Cleveland Indians

Original Published Date: October 27, 2017

The Indians have really done a nice job at acquiring and developing young players to build a World Series level Championship team.  Their major league team is stacked with young players led by all-star Francisco Lindor and their minor leagues has many players that should be able to help very soon

Francisco Mejia is their catcher of the future and even saw time in the majors this season.  He’s an exciting talent who can really hit and while I’m a big fan of Yan Gomes, Gomes better clear out his locker as soon as next season.  Triston McKenzie is one of my favorite pitchers in the minor leagues and is starting to round into shape nicely. He’s still a couple of years away but could be a special talent.

I’m writing this before the post-season and the Indians are involved in a 20 game winning streak.  They are good and have the horses in the minor leagues to keep things going.

Francisco Mejia (C)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 3 Catcher

In 2016, Francisco Mejia hit in 50 consecutive games and posting a .333 batting average, catapulting him into the stratosphere of prospect status.  Was this an outlier season?  What could he do to top that season?  Well, in 2017 he didn’t hit in 50 consecutive games but he had at least as good of a season as 2016 and one could argue he had a better season.

His strikeout rate and walk rate continued to be elite and were nearly identical to what he posted in High-A.  He showed a little more over-the-fence power, slugging 14 home runs in 92 games.  Finally, he did all of this in Double-A; which is generally the separator for all players.  The fact that he hit equally as well after moving up a level is indeed impressive.

Scouting Report: Mejia is a switch hitter and hits equally well from both sides of the plate, but simply has his way with lefties.  He has more natural power from the left side and makes better contact.  He can be aggressive at the plate but as we’ve seen in Jose Altuve, good hitters usually make the adjustment and become more patient over time.  I think the same thing will happen as Mejia matures as a player.

His over-the-fence power continues to develop with 15 to 20 future power looking more and more likely.  Despite lacking physicality, he has good bat speed with excellent loft in his bat.

His other plus tool is his arm.  Last season, he threw out an impressive 31% of runners.  His receiving skills are still work-in-progress.  That said, he’s not a butcher back there, but is still learning the fine art of catching.

Fantasy Impact:  Mejia could be an impact fantasy contributor at catcher, particularly where batting average and on-base percentages are categories.  When catchers can hit, fantasy owners get a double dip of goodness.  In general, a starting catcher is a drag on those percentages, but if you can roster a catcher who can hit, you can make a significant move in those categories.  Throw in a ceiling of 20 home runs, and he has Top three fantasy catcher potential.

Triston McKenzie (RHP)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SP

Triston McKenzie continues to fly-under-the-radar as one of the better pitching prospects in the game.  I get part of the concern…he’s just skinny.  His baseball card says he’s 6-foot-5 and 165 pounds.  I’m not sure he’s that thin, but Bartolo Colon he’s not.  However, the stuff and more importantly the performance continues to shine.

In 25 starts in High-A, he impressed.  He struck over eleven batters per nine while only walking three per nine.  Plus, in 143 innings he only gave up 105 hits.  The one blemish was he gave up 14 home runs.  But, when you consider he played nearly the whole season as a teenager (he turned 20 on August 2nd), you just have to be impressed.

Scouting Report:  Drafted in the supplemental first round of the 2015 MLB Draft, the Indians bet on the athleticism and projectability of the 6-foot-5 and 165 pounds right-hander.  As good as he’s been, the fastball has yet to move up a grade, sitting 90 to 92 MPH (T93).  The biggest reason for this is he just hasn’t put on the weight that the Indians thought he would.  But remember, he’s still very, very young.  Just give him some time to drink his multiple milkshakes every day and I think he’ll be just fine.

The delivery is very athletic with a high leg kick and nice extension to the plate.  He’s already able to repeat his delivery and actually demonstrates some average fastball command.  If the fastball moves to 93 to 95 MPH and his change-up improves, both of which have a good chance of happening, McKenzie has a ceiling of a number two starter, if not more.

Fantasy Impact:  I continue to be super high on McKenzie and believe he’s already one of the best pitching prospects in the game.  Because he doesn’t have the name recognition yet, he might be available in more shallow leagues.  I wouldn’t hesitate to pick him up as he’ll be in Double-A next year with a good chance to see Cleveland in 2019.

Bobby Bradley (1B)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B

I have been waffling on Bobby Bradley’s upside since the Indians drafted him in the third round of the 2014 MLB Draft.  There’s no denying the power. In four years in the minor leagues, he’s slugged .499 with 87 home runs.  In 2016, he hit a league-high 29 bombs and while he hit slightly fewer home runs last season, he traded that for better contact; and I think it was a good trade.

The 29 home runs in High-A came with a 30% strikeout rate.  Usually, a 30% strikeout rate in the lower levels is not a good predictor of success in the major leagues.  But to Bradley’s credit, he reduced that to 23% after his promotion, still a high number, but when it could come with 25 to 30 home runs, that should make him a full-time first baseman.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, Bradley combines strength and plenty of leverage to profile plus future power.  His approach is very sound with good strike zone awareness and the long-levered swing we have seen in the past has been reduced.  This should bode well for future success at the highest level.  He’s a below-average runner, so speed will not be part of his game.

Fantasy Impact:  There are few prospects in the minor leagues with a ceiling of 30 home runs.  Bradley has that potential.  With an improved strikeout rate, the batting average could settle around .240 to 250 and with his double-digit walk rate, suggesting an on-base percentage at .350 is not out of the question.  There is still some fine-tuning, but he could see the big leagues as a second-half call-up next season.

Nolan Jones (3B)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 3B

Nolan Jones had a nice season in the New York Penn League.  In 62 games, he hit .317 while walking almost as much as he struck out.  At 21%, he did strike out too much but his 16% walk rate was indeed impressive.  While he hit and got on base at an excellent pace, he really did little else.  He hit three home runs and did not attempt a stolen base.

Scouting Report:  Jones has nice all around tools with good bat speed and the associated size to project future average power.  However, to-date, the power has not shown, but scouts believe he should develop at least average power.  I wasn’t able to get anyone to predict much more.  Defensively, he’s been moved permanently to third and there are questions about that move.  At 6-foot-4, he would be one of the taller players at the position.  That’s not to say he can’t be successful, but if a move to a corner outfield is in the cards, his lack of plus power could be a problem.

Fantasy Impact:  Jones can hit and that’s the hardest tool to develop.  I do worry about his secondary skills and Indians fans and fantasy owners are just going to see how the power develops.  Because of this, I would only roster him in leagues that have 200 or more minor league players.

Shane Bieber (RHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 SP

Shane Bieber pitched 173.1 innings and walked 10 batters last year.  Ponder that for a moment.  That’s ridiculous, right?

He did it over three levels, starting in Low-A and finishing in Double-A.  The performance was pretty much consistent across all three levels.  He struck out nearly a batter an inning, gave up a hit an inning and didn’t walk anybody.  The end result, 10 wins, and 2.86 ERA.

Scouting Report:  Bieber is command and control over stuff as his fastball sits in the low-90’s but it plays up because he locates.  He also throws a curveball and change-up and while both are just average pitches, both play up because he can throw them for strikes.

We all know what generally happens to command and control pitcher and the same result is likely for Bieber.  But as Zach Davies and Chase Anderson have demonstrated, a plus secondary pitch with great command and a fastball can make you a successful big league pitcher.  Bieber lacks that true plus secondary pitch but both could move up a grade as he gains more experience.

Fantasy Impact:  Based on his stat line alone, Bieber should be owned in more Dynasty Leagues than he is.  If he can improve his secondary pitches, there is a chance he could more than just a number five starter.

Yu-Cheng Chang (SS)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder

I’m not really sure what to make of Yu-Cheng Chang.  I had a chance to see him play in the Eastern League this past season and I did like some things.  He was stronger than I thought and showed some real thump in batting practice.  However, during the game, his swing was long which opened him up to being susceptible to inside heat.

The stat line supported what I saw.  He hit just .220 with 24 home runs.  Granted, part of his low batting average can be blamed on a very low BABIP but the 26.6% strikeout rate looks real and that is where I get worried.

Scouting Report:  Chang has a number of 50-grade tools but none that grade out as plus.  You can argue that he has plus power but what I saw was a guy with a big swing that was trying to pull everything.  I’m just not sure that approach will allow him to get to plus power at the big league level.  I think he needs to shorten up the swing and start making better contact and settle for 12 to 15 home runs.

Defensively, he can play an adequate shortstop but might profile better at second base.  Assuming Francisco Lindor stays healthy, he’ll either need to be traded to find his way to the big leagues or will indeed have to move to second.

Fantasy Impact:  Players like Chang always are underrated in Dynasty Leagues.  You’re looking for stars and Chang just doesn’t profile as that.  However, he could be a solid middle infielder in a deeper format particularly if he can get his strikeouts under control.

Will Benson (OF)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2021, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF

Let’s first get this out of the way.  William Buchanan Benson is an 80-grade name…very proper and aristocratic, but I like it.

Taken in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Benson has not gotten off to a great start to his career.  In his two seasons, he’s slashed .228/.338/.456 with an ugly 33% strikeout rate.  Granted, he doesn’t turn 20 until next June, but the Indians probably expected more out of the 14th overall pick, especially when you consider he has yet to make it to a full season assignment.

Scouting Report:  When drafted, Benson’s profile was plus raw power with concerns about him making consistent contact.  So far, the plus power has not turned into over-the-fence power as he’s only slugged 16 home runs in his brief career.  The power does show up in batting practice but when you are striking out at a 33% clip, it’s just tough to be successful during games.

If you’re looking for a positive, his power is born out of both great bat speed and just sheer size and strength.  The bat speed is important as it should allow him to let balls travel deep into the zone; resulting in more contact.  If you believe that, then, in turn, you should believe his strikeout rate will reduce.

Fantasy Impact:  While he’s raw and a bit of a project, his upside is 30 home runs annually but unless he reduces his strikeout rate, it’s not going to happen.  Many Dynasty League owners spent a high draft pick on him last season and therefore, you’ve got to be patient.  However, if we are looking at similar results this time next year, it might be time to get worried.

Julian Merryweather (RHP)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Streaming SP

I had a chance to see Julian Merryweather in May where he shutout the Scranton RailRiders for eight innings, giving up four hits while striking out eight and not issuing a free pass.  He consistently hit 94 to 95 and had a decent curveball and change-up.  I was really impressed.

When I started doing the Indians write-up, I looked at his stat line in Triple-A and shook my head.  A 6.58 ERA in 16 starts???  How could that be?  Then I saw the 105 hits in 78 innings with 13 home runs and understood the problem.

Scouting Report:  Merryweather has good size at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds with a good fastball that sits 93 to 94 and two secondary pitches that definitely can fool batters.  The delivery is not great as he tries too hard to steer his pitches.  This is because his fastball doesn’t have a ton of life.  It’s probably the reason for the high hit-rate once he got promoted to Triple-A.  On the positive though, he does throw strikes.

Fantasy Impact: Even though Merryweather throws strikes and throws hard, he’s likely a number five starter in the major leagues or even a middle reliever.  The stuff is just not very electric.  Perhaps he can add another pitch that would become a true out-pitch, but until then, he should only be rostered in the deepest of Dynasty Leagues.

Greg Allen (OF)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Waive Wire OF (Speed)

Greg Allen had a down year that was primarily the result of a hamate bone injury that cost him nearly two months of action.  In the end, his performance was about the same as what he did in 2016.  Good contact, decent walk rate, no power and a ton of speed.

Assuming he stays healthy, he should start the season in Triple-A next season with a good chance to see Cleveland later in the year.  He’s likely a fourth outfielder but he could have stretches of full-time play in a Ben Reverish type of role.

Scouting Report:  Allen’s carrying tool is his double-plus speed and his ability to steal bases in bunches.  He’s always been an effective base stealer with a lifetime 80% success rate.  He’s also a good defender and could become a plus center fielder as he continues to gain experience.

Allen also has the ability to control the strike zone.  In fact, his strikeout-to-walk rate last season was the worse of his career at 1.42, which isn’t bad at all.  Before that, he walked as much as he struck out in nearly every other season.  What Allen doesn’t have is any power and that’s what gives him the ceiling of a fourth outfielder.

Fantasy Impact:  I get why Greg Allen is rostered in a lot of Dynasty Leagues.  The speed should play but his 30-grade power will limit his chances to get on the field and that will ultimately cost him at-bats for a fantasy team.  That said, speed is at a premium and even as a part-time player, he could steal 20-plus stolen bases annually.

Quentin Holmes (OF)

Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2022, Fantasy Ceiling: Waive Wire OF (Speed)

The Indians rolled the dice in the second round of the last June’s draft when they selected Quentin Holmes in the second round.  If you’ll remember, the Indians gave up their first-round selection when they signed Edwin Encarnacion.

Holmes was drafted as a raw athlete that the Indians hoped they can teach to hit.  It wasn’t a great showing for him last season as he only hit .182 in 41 games.  Granted, he just turned 18 last July but his performance shows how much work remains.

Scouting Report:  Holmes carrying tool is his double-plus speed.  At 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, he has the size that could allow him to develop power.  However, his hit tool is so raw, it’s hard to truly project any power.  His approach is super aggressive and his swing is long which is what you get with a young raw player. The Indians believe that they can overhaul the swing to make him shorter to the ball to unlock some power.

Fantasy Impact:  In today’s game, high drafted players with double-plus speed should always get your attention.  Therefore, Holmes has my attention.  However, he’s so far away and the hit tool has so far to go, it’s hard to justify rostering him in leagues with less than 400 minor leaguers.  That said, he’s athletic with great speed, so he’s should be squarely on your “watch list”.

2018 Emerging Prospect

Tyler Freeman (SS)

The Indians picked up a supplemental second-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft and selected high school shortstop Tyler Freeman.  He currently has a lot of average tools but he has enough bat speed and size to grow into power.  The upside might be a utility player but with some positive development, he could turn into more.

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