With regular season baseball underway, it’s almost time for the minor league season to begin. Opening Day for minor league baseball is Thursday, April 5.
The Indians have four full-season teams, the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, the Double-A Akron RubberDucks, the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, and the Single-A Lake County Captains.
Todd Paquette had the scoop on the rosters for each level, and I’ll offer my take on where the Indians’ best prospects will begin their 2018 seasons.
RHP Julian Merryweather will miss the 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Relievers RHP Cameron Hill (forearm) and RHP Josh Martin (back) also will begin the season on the disabled list, as will infielder Eric Stamets (back) and veteran back-up catcher Jack Murphy.
I am not a fan of Mike Napoli taking up a spot on the Columbus Clippers roster that could be going to Bobby Bradley. Bradley looked great in spring training, but because Napoli is at Triple-A, Bradley will begin the season repeating at Double-A.
For now, it looks like the Clippers rotation is going to be Shawn Morimando, Adam Plutko plus veterans Adam Wilk, Stephen Fife and I guess Robert Zarate. The back half of this rotation are basically spot fillers until some other starters in the organization get healthy.
Three starting pitchers will begin the 2018 season on the disabled list for Akron: LHP Rob Kaminsky (abdominal), RHP Dace Kime (groin) and RHP Matt Esparza.
The RubberDucks have an interesting quandary with three second basemen on their roster: Mark Mathias, Tyler Krieger and Sam Haggerty. Mathias can play third base and Haggerty played a little shortstop and outfield last year, but I’m wondering how the Tribe brass is going to give these guys enough playing time.
It appears Akron’s rotation will be Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Shao-Ching Chiang, Sean Brady and Michael Peoples. LHP Matt Whitehouse can fill in for spot start duty as well.
This list also includes RHP Zach Plesac, who was a 2016 pick out of Ball State, but missed that year due to Tommy John surgery. He came back with a vengeance in 2017, looking sharp in his short outings for Low-A Mahoning Valley.
Don’t freak out, but stud Indians RHP Triston McKenzie (forearm) is going to begin the 2018 season on the disabled list. From everything I’m hearing, the move is precautionary. He will be joined on the disabled list by OF Connor Marabell (knee). I know he’s young, but McKenzie should at least be starting the 2018 season on the disabled list for Akron. He has nothing left to prove in Lynchburg after winning Carolina League Pitcher of the Year last year.
The Lynchburg starting rotation should be Plesac, Sam Hentges, Micah Miniard, Tanner Tully, and Luis Jimenez.
This list also includes RHP Eli Morgan.
This will be the full season debuts for several top tribe prospects including Nolan Jones, Will Benson, Oscar Gonzalez, and Francisco Perez. Also of note, after a poor 2017 which saw him carry a 6.08 ERA, former Indians second round pick Juan Hillman will repeat a season at Lake County.
My early guess for the starting rotation is Hillman, Gregori Vasquez, Francisco Perez, Grant Hockin and Kirk McCarty. James Karinchak and Morgan could factor into the rotation as well.
One name you haven’t seen listed anywhere is former Indians 2015 first round pick and former No. 1 overall pick LHP Brady Aiken. From what I’m hearing, the Indians are slowly easing Aiken into the 2018 season after he pitched the entire 2017 season despite not being too far removed from Tommy John surgery. It’s likely he’ll work on some mechanics and repetition of delivery until he’s ready to go. I’m not sure where he’ll begin once the organization feels he’s ready.