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Cleveland Indians

Original Published Date: October 25, 2019

Cleveland Indians logoThe more I researched the Indians farm system, the more I liked the depth they have created. Granted, it’s not stacked with famous guys, but instead, there are a lot of interesting young players that could develop into impact players at the highest level.

What they lack is depth in the upper minor leagues.  Sure, I think Nolan Jones could be a fine Major League third baseman, but we are still waiting for his raw power to develop.  I’m also a big fan of Logan Allen and Daniel Johnson, but I see them as more complementary pieces than players in which you build around.  I know the Major League team is good and has been in contention for years, but they are getting old and must decide soon on what to do with Francisco Lindor.  In other words, their window is closing, and the next window will likely not open until that “depth” is ready (i.e. George Valera, Brayan Rocchio, Bo Naylor, Aaron Bracho, and Luis Oviedo)

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Nolan Jones
  • Biggest Mover: Daniel Johnson
  • Emerging Prospect: Luis Oviedo

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

1. Nolan Jones (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: Patient approach with double-plus power.  The power has yet to truly show, but there are 30 home runs lurking in there.

Nolan Jones split time between High and Double-A in 2019 and showed continued progress.  In the Carolina League, he continued to work his walks (20% BB/9) but also stuck out too much (26% K/9).  While he has double-plus raw, the power just didn’t show up as he only posted a .425 SLG.  At mid-season, the Indians promoted him to Double-A and it was more the same except he started driving the ball more.  His power spiked with eight home runs in 49 games while posting a .466 SLG.

Yeah, I know, it’s still not the kind of stat line you like to see from an elite prospect.  However, he can hit and the power, at least in batting practice is impressive.  The swing currently lacks loft and once he gets that sorted, the over-the-fence power should surface.  If you’re looking for some encouragement, look at this BABIP.  At nearly every stop, it’s been well above .350.  Now, if you haven’t seen him play, you’re thinking the high BABIP is him just getting lucky.  While I’m sure there is some of that when you see him play, the ball explodes off his bat and therefore, you’re not surprised when he gets a hit.

Jones continues to be a Top 100 prospect for me, and I believe is a buy-low candidate for an owner who is more meh about the performance.  I think there is more in the bat and at 21, he’s still very young.  The ceiling is a Top 15 third baseman with 30 plus home run pop and a .260 batting average and a .370 plus OBP.

2. Triston McKenzie (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Missed the entire season with a back and later a pectoral muscle strain.  We are still waiting on a jump in velocity, but the athleticism and size are still there.

It’s was a lost season for Triston McKenzie.  Literally.  He strained a muscle behind his right shoulder in spring training and the initial timeline of six weeks turned into the entire season.  He was nearly game ready in May when he pulled a pectoral muscle which officially ended his season.  If you’re looking for a silver lining, it wasn’t his arm, shoulder or even lower back.  But a missed season, for whatever reason, is not good.

Fortunately, he only turned 22 in August, so he still has youth on his side.  Plus, he already has 16 starts under his belt in Double-A.  Assuming he’s healthy, he still has number two starter upside.  Now, we are still waiting on the fastball to increase a grade.  Maybe it did, but nobody has seen it.

So, we are left to wait another year.  Fantasy owners just need to be patient.

3. Logan Allen (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: Solid stuff from the left side but with inconsistent control.  Once he throws consistent strikes, the ceiling is a number three starter.

The Indians acquired Logan Allen in the three-team deadline deal from the Padres.  While the Padres got their center fielder of the future in Taylor Trammell, the Padres got a potentially number four, perhaps a number three starting pitcher.

Allen got a chance to show his wares in the Major Leagues when the Padres had him do a spot start against the Brewers in June.  He pitched great going seven shutout innings for his first Major League win. The Padres kept him up for several more weeks, but he was unable to replicate that first outing.  Regardless, he showed the Padres a lot as well as his new employer, the Indians.

Allen has good stuff from the left side.  His fastball sits 92 to 94 MPH with two quality secondary pitches in his change-up and slider.  The arsenal is plenty good enough to get big league hitters out today.  His control is a work-in-progress and his inability to throw consistent strikes is what is keeping him from joining the Indians rotation.  However, the Indians have a history of making pitchers better and I think they make Allen better with a chance to be a number four starter at a minimum with a good chance to be more.

4. George Valera (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF
  • Tools Summary:  A potential five-tool player but at 18, the ceiling still has a wide range.  The Indians could move him quickly and he might just be able to keep up.

George Valera was one of the big international bonus babies in 2017 when he signed a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus as a 16-year-old.  He only got into six games in 2018 but started Short Season ball with Mahoning Valley.  While he only hit .232, he did post an impressive .355 OBP and an equally impressive .433 SLG while adding eight home runs and six stolen bases.

When he was signed, Valera 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.

Valera is only 18 years old and therefore the ceiling has a wide range. While he’s likely four or five years away, if it all comes together, he has star potential.

5. Brayan Rocchio (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Short-Season ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS
  • Tools Summary:  Switch hitter who makes great contact with plus speed.  He should be able to stay at shortstop long term.

Brayan Rocchio is yet another young middle infielder in the lower levels of the Indians system.  He followed up his excellent 2018 campaign with another solid season in 2019 where he showed great contactability by only striking out 13.6% of the time.  He still doesn’t walk a lot but also improved in that area.  He’s got good bat speed but at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, he lacks the physicality for much over-the-fence power currently.  But there could be some power development as he fills out.

From a fantasy standpoint, his greatest attribute is his speed.  Unfortunately, he’s not very adept at stealing bases.  In 2018, he stole 22 of 35 bases and followed that up last season by stealing 14 of 23 bags.  Assuming he solves this, there could 20 plus stolen bases annually.

If you add it all up, the ceiling is a Top 15 shortstop serving as a table-setter on what is likely still a very good Indians lineup (sans Francisco Lindor).  Maybe Rocchio inherits that role in a few years.

6. Tyler Freeman (SS)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 SS
  • Tools Summary:  Makes great contact with plus speed.  His lack of power could limit his upside to a utility player.

Tyler Freeman split time between Low and High-A in 2019 and hit .306 with a .368 OBP in 123 games.  He has a pre-natural ability to make contact and barrel the ball.  In those 123 games, he struck out only 53 times or 9.6% of the time.  He doesn’t walk much as he’s up there looking to hit the ball, but when you have that level of hand-eye-coordination, you tend to swing.

Freeman has good speed and stole 19 bases across both levels.  His swing is more geared to doubles than over the fence power, but he also is not void of strength.  In other words, he could hit 5 to 8 home runs to keep his opponents honest.  The Indians have primarily played him at short, but they have also started to mix in some time at second.  In the end, his ceiling could be a utility player but for now, I still think he gets regular at-bats as a top-of-the-order table-setter with 20 stolen base potential.

7. Bo Naylor (C)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 C
  • Tools Summary:  Solid power with enough contact to hit .260 at the highest level.  That should be enough to make him a solid catcher on a fantasy team.

The Indians aggressively assigned Bo Naylor, their first-round pick in 2018 to full-season affiliate Lake County in the Midwest League to start the 2019 season.  Despite being one of the youngest players in the league, he held his own hitting .243 with a .313 OBP while hitting 11 home runs.  He even stole seven bases.  While nobody will mistake him for Billy Hamilton, he is not void of speed either.

The Indians will continue to push Naylor by starting him in the Carolina League to begin the 2019 season.  While he’s a catcher and there is a lot to learn at each level, the Indians are pleased with what they are seeing both offensively and defensively.  From a fantasy standpoint, the upside is Top 15 catcher with a .260 batting average, 15 to 20 home run potential who can steal the odd base now and then.

8. Aaron Bracho (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Short-Season ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary:  A potential five-tool player but injuries have hampered his progression.  While not as famous as George Valera, he might not be that far behind.

The Indians had a strong international class in 2017 where they added several athletic players with high upside.  While George Valera has gotten most of the press, their biggest sign in term of dollar amount was Aaron Bracho.  Injured in 2018 with a broken arm, Bracho has made up for lost time in 2019.  In 30 games in the AZL, he’s slashed .296/.416/.593 walking more than he’s struck out.  He’s also hit six home runs while stealing four bases.  The effort gave him a late-season promotion to the New York Penn League to finish up the 2019 season.

Bracho has exciting tools with plus bat speed that should translate into at least above-average future power.  He’s a good runner but is already 175 pounds and as he fills out, will likely a step.  He’s a switch hitter and is already demonstrating an ability to control the strike zone.  If it all comes together, he has a chance to be a regular at the highest level at either shortstop or second base.

9. Ethan Hankins (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary:  First-round draft pick struggled to find the plate in 2019.  He’s no longer throwing upper nineties, but the stuff is still plenty good.

Leading up to the 2018 MLB Draft, Ethan Hankins was talked about in the upper echelon of the best players available in the draft.  But an early spring injury combined with some loss of velocity dropped his draft status.  Now, fully healthy, he held his own during his first meaningful competitive games.  Across the NY Penn League end Midwest League, he pitched to a 2.55 ERA striking out 10.7 per nine while walking 4.5 per nine.

Despite a grade lower fastball, the stuff is still electric.  He throws a mid-90’s fastball and a curveball that misses a lot of bats.  He also shows a feel for a change-up. He doesn’t always throw consistent strikes but is athletic enough that he should be able to effectively repeat his delivery.  Speaking of the delivery, he’s definitely a short-strider.  It reminds me of Taijuan Walker (BTW, is he ever going to pitch again?).  I’ve long been a fan of pitchers getting an extension of their deliveries as it spreads the kinetic energy in the arm and reduces the strain on the shoulder.  Plus, it can add an extra level of deception.

I still have the upside at as a Top 45 starting pitcher in the big leagues, but as noted, there are clearly risks.

10. Bobby Bradley (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 1B
  • Tools Summary:  Big raw power and big strikeouts but will he hit enough to be a full-time regular?

We’ve been writing about Bobby Bradley for years.  In every capsule, we’ve basically written the same thing.  He has huge raw power, strikes out a ton but will work enough walks to post a 10% walk rate.  Is that enough to be a big leaguer?  Maybe. Probably.

The profile does remind me a lot of Jesus Aguilar.  Both have huge raw power and when the BABIP stats go their way, they will hit enough to get to the power.  If the BABIP stat bounces the wrong way, they will struggle to hit .220 and likely lose their job, or even get traded.  So that’s where we are with Bradley.  He’ll hit home runs but whether he hits enough to maintain a full-time job long-term is the big unknown.  We should find out soon.

11. Luis Oviedo (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary:  Size and premium stuff that is still learning to throw strikes.

Despite his poor showing in Low-A, there is a lot to get excited about with Luis Oviedo.  At 6-foot-4 he’s got the height and downward plane you like to see in a starting pitcher.  Plus, he’s put on weight since signing in 2015 and has seen a nice uptick in velocity as a result.  Given his current size, I think he’s now maxed out on any further projection.  The problem is he can’t repeat his delivery and as a result, he has poor control (4.14 BB/9) of his arsenal.  He will over-throw when he tries to amp things up and that is causing him to get out of balance on his landing.

While there are risks in acquiring him for a Dynasty League roster, he pitchers for the Indians and they’ve done impressive things with pitchers that have a lot less impressive stuff than Oviedo.  I’m buying.

12. Daniel Johnson (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF
  • Tools Summary:  There is fourth outfielder risk, but there is power-speed potential if he can hit enough.

I’ve always liked Daniel Johnson.  I saw him several times when he was a member of the Nationals organization and have always liked the potential power-speed combination he brings.  He once again demonstrated that in 2019 as he split time between Double and Triple-A slashing .290/.361/.507 with 19 home runs and 12 stolen bases.  While he can expand the strike zone, he did control the strike zone better than he’s done in the past with a strikeout rate of 21% and a walk rate of 9%.  That’s not great but should be good enough to allow his secondary skills to play.

While I don’t see a star and he might fall into a role as a fourth outfielder, I think he can be more.  Plus, the Indians outfield is not deep.  Just sayin…

13. Danny Espino (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Short-Season ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary:  Electric stuff but size and delivery are concerning.

The Indians drafted Danny Espino in the first round of the 2019 MLB Draft (Pick #24).  He’s a hard-throwing high schooler out of Georgia that can run his fastball up to the upper nineties with promising secondary pitches.  He split time between the AZL and the New York Penn League and showed great swing and miss stuff striking out nearly 13 per nine.  He pitched to a 3.80 ERA while walking just under four per nine.  At 18-years-old, it was a solid start to his professional career.

While the stuff appears to be solid, I have some concerns about his delivery.  In reviewing video, there is effort in his delivery, and he has a very long arm swing.  While Madison Bumgarner has had a long and successful career with a similar arm swing, the delivery has reliever risk.  Plus, while the internet has his height from 6-feet to 6-foot-2, I’m hearing from evaluators who have seen him live that his height is towards the lower part of the range.

The Indians have had a lot of success with pitchers and therefore, I’m intrigued by Espino.  However, the size and delivery do give me pause and therefore, I’ve limited his upside to a number four starter or reliever.

14. Yu Chang (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Utility Player
  • Tools Summary:  Can play multiple positions and does have a little pop.

Yu Chang got a chance to play in the big leagues last season after toiling in the minor leagues for six years.  Signed as a shortstop, the Indians moved him all over the infield in 2019 to increase his defensive flexibility and he responded well.  He has some pop and will even steal a handful of bases.  He’s never controlled the strike zone very well, but he did reduce his walks last season which is encouraging.  He’s a borderline starter for me, but a more realistic role will be as a utility player that can play all over the field.  He should see considerable time in the big leagues in 2020.

15. Will Benson (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary:  Looks the part with power and speed but hasn’t shown much ability to hit.

Will Benson split his time evenly between Low and High-A in 2019 and had inconsistent results.  In 259 plate appearance in Low-A as a 22-year-old, he hit .272 with 18 home runs and 18 stolen bases.  While on the surface, it was a great showing, but when you did deeper, there are some concerns.  First-round picks who are 22-year-olds should do well in Low-A.  Since he was repeating the level after hitting .180 in 2018, raises a flag; but, hey he played ok.  Secondly, and more concerning is he struck out 30% of the time.  Sure, there is intriguing speed and power, but the strikeouts are a real problem.  It was more of the same when he was promoted to High-A except his BABIP was .255 which drove his batting average down to .198.

Benson just makes our list and you can easily argue he shouldn’t.  But, he’s athletic with good bat speed and the ability to steal plenty of bases.  He could easily go 20-20, but will he hit?  I have serious doubts.

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