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Top 10 Cleveland Indians MiLB Corner Infielders for 2016

Unlike the middle infield, the Indians corner spots are anything but under control for the foreseeable future. For a moment, it appeared that Giovanny Urshela and Jesus Aguilar could be the answers, but you will not find them on this list as they have already been given a shot and summarily forgotten about. Looking into the future, the majority of the Indians top corner infielders are extremely young and their development over the next few seasons could determine if they will be the next Aguilar or the next Carlos Santana.

Vicente plays first for the AZL Indians in 2016. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Vicente plays first for the AZL Indians in 2016. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

10. Jose Vicente – 1B: 93 GP, C: 47 – Age: 20
International Free Agent 2013
Current & Highest Level: AZL Indians

By Joseph Coblitz

With all the big name draft picks on the 2016 Arizona League Indians (including two more higher on this list), it was Vicente who was the most consistent hitter all year for the Rookie League squad. He batted .280/.333/.408 this year, his best numbers in his three pro seasons after spending the first two in the Dominican Summer League. He is still listed as a catcher, but has been used almost exclusively at first base over the past two seasons and it is obvious that the Indians feel his future is there.

The question is whether he can handle it defensively. While he is fine on balls hit at him, Vicente struggles with throws, particularly the off target throws that are common at the rookie level. He will likely stick around for instructional ball and extended Spring Training next year and should be able to improve his defense enough that it won’t be a problem. His bat is already worthy of Lake County.

Cerda mans third during a 2016 Extended Spring Training game in Goodyear, Arizona. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Cerda mans third during a 2016 Extended Spring Training game in Goodyear, Arizona. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

9. Erlin Cerda – 3B: 84 GP, 2B: 118 GP – Age: 22
International Free Agent in 2012
Current & Highest Level: A Lake County

By Caitlin Boron

Cerda leans a little more to the left of the field, playing second and third base, but when it comes to swinging the pine, he’s all right (yes, I think I’m hilariously clever). Cerda was signed by the Indians as a non-drafted free agent in 2012. His first two seasons under the wing of the Tribe, he played in the Dominican Summer League and batted .284, with 32 doubles, 49 RBI, walked 70 times and stole 35 bases in just 125 games.

In 2015, he had a short 29 game stint in Arizona, driving in nine runs on 23 hits and four walks, before being called to Mahoning Valley where he would eventually start his 2016 season. This season, Cerda played for both Mahoning Valley and Lake County and it seems that small amount of play time early on at the higher level had boosted his gameplay, particularly his confidence.

After returning to the Scrappers, it was noticeable that he held his composure in the way where he knew where his hard work had been pushing him towards. This, plus his 8 doubles, 35 RBI, 16 walks and 8 stolen bases in Mahoning Valley, were enough for him to end his season in Lake County, just recently being promoted with a week left to go.

Cerda has a lot to offer a ball club with his offense, and though he has been in the Indians system for four seasons already, still has a ways to go and some maturing to do. The way he has improved just in his first season in single-A alone, I am curious to see how he will come out of the gate in his first year of full-season baseball in 2017.

Rodriguez slaps one away in a 2015 Indians MLB Spring Training game. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Rodriguez slaps one away in a 2015 Indians MLB Spring Training game. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

8. Ronny Rodriguez – 1B: 74 GP, 3B: 45, SS: 262 GP, 2B: 244 – Age: 24
International Free Agent 2010
Current Level & Highest Level: AAA Columbus

By Justin Lada

If it feels like Ronny-Rod has been around forever, it’s because he has. This was his 6th year in pro ball (all with the Indians) but he’s only 24. He’ll be 25 by Opening Day 2017 and will probably still have not made his MLB debut.

The former shortstop is now mostly a second basemen who logged innings at first base, third base and even a few in the outfield. Rodriguez has always been young for every level he had been aggressively moved too but he never developed enough of a hit tool to get to the raw power that made him a borederline top-10 prospect at one time. Despite the fact he’s never had a great hit tool, he’s never eclipsed 100 strikeouts in a season (or an OBP above.316) but power, defensive versatility, a pretty good arm and high energy/character continue to be his calling cards. Amazingly, he’s only slugging .377 this year despite calling Huntington Park home, making it unlikely he’s selected in the Rule 5 draft this offseason. At this point, Rodriguez looks more like an emergency utility call-up than someone who can help off the bench in a normal role.
Cantu stands on deck during an 2016 AZL Indians game at Goodyear Ballpark. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Cantu stands on deck during an 2016 AZL Indians game at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

7. Ulysses Cantu – 1B: 26 GP, 3B 2 GP – Age: 18
Drafted Round 6 in 2016
Current & Highest Level: AZL Indians

By Joseph Coblitz

The perfect definition of a corner infielder, Cantu was drafted as a third baseman, but played just two games there mostly due to the team need of a first baseman (they didn’t have a player listed as a 1B on the roster all year) and the existence of Jones at third. Despite the change, Cantu was a solid defensive first baseman and looked comfortable at the position.

Offensively, Cantu got off to a rough start with a six game hitless streak three games into his pro career, then never was able to significantly improve his average, ending the year at .202. He has a good approach at the plate though and a good eye leading to an OBP nearly 100 points higher than his average. He showed little power, but playing in a Major League ballpark at the age of 18, he shouldn’t have been expected to. He could use some more time in rookie ball and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start 2017 in Arizona with an early call-up to Mahoning Valley if his play improves.

Tapia bats during his rehab assignment in Extended Spring Training on 6/3/2016. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Tapia bats during his rehab assignment in Extended Spring Training on 6/3/2016. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

6. Emmanuel Tapia – 1B: 97 GP, OF: 22 – Age: 20
International Free Agent in 2013
Current & Highest Level: SS Mahoning Valley

By Caitlin Boron

He plays his best from the right side of the infield, but lives by the law of a southpaw when a bat or a glove is in his hands. Tapia started his 2016 season in Mahoning Valley with the Scrappers and from day one made sure everyone in the stands knew he meant business. In the 5th inning of the home opener, Tapia hit the first homer of the season to center field. Though that night the Scrappers lost 5-4 in eleven innings, it seemed that Tapia’s home run was a beacon for how the rest of 2016 would go.

He hails from the Dominican Republic and was signed by the Indians in January of 2013 as a non-drafted free agent. Since then, he’s done pretty well in their minor system. His first season with the short-season team was in 2015, though he missed most of the year due to a fractured left ankle. In the 33 games he did play in, he had 52 total bases, 17 RBI and hit .286 with a .350 OBP. On the field, he committed seven errors, 12 assists and 17 DPs playing at first base. In that season though, it was expected that Tapia would have made some forward progress towards the higher levels in 2016.

This season, the 6’3”, 215 pound first baseman has 13 doubles, 6 home runs, 19 walks and is batting .250 in 57 games. Tapia has been a fun kid to watch, especially at the plate. There will be times he will leave you wondering where on earth his bat has gone and seconds later will leave you speechless. He will be a work horse for a lineup, and give a team that hit to keep them in it. But in a sense he reminds me of a Carlos Santana, trying to match his eye with his swing, hoping that whatever ball that goes over the wall won’t be wasted in a loss.

Medina dabs at the plate during an Extended Spring Training game in 2016. - BurningRiverBaseball
Medina dabs at the plate during an Extended Spring Training game in 2016. – BurningRiverBaseball

5. Jose Medina – 1B: 61 GP, OF: 60 GP – Age: 21
International Free Agent in 2013
Current & Highest Level: A Lake County

By Joseph Coblitz

Medina could be listed as an outfielder or first baseman, but based on my observations of him in both the AZL in 2015 and Extended Spring Training in 2016, I think he would be better served at first. He has true power, but has struggled in his first two U.S. seasons, batting only .237 with the Captains this year.

While not a high ceiling prospect by any imagination, Medina is an interesting player who could make some noise if he makes significant improvements next season, most likely back in Lake County.

Rodriguez bats during a 2016 Major League Spring Training game at Goodyear Ballpark. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Rodriguez bats during a 2016 Major League Spring Training game at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

4. Nellie Rodriguez – 1B: 499 GP – Age: 22
Drafted Round 15 in 2012

Current & Highest Level: AA Akron 
By Gavin Potter

Rodriguez is one of two pure first basemen on this list, but being stuck at one position isn’t likely to hold him back with Carlos Santana set to be a free agent after the 2017 season. What could hold him back, however, is that despite prodigious power, including a career best 26 home runs in 2016, he has never has been able to hit consistently and has a career average of .252. Like Santana, Rodriguez does walk a lot, but not quite at the same rate Santana, who had a .290/.401/.500 line in the minors and a similar line from 2009 in AA.

Given the drop off of any player from AA to AAA and from there to the Majors, it is worrisome that he will be able to made enough of a change that he will be able to be as productive in Cleveland as he is now in Akron. As much as the Indians could use a new 1B/DH type even in 2017 assuming Mike Napoli will leave in free agency, they may be waiting for our number one prospect, or perhaps even longer than that.

Jones bats during an empty stadium match in 2016 AZL action. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Jones bats during an empty stadium match in 2016 AZL action. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

3. Nolan Jones – 3B: 28 GP, SS: 5 GP – Age: 18
Drafted Round 2 in 2016

Current & Highest Level: AZL Indians
By Joseph Coblitz

Many considered Jones a steal with the 55th overall pick in the draft as some were targeting him as the Indians first round pick. He started out the season in Arizona on fire despite joining the team late and was hitting .352 with a .500 OBP on August 5th. His numbers dropped considerably after that point as the league adjusted to him, but I would expect him to make similar adjustments for next season, likely in Mahoning Valley.

Jones’ most important asset is his glove although he may have to reign in his arm a bit to be a great defender at third. As it is, he is the top defensive third baseman I’ve seen at the rookie level. His lack of power has some worried, but he’s big and will likely hit for more power as he develops further. 

Diaz takes a lead off first during the 2016 Futures Game in San Diego, California. - Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball
Diaz takes a lead off first during the 2016 Futures Game in San Diego, California. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

2. Yandy Diaz – 3B: 252 GP, OF: 52 GP, 2B: 5 GP – Age: 25
International Free Agent 2013 
Current Level & Highest Level: AAA Columbus
By Gavin Potter

Despite only being in his third season stateside, the 25 year old free agent from Cuba has had no problem adjusting to pitching in the minors in the US. He has led Double-A and now Triple-A in on base percentage in most of the last two seasons thanks to his patient approach at the plate and excellent bat to ball skills.

Unlike his fellow third base prospect Giovanny Urshela, Diaz uses his bat to ball skills when he can find a way to put the ball in play for a hit. Currently, Diaz has 198 walks compared to 191 strikeouts in 1222 at bats in the minors and a career .410 OBP.
While the Indians want to see more power from Diaz and think they will at some point, he is able to hit for good average and see a lot of pitches.
In addition to his plate discipline, Diaz is a solid base runner with decent speed. He has seen time in the outfield this season after playing mostly third base in Akron last year. He’s not as skilled with the glove as Urshela, but he’s not a butcher either. His glove could play everyday at third base if need be but he’s seemed to warmed to the outfield role and is capable there. He was a second basemen in Cuba and has played little of it stateside but it would seem his bat would play best there.
Between his defensive versatility, hit tool, patience and the frame to hopefully add power, there’s no reason to think Diaz couldn’t help the Indians soon in a reserve or starting role.

1. Bobby Bradley – 1B: 247 GP – Age: 20
Drafted Round 3 in 2014
Current Level & Highest Level: A+ Lynchburg
By Justin Lada

The good: Has played two full minor league seasons at the age of 20 and already has 64 homers. The power is very, very real and it’s in-game power so far.

The bad: Has followed up his 148 strikeouts in 401 at bats performance at Low-A Lake County last season with 164 in 469 this year. While there’s no looking past Bradley’s true light-tower power, the strikeouts are a big cause for concern. He has shown a penchant for taking a walk (.350 OBP this year despite hitting .241), but if he’s having these swing and miss issues now, AA pitchers might give him real trouble as he moves up.
The great news about all this, is that he’s just 20 years old and has shown some ability to develop an average hit-tool. Despite being a left hander, he hit .255 off southpaws this year (153 ABs) compared to .234 vs. RHP (316 ABs), so the ability to be more than Rob Deer is there and his age gives him plenty of time to refine his approach since he’ll likely be playing in AA at 21 years old. The glove isn’t anything special but Bradley is a pretty good athlete with great work ethic, so the ability to be average at first base is there as well. But the bat and that 30-40 home run potential will carry him regardless of what he does with the glove.

Also Receiving Votes: Joe Sever, Henry Pujols