Prospects offer promising future for Indians
Shortstop Lindor, outfielder Frazier headline talented group of Minor Leaguers for Tribe
CLEVELAND -- With four picks on Day 1, the Indians were able to stockpile talent and depth early in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. But while many of those new names are far off from a Major League debut, the organization has several top prospects that could get the call to Cleveland sooner rather than later -- and a few who already have.
Headlining the club's pool of Minor League talent are shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Clint Frazier, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the team's farm system, respectively, by MLB.com. Both were top-10 Draft picks and both signed out of high school, but the similarities quickly end there.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, the lithe Lindor possesses the sort of arm and defensive range to become a top-tier glove for the Indians. He is not expected to develop into a power threat any time soon, but the 20-year-old switch-hitter is certainly no slouch at the plate when it comes to making contact.
In 65 games with Double-A Akron this season, Lindor is batting .275 with a .363 on-base percentage, 36 RBIs and four home runs. The young Puerto Rican's speed on the basepaths has also proven to be a factor other teams must consider, as he has 19 stolen bases in 25 attempts with the RubberDucks.
"Francisco has done everything and above to be in Double-A at the age he is, to be able to handle shortstop the way he's played it," Indians director of amateur scouting Brad Grant said. "His offensive side, to be able to handle the bat and switch hit, it's been everything we hoped for and then some."
With Tribe shorstop Asdrubal Cabrera set to become a free agent this winter and Lindor handling his Eastern League competition admirably, Indians fans could see the farm system's top talent in September, if not sooner.
Frazier, on the other hand, carries a center fielder's frame but has plenty of power potential to go along with it. Scouts credit him with a plus arm, making him a potential candidate for right field down the line, and plus running ability.
But there is little doubt that Frazier's weapon of choice is his bat, which he gets the most out of by utilizing a quick, compact swing. The results have not come immediately -- he is hitting .248 with four home runs through 55 games with Class A Lake County -- but 2014 also marks his first full season in professional baseball.
Grant noted the organization has been encouraging Frazier to adopt a more patient approach in the box, which has led to some of the early growing pains, but he believes the young slugger has adapted well enough thus far.
"Both of those guys were so unique in their talent and ability, they possessed tools that you just don't see [in high-school players]," Grant said of Lindor and Frazier. "With Clint, it was the bat speed and ability to impact the baseball."
At 19 years old, Frazier is at least a couple years away from the Majors, and the Indians are likely to be quite patient with the No. 5 overall pick in last year's Draft.
Beyond the group's most recognizable names, the Tribe has also seen a handful of prospects play in Cleveland this season after injuries gave way to opportunities for the club's rising young talent.
The first to get the call was infielder Jose Ramirez, the organization's seventh-best prospect according to MLB.com. The switch-hitting Ramirez saw 11 games with the Indians while Jason Kipnis was on the disabled list in May.
It was not the first taste of the big leagues for Ramirez, who hit .333 with Cleveland to end his 2013 season. But despite going 2-for-25 during his most recent Major League session, the team still appreciates that it has a speedy contact bat and reliable defender waiting in the wings at Triple-A Columbus.
"[Ramirez] is impacting the games with his glove, his legs, his bat, energy, the kind of things we need him to do," Indians manager Terry Francona said in May. "As much as you don't want to see Kip get hurt, it's exciting to get a chance to look at Jose just a little bit."
Ramirez has put up a .308/.379/.436 line with three stolen bases since rejoining Columbus on May 22.
First baseman Jesus Aguilar trailed closely behind Ramirez, making his Major League debut on May 15 after Nyjer Morgan hit the DL. He has since seen two short stretches with the Indians, managing three hits in 16 at-bats. It was the first hit, however, that made a difference for the right-handed power hitter.
"That was a great moment for me and for my family," Aguilar said of getting his first Major League hit. "That's some motivation for me to keep working hard and try to be here again. And I did it. And I'll keep working hard and see what happens."
Aguilar has torn up Triple-A this season, hitting .294 with 11 home runs, 33 RBIs and a .389 OBP. He hit 16 home runs in his first full campaign with Akron last year, and the team expects him to contribute again in the near future at one of the two corner infielder spots.
"He has good hands. He has plenty of arm. He has decent actions," vice president of player development Ross Atkins said of Aguilar's potential at third base. "It just will come down to agility and ability to make the play coming in, ranging hard to his right, plays that require a little more athleticism."
Left-handed reliever Kyle Crockett -- the most recent rookie to rejoin the Indians after he was recalled from Columbus on Friday -- was the first of any player taken in the 2013 Draft to reach the Majors when he debuted on May 16. Since then, he has allowed just one run on five hits through 6 1/3 innings with the Tribe.
"It's exciting for our scouts and it's exciting for us as a staff to see that," Grant said. "To be able to take a player last year from college and have him reach the Major Leagues already, it's something that's gratifying and is really a tribute to our scouts."
Crockett had posted a 0.57 ERA through 15 games in Akron before his first callup, striking out 17 while walking just three. In between his two stints in Cleveland, he continued to show he can succeed no matter the classification, with a 1.04 ERA across six games with Columbus.
Now, as Crockett replaces fellow lefty Nick Hagadone in the Tribe's bullpen, he is starting to settle into his role at the highest level of the organization.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," Crockett said of being called up the second time. "It's the same game. These guys, you just know that they're better hitters and better players. You just have to do what you do."
Comfort is a state few prospects find themselves in upon beginning the arduous climb through the ranks of the Minors.
The Indians are fortunate in this regard: For much of the club's talent whose Major League days seem far away, they can look to Crockett's lightning-fast arrival, or the recent strides made by Aguilar, and perhaps glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.