With the draft occurring earlier this month, things are starting to heat up in the minors with the Scrappers starting within the past week and the Arizona League Indians starting soon. This will be the last month with just the AAA, AA, Advanced A and A levels covered. The Indians minor league teams to this point have been playing far below expectations, with just the Rubber Ducks above .500. There are still stars at all levels, but it shouldn’t be surprising that the majority of this months top prospects come out of Akron. For reference, here are the top ten lists from March, April and May.
1. Shawn Armstrong – Relief Pitcher
AA Akron – Drafted 2011 Round 18 – 2012 Rank #23
When Kyle Crockett was promoted to the Majors straight from AA, it was a big deal, but his partner in the back-end of the Rubber Ducks bullpen was left behind. Armstrong remained in AA, but has been just as good as Crockett, posting a 1.65 ERA with 33 strike outs in 27.1 innings. At 23 year years old, Armstrong is in his fourth year with the Tribe and he has performed on a completely new level this year. Relievers need to be judged on a different level from other prospects as they tend to fly through the system much faster. Because of this, it is very possible that Armstrong could make his Major League debut this season and become a productive member of the Indians bullpen.
2. Paul Hendrix – SS, 2B, 3B
A Lake County – Drafted 2013 Round 18 – 2013 Rank #73
The Indians liked Hendrix so much they drafted him twice (round 32 in 2012) and at this point that looked like a good move. After being drafted last season, Hendrix maintained in Short Season ‘A’ ball, but didn’t hit a single home run and only batted .258. This year, he has played the entire year in Lake County and it has been completely different, posting a .319 average with six home runs and twenty extra base hits overall. In addition to being a strong hitter, he is an incredible defender, playing almost equally at three different positions and not committing an error in 29 games at second and third base. While middle infielders with plus gloves and bats aren’t rare in the Indians minor league system, you can never have enough.
3. Eric Haase – Catcher
A Lake County – Drafted 2011 Round 7 – 2013 Rank #19
Haase was recently named to the Eastern League All-Star team, something that isn’t a big surprise when looking at his incredible power numbers. In 43 games, Haase has already hit 12 home runs and knocked in 26, leading the Captains in home runs and second in RBI. This is in line with his history as he hit 14 home runs with 47 knocked as a 20 year old with Lake County last year. After years without a decent catching prospect (the last two to go pro with the Indians were Victor Martinez and Josh Bard), the Indians now have a whole group including two on this months top ten and one on each of the first three months.
4. Louis Head – Relief Pitcher
AA Akron – Drafted 2012 Round 18 – 2012 Rank #57
Head was drafted in 2012, but has already dominated at ever level of the minor leagues. He was recently promoted to Akron after a 2.21 ERA with 34 strike outs in 20.1 innings in Carolina, truly incredible numbers at any level. He was often used as the Mudcats’ closer, saving nine games of his 17 appearances and has already saved a game for the Rubber Ducks as well. In addition to being an amazing strike out pitcher, Head hasn’t allowed a single home run this year and only four in 69 innings in 2013. Unlike a few other relievers to come on this list, Head has a very legitimate chance to become an outstanding Major League reliever.
5. LeVon Washington – Left Field
Advanced A Carolina – Drafted 2010 Round 2 – 2013 Rank #33
Washington is an incredibly exciting player who is kind of a tease, playing out of this world, then missing large stretches of time with injury or struggling at a level he shouldn’t. Because of this, it is hard to project him as a Major Leaguer, but he is currently sitting in his most consistent and productive season in his MiLB career. After a decent partial season in Lake County last year, he has taken off in Carolina, with a .309 average and six extra base hits in 27 games. He was switched to a permanent place in left field prior to this season after being primarily a center fielder, most likely because of poor defense (.960 FLD% in CF) and to keep him getting playing time with Tyler Naquin above him and Clint Frazier below.
6. Austin Adams – Relief Pitcher
AAA Columbus – Drafted 2009 Round 5 – 2013 Rank #35
Adams is one of the oldest players in AAA that hasn’t made his MLB debut yet, but he still has chance to make good as he is continuing his success in the Indians’ system. Adams missed all of 2012 with injury, but has come back as a reliever instead of a starter and has been better than average in Columbus. In AA last season, Adams struck out 76 in 55 innings and that has dropped off some, but he still holds a 3.21 ERA with 23 K’s in 28 innings for the Clippers.
7. Alex Lavisky – Catcher
AA Akron – Drafted 2010 Round 8 – NR
Lavisky has been one of the top hitters for the Rubber Ducks, while playing as the back-up to Tony Wolters. Through 26 games, Lavisky’s .304/.327/.431 averages are all career highs and has hit three home runs and knocked in 13, better than all hitters other than Geovany Urshela (who has already been promoted to AAA) with less than 38 games played.
8. Toru Murata – Pitcher
AA Akron – 2010 International Free Agent -2013 Rank #17
Murata has been both a starter and reliever for the Rubber Ducks and Clippers, filling in for Columbus when they lost Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and T.J. House to the Indians in a short period. While he didn’t fare well at AAA, he has owned AA hitters to a 3.23 ERA in 39 innings. Murata is 29, so a Major League career will be a long shot, but the international free agent out of Osaka deserves another, longer shot in AAA to see what he can do at a higher level.
9. Benny Suarez – Relief Pitcher
Advanced A Carolina – Drafted 2012 Round 36 – 2012 Rank #64
Suarez is one of many talented relievers to pitch for the Mudcats, some of whom have already been featured, including Josh Martin and the aforementioned Head. Suarez holds an ERA of 2.51 at the Advanced A level with two holds. One negative to Suarez’s game is that he hasn’t been able to post a great K/BB (18/14) rate, unlike many of his teammates. Control is incredibly important in a late reliever and if he can’t avoid walking ‘A’ level hitters, he will never be able to pitch against upper level batters.
10. Nellie Rodriguez – 1B
A Lake County – Drafted 2012 Round 15 – 2013 Rank #52
There really weren’t ten players who deserved a feature this month, so an old mainstay with a little feature will make his yearly appearance. Rodriguez was originally drafted as a catcher, but has played just three games behind the plate in over 200 appearances. He is just 20 years old and already in his third season with the Tribe. This is his second season in Lake County and, while he is not rocking Classic Park, he is just two home runs away from a career high. He has shown plenty of power for the lower minor league levels, but his .224 average leaves something to be desired. While he has put three decent seasons together already, his ceiling may be pretty low and unless he puts together a great end to 2014, he may not make it to AA for three years if ever.