Cleveland Indians Top 30 Prospects

Photo credit: Greg Bessette

1. Nolan Jones, 3B

Age: 20 (5/7/98)

Highest Level: A+

.283/.405/.466, 19 HR, .183 ISO, 151 wRC+, 17.1% BB, 25.2% K, 2 SB

Jones was taken by the Indians with the 55th pick in the 2016 draft out of a Pennsylvania high school. The left-handed hitting third baseman is starting to get that plus raw power to play in games, and we saw a significant jump in homers in 2018 while maintaining his already plus plate approach. The swing is long, and some aspects of Jones’ mechanics will always make him prone to strikeouts. He has a significant hitch, leg kick and bat wrap, which when combined form the timing mechanisms required to tap into the raw power.

Despite the long swing I think there’s still potential for an average hit tool because of the all-fields approach, how well he works the count and how hard Jones consistently strikes the ball. Jones does struggle against lefties, so I do foresee platoon issues handcuffing him down the line. Jones has the potential to hit 25-30 homers at peak, and when you factor in his plus plate approach that equals a dynamic offensive player. On defense he has the hands, footwork, and throwing arm to be an average defender at the hot corner, but he’s new to the position and is a bit error prone right now. Look for Jones to spend a majority of 2019 in Double-A, but could get a cup of the finest Columbus coffee towards the end of the season. ETA: Late 2020.

2. Triston McKenzie, RHP

Age: 21 (8/2/97)

Highest Level: AA

90.2 IP, 2.68 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 8.64 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, .191 AVG

“Sticks” as they call him, was selected by the Indians with the 45th-overall choice in the 2015 draft. The 6-foot-5 righty has proven to be much too advanced for the lower levels with his plus command and three average or better offerings. I’d put a 60 on the curveball due to its depth and shape. It’s currently his best pitch and he can throw it for strikes low in the zone. His fastball flashed a 60 before the “minor” forearm injury that cost him the first two months of 2018. I can’t confidently grade it as anything higher than average because the velocity didn’t come back fully until late in the season. Reports had him sitting mostly in the 88-92 range while touching 96, as opposed to sitting in the mid-90s as previously reported, and he’s also had difficulty maintaining that velocity late in games. McKenzie’s changeup is his distinct third pitch, but it does have a chance to end up as an average offering with time. The changeup is too firm and doesn’t have enough separation from the fastball currently, it also has more run than fade.

Projection, projection projection…that was all that was talked about with McKenzie’s frame. It might be time to give up that angle. If he hasn’t added significant weight and strength by now, it’s unlikely that it will happen. That’s not to say there’s no upside here, because there certainly is. McKenzie repeats his delivery better than almost any 21-year-old I’ve seen and also is a superior athlete that gets great extension on his pitches. The floor here is extremely high, McKenzie is certain to remain a starter. The upside here is a number two and the floor is a number four. ETA: 2020.

3. George Valera, OF

Age: 18 (11/13/2000)

Highest Level: ROK

.333/.409/.556, 1 HR, .222 ISO, 162 wRC+, 13.6% BB, 13.6% K, 1 SB

The Indians pushed Valera to Arizona to start his pro career, but that aggressive assignment was cut short by a broken hamate bone after just six games. Valera was born in the Bronx and lived their until a family accident forced his family to move to the Dominican Republic. The Indians recognized the talent here and paid him $1.3 million in July of 2017.

Valera has the complete package offensively. His swing is a carbon copy of Robinson Cano, down to the circular bat waggle and controlled chaos before making contact. He hits line drives from gap to gap and has outstanding patience and plate coverage. I think Valera has the chance at a 70-hit, 50-power package after he adds his man muscles to his frame, and that’s an elite offensive player.

4. Ethan Hankins, RHP

Age: 18 (5/23/2000)

Highest Level: ROK

3 IP, 6.00 ERA, 1.07 FIP, 18.00 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, .308 AVG.

A shoulder injury put an end to the possibility of Hankins being the first prep right-hander ever to go number one overall. The Vanderbilt commit ended up dropping down to pick 35 over concerns about the stuff not fully bouncing back after the injury. Hankins has a true plus fastball as it was 90-96 and touched 98 with plus arm-side run. He has a curveball that flashes plus, but is inconsistent and a change. He also started throwing his slider and many people think that will be his best pitch when it’s all said and done.

Hankins has looked absolutely un-hittable at times, and if he bounces back the Indians absolutely stole him where they got him. Hankins is a smart kid with the ideal frame (6’6”, 200 lbs.), enough athleticism and competitive drive to be a front line starter, and if everything bounces back he’s got more than enough stuff for that role. Hankins has a significant amount of risk, but should come off the board in the first two rounds of FYPDs. ETA: 2023.

Video courtesy of Taiwan Baseball Notes Youtube channel.

5. Luis Oviedo, RHP

Age: 19 (5/15/99)

Highest Level: A

57 IP, 2.05 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 10.58 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, .189 AVG. - A-/A

Oviedo proved to be too much for the NYPL despite being two years younger than the average pitcher in the league. The projectable 6-foot-4 Venezuelan made nine starts in the NYPL striking out 61 in 48 innings before making two starts in the Midwest League to end his season. Oviedo has a fastball with life that sits 92-94 that he commands well. He gets great extension and can reach back a little more and pull down 96-97 when he needs it. Oviedo throws a curveball and a slider, and each projects as average or better. His changeup will likely be his best secondary pitch though. It can be firm at times but he sets it up well and it has good tumbling action to it. Oviedo had two mediocre runs through rookie ball, but really put it together in 2018. We could have a future number-two starter here if one of the breaking balls finds another gear. ETA: 2022.

6. Tyler Freeman, SS/2B

Age: 19 (5/21/99)

Highest Level: A-

.352/.405/.511, 2 HR, .159 ISO, 168 wRC+, 2.7% BB, 7.3% K, 14 SB

The Indians took Freeman with the 71st-overall pick in the 2017 draft. Freeman’s only plus tool is his 60/65 hit tool due to his high contact rates and all-fields line-drive approach. Freeman had a 92% contact rate in the New York-Penn League after posting a 91% rate in the Rookie Arizona League, and the high contact rate, athleticism, average glove and slightly above-average arm give him at least a utility floor. There is enough here to be a starting second baseman, but I’d like to see the aggressiveness toned down. The upside here is D.J. LeMahieu without the Coors Field assist. ETA: 2021.

7. Brayan Rocchio, SS/3B/2B

Age: 18 (1/13/2001)

Highest Level: ROK

.335/.390/.442, 2 HR, .107 ISO, 138 wRC+, 5.6% BB, 11.5% K, 22 SB

Yet another high-upside teenager here. The switch-hitting Rocchio was signed for $125,000 as part of the Indians monster 2017 class. Rocchio has excellent feel for the barrel from both sides of the plate, with an advanced batting eye. He’s a threat to run with his plus speed, but he was caught 13 times in his 35 attempts so he needs a little polish on the bases. His hands and high baseball intelligence help make up for the general lack of arm strength, but with how shifting has changed the game he can definitely stick at shortstop. Rocchio has hit for more power than expected from a 17-year-old thats only 5-foot-0 and 150 pounds, as he added 12 doubles and 3 triples to his 2 homers. There’s a lot to love here and Rocchio is an aggressive add for me in dynasty formats right now. ETA: 2022.

8. Yu Chang, SS/3B

Age: 23 (8/18/95)

Highest Level: AAA

.256/.330/.411, 13 HR, .155 ISO, 109 wRC+, 8.5% BB, 27.8% K, 4 SB

Chang is a power-over-hit-tool infield prospect with a strong arm that projects to be an average defender at short. Unfortunately in this organization the shortstop position is filled for a while, so Chang played a little third for Triple-A Columbus and is playing third base exclusively in the Arizona Fall League. Our own Jason Pennini has been in Arizona and put a 70 on the glove for Chang at third base. The plus arm will play there, and he seems like a natural fit at third since he lacks the elite athleticism traditionally associated with big league shortstops. Offensively Chang will strikeout a bit too much, but he does walk and has 20-homer pop in the big leagues. He will be in Cleveland in 2019, and might work his way into the starting third baseman job. ETA: 2019.

9. Oscar Mercado, OF

Age: 24 (12/16/94)

Highest Level: AAA

.278/.349/.390, 8 HR, .111 ISO, 99 wRC+, 9% BB, 15.9% K, 37 SB

The former shortstop was a second round pick by the Cardinals in 2013. We’ve seen a significant transformation early on in Mercado’s pro career. When drafted out of Gaither High School in Tampa, Mercado had a reputation as a slick fielding shortstop that lacked strength. Now he’s added that strength and has average pull-side power. He’s also moved out to center field where he projects as an above-average defender with a chance to be more, with a strong arm that gets plenty of carry. His above-average speed will play in centerfield and on the bases where he will be a 20-plus stolen base threat annually. He will take a walk also which only adds to his high floor. The Cardinals traded Mercado to clear some of their upper minors outfield depth and also alleviate some of the traffic on their 40-man roster. Mercado could split time with Bradley Zimmer in Cleveland as soon as next season. ETA: 2019.

10. Will Benson, OF

Age: 20 (6/16/98)

Highest Level: A-

.180/.324/.370, 22 HR, .190 ISO, 102 wRC+, 16.2% BB, 30% K, 12 SB

The Indians grabbed this toolsy outfielder from the Georgia prep ranks with the 14th pick in the 2016 draft. The unfortunate thing here is the only tool in Benson’s tool belt that isn’t above average is the hit tool. He’s every bit of a 20-hit guy right now with so many moving parts and constant tinkering of his stance. He’s athletic as hell and is a 60 runner with plus defense in right field and a top of the scale cannon in right. Benson has 70-grade raw power, but the below average hit tool won’t let him fully tap into this. Benson will be a level a year guy at best as he tries to find that missing ingredient in the minors. We’ve seen the floor though. A .180 average in the Midwest League and a 30% strikeout rate but we’re still singing his praises. A 16% walk rate despite his struggles is a very good sign. Always bet on the athletes! The hit tool doesn’t even have to be average for Benson to be an above-average big leaguer. ETA: 2022.

11. Raynel Delgado, SS/2B/3B

Age: 18 (4/4/2000)

Highest Level: ROK

.306/.409/.382, 1 HR, .075 ISO, 133 wRC+, 14.7% BB, 21.6% K, 10 SB

The Indians drafted the switch-hitting Delgado in the sixth round after a strong commitment to Florida International scared teams off. The Indians ended up paying $900,000 to get Raynel signed, which was way above the slot recommendation of $235,600. Delgado is a physical kid with advanced feel for the barrel from both sides, and a strong plate approach. While he has good hands and a strong arm I think he’s a better fit for third base after he fills out. ETA: 2023.

12. Bo Naylor, C

Age: 19 (2/21/2000)

Highest Level: ROK

.274/.381/.402, 2 HR, .128 ISO, 126 wRC+, 15.1% BB, 20.1% K, 5 SB

Naylor has an advanced hit tool for his age, and the Francisco Mejia comparisons fit well. Just like the former Indian farmhand, Naylor has a hit-over-power skill set with some defensive question marks. The Canadian kid has some upside but it will be a slow climb through the minor leagues as the Indians want him to focus on the defensive side of his game which needs the most work. Naylor projects as a 55-hit, 50-power catcher and that gives him top five upside at the position for fantasy. He’s an exciting prospect, but one with some questions attached. If he can’t stick at catcher he still should have the bat for third, but obviously the goal here is to stay behind the plate. ETA: 2023.

13. Carlos Vargas, RHP

Age: 19 (10/13/99)

Highest Level: ROK

34.1 IP, 3.93 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 10.75 K/9, 6.29 BB/9, .254 AVG

The Indians signed Vargas for $275,000 in 2016, which was actually the most they spent on any one player in that class. The 6-foot-3 righty has some room for projection here, as he only weighs 180 pounds soaking wet. Vargas has two potentially plus offerings with his fastball and curve, and his changeup has flashed plus at times but should settle in as an average pitch. There was some talk that Vargas was the best 18-year-old pitcher in Arizona last year, which is high prize considering this years draft. The Indians were very careful with Vargas’s workload his first year stateside, and he only pitched into the fifth inning twice. It’s probably not a coincidence that success was in his final two starts of the year. Vargas should go to full-season ball next year and we will get a general idea of his his stuff plays three times through an order and also later in games. So far so good. ETA: 2024.

14. Lenny Torres, RHP

Age: 18 (10/15/2000)

Highest Level: ROK

15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 12.91 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, .246 AVG

The Indians signed the St. John’s commit for $1.35 million to keep him off campus. Torres has a big fastball because of his plus arm strength. Torres lives 94-96 but can touch 98. He has also has a potential above-average slider that we need to see more of. His changeup has shown flashes and should be an average third pitch. Torres has a bit of natural deception against righties with a slight across body motion that shows the back of his jersey to right-handers. Torres has front of the rotation ceiling, but it will take a bit to get there. ETA: 2023.

15. Johnathan Rodriguez, OF

Age: 19 (11/4/99)

Highest Level: ROK

.294/.370/.406, 1 HR, .112 ISO, 122 wRC+, 10.4% BB, 20.9% K, 8 SB

Rodriguez is a product of the Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico, and the Indians took him in the third round in 2017. The switch-hitting outfielder has plus plate skills and utilizes all fields. He has plus bat speed, a plus arm and is growing into his plus raw power. Rodriguez has the skills to be a top third of the order bat and will rise up prospect ranks quickly when he starts hitting for more thump. He has a prototypical right-fielder profile. ETA: 2022.

16. Nick Sandlin, RHP

Age: 22 (1/10/97)

Highest Level: AA

24 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.12 FIP, 13.50 K/9, 1.12 BB/9, .231 AVG

Sandlin is likely to be the first member of the 2018 draft to make it to the big leagues. The funky righty climbed all the way to Double-A after a very successful collegiate career at Southern Miss. Sandlin was the closer at Southern Miss for his first two seasons on campus, and jumped to the rotation his junior year. He comes at you with multiple arm angles and makes his nasty three pitch mix play up even more. Sandlin’s slider is an absolute plus pitch and his best offering. His fastball gets nasty sink and run and he uses an average change mostly against lefties. Sandlin absolutely has the stuff and mound presence to be at the back end of a quality major league bullpen. Sandlin is one of my favorite pitchers to watch. He will be in Cleveland at some point next season. ETA: 2019.

17. Richie Palacios, 2B/SS

Age: 21 (5/16/97)

Highest Level: A-

.361/.421/.538, 6 HR, .178 ISO, 174 wRC+, 10% BB, 14.2% K, 7 SB

Shoutout to Andy Singleton! Palacios became the fourth member of his family to play affiliated professional baseball after the Indians took him in the third round of the 2018 draft out of Towson. The Indians do very well in the NYC area, and this is another example. Palacios has an above-average hit tool with plus speed, and he’s a very advanced baserunner with a career 86% success rate in college (88% so far in pro ball). Even though he spent a majority of his time at second base, he can play an average shortstop with good range and hands, but the lack of arm strength pushed him to second base. Palacios is a below-average power hitter, but he squares everything up and his speed and all-fields approach should lead to plenty of doubles. ETA: 2021.

18. Aaron Bracho, 2B/SS

Age: 17 (4/21/2001)

Highest Level: ROK

DNP- Extended Spring Training

Bracho was the top signing in the 2017 international period for $1.5 million. The switch-hitting middle infielder has advanced plate skills with an advanced swing thats geared for contact from both sides. He stings the ball despite his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame. He profiles better at second base long term because he lacks elite foot speed. He didn’t make his professional debut last year and spent the year in extended spring training for the Indians. Bracho has the skills to make this ranking look silly down the road. ETA: 2024.

19. Gabriel Rodriguez, SS

Age: 17 (2/2/2002)

Highest Level: DNP

DNP: 2018 International Free Agent

The Indians signed the Venezuelan shortstop for $2.1 million this past July. Rodriguez has a balanced, smooth swing and has no issues generating loft. Rodriguez has the arm for short and should be able to stick there longterm. Rodriguez has a chance to be a prospect with 5’s across the board (6 arm), and while that’s not flashy not many shortstops can make that claim. ETA: 2024.

20. Bobby Bradley, 1B

Age: 22 (5/29/96)

Highest Level: AAA

.224/.308/.466, 27 HR, .242 ISO, 111 wRC+, 10.2% BB, 27% K, 1 SB

You’ll find Bradley ranked higher on your fantasy lists, but from a real world baseball standpoint it’s tough to get too excited about a prospect with one standout tool. Power is the name of the game here as Bradley has now put together four straight years of 23-plus homers while slugging at least .465. He’s a below-average athlete and defender at first, so he’s going to have to keep hitting, but that strikeout rate trended back up towards that 30% mark. I’m not sure if his plus power is enough to negate all of his shortcomings. ETA: 2019.

21. Sam Hentges, LHP

Age: 21 (7/19/97)

Highest Level: A-

118.1 IP, 3.27 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 9.28 K/9, 4.03 BB/9, .255 AVG.

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher was a 4th-round pick by the Indians in 2014. He had Tommy John in the middle of 2016 which cost him part of 2017 as well. 2018 was his first full season back on the mound and Hentges looked to be back to his former self. Mechanically he reminds me of another tall lefty, JA Happ, and his fastball-curveball combination plays into that. Both of those offerings project as plus pitches, and he also throws an average change. Hentges needs to repeat his delivery more consistently, and hopefully that’s all he needs to improve his walk rate. Hentges could be a nice mid-rotation arm for the Tribe. ETA: 2021.

22. Marcos Gonzalez, SS

Age: 19 (10/12/1999)

Highest Level: ROK

.305/.397/.458, 3 HR, .153 ISO, 144 wRC+, 9.2% BB, 18.3% K, 4 SB

Gonzalez isn’t as high upside as other recent international free agent signings for the Indians, but that’s perfectly fine. Gonzalez has a mature plate approach and has the ingredients to hit for a high average down the line. His he gets to the ball quickly and barrels everything. The power projection is below average, and the speed is average at best, but he’s a steady shortstop that catches everything. His arm is above average and he has all the makings of a an above-average defensive shortstop that hits at the bottom of the order for the better part of a decade. ETA: 2023.

23. Tahnaj Thomas, RHP

Age: 23 (6/16/99)

Highest Level: ROK

19.2 IP, 4.58 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 12.36 K/9, 4.58 BB/9, .188 AVG.

Yet another high-upside piece for the Tribe here. The long-legged Bahamian gets excellent downward plane with his straight over the top delivery. Thomas gets the fastball up to 95, and flashes an above-average breaking ball with inconsistent command. He repeats his abbreviated windup and I think he has the makings of a dominant late-inning reliever. He’s extremely raw, and has only exclusively pitched since signing in 2016 for $200,000. ETA: 2022.

24. Oscar Gonzalez, OF

Age: 21 (1/10/98)

Highest Level: A-

.292/.310/.435, 13 HR, .143 ISO, 109 wRC+, 2.5% BB, 22.3% K, 5 SB

The free-swinging Gonzalez was able to hit for power in the Midwest League, which is no small feat. If he doesn’t make an adjustment or two though, he will get exposed as he climbs the organizational ladder due to the plate approach. His pitch recognition did appear to get better though and his contact rate climbed in the right direction as did his strikeout rate. He needs to keep hitting since he isn’t a fit in center, and the offensive bar is high for corner-only profiles. He’s a more interesting guy for fantasy leagues. ETA: 2021.

25. Eli Morgan, RHP

Age: 22 (5/13/96)

Highest Level: A+

143.1 IP, 3.27 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 9.80 K/9, 2.13 BB/9, .228 AVG.- A/A+

The Indians grabbed Morgan in the 8th round after a successful college stint at Gonzaga. Morgan has a very unique profile. He’s a 5-foot-10 righty with a plus changeup, above-average slider and a below-average fastball. Morgan is a bit crafty as he will mess with hitters by varying the timing and just giving them different looks. Morgan has plus command, but its a profile that looks like a reliever to me. He’s also an extreme fly-ball guy and that might be due to the lack of a fastball plane due to him being only 5-foot-10. ETA: 2020.

26. Junior Sanquintin, SS

Age: 17 (1/8/2002)

Highest Level: DNP

DNP: 2018 International Free Agent

The Indians were able to sign the 2018 international free agent to a $1.25 million dollar deal to get him into the organization. Sanquintin is unlike any of the other infield prospects on this list because early indications are he will eventually be moving to the outfield. The switch-hitter has plus power potential from both sides, but will likely have some swing and miss concerns. He’s also been described as “overaggressive” at times. He is the best offensive prospect in their 2018 class, but there’s significant work to do. ETA: 2024.

27. Ernie Clement, SS

Age: 23 (3/22/96)

Highest Level: AA

.289/.358/.375, 2 HR, .086 ISO, 111 wRC+, 8.7% BB, 7.4% K, 18 SB

The former University of Virginia shortstop has posted contact rates above 90% in his first two pro seasons. In addition to his elite bat-to-ball, Clement has above-average speed and above-average athleticism, enough to even potentially add the ability to play centerfield to his tool belt. I do think Clement has the chops defensively to stick at short, but that won’t be an option in Cleveland. Adding versatility is the next best thing. ETA: 2021

28. Ignacio Feliz, RHP

Age: 19 (10/23/99)

Highest Level: ROK

45 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 10.80 K/9, 2.80 BB/9, .205 AVG.

The 6-foot-1 righty has a tight, compact delivery that maximizes his lower half. He sits 88-92 currently, and while their isn’t much projection left in the body he still should add strength since he’s only 19. His fastball has natural cutting action that gives hitters a difficult look, and its a challenge to square it up if he can locate it. In addition to the 60-grade fastball with natural cut, he also throws a plus curveball that starts at the letters and drops vertically through the zone. Feliz was a nice find for $85,000 in 2016. ETA: 2023.

29. Aaron Civale, RHP

Age: 23 (6/12/95)

Highest Level: AA

106.1 IP, 3.89 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 6.60 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, .271 AVG.

Civale sneaks on this list based on what I think he could become if he was shifted to the bullpen full time. Civale’s plus slider could eat batters alive out of the pen and he could be death on right-handed hitters. He gets good sink on his average fastball. His changeup is average and he also throws a curve, but I could see him scrapping that if he goes to the bullpen. One thing that Civale has that most relievers don’t: plus command. The plus command, plus slider and ground-ball tendency could make an interesting back-end reliever for the Tribe. ETA: 2019, if bullpen.

30. Quentin Holmes, OF

Age: 19 (7/7/99)

Highest Level: ROK

.143/.280/.190, 0 HR, .048 ISO, 52 wRC+, 16% BB, 32% K, 2 SB

Yet another toolsy kid from New York. Holmes struggled in Rookie ball in 2017 so the plan was to repeat the league in 2018. That was until Holmes had a hamstring injury that cost him all but seven games. Holmes will be a dynamic defender due to his 70 speed and plus athleticism. He’s a natural fit for center field. Offensively he’s as raw as it gets and a pure 20 hitter currently. He has weight transfer issues, but he does get the barrel on everything when he’s mechanically in sync. ETA: 2023.