This is the first month that Rookie and Short Season players will be considered for the rankings, immediately adding about 100 players into the mix. This year’s draft picks will not be included, however, instead being featured at the end of the season as an entire group. After a mediocre June, there were more than 35 players good enough for consideration, so apologies if you or your favorite player did not make the cut. There’s always August.
1. Ben Heller – Relief Pitcher
A Lake County – Drafted 2013 Round 22 – 2013 Rank #76
Heller was a very late round draft pick last year, but has done something very impressive this season in his first full year with the team. In just 39 innings (across 30 games in relief), Heller has struck out 67, giving him a K/9 of 15.5. In addition to this very impressive K-Rate, Heller has allowed just ten runs, giving him a 2.43 ERA in Lake County. Relievers always move through the system faster than other players, especially college drafted relievers, so the Indians might not have to wait very long for Heller. Expect to start hearing his name more by the end of 2015.
2. Jose Rodriguez – Starting Pitcher
R DSL Indians – 2012 International Free Agent – UR
Rodriguez pitched in just 12 games last season in his first professional year with the DSL Indians, but showed a glimpse of the greatness that continues to shine through. While a lack of top talent in the league makes pitching stats suspect, Rodriguez has now posted an ERA below 2.40 for two years. This season, he has been used only as a starter and has struck out 31 in 30.2 innings through seven starts. He is just 19 years old, so he has plenty of time to mature in the minors and should provide better evidence of his possible Major League future after the 2015 season, which he should spend either with the AZL Indians or Mahoning Valley.
3. Todd Hankins – Second Base, Outfield
Advanced A Carolina – Drafted 2011 Round 15 – UR
Hankins is in his fourth season in the Indians farm system and has reached his highest level to date during a two game stint with the Clippers, although he has found a more permanent home with the Mudcats. There, he has become one of the team’s top offensive performers, coming in third in RBI (31) and home runs (5). In addition, he is a super utility man of sorts, having played all three outfield positions, third base and short stop in addition to his primary position of second base. Of these, his best position is outfield, where he has committed just two errors in 93 chances. Hankins is one of the many middle infield, mid-level minor leaguers that the Indians have in abundance and could be trade bait either this month or during the off-season.
4. Thomas Pannone – Pitcher
R AZL Indians – Drafted 2013 Round 9 – 2013 Rank #68
After struggling as a reliever in his first season with the rookie level Arizona League Indians, but has been converted to a starter this year and has had completely different results. In four games, he has already thrown more innings (18) than in 2013 (16), but has allowed ten less earned runs (6) and struck out one more (21). With an ERA of just 3.00, Pannone is already looking like the top starter for the AZL Indians and could be up for a promotion to Mahoning Valley within the year.
5. Gabriel Mejia – Outfield
R DSL Indians – 2013 International Free Agent – UR
There are currently 28 Mejia’s in the minors, four of whom are in the Indians farm system, so this should help separate at least one of them. Gabriel Mejia will turn 19 later this month and is in his first year in the minors. He is primarily an outfielder, playing 18 games in center and 16 in right, but has also played a game at first and second base and is listed as a short stop (although he is yet to played there). In 36 games, Mejia is batting .363 and with an impressive 21 walks (especially considering the old adage, “you don’t walk off the island”), he is getting on base more than 45% of the time. Like the other rookie level players, there will likely be a long wait on this Mejia, but he is one to watch next year in either the DSL or AZL.
6. Will Roberts – Starting Pitcher
AA Akron – Drafted 2011 Round 5 – UR
A left-over from the 2011 draft, Roberts is in his second season with Akron and is posting his best year since leaving Lake County. In 110.1 innings across 18 starts, Roberts has held a 3.67 ERA and struck out 78 to just 24 walks. This is important as it marks his best SO/W and K/9 rate in a full season in his career. If Roberts has one problem, it is that he is very hittable as his 1.215 WHIP shows, but he has done a great job limiting damage, giving up just seven home runs. For comparison, on the Major League staff, only Justin Masterson has allowed less than seven home runs while pitching at least 55 innings and only one Indians pitcher, Corey Kluber, can match Roberts for innings pitched.
7. Audy Ciriaco – Third Base
AAA Columbus – 2014 MiLB Free Agent – UR
Audy Ciriaco, the younger brother of Royals infielder Pedro, was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Tigers prior to the 2005 season and played nine years in the minors between the Tigers and Marlins minor league systems from the Rookie level through AAA. He was brought in for infield depth by the Indians this off-season and has been one of the Clippers better performers and a possible candidate for a Major League call-up. Through 68 games, he has batted .266, hitting eight home runs, 16 doubles and 36 RBI.
8. Gabriel Vizcaino – Pitcher
R DSL Indians – 2013 International Free Agent – UR
It is hard to pick just one or two pitchers out of the very pitcher friendly Dominican Summer League, but Vizcaino is the second to go along with Rodriguez. He has been used as both a starter and a reliever and posted a 1.91 ERA in his first 28.1 innings. If there is an issue with Vizcaino it is his control as he has walked or hit 25 batters, more than have hit safely against him. The good thing is the DSL is the perfect place for a pitcher to work out a problem like that before pitching to the US.
9. Claudio Bautista – Second Base
A Lake County – 2011 International Free Agent – 2013 Rank #59
Bautista has had a slow ascent since joining the DSL Indians at the age of 17, but is having little trouble this year with the Captains as he ranks second on the team with 38 RBI and third with nine home runs. All together, he has hit 28 extra base hits, leading to a strong .430 slugging percent despite batting just .257. Bautista is still just 20, more than a year younger than the average player in ‘A’ ball, so he has plenty of time to increase his efficiency at the lower levels.
10. Casey Shane – Pitcher
R AZL Indians – Drafted 2013 Round 6 – 2013 Rank #65
Shane was drafted out of high school and made his Indians debut at 17, posting a 6.52 ERA in 29 innings, earning him another year in Goodyear. He has made the most of his second season, dropping that ERA to 2.33 through his first three starts (four games total). He has struck out 19 in 19.1 innings and walked just five, increasing both his K/9 (8.8) and SO/BB rates to respectable levels. While it will take a few more starts for him to prove himself at this level, what he has already done is impressive considering that the AZL hitters tend to be more advanced than the pitchers at this level.