AZL Indians 31-25 (joint third in division)
The 14-team Arizona League is an important stepping stone both for many recently drafted players and also for players brought over from the Dominican Summer League. The team plays in Goodyear, home of the Cleveland Indians development/spring training complex since 2009. Depending on their age and development, top AZL prospects will move on to either half-season Mahoning Valley or full season Lake County. Recent alumni to have debuted in the bigs for the Indians this year include Shawn Morimando (2011), Erik Gonzalez (2011) and Ryan Merritt (2011).
The 2016 AZL Indians started very strong with a league-best 20-8 record in the first half to automatically qualify for the playoffs. They fell off drastically in the second half, however, going 11-17 down the stretch and then losing their sudden death playoff game against the AZL Reds in the first round. Top Indians 2016 draft picks Will Benson and Nolan Jones received plenty of playing time, but still have quite a bit to work on yet.
Here's a roundup of the notable performers of the 2016 AZL season, which is highlighted by Oscar Gonzalez and Francisco Perez, who were the league MVP and Pitcher of the Year respectively
One of the top AZL prospects, 2B Jorma Rodriguez was promoted to Low-A Mahoning Valley mid-season. 2016 draft pick LHP Ben Krauth didn't stay in the AZL long either after 14 scoreless innings pitched out of the bullpen while Jhonleider Salinas was pitching well before being traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline.
LF Oscar Gonzalez jumped from the DSL despite being just 18 years old and proved he belonged by immediately going 8-19 with two doubles and three home runs in his first four games. Gonzalez would go on to lead the league in home runs with eight in total. He produced a .303/.342/.544 batting line overall to earn the MVP award. The only concern was his horrific K/BB ratio of 58 strikeouts to just eight walks.
2B Samad Taylor was one of the best pure hitters on the squad. A 10th round draft pick in 2016, Taylor batted .293/.359/.397 while primarily batting at the top of the order. He showed a decent eye at the dish, striking out in 17 percent of his plate appearances. He performed the best out of all the 18 and 19-year-old position players the Indians drafted this year.
SS Elvis Perez was another import from the DSL and he had a strong offensive season, second on the team in doubles with 10 while batting .288/.356/.402 overall. While the offense was great, the defense was another question. He had a ridonkulous 23 errors out of 36 total games played. He clearly will need to improve that if he wants to be a shortstop at any point beyond the low A level.
1B Jose Vicente looks like a solid prospect, actually improving his splits despite moving up from the DSL this year. Vicente batted .280/.333/.408 overall and led the team in RBI with 28. The only cause for concern is his strikeouts and walks. He went from 32 walks and 34 strikeouts in 2015 to 12 walks and 40 strikeouts in 2016. Hopefully, his plate discipline can improve in 2017 as he develops.
Notable performances: 2016 ninth round pick Hosea Nelson didn't get a ton of playing time, but he led the team in steals, swiping 13 bags without getting caught.
LHP Francisco Perez is another DSL import, and he was flat out dominant. Perez led the Arizona League in innings pitched, was near the top in ERA among qualified pitchers at 2.67 and struck out 52 batters to earn the "Pitcher of the Year" award for the league. Perez has dynamite stuff and at just 19 years old, seems to be well on his way to becoming a solid prospect.
RHP Randy Marte is yet another DSL import and he was excellent this year, giving up zero earned runs in 10 appearances which spanned 14.1 innings total. He didn't get a ton of overall playing time, but at also just 19 years old, his prospects are bright for 2017 with an expanded role hopefully.
RHP Domingo Jimenez has taken longer to develop than most players in the AZL at 23 years old, but he was flat otu dominant in 2016, with a 1.67 ERA. If the Indians don't give up on him, he 37 batters over 32 innings this year so he could provide some solid back-end bullpen depth as he evolves.
LHP Gregor Vasquez was, you guessed it, another DSL import. Vasquez was second on the team in innings pitched and was also second among the regular starters in ERA with a solid 3.18 overall. His walks went slightly up while his strikeouts went down in 2016 as he transitioned to starting out of a 2015 relief role, but he gave the Indians plenty of opportunities to win ballgames..
RHP Ryder Ryan was a 30th round draft pick in 2016 and actually signed with the team. He didn't get off to a hot start, giving up five runs in his first four appearances spanning 3.2 total innings and he spent the rest of the year trying to make up for that, but he actually got his ERA down to 3.86 by season's end. Ryan also had one of the highest strikeout rates on the team, whiffing 24 batters over 18.2 innings pitched.
RHP Dalbert Siri was rather old for the AZL, at the grand old age of 21, but the reliever did well enough to earn a late-season promotion to the Scrappers and struck out 36 batters over 24 innings so he has some potential.