Currently, the Cleveland Indians have two incredible players in the middle infield, and they look to be there for years to come. Jason Kipnis, the All-Star second baseman, is still locked up through 2020, and superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor debuted less than two years ago and is under team control until at least 2021, and hopefully longer if the team can reach terms on an extension.
Both players were drafted by the Cleveland Indians (Kipnis in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft and Lindor in the first round of the 2011 draft) and look to be franchise players for the foreseeable future.
Kipnis and Lindor are prime examples of how well the Cleveland front office has done in terms of identifying and drafting talent across the diamond. In recent drafts, the focus shifted away from the middle infield and towards the outfield and the pitching depth, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some surging middle infielders down on the farm.
MLB Pipeline Top 30 prospect 2B/SS
|8||Erik Gonzalez||SS||Bats: R Throws: R||25||MLB||Signed 8/26/08 (Dominican Republic)||2017|
|11||Yu-Cheng Chang||SS||Bats: R Throws: R||21||AA||Signed 6/3/13 (Taiwan)||2018|
|13||Willi Castro||SS||Bats: S Throws: R||20||A+||Signed 7/2/13 (Dominican Republic)||2018|
|18||Tyler Krieger||2B||Bats: S Throws: R||23||AA||2015 Draft, 4th Round (124)||2018|
|19||Mark Mathias||2B||Bats: R Throws: R||22||AA||2015 Draft, 3rd Round (93)||2018|
*according to MLB Pipeline
In the 2016 draft, the Cleveland Indians drafted and still control just one middle infielder (Samad Taylor, 10th round). The Tribe hasn't placed an emphasis on drafting second basemen or shortstops, although they did debut a top shortstop in the Dominican League last year (more on him later). The top middle infielder prospect in the system currently is Erik Gonzalez, and he’s the team’s utility man because he’s blocked by Francisco Lindor. The team may be showcasing him a bit in an attempt to deal him at the deadline.
Taiwanese import Yu-Cheng Chang gained some hype heading into this season as a top-10 prospect, and while he’s mashing a ton of extra base hits (seven doubles, two triples, nine home runs), he’s also striking out a career-high 31.4 percent of the time in his first taste of Double-A. Fellow infielders Tyler Krieger and Mark Mathias, both drafted in 2015 as advanced college bats, are also in Double-A and are playing well, although Mathias’ season started late due to a shoulder injury.
In addition to the draft picks from 2015, the Tribe has seen international Dominican Republic signee Willi Castro begin to flourish. After a slow start in his first taste of High-A, Castro is slashing .289/.356/.387 in 162 plate appearances while more than doubling his walk rate from 3.5 to 8.0 percent and lowering his strikeout rate slightly. I know MLB Pipeline says Castro could debut next season, but it’s much more likely he won’t be ready until 2019.
It's not likely that either Kipnis or Lindor will be displaced anytime soon, but injuries can happen and it’s nice to know that the team appears to have plenty of top notch depth available should something occur (knock on wood).
Other notable 2B/SS
|Eric Stamets||SS||Bats: R Throws: R||25||AAA|
|Ronnie Rodriguez||2B||Bats: R Throws: R||25||AAA|
|Ivan Castillo||SS||Bats: S Throws: R||21||A+|
|Sam Haggerty||2B||Bats: S Throws: R||23||A+|
|Luke Wakamatsu||SS||Bats: S Throws: R||20||A|
|Erlin Cerda||2B||Bats: R Throws: R||23||A|
|Alexis Pantoja||SS||Bats: L Throws: R||21||A|
|Elvis Perez||SS||Bats: S Throws: R||21||A-|
|Samad Taylor||2B||Bats: S Throws: R||18||A-|
|Jose Fermin||SS||Bats: R Throws: R||18||AZL|
Eric Stamets was acquired in the David Murphy trade as a glove-first player, but it’s his bat which has really been impressing lately. After only getting one hit in his first 14 games this season, he has been red hot, slashing an incredible .373/.466/.693 in 23 games over the past month
Sam Haggerty is having a breakout season in High-A Lynchburg, leading all of MiLB in triples with seven while increasing his walk rate, decreasing his strikeouts and currently leading all Tribe minor league players in stolen bases (14).
Luke Wakamatsu is still a top tier prospect who’s been pretty unlucky, missing most of his 2016 season due to a shoulder injury, but he’s back this year in Single-A Lake County at age 20 and showcasing some improved power while being over two years younger than the average player.
Lastly, keep an eye on shorstop prospect Jose Fermin, who the Indians signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 for $500,000. He’s expected to debut in the AZL Rookie League next month and has some serious potential as a prospect on the rise
The Indians have plenty of talented options in the middle infield department, and they don’t even need to have them thanks to their young core infield. The team shouldn't need to worry about shortstop for a long, long time, and that's exactly what you would expect given Lindor's pedigree and, more importantly, how he has played thus far at the major league level (remember, he's only 23).
There’s nothing wrong with having a ton of depth, although the closer they get to the big leagues, it’s more and more likely those players will become trade bait when the deadline begins to surface.