Cleveland Indians

Original Published Date: October 24, 2014

The Cleveland Indians have developed a strong minor league system, bolstered by one of the best young shortstop in the game in Francisco Lindor as well as three of the top 40 picks in the strong 2014 first year player draft.

Bradley Zimmer and Mike Papi are college players that have advanced hit tools and should move through the lower minors in 2015. Justus Sheffield, nephew of Gary Sheffield is an intriguing lefty with a polished arsenal that could be a faster mover as well. The Indians 2013 first round pick Clint Frazier (fifth overall) struggled in his first full professional season. However, he has elite bat speed that should eventually translate into future plus power. Finally, there is Francisco Mejia, an 18-year-old catcher from the Dominican Republic that is bursting with talent and should enter the fabric of elite prospect discussions over the next couple of years.

1. Francisco Lindor (SS)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: All-star
Ht:5-11 Weight: 175 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2014 AA,AAA 507 75 11 62 28 .276 .338 80.9 8.6 .319

The path to the major leagues is wide open for 20-year-old Francisco Lindor. Is he ready? The defense is clearly there, and despite a less than stellar showing in Triple-A, the bat looks like it’s just about there as well.

Lindor’s primary carrying tool is his defense. His lateral movements are effortless as are his instincts to seemingly be at the “right place at the right time” to make a play. The arm is also strong enough to make plays deep in the hole. The defensive package might not rival Andrelton Simmons, but it’s pretty close.

Offensively, the profile is a top-of-the-lineup hitter. Lindor has above-average on-base skills with plus running ability. In his 1,419 career minor league at-bats, he has maintained an 84% contact rate with an 11% walk rate. Being a switch hitter only enhances the profile, but he does have superior splits against lefties which should be noted and watched.

The swing is compact and short to the ball with above-average bat speed but with little leverage. While his current profile is producing below-average power, as he matures, he could have a ceiling of low double-digit home runs (10 to 12). His running speed is well above average with a ceiling of 30 plus stolen bases at the highest level. That said, he has been caught 16 times, resulting in a below average 60% stolen base percentage.

Fantasy Impact: Because of his lack of power, Lindor does not profile as a perennial top 50 fantasy pick but should be a solid $20 player. His advanced approach should allow him to hit .280 to .300 with an OBP of .360 while stealing 30 bases and scoring 90 to 100 runs. Playing a gold glove shortstop will only enhance his value to the Indians and in turn, give him a lock on playing time for fantasy owners.

2. Clint Frazier (OF)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-1 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2014 A- 474 70 13 50 12 .266 .349 66.0 10.3 .372

When you’re drafted number five overall, prospect watchers, fans, and fantasy owners expect all-world minor league stats and a quick ascension to the majors. For Clint Frazier, that has not happen. In fact in his first full season, it’s been a mediocre performance.

In looking at the numbers, it’s the 66% contact rate that sticks out.  The problem stems from his inability to recognize and hit breaking pitches and if he were a college-age player in Low-A, I would be more concern. However, he was the ninth youngest player in the Midwest League and he needs more work and repetition.

The good news is that the elite bat speed is still there.   If you’ve not seen him live, the bat speed and violence is “Javier-Baez” like. The ability to get the bat quickly through the zone is impressive. When you combine the bat speed together with some physical projection, his future power potential is a 70 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale.

Frazier has an athletic 6-foot-1, 195 pound build with his speed currently grading out at a 60 to 65.  However, as he fills out, I would expect him to become an average runner at best.  Defensively this should translate to a corner outfielder; likely a right fielder as he does have an above average arm.

Fantasy Impact: The power potential is very real and while the 66% contact rate is concerning, with repetition and instruction, this should improve.   He has demonstrated good strike zone awareness, so it’s possible we could see a .240/.320/.550 slash line with 25 to 30 home runs once he fully matures in the majors. Given the power potential, the profile continues to make Frazier a Top 100 Dynasty League prospect and a potential buy-low candidate.

3. Bradley Zimmer (OF)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: All-star
Ht:6-4 Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2014 SS,A- 179 36 6 32 12 .302 .400 81.6 10.0 .340

The younger brother of Kansas City right-hander Kyle Zimmer, Bradley Zimmer fell on draft day and the Indians gladly snagged him with the 19th overall pick in the 2014 first year player draft.

Zimmer had a standout junior year at San Francisco, posting a 1.034 OPS with seven home runs, 21 stolen bases, and a 34K/31BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. He continued to hit in his first taste of professional ball, posting a .892 OPS in the New York Penn and Midwest League with six home runs, 12 stolen bases and a 33K/21BB strikeout-to-walk-ratio.

At 6-foot-5, Zimmer is very athletic and looks like he would have above-average if not plus power. However, his swing is more contact-oriented and therefore, he has never demonstrated much power.   It would not be surprising to see the Indians modify his swing to add more leverage and loft in order to improve his home run potential. While his base stealing ability shows up in the stat line, he’s not a burner and his success comes more from his ability to a read pitcher’s move than plus running ability.

Fantasy Impact: Bradley Zimmer is an intriguing fantasy option. He has the base running ability to steal 20 stolen bases annually and if he can add leverage to his athletic frame, he could also add 20 home runs. That leverage will add more swing and miss, but fantasy owners would gladly take it. While you have to dream a little, there is upside and a wise fantasy owner would be investing.

4. Francisco Mejia (C)

2015 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 5-10 Weight: 175 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2014 A- 248 32 2 36 2 .282 .339 81.0 6.6 .337

Playing the entire year in the New York Penn League at 18-years-old, Francisco Mejia not only held his own, but also showed the raw tools that will one day make him a major league backstop.

Mejia was signed in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic and quickly made his way states-side where he started turning heads in the AZL last year. The Indians rewarded the switch hitting catcher with a New York Penn League assignment where he posted a .747 OPS as the fifth youngest player in the league.

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. He’s currently showing off the power in batting practice, but it has yet to show up in games. His approach is very aggressive but the swing works; showing good balance and some natural bat-to-ball skills.

Fantasy Impact: If you can wait three to four years, then Francisco Mejia is the kind of high-upside player you should target in your Dynasty League. He has the arm and athleticism to stay behind the dish and while the bat is very raw, he has the bat speed to project above-average future power. You’ll just have to be patient.

5. James Ramsey (OF)

2015 Age: 25 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-0 Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2014 AA,AAA 352 64 16 52 5 .295 .382 71.6 10.8 .368

With the St. Louis Cardinals loaded in the outfield at both the major leagues and upper minors, they decided to move some of their depth at the trade deadline. 24-year-old James Ramsey was part of that depth and was traded to the Indians for Justin Masterson – a nice little haul for a two-month rental.

Ramsey got the most out of his tools in Springfield by posting a .924 OPS in 243 at-bats. He has a very good approach at the plate but the swing can get long and the strikeouts can mount. Across both Double and Triple-A, he had a 72% contact rate but at a .370 BABIP fueled a .300 batting average. While the swing got a little long, his over-the-fence power is starting to emerge with 16 home runs in 2014.

Defensively, Ramsey can be an average to slightly above-average defender in center field. While he’s not a burner, he gets nice jumps and with good routes to the ball. However, he will not unseed Michael Bourn in center and will likely get his chance in left with Brantley moving to right if he stays in the Indians organization.

Fantasy Impact: In our 2014 capsule of James Ramsey, we wrote that he could be a trade asset and if so, could develop into a second division outfielder in another organization. He has that chance with the Indians. The strikeout rate is a concern and it’s unlikely that he’ll repeat his .370 BABIP. Therefore, a more reasonable stat line is a .250 hitter with 15 to 18 home runs but because of his knowledge of the strike zone, he could post a .330 OBP.

6. Mike Papi (OF/1B)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-2 Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2014 SS,A- 144 23 3 18 2 .181 .301 77.8 14.9 .205

The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez by the Orioles gave Cleveland a supplemental first round pick (38th overall) in the 2014 first year player draft. With that pick, the Indians selected an advanced bat in Mike Papi from the University of Virginia.

Papi has size at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and while he hit 19 home runs in his college career, including 11 in his junior year, his swing is more line drive oriented and therefore, it’s unclear as to how much future power he’ll have.   What Papi does have is an advanced approach at the plate. He’s a patient hitter, sometimes to a fault, and makes very good contact. This was demonstrated in his 144 at-bats in Low-A where he had a 32K/26BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.   Don’t worry about the .181 batting average as it came with a .234 BABIP and in a very small sample size.

Defensively, Papi has played primarily right-field but is not a plus athlete and might eventually have to move to first base. If that happens, will the bat translate to the position? It’s by no means a sure thing as the swing lacks leverage and the bat speed is good, but not great.

Fantasy Impact: While I think there is potential in Mike Papi, the lack of a plus power profile and the concern that he’ll move to first, gives me pause. Throw in his lack of foot speed, and the ceiling feels a lot like Allen Craig, that’s the 2014 Allen Craig version.

7. Tyler Naquin (OF)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht:6-3 Weight: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2014 AA 304 54 4 30 14 .313 .371 76.6 8.5 .389

Selected as the 15th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Tyler Naquin was viewed as a polished college bat that would quickly move through the minor league system. Depending on your definition of quickly, Naquin has shown the type of bat-to-ball skills and mature approach that scouts saw in his three years at Texas A&M. After spending the year in Double-A, he will likely start 2015 in Triple-A with a chance to see Cleveland later in the year.

Naquin makes good contact (77%) and has good strike zone awareness (8.5% walk rate), but in 76 games in Double-A, he managed a modest .424 slugging percentage and only four home runs.   Defensively, he’s a good defender in center field, but not an elite defender and while he stole 14 of 17 bases, he’s not a burner. With this profile, it’s hard to project Naquin as more than a fourth outfielder unless he can produce more power.

Fantasy Impact: At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Naquin has the potential size to hit for power and when I saw him in batting practice last year in the Arizona Fall League, he launched several bombs over the right field fence. However, that power is not yet showing up and until it does, Dynasty League owners need to evaluate him as a “tweener”.

8. Justus Sheffield (LHP)

2015 Age: 18 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 5-10 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R 20.2 24 11 0 3.92 12.63 4.79 1.60

With a last name of Sheffield, you immediately think, is he related to… Yep, Justus Sheffield is Gary’s nephew and had the distinction of being the first player to sign after the 2014 first year player draft. 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 90-92 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. The ceiling is a mid-rotation starter and his current arsenal should allow him to handle a full season assignment to start the 2015 season.

Fantasy Impact: Sheffield is at least three years away from the big leagues but the upside is intriguing. Fantasy owners could expect seven strikeouts per nine if he stays a starter or higher if the Indians decide to move him to the pen.

9. Mitch Brown (RHP)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A- 138.2 112 49 6 3.57 8.24 3.18 1.20

Drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft, Mitch Brown has seen an improvement in fastball command and his results have correspondingly improved. In 138.2 innings in Low-A, Brown struck out 8.24 batter per nine while walking 3.57 per nine. While the walk rate is not elite by any stretch, it was a major improvement from last year and supported by his scouting reports. The fastball is only average, sitting 90-92 MPH but his secondary pitches can miss bats. While it’s difficult to be effective without an above-average fastball, Brown has seen his fastball tick up with improved mechanics and could continue to see improvements as he continues to add velocity.

Fantasy Impact: Brown has the arsenal to strikeout batters and keeps the ball down in the zone (2.95 G/F ratio). The upside is a back-of-the-fantasy-rotation and therefore only somebody to monitor in Dynasty Leagues at this time.

10. Jesus Aguilar (1B)

2015 Age: 25 Ceiling: Extra Bat
Ht:6-3 Weight: 250 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2014 AAA 427 69 19 77 0 .304 .395 77.5 12.8 .350

At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Jesus Aguilar is a big man, capable of hitting very long home runs. He proved that in the winter of 2013, when he hit 18 home runs in 58 games in the Venezuelan League. In fact, Aguilar was a deep sleeper in many fantasy leagues as owners thought that the 25-year-old could duplicate that in Cleveland. While he did get a chance in May, it was only for a paltry 16 at-bats before being sent back down. It’s doubtful that Aguilar will ever be more than a second division starter, but he’s the kind of player that can surprise you and do it very quickly.   Keep an eye on him as there could be something there as soon as 2015.

Fantasy Impact: If I’m drafting in a deep fantasy league in 2015, I’m taking a flyer on Aguilar towards the end of the draft. He’s the perfect “ride em while he’s hot” player. There is significant power potential that could come in quick and intense spurts.

2015 Emerging Prospect

Bobby Bradley (1B)

The Indians got significant value in the third round of the 2014 draft when they popped high-schooler Bobby Bradley. Bradley has the chance to have both an above-average hit tool and power given his size, swing mechanics, and bat-to-ball skills. The swing is compact and direct to the ball with leverage and loft. It’s a pull-power swing but Bradley has very good strike zone awareness as was demonstrated by walking 16 times in 154 at-bats in the AZL.   He should get a full-season assignment to start 2015 and as one of the younger players in the draft, has a very bright future.


5 comments on “Cleveland Indians

  1. […] You can see the Indians 2015 Prospect List here […]

  2. Any hope left for Carlos Moncrief? I know you mentioned him as a deep sleeper last year as a player that could surprise but he never arrived.

    • Probably a fourth outfielder, but the tools are there to be more. His strikeout rate and walk rate backed up last year. Still new to hitting as he broke in as a pitcher. In Triple-A, so he’s on the doorstep. Don’t expect much and be surprised if he gets some playing time.

  3. Saw Frazier at the end of May, felt he was a boom or bust. Seems like he’s is a 5’11 180 build, also speed wasn’t plus as he doesn’t have quick acceleration. Ceiling wise, I feel he could be Justin Upton, his floor is a guy who is an up and down OFer.

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