Cleveland Indians Minor Leagues: A night with the Akron Aeros

Canal Park (Giovanny Urshela in the foreground) - Ryan Richards

This past Thursday I got a chance to see the prospect-rich Akron Aeros play. My review of the action, and some pictures/video from the game.

If you want to catch most of the best position player prospects in the Cleveland system, Akron is the place to go. The club is headlined by recently-promoted, but there are many other players on the Akron squad that have a good chance of becoming major-league players. Once Jose Ramirez comes off the Disabled List, it's very possible that they'll run eight prospects out there every night.

On Thursday night this was the starting lineup:

Here is who pitched:

    Even the two non-prospects in this group (Bellows and Hunter) aren't hopeless causes. Bellows is only 24 years old and has the skill set to be a major-league third baseman, and Hunter has played in the majors.

    The rotation doesn't have the star power that the lineup has, though. Matt Packer is the best of the bunch, with Jordan Cooper and Will Roberts marginal prospects. Fortunately, Packer was slated to start that night, and so I got to see not only all the healthy position player prospects, but also the best starting pitcher on the club.

    I also got to see Jeff Johnson, who was recently promoted from Carolina, and Trey Haley, who has the stuff to be a back-end reliever in the majors.

    Videos

    Here is one of Matt Packer's six strikeouts. He dispatched this batter in three pitches, and without throwing a fastball.


    Carlos Moncrief's at bat ends in a sacrifice fly:


    A Francisco Lindor at bat. Unfortunately, this at bat didn't result in one of his three hits:


    I did get Lindor on his way around the bases after hitting his first AA home run (it went into the bullpen in right-center):


    Here is Jeff Johnson warming up. He has a low 90s fastball and a very nice splitter.


    Here is Trey Haley warming up. He had a mid-90s fastball along with an outstanding tight curve. If he harness those pitches, he has a future in the majors.


    Photo Gallery (with descriptions)


    Overall Impressions:

    The Aeros won 5-1 in what was a rather easy victory.

    Francisco Lindor met all my expectations. I didn't get to see him showcase his glove, but his bat was on full display. He smoked a home run to one of the deeper parts of the park, lined a single back up the middle with runners on second and third to blow the game open in the seventh, and lined a double down the right field line earlier in the game. It's rare that an elite defensive player also can be an offensive weapon, and I think Lindor can be one of those rare players. The Indians had one in Brandon Phillips, but dumped him. I don't think they'll make the same mistake with Lindor.

    Ronny Rodriguez went 1-for-3 with a walk and stole a base. In most other organizations he'd be thought of as a potential shortstop, but not with Lindor in the system. He's going to play second the rest of the season, or perhaps he'll be bumped up to AAA when Jose Ramirez comes off the DL. Or the Indians could trade him.

    Jesus Aguilar walked twice in four Plate Appearances. He didn't really make any major impressions on me, but it was only one game. Yeah, he should be considered a prospect, but not one the Indians need to plan around like they are with Lindor.

    After Lindor, I was most excited to see Carlos Moncrief in action. He started out his pro career as a pitcher, but was moved to the outfield a couple years after joining the organization. So his development has been slow, but this season we're starting to see some results. He's always had the tools to be a corner outfielder (great arm, excellent power potential, good range), and now that his skills are catching up his tools, he has to be considered one of the organization's key prospects. The Indians don't really have a long-term plan in right field, and Moncrief should be considered major-league depth as soon as next year.

    Giovanny Urshela made a couple of very nice picks at third base. He's flown under the radar because he's never put up eye-opening offensive statistics, but his glove has allowed the Indians to push him up the organizational ladder. He's both a free-swinging and an excellent contact hitter, as you can see by his low strikeout and walk totals. He did walk twice in Thursday's game, but those were only his 11th and 12th walk of the season. He may get promoted to Columbus next season depending on whether the Indians feel his bat his ready for it.

    I'm not sure if Matt Packer has the stuff to get by the majors. He limited the Flying Squirrels to one run on six hits (Richmond's best prospect, Andrew Susac, took him deep), but he wasn't exactly dominating. He induced three double plays, a couple of them extricating him from big jams. He does have four pitches, one of which (changeup) could be considered a plus pitch, but he only throws in the high 80s. The Indians will have a tough call on whether to add him to the 40-man roster this winter, as the 40-man is already very pitching-heavy. I would think they would promote him to AAA before the season is over to get a better feel for him as a prospect.

    Jeff Johnson threw a scoreless 1.2 innings. He was one of the college seniors drafted by the Indians last year to help clear pool room to sign several high-ceiling guys. But Johnson (and Joe Wendle, another college senior) could help the Indians in a year or so. He throws in the low-90s, but his out pitch is his splitter.

    Before the season Trey was thought as perhaps helping the Indians as early as this year. That isn't going to happen, as he's really struggled with his command. Thursday he walked a batter and threw what was scored as a passed ball, but you can't help noticing his stuff. He throws in the mid-90s (regularly hitting 94 and 95) and has sharp-breaking curve that's impressive even from the stands.

    ***************************************

    I'd like to get back to see the Aeros again*, but unfortunately they're spending much of the first half of August on the road. They do have two more games left with Richmond , one today and the other on Sunday, so you have a chance, be sure to check them out.

    *I know that Canal Park is a fantastic place to see a game, but selfishly I wish they still played at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium on the south side of Canton, which is two minutes from where I work.

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