Traditionally the AA club has the best collection of high-level prospects in a team's organization, and this year it looks like that will hold true for Akron. Of special note: the Ducks will host the AA All-Star Game this summer (July 13), so if you're into prospects in general, mark that date down on your calendar.
- Class: Double-A
- Indians affiliate since: 1989
- Home park: Canal Park
- 2015 W/L: 73-69
- League: Eastern League
- Division: Western Division
- Full roster
Biggest roster changes
Most of the position player mainstays from last year's club are still here, such as Yandy Diaz, Jordan Smith, and Bryson Myles. The rotation has changed quite a bit, with Shawn Morimando and Adam Plutko as the only two holdovers from last year's club; Mike Clevinger, Ryan Merritt, and Will Roberts are in AAA this year. In the bullpen, last year's closer Jeff Johnson has also moved on to Columbus, while Josh Martin was in camp for the San Diego Padres after being selected in last winter's Rule 5 draft (he has since been designated for assignment, so he could be either offered back to the Indians or remain with San Diego if a trade is worked out).
Here's my best guess as who will be playing on a regular basis for the Ducks:
- C Jeremy Lucas
- 1B Nellie Rodriguez (14)*
- 2B Todd Hankins
- SS Eric Stamets
- 3B Yandy Diaz (12)*
- LF/CF Clint Frazier (2)*
- CF/LF Bradley Zimmer (1)*
- RF Jordan Smith
- DH Bryson Myles
The reserve players are: 1B Joe Sever, IF Yhoxian Medina, C Alex Monsalve
This is an impressive (and young) lineup, along with some veterans (by AA standards) to round out the lineup. The outfield is rather deep, starting of course with the organization's top two prospects. Bryson Myles hit .268/.367/.433 for the Ducks a year ago, and although Jordan Smith hasn't yet hit for power, the potential is there for the 6'4" right fielder.
Because of the Juan Uribe signing, not only did Giovanny Urshela end up back in Columbus, but Yandy Diaz returned to Akron. Diaz was impressive last year for Akron, and should Urshela get the call to the majors, he'll quickly be promoted to Columbus. Slugging first baseman Nellie Rodriguez got a taste of AA at the end of last year, and should get a full season of at-bats in 2016. Eric Stamets, who was traded to the Indians last summer for David Murphy, will be the everyday shortstop, while Todd Hankins, who can play just about anywhere on the diamond, should get most of his at-bats at second base.
The rotation should look like this:
- Adam Plutko (9)*
- Rob Kaminsky (5)*
- Shawn Morimando (15)*
- Michael Peoples
- Dace Kime
- Ben Heller
- JP Feyereisen
- Louis Head
- Justin Brantley
Last year the Ducks' staff had one of the best ERAs in the Eastern League, and they looked poised to repeat that good performance. Plutko, Kaminsky, and Morimando are all major-league prospects, and should stay in the Akron rotation most of the season. Plutko might actually be able to help the Indians this year, though I think Kaminsky has the highest ceiling of the bunch.
In the bullpen, the four listed above should get the bulk of the high-leverage innings. Feyereisen didn't allow a run (earned or unearned) until his second season as a pro, and has already made it to AA to begin his third season. Closer Ben Heller has a pro career strikeout/9 ratio of 12.3. Justin Brantley (yes, he's Michael Brantley's cousin) has allowed just 6.8 hits per 9 in his first two pro seasons (Lake County and Lynchburg).
Top 20 prospects*
OF Bradley Zimmer (1), OF Clint Frazier (2), LHP Rob Kaminsky (5), RHP Adam Plutko (9), 3B Yandy Diaz (12), 1B Nellie Rodriguez (14), LHP Shawn Morimando (15)
Seven out of your top 20 prospects will start the season with the Ducks, with as many as 5 in the lineup at the same time. If the Indians are looking to make a trade later this season, you'll hear at least one of this group, especially Zimmer or Frazier, demanded from the other club in return for whatever veteran the Indians are looking at. With Urshela ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, Yandy Diaz would be a player the Indians would be more willing to part with, though he wouldn't be the headliner in a major deal. Kaminsky, who came over from St. Louis last year in the Brandon Moss deal, would be the highest-rated pitching prospect, though a team looking for pitching help now might prefer Plutko.
*as voted on by the Let's Go Tribe community.
Canal Park is a great place to watch a baseball game, and AA in my opinion is the best level to pay attention to if you're interested in prospects. So if you live in the area, try to pop down to watch Frazier and Zimmer in action while you still can. Oh, and if you're interested in Major League (the movie), the Ducks are giving away a Willie Mays Hayes bobblelegs (no, I don't know how that works) on June 25.