The Major League roster is never good enough for an entire season and the Indians' this year is no exception. Standing at the ready will be members of the Columbus Clippers and Akron Aer…Rubberducks waiting to make their Major League debuts in the event of injury, trade or just regular futility. More than any other season in recent memory, the Indians have a banner crop of talent waiting just below the Major League level. This list includes multiple first round draft picks who would be the first first-rounders to make a difference at the Major League level since Lonnie Chisenhall (2008). If you don't know these names yet, get to know them now, because these are the ten Indians' minor leaguers most likely to make their Major League debuts in 2014.
This is not a list of the Indians' top ten prospects, but a ranking of the ten most likely to break into the Majors this year. As with all the other Burning River Baseball prospect rankings, players are excluded as soon as they have a single Major League appearance, so you won't be seeing players from last years list like C.C. Lee, Danny Salazar and T.J. House.
10. Chris Wallace – C – From Houston for Eric Berger – 2013 BRB Rank: 36
The Indians aren't likely to use a real back-up catcher this season with Carlos Santana taking over on Yan Gomes' off days and this is likely due to the lack of options of players who could fill this role. With Chun Chen moving to first, Wallace should now be considered the Indians top catching prospect. He batted .288 with just 3 home runs between the Indians and Astros farm systems, but seems to be a more solid choice than Roberto Perez, who will be the other AAA catcher. Wallace is included on this list, not because he is an amazing talent that deserves a shot, but because he is the next line of defense in an organizationally weak position.
9. Joe Wendle – 2B – 6th Round, 2012 Draft – 2013 BRB Rank: 13
It is never expected for a sixth round pick to make his Major League debut just two years after being drafted, but there is a chance for Wendle to do so this year. He has vastly outproduced his expectations in both Mahoning Valley and Carolina, batting .295 with 65 RBI in the most recent season. He has a few large blocks in front of his Major League dreams, namely, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez, but this shouldn't keep him from being a September call-up if he destroys in Akron this year.
8. Tyler Sturdevant – RP – 27th Round, 2006 Draft – 2013 BRB Rank: Unranked
Most of the players on this list are either International Free Agents hitting their prime or top draft picks who have lit the minors on fire. Sturdevant is neither of these, and in fact, didn't play at all in 2013 after being injured. He has been in AAA since 2010 and has shown flashes of brilliance amid the struggles. Most impressively, he is a flame thrower with a MiLB career 10.3 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9. Of course, he does have a problem with allowing too many hits, but his work in the off-season (and the season he took off), should be significant in making him a better pitcher. If the Indians need bullpen help sometime in 2014, they could do a lot worse than Sturdevant.
7. Chun Chen – 1B/OF – 2007 International Free Agent – 2013 BRB Rank: 9
We have had Chen ranked among the Tribe's top prospects since we started keeping track, but his progression has been slower than expected. In 2013 he made his AAA debut and struggled after a tremendous start in Akron. He was initially a catcher, but changed to first base to accommodate the Major League roster and has now played significant time in the outfield as well. Expect him to make his Major League debut this September as a possible utility player or possibly never at all.
6. Giovanni Soto – SP – From Detroit for Jhonny Peralta – 2013 BRB Rank: Unranked
Soto missed almost all of 2013 with injury after being a dominant starter ever since joining the Tribe in 2010. Like Sturdevant, he is hard to judge after missing an entire season, but his dominance in 2012 in Akron should bring confidence that he will be able to dominate in AAA this year. Depending on contract discussions with the Indians minor league Spring Training invites, Soto could be as high as number two in the Clippers rotation, likely behind Trevor Bauer. While it would take quite a few injuries for the Indians to need a pitcher as deep as Soto, he is likely the most Major League ready starter that hasn't already made his Major League debut.
5. Tyler Naquin – OF – 1st Round, 2012 Draft – 2013 BRB Rank: 15
Naquin is a talented athlete and has moved quickly through the minors after being drafted out of Texas A&M. He ended 2013 in Akron and could begin 2014 there, but should be in Columbus before long. While he seems to be a full year away still, a forty man roster placement and an invite into the Major League Spring Training camp show the confidence the Indians have in him.
4. Carlos Moncrief – RF – 14th Round, 2008 Draft – 2013 BRB Rank: 41
Moncrief knocked in 75 in Akron last season and will likely be part of an incredibly strong Clippers offense in 2014. If the Indians decide they need some power from below at some point this season, Moncrief is one of three major options who could provide some thump. Already it looks like right field could be a big weakness for the Tribe in 2014 with unknowns in Ryan Raburn and David Murphy. If either of these players struggle too much, Moncrief could be a real answer at the Major league level this year.
3. Jose Flores – CP – 2006 International Free Agent – 2013 BRB Rank: 21
With the Indians' bullpen severely limited after the 2013 free agent season, the team will likely be looking for bullpen help this summer. Outside of players who have already made their debuts, like C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet and T.J. House, Flores may be the Tribes top choice. In addition to being a closer since 2010 in Lake County, Flores has held an ERA below 2.80 for each of the last two seasons and four of his seven years in the Indians minor league system. After a full year of dominance in Akron in 2013, Flores is completely ready for AAA and the Major Leagues shortly after.
2. Jesus Aguilar – 1B – International Free Agent 2007 – 2013 BRB Rank: 5
Unlike the top ranked prospect, Aguilar is not well known among baseball fans, but he does have something no one else really has in the entire minor league system, power. He played the entire season last year in AA and broke Akron's record for RBI (105) while hitting 28 home runs. In order to continue his development (he is already 23), Aguilar played in the Venezuelan Winter League this year and came in third in the league in slugging percent (.597) with 18 home runs and 50 RBI in 58 games against talent of all levels. Since he is limited defensively (he can only play first base and not extremely well), it could hurt his chances of making the team early in 2014, but if he continues his dominance in Columbus, they won't be able to keep him away.
1. Francisco Lindor – SS – 1st Round, 2011 Draft – 2013 BRB Rank: 11
There is no surprise that Lindor is the Indians' top prospect after being the Tribe's first round draft pick in 2011. While he may not be the first player on the list to make it to Cleveland, he should be considered the player with the highest single chance. As long as he isn't injured, he has a whole slew of chances to make the team this year. If he starts out so incredibly in his first season in AAA that he can't be ignored, he could make the team as early as late May. If the Indians decide to trade Asdrubal Cabrera, Lindor would be his likely replacement in sometime in July. Even if he remains on the team, Lindor will almost certainly be a September call-up. He is already at a Major League defensive level (his range and arm are already better than Cabrera, he just needs to work on his glove work) and he put up a .801 OPS in Akron in 2013, so he is almost ready offensively as well. There is no player Indians fans are more excited to get to see and it will almost certainly happen in 2014.