Columbus Clippers 59-68 (5th in Midwest Division)
The 2021 season was tumultuous for the Columbus Clippers. After beginning the season red hot, the team was decimated because of injuries to Cleveland’s pitching staff, which forced most of the Clippers’ rotation to be promoted to MLB. The gap was filled with veteran journeymen for a significant period instead of top Cleveland pitching prospects, although the top prospects arrived later in the season.
Here’s a quick look at the key contributors in the Clippers this season, in which only three players overall qualified due to all the promotions and other movement in the system.
3B Nolan Jones’ 2021 season was not what many were hoping for. The former top Cleveland overall prospect’s 30% strikeout rate was at least bolstered by a 14.5% walk rate. Jones slashed .238/.356/.431 over 99 games with 13 home runs, although he did hit a career-best 25 doubles and stole a career-high 10 bases. Despite his strikeout struggles, Jones managed a 113 wRC+ in his first Triple-A season at 23 years old. His season ended with an ankle injury that unfortunately required surgery.
SS Gabriel Arias saw his stock skyrocket in 2021. The 21-year-old jumped two levels from High-A and slashed .284/.348/.454 with a career-low strikeout rate of 22.8% and a career-high walk-rate of 8.1%. Arias slugged 13 home runs and hit 29 doubles in 115 games. Arias was good for a 115 wRC+ as one of the youngest players in Triple-A.
OF Oscar González led all Cleveland minor leaguers with 31 home runs in 2021. Gonzalez began the season in Double-A, where he earned a promotion after slashing .330/.367/.601 with a 159 wRC+ through 49 games. The 23-year-old continued to hit in Columbus, but all of his counting stats went down after his promotion, which likely means he’ll begin 2022 with the Clippers.
OF Steven Kwan actually saw his numbers improve after his promotion to Columbus. An injury slowed his 2021 season in Akron, but he was promoted to Triple-A for a magical final month. In 26 games at Triple-A, Kwan posted elite strikeout rate (6.7%) and slashed .311/.398/.505. Kwan also saw a significant spike in power this season. After hitting zero home runs in 2018 and just three in 123 games in 2019, he blasted 12 bombs in just 77 games, more than doubling his career ISO. Kwan is going to be a serious contender to make the Cleveland roster in 2022 if these numbers aren’t a fluke.
2B Richard Palacios also saw his numbers improve after being promoted to Triple-A, the biggest of them being his walk-rate, which jumped 5.5 points to an elite 17.2%. Palacios mostly played second base, but also played outfield this season to expand his versatility. He slashed .292/.434/.416 over 37 games in Columbus to close out the season.
Several other top performers for Columbus (Bobby Bradley, Bradley Zimmer, Oscar Mercado, Daniel Johnson, Ernie Clement, Owen Miller) were all promoted to Cleveland.
RHP Cody Morris missed the first half of the 2021 season, but boy did he make up for lost time in a hurry. Morris made five appearances with Double-A Akron before he was quickly promoted to Columbus. In nine appearances, which included eight starts, Morris overpowered opposing hitters to the tune of a 1.72 ERA across 36.2 innings with 52 strikeouts and 12 walks. Morris will push hard for playing time in Cleveland’s 2022 rotation thanks to his 99 mph fastball and filthy breaking stuff.
All other starters either pitched more for Cleveland (Triston McKenzie, Eli Morgan, Logan S. Allen, J.C. Mejia), were veteran journeymen (Brad Peacock, Heath Fillmyer, Kevin Herget, Zach Godley), or were ineffective (Kirk McCarty 5.01 ERA).
Pretty much every top reliever for Columbus (Francisco Perez, Justin Garza, Anthony Gose) this season was promoted to Cleveland at some point. Others who entered the season with some promise, struggled (Robert Broom 5.29 ERA, Kyle Dowdy 4.80 ERA, Kyle Nelson 6.66 ERA).
Possible Clippers roster for 2022
C: Bryan Lavastida/Mike Rivera
1B: Trenton Brooks (if he re-signs)
2B: Richard Palacios/Jose Fermin
3B: Nolan Jones
SS: Tyler Freeman
LF: Oscar González (if he re-signs)
CF: Steven Kwan
RF: Will Benson
Util: Andruw Monasterio (if he re-signs)
Rotation: (some combination of) Cody Morris/Adam Scott/Juan Hillman/Eli Morgan/Peyton Battenfield/Konnor Pilkington