This is the second of three end of season recaps for the extended spring training Indians following Sunday’s look at team Red. This team, we’ll look at team Blue, the team that will likely become AZL Indians 2 this summer.
One of the benefits of having so many low level MiLB teams is that it has allowed the Indians to try out multiple players at the same position full time. In this particular case, I am alluding to Jesus Maestre playing the full season with the Indians/Brewers last year in the Dominican Summer League because Jose Tena was on the regular Inidans team. This spring, Tena played for team Red while Maestre was a regular on Blue where he went 9 for 30 with three walks, one double and two triples in games I saw. Maestre isn’t as fast as Tena, but has incredible reaction time in the field and is one of the most likely players to make a spectacular play at any moment.
Ultimately, I believe Maestre will fall in as a permanent second baseman at some point, but right now he is able to move around second, short and third due to the amount of playing time available.
Another player who has been moved between those three positions on team Blue was Makesiondon Kelkboom. While he played extensively for the AZL team last summer, Kelkboom struggled both offensively and defensively this spring. He was well thought of coming into 2017 when he began his career with the DSL, but has yet to really hit at any level and will likely be returning for a second season in Arizona after a lackluster spring. He has significant work to do on his defense in particular as few teams have need for a utility man who struggles with a routine throw to first.
Finishing up the primary infielders, Henderson De Oleo also appears headed back to his second season in the Arizona League after playing three full seasons in the DSL already. While Henderson’s power is enticing and his plate discipline acceptable, he will have a hard time finding playing time as a full time DH. He isn’t a particularly adept fielder at first and the experiment of him playing third was ended very quickly. The Indians have better power bats at the same level who provide more value elsewhere and it is possible that De Oleo’s time is running out.
One of those power hitters is outfielder Cristopher Cespedes who already has two seasons in the AZL under his belt. I saw Cespedes hit two home runs, three doubles and a triple this spring in 11 games as he produced at the highest level than I have seen from him. He is already 21, so it is possible this is just due to the advanced experience level, but it is also possible that Cespedes has finally figured out how to harness his great power potential. I think he will start 2019 in Arizona, but should be on the short list to promotion should he continue this pace in the regular season.
Other regulars in the Blue outfield were Korey Holland and Pablo Jimenez, although both could easily start the season in Mahoning Valley rather than Arizona. Holland is an advanced hitter and has looked more like a rehabbing upper minor league player than the 19 year old 2018 draft pick that he is. Had he played a full season last year, there is an argument that he would have started this season in Lake County and I think he should be there soon regardless. He is a good defensive outfielder, base runner and contact hitter.
Jimenez is another story. While he is also a good defender and has some power, he has not yet shown that he can hit at the rookie level. He has only spent one season in the AZL, but after two in the DSL he is now 20 and still not ready for short season.
Sergio Morillo was a mid-season call-up to the AZL team last year and it looks like he could be a staff ace this time around. Morillo showed some great swing and miss stuff with mid-90’s velocity and good movement. He had control issues at times this spring, but should have a full season in Arizona to work that out.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Samuel Vasquez as often as I would have liked, but he was impressive when I did see him. In one start, he struck out four in two perfect innings and in another he allowed a run on two hits in one inning. He has yet to play above the Dominican Summer League, but should be a starter for the AZL Indians this year.
In the bullpen, Jerson Ramirez lit up the speed gun while pitching in just his second season with the team. He made the leap to Arizona in his first season and should return this year, potentially as a late inning type after striking out seven and allowing just two hits in the five innings I saw him pitch.