On Monday, I took a look at some of the pitchers in the Cleveland Indians farm system who have the best chance of impacting the team in 2014. Pitchers such as Chen-Chang Lee, Trevor Bauer, Kyle Crockett, Preston Guilmet, Bryan Price and others all have a chance to make an impact on the Indians’ pitching staff this season.
Now it is time to turn our attention to the lineup.
The Indians actually have a very stable core of players in the everyday lineup in Cleveland, so unless injuries crop up, there may be few opportunities for a player to make an impact in this area of the team. However, as Yan Gomes showed last season, all a player needs is an opportunity.
The Indians have actually built up some good position player depth in the upper levels of their farm system. In the event an injury comes up, the following players look to have the best chance of not only getting to Cleveland at some point in 2014, but having an impact as well.
It should be noted that the prospects listed below are not necessarily the best prospects in the system and instead are the best options with a chance to get to the Major Leagues this season and compete. These are Major League ready prospects (or close to it) with the highest likelihood of being called up ranked from one (most likely) to five (least likely).
(Note: The Indians will have a lot of players assigned to Triple-A Columbus who have considerable Major League experience and will be options for them this season, but they are not prospects and hence not listed.)
1. Jose Ramirez (INF): Ramirez is a sleeper to keep an eye on who if given the right opportunity could blossom into a solid everyday player like Yan Gomes did for the Indians last season. His primary and best position is second base, a position obviously locked up by Jason Kipnis. Also, Asdrubal Cabrera is at shortstop and Francisco Lindor is in waiting there. He’s not a good fit as an everyday third base option, but he can play there on a short term basis. Basically, he’s another (better) version of Mike Aviles, a player who probably fits on this team best as a versatile player off the bench who switch hits, plays average to plus defense anywhere in the infield, handles the bat well and has a lot of speed. He’s a very good handcuff to any of Cabrera, Aviles, Kipnis and even Lindor and should be one of the first options the Indians call upon if a long term need arises in the infield.
2. Jesus Aguilar (1B/DH): If there is any prospect who has a clear path to the Cleveland everyday lineup, it is Aguilar. While the Indians would prefer to have a top prospect play a position and not be relegated to a designated hitter role, if Carlos Santana is playing mostly third base and catcher and the Indians have some issues at the designated hitter spot early in the season, it would not be a reach to see Aguilar up with the club by the end of May — provided he is playing well in Columbus. He is average at best defensively at first base, but could spell Nick Swisher some and is a good handcuff to him there. Also, he might be the missing link as a power right-handed bat capable of hitting in the middle of the order that can take the lineup to the next level.
3. Francisco Lindor (SS): The Lindor Watch is officially on in Cleveland as the expectation is that at some point this season he will make it to Cleveland. That remains to be seen because as long as Asdrubal Cabrera is an Indian and playing shortstop, Lindor will be in the minors. The Indians may entertain trading Cabrera in July to get something for him before he departs as a free agent, which would of course open up the position for Lindor; however, it is possible if the Indians did that they could always go with Mike Aviles as the regular at shortstop and use Jose Ramirez in a utility role until late in the season and then have Lindor up as a September callup. Lindor has the goods to be an elite level defensive shortstop for a long time and has the bat and legs to impact a lineup as well. You can bet that a lot of eyes will be fixated on the performance of Cabrera in Cleveland and Lindor’s performance at Double-A Akron and eventually Triple-A Columbus.
4. Carlos Moncrief (RF): Moncrief might be one of the biggest wildcards on this list. He has the goods to be both an impact player on defense with his arm and range and also on offense with his power bat, but there are question marks as to whether his bat will translate to the Major Leagues because he is prone to chasing pitches and racks up a good amount of strikeouts. He showed an unbelievable improvement in his strikeout rate late season, and if he sustains that at Triple-A Columbus this season then the Indians may have something to fill the everyday right field spot right now. That spot is currently held by a David Murphy and Ryan Raburn platoon but could easily be exchanged for Moncrief if he proves to be the real deal and the platoon goes sour.
5. Tyler Naquin (CF): After the trio of Ramirez, Aguilar and Lindor, it is hard to see many other position player prospects getting a chance in Cleveland this season, so Naquin is a bit of a reach here. That said, he really impressed with his conversion to center field last season and has the goods defensively to play right now in the big leagues. If his refined swing holds and his plate discipline improves as expected, then he has the tools to be a legit Major League option by mid-season. If an injury situation crops up with either Michael Brantley or Michael Bourn and the Indians are unable to find a capable replacement on the trade market, they could turn to Naquin.
Sleepers: Outfielder Tyler Holt is a guy that won’t get an everyday opportunity, but if the Indians find themselves in need of a short term fourth outfielder who plays defense and runs well, he might be a good fit. Second baseman Joey Wendle is unfortunately blocked by Jason Kipnis, but if Kipnis were to get hurt and Wendle is raking at Double-A Akron or even at Triple-A Columbus, he could get serious consideration as a temporary replacement for Kipnis. Wendle might even be a name thrown around in trade discussions in July.