Three Up, Three Down: Cleveland Indians Prospects

Jhonkensy Noel, April 17, 2019. Photo credit Joe Coblitz/Indians Baseball Insider, @Official_IBI on Twitter

With the first month of the Minor League season behind us, there are a lot of performances to like in the Indians’ organization.

Akron and Lynchburg, AA and A affiliates, are off to stellar starts, finishing May at 16-7 and 14-9, respectively. Offense and pitching clicked for both teams, as several players turned in noteworthy performances.

With the good, however, comes the areas for improvement. High-A Lake County battled through some injuries to an 11-13 record, and Columbus ended near the bottom of the league at 8-15.

Let’s take a look at three of the top performances in the organization through the end of May, and we’ll also highlight a few slow starters who will look to bounce back in June. I’ll also add in a few honorable mentions, as the good far outweighed the bad in May.

Three Up:

Jhonkensy Noel, 1B/DH, Lynchburg – Noel came storming out of the gates early, and he didn’t let up all month. His power lived up to its reputation, as Noel closed the month with a .672 SLG%. Coupled with a .380 OBP, he put up a 1.052 OPS in May. While he barely walked (2.8 BB%), his 16.9 K% was perfectly acceptable for a power hitting 1B/DH.

Noel’s .373 BABIP through the end of May is high compared to his career .299 entering the year, but a reversion to the norm still points towards strong full-season numbers. The power will continue to shine every time Noel makes contact, but the walk and strikeout rates will be key. As pitchers learn how to attack Noel, I’ll be keeping a close eye on both numbers. If the walks increase and the strikeouts stay flat or decrease, we could see a quick promotion.

Xzavion Curry, RHP, Lynchburg – In a month highlighted by exceptional pitching througout the organization, Curry’s performance stood out above the rest. Cleveland drafted Curry in the seventh round of the 2019 draft, but his 2019 season was cut short by a shoulder injury. In his first month of full-season ball, Curry struck out 32 over 20.0 innings, while holding opposing batters to a .130 BAA. His 0.65 WHIP through the end of May is one of the best in the league.

While dominant the whole month, Curry’s best performance came on May 19 against Myrtle Beach. Curry held the Pelicans hitless through six innings, striking out 11 batters along the way. This dominance should earn Curry a promotion to Lake County before long. All his peripheral stats indicate he’s due for higher-level competition. Considering Cleveland’s history of developing young pitchers, Curry is one to watch in the coming years.

Oscar Gonzalez, OF, AkronAs discussed last month, I had high hopes for Gonzalez entering 2021, and he hasn’t disappointed. The RubberDucks outfielder slashed .303/.346/.566 to start the year, indicating his 2019 numbers at Akron were likely an aberration. Two numbers stand out for Gonzalez so far: His walks are up, and his power has increased. Gonzalez has never walked at greater than 3.0% through his time in full-season ball, however, he’s up to 6.2% through the end of May. His .263 ISO through the end of the month is also dramatically higher than his career norm. While I expect the power to fall to a more reasonable level as the year goes on, keeping his walk rate up will be a big indicator of Gonzalez’s future success.

Two numbers have me concerned despite the strong performance. First, Gonzalez put the ball on the ground at a 1.33 GO/AO rate against a career average of around 1.10. While it’s a small increase, a launch angle improvement would only increase his chances of future success. Gonzalez’s K% crept up to 22.2% after sitting at 16.5% in 2019. This isn’t massively concerning, as it’s still part of an improving trend over the course of his career. I’ll be looking for improvements in both categories as the season goes on.

Honorable mentions:

Owen Miller, IF, Cleveland – Miller got off to such a great start in Columbus (.406/.457/.609 over 70 PAs) he was promoted to Cleveland. He’s settling into a utility role with the Indians.

Tyler Freeman, SS, Akron – Freeman got off to a bit of a slow start but closed the month with .370/.433/.506 line. He remains a player to keep a close eye on.

Will Brennan, OF, Lake County – Brennan stood out in Lake County’s outfield, especially in George Valera‘s abscense. The outfielder closed the month with a .311/.407/.432 line to vault his name up the list of Indians’ top outfield prospects.

Mason Hickman, RHP, Lake County – Hickman put up 20 strikeouts over 13.2 innings and pitched to a 1.98 ERA in his first three starts. He faltered a bit in his final start of May, but still closed the month with a 3.45 ERA and .172 BAA.

Logan T. Allen, RHP, Lake County – Allen was another strikeout machine, fanning 27 over 21.2 innings. If his WHIP (0.88) and ERA (0.83) continue to hold under 1.00, a promotion to Akron won’t be far off.

Three Down:

Nolan Jones, 3B, Columbus – Jones struggled in his first month in AAA, finishing May with a .189/.341/.297 line. The biggest concern is his strikeouts: Jones fanned on a whopping 42.9% of his PAs in the month. Add in a 17.6 BB%, and Jones hasn’t been putting the ball in play much. He’ll need to significantly reduce his strikeouts before we can get a good measure on his contact numbers and begin to discuss a promotion to Cleveland.

Aaron Bracho, SS, Lake County – Strikeouts and bad luck have hindered Bracho so far this year. The shortstop struck out 30.0% of the time in May while finishing the month with a .180/.257/.311 line. His .244 BABIP indicates some bad luck may have played a role in his light offensive numbers. Bracho continued to put the ball in the air with his GO/AO ratio ending the month at at 0.35. With some improved luck and reduced strikeouts, Bracho’s numbers should improve.

Alexfri Planez, OF, Lynchburg – Planez’s May had many similarities to Bracho’s. Planez struck out in 32.1% of his PAs, and his BABIP ended at .216. His GO/AO also fell just under 1.00, so it should only be a matter of time before Planez’s power begins to show through in his stats.

Jury’s Still Out:

Will Benson, OF, Akron – Benson’s numbers rested at the extremes at the end of May. His .189 BA looked bad. His .450 SLG% and .267 ISO looked great. He walked 24.4% of the time but struck out 34.1% of the time. I’m not sure what to make of it all yet, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on his season.

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