After going 20-8 to win the first half play-off spot last year, the AZL Indians have been in a downward spiral that shows no signs of stopping. They finished out 2016 11-17, then played to a 8-20 first half in 2017 and a 7-21 second half. While wins really don’t matter at this level (or any minor league level), this record is indicative of the team’s overall performance and things don’t look to be getting better after equally rough seasons for both the Tribe’s DSL counterparts.
It was the disappointing DSL team from 2016 that made up the majority of this year’s AZL squad, especially during the first half, and next year’s AZL team will likely feature quite a few players from this year’s DSL team. While there were a few bright spots after the draft, the majority of the polished players went straight to Mahoning Valley with mostly those under 18 headed to Goodyear.
This one is easy as Tyler Freeman was not only the team’s greatest offensive performer, but one of the better defenders as well. He hit .297/.364/.414, the best average and third best slugging percent (to Henry Pujols and Wilbis Santiago) and OBP (to Johnathan Rodriguez and Mitch Reeves) among regulars with nine doubles and two home runs in just 36 games. Freeman was the Indians second pick in the draft this year, taken in the CBA part of round two. He continues in a line of successful short stop draft picks that begins with Francisco Lindor, but has continued through recent years with Luke Wakamatsu and Nolan Jones. While not the best bat of the three, Freeman is the most qualified to stay at short stop.
Everyone loves home runs, so everyone should love Henry Pujols. Like Bobby Bradley and Oscar Gonzalez before him, Pujols simply mashed in the AZL, tying the AZL Indians single season record with 8 home runs while playing in the Major League dimensions of Goodyear Ballpark. Unfortunately, also like Gonzalez, he strikes out a ton and rarely walks (77 to 11 in 2017). Defensively, he’s serviceable at third base, making some outstanding plays, but also missing some routine ground balls. He has a muscular build, but has room to grow and could evolve into a true power threat eventually.
The high point of this season had to be the combined no hitter against Seattle on August 3rd. While the game was started by two pitchers on rehab assignments, Dylan Baker and Dace Kime, it was Maiker Manzanillo who stole the show. In that game, Manzanillo finished out the game with four perfect innings and that was indicative of his season as a whole. For the year, he posted a 2.45 ERA with 37 strike outs and just five walks in 36.2 innings before being promoted to Mahoning Valley for their play-off run. While he was used almost exclusively in relief, he averaged nearly three innings per appearance and could eventually be converted into a starter. Either as a starter or reliever, he should have the pitch selection to be successful at the upper levels.
It wasn’t a great season by any means for the Indians first draft pick from 2017, Quentin Holmes, but there were still signs of greatness. Defensively, he may not get the best first step, but has the speed to make almost any play anyway. Offensively, he had a couple home runs, three triples and four doubles, but has much to work on, striking out 61 times to 8 walks. He was drafted largely because of his speed, but if he can’t get on base, that asset is negated. He also struggled when given the chance as he was caught four times in nine steal attempts.
There was little to get excited about in this crop of pitchers as they could easily be blamed for the AZL Tribe’s record, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. Freeman excepted, the infield defense was the worst I’ve seen in years and that particularly effected ground ball specialists like Luis Oviedo. Oviedo finished the year with an ERA near 7.14, but 70 strike outs in 51.2 innings compared to just 22 walks.
The top hitter from last year’s DSL Indians was Ronny Dominguez, a center fielder who was displaced by Holmes. He played all three outfield positions and DH while hitting .218/.279./359 including three home runs, three triples and five doubles. Dominguez is in just his second pro season at 20 years old and definitely has potential.
Finally, there are two truly under appreciated hitters that came from the later rounds of the 2017 draft. Michael Cooper is an incredibly tall and skinny first baseman who provides an excellent target at first and has such a long stride that he runs fast without looking like he’s trying. His massive strike zone obviously has some holes in it, but he didn’t strike out as often as most on the team and his swing is not the typical big man uppercut, but a line drive stroke that has a tendency to lead to line drives in the gaps.
Mitch Reeves is an outfielder by trade, but played extremely well at first base for the AZL Tribe when he needed to as the team had too many outfielders to get everyone playing time. He wasn’t far behind Freeman and Pujols for top hitter on the team, batting .291/.396/.440. He played particularly well in the second half and at 22 years old has potential to jump straight to Lake County next year.
Cause for Concern
A trio of pitchers were the perfect example this year of how success does not necessarily translate from the DSL to the AZL. Luis Valdez, Juan Mota and Luis Araujo all had solid numbers last year and, like Oviedo have had terrible overall numbers in 2017. Since Mota and Araujo don’t have bad peripheral stats, they can be largely ignored here with further look necessary after the 2018 season, likely in Mahoning Valley. Valdez, however, had a nice ERA in the DSL last year, but bad peripherals and this year his ERA caught up with his independent pitching numbers.
In 2016, he walked 30 to 24 K’s in 45 innings, but managed a 3.40 ERA. This season, he walked 36 compared to 35 strike outs along with 12 hit batters (he hit 11 last year) in 51. With a WHIP near 2.00 and an ERA well over 7.00, Valdez could be one player the Indians could part ways with before 2018.
Every team has utility infielders and if that’s your job at the rookie level, your future probably isn’t too bright. Jose Fermin may not have been a utility infielder, moving to second from his customary short stop to make room for Freeman, but he should have been. Just 18 years old and in his second season, it already seems apparent that he is incapable of hitting for power or average and is averse to taking walks. He also committed a team high 21 errors and that’s with official scorers who generally favor the hitter. That all being said, Fermin is ten times the player that Jhan Rodriguez is.
Most Power: Henry Pujols
Best Bat: Tyler Freeman
Best Wheels: Tre Gantt
Best Glove: Quinten Holmes
Best Arm: John Rodriguez
Worst Glove: Jhan Rodriguez
Best Control: Maiker Manzanillo
Best Stuff: Adoni Kery
Most Likely to be an MLB Pitcher: Maiker Manzanillo
Most Likely to be an MLB Hitter: Tyler Freeman