While the Cleveland Indians farm system is not widely considered among the best in baseball, the Tribe’s minor league talent boasts several strengths and features significant depth at some of the big league club’s positions of need.
Francisco Lindor is just a short time away from making his MLB debut, but the Tribe’s more recent improvement in the draft has created an influx of top prospects in the lower levels of their farm system. Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer, ranked No. 2 and No. 3 by MLB.com, still reside at Single-A Lynchburg and the organization’s top-rated pitcher Justus Sheffield (No. 8) is throwing in Lake County.
None of those guys projects to make an impact at the big league level for several seasons, but the organization is chalked full of steady production this year. Take a look at five prospects who are playing very well in the Indians’ farm system right now.
Tyler Naquin, Columbus Clippers (AAA)
Naquin has played so well through the early part of this season he earned a quick call to Triple-A Columbus after just 33 games in Akron. The Indians’ No. 5 prospect hit .338/.408/.453 with the Rubber Ducks, including one home run and 10 RBIs. In three games thus far with the Clippers, Naquin is 5-for-16 with a home run and a stolen base. Naquin is a center fielder by trade and projects as the team’s future center fielder after the contract of Michael Bourn expires, but his above-average arm, speed and instincts make him a fit at any of the three outfield positions.
Cody Anderson, Columbus Clippers (AAA)
The Indians’ No. 17-rated prospect has performed exceptionally well in Akron this season although, like Corey Kluber, he doesn’t have many wins to show for it. In 11 starts this season split between Akron and Columbus, Anderson has thrown 62 innings and posted a 1.60 ERA. He is averaging less than one walk and fewer than five hits per outing while allowing opponents to hit just .232 against him this season. Unlike the Tribe’s current staff, Anderson isn’t a big-time strikeout pitcher (50 strikeouts this season), but he is incredibly efficient with a low 90s fastball and a tight curve. He remains relatively new to starting, as the Indians moved him from the bullpen after they drafted him in 2011, but his stuff is good enough to make an impact with the Tribe within the next year or two — especially if the fifth spot in the rotation continues to be a concern.
Bobby Bradley, Lake County Captains (A)
Drafted in the third round of last year’s draft, Bradley has quickly become one of the top prospects in the Indians’ organization. Currently ranked No. 10 in the Tribe’s farm system, 19-year-old first baseman has shown an extremely advanced bat for his age. While he’s hitting just .266 in Lake County, Bradley clubbed an impressive 431-foot bomb to right field in last night’s victory and is tied for the system lead in home runs (9) despite missing several weeks with an oblique injury. Bradley made a quick transition from high school to the professional ranks last season, helping the Rookie-level Indians win the Arizona League championship as he won the circuit’s Triple Crown with a .361 batting average, eight home runs and 50 RBIs. Still a teenager, Bradley won’t make an impact for the Tribe for several seasons, but he certainly appears to be the type of hitter that could accelerate through the ranks quickly.
Tyler Holt, Columbus Clippers (AAA)
Currently on the seven-day disabled list in Columbus, Tyler Holt has played extremely well again at Triple-A this season. As he awaits a more permanent opportunity in the major leagues, Holt has hit .313/.395/.393 with the Clips while adding 13 stolen bases on the year. He isn’t considered a top 30 prospect in the Tribe’s organization, so it certainly stands to reason guys like Tyler Naquin or James Ramsey could bypass him on their way to the Tribe’s roster. Still, Holt has proven he can contribute — more likely as a fourth outfielder — at the big league level and would be a significant defensive upgrade at any of the three outfield positions for the Tribe.
Will Roberts, Akron Rubber Ducks (AA)
Another prospect who does not appear on the Tribe’s top 30 list, Roberts has been exceptional in Akron this season. He is 5-2 with a 3.70 ERA in 12 starts this season and tossed his second career complete game as a pro on Thursday. Roberts allowed just one hit and one walk in a nine-inning win over New Hampshire and retired the final 13 batters he faced while striking out a season-best seven. Like Anderson, Roberts isn’t a big-time strikeout pitcher, but the command of all his pitches — a fastball, changeup and slider — makes him extremely tough to hit hard. Unfortunately for Roberts, though, there is a bit of a logjam in the big league rotation and projects to be for the foreseeable future. Unless he can out-pitch Anderson for a possible fifth spot in the rotation, his best opportunity to crack the Indians’ roster might be a move to the bullpen.