This marks the fourth list of top minor leagues in the Indians farm system by level as we head from Mahoning Valley to Lake County. The Indians moved their single A affiliate from Columbus to Lake County in 2003, but this list will focus on those athletes who played in Eastlake, Ohio from 2010 through 2019. The 2010 season was also the year that Lake County moved from the South Atlantic League to the Midwest League.
10. Sean Brady – LHSP – 2014, 2015 & 2017
The final spot in the top ten was a toss up between two left handed pitchers with Brady just barely edging out Anderson Polanco. After being drafted in 2013, Brady made his Captains debut in his final appearance of the 2014 season. That one didn’t go well, but he spent all of 2015 in Lake County again and had one of the best starting seasons in the last decade. His 3.04 xFIP was second best over the last decade behind his teammate Justus Sheffield and his 3.81 ERA came in 8th. His 146.1 innings in 2015 rank third most by a Captains pitcher during the decade, pushing the significance of his rate stats.
After playing all of 2016 with Lynchburg, Brady had shoulder problems that pushed his 2017 debut into July. Following a rehab stint in the Arizona League, he made four starts back in his old Classic Park stomping grounds where he improved his career numbers significantly thanks to four starts with two earned runs allowed between them. This gave him a career 3.66 ERA across 31 starts and 167 innings.
9. Greg Allen – CF – 2015
While there were plenty of power hitters with solid seasons for the Captains over the last decade and a few who have accumulated great numbers over multiple seasons, Allen had a truly unique season in 2015. First, he brought his speed and defensive value as the starting centerfielder with 43 steals in 59 attempts. Allen was able to steal so much as he got on base by any means necessary, walking 53 times compared to 57 strike outs and getting hit by a franchise record 20 pitches (both a career and single season team record).
He hit a very impressive .273/.368/.382, although most of his limited slugging percent came from his 27 doubles. This season would mark his own career bests in doubles, home runs (7), RBI (45), steals, HBP and sac bunts. While it’s hard to say it’s a skill, Allen continued to get hit by pitches throughout his career and his 94 as an Indians minor league is far and away the most across all levels.
8. Thomas Pannone – LHSP – 2015 & 2016
Pannone was a close miss for the Arizona League list thanks to his 2014 season there, but struggled in his first season in Lake County. After pitching 116.1 innings and finishing the year with a 4.02 ERA as a 21 year old, Pannone returned to Lake County and had one of the best seasons of the last decade for any Captains pitcher. While he threw just under 90 innings due to his mid-season call-up to Lynchburg, his 3.02 ERA was the sixth best for Lake County since 2010 among pitchers with at least 80 innings.
When you put his two seasons together, he has pitched the third most innings for the Captains over the last decade and was, by far, the best of the ten most used pitchers. His 204 strike outs are third during this span and his 3.59 ERA was #8. This would be Pannone’s final full season with Cleveland as he was traded to Toronto for Joe Smith in 2017, the team he would ultimately make his MLB debut with.
7. Will Benson – RF – 2018 & 2019
The Indians front office were excited about the combination of strength and speed they obtained when they drafted Benson in the first round in 2016, but after two years in the lower levels, it was rapidly apparent that he was becoming the prototypical three true outcome player (walk, strike out or home run). In Lake County, he took this to such extreme levels that his numbers seem cartoony.
As a 20 year old, he hit .180/.324/.370 with 22 home runs, 82 walks and 152 strike outs in 506 plate appearances. The home runs were the third most since 2010 for the Captains behind Bobby Bradley and Emmanuel Tapia while the strike outs and walks both set franchise marks over the last decade. At the time, this was also the worst batting average for a qualified hitter (since surpassed by Quentin Holmes), yet his OBP was in the top 25.
This season alone made him borderline for the top ten, but in 2019 he came back and played half the season in Lake County, batting .272/.371/.604 with 18 more home runs, giving him a team record 40 in his career. This knocked his OBP into the top 20 for his Captains career and pushed his average to fourth worst instead of last. His 119 walks over two seasons are also the best for the Captains over the last decade and his 113 RBI trail only Dorssys Paulino who played 130+ more games with the team.
6. Delvi Cid – CF – 2009 & 2010
Officially, we’re not considering Cid’s 2009 season as it falls beyond the current decade, but it’s worth noting for the comparison with his 2010 season, which was enough to gain entrance. After hitting .271/.338/.334 in his first A level season with 33 steals compared to 16 times caught, Cid actually hit worse in 2010, batting .253/.314/.304, but increased his value by setting a single season Captains record with 71 steals, against getting caught 16 times. He also significantly increased his runs scored from 53 to 83 and his doubles from 11 to 16, largely thanks to an increase in playing time.
In addition to holding the single season records for Lake County in singles (110) and steals, Cid ranks first in career steals (104), second in singles (192, behind Dorssys Paulino) and third in total hits (228 behind Paulino and Roman Pena).
5. Connor Marabell – RF – 2016
After a decent, but not particularly outstanding rookie season in Mahoning Valley in 2015, Marabell had a stand out year in Lake County in 2016. His 32 doubles that year tied Nellie Rodriguez (2014) for most in a single season in the last decade and second most since 2006 despite playing just 95 games. His .311/.368/.482 slash line featured the second best average of the last decade and fourth best slugging percent over the last decade while his 147 wRC+ was third.
After becoming an all around threat, bringing defense and speed to his bit of power, Marabell was promoted to Lynchburg mid-season where he finished out the final 35 games of the season. He flew through the next three levels in 2017 and has played between Akron and Columbus over the last two years.
4. Jesus Aguilar – 1B – 2011
Aguilar was a slow riser initially, playing three seasons within the system before hitting Lake County, but once he was there he took off. Following his poor showing in Mahoning Valley, the future All-Star started showing off the power that would become his hallmark as he hit 19 home runs (then second to Nick Weglarz in 2007, but since surpassed by many) and drove in 69. In addition to his raw numbers, his .292/.370/.544 slash line puts him in the top ten since 2006 for the Captains in all three stats with the slugging percent remaining the current franchise record. His 157 wRC+ is also the team record.
Making this even more impressive was the fact that he did it all in 95 games prior to his promotion to Kinston. Making up for his slow start, Aguilar continued on in 2011 playing in the Arizona Fall League and then in the Venezuelan Winter League. This helped him reach AA Akron by 2012 and Cleveland by 2014, becoming an All-Star with Milwaukee in 2018.
3. Justus Sheffield – LHSP – 2015
The best and final full season for the Indians 2014 first round draft pick, Sheffield, took place completely in Lake County as a 19 year old. He made 26 starts, near the high end mark possible for one minor league season, and set the #2 mark for strike outs with 138 (Luis Lugo had 146 in 2014). While he started out by not allowing an earned run over his first two appearances (9.2 IP), he was largely all or nothing through mid June with five starts of four or more earned runs and six starts with two or fewer.
During the second half of the season, Sheffield earned this spot on the list by not allowing more than three runs in a start again and finishing with a 2.11 ERA and .249/.301/.361 line against over 14 starts. In total, his 3.31 ERA was the second best qualified mark for the Captains since 2006, behind Joe Colon’s 2.90 in 2012. Sheffield pitched more than 15 more innings than Colon and struck out nearly twice as many hitters. This shows in his 2.99 FIP, a Captains record.
2. Dorssys Paulino – SS/LF – 2013, 2014 & 2015
While generally players have gained the honor of being on these top ten lists from one solid season at one level, this is more of a lifetime achievement award for Paulino. He played more than half of his 621 career minor league games for the Captains across three of his seven seasons.
After his rookie season in Arizona (which made him the #5 player on the AZL top ten), Paulino went straight to Lake County the next season where he had a less successful, but not terrible season. Playing only short stop, he hit .246/.297/.349 with 28 doubles, five home runs and 12 steals. This wasn’t good enough for a promotion, however, and he began 2014 as the starting short stop, but was moved to the outfield early in May and never would play short again in 2014. Despite the position change and still being just 19 years old, he increased his slash line to .251/.311/.354 with 25 more doubles.
This still wasn’t good enough for the Indians to bump him up and he started his third season in Lake County in 2015. Again playing exclusively outfield (he had one start at short), he hit .256/.319/.364 with 12 more doubles in 83 games. Finally, he was promoted to Lynchburg where he absolutely raked for the rest of the season, batting .305/.371/.526, but that’s a story for another level. Due to the extended period of play, Paulino not only owns many franchise records, but has just silly distances between him and #2. This includes having played 60+ more games than the next best, having 60+ more hits and 10+ more doubles. Despite not hitting for production, he holds the record for career RBI at 120 and strike outs with 253. He also has two of the top 12 single season doubles marks since 2010.
1. Bobby Bradley – 1B – 2015
Following his dominant debut in the Arizona League that saw him win the triple crown, MVP and league championship (also placing him as #1 on their top 10 in the last 10 list), Bradley decimated opponents in A ball despite skipping Mahoning Valley. His 153 wRC+ from the 2015 season (his age 19 season) was the second best single season and career mark (behind Jesus Aguilar in 2011) going all the way back to 2006. Much of this value came off the strength of his 27 home runs in 108 games, second only to Emmanuel Tapia (2017). The prime advantages Bradley had over Tapia were two years of age, a much higher walk rate and through that and a better contact rate, a better slash line altogether at .264/.357/.518.
Bradley actually got off to a fairly slow start over the first two months, but really lit things up with a .337/.432/.731 August that included 11 home runs and six doubles in 29 games. He used this as a jumping point to play two games in Lynchburg at the end of 2015, then spent all of 2016 in high A.