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The Best of the Rest: Which unranked Tribe prospects should we keep an eye on this year?

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There are more than 20 players worth watching this year.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Cleveland Indians Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

With at least seven teams in its minor league system, the Cleveland Indians have over 200 players under contract heading into the 2018 season.

So it’s a bit unfair to stop counting prospects at just the top 20. Let’s Go Tribe readers finished their voting last month, but here are some prospects who just missed the cut and deserve some recognition as well.

Pitchers

Shawn Morimando, 25, LHP

Morimando is on the 40-man roster and if Ryan Merritt fails to make the club out of spring training, he’s likely the “next man up” if the team needs a spot starter for a double-header or in case of injury. Morimando has decent strikeout stuff, tosses in the low 90s and is capable of runs of dominance, as evidenced by his string of three shutouts in a four game stretch last season. Morimando finished 2017 with a 4.41 ERA in Triple-A Columbus, striking out 128 batters in 159.1 innings.

Rob Kaminsky, 23, LHP

Kaminsky, a former first round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals, was acquired by the Indians in the Brandon Moss trade. He tore through the lower levels of the minor league system but has stalled out with injuries. He has spent time on the disabled list all three seasons the Indians have had him, but worst of all was the fact that he only pitched five innings in 2017 before being shelved for the entire season after having forearm problems. There are significant question marks about Kaminsky’s health, but his talent his real, as evidenced by his incredibly strong second half run in 2016 to help lead Akron to a championship in Double-A.

Matt Esparza, 23, RHP

The top strikeout artist for the Indians minor league system in 2016, Matt Esparza began 2017 in High-A Lynchburg before being promoted to Akron, where he struggled. Esparza has decent velocity but his strikeouts dropped off a bit last season as he was promoted. He was strong in High-A before being promoted so I’m hoping he can make some adjustments in 2018 and get back on track.

Sam Hentges, 21, LHP

Hentges missed the second half of 2016 and almost all of 2017 with Tommy John surgery, but looked sharp in his return late last season. Granted, he never faced competition above Low-A in his return, but Hentges struck out 41 hitters in 30.2 innings. He is a high-ceiling arm and MLBPipeline is extremely high on him, ranking Hentges #17 in their top 30 prospect list.

Brady Aiken, 21, LHP

Let’s get this out of the way first, 2017 was not a good year for Aiken. He had a ridiculously high 1.78 WHIP thanks in part to walking 101 batters in 132 innings while only striking out 89. His ERA should have been even higher, but he managed to keep it at 4.77 for the season. His velocity is down and his command still needs significant work. The good news? In his first full season after returning from Tommy John surgery, Aiken didn’t miss a start. Health is the top priority, and hopefully he can find what it was that made him the top overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Juan Hillman, 20, LHP

Similar to Aiken, Hillman struggled mightily in 2017 for the Single-A Lake County Captains. Command wasn’t the problem for the 2015 second round draft pick, it was the fact that Hillman got hit hard. The southpaw gave up 22 home runs in 137.2 innings pitched and finished the season with a 6.08 ERA. On the bright side, similar to Aiken, he made it through his first full season without injury and did show flashes with an eight shutout inning performance on July 20.

Zach Plesac, 23, RHP

Plesac didn’t play when the Indians drafted him in 2016 due to needing Tommy John surgery, but just like Hentges, he looked dominant in his return last season. Plesac embarrassed hitters in Low-A Mahoning Valley to the tune of a 1.38 ERA in seven starts before being promoted and he was solid for Lake County as well, giving up 10 runs in six starts. Plesac will likely have his first full season for the Indians minor league system this year as the Tribe stretches him out a bit more and tests his surgically repaired arm, but the early results are good.

Francisco Perez, 20, LHP

Consistently under the radar, Perez was the Pitcher of the Year for the AZL Indians in 2016 and followed that season up by holding a strong 3.28 ERA over 15 starts in his Low-A debut last season for Mahoning Valley. Strikeouts were harder to come by for the hard-throwing lefty, but Perez still found ways to induce weak contact. He can hit the mid 90s with his fastball and has the potential to develop into a rock solid starter if the Indians are patient with him.

Eli Morgan, 21, RHP

An eighth round pick out of Gonzaga, Morgan had the best change-up of any pitcher in the 2017 draft. Morgan doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he was dominant in his time with Low-A Mahoning Valley, striking out a ridiculous 58 batters in 35 innings pitched while holding a 1.03 ERA. Morgan will have an opportunity to be stretched out into a starting pitcher this season and I’m very interested to see if he can keep anything even close to the peripherals he had last year.

Catchers

Sicnarf Loopstok, 24, C/1B/3B/OF

A jack of all trades, Sicnarf Loopstok had a breakout 2017 which saw him earn Caroline League All-Star honors and an invitation to the home run derby. Finally getting a chance to play every day, Loopstok slashed .249/.346/.456 and led the Hillcats with 17 home runs. He did this without a consistent position on the field, catching 22 games, playing outfield 32, first base for 56 and third base for 13. Loopstock has yet to play at Double-A but should get an opportunity this year.

Logan Ice, 22, C

A second round pick by the Indians in 2016, Ice improved offensively in his first full season of baseball for Lake County, raising his batting average 30 points and slugging 11 home runs. Defensively, he’s rock solid, throwing out 29 would-be base stealers last season while only allowing five past balls. Ice has a mature approach at the plate and should continue to improve there as he’s promoted through the system.

Mike Rivera, 22, C

Rivera didn’t play much in 2017 due to winning the College World Series with Florida after the Indians took him in the sixth round of the draft, but in his brief time with Mahoning Valley, he threw out 50 percent of attempted base thieves. We’ll learn a lot more about Rivera’s ability in 2018 as he’s likely to spend the full season at Lake County.

Infielders

Eric Stamets, 26, SS

Stamets is already Major League-ready with his glove, but it was his offense that opened some eyes in 2017, demonstrating a big boost in power with 16 home runs, nearly doubling his career total from 2012-16. Stamets put up a solid .259/.336/.463 slashline between Columbus and Akron and if he can continue to showcase improvement offensively, he’s going to find a home with someone in the show.

Tyler Krieger, 24, 2B

Let’s just say Tyler Krieger would rather forget 2017 even happened. After dominating opposing pitchers in his first full season for 2016, Krieger was aggressively promoted to Double-A last year, where he struggled to a ho-hum .225/.303/.337 slashline. Krieger also was incredibly unlucky, sporting a .282 BABIP for the full season. Hopefully he can bounce back in 2018 and get some people back on his bandwagon.

Sam Haggerty, 23, 2B

Sam Haggerty was one of the most improved players in the Indians system in 2018, showcasing incredible speed at the top of the Carolina League champion Lynchburg Hillcats batting order. Haggerty led all minor league players in triples last year with 13 while stealing a ridiculous 49 bases. His walk rate jumped while dropping his strikeout rate as well. He’s well on his way to becoming a player worth adding to the top 20 if he can pick up where he left off.

Luke Wakamatsu, 21, SS

Finally healthy for most of a full season, Wakamatsu showcased some power potential as a middle infielder last year with 12 home runs for Lake County. The switch-hitter put up a reasonable .239/.301/.395 slashline despite being a bit younger than the average player at his level in his first taste of full-season baseball. Look for Wakamatsu to continue to develop as he’s promoted to Lynchburg this year.

Ulysses Cantu, 19, 1B

A work in progress, Cantu put up a decent .254/.317/.359 slash in his debut for Low-A Mahoning Valley, helping lead the scrappers to the playoffs. Cantu still strikes out too much (28 percent) but he dropped his rate by five percent compared to his debut in the AZL from 2016. Cantu is still very young for his level and is expected to be part of a very exciting Lake County roster in 2018 as he continues his development.

Ernie Clement, 21, SS

One of the toughest players to strike out in the 2017 draft, the Indians took Clement in the fourth round last year. Clement debuted for Low-A Mahoning Valley and put up a .280/.315/.343 slash while striking out just 12 times in over 180 plate appearances. Clement should progress nicely as an advanced college bat.

Marcos Gonzalez, 18, SS

The top international signing by the Indians in 2016, Gonzalez debuted for the DSL Indians last year and was one of the few bright spots for the team, batting .274/.371/.321. Power is still a ways away as he only hit one home run, but Gonzalez already has a great approach at the plate, walking more times in 2017 (31) than he struck out (28).

Outfielders

Mike Papi, 25, RF

A former first round CBA pick in 2014, Papi had his best offensive year with the Indians in 2017 and earned a promotion to Triple-A Columbus. While he’s no longer a top 20 prospect in the system, Papi still has a strong approach at the plate, walking 70 times, but most impressively was the fact that he dropped his strikeout rate by over six percent to a career-low 17 percent overall. He could still become a Major-Leaguer.

Ka’ai Tom, 23, CF

Tom was healthy for a full season in 2017 for the first time and his numbers were impressive, slugging 48 extra base hits for High-A Lynchburg and putting up a .254/.340/.418 slashline. Tom hit 10 home runs and walked 59 times compared to 100 strikeouts, not a terrible ratio. He’s expected to debut in Double-A this year.

Andrew Calica, 24, LF

After a slow start in 2017, Calica finished the season strong and ended up being one of the most consistent hitters, slashing a .274/.368/.396. Granted, it’s a drop off compared to his insane 2016, which saw him get promoted to Lake County the year he was drafted, but Calica really found a groove late last year. He hits for a high average and is not dead weight defensively, so there’s always going to be an opportunity for him if he can continue to put up numbers.

Oscar Gonzalez, 20, LF

After winning AZL league MVP in 2016, Gonzalez followed that up by hitting .283 for Low-A Mahoning Valley last season. Gonzalez also has the strongest arm of any outfielder in the Indians system. One issue is the drop off in power in 2017, hitting just three home runs compared to eight the year before despite playing more games. Another issue is his approach at the plate, as he struck out 61 times while only walking five. Gonzalez will need to be more patient if he wants to become a top prospect.

Christopher Cespedes, 19, OF/1B

The third season was the charm for Cespedes, who broke out in 2017 while playing for both the DSL Indians and the DSL Indians/Brewers Co-op team. Cespedes put up the most impressive slash of any Indians DSL player with a .314/.381/.523 line and had more runs batted in (28) than strikeouts (27). He should at least get an opportunity to play in Arizona in 2018.