MILB.com Names Indians’ Organizational All-Star Team
Bob Toth | On 22, Oct 2016
While the focus right now may be on the Cleveland Indians’ Major League roster, things are going well throughout the Tribe’s farm system as well.
The importance on drafting strong and developing stronger is no more apparent than at the Major League level for the Indians. The current playoff roster is well-balanced between guys drafted/signed internationally and developed solely by the club (Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Cody Allen to name a few), others acquired via trades and developed on the farm (Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana, and other absentee names like Carlos Carrasco, Michael Brantley, and Yan Gomes), and other veterans still who were added via big trades or free agent moves (Andrew Miller, Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Brandon Guyer, and Coco Crisp).
The names that compose the roster now all worked their way up through the minor league system, whether in the Indians organization or elsewhere. The names of the future are doing the same and some standout performers were recognized this week when MILB.com announced its picks for Cleveland’s organizational All-Stars.
CATCHER – Francisco Mejia (Lake County and Lynchburg)
Mejia caught the eyes of the baseball viewing world with his incredible 50-game hitting streak this season split between the Class-A and High-A levels for the Indians. The switch-hitting 20-year-old backstop is easily the top catching prospect in the organization and was nearly dealt during his hitting tear to the Milwaukee Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy.
Mejia returned to Lake County after a disappointing go in 2015 for the Captains, but hit more than 100 points higher in his second season there, making the Midwest League All-Star team. He also participated in the Major League’s All-Stars Futures Game in July and hit .333 in 42 games after his promotion to Lynchburg. For the year in 102 combined games, he hit .342 with a .382 on-base percentage and .514 slugging with 29 doubles, four triples, eleven homers, and 80 RBI.
FIRST BASE – Nellie Rodriguez (Akron)
Rodriguez put up big power numbers again this year while participating in Double-A action for a full season for the first time. The 22-year-old right-handed hitting slugger hit a professional career high 26 homers and added 28 doubles while driving in 85 runs. He put up a healthy .250/.352/.474 slash line in 132 games in total for the RubberDucks.
He was named a mid-season All-Star for the third time in the last four seasons and was named a MILB.com Organization All-Star for the second consecutive year. He beat out strong competition from Lynchburg’s Bobby Bradley. The 20-year-old left-handed hitter hit 23 doubles and 29 homers while driving in 102 runs for the Hillcats while putting up a .235/.344/.466 triple slash.
SECOND BASE – Mark Mathias (Lynchburg, Akron)
The 22-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo product Mathias shined in his first full season of minor league ball and advanced to the Double-A level on August 21. Working primarily at second base (while also seeing some time at third base and shortstop), he hit .267 on the year with a .351 on-base percentage.
He finished the season third in the Carolina League in doubles (39), tied for sixth in on-base percentage (.359), and ninth in runs scored (70). He was named a post-season All-Star in the Carolina League, one of several Hillcats to receive that honor this year.
THIRD BASE – Yandy Diaz (Akron, Columbus)
Diaz started the season back at Double-A, not because of his efforts and production, but to maximize playing time with Giovanny Urshela at the Triple-A level and in need of as much playing time himself. An injury to Urshela opened the door for Diaz to move up and he never went back to Akron, putting together a strong season with the Clippers that made any notion of a demotion impossible.
He hit .325 with a .399 OBP in Columbus on the year and was named to the All-Star Futures Game, one of three Indians prospects to be recognized. He put together several lengthy hitting streaks, was named the International League’s Player of the Week in late July, and took home the league’s Rookie of the Year award for his production on the field. In his third season in the organization, the 25-year-old also expanded his versatility in the field, logging innings at all three outfield spots and second base in addition to his more familiar third base position.
SHORTSTOP – Erik Gonzalez (Columbus, Cleveland)
The 25-year-old Gonzalez finally got his break this season when he was promoted to the Majors and made his debut on July 16 while in his eighth season in the organization. The shortstop had split 2015 with Akron and Columbus, but he started the season back with the Clippers and appeared in 104 games in total, hitting .296 with 31 doubles, eleven homers, and 53 RBI. He was an International League All-Star and homered in the contest.
He played sparingly with Cleveland, getting pinch-hitting and defensive replacement opportunities for the bulk of his stay. He had just one single to his credit through his first 18 games played (.091 average) before a 3-for-3 game with three singles against Detroit on September 27 and added another single on October 1 in his final at bat of the season to end the year with a .313 average with the Indians. Like Diaz, he expanded his repertoire this season, appearing at four different positions for the Indians and five for the Clippers.
In just his third season and second full campaign in the Indians farm system, Allen put his name on the radar with another strong effort all around. He hit a combined .295 between Lynchburg and Akron with 45 steals in 58 attempts. He showed a little pop (23 doubles, seven homers) and flashed some speed (seven triples) and displayed good patience at the plate (77 walks to give a .416 OBP for the year). The 23-year-old and San Diego State product was a mid-season All-Star with the Hillcats, a post-season All-Star in the Carolina League, and brought home his first professional Gold Glove award, the first one by a member of the organization since Rawlings reinstated the award at the minor league level in 2011.
A fully healthy Santander gave the Carolina League a taste of just what he could do on the field. The switch-hitting outfielder appeared in 128 games for the Hillcats and was one of the top offensive players in the league, hitting 42 doubles and 20 homers while driving in 95 runs and scoring 90 himself. He hit .290 with a .368 OBP and .494 slugging mark for the season. He was named a Carolina League Player of the Week in July and was also selected to the league’s post-season All-Star team.
Zimmer, the club’s first round pick in the 2014 draft, reached the Triple-A level at the end of July, a short time after representing the RubberDucks in the Eastern League All-Star Game from Canal Park. In his second season of work at the Double-A level, Zimmer hit .253 with a .371 OBP in 93 games, hitting 20 doubles, six triples, and 14 homers while driving in 53. He played in 37 games for the Clippers upon his promotion, hitting .242 with a .349 OBP with five doubles, a homer, and nine RBI. He is working now in the Arizona Fall League, where he won the Bowman Hitting Challenge and recently hit his first homer of offseason action.
UTILITY – Tyler Krieger (Lake County, Lynchburg)
Krieger was tabbed the team’s utility man, but he was a second baseman through and through this season in his first year of professional baseball. The 22-year-old, a fourth round selection by the Indians in the 2015 draft, did not play for the club in the months after he was drafted, but he made his pro debut with the Captains and appeared in 69 games there, hitting .313 with a .385 on-base percentage. He was named a Midwest League All-Star and was promoted at the end of June to Lynchburg, where he finished the year with a .282 average and .369 OBP in 59 games.
RIGHT-HANDED STARTER – Matt Esparza (Lake County, Lynchburg)
In his first full year in the Indians organization, 2015 14th round pick Esparza showed some good promise. The 22-year-old out of UC Irvine appeared in 20 games for the Captains, going 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, striking out 109 batters in 100 1/3 innings of work. He was promoted to Lynchburg at the end of July and went 2-4 in seven starts with a 3.92 ERA and 1.36 WHIP.
Esparza was named the Midwest League’s Pitcher of the Week at the end of June and the Player of the Week earlier in the month.
LEFT-HANDED STARTER – Shawn Morimando (Akron, Columbus, Cleveland)
The 23-year-old southpaw Morimando started his season back in the Akron dugout, but got a surprise call-up to Cleveland on July 2 as an emergency arm in their bullpen. He was optioned back to Columbus and worked in the Clippers rotation there to finish his impressive season.
Morimando was 10-3 in 16 starts for Akron, posting a 3.09 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while making the Eastern League All-Star team. In eleven games with Columbus, he was 5-2 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. He appeared twice for Cleveland, allowing two runs on six hits in three and two-thirds innings of relief against Toronto on July 2 before being charged with four runs on three hits in an inning of work against the New York Yankees on August 5.
RELIEVER – Shawn Armstrong (Lake County, Columbus, Cleveland)
Armstrong shuttled back and forth between Columbus and Cleveland throughout the year, but the movement did not hurt his numbers with the Clippers. The 26-year-old righty went 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 47 games with Columbus, earning nine saves in ten total chances. He also worked two perfect innings at Lake County, striking out five.
With the Indians in his second year of work for the club, Armstrong appeared in ten games, striking out seven batters in ten and two-thirds innings while posting a 2.53 ERA and 1.31 WHIP.
Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance