The Clippers are three games above .500 and third in the International League West, but 7th of 14 teams in the International League and well within the play-off hunt at the half way mark. That’s the purpose of a AAA club, right? To win the Governor’s Cup.
The reason for having a AAA club for the Cleveland Indians has been mired in confusion for a few years now. It certainly isn’t for top prospects. Francisco Lindor played just 97 games there before being called up and that was just so he would be beyond the super 2 deadline. Shane Bieber made 7 starts there before being called up this year and Mike Clevinger made just seven before his MLB debut in 2016. Jose Ramirez, Greg Allen and Francisco Mejia were called up directly from AA.
It isn’t entirely a holding facility for MLB options either. Going into the season, the Indians brought in Brandon Barnes, MLB veteran of five years and 465 games, who is 32 years old and unlikely to improve at this point. He is destroying AAA pitching to the point that he was selected to the All-Star game, but when the Indians needed an outfielder, they signed Melky Cabrera. When they didn’t need him they cut Cabrera and when Lonnie Chisenhall was hurt again, they brought back Cabrera. What is the point of Barnes if he is hitting as well as he ever has, the Indians have great need of an outfielder in the majors and he hasn’t been called up?
On May 23rd, Brandon Guyer, Bradley Zimmer and Chisenhall were all on the DL. Rajai Davis was .226/.275/.262 and Barnes was hitting .300/.345/.507 in AAA and he still was not selected for promotion. It is certainly hard to imagine a more dire need for an outfielder, especially one who can play all three positions and since he wasn’t called up then, it seems pretty fair to say he never will be.
At the same time, Adam Rosales and Drew Maggi, both former Major Leaguers, are taking regular at bats, but would never make it to the big leagues. Even with Eric Stamets injured, they are certainly below Yandy Diaz and Eric Gonzalez if the Indians were to need a momentary starter at second, third or short stop (most likely Jose Ramirez would move to the needed position and the Diaz would play 3B if such a move were necessary at SS or 2B).
The most egregious move of adding a player who will never play in the majors with Cleveland was the somewhat recent addition of Mitch Talbot to the starting rotation. If the Indians needed one starter, it would obviously be Adam Plutko, who is already on the 40 man roster and has had some MLB success this year. If they needed another for a day or two, it would probably be Josh Tomlin moved from the bullpen. After that, Ryan Merritt is expected to return from the DL soon. For Talbot to pitch in the majors, there would essentially have to be a plane crash or players’ strike.
You could argue that one reason for this is simply that they are being place holders. Maybe the Indians don’t have 5 starters worthy of being in AAA right now, so Adam Wilk, Myles Jaye, Stephen Fife and Talbot (how many of you have even heard of the first three) have all been in the rotation simply because there aren’t suitable replacements in AA. Let’s throw that theory out of the window.
Shao-Ching Chiang has already been promoted from AA and, while he didn’t have immediate success in AAA, he has obviously advanced beyond AA. Still in Akron, however, is Aaron Civale, who has a 2.35 ERA in 65 innings in his first season in Akron. Jake Paulson and Triston McKenzie also have arguments that they deserve promotion.
In the outfield, where Cabrera, Barnes and career MiLB utility man Todd Hankins are all getting starting, Connor Marabell is hitting .295/.350/.471 and Andrew Calica .294/.395/.408 in AA. Both are solid defenders who can play all three positions and are hitting at another level. Marabell has nine home runs, while Calica has 18 steals in 20 attempts, giving the pair a real solid combination of power and speed. If they were in AAA with Mike Papi, that would be an outfield of three talented prospects with a chance of future MLB impact. Instead, they have an outfield full of old players with former MLB impact.
In the infield, things aren’t so rough as the top prospect Mejia and Yu-Cheng Chang have been getting enough at bats, Stamets is hurt and there are no obvious promotions due in AA.
In the end, it would appear the Clippers are a combination of everything. They do have a couple top prospects in Mejia, Chang and Zimmer (although he’s on the DL), but it would appear that rather than being the next level in development, it’s almost as if they have to play prospects there after they make their MLB debut with Chang getting the bump because the AA innings at short stop are needed for Willi Castro. In general, Akron still appears to be the final stop for most top prospects and if the Indians were to go to a young reliever, it would certainly be Mitch Brown, Henry Martinez, Nick Pasquale, Kieran Lovegrove from Akron or Luke Eubank, who spent most of the year in Akron before his mid-season promotion to Columbus. In fact, Eubank and Cam Hill (who isn’t pitching well right now) are the only relievers in Columbus under 25 (the next youngest without MLB experience are Louis Head and Cole Sulser at 28).
They also have some MLB injury replacements ready at a moment’s notice. That 25 year old reliever with MLB experience is Ben Taylor, who should be the first man into the bullpen when the Indians decide to move on from Josh Tomlin while Jeff Beliveau and Alexi Ogando (Tyler Olson is there on rehab assignment) are there as well. Eric Haase and Mejia are MLB ready if a catcher gets hurt (or if they decide to rightly send Roberto Perez to AAA) while we’ve already mentioned Plutko as the next starting pitcher available.
This still doesn’t explain Rosales, Maggi, Barnes and many others, however. There are players worthy of promotion in AA and they aren’t going to help in Cleveland. It would certainly appear, however, that the purpose of these players is legitimately to win another Governor’s Cup.
In this, they don’t appear to be very successful. While Talbot has good numbers since his strange signing, the rest of the junk pitchers in the rotation haven’t done well and there’s a reason they are in the middle of the division. This is essentially my biggest disagreement with the way franchises are run. If the goal in AAA is to win in AAA, why not just become an independent team and make AA the highest farm team? They are essentially treating it that way already with the exception of rehab assignments and players who have been demoted from the majors. I would love to see AAA be used as a prize for prospects like Civale and Calica to strive for, but instead it is being used as a punishment for players like Mejia and Plutko, who aren’t considered MLB ready or aren’t needed at the moment. In fact, of the 27 healthy members of the Clippers, you could legitimately say that only Chang, Eubank, Papi, Chiang and Haase should be happy to be there as a part of their continuing development. What should be a happy place to wait before your final destination, like senior year of school, is instead like a prison for some players and a retirement community for others.