The Lake County Captains are the Indians' Midwest League affiliate, and it is the lowest-level full-season affiliate in the organization. By a "full-season" affiliate, I mean a league that begins in April and ends in early September; Mahoning Valley, AZL Indians, and DSL Indians all start later in the season.
In my opinion the Midwest League is the first real test for a prospect. Impressive 19-year-olds who excelled in Arizona are placed in the same league as polished college graduates. The season is almost as long as the major-league season, so a prospect will have to physically and mentally have to deal with 120 or so games in a campaign, not to mention the rigors of travel over the long season, as the clubs in the Midwest League are scattered widely throughout the Great Lakes region.
This year the Captains started very slowly, but picked up steam in the second half and was able to not only make the playoffs, but get to the championship series. There was a load of talent in Lake County, which should start to show up in Cleveland in late 2016 or 2017.
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You should notice two things: a lot of power, and a lot of strikeouts. Eric Haase, Nellie Rodriguez, Claudio Bautista, Clint Frazier, Paul Hendrix, and Grant Fink all topped 10 home runs on the season, and of those six, only Hendrix and Fink are older than the league average. Fink led the league with 174(!) strikeouts, with Frazier (161), Rodriguez (142), and Hendrix (138) all appearing in the top 10. But even so, you'll take that tradeoff, especially for the young players. Dorssys Paulino (who is still on 19 years old) was moved from shortstop to the outfield after a brutal defensive start, and he hit better as the season wore on.
Mike Papi and Bradley Zimmer, the top position players selected in the 2014 draft, both made appearances in Lake County, and probably will probably at least start 2015 there.
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While Dace Kime was a disappointment in his full-season debut, there were some success stories among the other pitchers in the rotation. Mitch Brown, a high draft pick in 2012, made great strides this season, and has in my opinion positioned himself as the best starting pitcher prospect in the organization now that Trevor Bauer has lost his rookie eligibility. Luis Lugo also showed promise in the second half, as did Anderson Polanco, who was moved into the rotation late in the season. Adam Plutko was promoted to Carolina after starts, and Sean Brady, a high pick from the 2013 draft, made a brief appearance with Lake County late in the season. Ben Heller dominated the Midwest League out of the bullpen before he was promoted to Carolina midway through the season.
Mid-Season Prospects That Matter: RHP Mitch Brown, 1B Nellie Rodriguez, OF Clint Frazier, SS/3B Paul Hendrix, RHP Ben Heller, C Eric Haase, RHP Adam Plutko
Prospects of Interest: LHP Luis Lugo, OF Bradley Zimmer, OF Mike Papi, LHP Anderson Polanco, LHP Sean Brady
Rule 5 Eligibles: RHP Alexis Paredes, LHP Wander Beras
No difficult decisions here. The Indians may elect to move these players to the AA or AAA rosters to prevent them being selected in the minor-league section of the Rule 5 Draft, but they will not be added to the 40-man roster.
Minor-League Free Agents: RHP Carlos Melo