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Cleveland Indians

The 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.

Leading the list is now a famous prospect – Triston McKenzie.  He had an amazing major league debut and is only going to get better. I’m still a fan of Nolan Jones and still believe he will add big in-game power once he adds loft to his swing.  There are several high-upside middle infielders on the list and trying to handicap who emerges as the successor to Francisco Lindor is hard.  Tyler Freeman might get the first shot but we like Brayan Rocchio or newly acquired Gabriel Arias to eventually take over the job full-time.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Triston McKenzie
  • Biggest Mover: Ethan Hankins
  • Emerging Prospect: Joey Cantillo

1. Triston McKenzie (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Impressive debut and with a solid arsenal and improving velocity, he has a chance to develop into a top of the rotation arm

Triston McKenzie made his major league debut on August 22 and shoved it.  The final stat line was 6.0 IP, 2 hits, 1 ER, 10 strikeouts, and one walk.  The fastball averaged 92.8 MPH over his 33 innings of work but as he puts on weight, I believe the velocity will increase another grade.  There is nice life on all his pitches and most importantly, he pounds the strike zone.  Assuming health, he’s just going to get better.

2. Nolan Jones (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: Patient approach with double-plus power.  The power has yet to truly show, but 30 home runs are lurking in there.

From a production standpoint, 2020 was the year I hoped to see Nolan Jones power breakout.  I’ve seen the double-plus power in batting practice but in-game, he lacks loft, and therefore the power is currently more doubles-power.  He does strike out a lot but also has posted some gaudy walk totals at every level he’s played.  The ceiling is a Top 15 third baseman with 30 plus home run pop and a .260 batting average and a .370 plus OBP.

3. George Valera (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Size ETA: 2023+ 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 signing bonus as a 16-year-old.  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.  He 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.

4. Brayan Rocchio (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2023+ 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.

The Indians have several high-upside shortstops and we like Brayan Rocchio the most.  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.  His greatest tool 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.

5. Tyler Freeman (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2022 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 has a pre-natural ability to make contact and barrel the ball.  In 123 games in 2019, 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. 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.  He does have good speed and could steal 20 bases annually.  If you add it up, the ceiling is a .280/.340/.380 hitter with 20 stolen bases and a handful of home runs annually.

6. Bo Naylor (C)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2023 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.

Bo Naylor was assigned to the alternate site in 2020 and the Indians were pleased with his continued progress.  He is athletic with nice bat speed that should translate into 15 plus in-game home runs.  What is most encouraging is that I think he’ll hit, well hit for a catcher with a chance to post a .260 batting average with a .330+ OBP.  He’s still only 20 and assuming a normal 2021 season, he should split time between High and Double-A.

7. Gabriel Arias (SS)

Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS

Tools Summary: His ceiling could be a utility player, but he showed some solid pop and speed in 2019 that could change that.  He does need to work on his contact.

When the Padres signed Arias in 2016 for an impressive $1.6 signing bonus, they saw a young kid with great defensive instincts that can pick it at short with a swing that worked. Since then, he has developed into a plus defender with a growing offensive profile.  He has added loft which has led to increasing in-game power.  The hit-tool though is still very raw as he strikes out too much and is overly aggressive at the plate.  After his trade to the Indians, he provides yet another athletic, high-end middle infielder in their organization.

8. Ethan Hankins (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary:  Velocity appears to have returned in 2020 with a chance to be a number four starter.

I have a report that Ethan Hankins fastball velocity has returned after an arm injury hurt him in his draft year.  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 a short strider.  It reminds me of Taijuan Walker early in his career.  Once Walker was able to throw consistent strikes, he extended his stride and has now become an amazingly effective pitcher.  Could the same thing happen with Hankins?

9. 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 terms of dollar amount was Aaron Bracho.  He 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, he will likely lose 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.

10. Danny Espino (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2024 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.  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.  However, the Indians have had a lot of success with pitchers and therefore, I’m intrigued by Espino. 

11. Logan Allen (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: Solid stuff from the left side but with inconsistent control.  Once he throws consistent strikes, the ceiling is a number four starter.

Allen has solid stuff from the left side.  His fastball averages 92 to 94 MPH but will sit at the upper end of the range in relief.  While the Indians used him as a reliever in 2020 (3 games), I think long-term he is a starter. His control still needs to get better and once that happens; I think he will join the rotation.  Remember, the Indians are great at getting the most out of pitcher’s talent and Allen has plenty of talent in which to work.

12. Joey Cantillo (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary:  Stuff is pretty average but he has a great change-up and that could lead to early success.

Joey Cantillo was part of the Mike Clevenger return and while he might have been the least known of all the players in the deal, he has an excellent chance to be a big leaguer. The fastball sits in the low-90s with average life but it’s his change-up that will miss bats.  While it’s hard to have long-term success with one pitch, particularly when it’s a change-up, short-term success is very viable.  Plus, he hides the ball well and has plenty of funk in the delivery.  He’s only pitched formally in High-A, but he could see the big leagues in 2021 or 2022.

13. Owen Miller (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Alternate Site ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: Plus hit tool with average power and speed.  He’s moving fast with a chance to see the Majors in 2021.

Owen Miller was also part of the Mike Clevenger deal and was our “big mover” in the Padres organization in 2019.  He controls the strike zone and makes excellent contact.  The swing is pretty flat so I don’t see a lot of future power.  He’s an average runner and should be able to steal low double-digit bases annually. There’s enough there to be a full-time regular and he just might get a chance to prove that in 2021.

14. Carson Tucker (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Utility Player
  • Tools Summary: Average tools across the board but with a feel for hitting

Carson Tucker was drafted in the first round last June and is the younger brother of Cole Tucker, the utility infielder (maybe full-time regular) in Pittsburgh.  He’s a better pure hitter than his brother but doesn’t have the foot speed or the bat speed that his brother has.  He projects as a utility performer in the big leagues but could be more as he gains strength.

15. Daniel Johnson (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF
  • Tools Summary:  There is a 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.  While he can expand the strike zone when he’s more controlled, good things happen.  Ultimately, he’s likely a fourth outfielder but he’s a plus runner and therefore, he should be on all Dynasty League manager’s radar.

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