With the end of minor league season here, instructional ball already started, the Arizona Fall League coming next week and a heavy list of rule 5 eligible players coming up, it comes as no surprise that Cleveland has made some cuts this week to free up roster space and allow a small group of players the opportunity to seek another team.

The least surprising, but most disappointing on the list being former 2015 first round pick, Brady Aiken. Anyone who follows the farm system even a little is well aware that Aiken was originally drafted in the first round by the Astros in 2014, but didn’t sign when they decreased their offer following his physical. It turned out that Houston was right and he did need Tommy John surgery in 2015, but that didn’t keep the Indians from taking him in the first round the following year. Because of the surgery, he missed his first season, but pitched from the AZL through Short Season A ball in 2016. He saw a dip in velocity and poor control as a rookie compared to his high school numbers that made him the #71 prospect in all of baseball before he ever pitched off a mound in pro ball.

He pitched his only full season in Lake County in 2018 and was incredibly wild with 101 walks to 89 strike outs in 132 innings. He pitched just 0.2 innings in 2019 with Lake County before trying to regain his velocity in Arizona for the rest of the year. In 2021, he was listed on Lake County’s injured list all season, but never made an appearance, leading most to expect this cut to happen much sooner than it actually did.

The highest level player cut was the newest as Kevin Herget was signed as a minor league free agent prior to the season. He spent his first seven seasons with the Cardinals before becoming a free agent and pitching for the independent Fargo-Moorehead Redhawks. He was a depth signing this year as Indians starters were bit by the injury bug and made 28 appearances including seven starts for the Clippers. He is still yet to make his Major League debut at 30 years old.

Right handed, side-arming reliever Kellen Rholl was the next highest player to be released after throwing 18 innings for Lake County in 2021. He had a great rookie season with the 2018 AZL Indians out of Angelo State and another with the Captains in his second season, but never was able to establish any consistency in 2021 and finished the year with a 17.50 ERA in 18 innings across 23 appearances.

The last player to have reached A ball and garner a release was right handed reliever Jake Forrester. He was a 2019 draft pick who threw just nine innings as a rookie and jumped to A ball in 2021. There, he struggled with a 9.27 ERA across 22.1 innings and 16 appearances. The prevailing factor here were likely not his results in Lynchburg, but his age (25).

Lopez pitches in relief for the 2021 ACL Indians against the White Sox in Glendale, AZ. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

The group of five ACL Indians cut included one drafted player, Michael Cooper, three international signings, Euclides Lopez, Diarlin Jimenez and Luis D. Garcia and one undrafted free agent, Juan Mateo. Cooper was drafted in 2017 and was a good defender and base runner, but didn’t provide significant offense for a first baseman. He finished 2018 in Mahoning Valley, then played there all of 2019 there with a .238/.295/.336 batting line. He wasn’t solid enough to move up to Lynchburg, so with the elimination of Mahoning Valley, he spent part of 2021 in Arizona again. In 15 games, he hit just .191/.286/.319 with ten strike outs and six walks.

Garcia was the most accomplished pitcher of the group, leading the 2019 AZL Indians Blue to the play-offs as the staff ace with a 2.58 ERA over 66.1 innings. With all the pitchers added between 2019 and 2021, he was left behind in Arizona and was moved to the bullpen where he was very unsuccessful. At 21 years old, this pushed him far behind schedule.

Lopez pitched two years in the DSL, then missed 2020 only to make his Arizona debut in 2021. He held a 11.94 ERA over 17.1 innings in relief with nearly twice as many walks as strike outs. He will turn 21 next week.

Jimenez also pitched two years in the DSL and just wrapped his second season in Arizona, giving him a full five years in baseball without reaching A ball. Now 21 years old, he had a 6.68 ERA in 31 relief innings in 2021.

Mateo was signed out of Tennessee Wesleyan early in 2020 and was originally slated to pitch for the Scrappers. After the season was cancelled, he pitched for Arizona in 2021 with a 5.10 ERA across 30 innings of relief.

Mateo pitches in relief for the 2021 ACL Indians in Goodyear, AZ. – Joseph Coblitz, IBI

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