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Allen, Mejia keep Indians system strong

High Draft picks, international signings help Cleveland weather trades
Greg Allen hit .295 with a .416 on-base percentage and 45 stolen bases across two levels in 2016. David Monseur/
October 14, 2016

This offseason, will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball.

Dealing away talented prospects Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield hasn't adversely affected Cleveland's farm system. All six of the club's affiliates except Class A Short-Season Mahoning Valley finished with a winning record, the three highest-level clubs (Columbus, Akron and Lynchburg) made the postseason and two of those (Clippers and RubberDucks) reached the Finals with Double-A Akron claiming the Eastern League championship.

Smart Drafts, wise signings and patience have paid off for the Indians, and according to director of player development Carter Hawkins, there will be more where that came from.

Indians Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Francisco MejiaLynchburg (42 games), Lake County (60 games): Already one of Cleveland's most talked-about prospects, the 20-year-old entrenched himself in the Minor League record book with a 50-game hitting streak in 2016. In just his fourth professional season, Mejia sported a slash line of .342/.382/.514 with 11 homers and 80 RBIs in 102 games while improving his defense all the while.

"He certainly put his name out there, didn't he?" Hawkins said. "Not just by his numbers or the hitting streak, but by the way he handled the season overall."

Mejia began the year with Class A Lake County and hit .347 before earning a promotion to Class A Advanced Lynchburg. The change in address and stronger competition had little effect on the young backstop as he batted .333 in 42 games with the Hillcats and .290 in seven playoff games. 

"He really ramped up his work and his focus," Hawkins said. "The pitchers wanted to throw to him while opposing hurlers didn't want to face him. That's a great combination. He continued to improve his communication skills and made a point of becoming a field general. We're certainly glad he's in our organization."

Video: Lynchburg's Mejia runs hitting streak to 41

First baseman -- Nellie Rodriguez, Akron (132 games): Another of the Indians' young sluggers, Rodriguez turned in his third consecutive strong season. After struggling in a brief 25-game stint with the RubberDucks in 2015, the 22-year-old spent the entire 2016 season with Akron, leading the club in homers (26), RBIs (85) and runs scored (66). 

"He's a typical right-handed-hitting first baseman," Hawkins said. "He's got a little bit of the swing-and-miss to his approach, but he can drive the ball out of the park at any time. He's improved every year, despite being young for every league he's played in. This year was no different in that regard. To see him continue to be a run producer and to make the strides on defense and on the bases like he did lends itself to positive momentum moving forward." 

Second baseman -- Mark Mathias, Akron (five games), Lynchburg (115 games): In his first full professional season, Mathias displayed the tools that prompted Cleveland to select him with their third-round pick in the 2015 Draft. 

"Externally, maybe he's not quite as heralded," Hawkins said. "But internally, he's very, very highly thought of."

Drafted out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Mathias enjoyed a strong debut with Mahoning Valley in 2015, slashing .282/.382/.408 while driving in 32 runs and walking 35 times in 67 games. Promoted to Lynchburg this season, the 22-year-old hit .274 with 70 runs scored and 60 RBIs in 115 games.

"He played two positions for us, second and third," Hawkins said. "It was great to see that type of versatility in his first full season. Mark had one of the best introductions to pro ball from the standpoint of fighting adversity and changing positions. We're very excited and think he has a bright future."

Third baseman -- Yandy Diaz, Akron (26 games), Columbus (95 games): In just three years as a professional in the United States, the Cuban native has done nothing but hit. After slashing .309/.403/.402 with Akron and Triple-A Columbus last year, Diaz improved to .318/.408/.446 in 121 contests this season, including a .325 mark in 95 games with the Clippers.

"He's one of those 'have bat, will travel' guys," Hawkins said. "He's been all over the diamond for us and in Cuba, which is great for his future potential."

Shortstop -- Erik Gonzalez, Columbus (104 games), Cleveland (21 games): Cleveland may be set at the position with Francisco Lindor, but Gonzalez keeps working his way toward "The Show." The 25-year-old batted .296 with 43 extra-base hits and 53 RBIs with Columbus before he was promoted to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September.

"He has a strong ability to play multiple positions at a high level," Hawkins said. "That versatility gives us flexibility as we think about composing our Major League roster for depth. His experience in winter ball has helped him gain confidence to compete at the upper levels. He's got a bright future ahead of him and is another guy you'll look up and see had an impact the way Jose Ramirez did this year for us."


Greg Allen, Akron (37 games), Lynchburg (92 games): A switch-hitter with terrific speed and a strong glove, Allen followed up a solid year last season with an even better 2016. He batted .295 with 77 walks in 129 games between the Hillcats and the RubberDucks. The 23-year-old also swiped 45 bases in 58 attempts, giving him 96 steals in the past two years. The Indians' sixth-round pick in the 2014 Draft was one of nine Minor Leaguers to earn a Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence.

"He put himself on the map and went about his business at both levels," Hawkins said. "What stands out is his defense and approach from both sides of the plate. He has some pop and can drive the ball too. He definitely deserves to be in our conversations and we're looking forward to seeing him shine in the Arizona Fall League."

Anthony Santander, Lynchburg (128 games): Injuries have dogged Santander in his professional career, limiting him to no more than 72 games heading into 2016. But with health on his side this year, the 21-year-old rewarded the organization's faith in him by hitting .290 with 42 doubles, 20 homers and 95 RBIs with the Hillcats.

"It was his first year playing an entire season, thanks to some freak injuries early on," Hawkins said. "He's got a power bat from both sides and played a really strong outfield too. He has a solid approach at the plate and is very advanced for his age. He did a great job anchoring the lineup at Lynchburg." 

Video: Lynchburg's Santander hits go-ahead homer

Bradley Zimmer, Akron (93 games), Columbus (37 games): Although his numbers slipped a bit, Zimmer still put together a solid season, hitting 15 homers and driving in 62 runs coming off a hairline fracture in his right foot that kept him out of the AFL last year. Despite some inconsistencies, Hawkins was pleased with what he saw from the 21st overall pick in the 2014 Draft.

"He was coming off an outstanding year and had an injury that slowed up his offseason work," Hawkins said. "So I think getting back into the swing of things, and in just his second full season, he had some learning moments. But adversity is a great thing to deal with at Double-A or Triple-A. It's good for guys to go through that before reaching the Majors."

Utility player -- Tyler Krieger, Lynchburg (59 games), Lake County (69 games): Krieger burst onto the scene in his professional debut, slashing .299/.377/.417 across two levels in 2016. Cleveland's fourth-round pick in last year's Draft did not play in 2015 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Right-handed starter -- Matt Esparza, Lynchburg (seven games), Akron (20 games): Esparza had little trouble adjusting to the grind of a full season, leading all Cleveland Minor Leaguers with 141 strikeouts. The Indians' 14th-round pick in last year's Draft won 10 games and posted a 3.36 ERA across 27 appearances -- 26 starts.

"He was a leader among his pitching staffs," Hawkins said. "He pounded the zone and is not afraid to miss bats. He's got the attributes of a guy who can start for a long time and definitely another name we'll think about for our future Major League pitching depth."

Left-handed starter -- Shawn Morimando, Columbus (11 games), Akron (16 games), Cleveland (two games): Cleveland's 19th-round pick in the 2011 Draft vaulted to the top of the organization's pitching ranks this year. Morimando led all Indians Minor Leaguers with 15 wins while sporting a 3.25 ERA and 119 strikeouts across two levels. The 23-year-old made his big league debut in 2016, appearing in two games.

"His stuff is Major League across the board," Hawkins said. "It's just a matter of him refining things and becoming more consistent. We don't have many guys who work as hard as Shawn, and we're excited where he's headed as we head into 2017."

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- Shawn Armstrong, Lake County (two games), Columbus (47 games), Cleveland (10 games): A dominating season in relief with Columbus earned Armstrong his first taste of the Majors in 2016. The 26-year-old posted a 1.84 ERA and fanned 72 batters in 49 innings with Columbus, holding opposing hitters to a .160 batting average.

"He had a really, really strong year," Hawkins said. "He's another guy that's not afraid to miss bats and he's able to do it in high leverage situations at the end of baseball games. His cutter and breaking stuff are already above-average Major League offerings, it's just a matter of being consistent with it."

Michael Avallone is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.