The Indians have an enviable number of likely big league players in their system, though only a handful of them project to be impact talents. The top three in the list have the highest ceilings, I believe, with Bradley Zimmer the pretty undisputed number-one guy. I’m pretty high on Triston McKenzie, and at one point had him in the number two spot over Frazier. Other guys about whom I’m a little more optimistic include Mark Mathias, Erik Gonzalez and Greg Allen.
Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:
|Grade||Tool Is Called||Batting Average||HR||ISO||Baserunning Runs||Fielding Runs|
As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:
|Grade||Hitter||Starting Pitcher||Relief Pitcher||WAR|
|80||Top 1-2||#1 Starter||—-||7|
|55||Above Avg||#3/4||Mid Closer||2.5|
|50||Avg Regular||#4||Low CL/High SU||2|
|40||Bench||Swing/Spot SP||Middle RP||1|
|35||Emergency Call-Up||Emergency Call-Up||Emergency Call-Up||0|
One other difference in the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels.
In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Colorado Rockies.
1. Bradley Zimmer, OF
Current Level/Age: High-A/23.3, 6’4/185, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 21st overall (1st round) in 2014 out of U of San Francisco by CLE for $1.9 million bonus
Previous Rank: 3
The younger brother of Royals pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, Brad Zimmer is a long-limbed toolsy dude that projects for quality all-around production in the outfield. Plus speed and a plus arm give him the chance to stick in center or be an above-average right fielder down the line. He has great instincts on the bases and a good approach at the plate. Despite his slight build at present, he has an excellent chance at developing power with a lot of room to fill out.
Being a lefty hitting, righty throwing guy with long levers, he has a surprisingly smooth, athletic swing. His dominant hand can take over at times, pulling his swing across his body, but only enough that his current power is more to his pull side and not a big detriment to his hitting ability. He hasn’t fully tapped into his legs for power yet. I anticipate his power blossoming in another two or three years to at least a plus level. He has a good eye at the plate and has the swing and quickness to hit just about anything you can throw at him.
Though he may have gotten a little exposed in Double-A last season, most notably striking out in 25% of his plate appearances, he has proved capable of adapting to pitchers and should have no problem improving the numbers this season. It’s still obvious at times that he’s a big-bodied kid who has yet to grow into his body, and I think his competition level was just a bit ahead of his physical maturation there. Expect his Double-A strikeouts to be a blip on his professional record, not a sign of things to come.
Hit: 40/60/65 Power: 45/60/65 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 50/55/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Video courtesy of Moore Baseball
2. Clint Frazier, OF
Current Level/Age: High-A/21.6, 6’1/190, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 5th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of Georgia HS by CLE for $3.5 million bonus
Previous Rank: 2
The best prospect in baseball with red hair, Frazier had an excellent bounce-back season in High-A Lynchburg, cutting his strikeout rate and showcasing glimpses of the power generated by his crazy bat speed. Since his draft year, he has simplified his swing to give him a better chance at making contact, although at the expense of some of his power projection. His plus or better speed continues to make him an asset on the bases and in the outfield, where he profiles as an above-average center fielder or plus right fielder with his arm.
Frazier looked overmatched in the Arizona Fall League against breaking balls, in particular, still producing a lot of swings and misses despite his statistical improvements during the regular season. His swing is shorter to the ball than it was in high school and his base looks more balanced, but his path is choppier and is more built for line drives than fly balls. Seeing him swing through so many pitches in the zone is a bit troublesome, a sign that his strikeouts may continue to be an issue against higher-level pitchers.
Even with contact questions and a path that no longer looks capable of pushing 30 homers in the majors, Frazier has enough athleticism and bat speed to be a dangerous opponent for big league pitchers. His power will be really apparent when he gets pitches up in the zone. As a fan, I am hoping he makes an adjustment with his hands to be able to drive low pitches, as well, because he has the rare quick-twitch movements to be a monster at the plate. That ceiling is still there, but his current trajectory is a bit below that level for now.
While I was slightly underwhelmed by his offensive progress, I was equally enthused with his skill in the outfield. His range looks to utilize every bit of speed he has, and a quick release with a strong arm gives him more than enough ability to be a great defender. His contact issues may limit his average and how much of his power shows up in games, but Frazier has enough tools across the board to be a premium asset for the club in the future.
Hit: 35/45/50 Power: 45/55/60 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 55/60/65 Throw: 60/60/65
3. Triston McKenzie, RHP
Current Level/Age: R/18.7, 6’5/165, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 42nd overall (Supp 1st round) in 2015 out of Florida HS by CLE for $2.3025 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA
Though McKenzie lasted until the 42nd pick in last year’s draft, he arguably has as bright a future as any high school pitcher in his class. Though he was impressive in his first 12 professional innings, the real excitement comes from how easy he makes things look on the mound, while also having as much physical projection as you could possibly imagine. He has better athleticism and body awareness than most guys his size and age, already showing advanced feel for his pitches and plenty of room to grow.
McKenzie’s delivery and movements are exceptionally fluid and balanced, and the ball jumps out of his hand. The only slight qualm is how he gets closed off with his stride, though he still gets his hips through and maintains good sequencing through the rest of his motion. His fastball and curveball have the same arm speed and slot, and his changeup has reportedly shown a lot of progress since signing with the organization. His combination of command, feel, athleticism and physical projection hint at tons of potential for his future pitch grades.
Even if he doesn’t add much velocity to his low-90s fastball, he already shows four-seam and two-seam varieties with impressive potential on both. His straight fastball has deceptive life that will get swings and misses up in the zone, distinct from his two-seamer that has good run and sink, with a future as a ground-ball and weak-contact-inducing offering. He has demonstrated enough command of his curve to throw it for strikes and bury it for strikeouts in the future. His changeup reportedly has flashed above-average as he has started to develop it, which I trust based on his overall skill set.
Grading McKenzie this highly may seem like an overreach this early in his development, a notion that some of the Cleveland officials shared while also recognizing how much they like his potential. For a high school draftee, there aren’t many more boxes to check. He has a projectable frame with great body control, feel for his promising offspeed pitches, good mechanics and a clean arm, and he already throws hard enough to make his stuff work. This year should be his first step into full-season ball, with the development of his changeup and filling out physically being the main factors to monitor.
Fastball: 45/60/70 Curveball: 45/60/70 Changeup: 35/50/55 Command: 45/55 /65
Video courtesy of 5ToolTalk
4. Brady Aiken, LHP
Current Level/Age: NA/19.6, 6’4/205, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 17th overall (1st round) in 2015 out of IMG Academy by CLE for $2.513 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA
Aiken no doubt will be looking forward to putting his recent history behind him, becoming the first No. 1 overall pick not to sign since 1983 and eventually succumbing to Tommy John surgery after his only start at IMG. While we don’t know how he’ll progress getting back into games this season, he has the arsneal and command that few high school draftees demonstrate at such a young age.
Based on previous looks, Aiken’s fastball sat in the low- to mid-90s with command to both sides of the plate. His curveball and changeup both flashed plus, with the curveball showing more consistency when I saw him, though his change received better current grades from other scouts with whom I’ve talked. We will have to assume his stuff returns fully until he proves otherwise.
He didn’t have the greatest deceleration pattern with his arm before being drafted, cutting his pronation short which put extra pressure on his elbow. It will be interesting to see what he looks like post-surgery this year, though his risk for re-injury may be limited by how fluid and direct the rest of his motion is. Anyone with the potential for three plus pitches and command has a great future ahead of him. I’m slightly conservative on his grades to account for his unknown response to surgery and rehab.
Fastball: 50/55/65 Curveball: 50/55/65 Changeup: 45/50/60 Command: 50/55/60
5. Justus Sheffield, LHP
Current Level/Age: A/19.9, 5’10/196, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 31st overall (1st round) in 2014 out of Tennessee HS by CLE for $1.6 million bonus
Previous Rank: 6
Sheffield stands out on the mound as an exceptional athlete with a projectable arsenal and delivery. He blew away the competition in the Class-A Midwest League with his hard fastball and sharp curve, mixing in a presently below-average changeup to keep hitters off balance. His stuff trumps his command right now, but there’s every indication he can grow into at least average location.
His delivery is fast but well sequenced, and his double-plus athleticism hints at sharpening his pitch placement to counter the escalating competition level as he advances. He has a clean, loose arm with good feel for his offspeed pitches. Physical maturation will do wonders for his delivery consistency, with his only recurring fault being a fall toward the third base side. Strength and balance gains in his lower half would go a long way to solidifying his base and honing his release.
While I believe in his future enough to hang a 65 grade on his ceiling, he needs to take a couple steps forward. The slower arm speed on his changeup will be picked up by upper-minors hitters. His curve generates a lot of swings and misses down in the zone, but he will have to be able to throw it for strikes with the same conviction and movement to keep hitters from laying off the ones he buries below the zone.
I see all of these adjustments having strong chances of coming to fruition, but I want to see him demonstrate progress before upping his likely overall grade from a 50, though the Indians will gladly gamble on his upside. This season should be a good test of his current stage of development, and how quickly he can climb to his big league debut. Expect a good season from him starting in High-A, with a strong start putting him on the fast track to the big leagues sometime next year.
Fastball: 45/55/65 Curveball: 45/50/60 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 45/50/55+
Video courtesy of Minor League Baseball
6. Mike Clevinger, RHP
Current Level/Age: AA/25.3, 6’4/220, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 135th overall (4th round) in 2011 out of Seminole CC by LAA for $250,000 bonus, traded to CLE in August 2014
Previous Rank: NA
Clevinger really found his post-Tommy John surgery groove in Double-A this past season, locating all his pitches and showing three secondary offerings that have viable big league futures. Though he may be more of a finesse pitcher in the majors, his slider and changeup have the potential to induces whiffs if he sharpens his command further.
At 25 years old, his prospect shine may have worn off, but he brings a great assortment of pitches that he can locate with decent success. His command is only really limited by his tendency to rush his upper body rotation and let his arm flail behind, offering advanced hitters the one mistake pitch up in the zone they need to beat him. If he continues to be more comfortable on the mound and tries not to overthrow, his command could push him into solid number three starter material.
He doesn’t have the velocity or movement on his fastball to just pound the zone, so he likely will need two of his other pitches to be real threats to be a dependable option in the rotation. I can see the high floor his command affords, but I want to see how his stuff will play against Triple-A hitters before anointing him a higher likely overall grade. I gave Clevinger the slight nod in likely overall grade over Sheffield, but with a lower ceiling and still having work to do, I felt more comfortable slotting them in reverse order.
Fastball: 45/50/55 Slider: 50/55/60 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 45/50/60 Command: 45/50/60
Video courtesy of Mustang News
7. Mark Mathias, 2B
Current Level/Age: Low-A/21.7, 6’0/200, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 93rd overall (3rd round) in 2015 out of Cal Poly by CLE for $550,000 bonus
Previous Rank: NA
One of two 2015 draftees coming off a labrum issue in college, Mathias had a really good first season in Low-A ball. His power is the only tool that projects to be well below average in the future, assuming his arm strength comes most of the way back as he continues to rehab. The Indians see him as a capable second or third baseman at full health, though second base is his best fit with his average arm strength.
Mathias’ offense is where his value lies. He exhibits excellent contact skills and the ability to control the strike zone, a combination that could see him tallying more walks than strikeouts. He isn’t just a slap hitter either, with a direct, level swing and good feel for the barrel resulting in a lot of line drives and the occasional deep drive. Though he hasn’t shown much beyond doubles power, the Indians’ player development staff is working to have him understand when he can be more aggressive, because he does have some functional strength and is learning how to drive the ball with more consistency.
His defense projects around average, including both good footwork and an understanding of the flow of the game. He is another great makeup guy that has an excellent chance of maximizing his tools. His fringy raw speed will play around average as a base-runner with his instincts to take advantage of what the defense gives him. When his arm gets back to full health, Mathias is an infielder that could move very quickly through the system and provide plenty of surplus value in short order.
Hit: 50/60/65 Power: 35/35/45 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 45/50/50
Video courtesy of RogerDeanStadiumTV
8. Rob Kaminsky, LHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/21.6, 5’11/190, R/L
Acquired: Drafted 28th overall (1st round) in 2013 out of New Jersey HS by STL for $1.7853 million bonus, traded to CLE in July 2015
Previous Rank: 4 (STL)
The Indians got a great return for a partial year of Brandon Moss in the form of Rob Kaminsky, a command-oriented lefty with an excellent curveball and good feel for his full arsenal. He’s put up superb numbers through his first three professional seasons, though his command will have to develop into to at least the plus level to project better than a number-four starter.
His fastball resides in the high-80s to low-90s range, though he has proven capable of reaching back to hit 95. His changeup flashes above-average, while his curve has the potential to be better than a plus pitch. In my opinion, his future role hinges on the development of his fastball, either via command gains or higher sustained velocity with added strength.
Kaminsky doesn’t yet show the command to make his fastball a real weapon, and it lacks deceptive movement. He has a similar lack of pronation at the end of his delivery to Aiken above, and even more reliant on his arm to propel the ball. His game doesn’t rely on power, though, with an overall easygoing delivery that should shield his arm from unnecessary abuse, though it also slightly limits his projection.
He is a great competitor and pounds the strike zone, so his floor remains high as a bottom half of the rotation guy with realistic upside as a number three. His strikeout rate as he faces Double-A and Triple-A competition will be a reasonably sound indicator of where he ends up, with his ability to throw strikes and limit hard contact have better chances of staying intact.
Fastball: 45/50/55 Curveball: 50/60/65 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 50/55/60
Bradley’s power is in the conversation for best in the lower minors, though this season it came with an ugly 31.8% strikeout rate in A ball. His value is completely tied to his bat, with his position locked in at first base and not a ton of ability on the basepaths. He has the power to play in the big leagues in some capacity, but his strikeout rate will have to hold steady or improve as he climbs the ladder to project as a starting option.
Scouts and Indians sources were quick to point out that he always made good contact in high school, and that his strikeouts may be just a combination of things that get smoothed over with time. Being relatively young for his level, it was his first experience with pitchers that had legitimate feel for their offspeed offerings. Swings and misses are an acceptable companion to the power he shows, and he has impressed Cleveland officials by working the strike zone while staying aggressive at the plate.
His swing is built for tapping into his strength to launch balls into the seats. He has to catch balls a little out in front of his body to really drive them, due to his hands pushing forward at times and a lower half that tends to spin rather than stay short and efficient. As a result, his power is almost all to the pull side, with rollover grounders likely to be a common occurrence when he gets fooled by better pitchers. Shifting on him will hurt his average, as will his contact rate if he cannot curb his misses. He he sees enough pitches that his walk totals may make up for it to be an above-average player with close to an average hit tool considering his on-base potential.
Hit: 30/45/50 Power: 50/60/65 Run: 35/35/40 Field: 35/40/40 Throw: 45/50/50
Naquin tore up the Double-A Eastern League before getting promoted to Triple-A in 2015, where he hit for the best power of his young career while seeing an uptick in strikeouts. Occasionally hooking a few balls over the fence to his pull side, overall he doesn’t project to hit for much power on a regular basis. He has succeeded so far with elite batting averages when he puts it in play, which may not translate as well to the big league environment. He has shown decent contact ability and enough bat speed to project for an average hit tool for me.
He has more tenacity than ability in center field, but regardless, he can play the position well enough to stay there. Right field is his best fit with his arm strength, the most likely place for him to be an above-average defender. He picks his spots well on the bases, but projects more in the low double digits for raw stolen-base totals. Naquin has done well to prove he can be a major league player, though his most likely role is as a fourth outfielder or platoon option.
Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/55/55 Throw: 55/60/65
Gonzalez is a legitimate shortstop with great range, quick feet and soft hands. He was overshadowed by Francisco Lindor and hadn’t gotten much of an opportunity to be showcased at the position, though many in the organization think Gonzalez may be the better defender. His bat has stepped up the last two seasons, giving him a real chance at being a starting option for a big league team. He has approach issues to iron out that could hurt his future on-base numbers, but he has a decent stroke and enough contact that he should be able to hold his own.
His flat swing plane gives him the potential to hit a lot of line drives and hard grounders through the holes, though he has some minor power when pitchers serve up balls in the higher part of the zone. He gets his hands on the level of the ball early in his swing and stays through the ball well, giving him some extra time to square pitches up even when he chases. He has plus speed that should play well on the bases with 20 steals a reasonable possibility if he continues to hone his reads.
His pitch-recognition skills are the main limiting factor on his hit tool, and his low-trajectory batted ball profile suggests he could have wide swings in batting average as the BABIP gods see fit. As his approach goes, so does his future role. There isn’t a ton of upside in the bat, but he has an excellent floor as a defensive specialist or a platoon option. I’ll buy an Elvis Andrus-type season being the norm for him if he continues on his current path, with a slight uptick in his bat putting him in starter territory easily.
Hit: 40/45/50 Power: 30/35/35 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 60/65/70 Throw: 60/60/65
Mejia draws wide praise for his arm strength and budding defensive skills behind the plate. His offense is all projection right now, though he showed the ability to work counts, make contact, and hit for moderate power, particularly for his age. He has some quickness to his movements in the box and on defense, but he has a long way to go to expect his raw abilities to show up in games.
His raw arm strength is a 70 grade, though he has work in front of him to make it play at that level. Similarly, he shows all the tools to block and receive at an above-average level, but he doesn’t have the techniques down yet to confidently project him as a sure thing plus catcher. The ceiling is there for sure, and the next few years of development will determine how close to his peak he can become. A team source to whom I spoke described his catching craft as something he just needs to fall in love with, remaining optimistic that he will reach his ceiling defensively.
In the batter’s box, Mejia has projectable bat speed, particularly on the left side of the plate. He shows some power and feel for hitting, and his approach improved over the course of last season. However, there are some noticeable holes he needs to close up to project offensively. His lefty swing gets him disconnected from his lower half and spraying balls around with his hands. When he does stay on his legs, he becomes very pull-conscious, with his main route to power being hits to straightaway right field that he hooks his barrel around.
His righty swing shows more natural loft, but also extra length that could take away from his chances of tapping into it as he faces pitchers who can locate their offspeed. With his defense expected to carry his prospect status, he will have plenty of opportunity to turn his potential at the plate into reality, but I expect it to be a long process. His actions all around make me think he comes just short of being an average major league catcher, but his floor is very high on account of his defense.
Hit: 30/40/50 Power: 25/35/45 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 50/55/65 Throw: 60/65/70
Hillman was the Indians’ second round pick in 2015, billed as a high school lefty with good control and plenty of room for physical development. His fastball works around 90 mph, though he needs work sustaining his velocity and possibly gaining a few ticks. The offspeed pitches are early in their development, with both a curve and change flashing above-average ability.
At this stage of his career, Hillman is more dependent on arm strength than the rest of his body. His rotational sequence is a bit abbreviated, getting his hips, shoulders and arm through all about the same time rather than staggering them better. His curveball gets higher billing than his changeup in most evaluators’ minds, but in my opinion his arm action and feel give his change a brighter future. He throws a sharp curve now and then, but it’s more rare and doesn’t look as natural as his average changeup does.
Strength gains will do wonders for revealing what Hillman’s future will be, though I strongly believe his mechanics need work for him to carry his peak stuff into multiple innings. Until he can tweak his delivery to be more efficient, his current path puts him into most likely a bullpen role. His ceiling is still in the middle of a big league rotation if his stuff can develop without more reliance on his arm, as his overall command should be adequate for the job.
Fastball: 45/50/55 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 45/50/60
Diaz brings a disciplined approach to the plate, and he makes enough contact that he projects to be an above-average to plus hitter in the big leagues. His power has yet to show up, and based on the lack of torque in his swing and a swing path with no consistent way to lift the ball, it isn’t likely to be a part of his game in any way.
Though he’s a third baseman by label, he has very quick feet and good coordination that could make him useful as a utility player as well. His arm looks to be an above-average tool based on my looks at him in the Arizona Fall League. Maybe he’s not the most exciting player in the system, but he has a high floor and reasonable chance to develop into a regular infielder if his hit tool holds up through Triple-A and big league pitching.
Hit: 50/55/60 Power: 30/35/35 Run: 45/50/50 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Popped with an 80-game suspension for using the banned substance Stanozolol, Rodriguez will have to miss a good portion of the 2016 season serving his penalty. Though 2015 represented his third straight year in High-A, his production was a big step forward. He kept his strikeouts at a reasonable level and showed the best power of his professional career. The best part was the rise in frequency of both doubles and homers, a feat very difficult to accomplish flukishly.
He has smooth hands at the plate with the ability to drive line shots in every direction on the field. Last season more than any in the past, he started showing a bit more lift in his swing, which helped tap into his raw strength to produce more extra-base hits. He doesn’t quite project for average power to me, unless he continues honing a higher trajectory swing path than the flat one he had been accustomed to. Rodriguez also possesses plus raw speed and decent arm strength, but the technical sides of his base-running and defense both need work to fully tap into his tools.
Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 40/40+/45 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/50
Allen is an under-the-radar prospect in whom the Indians see tons of potential. He is a physical guy with a football background who they believe will drive the ball more in the future. He uses his plus running ability to track down balls in the outfield, and may be a plus center fielder when all is said and done. He has great makeup and is a leader on the field. His bat is progressing as he understands the strike zone better, and Indians officials believe he has a chance to be an everyday center fielder.
So far in the minors he is making a lot of contact as well as taking his walks, and has started to show some extra base power with his 28 doubles and 7 homers last season. His swing on the left side in particular may provide decent power as he adds strength, with a bat path that shows some lift and an efficient hip drive. His right-handed swing is more contact-oriented at present, though his strength could come through on both sides eventually.
Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 55/60/60 Field: 55/60/60 Throw: 50/50/50
Ramsey’s step backward in 2015 came at a bad time for his career prospects, as he is now a 26-year-old tweener type outfielder whose bat no longer generates the same excitement it did a year before. Skill-wise, he’s been basically the same player throughout his professional career: making below-average contact but working counts and getting on base, showing some power at times but usually of the doubles variety, getting the most out of his raw tools in the outfield to be a useful defender yet not quite a center fielder.
This year is likely a make-or-break situation for him, having already received 633 plate appearances in Triple-A across three seasons and not banging down the door of the big leagues. He will have to earn every opportunity he gets from here on out. Even though the strikeouts are a red flag, his continued on-base production is an excellent consolation prize. I don’t think we will see his 2014 level of production again, but he is better than last year suggests.
Hit: 40/45/50 Power: 40/45/45 Run: 50/50/55 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Plutko’s 2015 season was a nice breakout performance split between the High-A and Double-A levels. Despite pitching well for three years at UCLA, he flew under the radar in the draft due to concerns about his stuff translating to the professional game. He likely doesn’t have a means to strike major league hitters out, but has found a groove being stingy on the walks and hard contact to make up for it.
His pitch collection is a grab bag of potentially average-ish weapons, with a fastball riding around 90 mph and three offspeed pitches. His four-seam fastball is straight as an arrow from his over-the-top slot, but he locates it exceptionally well and can cut it to give a different look. When I watched him at UCLA, I wasn’t a big fan of his changeup, as he showed too obvious a difference in arm speed and release to project highly. I actually saw his curve having the best potential, though evaluators who have seen more of him in pro ball say the reverse.
It’s all semantics anyway, since Plutko’s role will be determined by how much he can flex his command muscles to keep the ball out of the way of hitters’ sweet spots. He’s shown enough to be comfortable projecting as a back-end starter with decent certainty, but the lack of a strikeout pitch or more movement/velocity on his fastball keeps him from going too much higher by my estimation.
Fastball: 45/50/55 Slider: 40/45/50 Curveball: 35/40/50 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 50/55/60
Lugo had an average season in 2015 as he saw his strikeout and walk rates regress slightly upon advancing to High-A ball. He has a lot of upside being a large-framed lefty with the potential to miss a ton of bats. He is an intelligent guy whose maturity is well beyond his years, which the team hopes can tip the scales in favor of him making the necessary improvements to be a big league starter.
He throws a four-pitch mix with each offering showing flashes of average to above effectiveness. His current limitations have to do with strong arming the ball and trouble repeating his release. If he cannot find more consistency with his delivery and keep attacking hitters, he still has an excellent future as a power lefty out of the pen. However, he will start this season having just turned 22 years old, so he has a few years to figure out how to harness his stuff. To me, the most likely outcome is either a back-end starter or seventh-inning role in the pen.
Fastball: 45/50/55 Curveball: 45/50/50 Slider: 40/50/50 Changeup: 40/45/55 Command: 40/45/50
Armstrong has power stuff that the Indians hope fits into their bullpen this season. He blew hitters away in Triple-A last season and added in eight solid innings out of the big league bullpen. His fastball and cutter/slider explode on hitters when he locates the ball, with the former thrown at 93-97 mph and the latter 89-93. Everything he throws has a little cut or sink to the ball, but he needs to continue finding consistency with both throwing good strikes and managing his emotions. His stuff will play, but the command and the mental side will be what determines his ultimate role out of the pen.
Fastball: 55/60/65 Slutter: 55/60/65 Command: 40/45/50
Papi is a bat-first prospect at the low end of the defensive spectrum. While his on-base numbers were excellent in 2015, he hit for a very low average and only four home runs, albeit with 34 doubles. His strikeout rate was a bit high for an advanced college bat in High-A ball, but at least his year was salvaged by getting on base and racking up two-baggers. He played through a thumb injury at the end of 2014 that affected his preparation for last season, which may have contributed to some of his less impressive numbers.
Papi’s future role depends on how far his bat can take him. His hit tool gets a sizable bump from his ability to control the strike zone, but power is another story. At times he shows a nice, fluid, fly ball swing that strength gains would enable to hit balls out of the park, but as a whole I don’t think it will be that easy.
The great hitters who also take their walks go up looking to hit (essentially) every pitch. If it doesn’t look right or ends up outside of their happy zones, they don’t swing. With Papi, it looks somewhat backward to me. He looks like he tries too hard to guess balls and strikes correctly before swinging, focusing on location before getting his body started to swing, rather than looking to mash first and switching gears if it’s not a good pitch. This undoubtedly contributes to the all-at-once look of his swing, where everything rotates simultaneously and often from a late start, rendering it difficult to create a lot of force in a short amount of time.
Regardless, if he can continue getting on base and hitting doubles, he’s a great bench or platoon bat in the bigs. If he can take a more selective approach rather than a passive one, he becomes even more interesting. He takes really great swings in batting practice that look easy and natural, but they only show up occasionally in game situations.
With most of his success so far coming from his walk totals, I doubt he will become more aggressive, even though I think it would go a long way toward continuing his on-base mastery against major league pitching. The organization’s biggest goal for him is improving his physicality to help him reach his power ceiling.
Hit: 35/45/55 Power: 35/45/50 Run: 40/40/45 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 45/45/50
22. Tyler Krieger, INF, VIDEO
Kreiger hasn’t yet played in professional ball due to a labrum issue, a problem he has dealt with going back to 2014. When he’s healthy, he is a potential above-average bat who started to show real power the summer before he got hurt. He has fantastic makeup, and is a guy the Indians know will do what it takes to get the most out of his tools.
He has the defensive tools to play short or move around the infield as needed. His shoulder recovery will go a long way to determining at what position he eventually settles, as well as how much power he can develop as a professional. This guy might end up being well worth the wait if given enough (healthy) time to develop.
Hit: 40/55/60 Power: 30/35/40 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 45/50/55+ Throw: 50/50/50
23. Nelson Rodriguez, 1B, VIDEO
On the plus side, Rodriguez now has back-to-back years with 20-plus home runs, and he will be only 21 years old on opening day. The downside is he has some swing qualities that do not bode well for facing major league-caliber pitching, with a side helping of contact issues. He doesn’t run well or profile anywhere but at first base, so his bat will need to be his ticket.
He has a strong body with good lower-half efficiency in his swing, but his upper body is a different story. His hands almost lock up and push out in front of his body early in the swing, making his path choppy and inefficient for hitting balls in the air. Unless he makes an adjustment, he’s going to struggle against pitchers who can locate at the knees consistently. He murders pitches up in the zone, where his swing ends up more level and can stay on the ball longer.f
More of a hand-eye coordination thing, he swings through a lot of pitches in the zone, and not just good breaking stuff. Though he obviously has the strength to hit for power, he has to catch the ball out in front of the plate to drive it, giving him very little room to adjust. There’s still a chance he finds enough strength as he matures to muscle balls out at a high rate, but he will need to be very disciplined to avoid any missed opportunities in his at-bats.
Hit: 35/40/45 Power: 50/55/60 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 40/40/40
Bautista has a strong tool set that lets him contribute in every aspect of the game, though there is no one tool that truly stands out. He did well in the first portion of this year before getting promoted to Lynchburg, where he really struggled as his approach got exploited. Look for Bautista to get back on track this season, where his future role will be fleshed out with more specificity. Whether he ends up a bench player or starting infielder will depend almost entirely on how his bat progresses.
I like Bautista’s strength and swing enough to see him coming close to an average bat overall. He has good direction with his lower half and his hands stay through the ball nicely. He is able to get some air under the ball even when he’s fooled by location or speed, and has enough strength to put a few balls out of the park. However, his approach can get inconsistent at the plate, which is a weakness that will have to improve to compete against upper minors pitchers.
Hit: 40/45/50 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 45/45/50 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Scuffling a bit in his first taste of full-season ball, Chang saw his strikeouts and walks trend in the wrong directions, while still showing some of the same promise that had him in the conversation for Cleveland’s top 10 last year. With moderate-at-best bat speed and a swing path geared toward line drives, the power is unlikely to get to average. His 2015 contact issues may have been just an extended adjustment period, as he has shown a knack for putting the bat on the ball in the past. His developing approach may have been stretched against better pitching.
His defensive work is on the same path, with a decent arm and serviceable range to make plays at short, but his tools fitting better at third base. His bat likely won’t be strong enough to carry him there without really filling out his frame or honing his game plan. The Indians have been working to get him using his athleticism more rather than looking so “formal,” drawing defensive comparisons to Jhonny Peralta. He projects to have a little bit of everything tool-wise, making him an interesting follow as he continues facing better competition.
Hit: 25/40/50 Power: 25/40/45 Run: 50/50/55 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 50/55/55
The Indians were happy to sign Wakamatsu, son of Don Wakamatsu, when most indications were that he would attend college instead. He has the instincts, makeup and intangibles to play short, even if his physical tools may lag behind the typical shortstop prospect. He has a projectable frame, and Indians officials see him as a future everyday shortstop once he can add some strength and comfort playing in pro ball. As long as he matures physically without losing too much of his quickness, I would bet he maintains the functional ability to play close to an average shortstop.
He has a line drive approach from both sides with a quick bat, though he doesn’t project for much power without a lot of work smoothing out his swing. His arms lock up early and bring the barrel through on a path down and across the ball. He had a respectable season in the Arizona League with perhaps a few too many strikeouts, something that he will have to curb as he advances. Wakamatsu’s road to the big leagues will take multiple years of solid development to become reality, but the team feels he has the understanding of the game and the mindset to make it happen.
Hit: 35/45/50 Power: 30/35/45 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/55/55 Throw: 55/55/60
He’s a lefty who has consistently put up good earned run averages since joining the organization in 2011. While it may seem quick to judge him based only on his stuff because of his overall success, Morimando really doesn’t have a way to turn over a big league lineup at present. His low walk totals are a product of throwing the ball over the plate, but he doesn’t have great command of his pitches to smaller targets.
There isn’t much projection left in his game, and at best right now he’s a back-end or long-reliever type. He may find a niche eating up innings with below-average production. His changeup serves to keep his platoon splits reasonable, so he probably wouldn’t be a great candidate for a lefty specialist role.
Fastball: 45/50/50 Slider: 45/45/50 Changeup: 50/50/55 Command: 40/45/50
Merritt has quietly put up great numbers in the numbers without amazing raw stuff. He has a starter’s repertoire with three usable pitches and throws a tons of strikes. He clearly has a good feel for pitching and isn’t afraid to go right after hitters in the zone. Although his command is already above major league average, I don’t see enough potential in his arsenal to expect more than a back-end or spot-start type of role in the big leagues. He will have to earn every opportunity he gets to face major league hitters, though he has succeeded by creating his own opportunities up to this point. I want to believe he has enough command to make his stuff play up, but I just don’t think that’s the case.
Fastball: 45/50/50 Curveball: 40/45/50 Changeup: 50/55/60 Command: 55/55/60
Aguilar has done just about everything he can in the minors, hitting above the league averages at every level for the last four years. He has struggled in his small tastes of the major leagues, but at some point he will just need a chance to get some at-bats and get comfortable to see what he can do.
Strictly a first baseman/DH on defense, he will need to hit his way into a big league uniform. I don’t necessarily think he will get on base or hit for power enough to project as a starter. He has a good eye at the plate, but he’s limited by his athleticism and doesn’t have very good rhythm, leading to difficulty timing up to the pitcher. His longest drives are mostly on mistake pitches in the heart of the plate, which is something he won’t see nearly as much against everyday big league pitchers.
Hit: 45/45/50 Power: 45/50/55 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 40/40/40
Brady is a solid left-hander with present feel for pitching. He throws strikes and locates his fastball, paired with a good curve. He has shown some feel for a changeup, though it is certainly his third pitch. He’s been getting bigger and stronger as he matures, resulting in his velocity ticking up to average. The hope is that his stuff develops enough to give him more room for error, since he as all the intangibles to start. He’s a cerebral guy that knows how to pitch, but will have to be very good with his command to stay on track for a big league rotation spot.
Fastball: 45/50/55 Curveball: 45/50/50 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 45/50/60
Brown had a down year in High-A as he struggled with his delivery and throwing strikes. He has the stuff to be a big league starter with incredible makeup and feel for pitching, and can locate his fastball really well most of the time. He reportedly had a good offseason in preparation for a bounce-back year in 2016, with consistent mechanics and mindset being the most important goals for him to implement. With above-average velocity and at least one big league-ready pitch in the form of his curveball, Brown’s potential as a starter is still very much in play. Whether he reaches that potential will be determined by him improving his command and finding lasting consistency with all of his offerings.
Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 45/50/50 Cutter: 40/40/45 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 35/45/55
After missing much of the 2014 season with an ankle injury and the 2015 season to Tommy John surgery, Baker will look to get back on track when his elbow is healthy. He brings 98-100 mph gas and a hard slider that flashes plus when healthy, generating a plethora of swings and misses. He has a changeup for which he doesn’t show much feel, and with below-average overall command. Tack on an elbow surgery, and it’s easy to see Baker making the switch to the bullpen when he comes back. He never had the cleanest arm action on the mound, throwing from straight over the top with a stiff arm and sometimes jerky movements in his body. Regardless of the role in which he ends up, his power stuff will be exciting to watch and effective against hitters. Look for how well he smooths out his delivery while has been out
Paulino isn’t a prototypical example of the fringe prospect. He signed for over $1 million out of the Dominican in 2011, appeared on a notable top-100 list soon after (96th overall for Baseball Prospectus in 2013), and reached High-A as just a 20-year-old this past season. Indications of a promising talent, all of that.
His bat has been a disappointment, though, and he’s slipped down the defensive spectrum from shortstop to left field. Nor is it only Farnsworth who’s expressed doubts about Paulino’s future: in this same space last year, Kiley McDaniel invoked him only as an “other of note.”
Following a promotion to Lynchburg in the Carolina League, however, Paulino produced better-than-average walk and strikeout rates in nearly 200 plate appearances, plus an isolated-power figure roughly 100 points better than the league mark — all at an age roughly two-and-a-half years younger than his opponents.
Accounting for that offensive performance and for Paulino’s age relative to the level and for the distinct possibility that he retains some of the athleticism that allowed him to play shortstop in the not-very-distant past — accounting for all of that, it’s reasonable to project a non-zero chance that Paulino develops into an actual major-leaguer.
Here’s wildly unhelpful video of Paulino, in his capacity as a shortstop, starting a double play in 2013: