|Original Published Date: October 26, 2018|
To shore up their bullpen for the stretch run, the Indians traded their Top Prospect Francisco Mejia at last July’s trading deadline. That in combination to the promotion of Shane Bieber has moved their system from a mid-pack system to the bottom quartile. They still have one sure-fire Top 100 prospect in Triston McKenzie but Nolan Jones and Bo Naylor should also make the cut.
George Valera is the most intriguing prospect in the system. Signed in 2017 from the Dominican Republic, he has a chance to be an impact performer in the big leagues. He’s only 18-years-old, but the upside is indeed impressive.
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1. Triston McKenzie (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Triston McKenzie 2018 season was delayed as he dealt with a forearm injury coming out of spring training. While everyone held their breath, McKenzie returned to the mound in early June and pitched extremely well. In 16 starts in Double-A, he pitched to a 2.68 ERA, while striking out 8.6 per nine and walking 2.8 per nine. The one blemish was the eight home runs he gave up.
When McKenzie was drafted as a 17-year-old in 2015, he was a 6-foot-5, 165 projectable right-handed pitcher. While he’s put on a little weight since then, he hasn’t physically filled out yet, and therefore, his fastball has yet to jump. I still think that happens and given his ability to throw strikes, this is only going to make his stuff play even better.
Assuming health, McKenzie could see Cleveland as early as the second half of next season. I think it’s more likely he returns to Double-A to begin the season and doesn’t see the big leagues until 2020. Remember, he only just turned 21 in August.
2. Nolan Jones (3B)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
The Indians held back Nolan Jones in 2017 but unleashed him this past season where he split time between Low and High-A. He excelled in the Midwest League where he slashed .279/.393/.464 in 90 while adding 16 home runs.
Since entering professional ball, he’s shown an elite ability to work a walk and that continued in 2018. He struck out too much, but if he can walk 15% to 20% of the time, that should work just fine.
It appears the Indians were smart to take it slow with Jones in 2017 and consequently, he is rounding into form and should rank in our Top 100 prospects entering next season. His ceiling is a first division third baseman with 20 to 25 home run potential and a .260/.360 batting profile.
3. Noah (Bo) Naylor (C)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 C
In trading away Francisco Mejia, the Indians clearly gave up a lot to try and stabilize their bullpen. But, that is one of the reasons you draft and develop players – to use as assets to help the big league team win. While I believe Mejia has star potential, the Indians drafted high school catcher, Bo Naylor in the first round last June and they believe he has a chance to full-time big league catcher.
He’s the younger brother of Padres prospect, Josh Naylor and shares his plus future power potential. But, he’s a better athlete including being able to stay behind the plate and ultimately should be a better hitter. While it was only rookie ball, he slashed .274/.381/.404 with two home runs and five stolen bases. While he struck out too much (20% K/9), he also walked 15% of the time. If it all comes together, the ceiling is a .260/.340/.450 bat that can hit 15 to 20 home runs and steal the odd base.
4. Bobby Bradley (1B)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
The Indians had Bobby Bradley repeat Double-A and despite only hitting .214, promoting him to Triple-A in early August. The primary driver for his low batting average was a .226 BABIP. Fortunately, the statistical savvy Indians looked at that, his .263 ISO and a number of other stats and decided to move him through.
Bradley’s carrying tool is his double-plus power and over the past five years, he has averaged 26 home runs annually. Yes, it comes with a 25% plus strikeout rate, but he also will walk 10% of the time so the package should make him a full-time regular at first. The offensive ceiling is a .250/.330 hitter with 30 plus home run potential. That will put him squarely as a Top 15 fantasy first baseman, if not more.
5. George Valera (OF)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
The Indians spent $1.5 million dollars to sign Dominican George Valera in the summer of 2017. I say Dominican, he was actually born in the US but spent his teenage years in the Dominican Republic. He was lauded as a five-tool talent, which you hear all the time, but in Valera’s case, it might be true.
He has great bat speed and the physicality to suggest he could develop plus power in the future. He has the kind of swing mechanics that suggest solid contactability. He’s currently a plus runner but should slow as he matures.
The Indians decide to bring him to the US and skip over the DSL, primarily because he lived in the states through his childhood and getting acclimated to the culture was not an issue. He got off to a great start, but needed hamate surgery and only played in six games. For what it’s worth, he posted a .965 in those six games.
Valera is only 17 years old and therefore the ceiling has a wide range. While he’s likely five to six years away, if it all comes together, he has star potential.
6. Ethan Hankins (RHP)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2022-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
The Indians might have gotten a bargain with Ethan Hankins as he dropped on many draft boards with concern about a shoulder problem that cropped up in the spring. If he’s healthy, he has electric stuff and the size to pitch at the top of a rotation. He did make a couple of appearances in the AZL, pitching three innings striking out six and not giving up a walk. I’m sure the Indians did not want to push him given his troubles in the spring.
From a fantasy standpoint, it’s so hard to draft pitcher like Hankins. He’s 18-years-old, has already dealt with a sore shoulder and if all goes perfect, he’s still four to six years away from contributing to your fantasy team. But, you’ve got to still roster pitchers and cross your fingers that they develop. Hankins is one that I would gamble on.
7. Oscar Mercado (OF)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
I have fallen very hard for Oscar Mercado and therefore own him in most of my Dynasty Leagues. Perhaps I’m looking through rose-coloured glasses, but I see an athletic outfielder who can play all three position, has double-plus speed, a little bit of pop and enough contactability to hit at the top of a lineup. Yet, nobody talks about him.
Granted, he turns 24 in December and has been in the minor leagues for six years, but if he gets a chance, I think he can become a full-time regular. Could that chance come next season? I think it does.
8. Brayan Rocchio (SS)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS with extreme risk
The Indians signed Venezuelan shortstop Brayan Rocchio for $125,000 last July. In Latin-terms, he was a bit of late bloomer as he signed at age 17. However, he made up for lost time as he got off to a blistering start to his professional career. He began the year in the DSL but after hitting .323 with eight stolen bases in 25 games, the Indians brought him to the US where he continued to hit in the AZL. In 35 games, he slashed .343/.389/.448 with 14 stolen bases. While he only hit one home runs, the 10 doubles were the source of his encouraging SLG.
What impressed the Indians brass the most was his ability to make solid contact. He only struck out 11% of the time in the DSL and 13% of the time when he hit the AZL. That combined with plus speed makes him an intriguing potential player for Dynasty League owners. Also, he’s got great bat speed but at 5-foot-10 and 150, he lacks the physicality for much over-the-fence power currently. But, there could be some power development as he fills out. Warning, he’s five years away, but there is definitely something here.
9. Sam Hentges (LHP)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
At 6-foot-6 and pushing 250 pounds, left-hander Sam Hentges is a big boy. With size usually comes a power arsenal but also comes control issues. Hentges seems to fill out both assumptions quite well. He has a nice three-pitch mix where his fastball sits 94 to 95 MPH and can touch higher, a curveball that can miss bats and a change-up that is starting to round into form. The problem is he can’t throw consistent strikes.
In 23 starts in High-A, he struck out over a batter an inning but also walked over four per nine. I think that improves over time and when it does, that combined with his left-handedness and plus arsenal, I think the ceiling is a mid-rotation-starter.
10. Eli Morgan (RHP)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Eli Morgan split his time between Low and High-A and arguably had the best season of any Cleveland Indian minor Leaguer. In eight starts in Low-A, he pitched to a 1.83 ERA while striking out over 11 per nine and walking only eight batters. Once promoted, he continued to dominate, striking out a batter an inning while walking just over two per nine.
He doesn’t have great stuff but will scrape 94 with his fastball. His best secondary pitch is his change-up and this could ultimately be a problem. You see, pitchers with a plus change-up can be very effective in the lower minors as hitters just don’t see good change-ups very frequently. His curve still next work and if he can squeeze another mile or two on his fastball, this could make all of his pitches play up. While he’s intriguing and had a great season, I only see a number four starter.
11. Will Benson (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
The good news is that Will Benson hit 22 home runs and stole 12 bases in Low-A last season. The bad news is that’s pretty much all he did. He only posted a .370 SLG while hitting .180 with a 30% walk rate. If you’re looking for a bright light in the ugliness, he did post a 16% walk rate.
As the 14th overall pick in the 2016 Draft, the Indians surely hoped that the swing and miss were not this bad, but at 6-foot-5, the swing is long and there are just a ton of holes. The Indians could try and modify his swing, but that is easier said than done. Or, more likely, they will work with what they have and try and make small modifications to improve his approach and contact. If it works, the upside is a .230/.330 hitter who can pop 30 home plus home runs.
12. Tyler Freeman (SS)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
Tyler Freeman was one of the best hitters in the New York Penn League in 2018.
Drafted in the second round of the 2017 Draft, he hit .352 with two home runs and 14 stolen bases. He was Altuvian in his contact rate, striking out only 22 times in 72 games or a 7.3% strikeout rate. He didn’t walk much, but when you can make that level of contact, why take a free pass.
What he doesn’t have is much power. He does have good bat speed and obviously is short to the ball, but his swing is built more for contact and just doesn’t have much loft. But, I would not put him at a singles only hitter as I think there will be plenty of double with some home run power (8 to 10). He’s also not a burner but is a smart base runner so he should be able to steal 15 to 20 bases annually. I think the profile is a major league regular and while he doesn’t have huge fantasy upside, he might be a nice middle infielder in a deeper league.
13. Yu Chang (SS)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
After slugging 24 home runs in Double-A in 2017, Yu Chang performance did not translate as well once he was promoted to Triple-A. In 127 games, he hit .256 with 13 home runs while striking out 28% of the time. He also only stole four bases after stealing 11 in 2017. Additionally, if it were not for a .341 BABIP, the season would have looked worse.
While he strikes out too much, he also has historically walked 9.5% of the time. That should add about 70 points to his OBP. Don’t worry, I’ll do the math for you. If you add it all up, I think a slash line of .230/.300/.450 with 20 home runs and a handful of stolen bases would be a good baseline. In today’s game, that’s not a great player and why I believe Chang is more a middle infielder in fantasy.
14. Lenny Torres (RHP)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
The Indians drafted Lenny Torres with the 41st overall pick in the supplemental first round last June. At 6-foot-1, he’s not a big kid and just turned 18-years-old. He got upside though as he throws hard and has already demonstrated the ability to throw a curveball.
The Indians will surely take it slow and easy with Torres and only had him pitch 15 innings in rookie ball last season. But, he showed them a lot. In 15.1 innings, he struck out 22, walked only four while posting a 1.76 ERA. Again, it was in a tiny sample size but given his age, the Indians had to be happy.
From a fantasy standpoint, he’s a guy that should only be drafted in the deepest of leagues. While I’ve put his ceiling as a Top 50 Starting Pitcher, there is a huge range at the moment including a move to the bullpen. But, you can say that about nearly every 18-year-old.
15. Aaron Bracho (SS)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
The Indians signed Aaron Bracho for $1.5 million dollars in 2017. The 17-year-old has yet to play in professional ball but early reports show a feel for hitting, a quick bat with potentially above-average future power. While he’s listed as a shortstop, that could change as he progresses through the system with second and third base as possible positions.
For fantasy, he’s a lifetime away but the Indians made a significant investment and owners need to at least know the name and monitor his progress.