The Indians fell short of adding another world championship (Cavaliers) for the city in losing to the Cubs. Besides their 1948 title run, it was the Indians deepest playoff run since the 2007 ALCS. Most recently, they made a “one & done” wild card appearance in 2013. In the 2014 debut year of UTRMinors.com, Marc and I began tracking the American League. Prior to that, we were solely pundits for the National League, as it was our strength being long-time owners in a NL keeper league. In what could have taken a few years to target AL minors, our formula’s quickly narrowed the UTR rosters. Ryan Merritt was that focus pitcher for me in 2014. My advice during the 2014 post-season where Merritt was named a UTR Organizational All-Star:
If your in a AL-only Keeper/Dynasty Fantasy League and Merritt is available, you have to place him tops on your draft list in the end-game for your 2015 draft. There’s a very good chance that he might be, as his name doesn’t appear on any of the top prospect list for Indians, a true under the radar arm. The lefty was one of my top UTR pitchers in receiving the most mentions but was only focused on once during the season. If you have a leaguemate that focuses on win-loss records, then Merritt’s 13-3 record will draw attention. To me, its the pure command of his pitches which limits walks and opposing batters to a .216 average over 160.1 innings. He’s not that power pitcher who will blow you away with his stuff (127 K’s), as his fastball doesn’t even touch 90 mph. He keeps hitters off-balance and pitches to contact. He will appear on those lists this Spring and if success follows him to Double-A Akron, Merritt will command notice all the way to Cleveland.
All that played itself out, as the 16th round pick in 2011 progressed through the system and made his way to Cleveland, and screamed up the prospect chart with an outstanding appearance in the ALCS, shutting down the Blue Jays. He may not have been on anybody’s radar before that, but definitely will be on someones list during your 2017 draft. Another arm that was highlighted in 2014 was Shawn Morimando. Taken three rounds later than Merritt, the lefty had a successful 2016 season and saw spot appearances in July and August with Cleveland. Looking back, my first list of UTR Indians was actually a solid grouping, that produced Michael Peoples, Anderson Polanco, and Mitch Brown. Peoples and Polanco also made the 2015 UTR-OAS list, but won’t appear below. Peoples fell from the scope being in Double-A, but was solid (13-6,3.65 ERA) but needs to miss more bats (87 K’s in 165 IP). Polanco was tagged as a “Legit UTR” in 2015 and took a step back (5.54 ERA) in HiA with a taste of Double-A. Nobody has been stronger as a UTR-OAS than Thomas Pannone, who will appear below for the 3rd straight season. I easily named him as a “Legit UTR/Solid Stash after the 2015 season and placed the 9th round pick (2013) on the “Ones to Watch list for 2016. He’s no doubt living-up to that billing. With Pannone possibly moving on to Double-A next season, look for another two-timer (14-15′) to make a move. Luis Lugo won’t be a UTR-OAS this season because he hit a wall at Hi-A Lynchburg, but finishing the season as a 21 year -old with a nice 4-pitch mix, he’ll be OK.
Alot happened in the Indians low minors over those two seasons, but on the International end, its been uneventful. Not one pitcher from the foreign leagues appeared on those lists, but a bright spot might be emerging in Gregori Vasquez, who was my International Watch to begin the 2016 season. Vasquez was state-side with the AZL Indians and had an outstanding U.S. debut. My spreadsheet had numerous mid-line pitchers in the DSL, which are hoping to come North in 2017. Tops for that group vying for the 2017 watch list are two 20 year-olds in Luis Araujo and Juan Mota, but a rising stock arm might be the 17 year-old Luis Oviedo.
Top 5 Starting Pitchers – Factor Score/TPS
1. LHP Thomas Pannone – 21 / .083 “Instant Roster Add”
22 years old – (LoA Lake County / HiA Lynchburg)
9th round – 2013
As I stated above, this marks the third time that Pannone appears as an Indians UTR-OAS. He saw a mid-season promotion to Lynchburg, so the question will be whether he can make it 4 in-a-row with a repeated 2017 assignment to HiA. He has been unbelievably consistent over the last three seasons considering he’s was a converted outfielder.
I know its quick to place the Legit UTR tag on Esparza, in only his 2nd season, let alone his first full season, plus seeing time in a rotation full-time. It was fun watching the product out of the University of California going start for start against Pannone to see who would be the best at the end of the month. Esparza won that contest overall boasting in leading all Cleveland minor leagues with 141 strikeouts.
The right-handed Taiwan native got off to a slow start in only making two appearances in his first two years in the Untied States. He then showed some flashes in 2014-15 with the AZL Indians and NYPL Mahoning Valley in striking out 52 but only 10 walks over 87 innings. He took a full workload this past season in making 27 starts (152.1 IP). Don’t let the large TPS number fool you, as its skewed with him pitching to contact and inducing a load of ground balls with his above-average sinker.
19 years old – (Short-Season Mahoning Valley / LoA Lake County)
1st round – 2015
The Indians paid handsomely for this talented, but very raw right-hander out of high school. Over two levels in 2016, the old saying…..”you get what you paid for”….proved to be very true. His production over 6 starts during a late season promotion to LoA should be a precursor of things to come.