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Columbus Clippers 2016 Preview

Can the 2015 Governors' Cup champions defend their crown?

Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch

The Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers will look to defend last season's International League Championship win with a much different roster in 2016. Most of their biggest contributors from last season either graduated to the majors or are no longer in the Cleveland organization. They will, however, benefit from an influx of talent coming up from Double-A, a lot of which helped in the latter stages of taking home the Governors' Cup last season.

The Clippers kick off their season later today, April 7, at 6:35 p.m.

Quick info
  • Class: Triple-A
  • Indians affiliate since: 2009
  • Home park: Huntington Park
  • 2015 W/L: 83-61
  • League: International League
  • Division: West Division
  • Full roster
Biggest roster changes

Outfielders Jerry Sands (.948 OPS) and Tyler Holt (.756 OPS) were two of the biggest hitters on the team last season when they were not with the major-league club. But neither was good enough to stick around on the Indians' 40-man roster and have since left the organization. The former joined the Chicago White Sox and the latter started on the Cincinnati Reds' Opening Day roster Monday.

Tyler Naquin, whose time on the team in 2015 was shortened by a series of injuries, will start the season on the major-league roster.

Position players

Two of the team's best hitters a year ago -- Michael Martinez (.768 OPS) and Giovanny Urshela (.767 OPS) -- will both start the year in Columbus at second base and third base, respectively. Jesus Aguilar at first base and Erik Gonzalez at short will round out what should be a very solid infield for the Clippers this season. There is little reason to believe this group will be changed throughout the season, unless someone like Erik Gonzalez is traded.

The outfield for Columbus, which has been very deep in recent years, is now mostly barren. It will feature offseason acquisition Joey Butler as well as Michael Choice, who played 14 games with the Clippers last season after coming over from the Texas Rangers. Assuming Zach Walters and James Ramsey both clear waivers, they will also be a part of the Clippers and they should be around all season long. Ramsey is looking less and less like a major-league option, but he has not been great in Triple-A, either. Last season he slashed .243/.327/.382 with 12 home runs.

Pitching staff

The entire Columbus pitching staff appears to be strong, anchored by a rotation consisting of Mike Clevinger, TJ House, Ryan Merritt, Toru Murata, and Will Roberts. Both Clevinger and Merritt are relative newcomers to Triple-A, having only pitched in a handful of games at the level last season, but they both should be solid contributors. Merritt's 2015 season was highlighted by a July no-hitter in Double-A and he is just two years removed from being named the Indians farm system's "Pitcher of the Year."

Barring any sort of catastrophe at the major-league level, the Clippers should see this rotation remain intact for most of the regular season. House or Clevinger may be needed for a spot start in the majors, but the rest are still a year or more away from really being considered an option in the majors.

The Columbus bullpen features Kyle Crockett and Shawn Armstrong, two relievers who had major impacts on the Indians in 2015. They may not be around long, depending on the needs of the Indians early in the year, but they should dominate the minor-league competition while on the team. Jeff Johnson, who will be making his Triple-A debut this season, carried a 1.05 ERA and 2.20 FIP in 51 appearances at Double-A in 2015.

Top 20 prospects*

Mike Clevinger (#3), Shawn Armstrong (#16), Erik Gonzalez (#17), Jesus Aguilar (#19)

Of the five top-20 prospects to make this list, only Erik Gonzalez has a strong possibilities of leaving the organization at some point this season. Considering he is blocked in the majors by Lindor and could already be a starting utility man on many teams, he could potentially be involved in some kind of trade deadline deal.

Mike Clevinger should hang around Triple-A for most, if not all, the 2016 season unless something crazy happens with the rotation.

Shawn Armstrong may be called up periodically as needed when the major-league bullpen begins to get worn down throughout the season. Of all the relievers on the Columbus roster, I would expect him to get the call first.

*as voted on by the Let's Go Tribe community.

Final thoughts

Overall, the Clippers should not have any major issues competing in the International League West this season. They do not have quite the depth of recent seasons (in part because the Indians farm system is finally beginning to produce major-league talent), but they have a good enough pitching staff and infield to carry a thin outfield. Which sounds awfully familiar.