The first week of the season (really 11 days because it started on a Thursday) has been a very mixed bag for the Tribe's farm system. With only a few notable exceptions, the bats just haven't really got going yet, although the starting pitchers have partly managed to make up for that with some excellent outings. Here are the affiliates' current records (as of Sunday night, but including yesterday's resumption of Lake County's suspended game):
Columbus Clippers: 5-5 (individual 2015 stats)
Akron RubberDucks: 4-6 (individual 2015 stats)
Lynchburg Hillcats: 3-8 (individual 2015 stats)
Lake County: 5-6 (individual 2015 stats)
Let's take a look at the hitters, starting pitchers and relievers for each team in turn.
Angling for position players
The MLB promotion of Jerry Sands has left the Clippers with a rather unbalanced roster, featuring just 11 hitters including newcomer Alex Lavisky (who was called up from AA when Brett Hayes went up to Cleveland as back-up catcher). Right now there aren't any hitters at Akron screaming "promote me now", so the return of Giovanny Urshela (who on Friday played in an extended spring training game that also featured Nick Swisher, Zach Walters and Tyler Naquin) can't come soon enough. In the meantime, Walters will begin his AAA rehab on Wednesday (with Swisher joining him later this week, according to Hoynesie).
As for the hitters that Columbus actually does have on the roster, well, collectively they've been pretty horrible so far. Jesus Aguilar did start to show some signs of life over the weekend with a couple of homers, and Francisco Lindor hit one as well, but when (as of Sunday night) the team-leading batting average is a meager .229 (James Ramsey) you probably have some issues.
So far this season, the unheralded Todd Hankins has basically been carrying the other everyday hitters from the lead-off spot, while splitting time between 2B and CF. He’s now 12-41 with three 2B and one 3B, but has been caught stealing on three of his six attempts. The 24yo Hankins enjoyed a breakout 2014 season (.717 OPS), but no-one would have imagined that he would start the AA season in such strong fashion, especially in the context of this April, when nearly every other regular Akron hitter has been struggling to get going.
There was a surprise promotion this week in the form of 21yo Yonathan Mendoza, who started at 2B for two days in a row over the weekend. Mendoza is a product of the Indians' Dominican farm system. Having spent the last couple of years in short-season ball, he was pulled from extended spring training to provide (presumably short-term) cover. And Mendoza is certainly making the most of his opportunity, going 3-6 with two walks in those games. One would assume that Mendoza will be re-assigned once Tyler Naquin returns.
Another hitter who is making the most of an unexpected opportunity is the 29yo 4th OF Ollie Linton. With Bryson Myles out since Apr 15, Linton has seized the chance to play every day and is 6-17 (.353) with two walks on the year.
Having been promoted to A+ after just three regular season games in Lake County last season, Bradley Zimmer has continued his exciting tear through the minor leagues. So far he is 12-37 (.324) with four homers and five stolen bases. Hopefully it won't be too much longer before he finds himself in Akron.
Clint Frazier is hitting a solid .289/.372/.342, and in recent games has been starting to show some power, recording his first three extra-base hits over the weekend (all doubles). Despite striking out seven times in the last five games, he has actually improved his strikeout rate compared to last year. Certainly, a promising enough start.
Having missed four of the first six games, Luigi Rodriguez has now recorded at least one hit in each of the last five, going 10-18 with two doubles and two HRs in that short stretch. His seasonal batting average now stands at .417.
A few years ago Rodriguez was considered by many to be a top prospect within the organization, reaching the lofty position of No.5 on Baseball America's 2012 prospect list. A fairly underwhelming .250/.347./.366 line in 2014 has caused him to fall somewhat off the radar, but he still has time on his side if he can bounce back this year. His plate discipline is excellent — he amassed 50 walks in both 2012 and 2014.
The 23yo 2B Paul Hendrix has also been hitting well so far this year, with a line of .303/.368/.823 with two 2B and a HR. He was only an 18th rd pick in 2013, but is making very good progress through the system.
Mike Papi is currently batting .079/.205/.105 on the season with more strikeouts than Frazier (11). OK, small sample size, and I get that he was supposed to be an "advanced" hitter when he was drafted, but he didn’t hit (although he did walk) last season either: .181/ .301/.271.
I wasn’t a fan of Papi's promotion to Lynchburg and I still don’t see why they couldn’t have left him in Lake County for a month or two so that he could (hopefully) build up some confidence. As it is, he’s basically taken LeVon Washington’s LF job, leaving #WashTime (unnecessarily?) kicking his heels in extended ST. LeVon’s demotion is very likely part self-inflicted, and I’m sure that it must be galling for him if he ever looks at a boxscore to see how his old buddies are doing. However, I don’t believe that Papi really "earned" that LF job either.
Lake County (A)
Top prospect 1B Bradley was reassigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers on Sunday, after being removed halfway through the day's previous game Bradley was hitting a disappointing, but hardly catastrophic, .174/.375/.391 (1 HR) and had made three errors at 1B in just nine games. He has been diagnosed with oblique soreness, which will keep him out of the line-up for a few weeks.
CF Greg Allen has been the pick of the hitters for the Captains in the early going: .294 with a couple of 2Bs and a HR. Top catching prospect Francisco Mejia is hitting only .143, but SS Yo-Cheng Chang has made a pretty good start: .265 with four extra-bases on nine hits.
The Tribe's 2014 18th rd pick, Taylor Murphy, was promoted from extended Spring Training last week. After playing in the outfield last year, Murphy has been converted to 3B, and he has made a good impression with the bat so far.
State of the rotation
And then there 21... When the MiLB season got underway, the Tribe began with 23 announced starting pitchers spread across the four affiliates (to allow for some piggybacking), but after the Salazar promotion and injury to Baker the organization is already down to 21 of those original 23.
With Shaun Marcum bouncing to the MLB team and back, and Danny Salazar promoted after just one game, the Clippers ended up using eight different SPs in their first ten games. SP/RP Jordan Cooper was called up from AA to fill the vacancy left by Shaun Marcum (and then sent back down once Austin Adams arrived) and both Toru Murata and Giovanni Soto also made spot starts.
Bruce Chen was one of only two SPs to make a second appearance. He has been terrific so far, allowing just five hits (one HR) and one walk in 12 IP. The other outstanding performance came from the now departed (hopefully, forever!) Danny Salazar, who fanned seven while allowing only four hits in 6 IP. With Cooper having just been sent back down to Akron, Toru Murata has been scheduled to fill the No.5 rotation spot, but in all likelihood he is just temporarily keeping the mound warm for Jhoulys Chacin (see below) or one of the AA prospects.
Although Giovanni Soto (who was outstanding as a starter in winter ball) made a start for Columbus, that was really just a "bullpen game" brought about by Salazar's late Indians call-up. Soto wouldn’t have been properly stretched out, and indeed only threw 28 pitches (17 strikes), which is pretty much what you’d expect for a "reliever". I guess we will have to wait until another day for a "proper" start from Soto.
As alluded to above, an MLB/AAA reinforcement may be on the way in the form of the ex-Rockies SP Jhoulys Chacin, who is reportedly currently spending a few weeks in Goodyear to build up his arm strength. Chacin struggled with shoulder issues for most of last season, but over the winter the Rockies evidently still believed that he would be able to pitch effectively this year when they offered him $5.5MM to avoid arbitration. After he struggled in Spring Training, the Rockies ultimately decided to part ways with Chacin last month rather than stay on the hook for his whole season’s salary (although they still had to pay him $1.35MM, as 25% of that contract was guaranteed).
Here was Chacin’s reaction to being cut: "They told me at the start of Spring Training that it depends on how I do, how good the rotation is this year. I know I’m not 100 percent and my velocity isn’t where I want it to be. I was just trying to get my arm ready. I wasn’t trying to throw up zeros. But I understand how things work. This is a business, and it’s a lot of money. I thank the Rockies and the fans for helping me reach my dreams. Best of luck to them. But I’ll keep working. I’m just 27 years old, and I’ll be ready when the season starts." ((Source) It will be interesting to see how Chacin fares in a more pitcher-friendly environment than Coors Field, where his ERA was 97 points higher than in his away appearances.
The Tribe also made two other MiLB SP signings last week. The assignments of Zach Nuding (who pitched at AA/AAA last year) and Perci Garner (who was at A+/AA in 2014) haven’t been announced yet. Both Nuding (30th rd) and Garner (2nd rd) were drafted in 2010 and each was considered a fair prospect by Baseball America in 2012, ranking #22 and #21 in their respective organizations. Nuding pitched well at AA last year but then struggled in 13 starts at AAA and was released by the Yankees a couple of weeks ago. Garner hasn’t really established himself at the AA level and was let go by the Phillies the week before that.
Charles Brewer was released from the AAA DL to free up a 40-man roster spot.
Thankfully, thing were much more straightforward in Akron, where the opening day rotation of Roberts/Anderson/Morimando/Clevinger/Merritt has now gone round in order exactly twice.
To date, Cody Anderson has probably been the winner of the "AA SP prospect" stakes, allowing just two runs on 10 hits and two walks in 12.1 IP. On the other hand, Anderson has recorded just seven strikeouts, whereas Shawn Morimando has already managed 14 in just 9.2 IP. Anderson, Morimando and Mike Clevinger have all recorded ERAs of under 2.00, but the latter two have been a little wild on occasion, allowing five walks each.
The Lynchburg rotation endured a huge blow when Dylan Baker being placed on the DL. Incredibly, it was the second season in a row in which the unlucky Baker has made a stellar seasonal debut and then immediately suffered an injury. It is being reported as an elbow tendon strain, which doesn’t sound at all good.
In Baker's absence, Adam Plutko has stepped up to the No.1 spot. His seasonal line now reads 12.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 10 SO, 1 HR and (courtesy of Todd Paquette) over his last six starts in A+ (2014-15) he is 37.2 IP, 29 H, 9 ER, 5 BB, 29 SO, 2.15 ERA. There’s no spot available for him at Akron right now, but he may not have to wait too long if he continues like that.
The newly promoted Mitch Brown and Luis Lugo have both had a rough start to the season, allowing plenty of contact and walks, but returning starter Michael Peoples had a great seasonal debut, allowing just two hits and a walk in 5 IP, with six strikeouts.
Lake County (A)
The Captains have used six SPs so far, five of whom have a WHIP of 1.06 or less, four with an ERA below 2.60. Top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield (who is still a few weeks short of his19th birthday) has made an outstanding beginning to his full-season career, not allowing any earned runs in two starts. The Captains are being conservative with his pitch counts (he has yet to go beyond 5 IP), but he has allowed just six hits and two walks in 9.2 IP with 10 strikeouts.
There was plenty of movement in the AAA bullpen. Austin Adams was demoted from MLB, promoted and then demoted again (all without pitching a ball in Columbus), while Kyle Crockett was also (unluckily) demoted to AAA, and Bryan Price went on the DL.
The Tribe acquired an interesting reinforcement in the form of minor league free agent Ryan Webb, who was a 0.7 fWAR reliever for Baltimore in 2014. The 29yo Webb struggled in the second half of last season and was recently deemed surplus to requirements at both the Orioles and Dodgers. He started well in AAA (3.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 SO) and could provide an alternative to Anthony Swarzak, going forward.
Closer Shawn Armstrong has now recorded 7 Ks in 4 IP, while conceding just two singles and no walks. With Adams and Crockett also in Columbus, the Tribe currently has five viable options should they need to call up 8th reliever (although Webb and Marcum would need to be added to the 40-man). I'm not counting C.C. Lee in that five, as he struggled in ST and hasn't been impressive in the early season games.
Just like the AA rotation, there hasn't been much roster movement here. Jordan Cooper went up to Columbus for a spot start (with Clayton Cook promoted to Akron in his stead) but both have bounced back down again now.
Neither middle reliever Jacob Lee nor closer Jeff Johnson has conceded a run so far. Johnson missed the 2014 season due to TJ surgery and has made a very encouraging return.
As Michael's cousin, the 24yo Justin Brantley has received more than his fair share of publicity for an undrafted free agent reliever, but arguably he has actually been the Hillcats' best RP in the early going. Brantley has pretty much followed on from his fine performance in Lake County last year, striking out five in 5.1 IP, while allowing just three hits and two walks (no runs).
RP Casey Weathers wasn’t on the opening day roster, but he was called up just over a week ago when Mason Radeke went on the DL. Weathers is 29 now, and the Tribe is his fifth MLB team. He was a fairly highly rated relieving prospect for many years, reaching as high as the Rockies’ No.6 with Baseball America in 2009, before dropping to No.14 in both 2010 and 2011 and then No.27 with the Cubs in 2012.
After being drafted by the Rockies in 2007, he appeared to be on the fast track to a MLB closing job (44 games in AA in 2008 as a reliever) until he blew out his elbow in the AFL and lost a year to TJ surgery. Weathers bounced back reasonably well in 2010 and was promoted to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 draft at the end of the year. However, it was here that things really started to go awry, as he appeared to lose his control – his BB/9 rate spiked to 9.5 at AA in 2011 and then 14.0 after he was traded to the Cubs in 2012.
Weathers didn’t pitch professionally in 2013, but he was signed by the Giants in December, released the following March and then picked up by the Rays in May. Again last season he was plagued by wildness and he recorded a 2.516 WHIP at A+ in 2014.
Although Weathers has made a promising start with the Hillcats, he has allowed four walks in four innings (with four strikeouts and only one hit). It remains to be seen whether the Tribe will be the team who can finally help him to crack his control issues, as he’s always had the ability to strike guys out.
RP Nick Pasquale was promoted to Lynchburg as part of the Marcum-Cooper-Cook daisy chain and then demoted a few days later.
Lake County (A)
Last year's 16th rd pick J.P. Feyereisen came into the 2015 with a phenomenal record of never having allowed a run in the 17 innings of his pro career. After four more innings in which he has allowed just one hit and one walk (with seven strikeouts), he has now extended that run to 21. Cameron Hill was taken just one round after Feyereisen and could potentially be used as a starter. He has also been terrific in his 5.2 IP, allowing just three hits (no walks or runs).
Tribe minor league rosters and update (Apr 9-19)
LGT community top 20 prospects
"Fringe five" and other intriguing prospects
Dark horses on the farm — the hitters