One of the most widely spread rumors of the Indians off-season thus far is that the team is planning on cutting a gigantic number of players before 2021. This is not particularly surprising given the new standards that will be in place to control rosters next year and the elimination of the Mahoning Valley Scrapper as an affiliate. What was surprising was back in May, when many teams in baseball were clearing house, the Indians didn’t. They cut just 11 players, most of which had been added recently as minor league free agents.
While the organization should be commended for keeping the rest of the franchise through the summer, the inevitable shrinkage has finally started. The first 14 players to leave the Indians organization have been leaked (via @IndiansPro on twitter) and appear to include mostly players who would have been cut during the 2020 season had it happened. Below is a breakdown of this group by how long they have been with the organization.
2018 – Luis Sanchez & Francis Cespedes
The least surprising man on the list was the most recent addition, LHP Francis Cespedes. He was extremely old for an international signing when he joined the Dodgers in 2016 at 21, then after two seasons was released, missed 2018 and joined the Indians for spring training in 2019. At 24 years old, he was nearly three years older than the average player in the New York/Penn League while playing for Mahoning Valley that summer and, while he struck out 30 in 26 innings, he had major control problems. With 23 walks, five hit batters and 23 hits allowed, he appeared to have the exact same issues that got him cut by the Dodgers in the first place.
Right handed reliever Luis Sanchez was also an old signing out of the Dominican Republic, joining the DSL Indians in 2018 for three games at the age of 23. While he pitched extremely well for the Scrappers in 2019, striking out 22 with 10 walks in 20 innings, saving four games and posting a 2.70 ERA, players that old are on an extremely sped up time frame and he simply ran out of time.
2016 – Derian Perez, Roger Marmol, Wilmer Mejia, Wilton Sanchez, Makesiondon Kelkboom & Jon Laureano
This group was much more typical as far as international signings are concerned (with one drafted player as well) and were given a much longer time frame to figure things out. Starting at the bottom, Derian Perez was an outfielder signed at 16 years old in 2016 who debuted with the Indians/Brewers in 2017 and never made it out of the DSL. While he was a starter all three seasons (the last two years with the full DSL Indians squad), he never hit as expected and finished with a .235/.343/.325 batting line across 156 games.
Roger Marmol signed at 16 and spent two seasons with the DSL Indians prior to his 2019 promotion to Arizona. While he hit fairly well in the DSL, he became a completely one dimensional hitter in Arizona, batting .203/.235/.304 with two home runs, two walks and 31 strike outs. He had a good arm, but was otherwise was a poor defensive catcher. With a fairly deep 2019 and 2020 draft class at catcher, Marmol had become expendable.
Wilmer Mejia was 17 at signing in 2016 and did make it out of the Dominican Summer League after just one season with the Indians/Brewers. After two seasons as a right handed starter with the Arizona League Indians, however, he had yet to establish himself. He finishes his time in Cleveland with a 5.52 ERA across 73.1 innings in 19 appearances in Arizona. He allowed a 1.51 WHIP and struck out 8.2 per nine innings.
Wilton Sanchez also signed at 17 and played one season in the Dominican Summer League before joining Arizona in 2018. A right handed reliever, he went from a 2.29 ERA as a rookie to an 8.60 ERA across two seasons and 37.2 innings. He struck out 37, but walked 32 as command issues plagued him for both Arizona seasons.
Makesiondon Kelkboom signed and debuted as a 16 year old short stop from Leiden Netherlands. A cousin of Jurickson Profar, he was known for his intelligence and fluency in multiple languages. As exciting of a prospect as he was at the start, he never hit at any level, reaching all the way to Lake County in 2019 as an 18 year old. His arm was too wild for short and he was moved to third after his first season, but he still wasn’t able to control his throws. Between all levels, he had a .169/.259/.264 slash line over 98 games. He was caught 18 times and stole just nine bases and committed 31 errors in 225 total chances between short and third.
Finally, the first of two drafted players cut, Jon Laureano was drafted by the Indians out of Connors State College in Oklahoma with the 25th round pick in 2016. He played mostly in Mahoning Valley over his first two seasons, but did make a short appearance in Akron. He then spent most of 2018 with Lake County and 2019 with Lynchburg. Despite being consistently promoted, Laureano never hit well, particularly as a third baseman. In 2018, possibly due to his lack of bat, he was converted to catcher, but that experiment failed and in 2019 he split most of his time between first and third. He hit .217/.267/.314 across 248 minor league games with 12 home runs (nine of which came in Lake County in 2018) and 228 strike outs.
2015 – Jean Montero, Christophers Santana, Luis Valdez & Luke Wakamatsu
Jean Montero was an exciting speedster who spent time at second and center, stealing 68 bases in 87 attempts during his 204 games. His .272/.415/.422 line as an 18 year old in the DSL was promising, but he didn’t maintain it in 2019, still in the Dominican, or in his lone season in Arizona in 2019.
Christophers Santana joined the DSL Indians as a 17 year old in 2015 and pitched an incredible three years there. Despite a complete lack of any positive results, he was promoted to Arizona in 2018 and had a very rough year. The 2019 season in Arizona was much kinder for Santana as he held a 2.45 ERA with 33 strike outs over 22 innings, but he was also a 21 year old in his fifth season with the Indians. Over all seasons, he had a 5.19 ERA, 7.0 BB/9 and 8.5 K/9 across 118 innings.
Another right handed reliever, Luis Valdez joined the franchise in 2015 as an 18 year olds and pitched fine with the DSL Indians over two seasons (then a starter), but wasn’t able to continue that success as a reliever in Arizona. He had major issues in 2017, but was promoted to Mahoning Valley in 2018, then Lake County in 2019. He must have figured something out there as he had a 2.00 ERA across 18 innings with 16 strike outs, but he did walk 12. Of all the players on this list, Valdez may have been the most deserving for a second chance.
The second and final drafted player cut this week was Luke Wakamatsu, son of long time coach Don Wakamatsu and brother of Jake Wakamatsu. Waka looked like a solid bat in Arizona as a rookie short stop, but appeared to lose all his power the following season in Mahoning Valley. Like many players, he found it again in Lake County, but lost it immediately again in Lynchburg in 2018 and 2019. Overall, he hit .206/.282/.329 with some really ugly numbers in high A specifically. He was a 20th round pick in 2015 played just under 300 games in the Indians system.
2014 – Felix Fernandez & Henderson De Oleo
The Indians catching corps have changed drastically in recent seasons, going from Francisco Mejia or bust to having a dirth of talent at the position in the lower minors. The missed 2020 season should allow players like Bo Naylor and Eric Rodriguez to skip levels and fill out the system. This made players like Marmol and Felix Fernandez (pictured at top from 2018) expendable. Fernandez has been playing for the Indians since he was an 18 year old in the DSL in 2015 and yet has never made it to full season ball. During his five seasons with the club, he hit .213/.271/.295 with his worst year coming in 2019 with Mahoning Valley.
The longest tenured player of the group was Henderson De Oleo, who signed as a 16 year old in 2014. He debuted in 2017 and spent three years in the DSL before hitting .220/.308/.329 in 2018 with the AZL Indians and spending 2019 with the Scrappers. De Oleo may have been the single strongest player I’ve seen in Arizona alongside other names like Oscar Gonzalez, Bobby Bradley and Henry Pujols, but his contact came far too rarely as he struck out 245 times in 240 games. While hit home runs were the most of the most prodigious variety, they were rare and he went deep just 15 times in five seasons.