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|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|1. Francisco Lindor, ss|
|2. Bradley Zimmer, of|
|3. Clint Frazier, of|
|4. Justus Sheffield, lhp|
|5. Mike Papi, of/1b|
|6. Tyler Naquin, of|
|7. Francisco Mejia, c|
|8. Erik Gonzalez, ss|
|9. Bobby Bradley, 1b|
|10. Cody Anderson, rhp|
Though the Indians missed out on an encore playoff appearance, they showed in 2014 that they shouldn’t be fading from the conversation either.
A poor April ultimately doomed Cleveland’s postseason aspirations, but they did play well enough the rest of the way to finish 85-77, marking the first time the franchise has had back-to-back winning seasons since its 1995-2001 heyday. Righthander Corey Kluber and outfielder Michael Brantley enjoyed breakout years, the former going 18-9, 2.44 with 269 strikeouts to emerge as the staff ace while Brantley hit .327 with 20 homers and 23 steals.
Brantley and Kluber were both trade acquisitions, as were several of the Indians’ other significant contributors, like catcher Yan Gomes and first baseman Carlos Santana. Still, the farm system had its fingerprints on the team’s success as well.Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland’s first-round pick in 2008, enjoyed his best offensive season, hitting .280 with 13 homers.
Homegrown arms Cody Allen and Kyle Crockett, the first 2013 draftee to reach the majors, played key roles in the bullpen, while lefty T.J. House, a big-money high school signee back in 2008, finally broke through to the big leagues and gave the rotation a boost by going 5-3, 3.35 in 102 innings.
Whether Kluber and Brantley’s big 2014 seasons end up being anomalies is a question that will have to be answered, but the Indians do appear set to remain competitive.Most of the team’s core is on the right side of 30—Nick Swisher, at age 33, was Cleveland’s oldest regular in 2014—led by Brantley (27), Chisenhall (26), Gomes (27), Santana (28) and second baseman Jason Kipnis (27), who had a disappointing season but is still just a year removed from being an all-star in 2013.
Top prospect Francisco Lindor, a shortstop, should make the leap to the majors at some point in 2015, and the Indians have a strong crop of position players in the pipeline they can continue to build around. Along with Lindor, they have other quality hitters in the upper minors like shortstop Erik Gonzalez and outfielders Tyler Naquin and James Ramsey, the latter a trade acquisition from the Cardinals for Justin Masterson.
Taking advantage of owning three of the first 40 picks in the 2014 draft, the Indians added a pair of impact college bats, San Francisco’s Bradley Zimmer (21st overall) and Virginia’s Mike Papi (38th), both of whom could move through the system quickly.Though the Indians turned to the college ranks for Zimmer with their top 2014 pick, they have largely gotten away from their tendency to lean on collegians at the top of the draft, starting with when they took Lindor in the first round out of high school in 2011. Looking at their track record, it’s easy to see why.
The Indians took college or junior-college players with their top pick every year from 2002-10, and only one of those players, Chisenhall, has made any meaningful impact in Cleveland, though at least righthander Jeremy Guthrie (2002) has found success elsewhere.
The Indians signed more high school players (nine) than any American League team in 2014, highlighted by No. 31 overall pick Justus Sheffield. The 18-year-old lefthander’s development will be particularly important, for the Indians system isn’t with bursting impact arms.