Youth on the Horizon
Danny Madden | On 15, Oct 2014
Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians’ 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.
At the beginning of 2014, the Indians did not really have any high end prospects that were just waiting to make it to the majors. Jose Ramirez had spent a small amount of time in Cleveland in 2013, but even after Spring Training this season, he was still not quite ready to take on even a bench role to start off 2014. This caused the Indians to have to go out and find some help in the free agent market to bolster some weaker positions left by players due to free agency, or trades. The Indians shouldn’t have this issue again in 2015, as they have plenty of players who are ready to take on the challenge of playing in the majors right now.
The Double-A Akron RubberDucks started off the season as one of the deepest teams in terms of depth that the Indians have had in a minor league team in quite a long time. This team who had previously consisted of Jesus Aguilar, Carlos Moncrief and Ramirez now consisted of Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, Giovanny Urshela, and Joe Wendle. Lindor being the biggest name of them all, with also having the best chance of breaking the majors in 2015. If 2014 showed anything for these minor leaguers, it’s that they’re going to be breaking into the majors sooner rather than later.
Before the All Star break, Asdrubal Cabrera had been the Indians everyday shortstop, and had been since 2008 after Jhonny Peralta had been moved over to third base to allow Cabrera to play shortstop. After having a subpar 2013, Cabrera followed in 2014 with another subpar season. With his impending free agency coming at the end of the season, Cabrera saw himself being shipped to the Washington Nationals in exchange for power hitting utility man Zach Walters. This then caused Ramirez to work his way into an everyday role at shortstop after having a successful season in Triple-A Columbus. During his time in Columbus, Ramirez hit .302/.360/.441 with 15 doubles, 2 triples, 5 home runs, 29 RBI’s, and 19 stolen bases. Once Cabrera was traded from Cleveland, Ramirez was an immediate upgrade at shortstop, and he provided the spark needed to try and propel the Indians into the postseason.
During his time in Cleveland this year, Cabrera was a detriment not only offensively, but defensively as well. His 14 errors at shortstop really hurt a team that led all of baseball with 116 errors this season. His WAR stood at 0.5, and had a UZR of -12.8 for the season. With a low amount of offense, and bad defense, Cabrera found his way out of Cleveland and allowed the first big young gun to start providing a spark to hopefully ignite a stagnate Indians offense. Ramirez was able to make an impact in 2014, as he hit .262/.300/.346 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, 2 home runs, 17 RBI’s, and 10 stolen bases, but it wasn’t enough to propel the Indians into the postseason. He was just the first player from the minors that had made an impact in Cleveland, but he won’t be the last as Lindor will be in Cleveland in 2015.
The Indians number one prospect certainly worked his way through the minors in 2014. After starting the season with Double-A Akron, he eventually found his way to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. While in Akron, he hit .278/.352/.389 with 12 doubles, 4 triples, 6 home runs, 48 RBI’s, and 25 stolen bases. He continued to rake after his promotion to Columbus where he hit .273/.307/.388 with 4 doubles, 5 home runs, 14 RBI’s, and 3 stolen bases in 38 games. Lindor is an intelligent shortstop with a ton of range. He’s going to be a guy the Indians will need to build around once he reaches the majors. He typically hits within the top 3 spots of the order, so he’ll likely find a home hitting second behind Michael Bourn and before Michael Brantley. During his time with the RubberDucks, he hit second just before Wendle, who was able to lead the team in RBI’s before his injury in June. Lindor can get on base, and be a disturbance on the basepaths due to his speed and ability to read a pitcher. He knows how to steal a base, and he’ll do it when he can. The only problem that comes with Lindor in the majors is Ramirez becomes a bench utility bench option, which would eventually replace Mike Aviles. If the Indians decide to go with Lindor as the everyday shortstop at the start of 2015, the days of Aviles in Cleveland could be coming to an end.
Another guy who could be seeing time in Cleveland soon is Urshela. Prior to 2014, Urshela did not fare so well in the minors. He was, more or less, moved through the majors due to a log jam of infield players who needed to move up. After coming back to Akron for a second season, Urshela found his own and started to take off offensively. The biggest asset that Urshela brings is his defensive capabilities. He has incredible range at third and has a strong arm to boot. This year for the Indians, Lonnie Chisenhall posted a career season offensively, but his defense continues to be dismal and replaceable. If the Indians find a way to trade away Chisenhall this winter, or if he is injured or benched during the season, Urshela will be the first person to get a call up to the majors. He’s a right handed bat with some pop that plays incredible defense at a position that has been very weak for the Indians for the last decade. This season at Triple-A Columbus, Urshela hit .276/.331/.473 with 27 doubles, 6 triples, 13 home runs, 65 RBI’s in 104 games. In 2014, Urshela saw a drop in K% and a rise in his BB%, along with his BABIP sitting right around his batting average which is a good sign that these stats are legitimate and have the chance of staying around these levels for years to come. He may hit a breakout season this year, and if he can continue this type of performance, then we could be seeing him in Cleveland sooner rather than later. He could only be an upgrade to a position that has continually been weak in both offensive and defensive departments.
Two guys that made huge strides this season, but aren’t likely to see any time in Cleveland are both Naquin and Wendle. Both players performed well in Double-A Akron this past season, but both of then suffered injuries that cost them a good chunk of playing time this year. Both guys injured their right hands, Naquin broke his right hand, Wendle broke his right hamate bone. Wendle was able to get his way back onto the roster before the end of the season, but Naquin sat out the rest of the season. Prior to their injuries, they were both putting up strong number with the RubberDucks and were looking to potentially spend some time with Triple-A Columbus before the end of the year. Regardless of how they were performing, it’s going to be hard to see how Naquin and Wendle see any time in Cleveland, barring any injuries.
Naquin spent almost every game for the RubberDucks at centerfield, while Wendle is a primary second basemen. Currently, both of those positions are occupied by Bourn and Jason Kipnis respectively. With both players signed to long term deals, it’s hard to find a way to get both men into the majors in 2015, but they’ve both played to the caliber of a major leaguer. If the Indians hope to see either player in Cleveland in 2015, they’ll have to get creative with their rosters by either moving Bourn or Kipnis in a trade, or if one of them suffered an injury in 2015. A trade doesn’t seem likely, but it could potentially bolster the weakest aspect of the 2014 Indians: the defense. Wendle plays a very clean second base, which is something that Kipnis has not showed much of since he broke into the majors. Kipnis posted a UZR of -8.0 and had 6 errors. The number of errors doesn’t look too bad on paper, but Kipnis does not have great range at second, which is reflected in his UZR, and it cost the Indians more runs than they would have hoped for. Wendle would be an immediate improvement at second if the Indians decided to hand the reigns over to him, but that is not very likely to happen. If at some point the Indians need a backup second basemen, and Ramirez is not available to fill in the position, then Wendle should be the next best option from the Indians minors.
Other prospects worth mentioning that could also see some time in 2015 is outfielders Carlos Moncrief and James Ramsey, who was acquired last season in the Justin Masterson trade from St. Louis. Moncrief is a converted pitcher who has found success playing right field. Last season he hit .271/.328/.328 with 33 doubles, 4 triples, 12 home runs, and 63 RBI’s along with 8 stolen bases. If the Indians decided to part ways with David Murphy this winter, Moncrief would definitely see some time in right field in 2015 as he would be an upgrade to the only other option the Indians have for right field: Ryan Raburn. Ramsey also had success in Triple-A Columbus after arriving there post Masterson trade. In his 28 games played there, he hit .284/.365/.468 with 9 dobules, 1 triple, 3 home runs, 16 RBI’s and 1 stolen base. He’s only spent half a season at the Triple-A level, so it’s safe to assume that the Indians would play him Triple-A again to start the season, but he has been highly regarded for his intelligence for the game and his balanced type of style of play. He would be a solid backup option if an outfielder goes down this year, and he may see some time playing in the majors at some point in 2015.
For the first time in a while, the Indians have a couple of prospects that are ready to burst into Cleveland. Obviously Lindor is the farthest along and is desperately needed to help improve a very weak defensive infield. Based on how this offseason goes, the Indians could have a couple of new faces to start the season in 2015. Regardless of what the front office decides to do, the Indians should be excited for what they have in store for the future of this club. They have plenty of young, talented players who are eager to play in the majors, and I believe that once they’re here, the Indians are going to be a force to be reckoned with.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer