At this very moment, middle infield feels like a concern for the Indians - Jason Kipnis is on the shelf, Asdrubal Cabrera is having a hot-and-cold year to match his hot-and-cold career. But when you dig into the system (and you don't have to dig too deep), the future at 2B and SS is bright.
Prospects are identified based on Beyond the Boxscore's consensus prospect list. I covered the top 26 on that list (usually I will stop at 25, but wanted to sneak in #26 this time).
We'll start with the DL, where Kipnis currently resides. Luckily, he seems to be nearing a rehab assignment. And for our purposes today, the important thing is that Kipnis is locked up through 2019 with an option for 2020 (and an option that will likely look quite good if he keeps performing the way we've come to expect. Kipnis easily led all Indians position players in WAR last year. Nice to have that in place at 2B for the rest of the decade.
Quick, without looking, who is currently following Kipnis by leading the 2014 Indians position players in WAR? If you have been paying attention, you know we are talking MI and so you probably guessed Asdrubal Cabrera. I found this to be shocking, but it is true. Cabrera has been a regular for the Indians for most of the past eight seasons, playing 2B at first and primarily SS since 2009. But Cabrera's last game for the Tribe will likely come in 2014. The only question at this point is does he get traded, does he get a qualifying offer, or does he just walk?
The active roster includes two more MI - Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez. The team has a 2015 option on Aviles ($3.5MM with a $200K buyout). His versatility is valuable, so that may well get picked up, although it depends how hard some of the kids in the minors are pushing. Ramirez should be locked in with the Tribe until at least 2019, depending on how his service time progresses.
This is where things get fun. From the moment you opened this article, all you wanted to see were the words Francisco Lindor. The uber-prospect is knocking on the door, handling AA and likely nearing a promotion to Columbus. Whether he takes over the job in 2014 or 2015 depends on a number of factors - does Cabrera get traded, are we competing for the division, how does he handle AAA - but the Lindor era should start in the next 12 months. After that, he'll be around for 6-7 years. If he plays the way we expect, don't be surprised to see the Indians try to buy out a year or two of free agency with a long-term deal. Regardless, Lindor-Kipnis should be your MI for the foreseeable future.
Next up is Dorssys Paulino, who has the potential to be the shortstop of the future in many systems, but is seemingly blocked in The Tribe system, and may be getting turned into an outfielder, after making a huge amount of errors during the first month of this season. He's only 19-years-old, so predicting what all might happen between now and whenever he'd be ready is difficult. If Lindor falters, Paulino could be next in line (although not for 2-3 seasons). If not, he could become a valuable trade asset or a temporary back-up middle infielder.
Ronny Rodriguez has climbed to AA, but is still very much a boom-or-bust type. He has good tools and scouts see 20-HR potential. If he stats to show that potential soon, he joins Paulino as a trade candidate. If not, the future is a bit murkier. If he sticks in Cleveland, we'd likely see him late next year or 2016, with a full set of pre-arbitration and arbitration years before we have to turn him loose.
When I read scouting reports on Joe Wendle, I see a guy who may find himself learning another position just to increase his versatility. Scouts are impressed with his ability to hit, but there is not much power or speed to speak of, and his defense is fine, but nothing special. With the depth around him, he is more likely to be a super-utility guy than a starter. Wendle is holding his own in Akron, but at 24 he needs to start doing more than that. If he does, he'll be on the 2015 radar - or maybe even this September.
Currently in A ball, Erik Gonzalez is impressing with the bat, which is a nice sign, as he is seen as more of a glove-first guy. His profile reminds me of a (very) poor-man's Elvis Andrus - solid defense, meh bat, good speed. He's worse than Andrus at all of those, but careers as a backup MI have been made on less. He's a ways away, and he has a lot of competition, but if the folks above him get traded, he could be your future reserve MI in Cleveland.