While the major news with the Indians has been in the trade deadline, the acquisition of Oscar Mercado and trades of Willi Castro, Jhon Torres and Conner Capel started a tidal wave of moves in the Indians minor league system.
To begin, two players who seem to have been with the Indians forever were cut this week as Louis Head and former Indians number one prospect Dorssys Paulino will have to find jobs elsewhere. Head was considered a Major League option for the bullpen this year until he allowed 11 runs over his first five appearances this year and had an ERA near 14 when he hit the DL in early May. He went back on the DL on June 8th and stayed until June 28th.
Head had a great start to his career through 2014 in Akron, but repeated this level three times, leading to the crunch that ultimately cost him his spot now. He was decent in Columbus last year, providing the optimism heading into this season, but had control problems that kept him in Columbus to start this year. This is his seventh season in the Indians organization, which means he would have to be added to the 40 man roster to avoid minor league free agency this winter. With many others in the same position, that was out of the question and he was likely to be let go anyway. With others needing time in AAA, this move just advanced the schedule rather than delaying the inevitable.
Paulino was the bigger name to be cut. He had the highest of expectations before three years in Lake County saw them disintegrated. While a transition to right field and Lynchburg helped him turn things around and return to the ranks of prospecthood, he struggled once reaching Akron in 2017 and was simply awful this year in both Akron and Columbus. Like Head, he hit the seven year threshold this year (despite being only 23), so his release was imminent. Due to his age, he has a much better chance to get picked up by another team for another try, but it’s easy to see that the Indians have had enough.
Bobby Bradley arguably deserved a promotion to Columbus to start this year after a monster year in Akron in 2017 and a fair showing in the Arizona Fall League. He got off to a rough start in Akron, however, hitting .114/.202/.228 through April. A three hit game on May 1st including his third homer of the season immediately turned that around and two more two days later lead him to a .241/.331/.545 line from May on including 22 home runs, 16 doubles and three triples. While strike outs remain an issue, the Tribe’s top power prospect has shown that he is deserving of a tougher test. Assuming things go well, he could be the extra bat the Indians will need in 2019, replacing some of the potential lost in Francisco Mejia.
Also promoted from Akron were relievers Henry Martinez and Dominic DeMasi. Martinez has quietly become one of the team’s top relief prospects with 42 strike outs to 12 walks between the Rubberducks and Hillcats this year. With Head out, he joins Luke Eubank and Ben Taylor as one of the only real relief options in Columbus. He isn’t on a short timeline like Head and some others (like Akron’s Kieran Lovegrove), but he has a long shot of making the Major League squad this year.
DeMasi is another right hander, but he has already spent some time in Columbus and doesn’t have the upside of Martinez, Eubank or Taylor.
While Akron added six players, the only big promotion was James Karinchak. The 22 year old right handed reliever is in just his second season with Cleveland, but has a 0.92 ERA across three levels and 39.1 innings this year. He’s struck out an incredible 13.9 per nine over his short career, although walks have been an issue. Still a few years out from the Majors, this was a big promotion for Karinchak who has the chance to be a huge arm for the Indians in the future.
Alexis Pantoja was also promoted from Lynchburg, but he ultimately plays out as a minor league utility man. He’s already had a few stints in Akron as such and this is likely no more than that. Akron needed another infielder after the trade of Willi Castro.
With Mejia and Castro gone, Nolan Jones has jumped up the Indians prospect ranks and is now generally considered the Indians top position player. Always a line drive hitter, he added a power stroke in Lake County this year, hitting 16 home runs after just four in his first two seasons. With a solid OBP and a better strike out rate than his first season, Jones greatly deserved this bump.
Pantoja had primarily played third for the Hillcats with Gavin Collins playing second most often. Now, it would appear that Jones will take over all that playing time, especially since the Hillcats have only Li-Jen Chu listed at catcher. Collins will likely see increased use behind the plate now that Lynchburg has a real 3B.
With Luke Wakamatsu and Ernie Clement hitting the DL, Tyler Friis has also been promoted. More known for his defense than his offense, Friis has played second, third and short for the Captains this year, but will likely stick at short stop for the Hillcats with the two regular short stops on the DL. While not the offensive threat that Clement is, Friis rarely strikes out and is a solid on base threat.
Also promoted from Lake County was center fielder Austen Wade. A 2017 draft pick, Wade isn’t as sexy a prospect, but has been a good defender and should start in the outfield over Trenton Brooks. This position opened when Capel was traded to St. Louis.
Finally, left handed reliever Kyle Nelson and right handed reliever Nick Sandlin have also been promoted from the Captains. Nelson was a 2017 draft pick who has gotten off to a tremendous start with a 12.7 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 through 64.1 innings.
Sandlin has had an even more impressive rise after being drafted in the second round just two months ago. He pitched just three scoreless innings in Arizona before skipping Mahoning Valley and going straight to Lake County. There, he struck out 15 batters in 10.1 innings without walking a batter. In fact, he’s never walked a batter. Many predicted a quick rise for Sandlin, but at this pace he could be in Akron or even Columbus by next year.
With so many promotions to Lynchburg, the Captains needed some new players as well and they got a quartet of very well deserving ones. First, replacing Sandlin and Nelson are Dakody Clemmer and Adam Scott.
Clemmer started in A ball, but was demoted after a rough start. He has since struck out 22 to 2 walks in 20.1 innings, earning his spot back in LC. Like Sandlin, Scott was an early 2018 pick who started in Arizona, but was promoted after just 7.1 scoreless innings (he did walk one). He struck out 14 in both Arizona and Mahoning Valley over 19 total innings and has allowed just four earned runs. A side arming left hander, Scott should have a big future in the Indians organization.
Joining them are Luis Oviedo and Connor Smith. I shouldn’t have to say anymore about Oviedo after writing about him earlier this week and Smith is a SS/3B who was promoted directly from Arizona to help make up for the loss of Friis and Jones.
As baseball is a zero sum game, for every promotion there is an equal or opposite demotion (or injury, trade, etc). In this case, there were two players demoted from Columbus to Akron, although only one was serious.
Connor Marabell is just 24 and in his fourth season with the Indians. He was only with Columbus for a short time and the addition of Mercado and Leonys Martin (leading to Greg Allen heading back to Columbus) left the Clippers with too many center fielders. He will certainly be back next season when Allen and Mercado are (hopefully) in Cleveland.
The more serious demotion was the result of the Bradley promotion. Nellie Rodriguez was ounce lauded as the next Jesus Aguilar, meaning a slugging first baseman who would never be given a real chance despite excelling in AAA. It turns out that neither player was that guy. While Aguilar has become an All-Star with Milwaukee, Nellie has had two extremely rough seasons in Columbus. Combined, he has hit .183/.273/.355 in nearly 200 games. He is in his seventh season like the two players cut, but the Indians are pretty shallow at first base and need someone to simply get innings in AA with neither Anthony Miller or Emmanuel Tapia ready in Lynchburg. Rodriguez will likely be let go at the end of the year, but for now, he can hang around in Akron. He’s still only 24, so if he can put up some solid numbers for the last month of the season, it’s possible another team will take a look, but it’s safe to say his time with Cleveland is essentially at an end.
Overall, this was a great week for Indians prospects as many of the highest ceiling players have come a little closer to their ultimate goal. While they have lost some major pieces, these players will show that the system is still a strong one even without their top catcher, short stop and center fielder.