The Cleveland Indians acquired a player with one of the nuttier tool profiles in the minors yesterday in the following trade:
Yan Gomes, C
Gomes will have an immediate big league impact as part of a Nationals catching tandem with the newly acquired Kurt Suzuki. The 31-year-old Brazilian backstop hit .266/.313/.449 in 2018, showing a dramatic uptick in power compared to career norms. Our projection systems at FanGraphs anticipate a SLG% regression back to a mark just shy of league-average, but Gomes’ Hard Hit% was way up based on our data, and sites like xStats, which calculate expected offensive output based on ball-in-play metrics like exit velocity and launch angle, indicate Gomes’ 2018 power display may be sustainable.
Gomes can also control the running game. He has a plus-plus arm and routinely posts pop times close to 1.90 seconds. He’s also an above-average receiver. Once constantly injured (knee sprain, concussion, separated shoulder from ’14-’16), Gomes has caught 100 games each of the last two years.
Both Gomes and Suzuki are of advanced age and are likely to share time. Washington’s catching looks to be in good shape for the next two years (the life of Suzuki’s deal), especially given the state of the position, league-wide. Gomes has one year remaining on his contract and then a $9 million team option in 2020 and an $11 million team option in 2021.
The Nationals now have a bit of a catching clog on their 40-man, which also houses 25-year-olds Pedro Severino, Raudy Read and 27-year-old Spencer Kieboom. Read has the most offensive talent of that group and hit for power at Double-A last year, but he’s also coming off a PED suspension and is a below-average defender– he’s a below-average receiving, and his plus raw arm strength also comes with accuracy issues. He’s currently playing in the Dominican Winter League for Toros del Este. This depth means a minor trade or other roster move could be on the horizon.
For Cleveland, 23-year-old outfielder Daniel Johnson has one of the louder tool profiles in the minor leagues. He has elite arm strength, plus-plus speed and plus raw power. He’s so gifted, physically, that he’s very likely to have some kind of big league career, though how impactful that career is will be dictated by the development of bat-to-ball skills that are currently behind what is typical for a 23-year-old prospect at Double-A.
Johnson has been so raw for the duration of his scoutable career that he went undrafted as a junior college freshman in 2014. He transferred to New Mexico State and was still so unpolished as a junior hitter that some area scouts wanted to see him on the mound. He had a breakout junior season .382/.434/.630 in a hitter-friendly conference and was drafted in the 5th round.
Johnson spent all of 2018, his second full pro season, at Double-A Harrisburg where he hit .267/.321/.410 with 21 steals in 25 attempts. His ball/strike recognition and ability to make contact are both below average, but neither is so bad that it might inhibit him from playing a big league role in the next year or two. He sees right-handed pitching well-enough that he can do damage against it, and he has a chance to occupy the larger part of an outfield platoon if he keeps mashing righties the way he has in the minors. His speed would indicate center field is an option, but again Johnson’s lack of feel and instincts cause his physical abilities to play down and he may be better off in a corner, especially with superior defenders like Brad Zimmer and Leonys Martin currently on the Cleveland roster.
Tapping into Johnson’s raw power in games will probably require a swing change that cleans up Johnson’s odd, hooking bat path. If that happens, then a 45 FV projection, which is what we had on Johnson entering the offseason, will be too light. Cleveland has had mixed success changing swings in the past (some recent examples: Yandy Diaz and Erik Gonzalez showed no improvement despite their obvious planar issues, but Frankie Lindor adjusted with ease and exploded) so this could go either way.
Cleveland has already done a lot to fill in their roster after the departure of some of their outfielders and it appears as though they’re going to take a platoon-heavy approach there next year. The recent acquisitions of right-handed hitters Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow seem to fit well with some of the left-handed hitting options already on the big league roster, which Johnson is now in place to sustain after the 2019 season when Leonys Martin’s deal is up and Jason Kipnis has a looming $16.5 million team option.
Rodriguez is a 25-year-old who threw 52 big league innings in 2018. He throws hard and will touch 99, sitting comfortably in the 93-96 range even as a starter. He’ll show you an above-average curveball and his changeup has sinking action at times, but Rodriguez’s stiff delivery is hard to repeat and he has scattered fastball control and throws lots of non-competitive changeups. He profiles as a two-pitch reliever.
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.