Top 30 Prospects: Cleveland Indians

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Cleveland Indians. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here.

Indians Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Nolan Jones 20.9 A+ 3B 2021 50
2 Triston McKenzie 21.7 AA RHP 2020 50
3 Yu Chang 23.6 AAA SS 2019 50
4 Brayan Rocchio 18.2 R SS 2022 50
5 George Valera 18.4 R LF 2021 50
6 Bo Naylor 19.1 A C 2022 45+
7 Lenny Torres 18.5 R RHP 2023 45
8 Luis Oviedo 19.9 A RHP 2022 45
9 Tyler Freeman 19.9 A SS 2022 45
10 Sam Hentges 22.7 AA LHP 2021 45
11 Carlos Vargas 19.5 R RHP 2023 45
12 Oscar Mercado 24.3 AAA CF 2019 45
13 Junior Sanquintin 17.2 R SS 2023 40+
14 Gabriel Rodriguez 17.1 R SS 2023 40+
15 Ethan Hankins 18.9 R RHP 2023 40+
16 Aaron Bracho 18.0 R SS 2023 40
17 Will Benson 20.8 A RF 2022 40
18 Richard Palacios 21.9 A 2B 2021 40
19 Jean Carlos Mejia 22.6 A+ RHP 2019 40
20 Bobby Bradley 22.9 AAA 1B 2019 40
21 Daniel Johnson 23.7 AA CF 2020 40
22 Aaron Civale 23.8 AA RHP 2020 40
23 Nick Sandlin 22.2 AA RHP 2020 40
24 Ernie Clement 23.0 AA SS 2020 40
25 Eli Morgan 22.9 A+ RHP 2021 40
26 Alexfri Planez 17.6 R RF 2024 35+
27 Quentin Holmes 19.8 A CF 2023 35+
28 Jonathan Lopez 19.7 R 3B 2023 35+
29 Jose Tena 18.0 R SS 2024 35+
30 Johnathan Rodriguez 19.4 R CF 2023 35+
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50 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Holy Ghost Prep HS (PA) (CLE)
Age 20.9 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr L / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 55/60 55/60 30/30 40/45 60/60

Scouts’ opinions about where on the defensive spectrum Jones will end up are all over the map. He got quite big not long after he was drafted and seemed destined for first base, and while there’s still a chance he ends up there eventually, he looked leaner last year and has a better chance of staying at third for a while. Some clubs think he’ll move to right field, and the contact issues Jones has had due to his lever length are problematic if he doesn’t stay at third.

We’re intrigued by the three-true outcomes possibilities here, as Jones already has huge power and might grow into more, and he’s also had some of the higher walk rates in all of the minor leagues. Opposing pitchers are going to have to be careful with him or risk paying a 400 foot price, so we expect his on base ability to hold water at the upper levels. He could reach Double-A Akron as a 21-year-old later in the year if he performs during the spring.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Royal Palm Beach HS (FL) (CLE)
Age 21.7 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/60 40/45 50/60 90-93 / 95

McKenzie was a high-profile prep pitcher in south Florida before the 2015 draft, and the main question about him focused on his rail-thin 6-foot-5, 160 pound frame. If you thought he would put on a good bit of weight, then you could see him adding velocity to his 88-92 mph heater. But the question was whether he would have enough stuff and durability to start if he stayed about the same size. He’s filled out some since the Indians took him in the comp round in 2015, but it looks like he’s always going to be very thin.

His velocity has crept up a bit to 90-93, hitting 95 mph, but the life, plane, deception, extension, and command combine to make the fastball an above average pitch now. The additional arm speed has helped his breaker improve; it flashes plus at times. And he’s kept the positive attributes scouts originally noticed in his delivery and the athleticism, so the command may also end up being plus. The changeup is a 45, so his curve, pitchability, and deception are the carrying tools we think will turn him into a league average starter. McKenzie also had his first pro injury in 2018, and his strikeout rate was down in his first taste of Double-A, before he had upper back issues that have him on the shelf to start 2019. So long as his stuff in intact upon return, we think he’s a No. 4 starter with a chance to be a No. 3.

3. Yu Chang, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Taiwan (CLE)
Age 23.6 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/45 45/55 55/55 50/50 45/50 50/50

Teams have likely already studied this, but during our in-person looks at Chang, which date back to 2014, he seems to generate top spin on batted balls with more regularity than is typical for hitters. That’s not a good thing, as the same way a curveball does, it causes Chang’s fly balls to sink and die at a lesser distance than they should. We have no idea if the ability to hit balls with no spin (which is ideal) is a skill hitters have, but if it is, Chang probably isn’t one of them. He does have power though, and he’s a viable defensive third baseman who’d be capable of moonlighting at short or second base if Cleveland needed him to. We like him as a versatile, bat-first prospect who can play all over the place.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Venezuela (CLE)
Age 18.2 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 150 Bat / Thr S / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/60 20/40 40/45 60/60 45/55 50/50

After a month and a half of DSL games, Cleveland decided to push little Brayan Rocchio to the AZL for the season’s final month, and his numbers there were almost exactly the same. He was the most naturally-gifted hitter in the AZL last year, a switch-hitter with sublime bat control and more power than one would expect a 150-pound 17-year-old to possess. He’s going to stay up the middle, either at shortstop or second base, and while he’s not an obviously desirable teenage prospect like most big-framed, 6-foot-3 types with power would be, this is exactly the kind of profile we’re seeking to identify earlier in the process. This is what several of the little middle infielders in our top 50 looked like at this age; they hit and played good defense somewhere important, but were literally overlooked because they were small.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (CLE)
Age 18.4 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/60 20/60 45/55 50/45 40/50 40/45

Born and raised to the brink of adolescence in New York, Valera’s family moved to the Dominican Republic when he was 13. Injuries sustained in a car accident necessitated that metal rods be inserted in Valera’s father’s limbs, and the move was a way of providing him physical comfort in a warmer climate. It also meant Valera became an international prospect rather than an American high school draftee, and when he was eligible, he signed with Cleveland for $1.3 million.

He is polished for his age, not only in the batter’s box but in center field, where he’s very comfortable going back on balls. His frame is not especially projectable but Valera’s swing has natural lift and he has good feel for contact. He’s likely to get to whatever raw power he ends up growing into as he matures, and he may stay in center field for a while. A broken hamate limited his reps last year, but he may be ready for the New York-Penn League this season anyway.

45+ FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from St. Joan of Arc HS (CAN) (CLE)
Age 19.1 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/55 55/60 30/50 50/40 40/50 55/55

The younger brother of Padres prospect Josh Naylor, Bo is a better athlete with similar feel to hit, but less raw power. He has the necessary twitch (some teams liked him at third base pre-draft) and just enough pure arm strength to catch as long as his throws become more consistently accurate. His defense was baptized by fire in the AZL as Naylor had to catch guys with huge stuff like Lenny Torres and Carlos Vargas, among others. If his offensive ability can withstand the developmental burdens and physical grind of catching, he could be a middle-of-the-order bat, too. Even if Naylor’s in-game power manifests itself as doubles, he profiles at catcher and Cleveland’s recent, brief experimentation with Francisco Mejia at third base provides some precedent for what may happen should Naylor prove unable to catch or if Cleveland thinks moving him will get his bat to the majors more quickly.

45 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Beacon HS (NY) (CLE)
Age 18.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 50/60 40/50 40/50 92-95 / 97

Torres checked a lot of amateur scouting boxes — the body, athleticism, stuff, and makeup were all lauded — and was a model-friendly prospect due to his age, so while issues with fastball command caused some clubs to project him in relief, he was still a clear top two round talent. Perhaps Torres’ control is behind because, as a cold-weather amateur prospect, he hasn’t pitched all that much. He only threw around 40 innings during his senior spring, and bad suburban high school hitters in New York couldn’t catch his fastball. As a result, Torres had little cause to use his changeup during varsity play — some national evaluators would go whole starts without seeing it — but it flashed 55 or 60 during his showcase summer and was easy to dream on.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Torres’ post-draft performance was how regularly he located his slider down and to his glove side. He has mid-rotation components if you’re willing to dream and — based on his athleticism, age, and geographic background — we are.

8. Luis Oviedo, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Venezuela (CLE)
Age 19.9 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 45/50 50/50 45/55 45/55 90-94 / 97

Oviedo dominated the New York-Penn League, a league full of college hitters, as an 19-year-old in 2018, striking out 61 and walking just 10 in 48 innings. He’s less projectable than his age indicates because his body is already sturdy and mature, and so too is his ability to throw strikes with any of his four quality pitches. He was shut down with a lower back injury late in 2018, but was fine this spring, and will pitch at Low-A Lake County to start the year, while still 19 for several weeks. We have him projected as an innings-eating fourth starter.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Etiwanda HS (CA) (CLE)
Age 19.9 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/55 40/45 30/45 55/50 40/50 45/45

A young, polished, but relatively unexplosive high schooler, Freeman was a bit of a surprise second rounder in 2017 but has quickly become much more interesting thanks to a sterling 2018 season with Mahoning Valley. As a 19-year-old, he hit .352/.405/.511 for the Scrappers, torching even the loftiest of expectations set by scouts who saw him during extended spring training and mostly considered Freeman a future utility man. Fundamentally sound at short, he lacks the explosiveness and big arm strength scouts look for at the position, and we wonder if Freeman will hit for enough power to be an impact player at any other position.

His early career strikeout rate (7.5% in about 450 PA) suggests his bat-to-ball skills are even more promising than amateur scouts anticipated, though he’s also an aggressive swinger who has been hit by nearly twice as many pitches as he has walks so far. When scouts talk about a player having “feel, polish, instincts” and the like, and the player has numbers like Freeman’s contact rates, we typically round up on that guy. In Freeman’s case, we remain cautious because the eyeball scouts are so resolute in their skepticism of the power projection.

10. Sam Hentges, LHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2014 from Mounds View HS (MN) (CLE)
Age 22.7 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 245 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 50/55 45/50 40/50 91-95 / 96

Some projection-friendly traits for pitchers include: a young age, size/frame, and a cold-weather background (they’re raw, but also fresh from limited reps). Hentges, a 6-foot-6 Minnesota high school prospect, who was 17 on his draft day, has all of these, and also missed a whole year of innings rehabbing from Tommy John. And yet, still just 22, Hentges is in Double-A and on the doorstep of the big leagues.

His size and arm slot create tough angle on his fastball and vertical depth on his curveball. One should feel free to project on the changeup and the still-lacking fastball control into Hentges’ mid-20s because of the aforementioned traits and the TJ. So while there’s a chance Hentges winds up in the bullpen (where he could be a good multi-inning option), he also has realistic No. 4 starter upside. He was into the mid-90s with his fastball this spring and has a chance to debut this year if Cleveland is competitive and think he’s one of the 12 best arms in the org.

11. Carlos Vargas, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (CLE)
Age 19.5 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/60 40/50 30/45 94-97 / 99

Line up all the teenage arms on the planet and few of them have stuff as hellacious as Vargas’, who had moments of being a dominant force of nature in last year’s AZL. At times, Vargas would sit 93-96; at others, his fastball would crest 100 and he’d break off the occasional plus-plus breaking ball. He also has long stretches where he’s wild, erratic, and visibly flustered on the mound. There’s much to be desired from a poise/mound-presence standpoint here, but that’s okay for now considering his age. He has a deep, plunging arm action similar to that of Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga, who have each had injury issues (as has Vargas), and he might end up a reliever, but we currently have him evaluated the way we would a late first round arm.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2013 from Gaither HS (FL) (STL)
Age 24.3 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 45/45 35/40 55/55 50/55 50/50

One of the questions we ask ourselves as we line players up is, “Would you trade Player A for Player B?” Sometimes the answer to that question depends significantly on which team would be making the decision, and perhaps was no recent trade a better example of this than Cleveland’s acquisition of Mercado. In anticipation of a short-term need for outfielders, Cleveland traded teenage beast Jhon Torres for Mercado, a low-ceiling lock to contribute to the big league team at some point soon.

Once a prep infield prospect, Mercado moved to the outfield after a few uninspiring statistical years with St. Louis, started to hit, became a plus outfield defender, and was part of a log jammed upper-level Cardinals outfield picture. The swap made sense for both teams. Cleveland got a potential everyday center fielder (Mercado won’t hit for much power but might be a 6 glove and 55 bat, which is playable everyday in center) and St. Louis diffused some 40-man pressure in exchange for a great, long-term prospect. Cleveland’s outfield situation may change depending on performance, and Mercado may be thrust into an everyday role at some point in 2019. He’s at least a good long-term fourth outfielder, but has a chance to provide everyday value.

40+ FV Prospects

13. Junior Sanquintin, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Dominican (CLE)
Age 17.2 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/50 45/55 25/50 55/50 40/50 55/60

Cleveland has done a remarkable job of finding international prospects with both advanced bat-to-ball skills and interesting physicality. The stocky, 6-foot-1 Sanquintin is the latest. Scouts don’t typically project bodies like this to stay at short but Sanquintin’s explosive first step allays some of those concerns. His hands are fine, he has a strong arm, and we think he has a good chance to stick at short.

Sanquintin had one of the more advanced bats in his international class and has some present pop due to his physicality, with room for a little more. He has much better feel to hit from the right side of the plate but there’s enticing lift and whip from both sides. He has the tools of a switch-hitting shortstop with power assuming the left-handed bat control improves with time.

14. Gabriel Rodriguez, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Venezuela (CLE)
Age 17.1 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/50 45/50 20/45 50/45 40/50 50/55

He didn’t put on much of a show during MLB’s big winter showcase but as we approach extended spring, there’s palpable buzz surrounding Rodriguez, who signed for about $2 million last July. Though heavy-footed when Kiley saw him last February, Rodriguez has good infield hands and actions, and is a good bet to stay on the middle infield. He has mature feel for contact but his swing is currently pretty conservative, and Rodriguez likely won’t hit for power without an approach or mechanical adjustment. He’s a bat-first shortstop prospect and could soon be where Tyler Freeman is on this list.

15. Ethan Hankins, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Forsyth Central HS (GA) (CLE)
Age 18.9 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 45/50 45/50 40/50 92-95 / 97

Hankins was the consensus top prep arm in the class during his pre-draft summer and was a dominant part of Team USA in the fall. At that point, Hankins was commanding a lively 93-96 mph heater, a new, but already plus slider, and an at least average changeup that he didn’t need to use much. He looked a little rusty early during his senior spring, then walked off the mound with tightness in a shoulder muscle tied behind the joint. He returned over a month later and threw hard down the stretch, peaking at 97 mph in multiple open workouts for scouts after his school was eliminated from the playoffs.

He still hasn’t shown the promise from the summer, as he’s completely lost feel for his slider. He only threw the pitch in games last spring a handful of times and scouts speculated it made his arm hurt, but he threw it in some of the postseason workouts and simply had no feel for it anymore. At various points Hankins has utilized either a slider or curveball, and each looks good a few times a start but not often enough to project it as an impact pitch. He was noticeably thicker during the 2018 summer and continued having issues throwing quality breaking balls. Once a likely top 10 pick, he’s now a bounce back hopeful.

40 FV Prospects

16. Aaron Bracho, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Venezuela (CLE)
Age 18.0 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/55 45/50 20/45 55/50 40/45 50/50

A broken arm shelved Bracho for all of 2018, save for a sliver of extended spring training, but he has been heavily scouted since age 14, when he impressed at the 2016 PG World Showcase in the states, so scouts are well acquainted with him even though he’s never played an official pro game. The totality of his defensive abilities (his hands, actions, arm strength) all likely push him to second base, and the presence of Rocchio, Sanquintin, and Rodriguez make that future even more likely.

But several promising offensive traits — a swing with natural loft, plus bat speed, precocious barrel control that is better from the left side — excite us. He’s an up-the-middle prospect with a well-rounded offensive skillset. We’re unsure how Cleveland will resolve their lower-level logjam of middle infielders but the fact that they’re poised to have two AZL teams for the second year in a row should open up sufficient at-bats for everyone including Bracho, if they feel his lost year means he should stay in Arizona for the summer.

17. Will Benson, RF
Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Westminster Schools HS (GA) (CLE)
Age 20.8 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 70/70 40/60 55/50 45/50 80/80

It might shock you to learn that Benson’s 2018 line of .180/.324/.370 was a hair above the average Midwest League batting line. In high school, he was your standard high risk, high reward corner power projection bat. A monstrous and athletic 6-foot-5 (there’s a rumor Coach K offered him a hoops walk-on opportunity in an effort to get him to campus), Benson drew body and swing comps to Jason Heyward.

But as he has accumulated statistics in pro ball, he looks much more unique than his profile’s bird’s eye view would indicate. He strikes out 30% of the time, which is fairly common for prospects like this. But he incredibly only slugged .370 last year while still managing to homer 22 times, and Benson’s ground ball rate is a minuscule 28%. He walked at an encouraging 16% clip last year. Still just 20, Benson remains a tooled up project with a huge red flag, but now has several underlying statistical traits of interest. He’d be higher on most other teams’ prospect lists; we just prefer the ultra-young, up-the-middle guys in this system to a profile like Benson’s, and Cleveland has lots of those.

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2018 from Towson (CLE)
Age 21.9 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/55 40/40 30/40 65/65 45/50 50/50

It’s uncommon for a college hitter to have more walks than strikeouts during his career but Palacios’ ratio during his junior season at Towson was exceptional. He walked 52 times and struck out just 16 while also swiping an ultra-efficient 25 bases in 26 attempts. He’s a nearly plus-plus runner and capable middle infield defender (probably at second) with premium hand-eye coordination and bat control. There was some concern that Palacios beat up on small conference pitching his entire career and might not replicate that performance against pro pitching, but we’re buying it. Once poised to perhaps move quickly through the system, Palacios had posterior labrum surgery in late-March and will miss much of the season.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Dominican Republic (CLE)
Age 22.6 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 50/55 45/50 50/55 90-94 / 95

We’re mindful of the need to identify pitchers whose fastballs play like impact pitches despite mediocre velocity, and Mejia appears to be one. He only throws in the low-90s but competes for swinging strikes in the zone, we think, due to big extension and effectual plane. He also has fantastic slider command, perhaps because his front foot lands so open, enabling Mejia to clear his front side consistently and preventing him from hanging sliders in the zone. He throws a lot of strikes and keeps the ball on the ground. We’ve warmed to the upper-level viability of his stuff and think he could be up at some point this year and become a No. 4 or 5 starter long-term.

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2014 from Harrion Central HS (MS) (CLE)
Age 22.9 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/35 65/60 50/55 20/20 40/45 50/50

Stung by bad BABIP luck in 2018 (.226), Bradley’s repeat tour of Double-A Akron looked discouraging on paper. He still managed to pound out 27 homers, though, and he remains a strong power/lift/plate discipline prospect who could perform at the big league level soon. Players like this sometimes have seasons in excess of 2 WAR but are generally the type who bounce around the fringes of active rosters, like C.J. Cron or Matt Adams.

Drafted: 5th Round, 2016 from New Mexico State (WAS)
Age 23.7 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/50 55/55 35/45 70/70 40/50 80/80

So prodigious is Johnson’s laser arm that some amateur scouts wanted to see him on the mound in pro ball. He has some of the louder tertiary tools in the minors but limited bat control keeps some of them, especially his sizable raw power, from actualizing in games. Tools like this typically find their way onto a big league roster in some capacity, even if offensive issues exist. He’ll tantalize with the occasional all-world highlight à la Franchy Cordero, but Johnson realistically profiles as a platoon outfielder.

22. Aaron Civale, RHP
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2016 from Northeastern (CLE)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
40/40 55/60 55/60 45/50 45/50 50/60 88-93 / 94

Civale does not miss many bats because he has limited fastball velocity, but he’s a high-volume strike thrower with excellent secondary stuff, including one of the best curveball spin rates in the minors. He draws from a spacious bag of tricks to get hitters out, and has now had success at the upper levels of the minors with limited velo, so we’re buying that he can make things work as a fifth starter.

23. Nick Sandlin, RHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Southern Mississippi (CLE)
Age 22.2 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/45 55/60 45/50 45/60 90-94 / 94

Sandlin’s junior stats at Southern Miss read like he was playing MVP Baseball on the rookie difficulty setting. It was his first year as a starter and he struck out 144 hitters in 102 innings while walking just 18. He’s a side-armer with a running, low-90s fastball and above-average slider. Both pitches play up because of Sandlin’s command, and at times his stuff is so well-located that it’s unhittable. He was our favorite to be the first from the 2018 draft class to reach the big leagues but a 2019 spring forearm injury might delay his arrival.

24. Ernie Clement, SS
Drafted: 4th Round, 2017 from Virginia (CLE)
Age 23.0 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/55 40/40 30/35 70/70 40/45 50/50

Another in the long line of University of Virginia hitters with micro strikeout rates, Clement K’d just seven times during his entire junior season. He’s carried that contact ability into pro ball, where he struck out just 8.5% of the time at Low-A in his first full season before moving on to Hi- and Double-A late in the year.

We’re skeptical of his ability to play shortstop due to below-average hands and actions, and think he probably fits best in center field due to his speed, but Cleveland played him exclusively at short last year. The lack of power likely means he maxes out as a utility man, so it makes sense to hand Clement a ton of reps at shortstop to see if he can improve, since ideally he’d be able to play there on occasion. He spent a lot of time with the big league club during 2019 spring training and made characteristically high rates of contact. The bat and his speed should carry him to some kind of lesser major league role, with his defensive development determining if it’s of the super utility variety or a limited runner/bench bat gig.

25. Eli Morgan, RHP
Drafted: 8th Round, 2017 from Gonzaga (CLE)
Age 22.9 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
40/40 45/45 45/50 60/70 45/55 86-91 / 92

Morgan’s velo was down a bit last year and at times his fastball sat in the mid-80s instead of the upper-80s and low-90s like it had the year before. He’s on this list because he has one of the better changeups in the minors and throws a lot of strikes, but he’ll need to exhibit a velocity bounce back this year to remain here, or else show that he has traits that make his fastball playable despite the lackluster velo.

35+ FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Venezuela (CLE)
Age 17.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Planez has big time pull-side lift in his swing, already has 45 raw power at age 17, and has a fairly projectable 6-foot-2 frame that portends more. He’ll reach down and barrel balls near his shoe tops and also crush mistakes. He’s too aggressive right now and probably has to move to a corner eventually, so our early assessment of the profile is that it’s very risky. But as far as teenage power projection bats go, this is a good one.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from McClancy HS (NY) (CLE)
Age 19.8 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Holmes is a high-end athlete with elite makeup and speed. He’s sushi-raw, in part because he was one of the younger hitters in his draft class and in part because he’s a bat from upstate New York, and missed reps he desperately needed in 2018 due to a hamstring injury. The bat needs to develop a lot for Holmes to be an everyday player but his speed should at least make him a bench outfielder. If you buy into the notion that athleticism and makeup drive development, then we’re low on Holmes.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (CLE)
Age 19.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr S / R FV 35+

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of intriguing AZL prospects, Lopez is a switch-hitting third baseman with a good-looking swing and feel for the strike zone. He’s a little less physically projectable than is ideal, so it’s unclear how much power he’ll have at peak, but if he stays at third and ends up with a plus bat, it won’t matter.

29. Jose Tena, SS
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (CLE)
Age 18.0 Height 5′ 9″ Weight 160 Bat / Thr L / R FV 35+

Tena spent 2018 in the DSL and should come stateside in 2019. Short but good-framed, he has plus hands, good infield footwork, and will probably grow into enough arm for the left side of the infield. His swing is a little long right now but he’s athletic, wings harder than is typical for a teenager this size, and has plenty of time for mechanical tweaks. He’s an interesting, long-term shortstop prospect.

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2017 from Carlos Beltran Academy HS (PR) (CLE)
Age 19.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr S / R FV 35+

All sorts of traits indicate Rodriguez will need to barbecue in the lower minors for several years. He’s already spent two in rookie ball and is poised to spend early 2019 in extended spring training. He’s a long-limbed, switch-hitting outfielder who is still just 19 even though he was drafted two years ago. His early-career walk rates are promising, and so too are his fairly reasonable strikeout numbers. He’s an athletic ball of clay for player dev to mold, a quintessential high-variance prospect.

Other Prospects of Note

Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.

Some More Really Young Guys
Raynel Delgado, SS
Marcos Gonzalez, SS
Korey Holland, OF

Delgado just turned 19. He’s a patient, switch-hitting infielder with some low-ball ability from the left side, though his swing can get long. Marcos Gonzalez will be 19 all year and was assigned to full-season ball. He’s a polished defender with a small but well-proportioned frame, and average bat speed, but limited bat control. Holland will also be 19 all year. He’s a plus runner with some feel to hit but came to pro ball with a poor swing foundation, so he’s a bit of a project.

Catching
Eric Haase, C
Sicnarf Loopstok, C
Logan Ice, C

Haase has power, he strikes out, and he’s not a great defender. It’s an Evan Gattis-ish profile. Eli Ben-Porat identified Loopstok as an elite receiver, something corroborated to me by an office source. He’s also performed on paper the last two years. He might factor into the 40-man catching picture soon. Ice’s numbers were bad last year but he’s still a fine defender and hits the ball in the air a ton.

Power Relief Arms
Juan Mota, RHP
James Karinchak, RHP

Mota’s fastball doesn’t have great angle, but it’s hard and moves. His slider is just average but when he locates it, it gets swings and misses. Karinchek throws in the mid-90s and has a unique, over-the-top delivery.

Upper-Level Outfielders
Oscar Gonzalez, OF
Andrew Calica, OF
Alex Call, OF
Mitch Longo, OF

Gonzalez, 21, is an old school, gloveless free-swinger who takes big hacks at everything. Calica had a great sophomore year at UCSB, then fell off as a junior. He’s fast and makes contact, and could be a fourth outfielder. Call has more power, but it’s doubles thump, and he doesn’t run quite as well as Calica. Longo seemed to be a 2018 swing changer and does a little of both.

Changeup Artists
Chih-Wei Hu, RHP
Raymond Burgos, LHP
Zach Plesac, RHP
Eli Lingos, LHP
Ben Krauth, LHP

Hu has been developed as a kitchen sink starter and is probably rotation depth for now, but ultimately, he’ll likely stick in someone’s bullpen with a more limited repertoire. Burgos has a low three-quarters slot, and sits 91-94, with the cambio. Plesac is coming off of Tommy John. He has the hardest fastball among the non-Hus in this category, but also has the worst command. Krauth throws harder than Lingos, but Lingos is a few years younger and doesn’t need to be on the 40-man for a while.

Can Spin It
Jerson Ramirez, RHP
Kyle Nelson, LHP
Kirk McCarty, LHP

Ramirez is only 20 but throws in the low-90s and averaged 2700 rpm on his curveball last year. Nelson can really pitch and carved up Low-A in 2018. He sits 88-91 but beats hitters with it anyway, and his good slider has bat-missing vertical action. McCarty’s release point clearly makes lefties uncomfortable and he has a good two-plane breaker.

System Overview

Cleveland seems to be one of the game’s more rational actors. Well aware of their competitive window, the team moved several young players in exchange for players who, while perhaps possessing less upside, are more likely to help them soon. Tahnaj Thomas for Jordan Luplow. Jhon Torres for Oscar Mercado. Gionti Turner for Chih-Wei Hu. Ignacio Feliz for Walker Lockett. These are moves designed to create depth behind the talented and competitive big league roster as other teams need to shed 40-man weight. Nash Equilibrium and all that. It’s team building on a budget, a front office making do with what ownership seems willing to spend.

We’ve talked about this here before, but Cleveland executes their draft strategy so well that it’s easy to see what it is. They almost always end up with some of the youngest high school players in the draft, and they often seem to end up with players who had strong sophomore college seasons, but down junior years, or high school players who were great during the previous summer but fell during their senior spring. It suggests they more evenly weigh multiple years of performance, perhaps consciously avoiding recency bias in places where other teams and individuals see progress.

We hoped you liked reading Top 30 Prospects: Cleveland Indians by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel!

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svan
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svan

Yu Chang video link is dead 🙁