Baseball America has recently released their “Best Tools” list for all the full-season league in the minors and several Cleveland Indians prospects were honored. Uber-prospect Bradley Zimmer unsurprisingly led all Tribe farmhands, appearing three times. However, he was far from the only prospect to make multiple appearances.
The International League Best Tools
The Cleveland Indians Triple-A squad had a pair of prospects grace the best tools list for the International League. Former Columbus Clippers and current Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor was named the “Best Defensive SS” as well as taking home the coveted “Most Exciting Player” recognition. Neither should come as much of a surprise given what fans all know (and have now seen firsthand) with his plus-plus defense. His bat though, which was thought to be a bit lacking, has been every bit as impressive as the glove, especially the power he’s shown.
Clippers first baseman Jesus Aguilar also made the grade being named the “Best Defensive 1B” in the International League. This award comes as a mild surprise as defense has never been his forte at first. He’s no butcher there though, and he’s obviously impressed those that have watched him this year. Perhaps Tribe fans will get a chance to see him this September in Cleveland as well.
The Eastern League Best Tools
Three members of the Akron Rubberducks Double-A squad represented the Cleveland Indians on the Eastern League best tools list. 3B Yandy Diaz appeared twice for having the “Best Strike-Zone Judgement” and for being the “Best Defensive 3B” in the Eastern League. The best strike-zone judgement is a well deserved honor as he’s currently walking more than he’s striking out (74 BB, 63 K) and has a great 13.9% walk rate. The best defensive 3B honor is a testament to the work he’s put in at the hot corner. When he was originally signed by the Indians out of Cuba in the winter of 2013 his defense at 3B was one knock on him, but he’s been playing well according to most that have seen him there.
Erik Gonzalez, recently promoted to Columbus, also received a defensive honor being named the “Best Infield Arm” in the Eastern League. A natural shortstop he’s got the arm to move to the third if needed and could eventually end up in a utility role in Cleveland with Lindor at short and Urshela at third.
Finally the Rubberducks manager, Dave Wallace, was named the “Best Manager” in the Eastern League. Wallace is a name fans should get to know as he could be in for some major league jobs in the very near future. David Laurila of Fangraphs wrote about him as a future managerial candidate just one offseason ago, and Wallace has done nothing but help the top talent in the Tribe system flourish.
The Carolina League Best Tools
The Cleveland Indians Advanced-A affiliate the Lynchburg Hillcats has been loaded with some of the best young talent in the system all year. Their outfield alone is worth watching with the likes of Zimmer, Luigi Rodriguez, Clint Frazier, and Mike Papi. However, only two members made the grade in the best tools categories and as mentioned before, Zimmer was well represented.
Zimmer was named the “Best Hitting Prospect” in addition to having the “Best Outfield Arm” and being named the “Most Exciting Player” in the Carolina League this year. Hard to argue with the best hitting prospect award as he hit .308/.403/.493 with a 163 wRC+ in 78 games for the Hillcats. He’s no one trick pony either with 10 home runs and 32 stolen bases to go along with solid defense in centerfield. He’s a true “Five-Tool” player who is one of the most exciting players in all of the minors, let alone just the Carolina League. The best outfield arm honor was a bit of a surprise I’m not convinced he has the best outfield arm on the Hillcats as Clint Frazier has one heck of an outfield arm himself. Not that Zimmer’s arm isn’t solid but it’s probably his least exciting attribute.
The best power hitter being a member of the Hillcats is of zero surprise as four of the top six in home runs are Cleveland Indians prospects. Nellie Rodriguez took the honor of “Best Power Prospect” thanks to his league leading 17 home runs, which also earned him a promotion to Double-A Akron not too long ago. Despite the promotion there’s a chance he could lead the league in home runs, though former teammate Frazier may have something to say about that (currently in second just two behind Rodriguez).
The Midwest League Best Tools
With so many Tribe prospects being named to the best tools list it’s somewhat disappointing to only have one member of the Class-A Lake County Captains earning an honor but that’s the case. Greg Allen was named the “Best Baserunner” in the Midwest League. Allen ranks second in the Midwest league with 40 stolen bases behind only the Cardinals Oscar Mercado’s 49. However, Allen has a 75 percent success rate to Mercado’s 73 percent and one can only assume that those that have watched him like him in other baserunning situations besides steals (such as going first to third on a single or first to home on a double).
One very surprising omission was Bobby Bradley not being named the best power hitting prospect in the league. Despite missing time with an oblique injury early in the season, Bradley still leads the league in home runs with 27. The next closest hitter is Rays prospect Casey Gilllaspie with just 16. Bradley’s .273 Isolated Power (ISO) also ranks first in the league. No offense meant to Jacob Nottingham (formerly of the Astros farm system), but his 10 home runs and .217 ISO just don’t measure up to what Bradley has shown to date. There’s more to having the “best tools” than stats and numbers but this is one that is hard to wrap your head around…
Boby Bradley an All-Star Snub?
Not only was Bradley ignored on the best tools list, but he was left off the postseason All-Star roster for the Midwest League, as voted on by the 16 league managers. To fully grasp how big a snub this is, consider where he ranks offensively among his Midwest League peers:
Now, you may think to yourself, well maybe the first baseman that was named the All-Star was actually much better than Bradley. Well, you’d be wrong. Again, no disrespect meant towards Ryan McBroom (Blue Jays) as he had a great year in the Midwest League in route to being named the league’s Most Value Player. However, was he truly better than Bradley?
Bradley has a higher OPS, more HR, more RBIs, and a way higher ISO. McBroom does have a better OBP, more doubles, and more runs scored. Perhaps he’s just that much better of a defensive first baseman as Bradley has made an outlandish 17 errors at first to McBroom’s five. Then again, McBroom has only played 71 of his 117 games at first base (10 in outfield and 36 as designated hitter) while Bradley has played 94 of his 100 games at first base (6 as designated hitter). In fact, this is where the ridiculousness of these awards comes into play.
Ryan McBroom actually was named a postseason All-Star at both first base AND designated hitter!? Now, maybe I’m just being blinded by homerism but that seems, to put it rather bluntly, stupid. Either he’s a designated hitter or he’s a first baseman, but not both. Bradley played more games at first base while actually putting up (slightly) better offensive numbers, but there wasn’t room for him on the All-Star squad? Talk about a snub, and it appears I’m not the only one that is upset over it.
At the end of the day though, postseason awards don’t mean much of anything. Just because a guy was named “best this” or “MVP of that league” doesn’t mean that prospect will ever end up making it in the big leagues, which is really all that matters in the end. That said, it’s still nice to see your team’s prospects recognized for the work they’ve put in. Bradley’s exclusion from both the best tools lists and postseason All-Star team is very disappointing even though it doesn’t take anything away from the season he’s had. He’s got a very good chance of setting a Lake County Captain’s franchise record for home runs this year as well as he tries to lead them to a playoff birth.
Awards or no awards, Bradley is one special prospect with one of the best power bats I’ve seen in the Tribe system in a long time. Now if he can just get the strikeouts under control…watch out!