An unofficial league, extended spring training is a bit crazy. Games last between 7 and 9 innings, are usually played two at a time (on back-to-back fields on the practice fields at Goodyear Ballpark) and feature a lineup of as many as 11 hitters including multiple DH’s. Innings can end after 3 outs or after the pitcher has hit a pitch count and players can leave and re-enter the game. I’ve seen players in these games range from a 17 year old Marcos Gonzalez in 2017 (who was being paid the DSL minimum) to a 34 year old Nick Swisher in 2015 (who was being paid $15M). Things can get confusing with so much going on, but there is no better chance to see more young prospects all year long.
With Mahoning Valley, two AZL teams and one DSL team all starting their seasons much later on in the year than the rest of the Indians’ minor league affiliates, those players need some place to work out and prepare for the year and that place is Goodyear, Arizona. While there is no official roster available, by my count there are at least 110 Indians minor leaguers that are not currently accounted for between A and AAA and any number of those could appear in extended spring games in addition to players rehabbing from injury (like Ryan Merritt and Gio Urshela who played in last Wednesday’s opener).
While this includes some more established players like Dillon Persinger, Jesse Berardi, Ronny Dominguez and Ping-Hsueh Chen, the most interesting players at this level will be those coming from the 2017 Dominican Summer League squads. Last year, that included Cristopher Cespedes and Marcos Gonzalez, both of whom impressed before going on to struggle in the DSL. This year, we have a much more considerable group, however, with George Valera, Aaron Bracho, Jose Tena, Brayan Rocchio (pictured on top: Rocchio, Bracho, Tena from left to right) and Yefferson Yannuzzi expected to be among those debuting for the first time in the USA.
While the first four players listed represent the Indians rock star 2017 international free agent signings, Yannuzzi is going into his third year with the franchise after being dominant in 2017 with the DSL Indians. A left handed starter, he greatly improved his K rate last year and has allowed just 69 hits in 90.2 career innings so far. While he is already 21, there’s potential for him to make it at least to Mahoning Valley this year if he can get off to a great start.
Bracho (SS) and Valera (OF) are the real prizes of last years international signings and while I was able to see them practice with the rest of the minor leaguers this spring, this will be their first professional game action. It has been years since the Indians have had such highly touted international signings (the last really big one was Dorssys Paulino in 2011) and they will hopefully stay in Arizona when the DSL squad leaves for Boca Chica.
The Indians will be trying something a bit different this year at the rookie level once the official season begins, so there is a chance of this. For the first time since 2006, when the Indians still had a rookie level team in Burlington and created the Gulf Coast League Indians, who would ultimately become the AZL Indians, they will have two separate rookie level teams. It will be the first time they’ve ever had two rookie level teams at the same location (the also had two teams from 1988 through 1990) and should provide an opportunity for more young players to get their start in the US rather than the Dominican. The split team called the DSL Brewers-Indians has been disbanded meaning the Indians will have to rehome 20+ players in addition to those newly added to the roster. How things go in extended spring could go a long way in determining which players stay in Arizona, who heads up to Mahoning Valley and which players have to go back to the Dominican.