The Indians have built a farm that revolves around a cornucopia of talent. They have collected a set of prospects for almost every skill set and have been working on this crop for the better half of the last decade. But in a vacuum, the typical Indians follower only hears about the big prospects who are almost MLB ready – namely Bradley Zimmer, Yandy Diaz, Ryan Merritt, and the rest of the ripening crop looming between Double-A and Triple-A.
One concept that often becomes lost is the depth that the Indians have built throughout their farm system, extending into the Low-A levels. Last year, Triston McKenzie stormed onto the prospect radar and established his dominance as a teenager, Matt Esparza made as smooth of a transition from bullpen arm to starter as you could possibly make, and Gabriel Mejia – who is as fast as they make them – finally found his swing and led short season Low-A Mahoning Valley in hitting. While the Indians do have a solid crop of Major League ready or almost-ready players sitting between Double and Triple-A, they also have the crop that will take over within the next half-decade brewing.
Of course, no prospect is perfect, but even though some struggle more than others, raw talent does show at these levels and these players still have the potential to become big leaguers one day. So without further ado, here are three hitting and three pitching prospects in the A-ball ranks to look for in 2016...
Three Hitting Prospects to Watch
OF Andrew Calica
2016 (MV/LC): 50 G, .382/.474/.556, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 15 SB, 10 2B, 6 3B, 27 K, 17 BB, 68 H
Andrew Calica was the unquestioned MVP in Mahoning Valley before his promotion to Lake County. In fact, he left as the franchise’s all-time leader in batting average (.388), on-base percentage (.491) and slugging percentage (.568). Calica fueled this season off of the College World Series berth with UC Santa Barbara. Had he played enough games in Mahoning Valley to qualify for a legitimate New York-Penn League batting title, he would have won it by fifty points. Calica was an 11th round pick in 2016 and his tools profile out to plus speed, defense, and hitting, but the power stroke still needs time to develop. He is as solid of a prospect as they come and Indians fans should take the trip to Lake County or Lynchburg to see him in 2017. It’s not too often that players are worth the price of admission, but Andrew Calica is a baseball player. Go watch him play baseball.
OF Todd Isaacs
2016 (MV): 44 G, .333/.384/.514, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 14 SB, 6 2B, 1 3B, 45 K, 8 BB, 48 H
Todd Isaacs turned opportunity into success in 2016. His impressive stat line followed a 2015 where he hit .214 with a 27:1 K/BB ratio and he spent the season platooning between center and right field in Mahoning Valley. Isaacs' approach at the plate is short and compact, making him a very shifty hitter to all fields. Isaacs was a 19th round pick in 2015 and is still very young and raw at 20 years old. His instincts in the outfield and his selection at the plate still need work, but one thing that did carry Isaacs far in Mahoning Valley as a favorite was his attitude and love of the game. When Todd Isaacs is in your lineup, you automatically gain a boost of energy and passion. That’s what makes him fun to watch. The 2016 NYPL All-Star has a lot to look forward to in 2017 following a breakout 2016.
C Logan Ice
2016 (MV): 39 G, .198/.329/.302, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, 7 2B, 0 3B, 38 K, 23 BB, 25 H
All we hear all day long on the internet is how great Francisco Mejia is at this, or how wonderful Francisco Mejia did that… Francisco! Francisco! Francisco! (Some people under the age of 40 may not understand that reference. Educate yourselves, please.) At some point, the Indians are going to have to look beyond superstar catching prospect Francisco Mejia. While there are ancillary options at the higher levels, namely Daniel Salters and Jeremy Lucas, the Indians did not have a solid prospect in their lower levels to begin to groom at the future beyond Mejia. Rather, they didn’t, until they drafted Logan Ice in the CBB Round in the 2016 Draft. While it seems like Ice struggled at the plate, there were some silver linings. Ice did draw almost as many walks (23) as he had base hits (25) and his seven doubles (one every 5.6 games) showed that he does have gap power to build off of. He was drafted as a defensive specialist and he still profiles with a plus defense tool. Look for him to lead the way as the favorite to become the successor to Francisco Mejia one day. He has that much potential even despite his shaky 2016 batting average.
Three Pitching Prospects to Watch
SP Brady Aiken
2016 (AZL/MV): 14 G (13 GS), 2-5, 5.83 ERA, 46.1 IP, 52 H, 38 R (30 ER), 21 BB, 57 K, .274 BAA
The debut of former first overall pick and two-time first round pick (Astros, Indians) Brady Aiken was the most covered event in Mahoning Valley last season aside from Michael Brantley’s rehab visit. Aiken went 0-4 with a 7.13 ERA in nine games in the Arizona League but settled in once he was promoted to Mahoning Valley. When Aiken is healthy, and that is a BIG when, his stuff is as dominant as it gets. With a full year of a healthy and strong arm and full year of a routine to get settled into, Aiken is a must-watch prospect as he is one of the top arms in the organization.
SP Juan Hillman
2016 (MV): 15 G/GS, 3-4, 4.43 ERA, 63.0 IP, 66 H, 36 R (31 ER), 24 BB, 47 K, .268 BAA
The Indians made a splash in the early part of the 2015 draft after selecting Brady Aiken, Triston McKenzie and Juan Hillman with their first three selections. McKenzie flourished between Mahoning Valley and Lake County and Aiken made his professional debut, an accomplishment in itself give his injury history, but Hillman has been swept under the rug in comparison. After turning in a below-average 2016 season where his velocity tailed into the high-80s, Hillman will have to continue to work on his mantra as a strike thrower to gain ground as a potential frontline starter in the Major Leagues. In order to stick as that starting pitching prospect, Hillman will need to work on durability and strength training in 2017.
SP Micah Miniard
2016 (MV/LC):15 G/GS, 1-4, 3.33 ERA, 73.0 IP, 74 H, 39 R (27 ER), 28 BB, 53 K, .263 BAA
The former 8th round pick was once viewed as a development project, but any pitcher that stands at 6’7” cannot be ignored. Miniard adds starting pitching depth at the lower levels but also adds a unique arm because of his frame. His downward delivery and his mid-90s fastball makes him hard to hit, but control has been an issue over the course of his development. If he can learn to harness his size and deliver pitches effectively, then he can begin to develop as a potential middle of the rotation starter.
Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Cleveland Indians and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers on Indians Baseball Insider on Scout.com. You can listen to him on IBI’s Farm Report Podcast and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cdcrisan.