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.
Baseball America released its minor league All-Star teams across all minor league levels on Monday and four prospects from the Cleveland Indians farm system claimed spots on the annual rosters.
The biggest winner was 19-year-old right-hander Triston McKenzie, who was not only named as one of the five starting pitchers selected to the roster, but was announced as the Baseball America Short-Season Pitcher of the Year for his 4-3 record in nine starts while with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
Despite finishing the regular season 13 games below the .500 mark, the Gwinnett Braves have proven that anything can happen if you can get to the playoffs. The Columbus Clippers, 82-62 in the regular season, were victims of a Braves club on a mission as they were eliminated from the postseason with a 5-4 loss on Saturday night.
The Clippers season came to an end after losing three of four games in the International League semifinals. The Braves will now advance to the Governors’ Cup Finals against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which swept Lehigh Valley in three games.
Columbus actually held a 3-0 lead, but gave up four runs in the middle innings. They were able to tie it up late, but Gwinnett responded with the go-ahead run in their final at bats.
Gwinnett jumped on Columbus starter Shawn Morimando early and often as the Braves rolled to an easy 11-1 victory over the Clippers from Georgia on Friday night to take a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-five International League’s Governors’ Cup Semifinals.
The G-Braves gave starter Chris Ellis an early cushion on the mound, striking for two runs in the bottom of the first against Columbus’ Morimando. With one down, Mel Rojas Jr. singled and stole second before a walk by Ronnier Mustelier. Blake Lalli singled to right to load the bases and Sean Kazmar lifted a sacrifice fly to right to score Rojas Jr. with the first run. A wild pitch from Morimando let a second run score before a fly ball ended the inning.
A seventh inning grand slam by top prospect Bradley Zimmer broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh and the Clippers held on as Columbus defeated the Gwinnett Braves, 6-4, on Thursday night from Huntington Park.
Gwinnett’s Rob Wooten took over for starter Aaron Blair in the bottom of the seventh and promptly walked Yandy Diaz. A single by Guillermo Quiroz put Diaz into scoring position, but Giovanny Urshela lined out to center and Jesus Aguilar struck out. Michael Choice walked, loading the bases for the young Clippers outfielder, who delivered the clutch two-out bases-clearing bomb to right to give Columbus a 6-2 lead.
A two-run homer in the top of the eighth by Reid Brignac broke a 2-2 tie as the Gwinnett Braves held off a Columbus rally in the bottom of the ninth and the Clippers fell in the International League semi-final opener, 6-5, at Huntington Park.
The Braves’ Triple-A affiliate and IL South champions took a 2-0 lead in the second against Columbus starter Adam Plutko. Blake Lalli singled with one out and scored on a two-out, two-run homer from Daniel Castro to give the Braves the lead.
It’s playoff time in the minor leagues and three Indians affiliates will begin their chases for postseason crowns on Wednesday night.
The Triple-A Columbus Clippers, Double-A Akron RubberDucks, and High-A Lynchburg Hillcats all punched tickets in their respective leagues behind solid 2016 seasons. The Clippers won the International League’s West Division with an eleven-game lead at year’s end. The RubberDucks clinched a playoff berth on Sunday and won the Western Division title outright on Monday. The Hillcats won the Carolina League Northern Division first-half crown and tied the Potomac Nationals for the division’s second-half title with a 39-31 finish.
Jesus Aguilar capped off a powerful season at the plate with a big final week of the International League regular season, earning the league’s Batter of the Week award for games played between August 29 and September 5.
The team that helped the Columbus Clippers claim the International League West Division crown will not be the same team that tries to advance to the Governors Cup later in the month. The September call-ups have deprived the Clippers of several weapons from their bullpen and several more regular contributors from their every day lineup.
With the division already locked up, the Clippers (80-61) have gone on a bit of a losing skid, dropping three straight, four of their last five, and six of their last eight. Despite the tough stretch with the roster in a state of flux, their lead over Indianapolis and Louisville sits at eleven games heading into action over the weekend. They will wrap up their season with one more at home against Toledo before heading to the northwest corner of the state for two more against the Mud Hens before the playoffs start on Wednesday. In addition to the Clippers, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in the North Division have locked up playoffs spots, with the South Division completely up for grabs between four teams who will all finish with records below .500.
In other Clippers news and notes from the Ohio state capital:
Any chance that Bradley Zimmer breaks camp with the Cleveland Indians at the end of spring training in 2017 may come down to how well he performs in Arizona this fall.
Zimmer, the Indians’ top prospect in the farm system, was one of eight minor leaguers named by Cleveland to participate in the annual Arizona Fall League as members of the Mesa Solar Sox. Joining Zimmer in the Mesa outfield will be Double-A Akron’s Greg Allen. High-A Lynchburg’s Yu-Cheng Chang will be on the roster at short. Three relievers – Trevor Frank (Lynchburg), Cameron Hill (Akron), and David Speer (Akron) – will get additional work in the Solar Sox bullpen, while right-handed starter Michael Peoples (Akron) will also be on the roster.
Akron’s Eric Haase is also on the club as one of the taxi squad members, activated just twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Cleveland Indians announced a handful of transactions on Thursday afternoon as the club took advantage of the September roster expansions.
The easy and expected moves were the activation of starting pitcher Danny Salazar from the paternity list and the formal addition of outfielder Coco Crisp after his acquisition from the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday.
The Indians added additional depth at the catching position with Yan Gomes on the 60-day disabled list by purchasing the contract of backstop Adam Moore from Triple-A Columbus. To make room on the 40-man roster for the seven-year MLB veteran, the Indians designated outfielder Collin Cowgill for assignment.
A month is not nearly enough time to analyze winners and losers of Major League trades, but after more than four weeks with him on the roster, the Cleveland Indians have to be feeling pretty good about the return that they have gotten from left-hander Andrew Miller.
Miller was not the only player moved, as the Indians had to give up four players, two of whom were top prospects in the organization, in order to acquire the services of the reliever for the rest of this season and each of the next two years.
The All-Star southpaw has been everything that the Indians could have dreamed of when they pulled the trigger on the July 31 trade that brought Miller to Cleveland.