2021 Cleveland Indians: Preface
As I was scouring my brain for a good subject related to the Cleveland Indians to write about, I recalled my admiration at the success the front office has had with scouting and player development since the early 90s. I decided to focus on the organization’s frequent success at identifying, acquiring, and developing good infielders. Even as the personnel, evaluation methods, etc. in the front office has changed over time, the organization has retained its uncanny ability to find infield talent. This article is an analysis of the infielders that put their cleats in the dirt 81 times a year at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in the past, present, and/or future.
The outlying success rate that the Indians have had with putting above-average infielders on the dirt began in the late 1980s due to former team president and chief operating officer Hank Peters. In 1989 Peters made a shrewd trade which sent Joe Carter to the San Diego Padres for Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga. He also drafted future Hall of Famer Jim Thome in the 13th round of the 1989 MLB Draft. The most impactful move he made as president of the organization was bringing in John Hart from the Baltimore Orioles front office to be the heir apparent as the head of the Cleveland Indians front office.
After John Hart succeeded Frank Peters as the head of the front office, he made a multitude of trades and free-agent signings to set the team up for the major run of success it had during the mid to late 1990s. In 1993, he traded Felix Fermin, Reggie Jefferson, and cash considerations to the Seattle Mariners for switch-hitting shortstop Omar Vizquel. Vizquel and Baerga wound up being a productive double-play tandem for the Indians, and Alomar Jr. was a good backstop as well.
During the 1990s, Cleveland scouted and signed Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez as international amateur free agents. In 2002, the Indians front office fleeced the Seattle Mariners for another switch-hitting shortstop named Asdrubal Cabrera, who went on to play for the team for eight years. These three individuals wound up becoming cornerstones of the brief contention window that was in place during the mid-2000s which culminated in an appearance in the 2007 ALCS.
In 2008 Cleveland traded Casey Blake to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catching prospect Carlos Santana. Santana has gone on to be one of the most productive and beloved individuals to wear a Cleveland Indians uniform during the 21st century.
The Cleveland Indians selected Jason Kipnis in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft and was an above-average second baseman in his time with the team. A two-time All-Star, he was a bit underappreciated during his time in Cleveland in my opinion. He was an important contributor to the organization during the mid to late 2010s, helping the club transform its culture from the debacle that was the early 2010s.
The 2011 MLB Draft has been one of the most talented draft classes in the history of the game, and with the 11th overall pick, the Indians selected shortstop Francisco Lindor. Lindor has gone on to become one of the faces of the game, as he has four All-Star appearances, two Gold Gloves, and two Silver Sluggers. He has also finished in the top ten for AL MVP voting three times.
2021 Cleveland Indians: The Present
Jose Ramirez is the best position player to wear a Cleveland Indians uniform in the 21st century, and one of the best position players in baseball. He is the crown jewel in a long line of above-average infielders to play for the team in the last three decades. He was signed by the team as an international amateur free agent in 2009 for $50,000 and has become one of the scouting department’s greatest finds.
Andres Gimenez seems to be positioned to be the Opening Day shortstop for the 2021 Cleveland Indians, and he possesses a lot of traits that the Indians like. He was the centerpiece in the trade that sent Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets, and rightfully so. He has an ability to make contact, play above-average defense at shortstop, and be an above-average defender. Gimenez provides a safe floor and decent ceiling as the shortstop of the near future for the Cleveland Indians.
The Cleveland Indians farm system has a ridiculous amount of talented infielders climbing the ladder to the major leagues. In my article covering the top ten prospects in the farm system currently, five of the ten prospects I covered are infielders. In addition to those five individuals, there is a multitude of other infielders that have a chance to make an impact at the major league level. The list below is a ridiculous amount of infield talent to have in the farm system at one time and it encapsulates the organization’s philosophy when it comes to scouting and player development.
If you are still reading this article, then you’ve probably noticed the patterns in talent acquisition and roster construction that led me to write this article. These patterns have helped the Cleveland Indians put together competitive teams by stockpiling young, cheap, and controllable infielders.
Vizquel, Cabrera, and Lindor have been the last three full-time shortstops for the Indians and they all performed at an above-average level in their respective tenures with the team, and they’re all switch hitters. Switch-hitting middle infielders that can play defense and run the bases well is a specific player profile the front office has put an emphasis on, and so far it has worked. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” philosophy is in play here, hence the plethora of switch-hitting shortstops that are in the farm system currently.
Based on these patterns, I think that the organization believes that switch hitters who are good enough to manage two swings and play professional baseball possess innate abilities that traditional hitters do not. I would not be surprised if the organization believed that individuals who are switch hitters possess the extra skill or an inherently advanced cognition of hitting. In an era where strikeouts are at an all-time high due to pitchers being better than they ever have been, contact-oriented hitters are at a premium.
The Cleveland Indians front office specifically targets young hitters that are contact-oriented, as they’ve recognized teaching contact-oriented hitters to hit for power is more effective/probable than teaching power-oriented hitters to make more contact. Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez are three examples of contact hitters that had marked increases in ISO(Isolated Power) as they accrued plate appearances in the big leagues. The practice of encouraging contact-oriented hitters to make swing and approach changes to unlock more power is a sensible process, and it has paid off exponentially.
I believe the success the Indians front office has had with specific player archetypes in past and present has led to the organization’s reluctance to drift away from targeting those types of players. The organization has earned its reputation for player development in part due to the last thirty years of excellent infielders that have played for the organization. The fact that it is a tangible possibility that this will continue into the 2020s is an achievement in itself, and I look forward to seeing whether this possibility becomes reality.
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