The 2018 season for the Columbus Clippers is scheduled to get underway this Friday. Although they’ll begin the year on the road in Indianapolis, it won’t be long before the boys are back at Huntington Park in front of the home faithful. Considering the unique nature of minor league baseball’s unique focus on player development, here are a few guys to keep an eye on this summer in Columbus.
Enjoy Them While You Can
Francisco Mejia, Catcher
The 21-year-old Mejia will begin the season in Columbus, continuing the progression he’s made each year jumping one minor league level at a time. He got a little bit of experience at the Major League level late last season when rosters expanded in September, but only saw 13 at bats in Cleveland.
Mejia is the Indians’ top prospect and is considered the best catching prospect in baseball. Offensively, he’s ready to contribute at the big league level. Last year in Akron he hit .297 with 14 homeruns. The year before, he hit .342 with 11 homers in Class-A. It’s his defense and calling the game behind the plate that could benefit from a little more experience in Columbus, because the next time he gets called up to the Indians it will likely be for good.
The Clippers might experiment with Mejia in the field in order to increase his versatility on the diamond. He played some third base and outfield this winter and spring, so the organization is clearly trying to find creative ways of getting his bat in the lineup. For Clippers fans, the chance to watch Mejia may not last very long, but it’ll be a great opportunity to see a player who is potentially going to be a future star in the Major Leagues.
Yandy Diaz, Third Base
Yandy Diaz will be entering his third season with the Columbus Clippers this April. Kind of like Mejia, he’s ready to contribute in the Majors, his issue is simply getting an opportunity. The Tribe has a slew of good, young infielders on its big league roster, which is blocking the way for players like Diaz.
He’s shown that he’s quite a hitter at the Triple-A level. In 2016 he hit .325 with Columbus. Last year he improved to .350 with more walks than strikeouts, a rarity in today’s game. Perhaps his weakness offensively is his power. He’s certainly a well-built individual, but you wouldn’t know it by his 23 career homeruns in four seasons in the Minors.
Diaz has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, but he’ll likely be hitting atop the lineup everyday in Columbus. With more and more players making adjustments to swing paths to achieve optimal launch angles, Yandy Diaz seems like a prime candidate to trade a little batting average for more power. Clippers fans will have the opportunity to watch and see if there are any noticeable changes to his game, because if there are, it’ll only be a matter of time until he’s up in Cleveland for the long haul.
Yu-Cheng Chang, Shortstop
The Indians’ sixth-ranked prospect this year is Yu-Cheng Chang, a 22-year-old shortstop from Taiwan. The Tribe doesn’t have much need for a shortstop at the big league level, so they’ll give Chang plenty of opportunity to marinate in the Minors to get a little more seasoning before getting the call.
As mentioned above in the Yandy Diaz writeup, there are tons of hitters making adjustments to elevate the ball more to increase their homerun totals. The result usually is more homers, but also a lower batting average. Yu-Cheng Chang is a good example of this scenario:
2016 in A+: .259 AVG, 13 HR, 11 SB
2017 in AA: .202 AVG, 24 HR, 11 SB
Because of the extreme change seen last year and the fact that there’s no need to rush his development, Chang could see more time in Double-A Akron. If his progression continues to Columbus this season, which it probably should, fans will get a chance to see if he’s able to find a nice medium between average and power. Teams can live with a .259 batting average. Most won’t tolerate .202.
Greg Allen, Outfield
Greg Allen is a 25-year-old outfielder that projects to be a prototypical leadoff hitter at the big-league level. He spent the majority of last year in Akron, but like Mejia, got called up to Cleveland in September to get a taste of big-league action. He’ll likely spend most of this season in Columbus, but could get the call should something happen to either Bradley Zimmer or Rajai Davis.
Last season, Allen hit .264 with 24 stolen bases in Akron. His numbers took a hit thanks to a wrist injury that cost him about two months. At full health, he’s shown the ability to hit close to .300 with 40+ stolen bases in his brief professional career. With nothing holding him back this season, fans in Columbus should have the chance to see an exciting, top-of-the-order player who makes plays happen on the bases as he attempts to make it back up to the bigs.
Bobby Bradley, First Base
Bradley will start this season in Double-A, but don’t be surprised if he makes it up to Columbus before season’s end. The 21-year-old and former third-round pick’s primary calling card is his power. In his last three seasons, his homerun totals are 27, 29, and 23. He posted the lowest full-season strikeout total of his minor league career last year, which is encouraging, but also saw his homerun numbers drop a little.
With another year in Akron, expect the power-hitting first baseman and third-ranked prospect in the Indians’ system to take a step forward and put up big numbers this season. If that happens, expect him to get the call up to Columbus at some point this summer.
Triston McKenzie, Pitcher
The 6-foot-5, 165 pound, 20-year-old lanky righty from Brooklyn, New York ranks as the second best prospect overall in the Tribe system behind Francisco Mejia. McKenzie will start the season on the disabled list in Double-A with an arm injury, which obviously for a pitcher, particularly with his upside, is worth watching. After throwing 143 innings in his second full season last year, McKenzie will look to keep his progression going once healthy in Akron.
He showed an impressive combination of strikeout potential, as indicated by his 11.7 K/9, and limiting walks, with a 2.8 BB/9 in 2017. It’ll obviously be a challenge to translate those numbers to the Major Leagues, but with those strikeout and walk rates he’d be a top-10 pitcher. His path to Cleveland will likely go through Columbus, so as long as his arm injury isn’t serious, it’s only a matter of time before he’s taking the mound at Huntington Park.
The Cleveland Indians feature a top-heavy farm system with many of their best prospects in Double-A and Triple-A. It’ll be an exciting season for Clippers fans to watch the players as they develop and come through on their way to the Majors.