While it looks like the sport of baseball is doing everything it can to make itself look worse in the public eye, it appears there will be a season, even if it only ends up being something like a 50 game regular season and possibly expanded playoffs.
Whenever they figure out the money and making playing baseball safe in 2020, the notion is that there will be a “taxi squad” of 20-25 players consisting of minor leaguers from each team’s system because it doesn’t seem likely there will be a regular minor league system.
The Indians do have a farm system on the rise in baseball, however, their system isn’t really filled with their best players at the top. Most of what makes people say it’s a system on the rise, sitting around the top spot of the middle-of-the-pack systems is due to talented players that have been at Lake County and below so far.
A taxi squad of their own upper-level prospects probably doesn’t boost the strength of their roster like it might other clubs, but let’s look at some prospects who would probably be on it and can help
Starting pitchers: We start here because with how weird this season is going to be and the long layoff, there’s a chance for more pitcher injuries. Mike Clevinger had a fluke injury last year and one in spring training this year. Carlos Carrasco still has to be a worry with leukemia. All pitchers might not be able to go as long as normal, so this is the most obvious place to stock the taxi squad with more arms.
(We know the rotation shakes out something like: Shane Bieber, Clevinger, Carrasco, and two or more of Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Adam Plutko and Jefry Rodriguez depending on the size of the regular roster).
LHP Logan Allen (Big Logan): One article post draft and I already have to clarify which Logan Allen. He’s the most obvious candidate to be on recall as an SP. His four pitch mix with above average control, an above average changeup, athleticism and pitchability, and include his previous MLB experience, we already know Allen is likely a 4/5 starter with the chance to become a little more if his command is refined some.
LHP Scott Moss: Moss has an above average fastball that can hit 95 along with an average slider and changeup. He lacks enough control to really utilize that package across the board, but the stuff is there to turn a lineup over with. That’s why he sits behind Allen as a potential first call to the bigs as a taxi squad starter. He has reliever command would probably do well as a fastball/slider lefty who can get both righties and lefties out. But with the potential need for starter depth now, we’ll rank him second.
LHP Sam Hentges: Statistcally, 2019 was not a good year for Hentges, so I’d be skeptical to see him be considered ‘ready’ for 2020 contribution. But he was throwing up to 98 in spring training this year, tried adding a cutter the last two years to give him a fourth pitch with his curveball and changeup. The fastball and curveball are good enough to get him to the big league. He just needs more consistent command and the ability to do some damage control on the mound. The damage control piece if why I don’t have him on the reliever list because even though that’s not really a quantifiable skill, it’s one we’ve noticed in the past year that he struggled with at times. But it seems like he’s not too far off of helping, at least in a spot role and is third on the list behind the top seven potential starters in the organization.)
Relievers: Relief help might be more needed on a taxi squad with burned out arms covering games for starters who can’t go long enough and with the Indians not having Emmanuel Clase to rely on probably accentuates this some.
(Technically, James Karinchak still qualifies as a prospect, but in a 50 game season and the fact that they won’t have Clase means he should be in the bullpen and wouldn’t be on ‘reserve’ on a taxi squad.)
RHP Nick Sandlin: Sandlin has the command and pitch mix to be an effective reliever in the bigs right now. He had surgery after being shutdown early in 2019. If he’s healthy enough, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be on call on the taxi squad as he would have the ability to cover multiple innings. But the Indians may be careful given his injury and the weird timing to have to get read for the season.
LHP Kyle Nelson: The Indians only have Brad Hand and Oliver Perez in the bullpen as left handers. It’s more than feasible that both Moss and Hentges could be extremely valuable in the bullpen. Given that the Indians have a decent amount of depth of starters in a potential 48/50 game season, those two could factor into the bullpen plans. But Nelson’s fastball/slider combination with high spin and good command are a fit for the bullpen right now to get lefties and righties out.
RHP Cam Hill: Hill has the stuff to step into a potential role left by Clase’s suspension. He doesn’t have Clase’s command but his fastball can touch 99 and he has a curveball with tons of break and depth. It’s not far off the James Karinchak/Cody Allen package. He’s ready for a chance after coming back from TJ in 2019.
LHP Anthony Gose: You saw Gose hit 100 in spring training with a nasty slider. Command is still an issue, but 48/50 games carries 100 mph worth of random variance. You know what combats issues with random variance? Great bullpens with arms that throw hard and nasty breaking balls. Gose fills that so he should be in the pool of 20-25 taxi squad players.
RHP Triston McKenzie
I didn’t list McKenzieunder the starters and I have other relievers listed above him. The main reason is that the plan for those two would be complicated. McKenzie hasn’t pitched since 2018, so the Indians obviously want to get him innings, but in a shortened season and time to get ready, is it worth the risk and service time push? I can see a scenario where McKenzie could provide a huge boost from the bullpen to get his exposure to the big leagues without having too push him too hard from his time off. He’s finally added a slider to his repertoire too, so getting him reps would be important.
INF Yu Chang: Chang got a taste of the bigs last year and would be valuable to work out at third base, shortstop and second base. More importantly, it looks like he’s the only player among prospects the Indians may use at shortstop. Given that he’s on the 40 man roster, he might as well be on the taxi squad even though playing Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez all 50 or 60 games might be important to win in a short window. Even though half the league will make some sort of playoff.
INF Ernie Clement: Clement isn’t on the 40 man roster, but the Indians, mainly Terry Francona, really like him. He runs decently well, puts the bat on the ball and covers three infield positions. He’s not someone the Indians would be concerned burning service time with and has a pretty solid skill set that makes him a valuable bench piece on an MLB team, so he’s a good fit for a workout squad player.
1B/DH Bobby Bradley: Nothing has changed about Bradley’s fit on the Indians 26 man roster since spring training. He’s blocked from at bats at DH and first base for 2020. But, Jake Bauers is the only other player on the 40 man roster who has time at first base besides Carlos Santana, so the Indians would likely have him on the taxi squad. Unless the Indians want a bench bat on the active roster who could run into a homer, he still doesn’t seem like a fit this year. But working out on a practice squad at least keeps him active.
3B Nolan Jones: I think it’s almost a sure bet Jones is on some kind of taxi squad. If it’s 20-25 players, it makes sense to have your top prospect working out with the rest of your reserve squad. I think Jones could have helped the Indians in 2020 had there been a normal season. Projection systems sure thought so. If something were to happen to Jose Ramirez or Cesar Hernandez, the Indians might benefit more from using Jones than trying to plug the leak with Chang, Clement or Christian Arroyo. It would just be tough to get his first big league action in a squeezed in short season and burn service time.
Daniel Johnson: This is a gimme. Johnson might have been fighting for a callup in a normal season by now. He’s fit for a right field platoon against right handers with average power, an average hit tool, and above average speed and defense. Tyler Naquin will be ready to go whenever Spring Training 2.0 starts so Johnson’s 2020 might be more blocked than it was initially. But he’ll be on the taxi squad.
Ka’ai Tom: Tom has to be pretty frustrated in his limbo position with the Indians and not being taken in December’s Rule 5 draft. He’s probably best suited to be a fourth or fifth OF type, but he has nothing left to prove at the minor league level and has at least shown he deserves a chance. He plays all three outfield spots decently, with left field being his best spot and brings some good bench pop. It doesn’t seem like there’s a spot for him in Cleveland, but he should at least be on the practice squad to get some work just in case.
This is just prospect based but you can bet the Indians would have Bradley Zimmer, Jake Bauers and Greg Allen on this squad backing up Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Franmil Reyes, Domingo Santana (bet you forgot he was on the roster) and Naquin.
Mike Freeman and Arroyo will most defintely be on the practice squad among infielders. The Indians have zero catching prospects ready above Bo Naylor, so just expect Kungkuan Giiljegiljaw to be on the roster along with Cameron Rupp and Beau Taylor there.
Whoever doesn’t win jobs in the rotation between Plesac, Civale and Plutko, one could easily be a reliever. Same with the Indians bullpen at the end between Phil Maton, James Hoyt, Dominc Leone and Hunter Wood.