Hits and Misses for Rookie Predictions

One of the mainstay topics in the history of Burning River Baseball has been the predictions of which Indians minor leaguers would debut in the upcoming season. These predictions would always be made during spring training to hype up top prospects prior to the season starting, then would be forgotten immediately after. This year, instead of just posting the expected group for 2020, let’s take a look back and see how we did over the last three seasons.

2017 Player Debut Rookie fWAR
1 Bradley Zimmer 2017 1.6
2 Yandy Diaz 2017 0.4
3 Greg Allen 2017 -0.2
4 Jeff Johnson NA NA
5 Ronny Rodriguez 2018 (DET) -0.9
6 Josh Martin NA NA
7 Nellie Rodriguez NA NA
8 Rob Kaminsky NA NA
9 Louis Head NA NA
10 Jeremy Lucas NA NA

To begin, it should be noted that picking 10 rookies to debut in a season is really a shotgun approach to the situation as generally only one or two rookies make an impact in any particular season. This allows one to pick the most obvious name or two, some high prospects who are a bit further away and a catcher or reliever or two who could be depth options. In the case of the first season, 2017, Bradley Zimmer was the obvious number one as both the team’s top offensive prospect and someone who was banging at the door in AAA. Yandy Diaz also had a great 2016 season in Columbus and was an obvious choice.

Greg Allen was a bit more of an outlier as he never hit AAA before breaking into the big leagues, spending 2016 in Lynchburg and Akron before jumping from Akron to Cleveland in 2019. While his numbers in 2018 and 2019 were significantly better than 2017, he was one of only two other rookies to debut for the Tribe.

The final player, and only miss, of 2017 was Francisco Mejia. Mejia was a huge surprise as a September call-up in 2017 as he spent 2016 in Lynchburg, then 2017 with Akron prior to his promotion. Considering the Indians manipulation of service time of top prospects, the less thought of Jeremy Lucas seemed a more obvious choice as third catcher in September.

Since Josh Martin and Rob Kaminsky missed nearly the entire 2017 season with injuries, they can’t be considered terrible picks, although they still have yet to hit the big leagues. Louis Head and Jeff Johnson were essentially AAAA relievers who consistently posted great numbers in AAA, but were never given a chance in the big leagues. While Head’s AAA struggles later on would suggest he never would have made it, Johnson has continued to dominate in the Mexican Leagues.

2018 Player Debut Rookie fWAR
1 Nellie Rodriguez NA NA
2 Shane Bieber 2018 2.7
3 Leandro Linares NA NA
4 Yu Chang 2019 -0.2
5 Julian Merryweather NA NA
6 Eric Stamets 2019 -0.7
7 Josh Martin NA NA
8 Cam Hill NA NA
9 Louis Head NA NA
10 Eric Haase 2019 -0.1

Going into 2018, I decided to double down on Nellie Rodriguez. After missing out on Jesus Aguilar, who became an All-Star in 2018 with Milwaukee, it appeared that Rodriguez would be the next option as a power hitting 1B. His 2017 season left something to be desired and he was even worse in AAA in 2018. He was re-signed for the 2019 season, but never made it out of Akron as he posted his third straight extremely disappointing season.

As bad as that pick was, I feel like I can brag about Shane Bieber. He was drafted in 2016 and made it to Akron in 2017, but few thought he would be up before 2019. Instead, he made 19 starts for the Indians in 2018 before becoming one of the best pitchers in the American League in 2019.

There were so few rookies to debut for Cleveland in 2018 that I didn’t miss any, although I did overestimate the potential of Eric Haase, Eric Stamets and Yu Chang, all of whom debuted in 2019. Like Nellie, I doubled down on Head and Martin in 2018, but whiffed again on that prediction.

2019 Player Debut Rookie fWAR
1 Yu Chang 2019 -0.2
2 Bobby Bradley 2019 -0.4
3 Oscar Mercado 2019 1.7
4 Henry Martinez NA NA
5 Connor Marabell NA NA
6 Nick Sandlin NA NA
7 Shao-Ching Chiang NA NA
8 Argenis Angulo NA NA
9 Mike Papi NA NA
10 Triston McKenzie NA NA

The last season was a huge one for debuts as not only Chang, Stamets and Haase broke through, but also Bobby Bradley, Oscar Mercado, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale. Starting with the biggest misses on my part, Plesac took the Bieber route as he was drafted in 2017, spent 2018 with Akron and Lynchburg and flew straight to the big leagues after 10 starts between Akron and Columbus in 2019. There were essentially two reasons (excuses) for me missing both Plesac and Civale, who was drafted a year earlier, but also went from Akron in 2018 to Cleveland in 2019.

First, no one could have predicted the decimation of both the MLB and AAA rotation by injury and illness. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco both missed extended time at the big league level while Shao-Ching Chiang and Triston McKenzie were also knocked out long term on the minor league level. This allowed for unprecedented opportunities for the 2018 Rubberducks and Civale and Plesac stood tall to deliver.

The miss on reliever Nick Sandlin was for similar reasons as McKenzie and Chiang as he missed nearly the entire season with injury. I fully expect him to make his MLB debut in 2020 and will double down on that in an upcoming article. Connor Marabell also has a chance, albeit a lessened one as he has lost the momentum of a strong 2018 season between Akron and Glendale (AFL).

Mike Papi, Argenis Angulo and Henry Martinez appear to be more extreme lost causes as more and more players surpass them on the depth chart and they continue to age out of the system.

With that out of the way, I will do my best to predict the 2020 Tribe rookies later this week. In addition, I’ll be raising the stakes a bit by shrinking it from the ten most likely to debut to five.

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