Indians Rookies Have Opened Eyes This Season
Craig Gifford | On 26, Sep 2014
When the 2014 Major League Baseball season began, the Cleveland Indians roster contained zero – yes you read that correctly – zero rookies. This was a veteran team with the distinct goal of getting to the postseason for a second straight season.
As the campaign wore on, the Tribe was besieged by injuries, ineffectiveness and trades. The veterans sputtered out of the gates and got off to a slow start.
While the calendar was flipping into summer and through the months of June, July and August, Cleveland was making a myriad of roster moves along the way. The Indians seemed to continuously get young. At this point, the Tribe has now employed 10 rookies during the season.
Rather than fall even further back as the inexperienced players replaced those with track records, the Indians did just the opposite. Cleveland got better with the influx of youth. The Indians peaked in August and entered September in prime positioning to make another playoff push. Cleveland has sputtered this month, yet still entered Thursday alive, albeit barely, for a postseason berth.
The Indians and their diehard fans who have consistently shown up to games this year have enjoyed watching some fresh talent produce and guide the team back to relevance and competitiveness.
As this season begins to draw to a close, it is certain that many of the new kids in town will probably not be in Cleveland when the 2015 campaign begins. The rosters will shrink back to 25 players from the expanded 40 they are now currently at. Injured players like Nick Swisher will return, free agents – no matter how glamorous a name – will be signed and other young players, such as Francisco Lindor, may open eyes in spring training and push past the guys who made their initial marks in 2014.
However, some of the new heavy contributors will be around next year and will likely be asked to play large roles. Starting pitcher T.J. House and reliever Kyle Crockett made their debuts this season. Starter Trevor Bauer and infielder Jose Ramirez, each had played in the Majors before, but the two rookies both saw expanded big league work this season. That foursome, especially the three pitchers, are the most likely to crack next years Opening Day roster.
The three pitchers are near certainties, after their work this season, to be with the 2015 Indians when the club breaks from spring training.
Bauer, the most known of the rookies before this season, had a bit of a breakout year. He had had dips in the Major League pool the last three years, but had been mostly ineffective and spent the majority of those seasons in the minors. This year, he consistently kept the Indians in games and has a 5-8 record with a respectable 4.18 ERA.
The 23-year-old Bauer, a former first round pick of the Diamondbacks and key player in the 2012 Shin-Soo Choo trade, took big strides this season toward blossoming into the front-of-the-rotation starter he was pegged to be in the 2011 amateur draft. Bauer still has a ways to go, but seems to finally have a grip on a spot in the Tribe starting five.
Unlike Bauer, House was essentially an unknown to most Indians fans. He was barely discussed as an option in spring training and was really not on anyone’s radar. Then, as injuries and ineffectiveness struck Cleveland’s rotation, House was called into duty. After a slow start to his rookie season, the left-hander settled in and has been fairly consistent over the last two months. Like Bauer, he has kept the Tribe in most of the games he has started.
All told, the southpaw is 4-3 with a 3.86 ERA in 17 games started. He made one relief appearance. As a lefty, he is a valuable commodity to the Indians who do not have another hurler who throws from that side. One would think he has done enough to impress his bosses and have a good grip on a Major League job next year. However, there may well be the thought in the back of the minds of some that he could be kind of like the 2013 Danny Salazar, who looked very good, then showed in Year 2 that he needed a little more seasoning. Still, House made be the team’s No. 3 or 4 starter at this very moment.
Crockett shot through the minor leagues. The lefty reliever was drafted by the Indians in 2013 and was in the Majors this June. His rocketing through the bush leagues is similar to current Cleveland closer Cody Allen, who was drafted in 2011 and was pitching for the Tribe in 2012.
That’s not to say Crockett will be as good as Allen, but early indications are certainly positive. He has the best ERA on the team, a 1.92. Granted, he has been mostly a lefty specialist, making 42 appearances, but just 28.1 innings of work. It is hard to say how we will hold up if given an expanded roll the like of late-inning guys Scott Atchison and Bryan Shaw.
In a perfect world, Crockett would fall into a late-inning guy the Tribe can trust against all hitters. The 22-year-old has shown moxie this year. At worst, he will go into next season as a left-handed specialist again as he has outpitched fellow southpaws Nick Hadadone and Marc Rzepczynski. His ceiling is likely higher than either of those two.
Ramirez, a shotstop and second baseman, is the one rookie from this year who has played a lot, but could see a reduction next season.
When Asdrubal Cabrera was traded at the deadline, Ramirez became the Indians every-day shortstop. He has not been great, but has not embarrassed himself, either. Entering the final week of the season, Ramirez is hitting .248 with a home run and RBI. He has contributed a walk-off hit in his time with the Tribe. His speed on the base paths is a big plus as he has swiped eight bases this season.
Unlike the three pitchers, who could fill huge roles in the future, Ramirez’s destiny is likely in a lesser spot. He will likely be the team’s utility infielder of the future. Jason Kipnis is locked in at second for the next several years. Fellow young player, Lindor, is hands down the shortstop of the future.
However, in the case of Lindor, Ramirez has allowed the Indians to perhaps consider waiting on bringing up a guy who will be 21 when next season starts. Ramirez has shown enough to allow the Tribe possibly trust him with the Opening Day shortstop duties while Lindor becomes a finished product.
When Cabrera was jettisoned to Washington, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the potential future star Lindor would be playing shortstop for the Tribe by the start of next season, if not sooner. Ramirez, only 22 himself, will allow the Tribe to not rush their top prospect if he is not quite ready for the big time.
There have been other rookies who have opened eyes this summer. Guys like backup catcher Roberto Perez and outfielder Zach Walters could very well see time in the Majors next season. However, they do not seem as likely to be in the Majors to start the year as the other four rookies who have a very good chance of doing so.
In the end, postseason or no postseason, the Indians have found that they have some pretty decent young talent who will be able to help in some way, shape or form in the coming years. Some, moreson than others. As injuries are unavoidable, it is likely that Cleveland will see most, if not all, the first-year players who took a Major League field this year, again at some point.
The kids have shown the Indians have more depth than perhaps previously thought. Just as important, they have tasted, at an early stage, a postseason hunt. That is crucial for the growth of the team going forward.
We will certainly see this young players again. However, Bauer, House, Crockett and Ramirez will likely be seen a lot sooner and a lot more often than the rest.
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images