Today we’ll be continuing on with our series on the best Indians minor leaguers by level over the last decade (2010-19). After taking a look at the Dominican Summer League Indians last time around, now we’ll head to Goodyear, Arizona: home of the Arizona League Indians Red and Blue. Since the Indians didn’t split the AZL group into two teams until 2018, we’ll look at all AZL players together in this one top ten list.
10. Miguel Jerez – C/1B/LF – 2017 & 2018
Jerez joined the AZL Indians as an 18 year old catcher in 2017 and had an extremely rough season. While he exclusively worked out behind the plate that year, he wasn’t particularly adept at the position and would never see time as a backstop again. In 2018, a position change to first and left came with a huge increase in power, average and walk rate.
After batting .218/.277/.318 in his first season, Jerez jumped to .274/.360/.577 thanks to 11 home runs and 14 home runs (he hit two total during his first two seasons). The 14 home runs shattered the previous record of 8 while his slugging percent was third best in the decade behind Dorssys Paulino and Bobby Bradley. Two things keep Jerez this low on this list. First, his first season was awful and drags down his overall output. Second, the increase in teams in the Arizona League in 2018 (the Indians were one of those teams to split into a pair this season and Jerez played for Indians Red) lead to an offensive boom in the league. Despite this, Jerez still didn’t have the numbers to match the hitters further down the list.
9. Oscar Gonzalez – LF – 2016
One of two AZL Indians hitters to win the AZL MVP, Gonzalez tied Bobby Bradley’s team record with eight home runs in 2016, a number that was tied again in 2017 by Henry Pujols, then surpassed by Jerez and Billy Wilson in 2018. You won’t find any of those players on this list, however, largely due to the inflation of poor players in the last two years that lead to many gaudy, but generally meaningless, numbers.
While Gonzalez was always a huge power threat, he batted .303/.342/.566 despite striking out 57 times to just eight walks. He added four steals without being caught and ten doubles to increase his value, his last time showing any real speed in his MiLB career. After having a more extreme version of this season in 2018 with Lake County, Gonzalez finally cut down his K’s without losing too much power with the Hillcats in 2019.
8. Sam Hentges – LHSP – 2014, 2015 & 2017 (Rehab)
Hentges had two impressive seasons with the AZL Indians, first as a 17 year old rookie reliever drafted out of high school in 2014, then as a starter the following season. Starting as a reliever, Hentges pitched just 13 innings his first season, but allowed just four hits and one earned run while striking out ten.
As a starter, Hentges was even more impressive as he struck out 59 in 49.1 innings with a 3.10 ERA. While this mark wasn’t a team record (at the time it was third), his 3.08 xFIP remains the best for a qualified AZL Indians pitcher. In many categories, the only pitcher better than Hentges was another lefty starter, Thomas Pannone in 2014, but overall Hentges had better control and was more efficient than Pannone, giving him the edge in this list.
7. Gabriel Mejia – CF – 2015 & 2017 (Rehab)
The only repeat from the Dominican Summer League list, Mejia improved upon his rookie year when he was promoted to the AZL Indians after having arguably the best season in DSL Indians history. He increased his batting line to .357/.438/.417 and continued to show excellence in his two prime abilities, bat control and speed. He struck out fewer times than he walked (20 to 21) and stole 34 bases in 44 attempts. The steals remain an AZL Indians record, seven more than Jean Montero’s 2019 season in second place and 18 ahead of #3, Silento Sayles (2014).
Mejia was so effective already, that he was promoted to Mahoning Valley at the age of 20 during the 2015 season. There, he was outmatched and was unable to draw walks or hit doubles like he had previously. He had a better 2016 season with the Scrappers, but calf injuries slowed him in 2017 and beyond and he was released during the 2019 season. During his 2017 rehab assignment back in Arizona, it was clear that he was no longer the same speedster and he was caught stealing three times in seven attempts. Looking just at his first two seasons, he had stolen 112 bases in 143 attempts across 129 games, truly prolific numbers.
6. Yu Chang – SS/3B – 2014
Chang (pictured at top warming up for the 2014 AZL championship game) was signed as a 16 year old out of Taiwan, but didn’t make his pro debut until he joined the AZL Indians for their magical 2014 season. There, he was part of an extremely impressive infield that included future big leaguers Willi Castro and Bobby Bradley. There, he was a very impressive all around player providing speed, power and reliable defense at two positions. He hit six regular season home runs as Bradley was setting the franchise record at eight, then added another during the championship game. In addition, he stole six bases in seven attempts and hit .346/.420/.566 with a 173 wRC+. All of these numbers except the average are top five marks in AZL Indians history and the wRC+ would have been the second best in team history if it hadn’t been for his teammate, Bradley, setting a new record.
This season was a good preview of sorts for Chang’s future as he continued to add power and speed through 2017 before settling down into his current super utility man role. While he has yet to find success in the big leagues offensively, he has already played games with the Indians at second, short and third in his first two seasons.
5. Dorssys Paulino – SS – 2012 & 2016 (Rehab)
This one is a doozy. Paulino was one of the first huge prospects to play for the Indians in Arizona when he played 41 games there in 2012 as a 17 year old. Despite being an international signing out of the Dominican Republic, Paulino skipped the DSL and didn’t appear to miss anything as he had a three hit game in his pro debut and four hits in a game a week later. He would end the season with 61 hits (fourth most in AZL Indians history, but behind only Jose Ramirez at the time) a 158 wRC+ (third best for an AZL Indian in the last decade and fifth best ever). His .355 average was also second best ever at the time behind Jesus Brito in 2009 and has since fallen to fifth. Just to add to an already lofty stat line, Paulino hit 12 doubles and stole nine bases in ten attempts across 41 games.
Following a .560/.593/1.120 batting line over his last week in Arizona, Paulino was promoted mid-season to Mahoning Valley where he began his years of strife. It took three seasons and a position change for Paulino to get out of Lake County and he was 23 when he finally reached Columbus in 2018. After seven years and more than 600 games, the Indians finally had to give up on the man who had such a great start and such an immediate fall. Looking exclusively at his AZL performance, Paulino’s short 2016 rehab appearance back in Arizona, this time as a left fielder gave him a .360/.422/.590 slash line with six home runs, six triples and 12 doubles total across 50 games.
4. Luis David Garcia – LHSP – 2018 & 2019
Garcia had an amazing rookie season with the DSL Indians in 2017 at 17 years old, but had a poor showing in 2018 when he had a 4.31 ERA over 48 innings with a 1.41 WHIP. Since he had such great potential, but didn’t have the results to back it up as of yet, Garcia stayed in Arizona for 2019 and had arguably the best single season by an Indians pitcher at that level.
Now the ace for Indians Blue, Garcia allowed one earned run on five hits over his first two starts (ten innings) and ended up having four starts of at least five innings without an earned run allowed. He was far from perfect, allowing four earned runs twice, but his 2.58 ERA over 68.1 innings is the current AZL Indians record for a starting pitcher. Individually, this season would make him better than the only pitcher higher than him on this list, but his first poor season brought his ERA up to 3.31 over 114.1 innings.
3. Yainer Diaz – C – 2018 & 2019
After a great debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2017, Diaz had a hit in 27 of his first 30 games in the US for a .404/.433/.533 slash line. While he then went on a slight cold spell, he ended up batting .355/.387/.503 for the season with nine doubles, four triples and two home runs.
Despite these being incredible numbers for any hitter, let alone a catcher, the Indians decided to keep Diaz in Arizona for the start of his age 20 season and he was even better. This time, he went hitless just once over his first 20 games prior to his promotion to Mahoning Valley and added some extra power to his game, raising his slugging percent to .707 thanks to six doubles and five homers. These two years combined to give Diaz the most impressive career batting line at .388/.418/.574 over 61 games, but it still wasn’t quite as good as the effort #1 on this list put in during just one season.
2. Francisco Perez – LHSP – 2016 & 2019 (Rehab)
In 2016, the highly anticipated Brady Aiken made his debut for the AZL Indians, but was largely disappointing. That same season, Perez was everything Aiken was supposed to be. Using a big curve and an accurate fastball, Perez posted a then team record 2.69 ERA (surpassed by Luis D. Garcia in 2019) over 63.2 innings, striking out 52 with just 17 walks allowed. Following his debut, which occurred in relief, Perez never went fewer than five innings in an appearance and allowed a .190/.251/.281 line for the rest of the year. He allowed just one home run all season.
Following this season, Perez pitched well in 2017 and 2018, moving up one level at a time. A shoulder problem shelved most of his 2019 season however, and he returned to Arizona that year on rehab assignment where he added to his already gaudy numbers, giving him a 2.41 ERA and 81 strike outs over 82 innings.
1. Bobby Bradley – 1B – 2014
Bradley was the Indians fifth pick in 2014 (3rd round), but he immediately exploded on the scene as an 18 year old in Arizona by winning the triple crown and MVP. While he played just 39 games, Bradley set an Indians rookie level record with eight home runs (since broken) and 50 RBI (still intact). He began his career with a six game hitting streak that included his first home run and three doubles, then went without a hit just three times in the next 30 games. He had just one multi-homer game, but had two games with at least seven RBI and five games with three hits.
Overall, he hit .361/.426/.652 with a team record 192 wRC+ (the slugging percent also remains the team record while his OBP was second to Jesus Brito in 2009. Following his short season, Bradley skipped Mahoning Valley and showed his power would project by hitting 23 or more home runs each of the next five seasons including 33 in Columbus in 2019.