Indians’ Minor Leaguers on the Move this Winter
Bob Toth | On 26, Dec 2017
While plenty of focus has been given to the big name free agents departing the Cleveland Indians organization this offseason, there has been plenty of movement down on the farm for the club’s minor league free agent class.
The names are nowhere near as big as Carlos Santana, Bryan Shaw, and Joe Smith, who have all signed lucrative contracts in Philadelphia, Colorado, and Houston, respectively, nor are they as big as Jay Bruce, who is still testing the free agent waters while waiting for the right deal, but the moves cut into some of the existing depth in the team’s minor league system.
Garner, who turned 29 earlier in the month, got his first taste of the big leagues in 2016 when he appeared in eight games for the Tribe. It was his second year in the organization after being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round of the 2010 draft. He split time between Double-A Akron (23 games) and Triple-A Columbus (18 games) before putting on an Indians uniform, but 2017 would not go as well for the Eastern League All-Star. The hard-throwing right-hander struggled in three Triple-A outings and spent the remainder of his season at Akron, appearing in just ten games while posting a 3.14 ERA. He missed nearly seven weeks at the start of the season on the disabled list, but after a rough go upon his return, he was designated for assignment on July 31 and released on August 3. He re-signed with the club several days later, but ended his season back on the disabled list later in the month with a right calf strain.
Lugo, 23, is a 6’5” left-hander out of Venezuela. He signed with the Indians as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and spent a pair of seasons working in the rookie league before hitting the more competitive levels of the farm system. He spent parts of 2013 and 2014 at Class-A Lake County and pitched for High-A Lynchburg for two full seasons in 2015 and 2016. He advanced to Akron for the 2017 campaign, going 8-7 in 26 games (25 starts) with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP while posting a decreased strikeout rate and an increased walk rate. He also allowed a career-high 19 home runs on the year.
Catcher Martin Cervenka, who was named an Indians’ MiLB.com Organization All-Star in 2017, signed with the San Francisco Giants following the season. But his time in the bay was short as he was selected by the Orioles in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft earlier in the month. The 25-year-old backstop out of the Czech Republic joined the Indians in 2009 as a non-drafted free agent and began play in the minors in 2011 in the rookie league. He reached short-season Mahoning Valley and Lake County in 2013, but repeated work with the Scrappers in 2014 and the Captains in 2015. He spent almost all of 2016 with the Captains, his third season of work at the Class-A level
The first of the former Tribe farmhands to pack his bag this offseason was outfielder Luigi Rodriguez, who similarly joined the Giants organization like Cervenka. Rodriguez, 25, reportedly inked his deal with the Giants in the middle of November after his second season at the Double-A level for the Indians. Once one of the top ranked prospects in the Tribe’s farm system (fifth in 2011, seventh in 2012, and 13th in 2013, according to Baseball America), his value has plummeted as he has been unable to stay on the field for a variety of reasons, including an 80-game suspension for a failed PED test in August of 2015. He signed with the Indians in 2009 and made a slow climb through the minors, playing more than 100 games in just one of his eight years on the farm. He returned to Akron for a second season last year, hitting .276 with 13 homers, 22 doubles, and 40 RBI in 82 games.
The Indians lost a young infielder in the final days of November, when Yonathan Mendoza signed with the Seattle Mariners. The 23-year-old logged innings at first, second, and third base, as well as shortstop in his two stops (High-A Lynchburg; Double-A Akron) during the 2017 season. He showed some promise with the stick in his third straight season at the High-A level last season, slashing .307/.382/.370 in 72 games for the Hillcats, but he hit just .196 with the RubberDucks in 15 games in his first game action at the Double-A level since 2015.
On the move this month was a player who caught some eyes last spring during camp prior to the 2017 season, Ronny Rodriguez. The 25-year-old utility man spent 2017 at Triple-A Columbus, but he signed an offseason deal with the Detroit Tigers with a non-roster invite to spring training and figures to become a depth option for their Toledo affiliate at the very least.
Rodriguez signed with the Indians in 2010, but after progressing steadily through the farm system in his first couple of seasons, his career path slowed noticeably. He reached Akron by 2013, but spent each of the next two seasons there as a logjam of middle infield depth moved through the system, including the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Erik Gonzalez. He worked in 116 games for Columbus in his first look at the Triple-A level in 2016, but returned to the Clippers roster and had a strong season in 2017, hitting .291 with 18 doubles, 17 homers, and 64 RBI in 117 games. For the first time in his career, he was selected as an MiLB.com Organization All-Star and he was named a post-season All-Star for the second time (the first came in 2012 with Carolina). He worked at six different positions for the Clippers throughout the season.
Diego Moreno, who was briefly a member of the Indians’ 40-man roster when claimed off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays at the end of July, has elected to pitch in Japan next season. The right-handed reliever appeared in nine games for the Columbus Clippers (1-0, 0.73 ERA, 0.81 WHIP) after he was picked up by the Indians. A 30-year-old out of Venezuela, Moreno has logged nine games and 16 innings in the Majors, including four games with the New York Yankees in 2015 before making five appearances for the Rays last year.
During the Rule 5 draft, the Indians also lost three players, including right-handed pitcher Jordan Milbrath (Pittsburgh) during the Major League phase of the process. Minor league outfielder Junior Soto (New York Yankees) and infielder Ivan Castillo (Toronto) were taken during the minor league portion of the draft. In addition to these moves, the Indians also lost MiLB relievers Kyle Crockett and Dylan Baker on waiver claims (Cincinnati, Milwaukee) in November when looking to create 40-man roster space to protect prospective Rule 5 candidates. Baker has since been designated for assignment by the Brewers. Leonel Campos, a right-handed reliever added by the Indians on a minor league deal, was released from his contract signed just last month to sign with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League.
The list of remaining minor league free agents last associated with the Indians includes pitchers Robbie Aviles, Travis Banwart, Joe Colon, Tim Cooney, Carlos Frias, Jarrett Grube, Jeff Johnson, Chris Narveson, and Enosil Tejeda, and position players Claudio Bautista, Juan De La Cruz, David Lough, Adam Moore, Jordan Smith, and Josh Wilson.
Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images (pictured: Rodriguez)