the Indians have seven of their last ten games to put them right back into the thick of things. Of course, despite their winning ways, every team has holes due to injury or lack of production and the Indians are no exception. It is too early to fill these holes via trade (23 of the 30 MLB teams are within two games of a play-off spot, only the Cubs and Astros are more than 6 games out) and too late to fill them through free agency. The one way to make internal improvements in mid-May is to look down, so now is the time to look and see how well some of the Indians top prospects in Columbus and Akron are performing to this point.
Lindor looked set to make his AAA debut to start this season after a strong appearance in the Major League Spring Training camp, but his early start in Akron has proven he isn’t quite ready for the big time. Although he has picked things up in recent weeks, Lindor is still batting under .300, although his four home runs and 26 are more than expected from the light hitting short stop. With Asdrubal Cabrera and Mike Aviles starting to play well up the middle, the chances of Lindor making a big impact this year are even further reduced. Most likely, he will be promoted to AAA within the coming months, but won’t even necessarily be a September call-up unless Cabrera is traded.
A quicker option could be Giovanny Urshela, who was promoted to AAA recently after a scorching start with the Rubber Ducks. He is primarily a third baseman, but has played short stop and first base and generally has more power than Lindor, hitting three home runs in his first ten games with the Clippers which can be added to the five he hit for Akron.
Aguilar is the most advanced hitter left in AAA after the return of Jose Ramirez to Cleveland. He leads the Clippers with seven home runs, 19 RBI, eight doubles and 20 walks as their top offensive performer. There is little, if anything, for him to learn at that level and at 6’3″ and 250 pounds, he certainly doesn’t have any more growing to do. He would make the perfect DH and could play first as well if Nick Swisher were to need a day off. With no regular DH or available pinch hitter on the team, Aguilar should expect a promotion within the month, although whether or not he will actually get it is another thing. For that to happen, the Indians would have to cut ties with Jason Giambi and one other player, most likely either Ramirez or C.C. Lee.
Relief HelpWhile the Indians are likely to eject their struggling relievers without quite a bit more time, but if they decide to move on, there are plenty of options ready right now. Two players familiar to Indians fans are among the best pitchers for the Clippers, Frank Herrmann and T.J. House. Herrmann started out with some injury issues, but has since returned to Columbus and has pitched like a 30 year old Major League veteran should in AAA. He currently holds a 1.35 ERA with 11 strike outs in just six innings, but he seems ready for a Major League return should he be needed. House has been used as a starter in AAA and posted a 1.77 ERA in 35.2 innings, but would most likely join the bullpen at the Major League level. He pitched a little out of the Indians bullpen in 2013 and he should be expected to return at some point this year, most likely if there are any injury issues.
Going a little further down, Tyler Sturdevant has returned from an injury lost 2013 to dominate for the Ducks. Sturdevant holds a 1.80 ERA with 14 K’s in 15 innings at AA, while he fellow reliever, Kyle Crockett, has one upped him with 17 strike outs and a 0.63 ERA in 14 innings. The only reason these almost Major League ready relievers are sitting in AA is because the Indians are hoarding AAAA players in Columbus, including Blake Wood, Scott Barnes, Nick Hagadone, Travis Banwart, Mike Zagurski, Kyle Davies and the previously mentioned Herrmann.
As mentioned, the Indians have quite a few options in the minors that aren’t quite rookies. In addition to those already mentioned, Luke Carlin (.308/.357/.462) and Matt Carson (.307/.395/.465) are both back with Columbus and looking good enough for bench roles. Should the Indians want to carry a third catcher or need an extra outfielder, but options are ready right now. Carson has five steals already, and is obviously the next best choice after Nyjer Morgan, who has already been promoted. As far as catchers go, the Indians have their pick. Last time, they went with George Kottaras, who played much better in one start with the Indians than in his entire season so far with the Clip Show. Of course, if it is a more regular role, they may want to go with the young Roberto Perez, who leads the Clippers with a .342 average and .640 slugging percent. In all, the Indians have a plethora of choices behind the plate should they decide Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana can’t handle the catching duties in Cleveland.
Overall, the Indians have an incredibly strong minor league system, including players at every level that project to be strong Major Leaguers. The Indians success this year will largely determine how many of these players actually make it to the big leagues. Terry Francona has definitely shown a preference towards veterans, even when younger players would likely outperform their older counterparts (like in the case of Giambi over Aguilar and Elliot Johnson over Ramirez), so if the Indians do have injury or performance based needs in the near future, they are more likely to pull out of the last two groups than the first. In addition to the players who are performing well at AAA, the Indians still have control over Ryan Rohlinger, Justin Sellers, David Cooper and Bryan LaHair, all who have struggled in AAA. Based on previous incidents, it is more likely that Sellers, who is batting .217 with 10 errors, would be promoted before Urshela or Aguilar, despite their statistical superiority. This could change, but sadly, it would likely take the Indians falling out of the play-off races completely to see any of the younger players get a real chance.