The Indians Minor League system is filled with talented players. You hear about these players when they are drafted or traded for, but then they disappear from the mainstream media until they get to the Majors. How will you know the Indians of next year before they actually become Indians? I’m here to help you out with the Indians top ten Minor League players of 2012 so far. There will be four of these throughout the season. Once a player has been featured he will no longer be eligible for the list, so we will feature 40 different players. Players that have played in the Major Leagues are also ineligible as they cannot really be considered prospects anymore. This will keep this article from featuring the 2011 Cleveland Indians who are currently in AAA.
1. T.J. McFarland – SP – AA Akron – Drafted Round 4 in 2007
T.J. McFarland’s complete dominance over all of AA has been an integral part of the machine that is the Akron Aeros. Akron currently leads all Eastern League teams with a 23-13 record. Seven of those wins belong to McFarland. He has only started 8 games and has a decision in each. T.J. currently holds a 1.86 ERA with a WHIP of just over 1.07 in 48.1 innings pitched. He has never pitched higher than AA, but look for him to make the jump later this season. This is McFarland’s fifth professional season.
2. Chen Lee – RP – AAA Columbus – International Free Agent 2008
Chen Lee is the best example of an improved international scouting department in the Indians organization. Lee was signed out of Taiwan in 2008 and is currently in his fourth season in the Indians farm system. Lee has only thrown 7 innings out of the bullpen this year for the Clippers, but his consistency has not wavered since he got to Columbus. In parts of two seasons with Akron and Columbus, Lee holds a 2.80 ERA (so far this year with Columbus it is 2.57). His K/9 has been over 10 for every single MiLB season so far reaching as high as 12 strike outs per nine innings in Columbus last year. He needs some more time in AAA to make sure he can sustain his success, but he is definitely on the horizon for the Bullpen Mafia. Look for Lee as early as late 2012 and to be a competitor for a spot on the 25 man roster next Spring Training.
3. Steven Wright – SP – AA Akron – Drafted Round 2 in 2006
If it wasn’t obvious before it should be now. The Indians are very deep in starting pitching at the mid to low Minor League levels (they are an Ubaldo Jimenez trade away from being deep at the upper level). Steven Wright is absolutely dominating AA hitters so far this season. In his 6th professional season Wright has struck out 38 batters over the course of 43.1 innings. Even more impressively he holds a 1.87 ERA over this time. This is the most successful he has been throughout his Minor League career with a career low in ERA and the highest K/9 rate at any level above Lake County. Wright definitely looks like one of the next starting pitchers to make the trip from Akron to Columbus.
4. Francisco Lindor – SS – A Lake County – Drafted Round 1 in 2011
In just 33 games at single A, Lindor has already hit 13 extra base hits including 3 triples. He also has stolen 11 bases making him look like the rarity that is the speed player with some power. He is only 18 and in his first full season with the Indians, but will hopefully move quickly through the system over the span of the next two years. He may still have some defensive issues to work out, but he has plenty of time for that. Look for him in Columbus by 2014.
5. Adam Abraham – 3B – AA Akron – Drafted Round 13 in 2008
Abraham has moved slowly up the system, but it is probably for the best as it has allowed him to increase his power output during the last couple of seasons culminating in 17 home runs and 72 RBI in 2011(Kinston). This is his first season in AA and while it may look like he has struggled (.256 AVG), he has maintained in the more important categories of getting on base and hitting for power. His 20 walks have kept his OBP afloat at .393 and his extra base power has his slugging percent at .467, the highest of his career at any level. This is Abraham’s 5th season in the minors and he is already 25, but at the least we can expect him to be the eventual replacement of Lonnie Chisenhall in Columbus when the Indians realize they need him in Cleveland.
6. Beau Mills – 1B – AAA Columbus – Drafted Round 1 in 2007
The Indians struggled with early round draft picks for a few years in the early 2000′s and looked to come out of it with the selection of Beau Mills in 2007. Since then, only Lonnie Chisenhall and Francisco Lindor remain as first round picks. The Indians have high hopes for Mills as first base is not a deep position for the team at the Major or Minor League levels. This is his 6th season and his .231/.279/.436 line doesn’t give much reason for the Indians to move him along any further. If he doesn’t step up his game soon he may be could be traded or end up as a rule 5 player at the end of the season. Of course if he doesn’t play any better, why would any other team want to take a risk with him.
7. Jose Flores – RP – A+ Carolina – International Free Agent 2005
The Indians have taken it slow with this reliever, pitching him two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before allowing him to pitch in the U.S. Flores is currently having his best season yet as the closer for the Mudcats. He has finished 11 of his 15 games pitched in and has struck out 21 in only 17.2 innings. His 1.02 ERA is extremely impressive and his 7 saves show he can take the pressure of being a low level minor league closer. At his current pace he will be ready to leave Columbus sometime in 2016, but his talent level should allow him to move up a little faster than that. Instead, look for him to be in Columbus within the next two years.
8. Cody Anderson – SP – A Lake County – Drafted Round 14 in 2011
In just his first full Minor League season Cody Anderson is already showing some promise. In the 43 innings he’s pitched since he was drafted last season he has only allowed 9 runs for an ERA of 1.88. He has won 4 of his 6 starts and struck out 31 compared to 9 walks. The basics are there for Anderson, it will just take some more time to see what kind of pitcher he will really be. After the routine AA broken finger and AAA Tommy John surgery, how much will he have left in the tank? Assuming none of those things happen, Anderson could be expected to be at a pro level by late 2015 or 2016.
9. Eric Berger – SP – AAA Columbus – Drafted Round 8 in 2008
The best mustache in baseball has jumped around a lot since joining the Indians system in 2008. In 5 years with the Tribe he has played for 5 different teams including time in Akron in 4 separate seasons. He started this year in Akron, but was quickly moved back to AAA, where he has pitched admirably. In 2 starts Berger has struck out 10 and only allowed 3 runs. Berger may be a pleasant surprise to most Indians fans as he hasn’t seen much press as an 8th round draft pick, but most people hadn’t heard of Zach McAllister before last season either. Berger could be Major League ready by season end and should definitely be in mind as a possible deep rotation starter or long reliever in 2013.
10. Tim Fedroff – OF – AA Akron – Drafted Round 7 in 2008
Tim Fedroff spent last season at AAA, but has been demoted back to AA for the start of 2012. This probably has more to do with the glut of outfielders the Indians aquired before the season this year. New this season were Trevor Crowe (back from injury), Ezequiel Carrera (demoted from Cleveland) and Ryan Spilborghs (Minor League Free Agent). Since the beginning of the season Crowe has hurt himself again and Spilborghs has been traded, possibly leaving an opening for another outfielder on the Clippers’ roster. Fedroff has played well enough for the promotion with a line of .333/.422/.468. His 5 steals with 3 times caught do leave some room for concern however as the Indians would like him to be a speed-type player. Fedroff does have 3 triples already, so he is probably just picking some bad places to run.
There are your top ten Indians Minor Leaguers through May. They are not specifically the best ten in the system right now, just those athletes that I felt should be recognized at this point in the season. Look out for ten more sometime around the beginning of July.