All of the minor-league clubs have 17 games under their belts, and although that's still way too small a sample size from which to draw any meaningful conclusion, we're starting to get a feel for how individual players are starting their 2015 campaigns. Let's take a look first at the overall team results, and then closer looks at the hitters and pitchers of the individual clubs:
Columbus Clippers: 10-7 (individual 2015 stats)
Akron RubberDucks: 9-8 (individual 2015 stats)
Lynchburg Hillcats: 7-10 (individual 2015 stats)
Lake County: 8-10 (individual 2015 stats)
Both Nick Swisher and Zach Walters joined the club this past week, with Swisher arriving on a rehab assignment, while Walters was optioned. Swisher has played the outfield in both his AAA starts, while Walters has move around the diamond. Usually you can figured out how a player's projected role at the big league level by how they are used in the minors, and in this case I think the rule applies. When Walters returns to the majors it would be as super-sub type of player, especially with all the left-handed starters on the roster. Walters could conceivably sub for Lonnie Chisenhall (3B), Jason Kipnis (2B), Michael Bourn (CF), David Murphy (RF), or even Michael Brantley (LF), so I'd continue to expect Walters to move around in the Columbus lineup until a spot opens up for him in Cleveland. As for Swisher, the Indians have said that they expect him to be able to play right field when he returns to Cleveland.
The other big news on the position player front was the return of Giovanny Urshela from the DL. With Lonnie Chisenhall struggling on both offense and defense, a hot start by Gio (and to this point he's 4-for-8, including a double and a home run) could make the front office to have to make a decision in May or June.
Tyler Naquin made his 2015 debut this past week after missing the first couple weeks with a broken hand suffered last year. In my opinion this is a very important season for Naquin, as both Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier are now in High-A.
Yonathan Mendoza continues to the lead the club in OPS, taking full advantage of the opportunity given to him out of Spring Training. This is Mendoza's first full-season experience, and to this point he's more than held his own with AA pitchers. Erik Gonzalez, who was impressive in Spring Training, is struggling in the first couple weeks, hitting .246/.268/.333.
Bradley Zimmer (.957 OPS) and Luigi Rodriguez (.997 OPS) have been carrying the Lynchburg offense. Luigi has been young for his levels throughout his pro career, but has missed big chunks of the last two seasons. The switch-hitter can play all three outfield positions, and projects as a reserve outfielder.
Clint Frazier hasn't yet gone deep for the Hillcats, but he's hitting for a decent average in his first High-A experience (.277/.333/.338). Mike Papi (.155/.279/.190) still continues to struggle against minor-league pitching; you wonder if the Indians will send him back to Lake County to get him going.
Nobody's hitting for the Captains so far this season. Bobby Bradley leads the team in OPS (.766), but it's a rather unconventional .766 OPS (.174/.375/.391). Francisco Mejia has really struggled in his first full-season experience, starting the campaign with a .170/.235/.255 line. Greg Allen, who stole 30 bases with Mahoning Valley last year, already has five thefts with the Captains.
After a flurry of roster moves to start the season, things were quiet last week. Enosil Tejeda was demoted to Akron to make room for Zach Walters (Nick Swisher, who is on a rehab assignment, doesn't count against the roster). The rotation, which was projected to include Josh Tomlin, and either Danny Salazar or TJ House, now is a mish-mash of veterans trying to make it back to the majors (Bruce Chen, Shaun Marcum), and players with MLB experience from other organizations (Michael Roth, Nick Maronde). I have a feeling that the Indians will be tinkering with this rotation all season in an attempt to build a better reserve of starting pitchers.
Kyle Crockett, who was optioned to Columbus in the flurry of 25-man roster moves last week, has struggled in his first outings with the Clippers. Shawn Armstrong, who is the Columbus closer has been in the strike zone all season, which is a double-egded sword (9 strikeouts, 7 hits). Giovanni Soto has been very impressive, only allowed two singles in his first 7.1 innings of work.
Cody Anderson is off to a torrid start, allowing just 3 Earned Runs in his first 21 innings. He was named the Eastern League player of the week on Monday; he started two games last week, posting a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings of work. Anderson has the biggest upside of the starting pitchers in the high minors, and given what's in Columbus right now, he could easily get an early promotion if his hot start continues. Another pleasant surprise is Michael Clevinger, who the Indians received from the LA Angels for Vinnie Pestano last year. He is still struggling with walks, but he's back to striking out almost 10 batters per 9 innings.
Jeff Johnson, who is serving as Akron's closer, hasn't given up a run in his first 6.1 of work. Josh Martin has been almost as impressive, allowing only 7 hits in his first 13 innings.
Adam Plutko (17.2 IP, 1.53 ERA) has the best start among Lynchburg's starting pitchers; the UCLA grad has allowed just 10 hits in his first three starts. Mitch Brown has struggled some with walks, but otherwise has gotten off to a solid start (15.2 IP, 3.45 ERA).
Ben Heller, who put up ridiculously good numbers a year ago, struggled the week of the 13th, but rebounded last week, striking out five of the six batters he faced.
The offense is struggling, but the Captains' rotation has been very good. Dace Kime has begun his second season with the Captains on fire, posting a 1.85 ERA in his first four starts, averaging 6 innings per start. He should be in Lynchburg before too long. Sean Brady (15.0 IP, 3.60 ERA) and Justus Sheffield (12.1 IP, 3.65 ERA) are holding their own in their first full-season experience.
JP Feyereisen (6.0 IP, 0.00 ERA) still hasn't allowed an earned run as a pro; he's struck out 11 in those six innings of work. Cameron Hill has thrown eight scoreless innings to start 2015, following up on a very nice pro debut with Mahoning Valley a year ago.
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Tribe minor league rosters and update (Apr 20-26)
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