Lindor, Urshela among Indians' standouts

Tribe's top performers also include Gonzalez, Gallas, Holt and Merritt

Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela began at Double-A Akron but finished at Triple-A Columbus. (Gordon Donovan/MiLB.com)

By Mark Emery / MiLB.com | November 19, 2014 10:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Today, continuing with the Cleveland Indians, we're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

A second consecutive winning season did not translate to a second consecutive playoff appearance for the Indians, and if that disappointed their fans, the Tribe faithful can find comfort in what's coming.

Cleveland's Minor League affiliates finished 2014 with a collective record of 390-368, putting together a .515 winning percentage that ranked 12th in baseball. Triple-A Columbus won the International League West division title, and Double-A Akron made the postseason as well.

After finishing last in the Midwest League Eastern Division in the first half, Class A Lake County righted the ship in the second half, earned a playoff appearance and sailed all the way to the Championship Series. The AZL Indians won the Arizona League West Division and didn't stop there, ultimately adding a championship to Cleveland's 2014 Minor League accomplishments.

"It was really positive," said Carter Hawkins, the Indians' director of player development. "I think if you look at top to bottom, just the prospects that we have, the way the teams performed, we had several teams that made the playoffs. That was exciting to see. We want to have that winning atmosphere.

"There was just a lot of guys that made big strides, where we just feel really, really good about where they were when the season ended, and we're just really excited about getting them all out to Goodyear [in Arizona] and getting going again."

Indians Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Eric Haase, Lake County (77 games), Carolina (16 games): Only two players in the Minor Leagues who caught as many games as Haase hit more home runs than the 17 he clubbed in 2014.

He batted .255 with a .322 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage and drove in 48 runs en route to being named an Organization All-Star for the second year in a row.

"Eric was great," Hawkins said. "He took a leadership position on that Lake County team and was able to really tap into some of his power potential -- improved defensively as well. We were really excited about his year."

Honorable mention: Roberto Perez earned a Major League promotion by posting a .305/.405/.517 slash line with eight long balls and 43 RBIs across 53 games at Columbus.

First baseman -- Jesus Aguilar, Columbus (118 games), Cleveland (19 games): The punchless Aguilar whom fans saw in Cleveland during several big league stints was a far cry from the monster who had his way with International League pitching so frequently this season.

The Indians' No. 10 prospect ranked second in the circuit with a .395 on-base percentage, fourth with 77 RBIs and a .511 slugging percentage, fifth with 19 home runs and 64 walks and sixth with a .304 batting average. The 2012 Futures Game participant is now a three-time Organization All-Star.

"Jesus Aguilar certainly had a dominant year at Triple-A," Hawkins said. "He was driving the ball all over the ballpark, was certainly a bat that was feared throughout International League lineups, and he improved defensively as well."

Honorable mention: Nellie Rodriguez tied for the Midwest League lead with 22 home runs while ranking first among Tribe prospects with 88 RBIs.

Second baseman -- Jose Ramirez, Columbus (60 games), Cleveland (68 games):  Ramirez was about as likely to be seen in Northeast Ohio as Central Ohio in 2014, but his production in the state's capital was too notable to ignore. The two-time Organization All-Star hit .302/.360/.441 with five homers, 29 RBIs and 19 steals in 30 tries during his time in a Clippers uniform.

While sporting the colors of Chief Wahoo, Ramirez assembled a .262/.300/.346 slash line with two home runs, 17 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 11 chances.

Third baseman -- Giovanny Urshela, Akron (24 games), Columbus (104 games): A month at Double-A was all Urshela needed this season to show that he was ready for the next step. All in all, he hit at a .280 clip while managing a .334 on-base percentage and .491 slugging percentage, ranking first among Tribe prospects with 78 runs, second with 84 RBIs and fourth with 18 blasts.

"Urshela was probably our Minor League Player of the Year, honestly," Hawkins said. "He's probably one of the better third basemen in our system, if not our entire organization, defensively.

"He's always been a young guy, for his league. ... For his age, he was always performing, but it didn't look necessarily like he was performing relative to his league. This year, he performed relative to the league and above his league, so we're pretty excited about him."

Cleveland's No. 13 prospect did see his stay in the Venezuelan Winter League cut short by a knee injury suffered last Saturday.

Shortstop -- Francisco Lindor, Akron (88 games), Columbus (38 games): The crown jewel of Cleveland's farm system continued to close in on Progressive Field. MLB.com's fourth-ranked overall prospect nearly doubled his previous career high for homers by going deep 11 times, and he crossed home plate 75 times, the second-highest amount among Tribe prospects.

The three-time Futures Game participant and Organization All-Star suffered a drop in his slash line categories but still batted a respectable .276/.338/.389. He was successful on 28 of 44 steal attempts while further sharpening a defensive skill set that is one of the game's absolute best.

"He just continues to improve, continues to exceed expectations," Hawkins said. "Francisco is in an outstanding spot. He's going to impact our Major League team at some point, whether it's out of the gates in Spring Training, later on in the year or at some other point. ... But he's progressing ahead of schedule for us, and we couldn't be more excited about the progress he's made."

Outfielders

Anthony Gallas, Carolina (58 games), Akron (73 games): The Kent State product led all Cleveland Minor Leaguers by cranking 24 home runs, and his other numbers weren't half-bad either. He batted .285/.334/.511 with 80 RBIs, driving in the third-highest amount of runs in the farm system.

"He just kept on hitting," Hawkins said. "He's one of the harder workers in the organization. He's a local Cleveland guy. He was a non-drafted free agent. He's had to earn every one of his opportunities. He knows that and he works his tail off to make sure, when an opportunity presents itself, that he's ready for it.

"In Carolina this year, he really just tore the cover off the ball and never really [had a] letdown. When he got up to Akron, it was more of the same. He had a great approach at the plate, he's got some significant power, he's extremely strong and athletic."

Tyler Holt, Akron (39 games), Columbus (59 games), Cleveland (36 games): Despite appearing in just 98 Minor League games, Holt led all Tribe prospects with 31 stolen bases. He also hit .305/.416/.382 with two homers and 30 RBIs and had a 71-to-66 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a farmhand.

"It was a fun year for Tyler, obviously," Hawkins said. "Started the year in Akron, didn't pout, didn't sulk, continued to work, continued to try and get better. Got to Columbus, continued his progress, was an on-base machine, played good defense at all three positions, and when there was an opportunity in the big leagues, he was ready and took advantage of it and [Indians manager Terry Francona] was penciling him in during September.

"So he just continued to improve. He's an exciting player, he brings a lot of energy, can range in the outfield, has a strong arm, good instincts, runs the bases well and puts up a quality at-bat. Just a great all-around player."

Tyler Naquin, Akron (76 games): Naquin is an Organization All-Star for the second year in a row despite having his year cut short by a hand injury that required surgery. Before the Indians' third-ranked prospect was hit by that season-ending pitch, though, he was batting .313/.371/.424 with 12 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 30 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 17 attemps.

"He really took Double-A by storm," Hawkins said. "He made some great adjustments to really get more consistent with his approach offensively, runs the bases well and plays an elite center field also."

Honorable mentions: Bradley Zimmer batted .302/.400/.492 with six home runs, 32 RBIs and 12 steals in 16 attempts across 45 games at short-season Mahoning Valley and three games at Lake County; Bobby Bradley won the Arizona League Triple Crown with a .361 batting average, eight home runs and 50 RBIs across 39 games and was named the circuit's Most Valuable Player.

Utility player -- Erik Gonzalez, Carolina (74 games), Akron (31 games): Cleveland's No. 8 prospect would probably have slotted in at shortstop if he played in any of the other 29 teams' farm systems.

The two-time Organization All-Star's .309 batting average was the highest of any full-season Indians prospect. He also compiled a .352 on-base percentage and .428 slugging percentage while notching four homers, 62 RBIs and 21 steals in 28 attempts.

"Gonzo really tore the cover off the ball at High A and just continued that when he got up to Double-A," Hawkins said. "We feel like he has plus range defensively, a strong arm, versatile defensively, can run the bases and is learning to drive the ball. So that's a guy we're pretty excited about."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Mitch Brown, Lake County (27 games): With 27 starts and 138 2/3 innings, Brown ranked third and fifth in the Midwest League in those categories, respectively. In that span, he built an 8-8 record and 3.31 ERA and allowed just six home runs while fanning 127 and walking 55. He also kept hitters to a .226 average and had a 1.21 WHIP.

"He's got some of the better stuff in our organization," Hawkins said. "Strong fastball, he's got a breaking ball that is a Major League breaking ball right now. He's learning to command all of his plus stuff and that's paying dividends in his performance."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ryan Merritt, Carolina (25 games):Merritt can be found at or near the top of the leaderboard in a bevy of Carolina League pitching categories. He led the league with 13 wins, a 0.95 WHIP and 160 1/3 innings pitched and tied for first with two complete games.

Additionally, he ranked second with a .216 opponents' average, third with a 2.58 ERA and tied for fourth with a 127 strikeouts and only 12 home runs allowed. He took just three losses all year.

"He's basically everything we're looking for in a Minor League player, from his work ethic, his routines, his desire to improve and his mindset," Hawkins said. "We're just really excited about what he did over the course of the year."

Relief pitcher -- Ben Heller, Lake County (28 games), Carolina (17 games): In 45 appearances across two levels, the right-hander went 5-1 with a 2.38 ERA and five saves in eight opportunities. Over 53 innings, he punched out 81 and issued 29 walks while serving up just four homers all year.

Heller's strikeout total is joined by a .148 batting average against and a 1.06 WHIP on the list of eye-popping statistics he accumulated this season.

Honorable mention: Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley's J.P. Feyereisen did not allow a run over 17 innings spread across 15 appearances, during which he struck out 24 and walked one.

Mark Emery is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Emery. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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