Tribe Minor Leaguers in Action in Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League play is under way as some of the top prospects around the minor league landscape pair up for competition in the annual six-team offseason league.

Hopeful prospects are a week into the six-week schedule as players work to hone their craft against a collection of some of the best up-and-coming names working their way through the levels of professional baseball. The Indians are well represented in their home-away-from-home in Arizona, where eight of their minor leaguers help make up the roster of the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Those eight Indians prospects have teamed up with representatives from the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Pittsburgh Pirates for league action in Glendale this year, after Cleveland players worked with different clubs while playing for the Mesa Solar Sox last October and November.

One of the bigger stories to watch in AFL play will be Francisco Mejia’s work at third base as the Indians look to add more positional flexibility to the catcher’s skill set, therefore increasing the chances that he could contribute to the Tribe’s roster moving forward. There is a bit of a logjam in front of him at the Major League level with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez both under control for several more years. Mejia, for what it is worth, has shown himself capable of handling minor league pitching at all levels thus far with the bat, but without playing time available in Cleveland, he could see himself back in the minors again in 2018, even after a brief audition for the Indians over the final month of the regular season.

Mejia is not quite yet a finished product behind the plate, but his strong arm, one of his biggest tools defensively, could play at third base. If he can add the hot corner to the list of his playing abilities, it could give him an outside chance at claiming a roster spot for next season.

In three games so far in Arizona Fall League play, he is 4-for-12 (.333) with four singles, one walk, one strikeout, and one run scored.

The 21-year-old backstop, who will turn 22 later this month, is joined in the infield by a pair of familiar faces.

The biggest of those familiar friends is Bobby Bradley, the Indians’ third round draft pick in 2014. The 21-year-old slugger spent the season with Mejia at Akron (until Mejia’s call-up to Cleveland) after the two spent time together at the High-A level in the second half of the 2016 season. Bradley had another productive year at the plate, putting up strong power numbers while showing some positive trends with an increased batting average and a significant decrease in his strikeout rate (29.7% in 2016 at Lynchburg to 22.9% in 2017 at Akron). He put up a .251/.331/.465 slash line with 25 doubles, 23 homers, and 89 RBI this season. The latter two were the lowest that he has provided in a full minor league season, but were sound numbers nonetheless.

Bradley is 3-for-12 (.250) in three games for the Desert Dogs with three singles, two RBI, and two runs scored, but he has struck out in five of his 12 trips to the plate.

Joining those two in the Glendale infield is switch-hitter Tyler Krieger. The 23-year-old second baseman broke out in a strong way in his professional debut season last year, splitting the season between Class-A with Lake County and High-A with Lynchburg while hitting a combined .299 with a .377 on-base percentage with 26 doubles, eight triples, five homers, and 58 RBI. After starting 2017 strong with a .299 average in April, his numbers dropped the rest of the way

Krieger is hitless in his first ten at bats with Glendale with five strikeouts.

The Indians have just one outfielder with the Desert Dogs – Ka’ai Tom. The 23-year-old spent the past season with the Lynchburg Hillcats in his third season in the Indians’ organization. After spending a year with short-season Mahoning Valley in 2015 and Lake County in 2016, the Hawaiian native was able to stay healthy and in the Lynchburg lineup while putting up new career highs in most offensive categories. He appeared in 126 games (32 more than his first two years combined) and hit .254 with 31 doubles, seven triples, ten homers, and 65 RBI. He added 23 stolen bases.

Tom, a fifth round pick in 2015 out of Kentucky, has a single and two walks in five trips to the plate so far in the AFL.

Four Indians pitchers will also see work with Glendale.

Starting pitcher Sean Brady and relievers Argenis Angulo, Luke Eubank, and Leandro Linares are among the pitchers at the disposal of the Desert Dogs coaching staff.

Angulo worked solely for Lynchburg this season and earned his first career All-Star nod in the Carolina League midseason. He went 5-2 in 41 relief appearances with a 2.29 ERA and 15 saves on the year while holding opposing hitters to a .160 average. He was a 19th round pick by the Indians in the 2014 draft out of Ranger College.

Brady, 23, was limited to just ten starts this season, so his Arizona Fall League action allows him to make up for some missed time. He spent three and a half months on the disabled list to open the season before working his way up the organizational depth chart while rehabbing. The fifth-year pro went 4-1 in his ten starts this season with a 2.89 ERA, making two starts in the Arizona League, four with Class-A Lake County, and four more for the Hillcats.

Eubank, 23, was a 15th round pick by the Indians in the 2014 draft out of Oxnard College. He made 20 appearances this season, including a pair of starts, and put up a solid pitching line, going 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA and a .138 batting average against. It marked his second season of work at the High-A level with Lynchburg (he made five appearances in Arizona and three with the Captains).

Linares, also 23, joined the Indians organization as a non-drafted free agent in the summer of 2013. He has worked four years on the farm and advanced to the Double-A level for the first time this season. He split his year between Lynchburg and Akron, posting a 2-1 record with a 0.78 ERA and five saves in 19 appearances for the Hillcats and earning a 2-2 mark with a 3.78 ERA and three saves with the RubberDucks.

A pair of former Indians minor leaguers will also participate elsewhere in the league. Left-hander Justus Sheffield, who was one of four players sent to New York in the Andrew Miller trade, struck out six in his AFL debut in five innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Outfielder Anthony Santander, who was a Rule 5 pick last December by the Baltimore Orioles, made his Major League debut this season despite never playing higher than High-A. He has appeared in four games for the Salt River Rafters.

Last season, eight Indians prospects played in Mesa with the Solar Sox. The team’s top prospect at the time, Bradley Zimmer, led the team or was near the top of the leaderboard in several key offensive statistics (including a team-high seven doubles, 16 RBI, and 19 walks). Yu-Cheng Chang led the club in hitting with a .304 average. Greg Allen picked off a team-leading 12 bases in 14 attempts. Catcher Eric Haase worked in just five games while on the taxi-squad. Pitchers Trevor Frank, Cameron Hill, Michael Peoples, and David Speer were also on the Mesa roster.

Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images

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