Cleveland Indians 2019 Top 50 Prospects

Triston McKenzie - Photo credit @PatrickCavey, Breaking Down the Future

Cleveland Indians Top 50 Prospects for 2019

After cruising to the AL Central title for the 3rd year in a row the Indians were swept by the Astros in the ALDS, another disappointing early playoff exit for a team that has seemingly had all the ingredients to win the World Series but keeps falling short in October. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, & Mike Clevinger were absolutely brilliant in the rotation, while Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor both threw their hat in the ring for MVP. Michael Brantley closed out his days in Cleveland with his best (and most healthy) season in years, but unfortunately none of it was enough and the Indians are now looking at an exodus of some free agents and a crossroads where they’ll need to decide on continuing to try to win with this core or trading some of their valuable pieces to restock the farm.

Josh Donaldson (we hardly knew ya) signed a one year deal with the Braves, the aforementioned Brantley got two years with the Astros, and Rajai Davis signed on with the Mets. Melky CabreraAndrew Miller, and closer Cody Allen all seem very unlikely to be retained by the Indians, leaving many question marks at the major league level. There have even been rumors about potential trades of Kluber & Bauer (though nothing appears imminent), but it appears that the front office may be ready to retool and give some of their young prospects a shot at claiming those positions. Despite the success of the major league club over the past few seasons, the Indians cupboard isn’t bare down on the farm. As a matter of fact, they have some exciting players down in the low minors all the way up to AAA.

Here are my 2019 Cleveland Indians Top 50 Prospects, ranked in 5 Tiers with cumulative 2018 stats for the Top 25. Rankings are slanted towards future fantasy value.

Cleveland Indians Minor League Affiliates
AZL Indians (Rookie)
Mahoning Valley Scrappers (A-)
Lake County Captains (A)
Lynchburg Hillcats (A+)
Akron RubberDucks (AA)
Columbus Clippers (AAA)

Prospects1500 Tiers:
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players who are worth keeping an eye on, but likely to never make a team’s 40-man roster

 

Tier 1:
1. Nolan Jones, 3B
Age: 20
2018 Highest Level: A+
2018 Stats: 427 AB • .283/.405/.466 • 19 HR • 2 SB • 17.1 BB% • 25.2 K%
Jones made significant strides in 2018, enough so to earn him top honors on this list. He should stick at 3B and start 2019 in AA.  Drafted in 2016 and debuting as an 18-year old, Jones added some power in 2018 while not selling out to get to it.  His average and OBP have remained solid, and he continued showing great plate discipline as evidenced by his 17.1 BB%. The K-rate may not improve much, as his swing is a bit long, but 25% is manageable as long as he continues to show solid pop and walk rates.  Jones hit 19 HR across 2 levels, finishing with 30 games in High A and carrying an .871 OPS in the process.  He ranked in the top 3 in wRC+ in both the Midwest and Carolina leagues.

Take a look at the gradual rise in his isolated power since his 2017 debut which shows a player who is tapping into more power, adding strength, and also adjusting at every level.

Now take a look at his spray chart over the course of him MiLB career.  Remember, Nolan Jones is a 20-YEAR OLD LEFT HANDED HITTER!  He has hit more balls to the opposite field than he has pulled since his debut, and now he’s getting to his power.

<br/><a href="http://oi64.tinypic.com/2j0jswi.jpg" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>
Credit @minorsgraphs and @prospectslive

I see Jones as a perennial 25-30 HR threat in his prime with solid OBP skills and around a .275 average if he can improve against southpaws.  That last bit is the only real red flag in the profile as he posted a sub-Mendoza performance against lefties last year, a trend that has been consistent since he started pro ball. I think he ends up being a full-time regular that may sit against tough lefties for an off day here and there. The only other question about Jones is his ability to stick at 3B, but wasn’t Kris Bryant definitely going to have to move off 3B?  I think he is athletic enough to stick there, at least for awhile.  Expect a 2020 debut for Jones, and if he is somehow available in your dynasty league scoop him up now.  I recently traded for Jones and am looking forward to watching him in 2019.

2. George Valera, OF
Age: 18
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 18 AB • .333/.409/.556 • 1 HR • 1 SB • 13.6 BB% • 13.6 K%
While the professional sample size is extremely small due to a broken hamate bone suffered on June 25th that ended his season prematurely, Valera impressed with a 6-18 performance (.333), also adding a HR and a SB. Despite the limited looks, Valera is gaining steam in prospect circles and now is the time to acquire him. He’s been compared to Juan Soto and (more appropriately) Robinson Cano, as Valera appears to have modeled his stance and swing off of him (seriously watch the video below…the resemblance is uncanny).  He looks like a veteran in the box with a smooth, fluid swing that is simply a thing of beauty.

Valera is still very young, and due to the injury the burn will be slower still…but he should be worth the wait as the hit tool is very advanced and more power should come as he thickens out. This is the kind of high ceiling we look for in dynasty leagues, which is why I have Valera ranked so aggressively, and I’m scooping up as many shares as I can get while he is still under the radar due to the injury.   He appears to have the hit tool to stay near .300 with plate discipline and an all-fields approach that should help him get to 25 HR at maturity.  If not for the age related risk and said injury, Valera would have likely landed at #1 on this list as the ceiling is a bit higher than Jones in my book.

3. Triston McKenzie, RHP
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: AA
2018 Stats: 90.2 IP • 2.68 ERA • 3.49 FIP • 1.00 WHIP • 8.6 K/9

Photo credit – @PatrickCavey

McKenzie lost the first 2 months of 2018 due to a forearm injury, and it caused a dip in velocity upon his return (along with his K%), although that seemed to tick back up by the end of the season. He spent the entire year at AA Akron, compiling a shiny 2.68 ERA (albeit with a 3.62 FIP) and and 8.64 K/9. McKenzie has been young at every level but has still managed to succeed against more advanced competition at every stop.  He is still long and lanky, and at 21-years old may not fill out as once expected which may eventually lead to durability issues. That said, he is still a great arm with a high floor and the potential to work his way into a #2 or high end #3 starter in my opinion.

As with any pitcher, there is risk here, as he only managed 90 IP after throwing 143 in 2017…but given a healthy start to 2019, he could make his way to the Indians in 2019, either as an addition to the rotation mid-season or a debut in the bullpen for a playoff push if they need to limit his innings.

 

Tier 2:
4. Ethan Hankins, RHP
Age: 18
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 3 IP • 6.00 ERA • 0.20 FIP • 1.33 WHIP • 18.00 K/9
Hankins was a sure bet to go much higher in the 2018 draft (Keith Law had him at #1 overall at one time), but slipped to number 35 due to a shoulder injury and signability concerns.  That injury turned out to be minor but he didn’t immediately regain his velocity, which scared off enough teams to allow Cleveland to nab him late.  He has electric stuff and the build (6’6″ – 200 lbs.) to gobble up innings at the big league level. Hankins has an explosive mid-90’s fastball with movement that is his best offering, coupled with an above average slider and great command that is advanced for his age. There’s a chance that once he regains full health and fills out a bit more he hits triple digits, which will make the 70-grade pitch with wicked life to it virtually unhittable.

I generally don’t put 18-year old pitchers with injury concerns this high in dynasty rankings, however if everything breaks right and Hankins can remain healthy, the Indians will have gotten an absolute steal here. The upside is a top of the rotation starter and true ace, just realize the risk and the lead time and factor that into your decision on Hankins.  It probably won’t be long before he starts gaining helium in fantasy circles once there’s more footage of his nasty arsenal, so pounce now in league with deep minors or monitor and be ready to pounce if he comes out firing in 2019.  Expect an ETA in 2022-2023.

5. Brayan Rocchio, SS
Age: 18
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 242 AB • .335/.390/.442 • 2 HR • 22 SB • 5.6 BB% • 11.5 K%
Rocchio looks the part of a top of the order hitter in the major leagues. He can play all over the dirt, has plus speed, and has been lauded for his contact skills and bat speed.  He shows a ton of poise and polish for his age and despite his short stature he has a strong, athletic frame.  A switch hitter, Rocchio could run into 10-15 HR a year at peak simply because of the consistently solid contact he makes.

Despite getting nabbed in 13 out of 35 SB attempts last year, with a bit more selectivity and instruction on the bases he should be able to swipe 20-25 bags a year.   Signed out of Venezuela in 2017, he raked in the Dominican Summer League and then kept on keeping on after moving to the AZL. Rocchio is a switch hitter with an advanced feel from both sides of plate that should give him the floor of a valuable utility player, but there is plenty of room for more.  As with most players his age, you can take a wait and see approach with Rocchio for now in all but leagues with deep minor league systems, but keep an eye on him as he climbs the organizational ladder.

6. Luis Oviedo, RHP
Age: 19
2018 Highest Level: A
2018 Stats: 57.0 IP • 2.05 ERA • 2.44 FIP • 0.98 WHIP • 10.6 K/9
A 2015 signee out of Venezuela with a workhorse physique and a fastball that hits the high 90’s, Oviedo has a promising arsenal to go along with his sturdy 6′ 4″ frame. He tore up the Penn League for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers to the tune of a 1.88 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and an 11.44 K/9 with only 10 walks to 61 K’s.   He was promoted to Low-A Lake County but only made 2 starts before a back injury ended his season in mid-August.  As seen in the graph below, Oviedo has steadily improved his K% since his 2016 debut and maxed out at 32.5% last year in Low-A as one of the younger players in the league.

<br/><a href="http://oi66.tinypic.com/2z8stp2.jpg" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>
Credit @minorsgraphs and @prospectslive

Oviedo seems to have a relatively high floor along with the upside of a #2 starter if he can develop a third pitch to go along with his great fastball and improving changeup.  Oviedo has become a favorite of mine, and if he can continue to induce ground balls (he hovers around 50%) and pile up K’s he has a great shot to climb all the way up the ladder to the Cleveland rotation.  Along with McKenzie and Hankins, Oviedo rounds out the top 3 arms in the system…a trio who should have Cleveland fans and fantasy owners alike looking forward to the future.

7. Bo Naylor, C
Age: 19
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 117 AB • .274/.381/.402 • 2 HR • 5 SB • 15.1 BB% • 20.1 K%
Naylor, the younger brother of Padres farmhand Josh Naylor, breaks the top 10 on this list as a backstop with the tools that should allow him to hit for a good average while eventually getting to more in-game power.  Naylor is a cold weather prospect, but he has shown an advanced approach at the plate, with the ability to recognize off speed stuff even as a 19-year old.   While the power currently lags behind his hit tool, he should develop into 15-20 HR at peak.

Naylor’s value lies in his ability to stick at catcher, and given his natural mobility behind the plate coupled with his strong arm and athleticism, I think he will.  We saw how long it took Francisco Mejia to finally get the call to Cleveland before he was traded as the organization clearly values defensive-minded catchers.  This patient approach can be frustrating for fantasy owners, and they will surely take their time with Naylor to be sure he is ready defensively to handle full time duties. The best case scenario is an offensive minded catcher who, if he can tap into a bit more power, has the upside to rank in the top half dozen or so catchers.

 

Tier 3:
8. Tyler Freeman, SS
Age: 19
2018 Highest Level: A-
2018 Stats: 270 AB • .352/.405/.511 • 2 HR • 14 SB • 2.7 BB% • 7.3 K%
Freeman logged 270 AB’s in the New York Penn League in 2018, and put up numbers that show he’s definitely ready for full season ball.  At just 19-years old Freeman made opposing pitchers look silly, hitting .352 with 2 HR’s and 14 SB’s.  These eye-popping numbers surely caught the attention of those who may have underrated him when he was selected in the compensation round of the 2017 draft.

Freeman is a currently a very (VERY) aggressive, contact-oriented hitter who uses his line drive approach to all fields to maintain a high average despite a measly 2.7% walk rate (made more palatable with an equally minuscule K%). Freeman is the kind of player who always gives 100% and constantly has a dirty uniform.  He makes up for his lack of a standout tool with hustle and grit.

Freeman will likely need to reign in his aggressive ways a bit as he sees better pitching, but the contact skills and athleticism are there for a solid MLB starting 2B if he maxes out with a relatively safe utility floor.  With a regular role Freeman looks like a guy who could run into double digit HR’s, 15+ SB’s, and around a .275 average.  He’s a better real-life prospect than in fantasy, but either way he’s going to be fun to watch try to grind his way to Cleveland.

9. Lenny Torres, RHP
Age: 18
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 15.1 IP • 1.76 ERA • 2.38 FIP • 1.17 WHIP • 12.9 K/9
One of the youngest prospects in last year’s draft class, Cleveland nabbed Torres with the 41st overall pick as he is already flashing a 95 mph fastball as well as promising secondary offerings. Torres made mincemeat of opposing hitters in Arizona to the tune of a 1.76 ERA and 22 K’s in 15.1 IP….and he is definitely someone who could jump up this list next year.

Nearly half of the balls put in play against Torres were hit on the ground, and he posted a solid 6.4 BB% to help quiet some of the questions about his control.  He still needs to learn to command his pitches better within the zone, but that is common with hurlers this young.  Torres is another promising arm in an organization that has proven adept and harnessing natural ability and turning throwers into pitchers.  Keep a close eye on him in dynasty leagues and be ready to buy him as a high K starter with the potential to be a #2 or even more.

10. Oscar Mercado, OF
Age: 24
2018 Highest Level: AAA
2018 Stats: 485 AB • .278/.349/.390 • 8 HR • 37 SB • 9.0 K% • 15.9 K%
Mercado was shipped over from the Cardinals at the July trade deadline for Conner Capel and Jhon Torres, mainly because of the logjam in the Cardinals outfield. A converted shortstop, Mercado moved to center field a couple of years ago and at the same time began to flourish offensively. His carrying tool is his speed, which should allow him to swipe 25+ bags if he can carve out a regular role.

Full disclosure, most of his eye popping 2018 numbers came in the hitter friendly PCL, but they still offer a glimpse at the kind of talent Mercado has.  For dynasty league owners, a guy with a decent hit tool, the potential for double digit homers, and 25 steals should get you excited…especially considering his proximity to the majors, which could see him in Cleveland in 2019 if they still need outfield help.  There’s a chance he breaks camp with the Indians and even works his way into regular playing time in a Cleveland outfield that currently has a lot of question marks.

11. Yu Chang, SS/3B
Age: 23
2018 Highest Level: AAA
2018 Stats: 457 AB • .256/.330/.411 • 13 HR • 4 SB • 8.5 BB% • 27.8 K%
If Chang wasn’t blocked at SS for the foreseeable future, he would likely be up higher on this list. Unfortunately, his offensive profile that would make him an above average SS becomes a bit less appealing when he slides over to 3B, although he has the defensive chops to be a regular there. That said, Chang does offer what could be 20 or so HR’s along with a .240-ish AVG with a solid OBP.

There are some red flags, though.  His average estimated FB distance has plummeted since 2016 (see graph below).  For a player with a flawed hit tool whose power is supposed to be his calling card, that’s not good.

<br/><a href="http://oi68.tinypic.com/24y39f7.jpg" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>
Credit @minorsgraphs and @prospectslive

On the surface it would appear that Chang changed his approach in 2018, sacrificing his power a bit for a higher BA (.256 represented one of his highest in MiLB), but digging deeper this was inflated by a BABIP that jumped from .254 to .341.   The real Chang will likely settle somewhere in between those two extremes.  For what it’s worth Chang lit up the Arizona Fall League, hitting .337 with 4 HR in 86 AB’s.  If the power returns and he improves the hit tool a bit, Chang can be a starter.  If not, he will probably be relegated to a part time utility role.  and he should definitely see Cleveland in 2019 in some capacity.

12. Aaron Bracho, SS/2B
Age: 17 | DID NOT PLAY
2018 Highest Level: DID NOT PLAY
Signed in 2017 out of Venezuela, Bracho’s long term home is likely at the keystone where he profiles as an above average offensive contributor.  A switch hitter, Bracho had one of the better hit tools in his J2 signing class and generates a ton of hard contact despite his small-ish size.  Until he makes his stateside debut, we have to base future projections on the scant video and information we have.  All signs point to a player who has a great feel for the barrel and good bat speed, with a short, smooth swing from both sides.

A 2B with a potential plus hit tool and 20 HR pop is the kind of player who could shoot up this list next year if he makes a splash in his debut.  Still just 17-years old, we’ll have to wait until about a half decade before we see him in the big leagues so a wait and see approach is prudent in all but the deepest of leagues.  Hopefully he’ll be worth the wait.

13. Bobby Bradley, 1B
Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: AAA
2018 Stats:  483 AB • .224/.308/.466 • 27 HR • 1 SB • 10.2 BB% • 27.0 K%
Bobby Bradley seems like he’s been around forever, planting himself on our radar a couple of years back due to his prodigious power.  The other thing that has followed him in his minor league career are major questions about his ability to make contact and hit for average. Bradley did himself no favors in assuaging those fears in 2018, hitting just .224 with a 27% K rate between AA and AAA. Between that and his lack of a true position many real-life prospect lists have docked him accordingly, but I haven’t dropped him quite as far on this fantasy-centric list.  Bradley should still be on our radar as a potential cheap source of power at 1B in deep and AL only leagues if he ever makes it to Cleveland, albeit one with many warts.

Bradley still has a solid walk rate, but his K rate spiked and power output plummeted in AAA.  The batting average “improvement” was buoyed by an inflated .377 BABIP that was nearly 100 points higher than his career norms. All of that said, the raw power is still there and if you squint you can envision a ceiling of .230-.240 and 30 HR annually that plays better in OBP leagues.  In real life he’s a 1B/DH only base clogger who will hit for a terrible average, but I think Cleveland at least gives him a chance before giving up on him.  His shortcomings have his stock plummeting on many prospect lists, but in an era where the average MLB batting average (see what I did there) is hovering around .250, his numbers may play in some leagues if Cleveland decides to see what they have in Bradley.

14. Will Benson, OF
Age: 20
2018 Highest Level: A-
2018 Stats: 416 AB • .180/.324/.370 • 22 HR • 12 SB • 16.2 BB% • 30.0 K%
The biggest question with Benson is “Will” he or won’t he make the adjustments needed to allow his loud tools to play up.  The power and speed that Benson possesses manage to keep him at #14 on this list despite horrific contact issues that produced a .180 average and 30% K rate in low A last year.   On a positive note, he did show a minor improvement in his walk rate, and also posted just a .218 BABIP after a .339 mark in 2017 so the average probably shouldn’t have been THAT low.

With first round pedigree, above average speed, and plenty of thump….I have a feeling Benson will manage to remain on this list longer than he should even if the hit tool never improves simply because the rest of the package is so tantalizing. His future success will be determined by his ability to make improvements and adjustments as he progresses through the system.  If he can even improve the hit tool just a bit we’re looking at a top 100 prospect, but he has a long way to go to get there and the range of outcomes with Benson is enormous.

15. Raynel Delgado, SS/2B/3B
Age: 18
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 173 AB • .306/.409/.382 • 1 HR • 10 SB • 14.7 BB% • 21.6 K%
Delgado fell to the Indians in the 6th round last June due to signability concerns, but the Indians pried him away from his college commitment with an over-slot bonus.  He represents yet another exciting young middle infield prospect in the system, and while his ultimate position is probably at the keystone, he looks to have an above average offensive profile there.

While he none of his tools are super loud, Delgado is a switch hitter comfortable from both sides of the plate who has enough speed to swipe 15-20 bases and sniff double digit HR’s at peak as well. I really like his swing and approach, and his walk rate offsets his current issues with strikeouts.  So what we have in Delgado is an 18-year old switch hitter with a solid hit tool who can play all over the diamond, with the potential for double digit steals and homers with room to grow.  Don’t sleep on Delgado.

16. Richard Palacios, 2B/SS
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: A-
2018 Stats: 169 AB • .361/.421/.538 • 6 HR • 7 SB • 10.0 BB% • 14.2 K%
Palacios, the younger brother of Blue Jays prospect Joshua Palacios, was the Indians 3rd round pick last year, and he parlayed his strong college performance into a dominating run in the lower minors. He put up a ridiculous .428 BA with a matching .428 ISO in 22 Rookie League AB’s.  He then torched Low-A pitchers to the tune of .411/.477/.589.   Simply put he was too advanced for that competition, but even after his final promotion to Lake County he managed a .300/.317/.425 line.

Palacios is a plus runner with solid plate discipline and modest power, although that will never be his calling card. He has an extremely high floor and looks the part of a 2B who could hit .280  with 20 or so steals and could touch double digit HR’s. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Palacios creep up this list in the near future as he has already shown the ability to get on base and use his plus speed to impact games at the top of a lineup.

 

Tier 4:
17. Gabriel Rodriguez, SS
Age: 17 | DID NOT PLAY
2018 Highest Level: DID NOT PLAY
Want to feel old? Gabriel Rodriguez was born in February of 2002 and was one of the youngest in the J2 signing class last year. Despite his youth, Rodriguez stands 6-2 and weighs 174 pounds and should outgrow SS eventually and shift over to 3B. His size alone should allow him to get to 25 HR’s, provided he continues to show the same advanced hit tool that made him a top 10 talent in the class, and he could hit for a high average as well.

18. Johnathan Rodriguez, OF
Age: 19
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
Rodriguez is yet another young, low minors prospect that oozes potential but has long way to go to reach his potential. Taken in the 3rd round of the 2017 amateur draft out of the Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez slashed .294/.370/.406 over 187 AB’s in the Rookie league as an 18-year old.  More impressively, he continued to show a keen eye at the plate posting a walk rate over 10% and a manageable 20% K rate.  While he hasn’t tapped into any over the fence power yet, he did manage 10 doubles and 4 triples while also adding 8 steals.  He has a plus arm in RF and once he fills out his 6’3″ frame he should start to show more pop as well.  Rodriguez should head to low A in 2019 where he’ll look to continue his ascent up the system and prospect lists.

19. Carlos Vargas, RHP
Age: 19
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 34.1 IP • 3.93 ERA • 4.54 FIP • 1.66 WHIP • 10.7 K/9
Control. That’s what it all boils down to with Vargas. He has the stuff, with 2 potential plus pitches, but he also rocked a 6.33 BB/9 over 34 IP in short season ball. Vargas should move up to full season ball next year, where we’ll get a much better look at him and find out if he’ll be able to harness his stuff and have a chance to be a major league starting pitcher. His 3.93 ERA in 2018 came along with a 4.54 FIP and an ugly 1.66 WHIP, so the profile is one of extreme risk but also the type of high end upside that keeps him in the top 20 on this list.

20. Daniel Johnson, OF
Age: 23
2018 Highest Level: AA
2018 Stats: 376 AB • .269/.327/.412 • 7 HR • 22 SB • 6.0 BB% • 22.2 K%
Johnson came over from the Nationals in the Yan Gomes deal as he was hopelessly blocked in the DC outfield. A speedster with a suspect hit tool, Johnson’s K rate spiked to 23% while his walk rate dropped below 6%. That trend speaks to the issues that might prevent him from ever getting to the show, but Johnson does spray the ball to all parts of the field and has some pop (8 HR). He missed time with a broken hamate bone, something that may have also negatively affected his numbers when he returned as well, but he also looked completely out of sorts in the AFL, hitting just .145 over 62 AB. Johnson is now in the right organization to have an opportunity, but if he can’t right the ship it won’t matter.

21. Oscar Gonzalez, OF
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: A-
2018 Stats: 462 AB • .292/.310/.435 • 13 HR • 5 SB • 2.5 BB% • 22.3 K%
Gonzalez spent the 2018 season in Class A Lake County where he tapped into his power and still managed to hit .292 despite his free swinging ways.. He raised his ISO about 40 points to .143, bopping 13 HR over 462 AB’s, solid numbers for a 20-year old right?  Well, the rough (Rougned?) part is that his walk rate was 2.5%, which was somehow an improvement over the 2% he posted the previous year, but still very concerning when paired with his 22% K rate. Those numbers give major cause for concern considering he hasn’t even made the jump to AA, where more advanced pitching might cause his other numbers to plummet unless he can improve his plate discipline.   Limited to the corners in the OF, he’s going to have to really show the ability to adjust to the higher levels to have a chance. The power is intriguing to be sure, but don’t rush to invest until he shows signs of improving his plate discipline.

22. Sam Hentges, LHP
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: A+
2018 Stats: 118.1 IP • 3.27 ERA • 3.21 FIP • 1.41 WHIP • 9.3 K/9
Cleveland added Hentges to the 40 man in November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, showing that they still have high hopes for the big lefty. Walks have been the biggest issue for Hentges thus far in his career, and he actually improved that number from 6.28 BB/9 in 2017 to 4.04 BB/9 in 2018. He underwent TJ in 2016 and only threw 30 innings in 2017, so there’s hope that the command will come as he moves farther away from surgery. Hentges has all the makings of a solid, mid-rotation starter with a couple of plus offerings and a changeup that gets the job done. He’s not a terribly exciting dynasty arm for mixed leagues but AL Only owners could do worse.

23. Eli Morgan, RHP
Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: A+
2018 Stats: 143.1 IP • 3.27 ERA • 3.28 FIP 1.10 WHIP • 9.80 K/9
Back of the rotation starter. I believe that is the ceiling for Eli Morgan, even though he had one of the better seasons for a SP in the organization as he split time between Low A Lake County and High A Lynchburg. Morgan is short fella who gets by with some deception and a killer changeup, however that will be tested as he sees more advanced hitters. A bullpen scenario is far more likely to me, the kind of guy who can carve out a nice little career with good command and decent stuff.

24. Marcos Gonzalez, SS
Age: 19
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
2018 Stats: 131 AB • .305/.397/.458 • 3 HR • 4 SB • 9.2 BB% • 18.3 K%
Yet another young shortstop in an organization currently deploying a franchise player at the position, Gonzalez is a defense first guy who the Indians scooped up in the 2016 J2 draft. None of the tools jump off the page, but Gonzalez is a contact machine who should be able to hit for a high, albeit empty, batting average and get himself on the field for the Indians (or a team he is traded to) fairly regularly for 2-3 years due to his solid defense and natural hitting ability. Not the most exciting profile, but hey….he’s #24.

25. Junior Sanquintin, SS
Age: 17 | DID NOT PLAY
2018 Highest Level: DID NOT PLAY
Cleveland grabbed another young SS in last year’s J2 signing class when they signed the switch hitting Junior Sanquinin for $1.25 million. Sanquintin is an offensive minded SS with a quick bat, but he also has an aggressive approach that leads to plenty of strikeouts as well. It’s going to be a very slow burn, and there’s a chance he moves off of SS if the defense falters, but that’s way down the road and if he can tap into his potential, you could do worse than a 25-30 homer bat with a high average at 3B, 2B, or OF. There’s a long way (and a lot of work) to go though.

26. Nick Sandlin, RHP
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: AA
The 67th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Sandlin is a small-ish, sidewinding righty who closed for Southern Mississippi his freshman and sophomore year before moving to the rotation in his junior year. He could move very quickly is the Indians push him back the bullpen, otherwise he is going to need to build up arm strength and the stamina to last a full season as a starter, so he’ll likely be up a year later. He has nasty stuff, with a slider that grades out as plus and a sinking fastball to go along with a mediocre changeup, but he varies his arm slot and delivery which creates added frustration for hitters. There is a range of outcomes here, but I think his stuff will play up best as a high leverage reliever, with closer potential if the command is there. As a starter, I see a #4 ceiling with a slower burn to get there.

27. Jordan Luplow, OF
Age: 25
2018 Highest Level: MLB
Acquired from Pittsburgh in a 5 player swap in November, Luplow has accrued 190 plate appearances in the majors and disappointed. In those, he has just a .190 AVG with 6 HR and a couple of steals. Luplow has a solid approach (17.5% K rate to a 9.7% walk rate) but the profile is more “meh” than anything. That said, the opportunity is there and the Indians are going to want to get a good look at their new toy….so there’s a non-zero chance he cracks the Opening Day roster, with the opportunity for at least a bench role and perhaps platoon at bats. Luplow underwent an appendectomy in September, but he should be 100% come spring training.

28. Quentin Holmes, OF
Age: 19
2018 Highest Level: Rookie
Holmes was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft and as as a cold weather high school kid he experienced the growing pains you would expect adjusting to professional baseball. Unfortunately 2018 wasn’t very kind to him either, as he missed all but 7 games due to a hamstring injury. As a plus-plus runner, speed and defense are the name of the game with Holmes, because offensively he needs a ton of work. He seems to try to pull everything at the moment, and the fact that he is so raw makes him extremely vulnerable to off speed offerings. Cleveland saw something when they used the 64th overall pick on Holmes a couple of years back, but he needs to stay healthy and show progress to avoid dropping further down on this list.

29. Connor Marabell, OF
Age: 24
2018 Highest Level: AAA
Drafted in the 25th round out of Jacksonville University back in 2015, Marabell won’t show up on many prospect lists but his proximity to the majors, improved approach at the plate, and minuscule K% has him firmly planted on this one. He struggled in his 2015 post-draft debut but followed that up with a breakout 2016, only to see his numbers tumble again at Lynchburg in 2017. Marabell seems to fall victim to bad mechanics that make him prone to prolonged slumps, so he made a concerted effort to simplify his swing and approach and it seems to have helped make him a more well rounded hitter. Marabell has always had borderline elite contact skills, striking out in just 13% of about 1700 minor league AB’s.  But after the adjustments he started making better contact, posting an .822 OPS and even adding 11 HR despite being more of a doubles gap hitter. Marabell was then called up to AAA where he did struggle in limited AB’s, but the Indians sent him to the AFL where he showed off his elite contact abilities again by hitting .298 with just 13 K’s in 83 AB’s. Look for Marabell to start off in AAA where he’ll keep trying to repeat his hitting mechanics and retain his contact skills while hopefully adding a bit more power.  Cleveland has openings in their OF and Marabell may be the first one to get a shot.

30. Ernie Clement, SS
Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: AA
Drafted as a shortstop in with the 132nd overall pick in 2017, Clement likely doesn’t have the arm or range to stick there but the diminutive contact hitter can also play 2B and some OF which could make him a perfect utility guy. Speaking of contact Clement makes plenty of it, and along with plus wheels and the ability to get great reads off pitchers he should be a stolen base threat at the highest level, albeit one without much power.  After punishing A+ pitchers, he was promoted to Akron where he stumbled a bit which isn’t unexpected for a guy taking his first hacks against better competition.  Thanks to his  ability to put the barrel on the ball, he could move quickly once he heads back to AA to get a bit more seasoning. Players like Clement usually find a way to stick on big league rosters.

31. Aaron Civale, RHP
Age: 23
2018 Highest Level: AA
Civale has had an up and down career as a professional thus far, with periods of success being countered by injury and bouts of ineffectiveness. The reason for this is that Civale relies on control and command to get the job done along with a nasty slider. If those aren’t working for him, he gets crushed…and that could be his achilles heel as he moves farther up the ladder. There are many folks who believe Civale would be best suited in the bullpen, but Cleveland will give him every chance to stick as a starter…albeit one with limited upside.  Here he is striking out Tim Tebow because who doesn’t want to see that.

32. Steven Kwan, OF
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: A-
Kwan was drafted in the 5th round of the 2018 draft and shares several characteristics with Richard Palacios. His walk and strikeout rates are both great, and he is a good runner…but he doesn’t have any of the raw power the Indians hope his draft mate develops. Kwan should stick in center, but he profiles as more of a 4th OF type.

33. Mitch Longo, OF
Age: 23
2018 Highest Level: A+
Longlo returned for a full season in High-A Lynchburg where he continued displaying solid tools that could play at the top of the lineup.  Longo batted .275 over 512 AB’s with 8 HR, 18 steals, an 18% K rate, and 8% BB rate. He had tortured pitchers in low A in 2017 to the tune of a ..376 AVG and .448 OBP, but his 2018 numbers more accurately represent his true talent level.   Longo is relegated to a corner, so he will have to keep hitting.  Look for him to continue displaying his solid contact and OBP skills in AA in 2019 and if he continues to succeed Cleveland is not too far away from Akron.

34. Jean Carlos Mejia, RHP
Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: A+
In 4 minor league seasons, Mejia hasn’t made it past High-A, however the Indians added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, showing how much they value his arm.  After being deployed as a reliever since he signed in 2014, Mejia was converted to a starter and spent most of the year at Low-A Lake County, registering a 3.13 ERA (2.27 FIP) with a 9.49 K/9 and a solid walk rate. Despite some struggles towards the end of the season, his stock seems to be on the rise.  Mejia’s greatest attribute is his command as his arsenal isn’t particularly overwhelming.  The hope is that he can continue to succeed the second and third time through the lineup as he moves up the ladder, and if he can do that he will have left his bullpen days behind for good.  However, the Indians have a nice fallback option if he falters as well.

35. Andrew Calica, OF
Age: 24
2018 Highest Level: AA
Calica has put up consistently good numbers since the Indians selected him in the 11th round of the 2016 draft.  Over 421 AB’s in AA he batted .278 with a little pop (6 HR) and showed off his prowess on the bases with 27 SB in 32 attempts.   Calica is more of a contact oriented gap hitter who utilizes patience at the plate, an all-fields approach, and his legs to consistently get on base (.397 career OBP) and wreak some havoc once he’s there.   He has similar speed to Bradley Zimmer, who may be the reason that Calica is relegated to a corner where he profiles as a better defender but where he will also have to keep hitting to get to Cleveland.  He’ll get a chance to do just that in Columbus this year, where his proximity to the majors and the Indians’ lack of many options in the OF may create an opportunity for him.

36. Ka’ai Tom, OF
Age: 24
2018 Highest Level: AA
Toms real first name is “Blaze”, which is just damn cool, and while he may not live up to his namesake on the basepaths, he did steal 13 bases in 421 AB’s, though he was caught 10x as well. He shows a decent ability to get on base, although he came in with an underwhelming .245 BA. Despite standing just 5′ 9″, Tom popped 12 HR last season, and his numbers is AA were fairly similar to his numbers in High-A in 2017. He missed a full year of development after a shoulder injury in 2016, so there’s a chance for improvement here. The organization could do worse than a speedy OF with decent pop and good on base skills with room to grow.

37. Cody Morris, RHP
Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: DID NOT PLAY
Morris was originally drafted in the 32nd round out of high school by the Orioles way back in 2015 just days after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  He wisely opted to head to South Carolina and improved his draft stock enough for Cleveland to nab in in round 7 of the 2018 draft.  Morris was one of the Gamecock’s top pitchers, logging a 3.68 ERA with 83 K’s in 78 IP.  He is tall but with a solid frame (6’5″ – 222 lbs) so he should be able to handle the workload of a starter as long as the arm holds up.   Morris throws gas, touching 96 mph with his fastball that he complements with a nice curve.   There is bullpen risk for Morris, but Cleveland will give him every chance to stick in the rotation as he works his way up the organizational ladder…and a late inning reliever isn’t a bad fallback option for a 7th round pick.

38. Brian Eichhorn, RHP
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: DID NOT PLAY
Eichhorn fell to the Indians in the 9th round of the 2018 draft despite putting up great numbers as a Junior at Georgia Southern due to a forearm strain that scared off some other teams.  The injury did not deter the Indians, though, after Eichhorn posted a 3.15 ERA with 106 K’s in 88 IP as a Junior. Eichhorn is a big, strong righty (6’1″ – 225) who features a low 90’s fastball with some tail/sink, a solid slide piece, and a fringe changeup.   He has plus command as shown by his minuscule walk rates, a quality he shares with many of the Indians’ recent draft picks.   The aforementioned forearm strain kept Eichhorn from making his pro debut in 2018, but it appears to have been minor and he has been fully cleared for spring training.  There is some reliever risk with Eichhorn, but the Indians will certainly give him every chance to remain in the rotation.   As a college arm with refined command, he could move quickly through the system and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him up higher on this list next year.

 

Tier 5:
39. Eric Stamets, SS
Age: 27
2018 Highest Level: AAA
Stamets seems to be stuck at AAA, despite a respectable 2017 and nice spring training in 2018. Perhaps the Indians know best, as Stamets hit just .202 with a .596 OPS in 238 AB’s. In one short season, Stamets might have played himself out of the Indians plans for a utility role with the team.

40. Dalbert Siri, RHP
Age: 23
2018 Highest Level: A+
Siri has electric stuff but, surprisingly, was left off the 40 man roster but went undrafted in the Rule 5 so Cleveland retained him. Despite an ugly showing over 10 IP in the AFL, Siri did register a whopping 71 K’s in 43 IP last year to go along with 15 saves, culminating in a 2.45 ERA. He has a nice fastball/slider combo, but walks too many batters as evidenced by his 5.48 BB/9 so he need to harness his enticing arsenal a bit before he can get to Cleveland.

41. Mark Mathias, 2B
Age: 24
2018 Highest Level: AA
There were high hopes for Mathias in the system just a couple of years ago, but a separated shoulder has seemingly derailed his career a bit and he was forced to repeat AA again in 2018. His bat simply hasn’t lived up to expectations, batting just .232 (albeit with a nice walk rate and OBP) and hit just 8 home runs. Couple that with only average defense, and you’re looking at an apparent upside of low double digit homers and steals and a middling average. His only shot now may be a bench role as a September call up, but if he doesn’t improve he may run out of chances.

42. James Karinchak, RHP
Age: 23
2018 Highest Level: AA
A 9th round pick in the 2017 draft, Karinchak touches 96 with his fastball to go along with a potential plus curve as well…working late in games out of the bullpen. He spent the majority of the 2018 season in Lynchburg, but also spent time in Lake County before finishing up at AA Akron. Karinchak put up great numbers at every level, compiling a 1.29 ERA with a whopping 81 K’s in 48.2 IP. I think Karinchak is a very underrated prospect despite being limited to the bullpen, and he could rise quickly and become a high leverage reliever in Cleveland sooner rather than later.

43. Tyler Krieger, SS
Age: 24
2018 Highest Level: AA
The Indians had Krieger repeat AA in 2018, as his first run in Akron was underwhelming. This time around he improved across the board, batting .276 with a .332 OBP. There is no power to speak of, but he did steal 19 bases (though he was caught 10x) and his plus speed has helped him post a solid number of doubles and triples. Krieger doesn’t project as a starter, but he could make it as a utility man, and if he performs well in AAA he might get to Cleveland in 2019.

44. Eric Haase, C
Age: 25
2018 Highest Level: MLB
An Indian’s farmhand since 2011 when he was drafted as an 18-year old, Haase finally made it to Cleveland in 2018 to the tune of 16 AB’s. He didn’t fare very well in limited AB’s, but he did smack 20 HR in AAA to go along with a .236, so he is a prototypical power over hit catcher. His 30% K rate and 6% walk rate will need to improve before he can be trusted with a share of catching duties in Cleveland, but he posted very similar rates at every stop along the way so there is a chance he stalls out in AAA…perhaps occasionally coming up due to injury or when rosters expand.

45. Ben Taylor, RHP
Age: 26
2018 Highest Level: MLB
The Indians claimed Taylor, who had already transitioned to a bullpen role, off waivers from the Red Sox in February 2018.  The Red Sox drafted him in 2015 out of the University of South Alabama. A big boy, the 6′ 3″ 225 lb righty has a fastball that dials up to the mid 90’s to pair with an average slider and change. Taylor pitched 6 innings in relief for the Indians in 2018, with an ugly 6.00 ERA in the small sample size. However, he compiled a 2.51 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP in 57 IP for AAA Columbus, showing the potential to help the major league bullpen.

46. Jodd Carter, OF
Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: AA
While not a very big guy, this Hawaiian native actually has developed into more of a power hitter than expected. Unfortunately that has also come with a high K-rate and low average, although he does walk a bit and has some speed as well. Carter is .251 with 11 HR, 11 SB, and 108 K’s across 434 AB’s between High A and AA in 2018.  It remains to be seen whether he will continue selling out for power or learn to make more contact, but there seems to be enough talent there to give him a chance as a 4th OF or bench bat, just don’t expect much more.

47. Gregori Vasquez, RHP
Age: 21
2018 Highest Level: A
Vasquez got his first shot at full season baseball in Lake County and performed admirably for most of the season. He made 23 starts, registering a 4.07 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Vasquez is not a strikeout pitcher, but he has excelled at getting outs so far despite his below average stuff. It remains to be seen if he can continue to do this when he sees more advanced hitters, but for now he sneaks on the end of this list based on performance.

48. Sicnarf Loopstok, C
Age: 25
2018 Highest Level: AA
Did I include Sicnarf Loopstok on this list because he has one of the all-time greatest names in baseball history or did he crack the Top 50 for his baseball ability? Frankly, it’s a bit of both. His first name is simply his father’s name spelled backwards (Francis), and Loopstok is his familial name from his native Aruba which translates to “Walking Cane”. Only 6 major leaguers have ever hailed from Aruba, the most recognizable being Sidney Ponson and Xander Bogaerts. Loopstok’s first season at AA was cut short by a broken nose on June 25. Prior to that he batted .225, but with 9 HR in 182 AB’s. Like so many catchers, he has serviceable power (55 grade) but is a major drag in the batting average department. That said he had a .361 OBP so there is a chance he finds his way to Cleveland at some point as a backup catcher.

49. Alexfri Planez, OF
Age: 17
2018 Highest Level: DID NOT PLAY
Signed out of Venezuela on his 16th birthday for $400,000 in 2017, Planez is a physical kid (6’2″ – 180 lbs) with great swing mechanics for his age. He will no doubt add size and strength and end up in a corner, with a good enough arm to be a plus defender in RF. In the Dominican Summer League he slashed .279/.319/.482 with nine home runs and 18 doubles in 61 games as one of the youngest players in the league. He had a manageable 20% K-rate, but just walked 3% of the time…but it’s quite common for players this young to be aggressive. He should start 2019 in the AZL, and if he keep putting up solid numbers against older competition he certainly won’t be the last player on this list next time.

50. Logan Ice, C
Age: 23
2018 Highest Level: AA
Inevitably someone has to be the player at the end of every list, and Logan Ice will round up my top 50.  Ice was a highly polished defensive catcher when he was drafted out of Oregon State in 2016, but he was also coming off a breakout offensive performance in his junior year.  While his defense has never been in question, many scouts doubt he will hit enough, and the power gains he made in his final college season have all but disappeared since he transitioned to pro ball.  Ice’s best attribute is a near elite walk rate, but that has come with a high K-rate that has increased each year (spiking to 32.7% in AA) and Mendoza-like averages.  He is still on this list because his great defensive play will continue to earn him a shot to improve with the bat enough to back up a regular in Cleveland, which is the best we can hope for out of our #50.

 

About John Stewart 6 Articles
John Stewart is a graphic & website designer, event promoter, and baseball enthusiast based in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been obsessed with minor league baseball since childhood, as the AAA Louisville Redbirds (now the Louisville Bats) were the only local team...which is still the case today. Now a season ticket holder, John enjoys watching top prospects as they come through town, as well as purchasing far too much cotton candy for his kids throughout the baseball season. Follow John on Twitter at @jonance

4 Comments

    • It’s all set now. John had added in Planez at 49 and we then decided to make him a bonus player at 51. But in reality he was the 50th player. The number listings in the 40s were off just slightly but fixed now. Planez is 49, Ice is 50, and others were just shifted up one to 44. Thanks for pointing that out!

  1. Love seeing the Nolan Jones love!! Most people have him as #2-3 Tribe spect.. Have him on my fantasy team as well and think he’s the Tribes #1 spect! Go Tribe!

7 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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