With opening day just around the corner, the minor league teams are also beginning to finalize their rosters. Big decisions are made at the start of each season on whether or not to have a prospect get promoted, repeat or even skip a level.
Where a prospect begins the year isn’t the be-all, end-all, of course — they can always take a big leap if their performance is spectacular. Look no further than Francisco Mejia, who began 2016 as a fringe top 10 prospect and was repeating a season at Single-A Lake County. One 50-game hitting streak later, he’s now beginning the year two levels up at Double-A Akron.
Tribe prospect expert Todd Paquette (@IndiansPro on Twitter) has done the dirty work and discovered the expected opening day rosters for all of the full-season teams in the Indians farm system.
Columbus Clippers (Triple-A )
- The starting rotation looks downright dirty, with Mike Clevinger, Adam Plutko, Shawn Morimando, and Ryan Merritt all having seen time on the Indians at some point last season. The Indians have an overabundance of young pitching depth options, which is good news for Columbus.
- Nellie Rodriguez moves up to Triple-A for the first time after slugging 26 home runs at Double-A last season for the Eastern League champion Rubberducks.
- Bradley Zimmer and Erik Gonzalez are the only other two top prospects on the offensive roster. Much of the team is filled with capable AAAA players (Richie Shaffer, Chris Colabello, Erik Kratz).
Akron Rubberducks (Double-A)
- The Akron rotation also looks nasty with Rob Kaminsky, Julian Merryweather, Michael Peoples, Nick Pasquale, and Luis Lugo. Lugo had a strong spring and the former top prospect is finally seeing Double-A competition.
- I’m not sure what happened with poor Perci Garner but it’s a surprise to see him debut at Double-A after seeing some time with the Indians late last year. He only pitched 3.2 innings in spring training, and while he didn’t give up any runs, his WHIP was over 2.3. So maybe he’s being eased back into the fold. (EDIT: According to the official rosters released today, Garner will actually be in Triple-A Columbus, so all’s well that ends well)
- On the offensive side of things, top prospects Francisco Mejia, Yu-Cheng Chang, Bobby Bradley and Tyler Krieger all reach Double-A for the first time. Get your popcorn ready when these guys come up to the plate.
- Greg Allen is still there, but I don’t expect him to stay at this level for too long.
Lynchburg Hillcats (High-A)
- There’s some serious excitement brewing in Lynchburg. Top pitching prospect Triston McKenzie had probably the most aggressive promotion in the system, landing in High-A at just 19 years old after just six starts for Lake County late last season. He’ll be joined in the Hillcats rotation by Thomas Pannone, Matt Esparza, Brock Hartson and Shao-Ching Chiang.
- The other aggressive promotion was 2016 11th-round draft pick Andrew Calica, who put up bonkers numbers in 2016 (.382/.474/.556). He’s the only 2016 pick to begin the season at the High-A level.
- It’s also nice to see outfielder Ka’ai Tom healthy and promoted despite missing most of last year with a shoulder injury
- You also have to feel for Daniel Salters, who skipped Single-A Lake County completely last year, made the Carolina League All-Star team and was eventually promoted to Double-A. Unfortunately for him, Francisco Mejia happened and Salters wasn’t going to get any playing time in Akron so he was sent back down. Hopefully he isn’t discouraged because he’s a very talented player.
Lake County Captains (Single-A)
- As good as the other rotations are across each level, the Lake County starters might be the scariest of the bunch. Either Brady Aiken, Juan Hillman, Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, or Micah Miniard will be featured every day and they’ll also have stretched out specialists Ben Krauth and Tanner Tully piggy-backing on whoever has a limited pitch count.
- The most notable offensive player is outfielder Conner Capel, a 2016 fifth-round draft pick who had a tremendous spring and played himself onto the Captains roster at just 19 years old. He’s the only prep player from the Indians 2016 draft to reach this level and he skipped Low-A Mahoning Valley completely.
- Catcher Logan Ice, speedster Gabriel Mejia, and shortstop Luke Wakamatsu are also tasting full season ball for the first time.
- Last year’s first and second round draft picks Will Benson and Nolan Jones will be remaining in extended spring training to start the year after they were a bit overwhelmed against more experienced competition. There’s no rush with young bucks like these as long as they’re progressing.
- Let’s Go Tribe’s No. 19 prospect Mark Mathias is still recovering from a separated shoulder suffered in an Indians spring training game. The current prognosis is four weeks of rehab as they’re hoping to avoid surgery.
- Offseason pitching acquisition Tim Cooney will be out for at least a month or more with a forearm injury.
- Dylan Baker seems healthy and has pitched in some minor league spring training games, but he’s not listed on any full-season rosters. Either the Indians are easing him back or he might be the 40-man roster casualty to make space for Michael Martinez. (Edit: Baker will begin the season on the DL but is expected to debut later this month for Double-A Akron.)
- No. 28 prospect Oscar Gonzalez won the AZL MVP last season and made a very brief appearance at Low-A Mahoning Valley, but didn’t make enough of an impression to at least start the year in full season ball.
- Terry Francona’s wet dream of having a switch-pitcher out of the bullpen was dashed as Ryan Perez was released earlier this week.