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Written by Mark Firkins Photo by Lianna Holub
North-East, Ohio. A hot bed of Cleveland Indians baseball. Within a 2 hour drive of Cleveland you have 4 of their 6 MiLB affilliates; AAA – Columbus Clippers, AA – Akron Rubber Ducks, A – Lake County Captains, and A – Mahoning Valley Scrappers. A drive to these ballparks will find you traveling through the Rust Belt and Steel Mill towns, Amish Country, a beautiful mix of old architecture and modern design, and cities that have reinvented themselves and are once again thriving.
I have had the pleasure of taking a road trip through this part of Ohio every summer for 35 + years now from my home in Western NY. I never tire of the scenery, landmarks, ballparks, and great baseball I am treated to at any one of the stops I make. This past summer was no different as I visited Lake County and Mahoning Valley (along with Cleveland, many, many times)
Emmanuel Tapia – 1B (Cleveland Indians)
At 6′ 3″ – 215 lbs, Emmanuel Tapia is a powerful figure that looks more like a linebacker than baseball first baseman. The Indians signed “Manny” as an International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. He has acclimated and grown within the Indians system playing through their Dominican Summer League, Arizona Rookie League, Mahoning Valley – NY PENN League, and the 2017 season at Lake County – Midwest League.
Raw power and an extremely hard swing are the best ways to describe Manny’s approach to the plate. He led the Midwest League in home runs (29) and RBI’s (71) in 2017. Though, he unfortunately led the league in strikeouts as well with 180 (in 461 AB). As stated, Tapia is a big, strong player, who no doubt can hit the ball far. There is plenty of room for growth if he can minimize the strikeouts, add some base hits & average, and take some base on balls when offered. He is certainly capable of more average. In past seasons he has hit as high as .315 (2014) and .286 (2015). Manny is patient with himself and knows this is a process. He knows he needs to learn to put himself in a better position to hit.
Originally a Left Fielder in the Dominican Republic, Tapia was shifted to and is still learning first base. A dedicated, hard working player, he is one of the first players to the field every day. He works with the coaches and takes extra fielding practice any chance he can get. 2017 Lake County Captains manager, Larry Day, was quoted often saying “Manny is making steady progress as a first baseman, he’s eager, he’s such a hard worker.”
With the excitement of his powerful hitting and progress at fielding, it will be interesting to see where the parent club, Indians, place Tapia to start 2018. A start at Lake County again or an advance to Lynchburg of the Carolina League? We’ll soon find out as spring training approaches.
Ulysses Cantu – 1B (Cleveland Indians)
A 6th round pick out of Boswell, Texas High School in the 2016 draft, Ulysses Cantu is an interesting player for the Indians. Cantu was drafted as a Third Baseman. However, little opportunity to play or develop there exists, as the Indians are well stocked with other third base prospects at all levels (see my previous post about Nolan Jones).
Cantu is a 6′ righty, first baseman, which may not be the ideal profile. The Indians no doubt looked at Cantu’s bat tools first. He has good balance at the plate, manages the strike zone, recognizes pitches and rarely gets fooled. Cantu’s swing is quick and compact. He squares the ball up on the barrel with ease. Ulysses is incredibly strong (he trains cross-fit) and above average power can be seen in his bat.
The Indians are most likely concentrating on developing Cantu as a hitter first and will worry about where he fits in defensively later. Third base is his natural position and where his size fits him best. He does have experience in high school as a catcher and the Indians could possibly explore that, but that might take a toll on his bat.
Cantu played the 2017 season for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (NY-PENN League). He played 53 games at his new position, first base, and posted admirable numbers. On defense, he posted a .987 FPCT – converting 457 out 463 chances and was on the receiving end of 39 double plays. He hit 53-209 at the plate for a .254 AVG, with 10 doubles, 4 home runs, 25 RBI, and 17 BB.
Ulysses Cantu is still a very young player. He’ll turn 20 in May 2018. There’s plenty of upside in all aspects of his game. The hits, average, and power will all increase as he continues to see more professional pitching. Patience and time will find him a defensive home or even a future as a DH.