Things have been pretty wild all across baseball since the 2019 World Series ended from the Astros cheating scandal to the potential removal of 42 minor league teams and, most destructively, the delay of professional baseball at all levels until an unknown point. With Major League Baseball currently in discussions with both minor league baseball and the MLBPA, the situation changes nearly daily, but one thing that appears to be set is that the rule 4 amateur draft will take place on June 10th and 11th and will be just five rounds long.
Combined with the presumptive elimination of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, this alone would lead to a very different situation in the Arizona League. In general, the Indians two AZL teams have consisted of graduates of the 1.5 Dominican Summer League teams, recently drafted rookies and a handful of holdbacks from the previous season, often due to a lack of playing time the previous season. Prior to 2018, the Indians had just one AZL team and would often send college draft picks straight to Mahoning Valley or even Lake County. Since the expansion, however, every single draft pick has begun his career in Arizona.
The elimination of the Scrappers, however, will make that a necessity instead of a choice. Especially for the younger players coming up from the DSL or out of high school in the draft, jumping straight to Lake County would be out of the question. There’s little reason to believe that all five of the Indians 2020 picks won’t begin their careers in Arizona.
Of course, saying that this season doesn’t mean much as one plan being discussed would see all Cactus League affiliates playing in Arizona. For those unfamiliar, the diagram below from GoodyearBP.com shows the layout of the Indians practice facility. Fields one through six are regulation size and could feature official games. There is also the big league ballpark up the street that is currently not in use.
Potentially, the Indians could dedicate one field to each team and still have some left over. With half the teams on the road every day, having room to play a full schedule wouldn’t be a problem.
While the delay of the season is unprecedented, it has worked out perfectly for MLB team owners who were pushing for a decrease in MiLB prior and now have gotten their way (obviously the owners are taking a big hit financially, so overall it is terrible for everyone, but they did win this battle). With one fewer team, the five round draft will help shrink the size of the farm system without having to make extreme cuts. In the last three years, the Indians have averaged signing just over 30 draft picks per year and, assuming they sign all five this year, would have the 25 man decrease necessary to still roster everyone. Of course, they can still sign undrafted players at $20,000 a piece, but I would expect any players who expected to be drafted between rounds six and twenty would shun such an offer and try again in 2021.
As far as roster composition is concerned, I would expect the 11 players from the 2019 draft who played significantly in Mahoning Valley or, in one case, Lake County, to begin the year in Lake County. Others from that draft who are more developed will also likely make the leap, specifically players like Joe Naranjo, Will Bartlett and Jordan Jones who spent 2019 in the AZL.
Replacing those who are promoted will be the five draft picks and those from the 2019 DSL. A few names I would expect to make that jump are left handed starter Steven Perez, catcher Victor Planchart as well as infielders Dayan Frias, Jesus Lara, Angel Martinez (pictured at top), Joseph Paulino, Junior Sanquintin, Jose Baez and Henyer Gomez. A handful of outfielders, specifically Derian Perez, Skeiling Rodriguez, Sterling Romero and Alan Meza are also likely to see promotion.
This group represents a ton of talent, specifically in the middle infield, and is more than enough to continue to field two Arizona League teams. I had a chance to see some of those infielders last year in extended spring and was very impressed by many, but particularly by Sanquintin, Martinez and Gabriel Rodriguez, who was called up to Arizona late in 2019 and could stick around for 2020. These impressive young athletes bring power, speed and great fielding to the team and are the primary reason people are starting to respect the Indians lower minor league teams.
Ultimately, even those running the league don’t know for sure what will happen now, but a best case scenario could see at least a partial MiLB season based in Arizona. The final restrictions on the lock down in Arizona are set to end on May 23rd and most businesses have already reopened. This at least leaves an opportunity to bring back some minor league baseball once the league finishes working out the kinks in keeping everyone safe.