In a brand new series we’ll be looking at the top ten performances in the last decade across the Indians minor league system. Starting from the bottom, we’ll check out the pair of Indians affiliates in the Dominican Summer League, the DSL Indians and DSL Indians/Brewers. Since there were no games played in 2020, this decade ranges from 2010 through 2019.

While Major League players generally have had amazing seasons in the minor leagues, it is not the case that all players with great minor league careers become Major Leaguers. In this particular series, we’ll be looking specifically at the performances in each level and not the previous or future success of the players listed.

Gonzalez flips a ground ball to second during 2014 Indians MiLB spring training practice. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

#10 Erik Gonzalez – 1B/2B/SS/3B/LF/RF – 2009 & 2010

While his first season came before our decade wide cut off, Gonzalez’s 2010 season was good enough to get him on this list. In addition, he is the only player on this list to reach the big leagues at all and is currently a starter for the Pirates.

Initially as a 17 year old in 2009, Gonzalez was already being used in a super utility role with most games coming at second, but others played at first and short. In 2010, he added third, left and right to the mix. In addition to becoming more versatile, Gonzalez improved his batting line from .248/.307/.312 in 2009 to .346/.384/.442 in 2010. With two full seasons in the DSL, Gonzalez managed to accumulate some gaudy numbers, playing in the tenth most games (125) for the DSL Indians since 2006 and hitting the 6th most doubles (27). In general, spending too much time in the DSL is definitely a negative sign and only Gonzalez and Jesus Aguilar made it to the big leagues after playing at least 70 games with the DSL Indians.

#9 Jeffry Cleto – RHSP – 2010 & 2011

Cleto had a rough debut for the DSL Indians in 2010, but really took off as a mainstay in the rotation in 2011. There, he made 14 appearances (13 starts) and posted a 1.65 ERA, rounding his career mark down to 2.21 over 73.1 innings in the DSL. He wasn’t particularly adept at striking out batters and walked a few too many, but avoided hits like a champ and had four appearances with two or fewer. Even when he wasn’t on, he managed to avoid damage and allowed more than two earned runs just twice despite allowing six or more hits in three games and averaging a walk every three innings.

The Houdinis of the DSL rarely succeed beyond that level and Cleto’s dream ended swiftly in the AZL of 2012 when he allowed a 9.28 ERA across 21.1 relief innings. The Indians gave him another seven innings in the AZL in 2013, but Cleto’s career ended as fast as it started.

Medina moves to field a ball at third during 2019 Indians minor league spring training infield practice. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

#8 Erlin Cerda – 2B/3B – 2013 & 2014

Cerda was an old man when he started with the DSL Indians in 2013 as a 19 year old and he didn’t take off immediately, batting .253/.387/.364 in his first season. However, his mediocre performance allowed him to repeat the level and he really broke out in his second season. Raising his batting line to .313/.417/.435 with 14 doubles and six triples providing all his power numbers. Impressively, he stole 23 bases in 25 attempts as well after 12 in 19 as a rookie. Despite playing just five more games than his first season, he matched or surpassed all his numbers from his first season except doubles. At the same time, he significantly improved defensively, possibly thanks to a significant move towards 3B instead of splitting time between there, second and first.

Medina stands in the dugout during a 2015 AZL Indians game at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

#7 Jose Medina – 1B/LF – 2014

While Medina became a one dimensional player by the end of his Indians career in 2019, he could do everything back when he was a 19 year old in the DSL. His 21 doubles set the mark for most since 2009 and he added five triples and a couple home runs to that to give him a .320/.395/.468 batting line and the fourth best wRC+ over that span. In addition, despite this being a short season, he stole 12 bases. He would never steal more than two in a year again.

After being promoted following his impressive debut, Medina struggled in the AZL in 2015, but was still chosen to skip Mahoning Valley and go straight to Lake County in 2016. There, he was still a power threat, but had lost all of his patience at the plate and value derived through speed. As he advanced, it became more clear that he was a first baseman, not an outfielder, and that his tools had been diminished to just moderate power. Following his release mid-2019, he signed with an independent team, but it was clear there that he had nothing left in the tank.

#6 Anthony Vizcaya – RHSP – 2012

This is one of the wildest stories on the list filled with peaks and valleys. Vizcaya (pictured at top warming up in the Goodyear, AZ bullpen) joined the DSL Indians as an 18 year old in 2012 and began his career with ten shut out innings across two starts including five no hit innings in his second appearance. Throughout the rest of his 11 appearances (10 starts) he never allowed more than a single earned run and only twice allowed as many as five hits. He finished the year with a franchise record 0.94 ERA in 67 innings.

Despite the great success on paper, there were warning signs throughout including the fact that he struck out none during his five no hit innings. He had a 3.18 FIP to go with that miniscule ERA showing that he may have been a bit lucky (or had been taking advantage of impatient, young hitters) and he had a quick awakening in Arizona with a 6.88 ERA, then a 10.64 mark in Mahoning Valley. While this was certainly a low point, Vizcaya spent three years in his home country of Venezuela learning how to strike people out and came back to the US as a dominant reliever for the Twins in 2019. After becoming a free agent last winter, Vizcaya joined the Dodgers in February where he has remained on the minor league roster.

Noel gets ready to swing while playing for the Indians in 2019 extended spring training. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

#5 Jhonkensy Noel – 1B/3B – 2018

The top season by any player still within the Indians season during the last decade of DSL Indians baseball was put together by the giant 16 year old Noel. Despite playing the first month and a half of the season at the lowest legal age for a professional baseball player, Noel set the team record for home runs with ten. During his hottest stretch as far as power is concerned, he managed a very odd .188/.322/.500 batting line over 14 games (this including half of his home runs of the season), but he managed a more normalized .243/.357/.431 batting line for the year.

Despite the low average, his slugging percent was bolstered by the home runs and 11 doubles while his OBP was aided by a painful 14 times hit by a pitch. Unlike many stars of the DSL, Noel was promoted following his solid season in the Dominican Republic and actually improved upon those numbers as a 17 year old in Arizona.

#4 Enosil Tejeda – RHSP – 2010

Those who follow the Indians farm system would likely remember Tejeda for his two final seasons as an extremely reliable reliever in Akron and Columbus in 2014 and 2015, but he started out as a 21 year old starter in the DSL. There, he made 12 starts and set the single season high marks for the DSL Indians during the last decade for K% (27.2%) and total strike outs (78) while finishing second with 71.2 IP and fourth with a 1.76 ERA.

His most impressive single game came against the Yankees 2 when he struck out 12 without a walk allowed and only one earned run coming in on a solo home run over six innings. His best sustained run, however, was when he ended the season with 15 K’s and 5 BB’s over his final three starts (18 IP) without an earned run allowed. Like many DSL players, Tejeda saw a role change once reaching the US and he never made another start but was a very good reliever, finishing his pro career with a 1.94 ERA across 296.1 innings. He was never given a big league opportunity, likely due to his advanced age and when he became a free agent following the 2015 season no teams came calling.

#3 Oswell Munoz – RHP – 2008-2010

Officially, since we’re only looking at the last ten years, only the final year of Munoz’s tenure with Cleveland counts towards this ranking, but it’s more interesting to look at his entire catalog. After pitching just 16.1 innings as a 17 year old rookie in 2008, Munoz became a regular in the starting rotation in 2009 where he held a 2.20 ERA over 61.1 innings and struck out 52 with just seven walks.

Despite this success, Munoz was not promoted in 2010 and ended up having an even better season in his third try. He held a 1.86 ERA and struck out 73 in 72.2 innings giving him a 1.98 ERA and 141 strike outs in 150.1 innings across his three seasons. Incredibly, he walked just 14 and never pitched a single inning above the DSL level.

Rodriguez stands at the plate during 2016 extended spring training while waiting out his suspension. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

#2 Luigi Rodriguez – 2B/CF – 2010

Rodriguez made it about as far as one can in the minors without getting the call to the big leagues as he hit AA Akron with Cleveland before a failed PED test preceded his exit from the franchise, then hit AAA with San Francisco before they also gave up on the speed/power threat. Long before then, however, he was a 17 year old in the Dominican. In his only season with the DSL Indians, Rodriguez batted .301/.403/.461 with ten triples and 31 steals. His 153 wRC+ mark (which doesn’t include his bonuses on the bases or in the field) ranks first in the last decade and second for the DSL Indians since 2006 (Kelvin Diaz 176). Despite this being a short 61 game season, he never reached those speed numbers again and in 2012 with Lake County, he became known more for his power than his speed.

It’s also interesting to note that, despite playing 21 games at second in the DSL, Rodriguez was used exclusively in the outfield (with the exception of one relief appearance) for the rest of his professional career. Rodriguez was definitely a high ceiling player early on in his career with many positives going for him including great bat control to go with his power and speed, so one has to wonder if it was the PED suspension that cost him his career or if he chose to go that route because he saw his career already on the downslope.

Mejia takes a lead off third during a 2016 Indians extended spring training game in Goodyear, AZ. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

#1 Gabriel Mejia – CF – 2014

Mejia’s baseball career was defined by speed. Not only was he an incredibly fast player, but his rise and fall were also incredibly quick as he jumped to Mahoning Valley in his second season, then was in Akron by 2019 and was quickly dropped from the system after. Looking exclusively at his 2014 season in the Dominican, he destroyed the record books with 72 steals in 70 games (92 attempts). He also walked more than he struck out (51 to 50) leading to an impressive .443 OBP. In his six year minor league career, Mejia never hit a home run, but he had five triples in his rookie year alone. Going back to 2006, Mejia’s 72 steals remain a DSL record with the next best mark being 58 by the Cubs Fernando Kelli in 2017. His 88 hits remain a DSL Indians record and are the 9th most of any DSL player since 2006. His 51 walks and .443 OBP were also team records.

Mejia’s floor at the time seemed to be MLB bench outfielder and pinch runner, but hamstring problems severely slowed him down in 2017 and, without his speed, he lost nearly all his prospect value.

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