The Cleveland Indians spent all of last year in win-now mode, and for good reason. The Tribe made it all the way into November, thanks in large part to Andrew Miller for whom they shipped off a number of highly valuable prospects earlier in the season.
Looking at what’s left in the pipeline, its quite a good thing Cleveland isn’t concerned about winning later. Two potential stars, one impact player, and then an abyss of “who knows?” make up the entirety of the Cleveland Indians farm system. The large gap in talent is coupled with a complete lack of scout consensus for players who make up the next 10-15 prospects. The Indians are rife with players who can’t field decently enough to stay at their current position, but can’t hit well enough to warrant a different, premium position.
Let’s enjoy these next few years and hope that future Winter Meetings aren’t quite as much of a snooze fest as they’ve been in recent years.
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
Players don’t automatically get a bump in value because they’re on your dynasty team, they went to your alma mater, or your 4th cousin twice removed is dating them. Bring a good argument or point out something I may have missed, but do so civilly. We’re all here for the same reason!
1. Francisco Mejia, C
Age: 21 (October 27, 1995)
Indians fans should be thanking their lucky stars Lucroy exercised his no-trade clause, killing a deal to send Mejia to the Brewers mid-2016. Of course, the Indians are in win-now rather than rebuild-mode,and Lucroy would have looked good on that Indians World Series roster. But, Roberto Perez had a better post season than nearly everyone else on the Indians roster. That’s not saying he fared particularly well. It’s more that the rest of the Indians didn’t realize they had a post season to show up to, and performed abysmally. Seriously, how they ever made it to WSG7 with half the team batting in the .100’s, I’ll never know.
My same ignorance applies to how Mejia isn’t more widely praised in prospect rankings, even within the Indians circle of media. Last year, Mejia went on an MiLB record 50-game hitting streak, led all qualified Indians’ minor leaguers in both slugging percentage (.514) and OPS (.896), ranked 6th in the minors with a .342 average, and threw out a whopping 42% of would-be base stealers. To put that into perspective, the MiLB average is around 31%. As a transplant from 2B to C, Mejia still has some work to do on framing and blocking pitches, calling games, and developing that special pitcher-catcher relationship so crucial to success. All in due time.
Mejia is a force at the plate, whether he’s to the left, right, or behind it, and he has the defensive chops to keep him out on the field in a premium position. Set a reminder for late-2018, and invest in popcorn. You’re gonna enjoy the show.
2. Triston McKenzie, RHP
Age: 19 (August 2, 1997)
Triston McKenzie will be one of the top prospects in baseball very, very soon. Most of the time, potential phenom pitching prospects are derailed by one of two things: they have control issues, or they struggle developing complimentary pitches, often a change-up. Last season, at age 18, McKenzie showed us he is well ahead of the game on both fronts. First, he’s already touching 95 with his fastball, a pitch that can easily be improved if he puts some meat on his bones. They don’t call the 6’5″ 165 pounder “Sticks” for nothing. That’s complimented by an already plus curveball and a developing change-up. He’s already used that well-developed arsenal to demolish opposing hitters (13 K/9). What’s more impressive is his frugality in free passes, averaging 1.6 BB/9.
To help put that into perspective, here are a few names you may have heard of and how they fared in McKenzie’s current position.
McKenzie is striking out more batters and walking significantly less than baseball’s current top young pitchers did when they were in A ball. He’s also doing it a year younger than they were. To put that 8.17 number into perspective, Rick Porcello led the league with 5.91 K/BB last season. In 2015, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw were the only ones to hit above 7 K/BB with a K/9 above 10. Not bad company to be keeping.
Surely, the hitting will get better as McKenzie progresses through the minors, but so will he. There’s no immediate need for him in the show, but if he keeps dominating, 2018 won’t be out of the question.
3. Bradley Zimmer, OF
Age: 24 (November 27, 1992)
Imagine you have a sandwich. It’s a magic sandwich. One bite is guaranteed to be the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted, leaving you yearning for more. But then, at random, half the bites are switched to be a horrific, gag-inducing taste that you’ll have nightmares about for years to come. Your breath will be so bad, it could end a marriage. Do you take a bite?
That sandwich is Bradley Zimmer.
Zimmer plays a great center field. He looks comfortable tracking down awkward fly balls, has the speed to get to them, and the arm to get it back in. At the plate, he’s got plus power to deliver above average HR totals and the speed to leg out 50+ extra base hits. Plus, he’s always a threat to steal, logging 38 SB in 2016, and 44 the previous year. Unfortunately, all of that is hampered by is staggering strikeout rate, which reached nearly 40% last year, and has climbed with every level. Zimmer also can’t hit anything thrown from the left side of the rubber.
If he can cure his platoon issues and lower the K% out of Chris Davis territory, he can easily be a 20/20 double machine, and score a ton of runs. However, his trends on these fronts haven’t been moving in the right direction. With Brantley done, the rest of Cleveland’s outfield ranging from meh to “how are you still here?,” we’ll see how the jump to the bigs treats Zimmer sooner than later.
4. Brady Aiken, LHP
Age: 20 (August 16, 1996)
Aiken started his professional baseball life as the #1 pick in the 2014 draft, showing a fastball that touched 97 with an incredible curve and change-up to go along with it. One Tommy John surgery and nearly two years of recovery later, Aiken’s velocity still hasn’t returned, leading to more reliance on his curve, and diminishing returns on his change. Aiken obviously has the potential to be something special, but only Spring 2017 will tell if he’ll be able to reclaim his former glory.
5. Bobby Bradley, 1B
Age: 20 (May 29, 1996)
There is no one in the minors with a penchant for the three true outcomes like Bobby Bradley. Roughly half of his plate appearances ended in either a walk, home run, or strike out. The other half of the time, when an actual play on a ball is possible, he pulls the ball. His consistency in all four outcomes is incredible. Power consistency is an obvious benefit, but there is a downside. Bradley lost 34 points on his batting average between ’15 and ’16, which most likely comes from defenses having the 2015 data set to properly position themselves in case of a ball in play. Bradley will surely be exciting to watch this year in AA, but players with his skill set are rarely successful in the bigs. His lack of defensive skills puts even more pressure on his bat. His path to success is solely through him developing into a consistent 40 HR hitter.
6. Yandy Diaz, 3B
Age: 25 (August 8, 1991)
Anyone with a consistent .300+ AVG and .400+ OBP who walks more than they strike out and plays multiple positions would be an asset to any major league team. At 3B, Diaz’s path to the majors is blocked by Jose Ramirez who had a great 2016 with double digit HRs, 22 SB, and a .312 AVG. Diaz’s second position is 2B, and Kipnis isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon. He has spent time in the OF, and would make a great platoon with Zimmer as he earned a .381 AVG against lefties in AAA last year. Diaz’s job with the Indians will be as a utility man, and he has the tools to be extremely successful in that role. The only question is how often he’ll get to see the field.
7. Will Benson, RF
Age: 18 (June 16, 1998)
Will Benson is the penny stock of the Cleveland Indians farm system. Invest now, and in a few years you may be living large on a yacht. That, or you could be swimming in a fountain fishing for quarters by September. Benson has an elite arm, great raw power, and solid speed. He’s often compared to Jason Heyward, but his aggressiveness at the plate means his power upside is much more significant. On the downside, his K% was a whopping 38%. He’ll need a lot of work to turn that raw potential into results. There’s a high chance he never hits, but the upside is massive.
8. Nolan Jones, 3B
Age: 18 (May 7, 1998)
A 2nd round pick in the 2016 draft, Nolan Jones projects to have above average contact and power potential, and has already shown his ability to manage the strike zone well, with a 17.16 BB%. For perspective, anything above 15% is considered excellent. He’s a long way away from the majors, but certainly has the potential to be a plus regular.
9. Greg Allen, CF
Age: 23 (March 15, 1993)
A quintessential leadoff hitter, Greg Allen put up an .416 OBP with 45 SB in 2016, walking exactly as much as he struck out. He has zero power to speak of, but he’ll get on base, and keep moving. With the level of shambles the Cleveland outfield is in, Zimmer will arrive first, but it’s likely we’ll see Allen too. He has the sneaky potential for a solid contribution to your R and SB categories come fantasy playoff time.
10. Erik Gonzalez, UTIL
Age: 25 (August 31, 1991)
Gonzalez has spent the last seven seasons in the minors, finally breaking through to the bigs for 17 PA last season. Unfortunately, half of those ended in strikeouts. Gonzalez played 5 positions last season, and scouts generally agree his upside is in the understudy role. Alas, Yandy Diaz has the same positional experience with higher upside at the plate.
11. Yu Chang, INF
Age: 21 (August 18, 1995)
Double digit power and speed — 51 XBH last year in A+ — combined with solid defensive skills will keep Chang from being a liability on the field and in the lineup. Just don’t expect his averagely averageness to be selling any jerseys or lighting up your fantasy team any time soon.
12. Juan Hillman, LHP
Age: 19 (May 15, 1997)
Hillman doesn’t have electric stuff like some of the other Indians prospects — fastball between 88-92, decent change, average curve — and has struggled to maintain consistency, especially down the stretch. Some project him ending up as a #5 starter somewhere. However, his steep performance decline as the season rolls along shows me he’s incapable of throwing anything close to 180 innings, and is much better suited to a role in middle-relief.
13. Adam Plutko, RHP
Age: 25 (October 3, 1991)
Plutko, like Hillman, isn’t going to blow anyone away with his pitching arsenal. However, he’s consistently improved with each level, and has both great control and is mindful of his pitch sequence, leading to decent success. He could certainly be a back-end starter if needed.
14. Rob Kaminsky, LHP
Age: 22 (September 2, 1994)
On one hand, Kaminsky is a ground-ball inducing machine with one of the best curveballs in the minors. On the other hand, he strikes out no one and has nothing to his fastball or changeup. He could either be a back end starter or middle reliever, but he has some work to do before he gets there.
15. Shawn Morimando, LHP
Age: 24 (November 20, 1992)
Morimando doesn’t have a plus offering, but he does have three pitches that will at least be average. With some development, he could be as good as a #4 starter.
16. Gabriel Mejia, CF
Age: 21 (July 30, 1995)
Gabriel Mejia has incredible speed, but nothing else to offer. With a lot of work, he could become a solid leadoff hitter with league-leading SB potential. At the very least, he should end up a fourth outfielder or designated pinch runner.
17. Willi Castro, SS
Age: 19 (April 24, 1997)
Castro shows above average speed and about average overall contact and power. He’s shown to be very comfortable at short, defensively, but his offense needs significant development if he’s to become an average major leaguer.
18. Mark Mathias, 2B
Age: 22 (August 2, 1994)
Mathias has demonstrated a plus contact ability, but his speed, power, and defensive abilities leave something to be desired. He’ll either have to use his contact prowess to become a line-drive doubling machine, or seriously improve his defensive skills if he wants a crack at the show.
19. Tyler Krieger, 2B
Age: 22 (January 16, 1994)
Tyler Krieger has shown solid contact, good plate discipline, and decent gap power with above average range at 2B. He might have a tough time breaking through now that 2B is becoming more of a premium position, as he doesn’t have the arm to move anywhere else.
20. Nellie Rodriguez, 1B
Age: 22 (June 12, 1994)
The Indians have a theme of players who hit well hit well, but not well enough for the positions they play, and are such a defensive liability that they can’t move anywhere else. Nellie Rodriguez fits that bill, as he has plus power and a decent eye, but his production doesn’t fit an everyday major league first baseman. His defensive abilities are marginal, even at first, and there’s nowhere else to put him. We’ll see if his power can develop enough to earn a call up.
21. Shawn Armstrong, RHP
Age: 26 (September 11, 1990)
Shawn Armstrong put up solid numbers in 2016 — 13.22 K/9, 1.84 ERA, .160 BAA — and will surely be seen in the majors this year. He’s certainly ready for middle relief, but his control issues could leave him out of the late innings.
22. Ryan Merritt, LHP
Age: 24 (February 21, 1992)
Control is the name of Merritt’s game, allowing just 1.4 BB/9 throughout his minor league career. Merritt proved he could handle the show last year with the Indians, a stint which included a stellar ALCS performance against the best lineup in baseball. There’s no clear shot to a starting role as of now, but when the opportunity strikes, Merritt would certainly be a passable fit.
23. Aaron Civale, RHP
Age: 21 (June 12, 1995)
Civale has average stuff overall, but his cutter/slider does show flashes of a plus pitch. His profile is more suitable to middle relief.
24. Oscar Gonzalez, OF
Age: 18 (January 10, 1998)
Oscar Gonzalez somehow managed a .303 average while striking out 40% of the time in the AZL last year. He has poor pitch recognition and swings at everything, but his high power upside isn’t to be ignored. He’s still very young, so there’s plenty of time for him to develop.
25. Logan Ice, C
Age: 21 (May 27, 1995)
The prospects for Logan Ice are less “could be a superstar” and more “will probably at least end up to be okayish.” He’s an all around decent defensive catcher with open speculation on exactly how mediocre his bat will prove to be.
26. Conner Capel, OF
Age: 19 (May 19, 1997)
Connor Capel has shown his ability to improve his game, reaching a 70 speed after being rated a 55 the year before. As of now, he still has some room to grow on both sides of the ball. But, if he can apply that work ethic to the rest of his game, there’s OF4 potential for him.
27. Ulysses Cantu, 3B
Age: 18 (May 1, 1998)
A healthy Cantu has above average power, contact, and arm strength, though the ball better be hit right at him if he’s going to make a play. A move over to first base doesn’t play with his hitting ability, especially after a shoulder injury could move those offensive numbers down a peg. He’s tough to judge now — we’ll have to wait and see.
28. Luke Wakamatsu, SS
Age: 20 (October 10, 1996)
Luke Wakamatsu has above average instincts and a solid defensive offering, but his hitting is unremarkable. He could develop into a decent utility player.
29. Mike Papi, OF
Age: 24 (September 19, 1992)
Papi came into professional ball as one of the more polished hitters in college, but a thumb injury hampered his early progress and he’s earned concern over his contact. However, he has shown good plate discipline, and if the natural hitting that was evident in college comes back, he could be in line for a few promotions.
30. Luis Lugo, LHP
Age: 22 (March 5, 1994)
Luis Lugo has seen some love on prospect rankings over the past two years, but has turned out to be just a solidly average starter. His biggest attribute is his ability to eat innings.
31. Shane Bieber, RHP
Age: 21 (May 31, 1995)
Bieber has decently average stuff and has so far played above his level. With nothing to really fool more advanced hitters, he won’t get far without developing an out pitch.
32. Dorssys Paulino, OF
Age: 22 (November 21, 1994)
Previously a highly ranked prospect, Paulino has spent the past several years in A ball doing a whole lot of not much. The foundation is there, but when will we start seeing progress?
33. Jesus Aguilar, 1B
Age: 26 (June 30, 1990)
Aguilar has spent the past three seasons crushing AAA pitching, getting called up to the Indians, hitting nothing, then getting sent back down to AAA. There’s plus power here, but as for now it’s stuck in AAAA.
34. Julian Merryweather, RHP
Age: 25 (October 14, 1991)
Merryweather dominated A+ ball last year, but hit an immediate speedbump in his promotion to AA before leveling off to decent the rest of the way. Then again, he was 24 playing in A+ ball, so the numbers are skewed.
35. Thomas Pannone, LHP
Age: 22 (April 28, 1994)
With a decent fastball, good curveball, and developing change, Pannone has fared well, but not overpoweringly so, through the minors. He’s got a competitive attitude and goes right after hitters, which is fun to watch but tough to manage without plus stuff.
36. Andrew Calica, OF
Age: 22 (March 5, 1994)
Self-described as a “tough out,” Calica projects as a fourth outfielder who can get on base and do some damage while not being a defensive liability. His batting average recently took a hit, but with his solid talent we’ll see if that bounces back.
37. Yoiber Marquina, RHP
Age: 20 (February 3, 1996)
Yoiber has been successful so far, putting up a 12+K/9 with good control least year in A ball. The recently transformed catcher still has work to do on concealing and developing pitches, but this is a good start.
38. Connor Marabell, OF
Age: 22 (March 28, 1994)
Another Indian prospect most defensively suited for a premium position without the offense to back it up is Connor Marabell. His profile is average, with his biggest selling point being his lack of strikeouts. That may play in center field, where he was advertised out of the draft, but most scouts have him defensively projected at 1B. Simply not striking out won’t fly there. Though, considering some of the other Indians prospects, maybe the organization just needs to see some contact every once in a while.
39. Matt Esparza, RHP
Age: 22 (August 22, 1994)
Esparza has recorded decent numbers so far, but he lacks even average velocity. If he’s going to be successful at higher levels, he either needs to find a few more MPH, or extreme pitch precision.
40. Francisco Perez, LHP
Age: 19 (July 20, 1997)
Perez has been solid for the AZL Indians so far. However, scouts predict he’ll have trouble at more advanced levels without quick maturation.
41. Cameron Hill, RHP
Age: 22 (May 24, 1994)
Hill has been incredibly reliable through the minor leagues, even earning a brief call up to AAA where he made it through two innings unscathed. There isn’t much to be wowed by here, but it works. If this continues, he could easily see a spot in the major league bullpen.
42. Leandro Linares, RHP
Age: 22 (January 27, 1994)
One of 2013’s top international pitching prospects, Linares pitched horrifically his first two years with the Indians. Last year, though, something clicked and Linares dominated A ball. Let’s hope that trend continues.
43. Ka’ai Tom, OF
Age: 22 (May 24, 1994)
Tom hit .323, with a walk rate north of 20% last year in A ball. Drafted for his ability to play all three outfield spots and control the strike zone, Tom is living up to his potential so far.
44. Sean Brady, LHP
Age: 22 (June 9, 1994)
Formerly ranked as a top Indians prospect, Brady hasn’t yet solved A ball. With BB% and K/9 moving in the wrong direction, Brady needs to turn it around quickly to reclaim his former status.
45. Luigi Rodriguez, OF
Age: 24 (November 13, 1992)
Another former top prospect, Rodriguez got busted for roids during the 2015 season. He bounced back hitting .330 before a promotion to AA gave him a rough welcome to the tune of a .222 AVG.
46. Samad Taylor, 2B
Age: 18 (July 11, 1998)
Samad Taylor has near elite speed with just a touch of pop. Most seem high on his potential, but it will most likely be at 2B rather than his native SS.
47. Dylan Baker, RHP
Age: 24 (April 6, 1992
Baker has huge potential, but can’t seem to stay healthy. Post Tommy John (plus another fluke elbow surgury), he managed only 5 IP in 2016, though he did manage to strikeout 9 in the process.
48. Claudio Bautista, 3B
Age: 23 (November 29, 1993)
Many years ago, Claudio Bautista was considered a top Indians prospect, showing signs of pop, speed, and contact with above average defense. Those have all seemed to disappear as Bautista progressed through the ranks. The ability is there, somewhere, though unlikely to return.
49. Perci Garner, RHP
Age: 28 (December 13, 1988)
About average across the board, some scouts have him pegged as a one out righty specialist. It’s a polite way of saying, “almost useful.”
50. Daniel Salters, C
Age: 23 (February 5, 1993)
Consistently average, Salters is in the same boat as Logan Ice, with less ceiling.
We did it! 50 prospects!
Have any questions? Comments? Have I deeply offended you with my low ranking of your favorite prospect? Let me know in the comments!
Quick comment: If Ka’ai Tom is doing so well, why is he below guys such as Aguilar and Marabell? I’d much prefer the guy with a great eye and good judgement over many of the guys from 25 on.
Hey Gregory — great catch on Tom. Finding him a place in this list was really tough.
Aguilar hit 30 HRs and drove in 92 in AAA last year, and does have some experience (though not great) in the majors. The numbers justify it, but I’d also take Aguilar over Tom based on the fact that Aguilar is much easier to project than Tom, who has less than 30 A-level games to his name.
Marabell hit .311 with 42 doubles in A ball last year and earned a promotion to A+ Lynchburg. Tom only managed 28 games in A ball before a season ending shoulder injury.
It’s tough to say what things will look like post-injury, and considering the comparables, Tom had to fall down the rankings. He does have the potential to move up considerably this season, though.