The Mahoning Valley Scrappers (the Indians short season A level affiliate) will begin their 2018 campaign on June 15th this year after handily winning the New York Penn League Pickney division last year. While most of those players have since moved on to Lake County, they have a fresh group of new faces, mostly coming from the 2017 AZL Indians.
Unquestionably, the number one name on the opening day roster is Tyler Freeman (pictured above). The 18 year old short stop was the Indians first pick in the 2017 draft, although he was taken in the second round, and dominated the AZL offensively with a .297/.364/.414 line. He even hit a couple of home runs in the Major League sized Goodyear Ballpark and stole five bases in six attempts.
Joining Freeman in the infield will be Elvis Perez (SS), Jose Fermin (SS), Henry Pujols (3B), Mitch Reeves (1B) and Simeon Lucas (1B). Having seen these players for a few years, I can attest that their biggest weakness is defense. Pujols is a great slugger, but likely has a future at DH, Lucas was moved from catcher because he was poor defensively and is even worse at first and Freeman is a fine glove man, but may have to move to second due to arm strength issues. During extended spring, he split time between second and short with Perez and Fermin. They will likely continue to do this until one stands out. Neither Perez or Fermin have shown much offensively, however, and don’t necessarily demand a starting position.
Reeves is listed as an outfielder after playing the majority of the time in left last year, but is much better defensively at first, and his future definitely appears to be in the infield. He was the AZL Indians other breakout offensive player (along with Freeman) in 2017 and was promoted to Mahoning Valley to end last season. He, along with Pujols and Michael Cooper (who will be starting the season in Goodyear), provide some real promise at first base. The Indians essentially don’t have any of that between them and Bobby Bradley in AA.
The outfield will be more loaded with prospects as the speedy Tre’ Gantt and converted catcher Michael Tinsley will join Hosea Nelson and Clark Scolameiro who were on the 2017 Scrappers. Both Nelson and Gantt need to work on getting on base more often, but when they do it’s special. In particular, Nelson has stolen 22 consecutive bases to start his career without being caught. Gantt, without much power, managed three triples in his rookie season.
With Tinsley now an outfielder, the Scrappers will feature Gian Paul Gonzalez and Jason Rodriguez behind the plate. Both played in MV last year and neither are particularly adept defensively while both are awful offensively. Catching has long been a problem for the Indians farm system (as further indicated by the catchers at first base and left field for the Scrappers) and after taking two more catchers in the first 15 rounds of the 2018 draft, it’s possible a shake up could be coming soon. While high school picks like first rounder Noah Naylor rarely jump straight to short season ball, the Indians may make an exception for their first round pick due to organizational need.
The currently known pitching staff is largely the same group that started in the DSL in 2015 and 2016 and played in Goodyear in 2017. These are generally high risk players, with great ability and great chance of failure. Starter Luis Araujo is the perfect example as he dominated in the Dominican Summer League in 2016, but had terrible numbers in 2017 in Arizona. Luis Oviedo also had rough surface stats in 2017, but he is extremely talented and had solid underlying numbers with 70 strike outs to 22 walks in 51.2 innings. He should probably be the ace of this staff.
Filling out the rotation are Luis Valdez and Juan Mota based off the current roster. The bullpen features a couple really interesting arms in Adony Kery (50 K in 40.1 IP in 2017 between DSL and AZL) and Randy Valladares (2.70 ERA for MV in 2017). Luis Santos and Dakody Clemmer (coming off a 2017 suspension) will also pitch in relief.
In addition to the known roster as well as any additions from the 2018 draft, Erick Algarin and Gabriel Mejia are slated to continue their rehab assignments with Mahoning Valley when the season starts. Both played for Lake County last season.
Overall, this team should score a lot of runs with a good combination of power and speed, but will likely allow more than average unless certain players can make significant advancements with their glove work. The starting rotation isn’t very deep, although further additions will certainly be made, but the bullpen (which also isn’t complete) should be a point of great strength for this roster.