This is the fifth in my six-part series profiling each major-league baseball division. Check out the archives on this site to see my previous capsule comments.
As my long-time readers and followers know, I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and I’ve been an Indians fan since I was seven years-old. I have never waivered, through good times and bad. I regret to say I don’t think 2018 will be the first World Championship for the Tribe since 1948. The Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox have more balance than do the Indians.
The Indians are a team that is notorious for creating a “family” type atmosphere between the front office, the manager and the players. They all blend together and work together in harmony. At times, I feel the close relationship hinders progress. That and the fact that the Indians are frugal in their approach to payroll I feel impact their chances for the ultimate prize. They try to use money wisely, and I think that’s admirable. However, how often and how long is the “window of opportunity” open? Not often, and not long. This offseason the Indians took a pass on retaining several of their own free agents. I guess they felt the return on the investments that would be required didn’t make sense.
Last July, the Indians traded for the Mets Jay Bruce. Bruce was instrumental in the Indians great success. He got key hits and played solidly on both sides of the ball. In the offseason he returned to the Mets by signing a three-year, $39MM contract. Perhaps the length and Bruce being 31 years-old influenced the decision. He is not hitting well and is battling nagging injuries for the Mets. However, one should be careful not to extrapolate data from one club/league/division to another.
Carlos Santana, one of the best clutch hitters on the Indians for years, left via free-agency for a 3-year, $60MM contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Indians tried to sign him, but the $20MM for each of three years drove them to sign free agent Yonder Alonso instead. Alonso signed a two-year, $16MM contract with Cleveland. In my view, he can’t produce in the manner of Santana.
Santana is scuffling so far with Philadelphia. Alonso has had both good and bad days for Cleveland. When they close the book on 2018, I believe Santana will have earned his salary. My jury remains conflicted with Alonso.
I must make my position quite clear regarding reliever Bryan Shaw. He was a workhorse in the Indians bullpen after being traded to Cleveland by Arizona in 2012. Manager Terry Francona depended upon Shaw to get the ball to closer Cody Allen. I found Shaw to be inconsistent and unreliable. Francona saw Shaw as a rock in the pen and someone to count upon to get the job done. Now Shaw is pitching in Colorado. He signed a three-year, $27MM contract. He isn’t pitching well for the Rockies, not well at all. Joe Smith, a right-handed reliever left Cleveland for Houston when he signed his 2-year, $15MM contract. Those two losses left the Tribe with two huge holes in their bullpen.
Cleveland hasn’t really solidified their bullpen yet this sesaon. Without a reliable pen, chances are slim they can win a World Championship. They now deploy an oft-injured Andrew Miller and newcomer Neil Ramirez as the bridge to closer Allen. Ramirez is a pleasant surprise so far. He and lefty re-tread Oliver Perez have helped stabilize what had been an early dumpster fire in the bullpen.
The team has several major contributors to their success. Stardom has found infielder Jose Ramirez, one of the best pure hitters in the game. Ramirez has power and a very good eye at the plate. He’s a clutch hitter and he’s just beginning to turn on the jets. He is trying to hit the ball before it travels too deeply on him, something many power hitters are comfortable doing.
Complimenting Ramirez in the lineup, shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Michael Brantley are invaluable offensive components for the Tribe. Both have power and both have speed. Brantley is a disciplined hitter. Lindor swings from the heels and hunts home runs. Both can break up a game with one swing of the bat. The trio of Ramirez, Brantley and Lindor form a tough group for any opposing pitcher to navigate.
Starting pitching has been, and will be the focal point of the Cleveland Indians. Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is on pace for a 20-game season. He is signed through 2021. Carlos Carrasco might be considered to be “Kluber light”. When his secondary pitches are working, Carrasco can be very tough to hit. He continues to refine his command and is racking up the strikeouts. Carrasco, like Kluber and other Tribe starters has trouble in the first inning. Once he gets past that, Carrasco heats up.
Trevor Bauer has refined his approach on the mound by limiting his repertoire and going right after hitters with an outstanding fastball and good array of breaking balls. He gets in trouble when he throws the ball too high in the zone. But make no mistake, Bauer is an outstanding starting pitcher with more consistency on the way. If his improvement continues, the baseball world will talk about a future Cy Young contender in reference to Bauer.
Mike Clevinger has added stability to the rotation. He has good command for the most part, but by his own admission, he “pulls” his fastball at times and has trouble returning to good command. He can be trusted, and the Indians are fortunate to have him.
Should any major player go down with an injury or if a major player scuffles very long, the farm system is prepared to step in and help. Key minor league prospects such as catcher/outfielder Francisco Mejia, pitchers Adam Plutko,Triston McKenzie and Shane Bieber are each highly regarded in the Indians organization and are major-league ready, or close to it. Plutko has assumed the 5th starter role for now, but Bieber may get his share of starts as well.
I am not as bullish on Mejia as many analysts. I have seen him a ton, and I don’t think he plays with enough energy or urgency. At times I see Mejia “going through the motions” and not giving 100% effort. I think he believes his press clippings and he plays like he thinks he already belongs in the big leagues. I hope that attitude changes when he does, indeed, make it to the parent club. For me, Mejia is a perfect trade chip for a bundle of talent from another club.
My ranking of the Indians Farm System: 14 of 30
Key Indians prospects not playing regularly for the major-league club and their potential date of arrival. Note: Adam Plutko is now seen as part of the Indians rotation and is not included below.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
The White Sox get a “pass” for this year because they have announced to the world that they are engaging in a deep organization wide re-boot. They are remaking their organization and shedding themselves of several aging players and expiring contracts.
So far, the White Sox have made some intriguing deals to acquire exciting young players. For example, they gave up All-Star lefty Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in a deal to obtain second baseman Yoan Moncada. Having just turned 23, Moncada still has to refine his pitch recognition and control the strike zone. Once he matures as a hitter, he will likely be counted upon to drive the ball to the gaps and perhaps over the fence. He is maturing day-by-day, game by game. His speed is a terrific asset and among his many tools. Mancada will not disappoint once he matures into a confident player.
For me, outfielder Eloy Jimenez will become a lethal power hitter. He has strength in his entire body, and I believe he will be an annual All-Star after he establishes himself with the big league club. He’s still in development, but he has the frame, the strength and the instincts to be a game-changing hitter.
Pitching was the early focal point of the White Sox transition. They concentrated on getting quality pitching both for the rotation and the bullpen. They have added Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning, Renaldo Lopez and highly regarded right-hander Michael Kopek in trades with the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox. Kopech may well be a top of the rotation starter when he finishes his development and gets comfortable on the major-league stage.
The offense hasn’t shown up yet for the White Sox. Although they will stay in games and surprise a few teams, they lack length in their lineup. Jose Abreu is still a formidable foe. Matt Davidson has some pop as a designated hitter and as a third baseman. Shortstop Tim Anderson has shown power in his bat, with double-digit home runs.
The team is waiting patiently for Moncada to show his gap power. Once he and Eloy Jimenez are in the same lineup with Abreu, the opposition will have a tougher lineup to navigate night after night.
One surprise this season is the strength of outfielder Daniel Palka. Palka is among the leaders in the amount of force generated in his batted balls. The ball screams off his bat and the power is real. However, he strikes out too much with that vicious power swing.
Third baseman Yolmer Sanchez has provided the White Sox with a very steady and reliable bat. Hitting with extra-base power, Sanchez is a switch-hitter, but he has the most success against right-handed pitching. Versatile enough to play second base, Sanchez is an under the radar player.
The starting pitching has been very inconsistent. James Shields has a losing record, but he has turned in some credible outings. It remains clear, however, that Shields won’t be around when the White Sox pitching prospects reach the big time.
Other current starters include Giolito, Lopez, Dylan Covey and Carlos Rodon, who is returning from the disabled list. Rodon has shown promise in the past, but injuries have taken their toll. Covey may be the most pleasant surprise of the White Sox season so far. The man can be very effective in the middle of their future rotation and is a pitcher to watch. Rodon, just returned from injury is having trouble returning to form and finding his command.
It really is all about the future for the White Sox. Clearly, Giolito and Lopez are in the pitching plans. They will be joined by Kopech and possibly Dunning and Alec Hanson, a former 2nd round draft pick of the club in 2016. Competition will be fierce among a number of quality pitchers to fill-out the future White Sox rotation. Covey will find a spot as well.
The White Sox will generate excitement around players like Moncada, Jimenez and ultimately Luis Robert, a very young and athletic Cuban player they signed as an international free agent. Robert will likely assume one of the future outfield spots, most likely in center field. Blake Rutherford, another outfielder and third baseman Jake Burger (now injured) are very highly regarded prospects with future upside as regular major-league players.
If the White Sox can hold their fan base with some patience for two more years, the benefits may be outstanding. Keep your eye on this evolving roster. Note: Dylan Covey is already on the parent club and not on the list below.
My White Sox Farm System ranking: 5 out of 30
Top Chicago White Sox prospects and their expected date of arrival:
Eloy Jimenez-OF-2018 (I think we’ll see him in September if he’s healthy)
Michael Kopech-RHP-2019 (possibly September 2018)
Luis Robert-OF- 2020
Based upon a terrific 2017, there was little doubt at the beginning of the season that the Minnesota Twins had the best chance of beating the Cleveland Indians for the division title. But with Ervin Santana still out with a broken finger, it makes it difficult for the team to catch the Tribe. Pitching has long been an issue for the Twins, and while there is improvement this year, they still haven’t been able to sustain winning with their current rotation.
The task of the Twins became much more difficult with injuries to players like Joe Mauer, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano in the early part of the season. Buxton remains disabled as this is being written.
The Twins Jose Berrios is one of the best young pitchers in the game. Still only 24, the right-hander has done an outstanding job ramping up his game and learning from experience. He should be able to anchor the Twins staff for years to come. A former 1st rounder from Puerto Rico, Berrios is a reliable pitcher with a 94 miles per hour fastball.
The changed pitching mechanics of huge, 6-foot-6 inch right-hander Kyle Gibson have helped make him into a very reliable starting pitcher. With his height and his ability to pitch downhill, Gibson has simplified his delivery and now uses a much more consistent release point. He is getting better and better, but he seems to pitch in games where the Twins don’t score many runs. Gibson turned his career around and is a formidable foe against all comers. He, like other Twins players is very underrated.
The Twins brought Jake Odorizzi over from Tampa Bay in a trade for minor league prospect Jermaine Palacios. If the Twins had gotten the Odorizzi of old, it would have been a steal of a deal. But the Rays may have sensed a decline coming in the right-hander, as this season he has his highest ERA ever at 4.19 at this writing. But Odorizzi’s real problem is his lack of command and control. He is walking 3.8 hitters per 9 innings.
Lance Lynn may have been the best pitcher I saw in spring training. Signed late as a free-agent by Minnesota, Lynn got off to a terrible start this season. He was walking everyone in sight and he was totally unreliable. Now, however, he seems to have straightened out his delivery as his walk rate has returned to what can be considered normal. Lynn always did have control issues, but if he can master the strike zone, he will help Minnesota.
The offense can be frightening to the opposition if the players respond as their press clippings indicate they should. For example, Byron Buxton, on the disabled list now for the second time this season can’t break .150 as a batting average. He has 0 home runs and 4 RBIs in his 90 at-bats. Yes, that’s a small sample size, but Buxton was touted to be a monster of a player when he was drafted. I didn’t share that opinion. I wrote many, many articles on the fact I thought it would take Buxton until his age 26 season to come close to his potential. Now 24, my Buxton clock continues to click with few results.
Miguel Sano is another puzzle. Sano is huge, and I do mean huge. He has to watch his weight going forward or the hamstring problems that plague him will get worse. Sano has mammoth power, but he also strikes out a ton. To win, the Twins need both Buxton and Sano to realize even part of their potential. Sano was so bad he was demoted down to Class-A to work on his hitting mechanics and hopefully get in better shape and lose some weight.
Anyone who follows my Arizona Fall League coverage has read my effusive praise of outfielder Eddie Rosario. When I saw him in the Fall League he flashed terrific bat speed with strong wrists. Now Rosario is blooming. To me, he is an All-Star that will continue to improve with plate appearances and experience. Rosario has excellent power from the left side of the plate. Rosario can take the pitch to right/center a long, long way. Like other Twins, he, too, is playing under the radar.
Eduardo Escobar is a player who is coming into his own as the regular shortstop. Escobar is a very solid hitter for average and for power. He may be one of the most underrated shortstops in the game. He goes about his business quietly, but most teams would love having a guy with his hit tool and power at the shortstop position. Ehire Adrianza in a good backup shortstop.
Now hurt, Joe Mauer provides a steady diet of solid hitting for the Twins. Once he gets off the disabled list, Mauer can help set up runs with his good on-base percentage. No, he isn’t the Joe Mauer of old, but he is still a professional hitter.
Brian Dozier isn’t hitting for average this season, but he is about to reach double-digits in home runs. That isn’t bad from a team’s second baseman. I think as the weather heats up, so will Dozier. He and first baseman Logan Morrison along with Buxton, Sano, Escobar and Rosario provide a very formidable group of power hitters for the Twins.
This group of Twins will probably be in place for quite a while, minimizing the need for the farm system to produce a hefty number of position players to fill out their lineup. They do, however, need to bolster both their starting and relief pitching.
Make no mistake. The Minnesota Twins are a very dangerous team. Their hitting is for real. Their pitching is improving. The Cleveland Indians cannot take the Central Division for granted this year at all, and especially not in the coming years.
My Minnesota Twins Farm System rank: 12 out of 30
Top Twins prospects and their expected arrival date:
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Fans of the Royals were just about at peace with the fact their team was beginning an inevitable rebuild. The team had to deal with several free agents during the offseason, and they realized they couldn’t possibly sign them all. Due to a lack of a market for him, Mike Moustakas had a long wait during the winter. When it was all said and done, he re-signed with Kansas City. The same situation occured with Alcedes Escobar, although he signed earlier than Moose. They did end up losing first baseman Eric Hosmer (San Diego), center fielder Lorenzo Cain (Milwuakee) pitcher Mike Minor (Texas) pitcher Jason Vargas (Mets) outfielder Melky Cabrera (Indians) and more.
So, in essence, the Royals have indicated they are in a rebuild. Losing Hosmer and Cain took much of their offensive firepower. It leaves Moustakas to bear the burden of carrying the offense. And Moustakas is working on a very minimal $6.5MM one-year contract. Will he test free agency again? Same results?
One of the best offensive and defensive catchers in the game, Sal Perez missed considerable time with injury. Over the years, Perez has caught an incredible number of games, rarely taking a day off. He’s a rock behind the plate and a role model for every player on the Royals. He and Moustakas form the current one-two hitting punch on the club.
Finally, after waiting for a while for him to hit after he was traded to the Royals from the Cubs, outfielder Jorge Soler is showing signs of being a credible player. He is solid in right field and he has a strong and accurate arm. Clearly, Soler is a player of the future for Kansas City. The team is still waiting to unlock his power.
One of the exciting players on the roster is second baseman/designated hitter Whit Merrifield. Agile, versastile and athletic, Merrifield is now 29 years old and he is just beginning to find regular major-league work. He came on strong last season after getting playing time with the parent club, being sent back for more seasoning, and returning to Kansas City to be among the stolen base leaders in the game. He isn’t stealing bases in bunches this year as he did in the past, but he is hitting well.
Alex Gordon, for all the negative comments he has received due to his massive decline in the past few years, is showing a renewed ability to hit the baseball. He isn’t great, but he isn’t an automatic out.
First baseman Lucas Duda is around to provide some power, but he has been suffering from plantar fascitis and is on the disabled list.
In a move that surprised me, the Royals traded outfielder Jon Jay to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jay, a solid hitter with a good on-base percentage in his history would have made a good outfielder for the next few years for Kansas City. Instead, the Royals will have an outfield of Soler in right, Gordon in left and probably Paulo Orlando as the center fielder for now. Orlando won’t strike much fear in the opposition and to my way of thinking, isn’t even close to Jay in skill.
It isn’t only a weak offense that could continue the Royals into a multi-year tailspin, it really is a lack of pitching depth that has to cause them the most heatrburn. The starting rotation of lefty Danny Duffy, and right-handers Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel and Jake Junis can be considered mediocre, at best. Junis has upside remaining.
Teams desparate for pitching may knock on the Royals door for a pitcher like Duffy, Kennedy or Hammel. Any of the three may offer some help to a contender while boosting the Royals prospect inventory. It makes sense for Kansas City to be in the middle of the trade market.
There are a couple less than positive stories about Royals prospects. Outfielder Bubba Starling was seen as a potential power hitter when he signed out of high school as a 1st round draft pick in 2011. A top high school quarterback, Starling chose baseball over football and he just can’t hit. He has a career .257 batting average in parts of 7 minor league seasons. This year Starling is hitting .248 in only 11 games played at Triple-A Omaha.
Kyle Zimmer, the older brother of the Indians Bradley Zimmer was a promising pitching prospect that the Royals drafted in the 1st round in 2012. He is not pitching this year and is likely finished due to injuries. The Royals designated him for assignment earlier this year.
Once the “gold standard” for bullpens, the Royals pen is far from the quality it was during the days of World Series appearances. An aging Kelvin Herrera is the closer. He may have some appeal to contending teams like Cleveland who are in need of bullpen help.
The pen is staffed with pitchers like Tim Hill, Blaine Boyer (currently hurt), Brian Flynn and Kevin McCarthy, a far cry from the stellar pens of the past.
I would like to be positive about the future of the Royals based upon solid farm system prospects, but that is just not the case. They don’t seem to have impact players waiting in the wings. So, what we see from the Royals is what we get. That’s why dealing Jon Jay was such a surprise.
My ranking of the Royals Farm System: 30 out of 30
Top prospect in the Royals Farm System and an estimated date of their arrival:
M J Melendez-C-2021
Not only do I feel badly for Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers because Cabrera is out for the season with a ruptured left biceps tendon, I feel badly for baseball fans. Without question, Cabrera was one of the most lethal right-handed hitters I have ever seen. Yes, he has been injured the past couple seasons, but he seemed to be healthy at the time he ripped his biceps tendon swinging at a pitch. Cabrera is an impact player, but sadly, he has never been on a Championship team. He will join the late Ernie Banks and others as great players who never won that coveted ring.
The Tigers under former general manager Dave Dombrowski never fixed a weak bullpen and couldn’t advance in the postseason despite having players like Cabrera, Justin Upton, Justin Verlander and a healthy Victor Martinez. Now, a few years removed from contention, the Tigers are “retooling.”
There are some exciting offensive players on this year’s Detroit club. Nicholas Castellanos is converting to right field, where the ball comes to him at a different angle and is causing him some hiccups. But he can hit, and his bat is important. In his career overall, Castellanos was slow to get on track offensively, but he’s a solid hitter now.
I’m very impressed with left-handed hitting 3B Jeimer Candelario. He has a great upper-cut power stroke that plays in any park. Candelario should be a main power source for the Tigers for years to come.
John Hicks is really a valuable player for Detroit, Signed as a catcher, he can play first base as well as catch. He likely inherits the 1B role with Cabrera on the shelf. Hicks has some power and he puts the ball in play.
A real offensive sleeper, shortstop Jose Iglesias is known more for his fine defense. But he has shown an ability to hit the gaps for doubles, is a tough out at the plate and can be counted upon to give his team a solid at-bat each and every time he goes to the plate. I’m a big believer in Iglesias and I believe he is very under the radar.
Niko Goodrum, a castoff from the Minnesota Twins is getting more playing time now that he was signed as a free agent last season by the Tigers. A solid hitter, Goodrum is versatile enough to play all over the diamond, similarly to a player like Marwin Gonzalez of the Astros. Goodrum has some pop in his bat as well as speed enough to steal bases.
Victor Martinez still gets his at-bats as a switch-hitting designated hitter, but his offense has plummeted with age.
Can the Tigers trade Martinez as they did Verlander and second baseman Ian Kinsler? I doubt it. Most teams in the American League are settled with their designated hitters.
While the Tigers have some nice offensive pieces on their roster, it is their pitching that must be addressed. Not unlike many, many major-league teams, the Tigers lack rotation depth. So far, lefty Matthew Boyd has been disappointing. He still walks too many hitters and he has had trouble stringing together consistent starting performances. There are times when he is good. There are times when he just can’t get into rhythm.
Boyd is not alone on his inconsistency path. Highly touted Michael Fulmer has some good outings, some bad outings, but mostly mediocre outings. He, too, is walking too many people. He has a bright future, but he has to manage his command and control to take the next step.
Mike Fiers, Francisco Liriano (when healthy) and Jordan Zimmerman (when healthy) were slated as starting pitchers as the season began. Now, however, Zimmerman and Liriano are out, with veteran Blaine Hardy and right-hander Artie Lewicki taking the ball at the beginning of games. Meh!
Shane Greene and Joe Jimenez are the two prominent names in the Tigers bullpen. Greene has done a nice job as the closer, with Jimenez possibly the closer in waiting. Other than those two good arms, the club has used Buck Farmer in the pen with little overall success and Warwick Saupold who has provided some good relief appearances. Louis Coleman has also eaten innings out of the pen and he has held his own so far. But overall, the middle-relief in the bullpen is not a strength.
There are some nice prospects in an improving farm system. They will be counting upon several young pitchers to bolster their rotation as soon as next year.
Tigers organizational Farm System rank: 16 out of 30
Tigers top prospects and their expected date of arrival:
As I write this Hanley Ramirez still has not been signed after being released by the Boston Red Sox. Who could use Ramirez? The Tigers come to mind after they lost Miguel Cabrera. Or how about the Colorado Rockies-they can use a more permanent solution at 1B.
I can’t help but think the elbow injury suffered by Paul Goldschmidt last season contributed to his horrible start. He seems to be seeing the ball much better out of the hand of the pitcher, his swing is quicker and crisper now and he isn’t swinging at as many bad pitches. When Goldschmidt is “right” he takes pitches to center field and right/center. He’s doing that now. But there are still some very “iffy” at-bats.
Danny Duffy of the Royals makes sense to me as a trade chip to the Yankees. So does Cole Hamels of the Rangers. Both are lefties. Either could assume the role vacated when Jordan Montgomery went down with a need for Tommy John surgery. The Yanks could use another lefty other than CC Sabathia to handle the Red Sox heavily lefty lineup. The Yankees have a ton of prospects and very good hitter in Brandon Drury available to trade.
The Pittsburgh Pirates play the sloppiest brand of baseball I have seen so far this year. They are wreckless on defense, throw the ball around to the wrong base wildly and just don’t seem to play hard or focused. I think the team needs a total change of front office leadership from general manger Neil Huntington to manager Clint Hurdle. They have stayed too long and the team is regressing badly.
The Brewers have given the Cubs all they can handle. This should be a great battle the rest of the way for the Central crown between teams like the Brewers, the Cubs and yes, the Cardinals.
Here come the Dodgers. Even though players are dropping like flies, we must not forget they will get Clayton Kershaw back to help chase down the Diamondbacks. When Kershaw returns it will be like making a trade without giving anyone up in return.
The Rockies just don’t have the offense I always thought they had. Especially vulnerable on the road, it isn’t just the bullpen that has let the Rockies down. They just don’t mash the ball like days of old.
Gary Sanchez has had some days off. Maybe they will help heal what ails him. But I believe all of their big bats will boom soon. Stanton, Judge, Sanchez, Didi and Bird. Don’t worry, Yankees fans. The offense isn’t the concern. Gleyber Torres is the real deal. Lack of rotation starters is the issue.
Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez has said he doesn’t have speed to steal bases. He has no desire to be a singles hitter and he doesn’t like driving the ball up the middle. Rather, Martinez said he took some time to get used to Fenway Park and his goal is to hit the ball out of the park. Period. At least he admits it. And he does it. Man, is he on a roll, or what?
Happy Father’s Day to all. May you have a safe, happy, and wonderful day with those you love.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff