This offseason, MiLB.com 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. Select a team from the dropdown below.
It was an encouraging year for the Indians, at the Major League level as well as in the system. Triple-A Columbus rolled to the best record in the International League and captured its second consecutive Governors' Cup title before defeating Omaha to win back-to-back Triple-A Nationals Championships. The Indians' Double-A club in Akron missed the playoffs but finished four games over .500, and the Class A Advanced Indians went to the Carolina League Finals in their final season in Kinston.
Things were bumpier at the lower levels. A year after claiming the Midwest League crown, Cleveland's Class A club in Lake County had the circuit's worst record at 53-86, while the Indians' short-season affiliate in Mahoning Valley posted the New York-Penn League's fifth-best mark (41-34).
Most promisingly, young prospects such as Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall made their long-anticipated Major League debuts and played well down the stretch for the big league club.
Indians Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Chun Chen, Akron (113 games): Chen's offensive game took a step backward in his first season at Double-A, but his 16 home runs were the most by any Indians catcher and tied for seventh overall in the Cleveland system.
After batting .315/.404/.521 between Class A and Class A Advanced in 2010, the 22-year-old backstop hit .262/.330/.451 for the Aeros and saw his strikeouts rise from 74 to 122 in 113 games. An All-Star Futures Game selection in 2010, the Taiwanese-born Chen represented the West Division in the Eastern League All-Star Game this season.
First base -- Jesus Aguilar, Lake County (95 games), Kinston (31 games): The 21-year-old Aguilar led the Indians farm system with 82 RBIs and ranked second with 23 home runs. A run producer in the classic mold, the 6-foot-3, 241-pound Venezuelan native also fanned 126 times -- third most in the Cleveland organization.
After pounding Midwest League pitching for 19 homers and 69 RBIs in 95 games, Aguilar was promoted to Kinston, where he proved instrumental in the K-Tribe's playoff run. Though the Indians fell to Frederick in four games in the Mills Cup Finals, Aguilar led the Carolina League with four long balls in eight postseason games and delivered a key go-ahead single in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the semifinals.
One of the Indians' selections to the elite Arizona Fall League, Aguilar went 5-for-7 with two homers and three doubles in his first two AFL games.
Second base -- Cord Phelps, Columbus (97 games), Cleveland (35 games): Phelps was a key contributor to the Columbus Clippers team that captured its second consecutive International League title (and Triple-A championship) this season.
After batting .317 for the Clippers in the second half of the 2010 season, the 24-year-old Stanford product hit .294 in 2011 -- third-best among Indians full-season hitters. The switch-hitting Phelps also discovered a power stroke, clubbing 14 homers in 97 Minor League games. (He'd hit 14 total in his first three professional seasons.)
Phelps was less successful at the Major League level, where he made his debut June 8. He batted just .155 in 80 plate appearances over 35 games and may find himself blocked at second base by teammate Jason Kipnis, whom Phelps matched in Triple-A but who fared better in his own big league debut.
Honorable mention: Jason Kipnis
Third base -- Jared Goedert, Akron (eight games), Columbus (79 games): Goedert missed the first six weeks of the season with an abdominal strain and did not return to full-time action until joining the Clippers on May 28. Despite his limited playing time, his 18 home runs in 87 games tied him for third in the Indians system. (He led the organization with 27 in 2010.)
The 26-year-old Kansas State product, who spent time at first base early in the season, didn't fully settle in at the plate until August, when he batted .363 with eight long balls and 20 RBIs in 29 games. He added another blast as the Clippers rolled through the International League playoffs and delivered an RBI double as Columbus captured its second straight Triple-A title.
Honorable mention: Jordan Smith
Shortstop -- Luis Valbuena, Columbus (113 games), Cleveland (17 games): The 25-year-old Valbuena spent most of the 2009 and '10 seasons in Cleveland, but his .226/.287/.348 line over 194 games sent him back to Triple-A this year, where he thrived.
Valbuena's .302 Minor League average was second-best among Indians full-season prospects and marked the fourth straight Minor League campaign in which the Venezuelan native hit .300. His 17 homers and 75 RBIs -- both career highs -- put him among the offensive leaders in the Cleveland system. He was named to the International League's postseason All-Star squad as a utility player.
Designated hitter -- Beau Mills, Akron (61 games), Columbus (35 games): After two seasons and part of a third at Double-A Akron, Mills made his Triple-A debut on June 10, then joined the Clippers full time July 22. The 13th overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Mills hit .293 with 21 homers and 90 RBIs en route to being named the Carolina League's MVP in 2008 but struggled to replicate that success at higher levels.
He rediscovered his power stroke this season, batting a combined .289 with 18 long balls -- third-most in the Indians system. Lefty-hitting Mills was named Eastern League Player of the Week in mid-July after going 12-for-19 with three homers and nine RBIs in five games. Promoted to the IL soon after that outburst, Mills finished the regular season by going 12-for-24 with three blasts in his final six games, then batted .308 for the Clippers during their successful playoff run.
Ezequiel Carrera, Columbus (82 games), Cleveland (68 games): Despite playing just 82 Minor League games, Carrera led the Indians system (and finished second in the International League) with 35 stolen bases. Though he was promoted to Cleveland in mid July, he was instrumental to a Columbus club that went 56-26 during the first three months of the season.
Though the Clippers relied on the long ball -- they led the International League with 152 of them -- Carrera provided speed and an ability to get on base that made him far more valuable than his 13 extra-base hits would suggest. The 24-year-old lefty hitter was caught just four times in his 39 stolen base attempts and drew 39 walks while striking out 53 times.
Tim Fedroff, Akron (70 games), Columbus (62 games): Another Indians prospect who relies on getting on base rather than power is Fedroff, a 24-year-old left-handed hitter out of the University of North Carolina who was a seventh-round pick in the 2008 Draft.
Fedroff, who opened the season with Double-A Akron before joining Columbus in June, led Cleveland full-season hitters with a .308 average, ranked second with 71 runs scored and sixth with 62 walks. Topps designated him the Eastern League Player of the Month for May after he hit .412/.465/.529 with 20 RBIs and 18 runs scored in 26 games. After hitting .338 for Akron, he batted .272 in 62 Triple-A games (and .290 in the playoffs) to finish the campaign with career highs in most offensive categories.
Jerad Head, Columbus (114 games), Cleveland (10 games): The veteran slugger, who was the MVP of the 2010 Triple-A Championship Game for the Clippers, led the Indians system with 24 homers in his first full season at Triple-A. The 28-year-old also made his Major League debut Aug. 28 after six Minor League seasons.
Along with the long balls, Head led the Cleveland organization in slugging (.526), ranked fourth in RBIs (70) and sixth in doubles (28). The right-handed slugger, who was signed as an non-drafted free agent in 2005, set career marks in nearly every category and helped Columbus pace the International League in home runs during the regular season.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Jeanmar Gomez, Mahoning Valley (one game), Columbus (21 games), Cleveland (11 games): After a difficult 2010 season, the 23-year-old Gomez regained the form that saw him toss a perfect game for Akron in 2009. The right-hander led the International League (and all Indians full-season pitchers) with a 2.54 ERA and allowed no more than four earned runs in any of his 22 Minor League starts.
Gomez was particularly dominant against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .207 average, and he posted a 1.68 ERA in 10 road outings for Columbus.
Only Gomez's recall to the Major Leagues prevented his participation in the Triple-A All-Star Game in mid-July. At the big league level, the Venezuelan native posted a 5-3 record with a 4.47 ERA. He won five straight starts from Aug. 30 to Sept. 22 but was hit hard at Detroit in his final outing of the season and finished the season with a .303 average against in 58 1/3 Major League innings.
Honorable mention: Paolo Espino, Zach McAllister
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Mike Rayl, Lake County (17 games), Kinston (eight games): A 6-foot-5 southpaw out of Palm Beach (Fla.) Community College, Rayl was the Indians' 15th-round pick in the 2009 Draft. After a solid performance in the New York-Penn League last season, Rayl dominated the Midwest League early in 2011, twice earning Pitcher of the Week honors and being named to the circuit's All-Star squad. By the end of June, Rayl was 5-2 with a 1.53 ERA in 13 starts.
The second half of Rayl's season was not as strong -- he lost three consecutive starts in July and saw his ERA rise by nearly a run before being promoted to Class A Advanced on July 29. The 22-year-old notched his first Carolina League victory on Aug. 15, matching a career-high 11 strikeouts over five scoreless innings, but finished the season 1-3 with a 4.61 ERA in eight starts for Kinston.
Nevertheless, Rayl ranked fourth among Indians full-season hurlers with a 3.42 ERA on the season and was sixth with 121 strikeouts while walking just 26 over 123 2/3 innings.
Relief pitcher -- Chen Lee, Akron (23 games), Columbus (21 games): Just 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, the 24-year-old Lee proved overwhelming to both Eastern League and International League hitters in 2011. In his 23 appearances with Akron, he recorded twice as many strikeouts (56) as he allowed hits (27) in 39 2/3 innings while holding EL batters to a .196 average.
After his promotion to Columbus on June 24, Lee did not allow an earned run in his first nine Triple-A outings. In his 21 regular season games with the Clippers, he gave up an earned run just four times and had only one truly bad outing, in which he yielded four runs on three hits and three walks over two-thirds of an inning against Buffalo on Aug. 20.
Lee was just as important for Columbus in the postseason. In the IL playoffs, he gave up one run on one hit over five innings in three appearances and earned the save as the Clippers clinched the Governors' Cup. He also closed out the Triple-A Championship Game with a pair of scoreless frames.
Honorable mention: Preston Guilmet, Kyle Landis