Baseball fans: get ready for some exciting baseball in Columbus this summer. The Clippers’ infield has several talented prospects who could be ready to join the Indians sooner rather than later. The pitching staff has a diverse set of arms, many of whom could help the Tribe at some point this season (and some of whom are being called upon as this story goes to digital print). On the other hand, the big question for the outfield this season is “what is the Indians’ plan for these guys?” Once promising prospects, the roles of these outfielders with the organization moving forward are unclear. Time is of the essence for these guys to prove themselves because there is a farm system full of electrifying prospects on their heels. With the contraction of minor league systems over the offseason (Cleveland lost its short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers team), there are fewer spots for prospects in 2021 than in years past. Additionally, the Indians have some decisions to make after the season, as several prospects will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft over the offseason if they are not added to the 40-man roster. What that means for the Clippers roster is that it is prove-it time for these players. And this should lead to some captivating baseball at Huntington Park all season long.

Andy Tracy takes over as Manager, replacing Tony Mansolino who moved on to Baltimore’s organization. Tracy served as the Clippers’ hitting coach in 2019, and he is an Ohio native who played his college ball at Bowling Green State University before being drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1996. Rigo Beltran returns as pitching coach, which is great news because it is hard to argue with the results of young pitching development within the Indians’ organization over the past several years. Jason Esposito joins the team as the hitting coach, after serving in the same role for the Lake County Captains in 2019. New bench coach J.T. Maguire comes over after serving as the AZL Indians’ bench coach in 2019.

Now let’s look at the Clippers’ roster as the season opens. Be sure to check back at the depth charts pages this year to keep track of Columbus’ roster and subscribe to IBI for $4.99 a month to read all our coverage from Columbus this summer.

(Numbers next to players are their 2021 IBI top prospect ranking).

Infielders

#19 1B – Bobby Bradley
#26 2B – Owen Miller
#50 INF  – Ernie Clement
#12 SS – Gabriel Arias
#2 3B – Nolan Jones
1B – Connor Marabell
IF  – Tyler Krieger

The Clippers’ infield is led by third baseman Nolan Jones. Jones, who will turn 23 on May 7, is a promising left-handed hitter who has impressed in each of his four minor league seasons. After advancing to Double-A Akron in 2019, he is primed for his first crack at Triple-A.  Jones has promising raw power that should continue to develop, and he has shown excellent plate discipline, knowing how to work counts and take a walk. In 340 minor league games, Jones has hit .283/.409/.448, with 38 homers and 66 doubles. One big question Jones must answer this season is whether he can hit left-handed pitching. In 2019, Jones hit .312/.439/.497 against righties, but only .151/.324/.274 against lefties (399 vs. 136 plate attempts, respectively). Also of intrigue is where Jones will ultimately play.

Even though third base is currently manned by perennial MVP candidate Jose Ramirez in Cleveland, Jones is still likely to see the majority of is time at third base, much to the chagrin of Cleveland fans and the needs of Cleveland’s outfield and offense. He’s still going to log time at both first base and the outfield in Columbus this season, which could prepare him to join Ramirez on the big-league club instead of eventually replacing him.  

Joining Jones in the infield will be Miller, 24, who came over in the Mike Clevinger trade and has done nothing but hit since he got here. Miller had an excellent spring and has continued to hit during exhibition games at the alternate site. Miller can play second, shortstop and third base.  A line drive hitter, Miller has a .307 batting average in two minor league seasons that span Low-A to AA, with 17 HR and 47 doubles to add some pop. Clement is also a high contact hitter with position versatility. Look for him all over the infield as well as the outfield in Columbus. A career .279/.336/.351 hitter over three minor league seasons, Clement has struck out only 81 times in that span compared to 75 walks. Clement has virtually no power, hitting only 3 HR over 999 minor league AB’s, but his ability to make contact and play almost any position makes him an attractive utility option.

Speaking of 1B, Clippers fans will get another chance to see first baseman Bobby Bradley up close again, as he was passed over for the optionless Jake Bauers on the major league club. Bradley does not have much left to prove at Triple-A. He will continue to work on cutting down his strikeouts while he waits for his shot in the majors. Until then, he should provide a lot of majestic home runs at Huntington Park as he powers the middle of the Clippers’ order.

Marabell and Krieger have both spent several years with the organization and worked their way to Triple-A. Marabell, a natural outfielder, will see time at 1B with Bradley, and Krieger offers position versatility at second, third and the outfield.

It also looks like SS Gabriel Arias may join the Clippers’ roster to start the season. IBI’s 12th overall prospect, Arias was the prize of the Clevinger trade. He lit it up this spring, and the 21-year-old shortstop looks to take that momentum to Triple-A. Plate discipline is the big challenge for Arias. If he can cut down on the swing and miss, the sky could be the limit for him as his athleticism, raw power and defensive prowess make him an exciting player to watch. He has one of the strongest arms in the system, making him a candidate for SS, 3B, or even the outfield.

Outfield
Ben Gamel
#13 Daniel Johnson
Oscar Mercado
Harold Ramirez
Bradley Zimmer

Two of the biggest “prove-it” players on this roster are Zimmer and Mercado. Both have manned center field for the Indians over the past few years, and both have struggled. Rumor had it the Indians wanted one of the two to win the job this spring, and both lost it to Gamel. Gamel now joins them on the AAA roster after a disastrous start to the Major League season. Gamel, 28, may stick around in case Terry Francona decides he wants the veteran over another Triple-A option if the need arises. But Zimmer, who is also 28, and Mercado 26, really need the at-bats so the Tribe can finally determine whether they are major league players. Mercado looked completely lost at the plate last season, after a promising 2019. Zimmer, injured in 2018 and 2019, and limited to hardly any playing time in 2020, last produced in 2017 when he hit .241/.307/.385, to go along with 8 HR and 99 strikeouts in 101 games while playing a high level of defense. It may turn out that neither Zimmer nor Mercado are the answer in CF, but it is time to find out.

Ramirez, 26, was picked up on waivers from Miami and adds some depth, but it is not clear what his future is with the Indians’ already crowded and underwhelming outfield.

The player to watch here is Daniel Johnson. Like Bradley in the infield, there is not much left for Johnson, 24, to prove at Triple-A. In 2019 he hit .290/.361//.507, with 19 HR and 12 SB between Double-A and Triple-A. Johnson is a solid left-handed bat that may work best as a platoon bat in the majors. He has an incredibly strong arm and fans will see him all over the outfield this season, unless Cleveland comes calling.

Catcher
Gavin Collins
Ryan Lavarnway
Rene Rivera

Depth at catcher has been a problem for Cleveland that past few years. They have worked to build that depth, but for the most part that depth is at AA and below. Nonetheless, the backstops at Columbus are charged with helping the system’s most advanced pitching prospects polish off the edges in the hopes of helping the major league club. Collins, 25, was drafted out of Mississippi State in 2016, and is a career .257/.324/.403 hitter over four minor league seasons. He can also play third and first base. Lavarnway and Rivera are veterans who have each played for multiple organizations and provide some depth.

Starting Pitchers
LHP Logan Allen
#28 RHP Eli Morgan
#51 LHP Scott Moss
#38 LHP Adam Scott
#40 RHP Jean Carlos Mejia
LHP Tanner Tully

Sam Hentges, a mountain of a man at 6’6”and 245 lbs. with a triple-digit fastball, has already been called up to the Indians. Originally a bullpen addition, he is now getting the first shot at Logan Allen’s rotation spot. That means Allen will take Hentges’ spot in the Clippers’ rotation after a disastrous start to his major league season. Allen had a spectacular spring, but once the games started to count things went awry. He will have chance to work things out in Columbus. Joining him will be Morgan and Moss, both of whom spent much of the spring dealing with minor injuries. They are both on track to start the season healthy. Morgan, who will turn 25 on May 13, has a brilliant change-up to go with an otherwise average arsenal that he commands well. Scott, 26, came over from Cincinnati as part of the Trevor Bauer deal. The 6’6” lefty has a career 3.28 ERA and 9.4 K/9 through four minor league seasons.

Filling out the rotation will likely be Scott, who is reportedly dealing with a minor injury to start the season. When healthy, the 25-year-old lefty will likely get a chance in the Clippers’ rotation. In two minor league seasons with the Tribe, he moved swiftly through the system, finishing the 2019 season in AA. His 3.35 ERA and 195 strikeouts over 166.2 IP is promising. Tully, a prospect out of The Ohio State University, has been logging innings at the alternate site and should also begin the season in the rotation. The wildcard here is Mejia. A 2013 international signee out the Dominican Republic, the 24-year-old is a member of the 40-man roster because of Rule 5 draft risks. Mejia has impressive stuff, but he has not played much in the past few years due to injuries and has not pitched higher than High-A. Fully healthy, he’s been pitching a lot of exhibition innings at the alternate site, and the Tribe may want to see what he can do at the upper levels of the system.

Bullpen
LHP Anthony Gose
RHP Dalbert Siri
RHP Robert Broom #45
RHP Kyle Dowdy
RHP DJ Johnson
RHP Blake Parker
LHP Daniel Young

Two of the Indians most promising bullpen prospects, Kyle Nelson and Nick Sandlin, have already been called up by the Tribe. Taking over in Columbus will be Adam Gose, the converted outfielder who impressed this spring but was sent to Columbus to work on commanding his 100-mph fastball. Siri, 25, should join Gose in the back end of the bullpen. Siri logged 10 saves for AA Akron in 2019, striking out 48 and walking 29 in 45.1 IP. Dowdy, a 28-year-old righty, pitched for the Texas Rangers in 2019. Broom, 24, will not overwhelm anyone with power, but his funky sidearm release offers a different look than the rest of the staff and will throw batters off balance. Plus, he lived in his RV in Lynchburg’s parking lot when he was in High-A, so hopefully he will liven up Columbus’ Arena District if he takes up residence outside Huntington Park this summer.

Rounding out the bullpen will be some combination of Parker, a 35-year-old veteran with a 3.52 career ERA in the majors. He can provide steady relief innings, along with the 31-year-old Johnson. Young is also in the mix. He’s a 26-year-old lefty who came over from Toronto’s system.  New reliever RHP Matt Koch might be an option for this roster as well. He last pitched in the majors in 2019 with Arizona.

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