his start in professional baseball.

“It was a big step for me,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting all the international players when I first got there [to Arizona], but they all welcomed me.”

Like most baseball players, the game was part of his family growing up. He started baseball at around 3 years old, playing for clubs run by his father and grandfather. As he got older, he came to love baseball even more.

“Just the competition,” said Carter about why he enjoys baseball so much. “Baseball brings out the best of you. It’s the only sport where you can fail seven out of ten times and still have a job.”

Baseball is very popular in Hawaii and for Carter, ability and performance drove him to continue with baseball as opposed to pursuing other sports.

“It’s one of those sports where height doesn’t matter,” he shared. “In basketball, you’ve got to be taller. In Hawaii, we don’t have too many big players.”

At 5’10” and 170 lbs., Carter is not big. Lean and muscled, he has some power and some speed. His ten home runs are second on the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats team, and while in high school, he ran a 6.5 second 60-yard dash for scouts, grading out at 7 on the 2-8 scouting scale.

He started attending baseball showcases in the eighth grade, first on Oahu in Hawaii, and then more often in California and Arizona. In 9th grade, he traveled with team Hawaii to the fall classic. His performance received notice by scouts putting him in a position to be drafted.

It also helped that scouts were coming to Hawaii to watch Kean Wong and Kodi Medeiros. This led to Carter getting drafted and passing on offers to play at the University of Hawaii or Central Arizona to begin his career in the Cleveland farm system.

“I just thought, coming out of high school, it would give me more time to develop in pro ball. I just wanted to start my career.”

Honing his skills against the competition, he has progressed through the lower levels of the Indians system to reach the High-A level. A number of his Hillcats teammates have joined him on this journey, including Willi Castro, Argenis Angulo, and Shao-Ching Chiang.

Asked whether playing with the same teammates over time helped with the Hillcats success, Carter suggested it all starts with the organizational plan that is set out in spring training.

“We all go to spring training together,” he said. “Then it just clicks. Everybody goes out there and takes care of their role. There’s going to be hot players and not-so-hot players. You just need to go out and do what is necessary.”

Last week for Carter, he was one of those hot players.

Named the Carolina League Player of the Week for July 10-16, Carter was on a tear. He hit .454 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run in that span, driving in four runs and scoring three. This capped a strong second half start for the first half Northern Division champion Hillcats, who won seven of their first ten games after the All-Star break. They continue to battle Central Virginia rival Salem for the top spot in the second half standings.

Carter’s hot streak has come while the team overall has hit a cold stretch, dropping five of the last eight games entering play on Wednesday. His success at bat, which led to the weekly award, was the result of capitalizing on his plan at the plate.

“Just hitter’s counts that I got myself into,” said Carter. “Being patient at the plate. Right now, I’m just trying to stick to my routine, not go outside of my approach. I just work on trying to drive the ball to the right side and get on inside pitches, but mainly trying to stay patient.”

Plate discipline is often one of the more difficult elements of hitting to perfect, but Carter continues to come out to the ballpark and work hard every day to master the challenges of facing pitchers throwing 90-mile-per-hour fastballs, or unexpected off-speed pitches. Being part of a winning club always helps.

“When you’re playing on a winning ball club, it makes being on the team more fun,” he said. “Everybody wants to be the best. Having teams come at you makes you play harder.”

With his current hot streak having raised his batting average 20 points to .264, Carter seems to be finding his groove. In addition to the challenges of hitting that come with High-A baseball, the Hillcats outfielders have been rotating through all three outfield positions. On any night, Carter may find himself patrolling right, left, or center field.

“It’s different playing the different positions with the ball coming off the bat at different angles. You just have to do it and get better at it,” he said about shifting between the various outfielders roles. “I feel comfortable playing all three.”

When he is not at the ballpark and wants to relax, he enjoys hanging out with his teammates and playing the popular video game Call of Duty. In the off-season, he prefers a less visual form of relaxation.

“I love to go fishing and camping every weekend.”

For a native Hawaiian, that sounds like quite an enjoyable way to spend down time. With the baseball season in full swing, he has not had the opportunity to find good fishing. Instead, he spends his time practicing his routines and making every effort to translate that practice into effective game performance.

Photo: Jay Westcott/The News and Advance



Argenis Angulo – Building Consistency


The top reliever on this season’s High-A Lynchburg Hillcats has been Argenis Angulo. The 6’3” closer hails from Araure, Venezuela. He made his way to the Cleveland system through Ranger College, a junior college in Texas. A 19th round selection in the 2014 First Year Player Draft, this season marks the first one begun in full season ball. Of his previous three seasons, he spent two in the Arizona League, and his third started in short-season ball at rookie level Mahoning Valley.

For as long as he can remember, Angulo has been playing baseball.

“My dad always liked baseball. He introduced me to it when I was two years old. He started tossing balls to me. I started playing Little League when I was about four years old.”

As he grew up and continued to play in Venezuelan leagues, he was primarily a hitter. It was not until he was 17 that he was encouraged to become a pitcher.

“I loved to hit,” said Angulo. “I was never fast enough to be a position player, so they talked to me and said, ‘You’ve got a cannon, you can be a pitcher.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so.’”

Not sold on the idea of being a pitcher, it was his first strikeout that made him consider pitching as a way to continue to play the game.

“After that first strikeout, I was throwing 88, but I never liked to pitch until I got the chance to play in college.”

While playing in the 18 and Under World Championships, Angulo was asked if he wanted to go to America to play college ball.

“Sure,” he said, “but I don’t know any English.”

At 18 years old he began his college career in a two-year junior college west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area called Ranger College.

“It was hard at the beginning knowing no English,” he said, “taking classes without knowing anything. But I found a way to like it and take advantage of it.”

The difficulty of that first year showed up in his baseball performance. In 12 games, four in which he started, he had a 0-2 record and an 8.29 ERA in 33 2/3 innings pitched. In his second year as a Ranger, his performance improved significantly. In 63 innings, he had 83 strikeouts and his ERA finished at 3.14. This put him on the Indians draft board.

“Getting my name called in the draft,” said Angulo, “was one of the best experiences so far in my life.”

After getting only three token appearances in the Arizona League in 2015 due to injury, he played for clubs at four of the five levels of the Indians’ minor league system last year, getting one appearance for AAA Columbus, two appearances for AA Akron, and dividing his remaining appearances between Low-A Lake County and short-season Mahoning Valley.

“I think it’s nice to be healthy,” said Angulo, when asked about his travels in the Cleveland farm system last year. “Being in a position where I can help one team. I like it here [in Lynchburg], though it’s not like I want to spend all year here.”

Like any aspiring Major Leaguer, he hopes his performance gets him that call from the manager sending him up to a higher level and closer to his goal of being a Major League baseball player.

On the mound, he mixes up four pitches. Working off his two- and four-seam fastballs, he also throws a slurve and a change-up. Working with pitching coach Rigo Beltran, his goals for the season are to get more consistency, and Beltran has helped him take his pitching performance to the next level.

“Attacking the hitters,” said Angulo of one of those goals. “Being able to set them up with my fastball, so they will be in bad shape [for his off-speed offerings].”

Working exclusively out of the bullpen over the past two seasons, he has developed into an end game pitcher that manager Tony Mansolino often calls upon to close out games and preserve Hillcats victories. The High-A Lynchburg club currently sports the best record in the Carolina League at 53-35 on the season, and 13-6 in the second half.

“It’s nice to come in in the ninth, or the eighth inning,” he shared. “I want to get the hitters out as quickly as possible so I can be ready to go the next day.”

Efficiency is critical for a short reliever, since they are frequently called on to finish games. Angulo leads the Hillcats bullpen with ten saves. His first of these ten came in Myrtle Beach. He came on to strike out three of the final four batters and preserved a 5-3 victory.

With 42 strikeouts in just over 33 innings, Angulo has been most effective in limiting opposing hitters. His opponent’s batting average is a weak .167, meaning he rarely allows a base runner and is reliable in keeping inherited runners from scoring.

This success earned him his first appearance in an All-Star game as a professional. One of six Hillcats to earn that honor, he joined his teammates in Salem for the fanfare and contest. Much as he has for the Hillcats, Angulo closed out a Northern Division victory in the All-Star Classic, preserving a victory for teammate Shao-Ching Chiang.

“We talked to him [Chiang] before the game,” said Angulo. “He said he was going to throw four pitches, but we didn’t believe it. Then the first hitter he was at six pitches, but finished the inning with ten pitches overall before going out of the game.”

As he gets more comfortable finishing games, Angulo is building a pitching resume that will take him to the next level, either later this season or more likely in 2018. With 22 games finished, he trails only Carolina Mudcats pitcher Nate Griep, who has finished 25 games.

“It’s nice to have the ability to pitch every day,” said Angulo. “Mansolino trusts me to come in at the ninth inning.”

As he improves his consistency and competence on the mound, he will continue to work his way towards his goal of pitching at the Major League level.

Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance