EL Preview: RubberDucks float into Akron

Twins' Buxton set to shine for Rock Cats, Parrish managing SeaWolves

Canal Park will play host to the rebranded Akron RubberDucks this season in the Eastern League. (David Monseur/Akron Aeros)

By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com | April 1, 2014 11:30 AM ET

Cleveland's Double-A affiliate made international headlines in late October when the Akron Aeros became the Akron RubberDucks.

The rebranding is a nod to the town's longstanding nickname as the "Rubber Capital of the World" and a reflection of the team's commitment to family entertainment and fun.

"I think the response has been overall very positive," said general manager Jim Pfander. "I think any time you make a change, the first 72 hours are when you put on the flak jacket and hunker down and wait for it to die down. Any time you make a change, there will be opposition. This is Akron, Ohio. It's the Midwest. People don't like change."

Along with a new set of logos released last year, the RubberDucks unveiled their five jerseys -- including an electric blue alternate jersey and black batting practice uniform. The mascot was unveiled March 14 and fans have until Friday to vote on their favorite name.

"It's not the yellow squeaky toy you think of when you imagine a rubber duck. It's a tough duck and it shows the blue-collar ethos and work ethic of the people of Akron," Pfander said. "We had three criteria: Is it fun? Well, you can check that one off. Does it appeal to kids? And does it identify with the history of the town? This is part of our past and part of our future. For us, our brand and our mark are our marketing pieces."

The logo was originally black, orange and yellow. But we asked [design company] Brandiose to add the blue because "black and yellow are Steelers colors and black and orange are Bengals colors and we're in Browns country. We couldn't have that."

The team will designate 56 seats over the front two rows down the third-base line to be "Duck Row," a VIP section with waiter service, 360-degree swivel seats and a drinks rail. A family picnic area with 50 tables to accommodate up to 400 people in left field will be christened "Fowl Territory." A restaurant called "The Game," a play on hunting and sport, will be located on the first level behind the right field wall and the "Duck Club" will hold up to 150 people in the meeting, banquet and event space above the restaurant.

Taking his talents to Connecticut

The New Britain Rock Cats, Minnesota's Double-A affiliate, could be the hottest ticket in town with Byron Buxton starting the season in central Connecticut.

Outfielder Buxton enters 2014 as baseball's No. 1 prospect after splitting time between Class A Cedar Rapids and Class A Advanced Fort Myers last year.

Selected second overall in the 2012 Draft, Buxton has little left to prove in A-ball and there's no reason he won't be displaying his five-tool approach with the Rock Cats for at least part of this season. No. 4 prospect Miguel Sano could have also been ticketed for an early spell in New Britain -- the place he ended 2013 -- but he underwent Tommy John surgery in February and will miss most, if not all, of the 2014 season.

"I think we would expect [Buxton] to be [in Rochester] at some point this year, even if he's not there right out of the chute," Twins director of Minor League operations Brad Steil said. "We are comparing his game to where it was at the end of last season to see how he progressed in the [Arizona] Fall League.

"He is just a fantastic athlete. He is a true five-tool player and guys like that do not come around too often. On offense, we are hoping to see him be more aggressive early in the count and attacking good pitches to hit. He stole 55 bases last year, but there is still more in there if he gets better jumps. He is very good defensively, but we hope he improve his reads as he gets more experience."

Also expected to join Buxton in New Britain are DJ Baxendale, Matt Summers, Taylor Rogers, Adrian Salcedo, Kennys Vargas and Danny Ortiz.

Back to the dugout

World Series winner Lance Parrish has all the credentials of a player-turned-skipper and he'll return to the dugout for the first time in six years to lead the Erie SeaWolves in 2014.

Parrish, who won a ring with the 1984 Tigers, was named the 15th manager in SeaWolves history in February.

He replaces Chris Cron, who led Erie for three seasons and collected his 1,000th managerial victory with the SeaWolves in 2012. Cron left the Tigers organization to become a Minor League hitting coordinator with the D-backs.

A first-round pick by the Tigers back in 1974, Parrish played almost 2,000 big-league games across 19 seasons with seven franchises. He was named to eight All-Star teams and he won six Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Gloves behind the plate.

Parrish has held a number of roles since his retirement as a player, including roving catching coordinator, bullpen coach, third-base coach and color analyst. He last managed in 2007 with the Great Lakes Loons.

Hitting coach Gerald Perry and pitching coach Jaime Garcia return to the SeaWolves as part of an otherwise-unchanged coaching staff.

Quick Hits

From Aero to 'Duck: Francisco Lindor earned a promotion to Akron after the Eastern League All-Star break last summer and will begin 2014 back at Canal Park.

The shortstop only played 21 of his 104 games with the Aeros last year, but at 20 years old, he'll remain one of the youngest players at this classification. Better plate discipline in the Eastern League saw his on-base percentage increase from .373 to .407 even though his average took a minor dip by 17 points. While the extra-base power will come with patience and experience, his glove and arm are more than ready for the next level.

Growing together: Red Sox fans could get a glimpse into their battery of the future this year if Henry Owens and Blake Swihart start in Portland.

Owens, the top-ranked left-handed pitcher in the organization, earned a promotion to the Sea Dogs in August after going 8-5 with a 2.92 ERA with Salem in 2013. Top catching prospect Swihart hit .298 with 38 extra-base hits for the Class A Advanced affiliate and threw out a league-best 44 would-be basestealers. If the pair come together with the Sea Dogs, they can continue to build on the relationship they forged in the Carolina League.

Five in five? Trenton went a perfect 6-0 en route to sweeping the EL playoffs last fall and the now-rebranded Aeros sealed the 2012 crown with a victory over the Thunder. The Fisher Cats earned their first title in seven years in 2011 and the Curve reeled off three consecutive victories for their only championship in 2010. The Thunder have been in the finals in three of the past four years and they're looking to be the first team to go back-to-back since the Yankees affiliate achieved the feat in 2007-'08.

Last things last

Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Eastern League.

  • Last season's championship: Trenton over Harrisburg in three games MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last back-to-back champion: Trenton Thunder, 2007-08
  • Last no-hitter: Eddie Gamboa, Bowie vs. Harrisburg, June 30, 2013 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last perfect game: Jeanmar Gomez, Akron vs. Trenton, May 21, 2009 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Dave Leonhard, Elmira (209) and Ed Barnowski, Elmira (207), 1965
  • Last cycle: Andrew Lambo, Altoona vs. Akron, April 9, 2013 MiLB.com Coverage » 
  • Last three-homer game: Brandon Waring, Bowie vs. Binghamton, Aug. 29, 2013 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last 30-homer hitter: Shelley Duncan, Trenton, 2005

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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