When you are spending your summer nights watch the Cleveland Indians play their way to the league's first-ever 162-win season, don't forget to keep an eye on some key prospects. If you can, it might be worth the $20 or so to get an MiLB.tv subscription to keep an eye on guys, although there is nothing wrong wth some good 'ole fashion box score stalking, either.
This post is not about prospects who could be debuting this season -- I did that last month. Instead, this is more for the fan who wants to watch two teams with really weird uniforms playing on a grainy stream (if you're lucky you might even catch a tractor hauling out the ball for first pitch along with a rubber ducky). No matter what reason you want to watch Indians prospects, these are the ones you should keep an eye on.
This group of guys may not necessarily be major league ready yet, but when they are it could be something extremely special.
Bradly Zimmer, OF
The Indians farm system is deep, but very few prospects could actually be called "elite." Bradley Zimmer is one of those few.
The uncontested top Tribe prospect now that Francisco Lindor has graduated to the majors, Zimmer does not blow anyone away with his speed, but a high level of awareness and intelligence means he can snag bases at an elite rate (44 stolen bases in 2015) and he has great reaction times in center field. With a bat in his hand, Zimmer can spray the ball all over the field thanks to his smooth left-handed swing. Hitting 20 home runs and stealing 20 bases is not out of the question for Zimmer once he makes it to the majors.
While Zimmer struggled to adjust to Double-A a bit last season, he should easily start there this year. When he adjusts and begins to dominate the competition, he could see a promotion to Triple-A where it will be much easier to watch him playing live. Don't let your hype get the best of you, however. He will not sniff the majors this year; at best he will see the green grass of Progressive Field sometime in 2017.
Clint Frazier, OF
Red Thunder (or Clint Frazier as his parents call him for some reason), is a near-unanimous choice for the Tribe's No. 2 prospect behind Zimmer. Frazier may not have the instincts to stick as a center fielder, but his cannon arm could make him a prime candidate to take Lonnie Chisenhall's job in right field when he is ready.
Frazier features one of the quickest bats in the minor leagues, which results in big home runs and, unfortunately, a lot of strikeouts on over-aggressive swings. If nothing else, I cannot wait to see Frazier become a star just to see how his fiery personality plays out on a big stage.
Frazier spent his entire 2015 season playing in High-A for the Lynchburg Hillcats, where he may very well start again this year. If he does, good luck actually being able to watch him play. However, if he does get the immediate bump to Double-A, you may get to watch a lot of Zimmer and Frazier in the same outfield; the thought of which is making me all tingly.
Bobby Bradley, 1B
Bobby Bradley seemingly came out of nowhere to suddenly be the Tribe's top first base prospects this past season -- hitting 27 home runs as a 19-year-old will do that to a player. Bradley is showing early signs of having an issue with strikeouts (31.8 K% in 2015), but again, he is only 19. There is no reason he cannot work on that while maintaining some of that tremendous power. Bradley is strictly a first-base prospect, which could slow his ascension up the minor-league ladder.
Don't expect to be able to watch many of Bradley's at-bats live, though. Last season he spent the majority of his time in Class-A, and at best he may reach High-A this year. That's impressive enough for a player who has not even had his 20th birthday yet, but that means he probably will not be on many MiLB.tv streams.
Mike Clevinger, RHP
If this were strictly a list of prospects close to their debut, Clevinger would also be on it. He had a rough spring that led to him being part of the first round of roster cuts, but do not let that deter you from being pumped about this long-haired pitcher.
Clevinger has had a long road back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 but he could potentially debut in 2016, depending on how well he performs in Triple-A and if a spot opens up on the deep major-league roster.
The majority of Clevinger's 2015 season was spent in Double-A, although he came up to help the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in the playoffs. He should start in Triple-A this season and remain there until he gets a call to the majors, so it should be relatively easy to catch a few starts.
Prospects with interesting stories & possibilities
These prospects may not be the highest-rated, or even have a chance at ever making a major-league roster, but for one reason or another, you should be watching them if you have the chance.
Brady Aiken, LHP
I thought about putting Brady Aiken in the "Top Prospects" section, but I'd argue that his story makes him just as interesting as his potential at this point. If you had not already heard, Brady Aiken was a former first overall draft pick of the Houston Astros. The two agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus before elbow injuries caused Houston to back out at the last second. One year and one Tommy John surgery later and the Indians nabbed a potential front-of-the-rotation starter with the 17th overall pick in the 2015 draft.
If Aiken can live up to his potential, getting him at that spot is an absolute steal. By the time Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are exiting their prime years, Cleveland could have another star pitcher coming up in Aiken.
Watching Aiken pitch may be difficult as he probably won't reach the higher levels of the minors anytime soon (he is only 19, after all), but whatever you can watch -- whether it's highlights or the rare game on a stream -- do it. You will not regret it.
Not only does Sicknarf Loopstok have one of the best names ever, he has a genuinely interesting backstory. He may not even make it out of High-A this season, but if you can catch a game with him playing be sure to do so just to hear the announcers surprise when his name comes up.
Loopstok will probably never reach the majors, let alone the higher levels of the minor leagues, but the Indians are relatively light in catching prospects and stranger things have happened.
Could Yandy Diaz be the future at third base for the Indians? The hot corner has suddenly become a position of depth for the Indians with Juan Uribe signed for a one-year deal and last year's starter Giovanny Urshela still in the mix. However, Urshela will be spending a lot of time in Triple-A this season, which means that Yandy Diaz can potentially catch up and pass him next season.
There is a lot of work left for Yandy. His biggest strength is his eye at the plate, a skill which does not always translate well from the minors to the majors. Weirdly enough, players' walk rates tend to drop when they face major-league pitchers who are not afraid to pound the zone against them. If Yandy can develop some more power and his 13.8 percent walk rate in 2015 is more than an aberration, he could be worth keeping an eye on.
If it were not for Giovanny Urshela being sent down, I would expect Yandy to get a lot of playing time in Columbus this season. With Urshela there, however, Diaz is mostly stuck in Double-A where he dominated last season to the tune of a .315/.412/.408 slash and seven home runs.
I sort of harp on Feyereisen every time I do a prospect list; at this point I am just trying to carve out my place as "the guy that called it" when (or if) he suddenly rockets up the minor league ladder sometime soon. He will be 23 when the season starts, he went 28.0-straight innings without allowing a run, and he looked good in his limited time at High-A last year. If he makes it to Double-A or even Triple-A this season, be sure to watch him when you can, and be prepared to see a lot of swings-and-misses from opponents.
James Ramsey & Erik Gonzalez
Both of these prospects should be in the majors in 2016, if not already, but they are still in the minors for various reasons. James Ramsey has been extremely underwhelming in the past two seasons, and Erik Gonzalez is blocked as a shortstop by Francisco Lindor and as a super utility guy by Jose Ramirez.
How will they play knowing that their path to the majors is very difficult at this point? Will they build enough value to be traded? It should not be difficult to watch them try to answer these questions, as both players will have a lot of time in Triple-A.
Other prospects to watch
Not exactly compelling stories and not the cream of the crop, but these guys could all be exciting to watch for their own reasons.
Rob Kaminsky, LHP -- Acquired by the Indians last season for Brandon Moss. Kaminsky features a devastating curveball that should be fun to watch when he makes it to the higher levels of the minors. Could compete for a starting job in a year or two.
Justus Sheffield, LHP -- Broke out last year with a solid season in Lake County. Might be difficult to find a game live since he won't get any higher than High-A in 2016, but watch him if you get a chance.
Adam Plutko, RHP -- Not a terribly high ceiling, but Adam Plutko could debut as soon as 2016 if there is any room in the rotation. Should spend a lot of time in Triple-A after dominating the Eastern League last season.
Nellie Rodriguez, 1B -- Gigantic forearms and a ton of power. He is very similar to Bobby Bradley but older, and there is an outside shot he reaches Triple-A this year.
Gabrielle Mejia, OF -- An absolute speed demon on the basepaths. Stole 74 bases in 2014 in 70 games and 34 bases last season in 43 games. He may be a one-tool player (with that tool obviously being speed), but whenever he gets on base you know something exciting is going to happen.
Ryan Merritt, LHP -- Merritt was named the Indians farm system's "Pitcher of the Year" in 2014 but his strikeout rate dipped to 15.6 percent in 2015 from 20.1 percent in 2014 and his ERA rose to 3.51 from 2.58. Whether or not he can strike people out is a question, but the 24-year-old just does not issue any free bases. He sported a 2.8 percent walk rate in Double-A last season and threw a no-hitter in July.
Yu-Cheng Chang, SS -- A bit of a jack-of-all-trades type of prospect, Chang burst onto the scene after a strong showing in the 2014 Rookie League. His future on the Indians will not be at shortstop as long as Lindor takes breath, but he could potentially be moved to second or third base next season in Class-A or High-A this upcoming season.