Cleveland Indians

Original Published Date: October 23, 2015

When I started researching the Indians organization, I had a sense that it was strong, but I didn’t realize how strong it was until reviewing my scouting notes and talking with others in the industry.  While there isn’t that one, “can’t miss prospect”, there are a number of potential high impact prospects that are close to helping the major league ball club.

Brad Zimmer is the Indians top prospect and a potential impact talent with 20/20 potential and a .270 batting average.  I saw him late in the season and he looks the part and appears to be just about ready.  Tyler Naquin might have a ceiling of a fourth outfielder, but he has the tools that should be able to help in a meaningful way next year.

Clint Frazier is starting to turn his impressive bat speed into in-game production and while he is still two years away, has impact potential.  Rob Kaminsky, who the Indians stole from the Cardinals in the Brandon Moss trade has a chance to be a solid number two starter and Bobby Bradley is proving everyone wrong and might be one of the best power prospects in the game.  Finally there is the wild card – Brady Aiken.  Aiken has a ton of health risk surrounding him but has the stuff and polish in which aces are made.

As I said at the start, it’s a really good system and one that should be able to help the major league club in a meaningful way over the next two to three years.

1. Brad Zimmer (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 A+,AA 473 84 16 63 44 .273 .368 72.3 10.0 .343

When Bradley Zimmer was taken as the 21st overall player in the 2014 first year player draft, we thought he would be very good and move through the system quickly.  However, he’s been better than good and should be considered one of the best prospects in the game.  Across High and Double-A, he posted an impressive .273/.368/.446 slash line while hitting 16 home runs and stealing 44 bases.

The Indians are pushing Zimmer hard and he’s responding, playing well in his first season and half.  He’s likely to start 2016 back in Double-A, but a mid-season call-up is definitely in the cards.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-5, Zimmer isn’t a toolshed of talent but has above-average skills across the board.  Despite his length, his swing is fairly compact and direct to the ball, but the Indians have clearly worked with him to add loft and the power is already starting to emerge.  He also has a good approach with excellent strike zone awareness.  His above-average foot speed plays up on the base paths as he has excellent base running instincts and his 86% stolen base percentage in 2015 proves the point.

Defensively, Zimmer has enough athleticism to play center field, but also has enough arm to play right field.  If both of those positions are blocked, his bat will play in left.  In other words, he has the tools to impact the game on both sides of the ball and it’s coming on very quickly.

Fantasy Impact:  We were too light on Zimmer last year, ranking him 75th on our Top 100 list.  He moved up to 31 on our mid-season Top 50 list and is likely a Top 25 prospect this year.  The ceiling is a middle of the order 20 HR/20 SB player, batting .270 with a .340 on-base percentage.  It doesn’t take much dreaming to project his power and speed to be even more than that.  He’s going to be good – very good!

2. Clint Frazier (OF)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
2015 A+ 501 88 16 72 15 .285 .377 75.0 11.6 .348

Clint Frazier was selected number five overall in the 2013 first year player draft with the dream that his impressive bat speed and athleticism would turn him into a star.  While the dream is still alive, there have been some hurdles presented along the way that Frazier has had to navigate.  The biggest being his penchant to strikeout at an alarming rate.  In his professional debut, Frazier had a 31% strikeout rate in the AZL and did only slightly better last year in the Midwest League when he struck out 29.7% of the time.

In 2015, things seem to be starting to click.  In 133 games, Frazier lowered his strikeout rate to 21.3% against better pitching in High-A.  It’s still not great, but if he continue the trend, he might be able to tap into the potential plus power that his swing will produce.

Scouting Report:  Bat speed is similar to pitching velocity.  You don’t necessarily need a radar gun, or statcast data to know a player has it…you can see it.  While we don’t put grades on bat speed, it’s at least double-plus if not 80-grade.  In fact, it’s some of the best in all professional baseball.

So what is premium bat speed and what good is it?  Well, premium bat speed produces more impact on the baseball at the point of contact which results in harder hit balls.  If a batter has loft in his swing, the results can be prodigious over-the-fence power and if not, tremendous doubles power.  But bat speed can be a double-edge sword.  Many times, swing length can develop as the player starts to fall in love with how hard and fast the ball travels and will try and hit everything hard.  The end results can be strikeouts.  We see this with Javier Baez and we’ve seen this with Clint Frazier.  The fact that Frazier has cut down on his strikeouts is encouraging, however, until he has success in Double-A, we need to conservative in our assessment.

In addition to potential future 30 home run power, Frazier runs well.  However, as he naturally fills out, the speed will diminish and he could settle into five to eight stolen bases annually.  Defensively, the Indians have played him in both center and right, but right field is likely his long-term position.

Fantasy Impact:  Despite his struggles, Frazier is still an elite prospect.  His game does remind me of Jay Bruce, except from the right side.  There is 30 home run potential, he should walk a lot as he understands the strike zone, but I think the strikeouts will always be there.  So, the upside is the 2012 season of Bruce at 34 home runs, a .252 batting average, and a .327 on-base percentage.  The risk though is Bruce’s last two seasons (age 27 and 28).  I’ll let you look those up to see what you might be dealing with…

3. Rob Kaminsky (LHP)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Left ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+ 104.1 95 26 0 2.85 7.16 2.24 1.23

The Cardinals don’t often misstep, but in trading Rob Kaminksy for Brandon Moss at the trade deadline, I think they did.  While Moss had a nice peak in 2012 and 2013, the skills have started to erode, and 2014 and 2015 were not good.  But the Cardinals were desperate when they loss Matt Holliday, so they went for it and gave up a premium prospect in Rob Kaminsky in the process.

Kaminsky had an outstanding year in the Florida State League which continued after being traded.  In 19 starts, he posted a 2.24 ERA while striking out 7.16 per nine and walking 2.85 per nine.  What was the most impressive feat though was in his 104.1 innings, he didn’t give up a single home run.

Scouting Report:  Despite Kaminsky short stature, he throws fairly hard with his fastball sitting 91 to 92 MPH and touching higher.  He also pitches in the bottom of the zone which causes batters to beat balls into the ground at a very high rate.  His career ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio stands at an impressive 2.63.

His money pitch is his double-plus curve ball that has great shape and deception.  His change-up is behind his curve, but it took a significant step-up this season.  That’s three quality pitches, including a premium out-pitch with the ability to throw strikes and get a high rate of strikeouts.  If you add it all up, his upside is a number two starter.

Fantasy Impact:  Kaminsky is really good and yet he flies comfortably under-the-radar in most Dynasty Leagues.  I think that’s about to change as the performance is starting to catch-up to the scouting report and that will get fantasy owners attention.  The ceiling is a 3.00 to 3.50 ERA with seven strikeouts per nine and a chance to win a lot of games.

4. Brady Aiken (LHP)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 DNP

Brady Aiken’s journey to the big leagues was anything but traditional.  Drafted number one overall in 2014 by the Houston Astros, the Astros reduced their offer after concerns surfaced about his elbow, ultimately resulting in Aiken walking away from the offer.  Presumably healthy, he signed with a Junior College in the spring and blew out his elbow in his first outing.

Leading up to the 2015 draft, Aiken became the biggest wildcard in the draft.  Who would draft him and where?  Was he still a first round pick or would he fall?  The Indians decided to step up to the table and drafted him with the 17th overall pick, paying him a $2.5 million dollar signing bonus.  The whole process cost Aiken about least three million dollars, but if he can live up to his potential, it won’t matter as he’ll be a very wealthy man.

Scouting Notes:  Assuming he’s healthy, and there is definitely risk, Aiken has front-of-the-rotation stuff with a level of control and command not seen in player’s his age.  He has a four pitch mix that starts with his fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH and can touch higher, a plus 12 to 6 curve, a feel for a change-up and a slider that can also get swings and misses.  Many who saw him in high school believed he had Kershaw-esque stuff and moxy.  While that’s an unfair comp to throw on any player, it shows the kind of upside he has.

The elephant in the room is whether Aiken will fully recovery from his UCL surgery.  When he was drafted in 2014, there were reports leaked that he had a smaller than normal UCL and would be prone to elbow problems.  Assuming those reports were accurate, did that get fully addressed in his surgery?  We don’t know and will not know until he gets back on the mound and pitches.  If it is addressed and he returns to at least 90% of his pre-surgery potential, he could be a special.

Fantasy Impact:  Aiken was a wildcard in last year’s draft and will likely be a wildcard in your Dynasty League draft.  You have to discount him given his injury history but if I’m drafting late in my Dynasty re-draft, I would pull the trigger at the end of the first round.  Hey, you likely were in the money last year, so why not take the risk.  If it pays off, you have a potential ace.

5. Bobby Bradley (1B)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 225 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 A,A+ 409 62 27 92 3 .264 357 63.3 12.0 .343

Bobby Bradley was our Indians 2015 Emerging Prospect and after slashing .264/.357/.518 with 27 home runs, we are feeling pretty good about that prediction.  His 27 home runs were 10 more than any other player in the Midwest League, a league that favors pitching.  Plus, he did it all as the fourth youngest full-time player in the league.  The great season earned Bradley a promotion in September to the Carolina League.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, Bradley combines strength and plenty of leverage to profile plus future power.  The power clearly showed up in Low-A and given his age, there is a level of comfort that he can reach that potential.  His approach is very sound with good strike zone awareness as was evidence by his 11% walk rate.  Given the leverage in his swing, he will strikeout a lot with an anticipated contact rate in the low 70’s.  He’s a below-average runner, so speed will not be part of his game.

Bradley should start the 2016 season in High-A and could see Double-A by the end of the year.  With the organization light in first base prospects, Bradley is looking like a legitimate option for the Indians as early as 2018.

Fantasy Impact:  There are few prospects in the minor leagues with a ceiling of 30 home runs.  Bradley has that potential.  The batting average will likely settle in the .250 to .260 range but with his knowledge of the strike zone, his on-base percentage should be in an acceptable .310 to .330 range.  He’s still very young and only through Low-A, but there is a lot to like from a fantasy perspective with Bradley.

6. Justus Sheffield (LHP)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 5-10 Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A 127.2 135 47 8 2.68 9.73 3.31 1.36

For the next couple of years, Justus Sheffield will most likely be introduced as Gary Sheffield’s nephew.  However, after seasons like he just completed, it’s not going to take long before Justus is introduced as …an elite prospect.

In 26 starts, Sheffield posted a 3.31 ERA with an impressive 9.73 K/9 rate and a 2.68 BB/9 rate.  The only blemish on his otherwise impressive year was giving up eight home runs.  While that’s not a number we are particularly worried about, it doesn’t match the dominating base statistics he accomplished.

Scouting Notes:  At just under 6-foot, Sheffield doesn’t have the classic size you look for in a pitcher. The stuff is very good though with a fastball that sits 90 to 92 MPH and can touch higher with three excellent secondary pitches. The delivery is clean and simple with the ability to stay on top of his pitches. This should help compensate for his small stature.  While he does pitch in the lower half of the strike zone, given his small stature, he could be prone to home runs.  Perhaps we saw the start of that this year?

We are still placing a mid-rotation ceiling on Sheffield, but he’s very athletic with a quality arsenal, so there is upside in the projection.

Fantasy Impact:  Sheffield is an intriguing prospect.  The arsenal is very good and he throws strikes.  His small stature is a concern but it could be neutralized by the athleticism he brings.  He’s still not at the elite prospect status but that is going to change quickly.  Therefore, this offseason could be your last time to jump on the Sheffield bandwagon.

7. Francisco Mejia (C)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 5-10 Weight: 175 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 A 391 45 9 53 4 .243 .324 80.1 8.5 .281

The Indians have challenged Francisco Mejia every year since signing him out of the Dominican Republic in 2012.  For the 2015 season, they started him off in the Midwest League as a 19-year-old and he responded very well; slashing .243/.324/.345 while hitting nine home runs across 109 games.  While those numbers might not be eye-popping, consider that Mejia was one of the youngest players in the league, playing the most challenging position on the field, and having to communicate without using his primary language.  All-in-all, he did quite well.

Scouting Report:  At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Mejia is a little on the smallish size for a catcher. However, his excellent athleticism allows him to be very agile behind the plate, easily blocking pitches in the dirt. He has a plus arm that consistently registers 1.80 to 1.85 pop times. The arm lacks accuracy at times as he has a tendency to hurry his throws without getting his feet squarely set.

Mejia has plus bat speed that should eventually translate to above-average power.  The power actually has already started to translate into games and while his nine home runs were not that impressive, given his age and the league, he’s well on his way.  It was encouraging to see Mejia working counts better as his naturally tendency is to be overall aggressive at the plate.  If he can continue to harness the approach, it should allow him to take advantage of his natural bat-to-ball skills.

Fantasy Impact:  Mejia ceiling is a first division catcher with the potential for above-average power with at least an average batting average.  It still is going to take at least three years, so only owners in two-catcher, deeper Dynasty Leagues need apply.

8. Tyler Naquin (OF)

2016 Age: 25 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2015 AA,AAA 327 50 7 27 13 .300 .381 77.7 10.6 .364

Taken in the first round of the 2012 draft out of Texas A&M, Tyler Naquin continued to show what made him the 15th overall pick, the ability to hit and get on-base.  He started the year back in Double-A and raked to the tune of .348 in 34 games.   More importantly, he had a 15% strikeout rate and a 9.4% walk rate.  While the strikeout rate increased upon his promotion to Triple-A, Naquin swing path and approach point to a plus hit-tool at the highest level.

Scouting Report:  Using a short and compact swing, Naquin has hit at every level.  He has a very good approach in all pitch counts but once he has two-strikes, can be a very difficult out.  He’s a grinder, battling pitchers into deep counts.  He has plus speed and despite an excellent stolen bases percentage, has never run a lot.  That’s always surprised me and I believe we could see an uptick once he’s promoted to the major leagues.  Naquin has shown limited power but he has enough strength and bat speed to pop out a handful of home runs annually.

Naquin has never ranked high our Cleveland Top 10 list as we believe the ceiling is ultimately a fourth outfielder.  However, he can hit and get on base and with his speed, could be a disruptive force at the top of a lineup.  We should know soon as he could see significant playing time Cleveland in 2016.

Fantasy Impact:  Naquin will have limited fantasy appeal given his lack of secondary skills.  If he starts to run more, there is 20 stolen base potential but it will come with a limited number of home runs.  That said, he can hit with good defensive skills and if given a chance, he could stick and be fantasy relevant.

9. Juan Hillman (LHP)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R 24.0 26 11 0 1.88 7.50 4.13 1.29

We debated Juan Hillman vs. Triston McKenzie and who should be rated higher on our Top 10 list.  Both were high schoolers taken in the 2015 draft with McKenzie taken with pick 42 and Hillman taken 17 picks later at 59. While McKenzie’s upside is higher, we also like Hillman a lot as he brings quality stuff and better present skills.  In the end, we ranked Hillman and left McKenzie as our 2016 Emerging Prospect which we think demonstrates where both are in their current journey.

Scouting Notes:  Hillman has good stuff with his fastball now sitting 89 to 91 MPH after the Indians made some tweaks to his delivery.  At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, there is some physical projection remaining and the hope that his fastball will move up a grade and settle into the 92 to 94 MPH range.  He shows the ability to spin a curve with a feel for a change-up.   The curve is ahead of his change-up with the ability to throw it for strikes.

While there is little command at the moment, Hillman has athleticism, showing the ability to repeat his delivery.  That said, there’s still a lot of work left, but all the elements are there to throw a mid-rotation ceiling on him.

Fantasy Impact:  At this juncture, Hillman is simply a dream for fantasy owners and should be ignored and all but the deepest of fantasy leagues.

10. Yu-Cheng Chang (SS)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
2015 A 393 52 9 52 5 .232 .293 73.8 6.1 .288

The Indians signed Yu-Cheng Chang for a $500,000 signing bonus out of Taiwan in 2013 and quickly challenged him with a full season assignment this past year at Lake County in the Midwest League.   He held his own as a 19-year-old, slashing .234/.296/.364 in 105 games.

Scouting Report:  Chang doesn’t have a carrying tool but has good bat control with the ability to make hard contact.  At times, he can expand the strike zone which has resulted in more strikeouts than his approach and swing mechanics would suggest.  He does have good bat speed with the chance to hit 8 to 12 home runs.  He’s an above-average runner but is still learning the fine art of stealing bases and therefore has had limited success.

If you add it all up, Chang profiles as a utility player but with enough upside to give the Indians something to dream-on.

Fantasy Impact:  While he’s still very young, Chang can be ignored in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Triston McKenzie (RHP)

The Indians went well over slot in the Supplemental 2015 first round to select right-hander Triston McKenzie out of Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida.  At 6-foot-5 and 160 pounds and throwing in the low 90’s, the Indians believe that McKenzie has plenty of physical projection that should enable him to increase velocity as he fills out.  While his secondary pitches are very raw, he does show the ability to spin a curve.  There’s a long way to go, but McKenzie is the type of project that organizations love to get their hands-on.


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