I am super excited to start my coverage High-A Central with Prospects1500. For those of you who don’t know, High-A Central consists of 12 teams and began operating in 2021 with MLB’s reorganization of the minor leagues. The league includes all teams formerly of the Midwest League. The league is divided into two divisions (East and West) and includes the following:
Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds)
Fort Wayne TinCaps (San Diego Padres)
Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians)
Lansing Lugnuts (Oakland Athletics)
West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers)
Beloit Snappers (Miami Marlins)
Cedar Rapids Kernels (Minnesota Twins)
Peoria Chiefs (St. Louis Cardinals)
Quad Cities River Bandits (Kansas City Royals)
South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs)
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Milwaukee Brewers)
To start my coverage of High-A Central, I want to take a look at the top 5 prospects in the East and West Divisions. This article focuses on the top 5 prospects from the East Division. The division is currently led by the Dayton Dragons, but to no one’s surprise, most of the prospect talent in the East Division comes from the third place Lake County Captains, the Cleveland Indians’ affiliate. One of the deepest farm systems in the minor leagues, the Indians’ High-A affiliate is stock full of talent:
Daniel Espino, RHP, Lake County Captains
2021 Stats: 55.2 IP, 46 H, 25 ER, 29 BB, 89 K’s, 4.04 ERA (between A and high-A)
Recently promoted to High-A, the Indians’ #6 prospect Espino might be one of the most exciting prospects in High-A Central. Coming in at 6’2, 205 lbs, the 20-year-old Espino carries an insane 14.09 K/9. Those strikeout numbers come from his high 70-grade fastball that sits around 94-97 mph and can touch triple digits. To go along with his elite fastball, he has an above-average slider and average curveball. His arsenal also includes a changeup, but the pitch is still a work in progress.
In his first game in High-A, Espino went 4 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB, and 9 K’s. The number that is somewhat a cause for concern is his 5.01 BB/9. The elite strikeout stuff is there, but his command and control tend to be inconsistent. The hope is that his command will improve with further development. With his four-pitch mix and the ability for the Cleveland Indians to develop pitching prospects, I could see Espino becoming a solid SP2 in the future.
George Valera, OF, Lake County Captains
2021 Stats: 35 H, 4 3B, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 31 BB, 7 SB, .245 BA
Well, what do you know… another Cleveland prospect! The Cleveland Indians’ #4 prospect might have the highest ceiling in all of the prospects in High-A Central’s East Division. Watching video of Valera’s swing almost brings a tear to my eye. It is so beautiful, it is like poetry. He seems to have a great feel and has such a smooth and natural rhythm, even on his swings and misses.
He’s got an extremely good eye at the plate and has the ability to recognize pitches well. This has led to a 15.5 BB% and a 21.8 K%. Those are some great numbers you like to see from a developing 20-year-old already in High-A. He still has a pretty small frame and needs to work on building up more strength. Even with that frame, he’s popped 7 HR in 36 games. The potential to hit 25-35 home runs a year is for sure there. He is going to be the most fun to watch develop and you will want to keep your eye on him.
Aaron Bracho, 2B, Lake County Captains
2021 Stats: 37 H, 9 2B, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 23 BB, .183 BA
I promise I promise… we are almost done with Indians’ prospects! Last, but certainly not least, from the Lake County Captains is Cleveland’s #8 prospect Aaron Bracho. Unlike the rest of the Indians’ prospects, Bracho is off to a very slow start and struggling to get his footing in High-A. That is mostly thanks to a 29.4% strikeout rate, a .132 ISO, and .250 BABIP.
That doesn’t mean everything about Bracho is negative. There is still a lot to like here. He produces a lot of loud contact and has plenty of bat speed to give you some hope for the future. He is walking at a decent clip which shows you that can get on base. Scouting reports believe he has a good feel for the strike zone and the potential to hit for a high batting average, but the current strikeout numbers make me wonder if he is more of a .260-.270 type hitter instead of a close to .300 hitter. He still has a lot more developing to do, but if he increases his strength and develops a better feel for recognizing pitches, he could become a 20+ HR bat. As of right now though, I wouldn’t be jumping all-in on the Bracho bandwagon.
Bobby Miller, RHP, Great Lakes Loons
2021 Stats: 44.1 IP, 28 H, 10 ER, 11 BB, 53 K, 2.03 ERA
Finally… you all made it! We are going to talk about a prospect, not on the Cleveland Indians. I had you worried there, didn’t I? Drafted by the Dodgers 29th overall in the 2020 Draft, Miller has put up great numbers in his first year in pro ball. He’s striking guys out at a 28.2% clip while showing improved command and control by only walking 2.29 batters per 9. In his most recent outing in High-A, Miller went 3 IP, giving up 3 hits, and striking out 6.
The Dodgers #5 overall prospect possesses a well-above-average fastball that sits in the mid-90s and has topped out at 99 mph. He has a low-90s cutter and a mid-80s sharp slider that pairs very nicely with his fastball. He also has a changeup, giving him a 4 pitch arsenal, but this pitch is far off compared to the rest. He throws two different versions of his changeup, one that is more traditional and one that acts more like a splitter. Watching video of Miller, and seeing this pitch mix he has, he seems to have the ability to be an SP3. There were some bullpen concerns if Miller couldn’t seem to improve his command and control, but they both seem to be improving already.
Andy Pages, OF, Great Lakes Loons
2021 Stats: 75 H, 18 2B, 21 HR, 62 RBI, 43 BB, .258 BA
Are you looking for a power prospect? Look no further than Dodgers OF prospect Andy Pages. Rolling with a .285 ISO, Pages is tearing up High-A Central this year. He is a rising star in the Dodgers farm system. His 65-grade game power and 60-grade raw power are created by his loud physical tools which generate some fun exit velocities. His strikeout rate is somewhat concerning (25.1%), but he offsets that with a 12.3% walk rate.
Along with his unbelievable power, he has decent speed. Don’t expect 20+ stolen bases, but he could hit double-digit steals. If he can keep developing his hit tool, cutting down on the strikeouts, and increasing his average, Pages could start to push his way into the top 100 prospects. Right now, he sits somewhere in the top 150. With his arm strength, he most likely sticks in a corner OF position. He will be a fun one to monitor over the next couple of years.
Others to keep an eye on:
Jose Tena, OF, Lake County Captains
Clayton Beeter, RHP, Great Lakes Loons
Gage Workman, 3B, West Michigan Whitecaps
Daniel Cabrera, OF, West Michigan Whitecaps
Tanner Burns, RHP, Lake County Captains
Carson Spiers, RHP, Dayton Dragons
Austin Beck, OF, Lansing Lugnuts
Parker Meadows, OF, West Michigan Whitecaps