Cleveland Indians: Triple-A Tribe fill ins making the most of their moment

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 25: Starting pitcher Ryan Merritt
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 25: Starting pitcher Ryan Merritt /

Minor league prospects are getting the chance to contribute for a Cleveland Indians squad hurt by injuries, and they’re making the most of their time.

On a fully healthy roster, Gio Urshela, Yandy Diaz, and Ryan Merritt don’t leave Columbus.

Instead, they’ve been thrust into the starting lineup for the Indians as they look to complete their run to an AL Central title. More than ever, the time is now for these players to show they belong in the long term plans of the organization.

Starting with Ryan Merritt, he is now part of the rotation with Danny Salazar returning to the DL. At first, it looked like he  might just be a bullpen arm, especially with Andrew Miller being shut down. After Friday night’s dazzling effort, where he scattered 7 hits over 6.2 scoreless innings, Merritt showed that his ALCS appearance was only the beginning.

It’s crucial that Merritt be able to be a serviceable starter in Salazar’s absence, as well as Josh Tomlin‘s. Merritt isn’t going to blow away hitters with high strikeout numbers, but he doesn’t walk a lot of people either. He’s basically a left handed Josh Tomlin. But the southpaw is unique in the rotation in that he is the only one at the big league level. If he pitches well, Merritt provides valuable long term insurance  in the event of more arm troubles for Salazar and Tomlin.

Gio Urshela’s glove has never been in question. In fact, I hold the unpopular opinion that he is the best defensive infielder on the roster. If only his bat played as well as his glove. Urshela has not hit well since his call up in mid-July, but maybe the last few games are a cause for optimism. A pair of hits and 4 RBI on Thursday followed up by two more on Friday are signs of progress. The fact of the matter is that Urshela is going to have to play. His defense is too good on a thinned out infield that is missing Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana (for now).

Then there’s Yandy Diaz. Far too much was expected out of Diaz when he broke the 25 man roster in April. He was there to cover for a rash of injuries much like right now. He was always the opposite of Urshela. His glove was a question mark, but the bat was rarely in doubt.

He unfortunately flailed around at the plate earlier this season and was demoted when the team got healthy. But after hitting .350 in Columbus after his demotion, Diaz then racked up four hits on Thursday night, scoring four times and driving in two runs.

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Diaz walked more than he struck out in AAA (60 walks to 56 K’s). Though he only hit 5 home runs, Diaz had 108 hits and 143 total bases. Even without the power numbers, you can score runs without getting hits.

Diaz only needs to have a competent bat to prove he can play at this level because his glove alone isn’t good enough to keep him on the active roster. He has to hit to justify his roster spot. At the very least, Diaz needs to build on this opportunity to show he can hit major league pitching.

Jay Bruce is a free agent after this season. So is Carlos Santana. So is Austin Jackson. Like mentioned above for Ryan Merritt, Urshela and Diaz need to seize this moment to prove they can provide long term insurance in the case of the aforementioned departures. Even at the very least, these players need to show other major league clubs that they are major league starters, not just AAA studs.

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This provides perceived value to any strategic moves the Indians may want to make with so many other players locked in on long term contracts. Either way, the time is now.