By Steve Wilaj

The Cleveland Indians held four picks during the first day of the 2014 MLB Draft on Thursday, selecting outfielder Bradley Zimmer with the 21st pick, LHP Justus Sheffield with the 31st pick, outfielder Mike Papi with the 38th pick and RHP Grant Hockin with the 61st pick. 

While it’s to be seen if any of the four will end up in Mahoning Valley this season, here’s a brief background on each Tribe selection, followed by an overview of the Indians 2013 draft class that saw action with the Scrappers.

Bradley Zimmer, OF, 21…a 6-foot-5, 205 pound lefty out of the University of San Francisco, he’s a two-time All-West Coast Conference selection. This past season as a junior with USF Zimmer hit .368 with seven homeruns and 31 RBIs. He also stole 21 bases in 54 games. He was the only player in the nation in the top 50 in stolen bases (21) and top 60 in slugging percentage (.573). His brother, Kyle, was the fifth overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in the 2012 draft.

Justus Sheffield, LHP, 18…the 2014 Gatorade National Player of the Year went 10-0 with a 0.34 ERA in 61 innings pitched at Tullahoma High School in Tennessee this past season. He struck out 131 batters. The 6-foot lefty is committed to Vanderbilt.

Mike Papi, OF, 21…a 6-foot-3 left-handed hitting junior outfielder from Virginia, Papi was a 2013 All-American as he hit .381 with seven homeruns and 57 RBI. He followed that stellar year by hitting .297 with 11 homeruns in 2014. Coming out of high school, Papi was selected by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 30th round of the 2011 MLB Draft.

Grant Hockin, RHP, 18…a 6-foot-3 right-hander out of Damien High School in California, Hockin features a fastball that sits around 92 mph according to He’s already committed to UCLA and is the grandson of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew.

2013 draftees

Dace Kime, RHP, 22…selected in the third round, the 6-foot-4 right hander out of Louisville pitched in nine games for the Scrappers in 2013 – all of them starts. He went 0-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 24.2 innings. This season he is 0-8 for the Lake County Captains with a 6.10 ERA.

Kyle Crockett, LHP, 22…a fourth-round pick out of Virginia, Crockett moved quickly through the system and made his major league debut with the Tribe on May 16. The 6-foot-2 lefty reliever began last season in Mahoning Valley where he struck out 16 and didn’t allow a run in 9.1 innings. He’s currently in AAA Columbus.

Kenny Mathews, LHP, 20…a seventh-round pick from Riverside Community College in California, Mathews went 0-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 12 starts for the Scrappers in 2013. He’s with Lake County this season, where he is 2-2 with a 2.04 ERA in eight relief appearances.

Trevor Frank, RHP, 22…selected in the eighth round, Frank logged a 2.83 ERA over 35 innings in relief for the Scrappers in 2013. He’s continued his success with Lake County this season, where he holds 2.70 ERA in 23.1 innings as well as four saves.

Sicnarf Loopstok, C, 21…a 13th round pick out of Western Oklahoma State Community College, Loopstok hit .205 (15 for 73) in 24 games for the Scrappers last season.

James Roberts, SS, 22…selected in the 15th round from USC, Roberts hit .235 with 15 runs scored and 18 RBIs for the Scrappers in 2013. Now with the advanced A Carolina Mudcats, he holds a .285 batting average with 19 RBIs.

Paul Hendrix, 2B, 22…an 18th round selection, the TCU product batted .258 in 52 games with the Scrappers in 2013. Hendrix is hitting well again at Lake County this season, where he’s batting .327 with six homeruns and 21 RBIs through in 159 at-bats.

Matt Whitehouse, LHP, 23…selected in the 19th round, the lefty had a solid season with the Scrappers in 2013, posting a 0.72 ERA in 37.1 innings (four starts) as he went 4-2. This season with Lake County, Whitehouse is 1-1 with a 5.34 ERA in nine relief appearances.

Ben Heller, RHP, 22… a 22nd round selection, Heller went 1-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 37.1 innings for the Scrappers in 2013. He’s currently 3-1 with a 4.09 ERA with Lake County this season.

Grant Fink, 3B, 23… selected in the 23rd round, Fink played just five games with the Scrappers in 2013, going 8 for 18 at the plate with two doubles and a homerun. The Missouri Western State product is now with Lake County, where he has a .235 batting average and five homeruns in 187 at-bats.

Kerry Doane, RHP, 23… selected in the 24th round, the Eastern Tennessee State righty went 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in nine relief appearances for the Scrappers in 2013. This season for Lake County, Doane has a 4.40 ERA in 14.1 innings.

Cole Sulser, RHP, 24…a 25th round pick, Sulser compiled an impressive season at Mahoning Valley in 2013, going 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 15 appearances (nine starts) totaling 54 innings. He’s currently with the Carolina Mudcats, where the Dartmouth College product is 2-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 11 starts.

Garrett Smith, 2B, 24…Selected in the 37th round, Smith went 1 for 6 at the plate in limited action with the Scrappers in 2013.

Support. It’s one word and two syllables.  It has five consonants and two vowels;  it’s a word you can easily sound out.  It has no fancy tricks, no accents and is nothing special.   Yet support is the difference between success and failure, just ask 2011 Scrapper Bryson Myles.

Myles, a Texan by birth, can’t remember a time when he and his brother Candon weren’t playing sports.  Originally favoring basketball and football, they only played baseball at their parents urging.

“Our parents didn’t want us sitting around at home, so they threw us in baseball just to keep us occupied.  It was one of those things we were pretty good at, so it became a sport we played every year”.

Myles is being modest, as for most of us “pretty good” is how we describe the kid who always get’s picked first in gym class.  It’s not the description of a future professional baseball player.

Recruited by schools such as Texas Christian University for football, Myles had a decision to make: did his future lie on the diamond or the gridiron?  He went on to play baseball at Weatherford College (Texas) and Stephen F. Austin University (Texas) before getting drafted in the 6th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.  After signing with the Cleveland Indians he was sent to Mahoning Valley to start his professional career.

(Jesse Piecuch)

(Jesse Piecuch)

“It was the craziest time of my life. I don’t think at the time I realize how much work goes into the day to day of playing baseball. I don’t think I really knew how to learn at that point, I was always so good.  Most of my learning about myself and baseball I did in Mahoning Valley”.

Myles went from playing three to five games a week only a few hours from home to playing everyday thousands of miles from Grand Prairie, Texas.  He had to adjust from BBCOR bats to wood while playing with and against some of the best talent in the country.

So how did the 2011 New York-Penn League All-Star get through the struggles of learning in his first year of professional baseball? With the help of “one of the best fan bases” he’s ever been around.

“I couldn’t have picked a better place to play at for my first year of professional baseball. You get to play in front of big huge crowds, which is something you really long for as an athlete and as a player.  Then, on top of that, the people there are so welcoming. They know you on a first name basis and I would get to know them on a first name basis as well.”

What Myles feels speaks volumes about Scrappers fans is that their support didn’t stop when he left the team. “In Carolina this past season there were fans from Mahoning Valley that would drive all the way just to come and watch us play”.  For a twenty-four year old top prospect navigating his way through the Indians’ Farm System, a friendly face can mean more then you will ever know.

Myles was especially touched by the warm welcome his brother Candon received here in Mahoning Valley this past year.  Candon was also drafted in 2011, six rounds after his older brother by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  When Candon arrived at Eastwood Field at the end of August Bryson described his younger brother’s experience as “really fun.  He said he had never spoken to so many fans in his life. They wanted to learn about him because they remembered me”.

It is due to his relationship with Scrappers fans that makes the trip back to Mahoning Valley for the upcoming Hot Stove Banquet so special for Bryson Myles.

“You always want to go back to where you first started, and Mahoning Valley was the start of my professional career. I think, to be honest, I may get a little emotional because I know once I get there I’m going to have little flashbacks. I’m excited and I can’t wait to see all the people and interact with all the fans”.

Support.  It’s taking the time to learn a player’s name.  It’s staying late to say “good game” after extra innings.  It’s a weekly phone call from a host family two years later just to check in.  Above all, it’s showing someone that you care.  Support is more then one word and two syllables, and it is what has helped 2011 Scrapper Bryson Myles build a foundation as a professional baseball player and become the Indians Organization All-Star that he is today.


With temperatures plummeting into the negatives, what better way to warm up then the Scrappers Hot Stove Banquet.  With less than a month to go, the Scrappers Scoop has all the details to get you ready for the event of the season.

As mentioned in the previous blog entry, the Scrappers are inviting fans to Ciminero’s Banquet Center on January 30, 2014 from 6-8 PM for a dinner and a meet and greet with some of the top prospects in the Indians’ organization.  Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for children ages twelve and under.  Fans will enjoy dinner, remarks from a member of the Indians’ player development staff, and a silent auction benefiting the M.V.P.B.A. Scrappers Backers.  Following dinner, fans can take part in a question and answer session with the prospects as well as get autographs.

The Hot Stove Banquet is not only a way for you to support the Scrappers and the rich history of baseball talent the team has showcased in the valley, but also a way to interact with players the Indians have highlighted as their stars of tomorrow.  Sixty-four Major League players have roots in Mahoning Valley, and these seven young prospects could be the next to hit it big.  The Hot Stove Banquet is your chance to get their autographs, take a picture, learn what skills they hope to develop, and ask any question you would like before these players debut in the Major Leagues.

Still undecided on whether or to get a ticket for the Scrappers Hot Stove Banquet?  As part of the 2014 promotions schedule, one of the top prospects attending the event will have their very own Bobblehead given out at Eastwood Field this upcoming summer.  We will be announcing the bobblehead at the Hot Stove, and also giving everyone in attendance a ticket voucher to attend the bobblehead giveaway night.

Now let me introduce you to the All-Star line up of prospects we’ve got slated to attend the event! 

Giovanny Urshela

Giovanny Urshela

Giovanny Urshela

Born October 11, 1991 in Cartagena, Columbia Urshela signed with the Cleveland Indians as a Non-Drafted Free Agent on July 2, 2008.  He spent his first few season in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Rookie League before joining the Scrappers in 2010.  With the Scrappers, Urshela ranked third on the team for batting average ( .290), second on the team for hits (64), first on the team for RBI (35) and third on the team for total bases (81).  He played the 2011 season with Class A Lake County and the 2012 season with Class A Advanced Carolina.  After being named the Best Infield Arm in the Indians Organization by Baseball America in 2012, Urshela played the 2013 season in Class AA Akron.




Jesus Aguilar

Jesus Aguilar getting congratulated after a home run

Jesus Aguilar getting congratulated after a home run

Jesus Aguilar has been one of the hottest hitters rising up through the Indians farm system.  Born June 30, 1990 in Maracan, Venezula, Aguilar signed with the Cleveland Indians as a Non-Draft Free Agent on November 13, 2007.  After two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and Arizona Rookie League Aguilar joined the 2010 Mahoning Valley Scrappers.  Aguilar hit .244 with 30 hits, 17 RBI, 8 runs, 9 doubles, 2 homeruns and 2 stolen bases for the Scrappers.  During the 2011 season, Aguilar spent time in both Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Carolina and lead all of the Indians’ organization in RBI (82), placed second in home runs (23) and third in hits (131).  He was named a 2011 and 2013 Indians’ Organization All-Star by  He was rated the Best Power Hitter in the Indians’ Organization by Baseball America in 2012 and was a member of the All-Star Futures team that same year.  Aguilar spent 2013 with Class AA Akron and again was an offensive leader.  He recorded the most RBI (105), had the second most homeruns (16) and had the third most hits (137) in the Indians’ Organization.  Following the 2013, season Aguilar was named a Post-Season Eastern League All-Star, was named the 17th ranked Indians’ prospect by, and is currently listed on the Indians 40 man roster.


Bryson Myles

Bryson Miles (Jesse Piecuch)

Bryson Miles (Jesse Piecuch)

One of the speediest prospects in the Indians’ system Bryson Myles was born September 18, 1989 in Grand Prairie, Texas.  Originally recruited by Texas Christian University as a linebacker Myles chose to play baseball and was signed out of Stephen F. Austin University in the 6th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Amateur Draft.  He began his professional baseball career as a Scrapper and saw great success in Mahoning Valley.  Myles was a 2011 New York-Penn League All-Star and had the fifth highest batting average in the league (.302) upon the conclusion of the season.  He lead the 2011 Scrappers squad in stolen bases (20), and placed third on the team for triples (3), on base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.401).  He played the 2012 season for Class A Lake County and most recently played for the Class A Advanced Carolina Mudcats in 2013.  As a Mudcat Myles hit .285 and ranked second on the team for slugging percentage (.427), third for stolen bases (15), third for homeruns (8) and fourth for RBI (52).  The outfielder was named a 2013 Indians Organization All-Star by


Erik Gonzalez

Erik Gonzalez (Jesse Piecuch)

Erik Gonzalez (Jesse Piecuch)

Erik Gonzalez was born on August 31, 1991 in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.  He signed as a Non-Drafted Free Agent just five days shy of his seventeenth birthday on August 26, 2008.  After spending the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Rookie League Gonzalez joined the 2012 Scrappers team.  In Mahoning Valley, Gonzalez hit .220 with 47 hits, 30 runs, 9 doubles, 1 triple and a homerun.  In addition, Gonzalez lead the 2012 team with 9 stolen bases.  He spent the 2013 season in Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Carolina.  Gonzalez is currently listed on the Cleveland Indians 40 man roster.




Tyler Naquin

Tyler Naquin (Jesse Piecuch)

Tyler Naquin (Jesse Piecuch)

Another member of the 2012 Scrappers team, Tyler Naquin was born April 26, 1991 in Spring, Texas.  After a standout career at Texas A&M, the centerfielder was drafted in the 1st round (15th overall) of the 2012 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.  Naquin was ranked the third best prospect and the Best Outfield Arm by Baseball America following his 2012 season with the Scrappers.  He spent the 2013 season in Class A Advanced Carolina and Class AA Akron.  At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Naquin had the second most hits (124), third most runs (69), third most doubles (27), second most homeruns (9), third highest slugging percentage (.424) and third most total bases (190) for the Carolina Mudcats.    He was a 2013 Carolina League All-Star, 2013 Arizona Fall League All-Star, a member of the 2013 Arizona Fall League Top Prospects team and is currently ranked the 5th Top Prospect in the Indians organization by


Joey Wendle

Joey Wendle (Jesse Piecuch)

Joey Wendle (Jesse Piecuch)

The third member of the Scrappers 2012 team expected to attend the Hot Stove is infielder Joey Wendle.  Wendle was born April 26, 1990 in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania.  He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft out of West Chester University and had his professional debut here in Mahoning Valley.  Wendle had a standout year in 2012 hitting .327 and leading the Scrappers in hits (80), runs scored (32), RBI (37), doubles (15), triples (4) and total bases (115).  He was also named a 2012 New York-Penn League All-Star.  Wendle played the 2013 season for Class A Advanced Carolina and ranked second in the Carolina League for slugging percentage (.513) and extra base hits (53).  He was named a 2013 Carolina League All-Star and a Post-Season All-Star.  In addition to being named a 2013 Indians Organization All-Star by, Wendle was honored as the 2013 Lou Bourdreau Award recipient, which is given to the Indians Minor League Player of the Year.


Kyle Crockett

Kyle Cockett (Jesse Piecuch)

Kyle Cockett (Jesse Piecuch)

Rounding out the list of Top Prospects expected to attend the Hot Stove Banquet is left handed pitcher Kyle Crockett.  Crockett was born December 15, 1991 in Newport News, Virginia.  After an extremely successful collegiate career  at the University of Virginia, Crockett was selected in the 4th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.  He began his professional career as a Scrapper and also played for Class A Lake County. After finishing  the 2013 season in Class AA Akron, Crockett is now currently listed as the 15th best prospect in the Indians Organization by




For more information on the Hot Stove Banquet or to order tickets call the front office at (330) 505-0000 or go to

If you follow baseball or have turned on Sports Center during the past few months you have probably heard the phrase “Hot Stove” mentioned once or twice.  But what exactly is a Hot Stove, and how does it have anything to do with baseball?

The phrase “Hot Stove” is a term used to describe the cold winter months between the World Series and the start of Spring Training.  The term is derived from the image of fans huddled around a hot stove, talking about baseball and speculating plans their teams have cooked up for the next season.  The Hot Stove season is a time for trades, player contract extensions, new team hires, and massive re-strategizing.

The term Hot Stove has also been embraced as a way to describe events hosted by teams in the off-season. This year, the Scrappers are very excited to host their first Hot Stove Banquet on January 30, 2014.


So What Can You Expect at the Scrappers Hot Stove Banquet?

The Hot Stove Banquet will be a unique way to experience baseball in the off-season and get a look at future Cleveland Indians.

This year, ten to twelve Top Prospects from throughout the Indians organization will be making the short trip to Niles for a meet and greet, question and answer session, and autograph session with fans in attendance at the banquet.  The names of the prospects attending will be released on this blog and at in early January.  It is likely that several of these players have played in the Mahoning Valley, and the banquet is a time for fans to see them a little more polished and refined as they prepare to play for Cleveland in the near future.  It’s also a time for fans to get to know the personalities of these prospects away from the diamond and see them as people as well as players.

Emceeing the event will be former Cleveland Indian Jason Stanford.  Stanford was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a Free Agent out of University of North Carolina- Charlotte in 1999. He had his Major League debut for the Indians in 2003 against the Minnesota Twins and also played a short two game stint as a Scrapper in 2005.  He spent nine years pitching in professional baseball with the Indians, Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs.  Stanford is currently the Pitching Coach for the Youngstown State Penguins baseball team as well as the co-host of Indians On-Deck, Indians Minor League Magazine and Tribe Report on SportsTime Ohio

In addition, a member of the Cleveland Indians Player Development staff will speak briefly at the event.

The Hot Stove Banquet is presented by the M.V.P.B.A. Scrappers Backers and Sports Radio 1240 and will be from 6-8 PM on January 30, 2014 at Cimenero’s Banquet Center in Niles.  The event includes the above-mentioned activities as well as a dinner and silent auction benefiting the M.V.P.B.A. Scrappers Backers.  Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for children (age 12 and under) and may be purchased at the Holiday Store located next to Auntie Anne’s at the Eastwood Mall, the Scrappers Box Office or by calling (330) 505-0000.

Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business” – Willie Mays

After a full week in Florida our front office is back from Winter Meetings and adjusting to the below freezing temperatures in Ohio.  After returning on Friday, General Manager Jordan Taylor, Assistant General Manager of Sales Matt Thompson and Assistant General Manager of Stadium Operations Brad Hooser spent some time catching me up on their adventures.

Winter Meetings officially started for the trio when they arrived in Orlando and were picked up at the airport by the Brandiose party bus.  For those who are unfamiliar, Brandiose is one of the premier design firms in Minor League Baseball.  They have helped design logos for many teams including the Scrappers over the past several years.  On the bus, the staff got to loosen up and catch-up up with other winter meeting attendees on the way to the hotel.


Ready to board the Brandiose Party Bus! (Brandiose)

(Matt Thompson)

Inside the Brandiose Party Bus (Matt Thompson)

After arriving at the Swan Resort and Hotel in Walt Disney World, the group checked in and got their schedules for the week.  The Winter Meetings had over forty different seminars this year in the categories of sales, marketing, web design, operations, merchandising, media, and community relations.  Seminars are led by the industries best and are a great way for teams to share their strategies and insight.  Some of the seminars our staff attended included “Minor League, MAJOR Marketing Channel”, “Brining Technology Into Your Stadium Operations” and “Creating a Fanatical Food Experience”.

Matt Thompson walking into the Swan Hotel for a Day of Seminars (Brad Hooser)

Matt Thompson walking into the Swan Hotel for a Day of Seminars (Brad Hooser)

In addition to the seminars Jordan, Matt and Brad also attended networking events.  A favorite for many teams is the annual affiliate dinner.  The dinner is a chance for staff from Arizona, Mahoning Valley, Lake County, North Carolina, Akron, and Columbus to get together and socialize.  Of the six Indians affiliates, four are located in the state of Ohio.  This is very unusual for a farm system and for many Minor League teams the affiliate dinner is the only time of the year they get to see the other front offices in person.

Though it is not on the official Winter Meetings schedule another highly anticipated event each year is the New York Penn-League Kangaroo Court.  Kangaroo Court is a time honored baseball tradition played in almost every Minor League and Major League clubhouse across the country.  New York-Penn League execs play each year as well by airing their grievances each December.  A front office member will issue a complaint against a team and the group will decide the appropriate fee for the team to pay.  Kangaroo Court is a way for the league to poke fun at each other and raise money for the New York-Penn League foundation.  Though I am not allowed to disclose any of the charges brought in court this year I can promise it was a fun night for all teams in attendance.

In their down time, Jordan, Matt and Brad met up with old friends from different teams and enjoyed their surroundings.  I’m told one night Matt performed at a Karaoke Bar (sadly there is no video, I asked).  They explored Downtown Disney and also attended the Winter Meetings Gala.  Celebrity sightings included Kevin Millar, Chris Rose and Chris Fowler.  Jordan can also be spotted on last Thursday night’s Intentional Talk.

Winter Meetings Gala (Matt Thompson)

Winter Meetings Gala (Matt Thompson)

On their final day the front office met up with 2011 Scrappers intern and current Promotions Manager of the Lake County Captains, Drew LaFollette, and toured the set of the ESPN College Football Awards.

Now that the group is back in snowy Ohio, they are more ready then ever to bring new ideas and great fan entertainment to the Mahoning Valley in 2014.

It’s the second week of December, which can only mean one thing: Winter Meetings.  Winter Meetings week is one of the most anticipated weeks of the off season for both fans and front offices a like. on the Major League side deals are made, players are traded, contracts are extended and we start to get a glimpse of how the next seasons team will look.  Though the player development affects the Minor League teams, our version of Winter Meetings are a whole different world.

The Winter Meetings are a baseball winter wonderland.  Members of every Major League and Minor League front office fly to one resort each year to meet, make deals and network.  In addition, media, promotional representatives, ticket representatives, and hundreds of hopeful job seekers flock to the meetings as well.  This year the meetings are taking place in Walt Disney World and it will surely be a week to remember

Minor League front offices attend the Winter Meetings mostly to meet with their owners, their affiliates, and to attend seminars.  The meetings are a time to network and socialize but also a time for us to learn from each other how to get better at our craft.  Seminars range from social media in sport, merchandising and licensing, ticket sales strategy, women in baseball, and promotional brainstorms. Though there are over 160 teams across the country, winter meetings reminds us that we all have  the same goal: to provide the best family friendly entertainment and baseball atmosphere possible for you, the fan.

Another reason front offices attend the Winter Meetings is to peruse the trade show.  I have previously mentioned in this blog that Minor League front office’s like to have fun, and there is no better example of this then the Winter Meetings Trade Show.  Hundreds of stands line the convention room showcasing anything from rubber chickens to the latest laser show technology.  It’s a carnival for the baseball promotions nut.

The third major component of the Winter Meetings is the Job Fair.  Teams from across the country post their available jobs for the best and brightest in Minor League Baseball to apply to.  It’s a great opportunity for young professionals to get their foot in the door and good first look at what the industry of Minor League Baseball has to offer.   This week we are very excited to have 2012 promotions intern and Ohio University senior, Angela Martin guest blog for us her impressions of the job fair and Winter Meetings!

Tune into the blog all week as Angela and our front office update you from Orlando!

(Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball)

(Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball)

What do you want to be when you grow up?  It’s a question we ask from childhood all the way through college.  As an adult, though we may be “grown up”, we sometimes still struggle to find an answer.  It’s a question, which for many people, can change as frequently as the seasons.

Justin Toole is not one of those people.  He has known, since before he can remember that he wanted to be a baseball player, and despite an unusual and sometimes rocky path, he’s found his way there.

Like many professional athletes, Toole was born into a baseball family. His father and mother coached at the local high school and his brother and sister both played baseball and softball respectively.  Growing up, he fell in love with the game, helping out his dad as a batboy and joining the team on road trips until he was old enough to play. A Derek Jeter fan he favored shortstop, but got experience all over the field, playing wherever his team needed him the most.

After a successful high school career at Lewis Central in his hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa Toole went on to play at the University of Iowa.  As a Hawkeye he continued to excel both athletically and academically, and the idea of playing professional baseball felt less like a distant dream and more like a plausible reality.   That is, until he suffered an injury in his senior season playing against Big 10 rival Michigan State

“When I broke my arm everything kind of stopped, I wasn’t sure what the future was going to hold.”

His arm healed, but the damage to his draft stock was done, and Toole went undrafted in the 2009 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft.  Rather then hang up his cleats he signed to play Independent baseball with the Sioux City Explorers.  However, after a little over a week of playing in Sioux City Toole awoke in his host family’s basement to a phone call.  His dream was coming true, the Cleveland Indians wanted to sign him as a professional baseball player.

Since signing with the Indians on July 7, 2009, Justin Toole has played at every level in the Indians’ Minor League system, including here in Mahoning Valley.  Though some players dislike moving from team to team, Toole has enjoyed the benefits.

“I’ve been able to learn not only from all the different coaches and managers but also different teammates.  It’s definitely something you have to have a passion for.  It’s not your typical lifestyle.”

Toole’s passion for the game is infectious and his enthusiasm is apparent not only when talking about home runs but in the daily grind of getting better.

“The beautiful thing about the game of baseball is that you play 160 games and you get to play every day.  You can go out on a Monday and have a horrible day and wake up the next day with a clean slate and learn from the day before.”

He has learned that Minor League Baseball is a world where a player’s draft round can mean more than their current statistics and every success and failure is not only recorded but analyzed.  So how does an unsigned free agent like Toole not only survive but thrive?  His answer is simple, he doesn’t give up.

“There are so many things out there that are out of your control.  One of the things you can do is control what you have going on.  You can control your attitude and your effort…I’ve gotten to where I am not because I’m the most talented player.  I didn’t throw the hardest or run the fastest; I didn’t hit the most homeruns.  A lot of the reason I’ve gotten to where I am is that I believed that I could do it.”

When reflecting on the rigors of Minor League Baseball Toole recounts an analogy, “If you look at baseball it’s based around sports cars.  When you watch ESPN you’ll see the Ferrari’s, Porsches and the Mazaratti’s, all the good looking cars that draw people to the game.  What you don’t see are the Ford 150 trucks and the heavy duty stuff that people do behind the scenes.  Those are the players who make it to the major leagues and make the game what it is.”

During his career, Toole has not only shown tenacity, but versatility.  This was never more evident than on a late summer night two seasons ago while playing for the Class A Advanced Carolina Mudcats.  On August 25, 2012, the Mudcats gave him the opportunity to play all nine positions in the span of a nine inning game.   Toole’s performance gained national media attention and he was even contacted by a Cleveland based t-shirt company, Fresh Brewed Tees, who created an “I Play The Field” shirt honoring his accomplishment.

What is most impressive about Justin Toole’s game two Augusts ago was not just his versatility as a baseball player, but how he is using that game to positively influence the lives of others.  The following offseason, Toole added “author” to his growing list of accomplishments and published “9 in 9: Nine Life Lessons Learned From Playing Nine Positions in One Nine Inning Baseball Game”.

When asked how he came up with the idea to write the book Toole responded, “I’ve always wanted to do that but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.  Then everything kind of came full circle; different things in my career and lessons I’ve learned.  They may not have been the most fun but they got me to this point.  The game was a way of telling my story”.

“People think professional baseball players are these ultra mega talented people who don’t make mistakes.  The more you get to know and play with these guys the more you realize yes they are talented but they work extremely hard.  A lot of kids when they’re young give up on dreams because of preconceived notions that professional athletes, doctors, bankers or lawyers are so much more talented or smarter or different then anyone else.  Actually, they are just like everyone else.  They just work hard, follow their dreams and never give up.”

What’s makes “9 in 9” such an enjoyable read is Toole’s ability to stay relatable to the reader and true to himself.  He’s a 27 year old guy who likes county music and watching sports center.  He also just so happens to be a professional baseball player.  Toole’s story takes the reader through each inning and each position played of the August 25, 2012 game, while reminding them that in life, and in baseball, it’s not always about the score but the plays that you make to get there.

Maybe following our dreams is as easy as taking a page from Justin Toole’s book

Everyone has a story.  Some are simple and predictable, and you know the ending before you finish the prologue.  Others feel more like a Goosebumps book, with every chapter forcing seemingly life altering decisions.

One of my favorite aspects of working in Minor League Baseball is the opportunity to meet and talk to many different types of people and hear their stories.  Fans, boosters, scouts, reporters, families, players and coaches from all over the county and the world come out to Eastwood Field over the summer, and they all have experiences to share.

Throughout the offseason I’m going to interview several former Scrappers in an attempt to give you an insight into their offseason life and tell a little of their story. This week I was lucky enough to speak with 2013 Scrappers first baseman, Nellie Rorriguez.

Nellie Rodriguez looks like a ballplayer.  With his broad shoulders, wide stance and boyish grin when Rodriguez’s bulky 6’2 250 pound frame walks into a room, there is no mistaking that he was born to play baseball.

“I’ve been playing since I was three years old” said Rodriguez.  “Even at that age I had quite a passion and love for the game.”

That passion has fired the New York City native through countless practices, conditioning sessions, workouts and of course, baseball games.

At nineteen, Rodriguez leads a far from typical life.  February through August he wakes up, works out, goes to practice, and then plays baseball.  There are no weekends, there are no vacations, and there are fewer off days then you have fingers.

His life fits in a suitcase because as a baseball player, he can relocate at anytime with only a few hours notice.  Every three to five days he finds himself on a bus to a new town and new hotel.  He travels the country the way many of us wish we could, one ballpark at a time.

Like many kids who go away to college at his age, Rodriguez spends months without seeing his friends and family.  When asked one of the highlights of the summer Nellie didn’t hesitate to answer the Scrappers trip to New York.

“You don’t get to see your family everyday like you do in the offseason.  Being able to see them for a week, seeing my friends and family just pumped me up to play at a higher level and have fun.”

On the above mentioned trip to New York the Scrappers faced McNamara Division rivals the Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones.  The team was one game separated from a twelve game losing streak, but during the six days in New York they took two games a piece from both Staten Island and Brooklyn winning back-to-back series for the first time that season.

A little home cooking and family time did him well and in Rodriguez’s first game back in his home state he went 4 for 5 with a double, two homers and five RBI.  He went on to have four more multi hit games, another homerun and two more doubles giving him a .464 batting average for the two series.  Rodriguez’s performance was noticed by both the Indians and the league garnering him Indians Minor League Player of the Week and New-York Penn League Player of the week honors.  To state it simply, he put on for his city.

When asked about the greatest moment in his career Rodriguez could have answered the series’ in New York, the 2013 New York-Penn League All-Star Game, getting drafted in the 15th Round of the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft, or shattering Manny Ramirez’s high school home run record (both attended George Washington High School in New York City).  Instead, he values his two walk-offs at Eastwood Field.  Still a teenager, Rodriguez demonstrates something most adults struggle with, putting a team’s success over an individual’s stellar performance.

When asked how he plans on spending his down time over the next few months, Rodriguez responded like any average teenager,  “hangout with my friends, go to the movies a lot, go bowling, and just talk about life”.  For those, who are fortunate enough to listen, his story is far from average.

Listen to some of Nellies 2013 Hightlights:

 “It’s the name on the front of the jersey that matters most, not the one on the back” ~ Joe Paterno

The Minor League Baseball world has been set ablaze this week with the announcements of new team names and logos.  Most notable to our area is the rebranding of the AA Indians Affiliate Akron Aero’s to the Akron Rubber Ducks.  The community as well as the industry has been very vocal about the name change, and it got me thinking, what’s really in a name?

If you’re a girl in your mid twenties like I am, you have probably thought about what you want to name your future children.  When it actually comes time to pick a name you may pour over baby name books, write out different monograms, or practice saying the name over a PA system.  With some of the bizarre names in Minor League Baseball it’s easy to wonder, do teams spend as much time and thought agonizing over a team name?  To answer simply: no. They spend a whole lot more.

In sports, a name is more then simply what you call a team, it’s an identity for a fan base and for players to latch on to and identify with.  A team name should pay tribute to the history and culture of the area as well as embody the attitude the team hopes to exhibit.

So what does it mean to be a Scrapper?  gives twenty-six synonyms for the word “scrappy” but what comes to my mind is the concept of doing whatever it takes to win.  When a person is “scrappy” they are often an underdog fighting their way to succeed.  Baseball is, at its core, all about scrappiness.   It’s about a batter fouling off pitches to stay alive or attempting diving catches for foul balls.  Is there anything more scrappy then bunting for a base hit?  Now-a-days flashy plays make web gems but scrappy players win games.

The concept of being scrappy has regional ties to the Mahoning Valley as well.  Though the industry has somewhat faded, the area is historically known for producing steel metal.  The name “Scrappers” not only identifies with the industry but also of the tough, resilient, never back down nature often associated with the people of Northeast Ohio.  There is a sense of pride with being scrappy, and this team is very proud to be to represent Mahoning Valley and everything it stands for.

“This is the best thing ever for a ballplayer, just being able to get to this point.  You dream about it. You don’t know if it’s going to happen, but when it happens, it’s a big blessing” ~ Carlos Beltran (

October Baseball.  Are there two better words in the English language?  Maybe “Opening Day” or “Play Ball” but other than that you would be hard pressed to find a better combination of two words that instill the excitement and anticipation that October Baseball does.

This month young Pirates fans experienced the bittersweet post season for the first time.  The city of Boston rallied behind a beard.  St Louis placed their hopes on the shoulders of young rookies that have gone above and beyond every time they have been asked to take the mound.  It is emotionally charged baseball on the biggest stage.

With Game 6 just a few hours away I got to thinking, how many former New York-Penn League players are playing in the World Series?

Any guesses?

Both the Red Sox and the Cardinals have New York Penn League affiliates, so odds are good that a few of the players you’ve seen in the league have made it to the big show.  However, the fact that there are eighteen players currently listed on World Series rosters is incredible.  Six of the eighteen players have been selected to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and these New York-Penn League alumni have combined to win four Golden Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, Comeback Player of the Year Award, American League Rookie of the Year, and a Roberto Clemente Award.

Even more mind-blowing, thirteen former New York-Penn Leaguers comprise over half of St. Louis’ roster and six of those thirteen have played for Batavia (the former St. Louis Cardinals affiliate) in the past five seasons. These players didn’t only play for Red Sox and Cardinals affiliate teams either.  Seven different teams representing half of the New York- Penn League have a former player in the 2013 World Series.

Former New-York Penn League Players in the 2013 World Series


Quintin Berry

Ryan Dempster

Felix Doubront

Jacoby Ellsbury

Will Middlebrooks


Matt Adams

John Axford

Carlos Beltran

Matt Carpenter

Randy Choate

Allen Craig

Tony Cruz

Dan Descalso

Joe Kelly

Pete Kozma

Lance Lynn

Seth Maness

Kevin Siegrist

So how does this all relate to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers?

Most Scrappers are young, so young in fact that many had never seen a Pirates postseason prior to this year.  They are fresh out of college or high school and starving to prove themselves in their first year of Professional Baseball.  The New York-Penn League is a place for them to work out their kinks, refine their skills, and start to develop who they are as a ball player.  Our games may not be as clean and orderly as Major League Baseball (excluding this very bizarre World Series) but that talent is here both on our roster and on the visiting teams’.

Whether it be tonight or tomorrow former New York-Penn Leaguers will be crowned World Series Champions, and as cliché as it may sound, they started right here.