Over the past few weeks I’ve seen Cleveland Indians prospects in several different places: at the club’s Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Arizona; at the Cal/Carolina League All-Star Game in Lake Elsinore, California; in Wilmington, Delaware; and at the Futures Game in San Diego. Below are my notes on some of Cleveland’s most relevant prospects scouted during this brief window.
Justus Sheffield, LHP, Lynchburg (High-A)
Once primarily a fastball/curveball pitcher, Sheffield’s most used secondary offering now appears to be a slider. His fastball sat 93-95 mph at the Cal/Carolina League All-Star Game in one inning of work and then was 92-94 in his first post-ASG start in Wilmington. Frequently, Sheffield, who is listed at 5-foot-10, fails to get on top of his fastball and the pitch comes in flat and hittable. The slider isn’t totally new — I wrote up Sheffield back in 2014 when it was his fourth option — but, considering how promising the curveball once looked, it’s a bit of surprise that that the slider has become his go-to secondary weapon. It was 84-86, some featured tight, two-plane movement while others were shorter and more cutter-like. It flashed above-average, and I think there’s a chance it could one day be a 55 offering, but was generally fringe-average to average. Sheffield is already trying to run his slider inside on right-handed hitters.
The changeup, 83-86, comes in a little firm but it moves and I have it projected at average right now. The control and command are more difficult pitches on which to make a call right now. Sheffield’s walk rate is up a bit from last year — and there is indeed some effort in the delivery which I think detracts from his ability to throw strikes — but I still think average command/control are within reach. Despite some shuffling within the repertoire, he still projects as an average big-league starter for me.
Brady Aiken, LHP, Goodyear (Arizona Rookie League)
I wrote up Aiken’s first pro start in Extended so just a quick update on things here along with the newer video above. He was 88-92 with the fastball, 81-83 with his changeup which is moving more and showing more velo separation from the fastball as he continues to improve his feel for it since returning from surgery. The curveball was 74-77, still with solid depth, and Aiken is commanding it better than his fastball. He located several back-door curveballs to righties and, at this level, that pitch is untouchable for most hitters.
Francisco Mejia, C, Lynchburg (High-A)
Mejia laid waste to the Midwest League during the first half, hitting .347.384/.531 over 60 games. He stood out at the Futures Game, popping 1.87 on a throw down to second (2.0 is major-league average) and showing surprising power and explosion for his size during BP. His swing from the right side is far more comfortable and usable than his ultra-aggressive and wild left-handed swing and his splits reflect that. He’s only 20 and there’s time to polish up all that left-handed bat speed into something that’s viable at the upper levels, but I still think he’s going to swing and miss a lot. The receiving needs work, too, but Mejia is only 20 and I believe he has the athleticism to do an adequate (at least) defensive job in all facets of catching and make adjustments when he needs to.
Bobby Bradley, 1B, Lynchburg (High-A)
His Cal/Carolina League BP featured homer after homer, all to his pull side, lifted out with ease and uniformity. It was a result of Bradley’s freakishly consistent ability to generate lift rather than elite raw pop. He does have plus raw power but it is pull-happy (though not pull-only) and I think it’s hard to make more than fringe-average contact with a swing as uphill as Bradley’s. When I saw him in Wilmington he faced a steady diet of left-handed pitching and looked very uncomfortable, though he hasn’t had a significant platoon split since 2014. I think, despite the extreme likelihood that Bradley is haunted by excessive strikeouts throughout his career, there’s still 20-plus home-run power here and there are always jobs for guys like that.
Yu-Cheng Chang, SS, Lynchburg (High-A)
Chang has been of interest to scouts since he came stateside in 2014, when he was one of the AZL’s more advanced all-around players. Since then, Chang has made some mechanical changes that have allowed him to hit the ball the other way with authority more often than he was as a teenager. He homered to the opposite field at the usually pitching-friendly Frawley Stadium in Wilmington while I was there. I don’t think he has the arm to remain at shortstop but the actions are solid and I think he would be fine at second base or third. I think it’s fair to project both the bat and power to 50, which is about what the average major-league second-base output is right now.
Greg Allen, CF, Lynchburg (High-A)
Allen (age 23) is old for the level but has good feel for center field and enough pure speed (he posted grade 55 run times to first by my watch) to play there. He’s good on the basepaths both in taking extra bases when he can and getting good jumps on steal attempts. His right-handed swing is bland and unexplosive, with fringe-average bat speed and very little whip in the wrists. Left-handed, the bat speed is better and there’s enough natural lift in the swing that I think Allen can do a little bit of damage from gap to gap and back up the middle. His approach will be tested at upper levels but he sees the ball well, recognizes offspeed pitches early and spoils tough pitches with two strikes.
I’m willing to believe that the uptick Allen has shown in his walk rate this year is somewhat legitimate, but I also think he’ll see more strikes as pitchers at Double-A and up dare him to do damage on his own. He has 30 raw power and guys like that are challenged in the strike zone with impunity at the upper levels of the minors and beyond. I think his defensive and secondary skills are enough to make him a big leaguer in some kind of capacity, but I don’t think we’ll know how impactful he’s going to be until we’ve seen him negotiate Double- and Triple-A pitching.
Will Benson, RF, Goodyear (Arizona Rookie League)
The pre-draft reports about Benson’s swing needing serious polish are true. Benson’s cut is long in the back and it takes a long time for his bat to enter the hitting zone. He’s struggling but the physical talent is incredible. He has plus bat speed, big-time power projection because of the way his body is probably going to develop and has flashed a plus-plus arm in the AZL already, throwing a frozen rope from just shy of the warning track in right field to all the way to third base.
Clint Frazier, OF, Akron (Double-A)
Frazier has elite bat speed but it plays down because of the extra loop his hands make as he triggers his swing. There are pitches he should be murdering to left field that he’s pushing the other way because his barrel arrives late. Frazier is so strong and physically gifted that some of these balls get muscled into the right-field bleachers anyway and I think, even without a change, he’s going to be a solid big leaguer with above-average game power. I’m not advocating a proactive change to the swing — Frazier is having too much success with his current mechanics to do something like that — but there might be even more game power in there than we’re seeing right now. Frazier will post some plus run times from home to first, but his times are aided by a natural jailbreak out of the box and he’s more of a 45/50 runner whose max-effort style of play makes him look deceptively fast.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.