Being a fan of the minor leagues and watching young players develop, few things in baseball are more exciting to me than a big prospect call-up. There is just something so intimate about watching a player you have been following through grainy MiLB streams with various minor-league jerseys playing on a big-league field in a big-league uniform for the first time.
Last year, Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela more than filled my prospect hype quota for the year. Even if Urshela did not light the league on fire for the Cleveland Indians like Lindor did, both of them were exciting when they came up, I had the chance to watch them play for the Columbus Clippers several times, and it was a lot of fun watching them debut.
The Indians probably will not see anyone on Lindor’s level until at least 2017 when Bradley Zimmer and/or Clint Frazier are ready to make their impact on the league, but they have a few players on the cusp of the majors who could make their debut as early as this year.
Likely to debut
Mike Clevinger only had a brief taste of Triple-A in 2015, but his dominant season in Double-A means he will likely start the season in Columbus. If that is the case, the 25-year-old would need to prove his walk issues of the past are under control. Clevinger walked 12.5 percent of batters he faced in High-A for the Indians in 2014 (10.9 percent with Los Angeles Angels High-A), but he walked only 6.3 percent in 2015.
The biggest hurdle that would stop Clevinger from making his debut is just room on the roster. Right now, the Indians seemingly have their starting five set with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and the recently-extended Josh Tomlin. Cody Anderson -- who had a great debut season last year -- and TJ House will be competing with Clevinger as well.
The Indians added Clevinger to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
Just a few years ago, the idea of a Tyler Naquin call-up would have been exciting news. But injuries and underperforming expectations have lowered quite a bit of the hype once built up around the former first-round draft pick. He now looks to be a fourth outfield type with great speed, a smooth left-handed swing, and the defensive acumen to stick in center field.
Naquin finally made it out of Double-A last season after toiling there for three-straight seasons, but injuries cut his time at Triple-A short after 50 games. A hard collision with an outfield wall that resulted in a concussion and a later hip injury ended his campaign.
The Indians have added a bunch of outfielders this season, but no one outside of Rajai Davis is a surefire lock to win a spot on the 25-man roster. Naquin probably will not win it out of Spring Training, but if he can stay healthy and stay a viable defensive option, he could be on the Indians sometime around the All-Star break.
Could possibly debut
If Francisco Lindor was not in the Indians system last year, Erik Gonzalez may have gotten the call instead. He will never be a great offensive option in the majors, but his value on defense could make him a possible call-up candidate in case of an injury, or possible a trade piece at the deadline if he can outperform the .223/.277/.311 slash he put up in Triple-A last season.
Similar to Naquin, James Ramsey is a prospect who has fallen from grace recently. Where Ramsey was once considered a solid major league outfield option, he is now considered a fourth outfielder at best, an "AAAA player" at worst. Last season in Columbus -- his second-straight season at Triple-A -- Ramsey slashed .243/.327/.382 (107 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 126 games.
Ramsey does not have the speed or defensive value of Naquin, but he could come with a better (or, at least, more powerful) bat.
I considered moving Yandy Diaz to the lowest probability level on this list, but I do not see why he would not debut if he plays well in Triple-A and Urshela struggles. Diaz spent 132 games in Double-A last year, but he came up for the tail-end of the Columbus Clippers season and subsequent playoff run, where he ultimately struggled.
If the Indians sign someone like Juan Uribe or David Freese before the offseason ended, I would obviously move Diaz down to the "probably will not debut" level. However, as it is now, he has at least an outside shot at debuting this year.
Adam Plutko has a lower chance of debuting this season than Mike Clevinger, but the 24-year-old has been impressive lately in the minors. Last season, in Double-A, he struck out 19.4 percent of the batters he faced while walking only 5.0 percent. He also carried just a 2.86 ERA and 3.37 FIP.
The Indians invited Plutko to Spring Training as an internal non-roster invite, but he probably will not make the team directly out of camp. Instead, the Tribe will get a good look at him for a few weeks, and he could be a late-season call-up if he keeps up his recent trend of dominating seasons in Triple-A.
Probably will not debut (but you never know)
Although he pitched well for the second-straight season in Double-A, Shawn Morimando still has to work on his control before he gets heavy consideration for the majors. His walk rate ballooned to 9.9 percent in 2015 compared to 6.9 percent in 2014. It would be disappointing to see Morimando sit in Double-A again in 2015, but if he can surprise everyone at that level and the next maybe he will get a chance late in the season if there is a sudden need in the rotation.
I have been a big fan of J.P. Feyereisen ever since he went 28.0 straight innings without allowing a single run between the end of 2014 and the start of 2015 (which should be evident by the fact that I can now spell his name without looking it up every time). He did eventually become human and allow a few runs to cross the plate, but he finished the year only allowing 11 earned runs while striking out 56 opponents in 47.2 innings of work.
Feyereisen will only be 23 when the season rolls around, and he has not even pitched an inning above High-A yet, but never underestimate the willingness of a baseball club to shoot a promising reliever up the ranks. If he keeps proving to be basically unhittable in the minors, I would love to see the Indians give him a shot sometime late in the season like Shawn Armstrong last year, or around the trade deadline depending on how the roster shifts with trades.