When the Indians' season opened the fans, those of us who still care, didn't know what to expect. Was last year a mirage, a perfect storm unlikely to be repeated? Were we due for a crash after everything falling our way last year?
How about the farm system and the draft? Would some of our suspects become true prospects without the opposite happening? How about the draft?
Well, here are my thoughts:
Indians - The Indians have given me exactly what I expected: an above average team that might make the playoffs, just like last year. Lonnie Chisenhall, on total, has been the best we could hope for. Injuries to key players have not destroyed the team, nor has the inability to sign a quality starter or the disintegration of Justin Masterson's ability. Players like Chisenhall, Tyler Holt, Jose Ramirez, Cody Allen, Kyle Crockett, Nick Hagadone and others have stepped up. Michael Brantley has added power to his game taking him from being a great 4th outfielder, passable starter to a star in the game, especially with his hitting with runners on base. Hopefully the Indians have found that they can by with young players and don't have to count on the John Axfords/Chris Dickersons/etc. of the world to fill in the holes on the bench. Now, I am not down on the Michael Bourn/Nick Swisher signings at all although giving Jason Giambi $1 million for highly predictable lack of production seems a waste. Still, the glue that holds this together is Terry Francona. He makes this work and, in terms of getting production out of limited resources, he rivals Whitey Herzog, at least to me.
Prospects - This has actually been a banner year for the Indians' player development and that doesn't even count team success as last night we crowned our first league champion (Arizona Indians - congratulations guys) with 3 more teams in the playoffs and two others, Carolina and the DSL Indians, who were banging at the playoff door but just failed by an eyelash of getting in.
Whenever you look down your list of prospects and see a good number of guys holding their rank and more moving up than moving down, it's been a good year. Plus, add a draft that has produced many excellent performances this season, and the Indians' farm system is definitely on the upswing. Let's look at the my Indians' top 20 prospects before the season and look at their performances so far:
1. Trevor Bauer - He has been everything I hoped he would be. A kid like him will only get better as he gets more experience. Not an ace yet but on his way to being a solid #2 or #3 on a perennial pennant contender.
2. Francisco Lindor - He is a stud and our #1 prospect now that Bauer has graduated.
3. Clint Frazier - The same question marks apply to Frazier now that applied to him last year. He probably moved down a notch or two but is still a top 5 prospect in this organization.
4. Kyle Crockett - Another of my surprise picks that caused skepticism from my fellow fans but he is a stud reliever this year. As funny as it seems, I would trade him now that his value is as high as it may ever be.
5. Tyler Naquin - He looked like he was preparing to go all Michael Brantley on us but his injury ended his season prematurely. Still, if he recovers, he is on a path that brings him to Cleveland to help sometime in 2015.
6. Francisco Mejia - Not starting in low A ball hurts his prospect status to me. Nevertheless, in total, his season at Mahoning Valley was very, very solid, showing that, as a catcher, he is still a very good prospect.
7. Luis Lugo - His peripherals are great. He will fall in prospect status just because he can't seem to limit damage which results in a high ERA. Nevertheless, he is one of the best arms in our system.
8. Jesus Aguilar - In hindsight, he might have been rated too highly by me. Still, his solid AAA campaign bodes well for him to at least be a role player on this team next year.
9. Cody Anderson - The first clunker in my list...and I rated him lower than most. He doesn't seem to be able to get AA hitters out. Maybe he can fix that...we hope.
10. CC Lee - In a weak farm system starting the season, he has been as good as anyone can expect.
11. Ronny Rodriguez - His development has COMPLETELY stopped. I mean ground to a halt. Maybe he was upset he didn't get a promotion but, man, this guy was a potential 2015 piece who could easily now go the way of Juan Diaz. Not good!
12. Tony Wolters - He looks solid here to me. If he could hit a little more he could draw images of Craig Biggio..
13. Dorsyss Paulino - Switching to the OF at least kept him on the prospect map but his bat needs to pick it up. A slight disappointment for me but I still am on his side in terms of his long term potential.
14. Carlos Moncrief - A solid season piled on top of two previous solid seasons. He is not quite good enough to be a 4th outfielder in terms of his overall skill set but might get some time as an extra player on the Indians in 2015.
15. Bryan Price - Rough ML beginning notwithstanding I think this guy has a chance, I mean SHOULD have a chance, to be a big contributor in 2015 ala Kyle Crockett this year.
16. Jose Ramirez - Only this low in my pre-season rankings because of his injured finger. Now that he is healthy the Indians like him even more than I do. I see him as a Jose Oquendo utility infielder but he may be more.
17. TJ House - I had him higher than most and, in hindsight, he should have probably been where Cody Anderson was. Good for House and the Indians that he has shot up the chart, however.
18. Austin Adams - Exactly where he should be in a system that was weak at the beginning of the season.
19. Joe Wendle - An injury sucked the life out of his season but this ranking probably still stands for him, all things considered.
20. Erik Gonzalez - Probably moved up some places as he was solid as a hitter at Carolina before doing a Francisco Lindor hitting impersonation upon his promotion to Akron. As with Lindor last year, an injury muddied the waters as to whether Gonzalez was going to maintain his stratospheric production at Akron.
So, many guys solid and more guys up than down, at least in the top 20.
As far as the draft it is looking pretty good right now. Zimmer is who we thought we drafted. Bradley looks like a stud and a real value where we got him. Sheffeld, Hockin and Hentges have not embarrassed themselves or raised any red flags so far. The only clunker so far is Mike Papi who, for some inexplicable reason, has totally forgotten how to hit. I will give him a mulligan on this season, however, especially when you consider his walk rate and his versatility. Still, his performance is the biggest red flag so far from our 2014 draft. Every other draftee has performed as well or better than expected with not a single one of them looking like a steal whereas a number of them (e.g. Cameron Hill) looking very intriguing at this point but very few, if any, of them looking like wasted picks when you consider their draft slot. When you can say that this early in the draft, it has to be considered a success and, although I would have drafted differently, I commend the Indians for their draft this year. It looks like a winner to me.
Throw in some Asian prospects and this farm system is on the big upswing.
Right now I would say that Zimmer probably slots right below Naquin with Bradley being right below Zimmer, only due to the question marks associated with low level rookie ball. The rest of the 2014 top draftees will probably fall in spots 11-20 when the pre-season 2015 prospect lists start to come out.
All in all a great season so far for the Indians and their farm system...and we still have a month of baseball...or more...left.