Cleveland Indians Top-25 Prospects
Over the last several years, the Cleveland Indians prospects that have debuted have done quite well for themselves. Just look at the 2018 AL MVP voting for evidence of that.
- Jose Ramirez (3rd) – Signed by Cleveland as an amateur free agent in November 2009.
- Francisco Lindor (6th) – 1st round pick (8th overall) in 2011 June Amateur Draft.
Those are obviously the two most prominent examples, but the Indians have been pumping out Major League talent on both sides of the ball, including most recently in 2018 with control specialist, Shane Bieber.
The Indians have fared very well in the last two years, both in the draft and with their J2 signings. The 2017 J2 period was especially noteworthy with three of the top-12 you’ll see below from that crop. This is a farm system firmly on the rise.
As Drew Carey would say, Cleveland rocks!
Overall System Grade: B-
Minor League Affiliates
Triple-A: Columbus – International League
Double-A: Akron – Eastern League
Single-A (Advanced): Lynchburg – Carolina League
Single-A (Full): Lake County – Midwest League
Short-season Single-A: Mahoning Valley – New York-Penn League
Rookie: One team in the Dominican Summer League, two teams in the Arizona League.
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New Top-25 Cleveland Indians Prospects
1. Nolan Jones, 3B, Bats: L, DOB: 5/7/98, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (A/A+): .283/.405/.466/.871, 21 2B, 19 HR, 2 SB, 17.1 BB%, 25.2 K%, 427 AB
Over his first 94 games as a professional, Nolan Jones showed us a few things. He showed us that his contact skills were above average and that he had a good feel for hitting and control of the strike zone. He also showed us that there was plenty of additional power projection in that 6’4″ frame of his. More than his four dingers in his first 94 games indicated. With a clean swing, plus bat speed, and some natural loft, it was easy to envision more power on the horizon. Then 2018 happened. Jones’ power output rose to 21 doubles and 19 home runs across 120 games while maintaining that rock-solid slash line you see above.
— Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame) August 4, 2018
It’s always nice to see a prospect add power without changing his approach to the point where his hit tool and batting average suffer. That’s exactly what happened here with Jones. That power was always lurking, and even after his mini power breakout, there’s still more power projection left as Jones still only hits fly balls a smidge over 30% of the time. With some added loft, I firmly believe there are 25-30 home runs waiting to happen here with Jones to go along with his plus contact skills and plate approach. The Indians converted him to third base from his original position of shortstop and while he’s not a gold-glover at the hot corner, he’s shown adequate defense there with a strong throwing arm.
2. George Valera, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 11/13/00, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): 6/18, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 SB, 3 BB, 3 K
Ranking Valera this high is a testament to his enticing skill set and upside as a hitter. Signed in the 2017 J2 period for $1.3 million, Valera has the chance to have above-average or better tools across the board by the time he’s done developing. Lightning quick wrists and the ensuing explosive bat speed is the first thing I notice when watching him in the batter’s box. Back leg load, hip rotation, and forward weight transfer are all fluid with a toe tap used for timing.
— The Welsh (@IsItTheWelsh) May 13, 2018
There’s not a whole heck of a lot of video out there on Valera due to only getting six games in last season in rookie ball, but everything I’ve seen so far has impressed me immensely. The contact skills and plate coverage are top-notch, which should lead to a fairly high batting average and not a lot of strikeouts. Plus raw power has already been put on display and that should start becoming more apparent as he fills out and adds strength. And while he’s not a speedster, Valera is quick enough on the bases and in the outfield. If I had to take a stab at a future peak projection, I’d put him around .310/30/10.
3. Triston McKenzie, RHP, DOB: 8/2/97, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (AA): 90.2 IP, 2.68 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, 8.6 K/9, .191 AVG
Most Indians prospects lists you’ll find have McKenzie in the top two spots. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just have some reservations about McKenzie that caused me to drop him to third here. Even below a rookie ball hitter with six games under his belt? You better believe it.
Let me start by saying that I do like McKenzie’s arsenal which consists of a low to mid-90’s fastball with arm side run, a big breaking curveball, and a fringe changeup with some inconsistent movement. I would grade both the fastball and curve as plus, although, McKenzie lost some velocity after an early-season forearm injury. That injury was deemed minor at first but ended up delaying his first start until June 7. Minor my ass. It will be interesting to see where his velocity sits at the beginning of 2019.
The changeup and slight frame are what give me pause here. McKenzie stands at 6’5″ and 160-170 pounds soaking wet. Unless he eventually adds some strength to that skinny frame, I can’t see him becoming a starter you can bank on consistently for 30-plus starts or anything close to 200 innings. To sum it all up; High upside, equally as high risk.
4. Brayan Rocchio, SS, Bats: S, DOB: 1/13/01, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): .335/.390/.442/.832, 12 2B, 2 HR, 22 SB, 5.6 BB%, 11.5 K%, 242 AB
Rocchio was signed in the 2017 J2 period along with the likes of Valera and Aaron Bracho. A switch-hitting shortstop hailing from Venezuela, Rocchio has a great feel for hitting from both sides of the plate with an advanced approach well beyond his years. He starts with a balanced setup with his hand high, times pitches with a toe tap, and explodes through the zone with plus bat speed and a level swing path. It’s not often that a 17-year-old hitter displays an advanced approach and contact skills from both sides of the plate, but that’s exactly what we have here with Rocchio.
Video of #Indians 2017 International signing 5'10 150lbs 16yr old INF Brayan Rocchio out of Caracas, Venezuela during instructional league play. Rocchio another good talent in deep group of signings this year. pic.twitter.com/jYGPuIA3EZ
— Indians Prospective (@indiansPro) December 12, 2017
In addition to the plus hit tool, Rocchio has some damn good wheels. He did get caught 13 times in his 35 attempts last season, but once he becomes more selective and improves his pitcher reads, I expect that success rate to go up and 30-plus steal seasons to become a common occurrence. That plus speed isn’t just for stealing bases, you know. Rocchio is an above-average defender at short with an adequate enough arm to keep him there moving forward. Don’t expect much power here with Rocchio, but the rest of the tools are quite enticing and make him a valuable target in dynasty formats. I can guarantee you his price will be much higher in 12 months if he continues his current development path.
5. Ethan Hankins, RHP, DOB: 5/23/00, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): 3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K
Do you like velocity? Well, Ethan Hankins has velocity. Hankins fell to the Indians at pick 35 back in June due to a shoulder injury and commitment to Vanderbilt University. That could end up looking like a steal in the very near future. Hankins usually sits in the mid to upper-90’s with his electric running fastball, but his velocity fluctuated some following the shoulder injury. Assuming that shoulder injury doesn’t hamper him moving forward, Hankins projects to add even more velocity once he fills out his skinny 6’6 frame. His delivery is clean and repeatable now, so hopefully, that doesn’t change if he does add strength.
Hankins also mixes in a curveball, slider, and fading changeup, though, all of them lack consistency at the moment. Out of the three, his changeup and slider project best in my eyes. If he can develop at least one of them into a plus pitch, Hankins should flourish as a #2 starter or borderline staff ace.
6. Tyler Freeman, SS, Bats: R, 5/21/99, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A-): .352/.405/.511/.916, 29 2B, 2 HR, 14 SB, 2.7 BB%, 7.3 K%, 270 AB
A 2nd round pick in 2017, Freeman combines a good feel for hitting with plus speed on the bases. He uses a line-drive-oriented swing from the right side that has plenty of bat speed thanks to his quick wrists and has only struck out in 7.6% of his professional at-bats so far. Yes, that also comes with a microscopic 3.4% walk rate. Freeman just likes to put the ball in play, nothing wrong with that.
There’s not a ton of power projection in his swing, but the hope is that he develops double-digit pop down the road. With his bat speed and clean swing, I could see that happening, but would also put the ceiling there in the 12-15 range. Freeman is a plus runner with solid range at short, though, his so-so throwing arm would be better suited for second. Whichever middle-infield spot he winds up at, Freeman’s high contact skills and speed will give him plenty of value.
7. Oscar Mercado, OF, Bats: R, DOB: 12/16/94, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (AAA): .278/.349/.390/.738, 26 2B, 8 HR, 37 SB.
A personal favorite of mine, Oscar Mercado doesn’t get nearly enough love in the prospect world. He’s not an unknown by any means, but there’s some very intriguing upside here. First and foremost is the plus-plus speed that has led to high stolen base totals and good range in the outfield. Mercado has finished each of the last four seasons with 33 steals or more, with a high of 50 in the Single-A Midwest League back in 2015. Sure, his success rate leaves something to be desired and he could not get the green light as often in the Majors because of it, but I’m banking on this type of speed to still produce 30-plus steals more often than not.
Outside of the speed, the contact skills have been inconsistent over the years, causing his batting average to fluctuate between .209 and .287. But Mercado has made strides there over the last two seasons, cleaning up his swing enough for me to project a 50-grade hit tool moving forward with borderline double-digit pop. We should see him with Cleveland at some point this summer.
8. Luis Oviedo, RHP, DOB: 5/15/99, ETA 2021/2022
2018 Stats (A-/A): 57.0 IP, 2.05 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 10.6 K/9, .190 AVG
Signed way back in 2015, Oviedo finally progressed past rookie ball last season and had his best season yet, dominating NYPL hitters for nine starts before getting a late-season promotion to Single-A Lake County. Oviedo features two plus pitches already in his mid-90’s fastball and fading changeup. He also throws a curveball and a slider, though, both lack consistency and depth. If Oviedo can develop at least one of those into an average or better third pitch, there’s SP2/3 potential here with high strikeout upside. The floor is fairly high too due to his command and repeatable delivery. Oviedo is trending up in dynasty formats.
9. Richard Palacios, SS, Bats: L, DOB: 5/6/97, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (RK/A-/A): .361/.421/.538/.960, 8 2B, 6 HR, 7 SB, 10.0 BB%, 14.2 K%, 169 AB
I’m admittedly higher on Palacios than most, but like I’ve said many times before, give me a shortstop with strong contact skills, plate discipline, and some wheels, and I’ll show you a player you should be targeting in dynasty leagues. Palacios has a quick-left handed stroke with direct swing path through the zone and solid plate coverage. There’s enough power in his bat to project 10-15 homers along with a batting average in the .280-.300 range and the wheels to steal upwards of 25-30 bases annually. He’s had the range and footwork to make it work at short, but his subpar throwing arm forced a move over to second after being drafted.
10. Yu Chang, 3B, Bats: R, DOB: 8/18/95, ETA 2019
2018 Stats (AAA): .256/.330/.411/.741, 28 2B, 13 HR, 4 SB, 8.5 BB%, 27.8 K%, 457 AB
I had a hard time ranking the Yu Chang Clan. Chang has some feel for hitting and above-average raw power thanks to a slight uppercut swing path with solid bat speed. However, I just don’t think he ever shows enough of both to become an above-average offensive contributor at the hot corner. He’s also been trending in the wrong way with his plate discipline, though, he still managed an 8.5% walk rate last season with Triple-A Columbus. I’ve been trying to talk myself into a higher ranking here, but can’t bring myself to do it. Chang screams .260/20 hitter with a handful of steals mixed in. He’ll provide some fantasy value for sure, but don’t go bonkers here.
11. Aaron Bracho, SS/2B, Bats: S, DOB: 4/24/01, ETA 2023
2018 Stats: Did Not Play
If I’m not one of the highest around on Palacios above, I definitely am here with Aaron Bracho. Part of the Indians strong crop of 2017 J2 signings, Bracho actually received the highest bonus out of any player Cleveland signed that summer. Yes, even more than Valera. The Indians thought highly enough of Bracho to dish out $1.5 million to get him into their farm system. Bracho projects to have average or better tools across the board with the ability to hit for both average and power down the road. He’s also quite athletic with good speed on the bases and range at short. His throwing arm isn’t the greatest and better suited for second base. Wherever his defensive home ends up being, Bracho has the offensive upside to become a star It’s just going to take some time.
12. Bo Naylor, C, Bats: L, DOB: 2/21/00, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): .274/.381/.402/.783, 3 2B, 2 HR, 5 SB, 15.1 BB%, 20.1 K%, 117 AB
The artist formerly know as Noah Naylor, Bo was taken near the end of the first round this past June and projects as the Indians catcher of the future after Francisco Mejia was shipped to San Diego. While Naylor has upside as an offensive catcher, he doesn’t possess nearly the same kind of upside that Mejia did. Naylor has an advanced approach for someone his age and walked nearly as much as he struck out during his first taste of professional ball. He’s more raw power over game power at this point, but the hope is that he grows into 20-homer pop down the road with a respectable batting average and a smidge of speed to go along with it.
There are concerns about his defense, which could force him out from behind the plate someday, but for now, Cleveland is going to give him every chance to stick as their backstop of the future.
13. Will Benson, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 6/16/98, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A): .180/.324/.370/.694, 11 2B, 22 HR, 12 SB, 16.2 BB%, 30.0 K%, 416 AB
If you follow prospects consistently, you’ll know that there are five basic tools. There’s a lot more that goes into judging a prospect’s value, but there are five tools that get looked at the most. The great thing about Benson is that he’s above-average or better for four of those tools. That’s great, you might be thinking to yourself. It certainly is, but the downfall is that the one tool that isn’t above-average or better is his hit tool, which is as far from a plus tool as you can get.
Let your eyes wander up to his stats for a second and you’ll see a .180 average and 30% strikeout rate. Is this Chris Davis we’re talking about? Not quite, but there’s a ton of work that needs to be done to Benson’s swing and plate approach before his plus-plus raw power and above-average raw speed can be used for the greater good. The range of outcomes here is gargantuan, just like the breeze you can feel in the stands after he strikes out… again.
14. Raynel Delgado, 2B/SS, Bats: S, DOB: 4/4/00, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (RK): .306/.409/.382/.791, 10 2B, 1 HR, 10 SB, 14.7 BB%, 21.6 K%, 173 AB
A 6th round pick this past June, Delgado fell to the Indians due to his commitment to Florida International. The Indians managed to get him signed, obviously, with a signing bonus nearly four times more than the slot value. Money talks, folks. Delgado is a switch hitter with a good feel for hitting from both sides and plus bat speed. There’s more power projection if he can just add a little loft to his level swing. If he does, Delgado could blossom into a .280/15/20 type of hitter which would provide decent value at either middle infield position. He also has the arm strength to play at the hot corner if needed.
15. Gabriel Rodriguez, SS, Bats: R, DOB: 2/22/02, ETA 2024
2018 Stats: Did Not Play
I love throwing a 2024 ETA on players. “Yeah, by the time you see this guy in the Majors, we’ll have flying cars or be living on Mars or something.” Rodriguez just signed with Cleveland back in July out of Venezuela for $2.1 million and was considered one of the top prospects available during the 2018 J2 period. From the right side, his swing is clean and direct through the zone with some loft in his swing. Rodriguez has the chance to hit for both average and power moving forward, but his below average speed might not allow him to stay at shortstop.
16. Bobby Bradley, 1B, Bats: L, DOB: 5/29/96, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (AA/AAA): .224/.308/.466/.774, 26 2B, 27 HR, 1 SB, 10.2 BB%, 27.0 K%, 483 AB
To put it simply, Bradley is a less athletic version of Benson. Much less athletic. Bradley is slower than molasses and is best suited as a DH moving forward. Like Benson, the raw power upside is massive, but the subpar hit tool suppresses that power. Sure, Bradley’s home run totals over the last four seasons are 27, 29, 23, and 29, but with the raw power he possesses, you could easily add 8-10 home runs per season to those totals if he made more consistent contact.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) July 16, 2018
One thing I’ve noticed that is a problem is his hand positioning. Bradley starts with his hands low and that creates an uppercut swing path. He also has a tendency to get out on his front foot early, leaving himself susceptible to breaking pitches. If he can even manage a 40-45 grade hit tool to hit in the .250 range, Bradley could blossom into a 35-plus home run hitter.
17. Lenny Torres, RHP, DOB: 10/15/00, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): 15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 12.9 K/9, .246 AVG
By this time next season, this ranking could be 8-10 spots too low. The Indians drafted the New York prep arm in the first round back in June, signing him away from a commitment to hometown St. John University. Armed with a low to mid-90’s fastball, tight slider with two-plane break, and an average changeup with some fade, Torres dominated the Arizona League down the stretch in 2018 and could see time in Single-A later on in 2019. Control isn’t an issue here and Torres is able to repeat his delivery well, although, there is some effort to it. It’s still very early on, but the upside here for Torres is that of a #2 starter with high strikeout potential.
18. Johnathan Rodriguez, OF, Bats: S, DOB: 11/4/99, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): .294/.370/.406/.776, 10 2B, 1 HR, 8 SB, 10.4 BB%, 20.9 K%, 187 AB
A prep bat taken in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, Rodriguez projects to have solid tools across the board but is still quite raw as a hitter. His swing is currently a little long which takes away from his above-average raw power. If he can take some length out of his swing and take a more direct path through the zone, Rodriguez could turn into a .280/20/15 type down the road with a solid OBP to go along with it thanks to a strong walk rate. Be patient with this one.
19. Daniel Johnson, OF, Bats: L, DOB: 7/11/95, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (RK/AA): .269/.327/.412/.739, 19 2B, 7 HR, 22 SB, 6.0 BB%, 22.2 K%, 376 AB
You can get a sense for the depth in this farm system from me ranking Daniel Johnson 18th after slotting him seventh on my personal Nationals list. Johnson, who came over in the Yan Gomes deal, is an athletic outfielder with plus speed, defensive range, and a cannon of a throwing arm, but is still quite raw at the plate. Although he’s quite strong, his above-average raw power doesn’t show up often due to the armsy nature of his swing and minimal load and use of his lower half. Johnson was able to make up for that somewhat due to his quick wrists, but got exposed at Double-A last season and looked completely overmatched in the Arizona Fall League. Those struggles will likely continue without mechanical adjustments. For right now, I see him as a bench bat and defensive replacement with the upside of a .260/20/20 corner outfielder at best.
20. Oscar Gonzalez, OF, Bats: R, DOB: 1/10/98, ETA 2021
2018 Stats (A): .292/.310/.435/.745, 25 2B, 13 HR, 5 SB, 2.5 BB%, 22.3 K%, 462 AB
Math time. Don’t you groan at me, this is an easy one. Take 310 and minus 292 from it. You’re left with 18. When your OBP is only 18 points above your batting average, you might want to try and develop some patience and work the count a little more. Just saying. Gonzalez fits the corner outfielder mold perfectly with plus raw power and a cannon for an arm, but he’ll need to work on his plate approach if he wants to continue to climb the ladder towards Cleveland.
21. Carlos Vargas, RHP, DOB: 10/13/99, ETA 2023
2018 Stats (RK): 34.1 IP, 3.93 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 6.3 BB/9, 10.7 K/9, .254 AVG
Another J2 signing, this one from 2016, Vargas signed for $275K and made his professional debut last season in the Arizona Rookie League. Let’s say the results give off mixed signals. Kind of like that first date when you’re not sure if they like you enough to go on a second date. That’s Vargas. in a nutshell. The 19-year-old Dominican native features a three-pitch mix, with the fastball and curve grading as plus. Vargas sits in the mid-90s with some arm side run, but the pitch straightens out at times and gets hit hard. The curve is more of a power curve/slider hybrid with hard break, but lacks consistency. Vargas also throws a changeup which is serviceable with some fade when he’s throwing it right. The upside here is quite high if he can refine his more than shaky command. If he doesn’t, the floor might just crumble beneath him.
22. Junior Sanquintin, SS, Bats: S, DOB: 1/8/02, ETA 2024
2018 Stats: Did Not Play
While the upside isn’t quite as high as his 2018 J2 Indians signing buddy, Gabriel Rodriguez, Sanquintin brings a solid all-around skill set with average or better tools across the board. He really has a chance to develop into an above-average offensive contributor that can hit for both average and power. Sanquintin has quick wrists and incredible bat speed with some loft. I’d like to see him tone down the movement pre-pitch, but that’s a minor thing that he has plenty of time to adjust. While not a burner, Sanquintin does have some speed on the bases and solid range at shortstop.
23. Sam Hentges, LHP, DOB: 7/18/96, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (A+): 118.1 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, 9.3 K/9, .260 AVG
A big southpaw at 6’6/240, Hentges could have three above-average pitches when it’s all said and done, but he’ll need to improve his control and command of his arsenal for that to ultimately happen. That walk rate you see above improved from 2017 and his best single-season walk rate, but that just goes to show that his control has been an issue thus far. He’s also dealt with elbow issues in the past that led to Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2016 season. If Hentges can improve his command, his low-90’s fastball, above-average curveball, and serviceable changeup give him the upside of a mid-rotation arm.
24. Nick Sandlin, RHP, DOB: 1/10/97, ETA 2020
2018 Stats (RK/A/A+/AA): 24.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 1.1 BB/9, 13.5 K/9, .233 AVG
I’m not sure what to make of Sandlin as a pitcher He throws a plethora of pitches from three different arm slots, which adds deception and makes him hard to figure out as an opposing hitter. But hey, it’s working for him and he climbed all the way up to Double-A in 2018. I’m not going to say he has closer upside quite yet, but there’s definitely some appeal here. Hey Cleveland, do me a solid and send him back to Double-A to start 2019 so I can get a look at him.
25. Marcos Gonzalez, SS, Bats: R, DOB: 10/12/99, ETA 2022
2018 Stats (RK): .305/.397/.458/.855, 7 2B, 3 HR, 4 SB, 9.2 BB%, 18.3 K%, 131 AB
Look what we have here, another J2 signing from the last few years. Gonzalez was part of the Indians 2016 J2 crop and has more than held his own in the Dominican Summer League and Arizona League with a .286 average, .381 OBP, and 17 steals in 346 combined at-bats. The upside isn’t overly high here, but Gonzalez makes consistent contact from the right side and has solid control over the strike zone. Gonzalez profiles as a utility infielder or borderline starting option, with his strong defense pushing me toward the latter.
Others to Monitor
Quentin Holmes, OF – A 2018 first-round pick as a prep bat out of New York, Holmes possesses truly elite speed but the rest of his game needs a ton of work.
Elijah Morgan, RHP – Morgan doesn’t throw hard at all but has arguably the best changeup in the system and could develop into a safe, back-end rotation arm.
Aaron Civale, RHP – Civale will make it to the Majors on the strength of his pinpoint control and ability to eat innings, but with a lackluster fastball and no real weapons outside of his plus slider, the upside is limited.
Up – Luis Oviedo (RHP), Brayan Rocchio (SS)
Other Team Prospect Reports
Photo/Video Credit: Jory Dyvig (Main Article Image), Jason Woodell, Chris Welsh, Indians Prospective.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB writer and prospect analyst here on FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.
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