It was a busy week for the Indians farm system as the regular season kicked off last Thursday and four full-season clubs (Single-A Lake County, High-A Lynchburg, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus) began their 2017 campaigns.
While only the Triple-A Columbus Clippers are off to a strong start with a 5-3 record, there is still plenty to be excited about as several of the top prospects in the organizations made some serious headlines with strong performances across every level.
Without further ado, here are the Tribe's top performers from the past week (April 6-April 13):
Conner Capel (A, OF) - 368/.478/.579
A fifth round draft pick last year, Capel had a tremendous spring and was the only prep player to make it to the full-season club to start the season. He’s paying the Tribe brass off quite nicely after a very strong start to the year for Single-A Lake County.
Capel hit his first career home run last week and was able to reach base successfully nearly 50 percent of the time, walking nearly as much (4) as he struck out (5) despite facing pitchers who are on average about 2-3 years older than him. He also managed to steal two bases in two attempts. The future looks very bright for Conner if he can keep this kind of pace going.
Thomas Pannone (A+, LHP) - 0.00 ERA, 13.1 K/9, 0.45 WHIP
Pannone had a quietly excellent year last season, holding the lowest ERA (2.57) of any full-season Tribe pitching prospect, and he’s picking up right where he left off.
Pannone tossed five no-hit innings in his season debut for Lynchburg and he followed that up with another spectacular effort, throwing six innings without giving up an earned run this past Wednesday. He struck out eight batters in both starts, which is quite an uptick compared to last season, good for second overall in the Carolina league.
If he can continue missing bats at this rate, he’s going to skyrocket up the Tribe’s prospect rankings.
Francisco Mejia (AA, C) - .429/.480/.714
The current number one-ranked catching prospect in all of baseball who had a 50-game hitting streak last season to rocket up the rankings, is picking up right where he left off. Mejia has picked up a hit in all six of the games he’s played thus far, and out of his nine total hits, a whopping six of them have been doubles.
Mejia is also impressing behind the plate, where his cannon arm is on full display. He’s already picked off a runner at first base and is currently 100 percent on catching base thiefs, going 4-4 to begin the season. At this rate, he’s going to be a serious consideration for the starting job on the Indians to begin the 2018 regular season.
Yu-Cheng Chang (AA, SS) - .269/.387/.769
Shortstop prospect Yu-Cheng Chang kicked off his 2017 season with a serious power surge, clobbering a home run in each of his first three games. The extra base hits have continued coming as he’s also managed two doubles and a triple as well, which means he’s making some serious hard contact right now.
The 21-year old can absolutely crack, and he’s performing well in the middle of a star-studded Akron lineup, currently second in the Eastern League in home runs (3) and third in RBI (9), but he’s not infallible.
Despite the bounty of extra base hits to go along with five walks, Chang has already struck out 11 times, good for a 35.5% whiff rate, well above his career averages. He’s also committed three errors, one of which was very costly.
Chang is still very young and this is his first taste of Double-A pitching so an early increase in K-rate and some errors are to be expected. I’ll be keeping an eye on improvements in that area as the season continues.
Mike Papi (A+, OF) - .368/.500/.368
Mike Papi has always been known for his professional approach to hitting, walking at over 15 percent of his career plate appearances, and he’s off to a strong start in 2017, picking up six walks already, good for a 23.1 percent clip. He’s also striking out at the lowest rate of his career (15.4).
While the power hasn’t arrived yet this season, Papi has done a nice job of getting on base, batting .368 and he’s reached base safely in a whopping 50 percent of his plate appearances. The Akron coaches have noticed as they’ve moved him up in the batting order thanks in part to his strong start.
Papi has had plenty of potential and opportunities throughout his career in the Indians system, but if he can really put it all together in 2017, perhaps the former 38th overall pick in 2014 could become a relevant prospect again.
Mike Clevinger (AAA, LHP) - 0.69 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 0.77 WHIP
Clevinger could not have started his 2017 campaign any stronger. After two starts, he’s currently leading the International league in strikeouts with 17 in his first 13 innings pitched.
Clevinger opened the season strong with six innings last Thursday, striking out eight, but one of his two hits allowed was a solo-shot. He improved on that performance Tuesday when he threw seven innings of shut out baseball and struck out nine.
Technically, Clevinger isn’t a prospect because he lost his rookie status last season, but he sure is making a strong case to get some starts for the big league club. If he can keep this up and if Josh Tomlin continues to struggle, it could be sooner rather than later that he makes his 2017 debut for the Tribe.
Who was your minor league player of the week in the Tribe system?
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Conner Capel (A - 6 G, 7-19 for .368, 2B, HR, 4 BB, 5 K, 2 SB)
Thomas Pannone (A+ - 2 G, 11.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 16 K)
Francisco Mejia (AA - 6 G, 9-21 for .429, 6 2B, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K)
Yu-Cheng Chang (AA - 8 G, 7-26 for .269, 2 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 5 BB, 11 K, SB)
Mike Papi (AA - 7 G, 7-19 for .368, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 4 K)
Mike Clevinger (AAA - 2 G, 13.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 17 K)