What a system. This is my 9th top-25 of this offseason and probably the most enjoyable so far. This Cleveland system is as loaded and deep as you’ll find in baseball right now and can nearly rival the San Diego system. Yeah, this system is THAT good. On top of that, everyone you talk to praises the player development team Cleveland has, which has been evident with all the homegrown talent on the Indians roster, both in the field and on the mound. Having this type of player dev team in places makes you feel just that much better about an already strong top-25 Cleveland Indians prospects list.
You’ll quickly sense a few trends here too. First off, the vast majority of this list consists of raw international talent and high school draft picks. Cleveland likes to be able to get talent early on in the developmental process and really let their outstanding player dev team work with them. You’ll also notice an abundance of shortstop prospects in this top-25. You know what they say, one can never have too much shortstop depth. I feel like that saying is on a bulletin board somewhere in the Cleveland Indians’ front office. Or maybe they had a Kevin Costner moment from Field of Dreams and heard a voice whisper “sign the shortstop.” Who knows. But what I do know is that this is a damn good top-25 with talent all the way down to #25 (and beyond) that needs to be on your radar in dynasty leagues.
Overall System Grade: A
Minor League Affiliates
Triple-A: Columbus – International League
Double-A: Akron – Eastern League
Advanced Single-A: Lynchburg – Carolina League
Low Single-A: Lake County – Midwest League
Short Single-A: Mahoning Valley – New York-Penn League
Rookie: Arizona League (2), Dominican Summer League (1)..
All other team top-25 prospect rankings can be found here.
If you aren’t playing your dynasty leagues on Fantrax, you’re missing out on the deepest player pool and most customization around. Just starting out in a dynasty league? Then check out Eric Cross’ Top-250 prospects, Top-300 Dynasty League Rankings, & 2019 FYPD/J2 Rankings.
Also, make sure to check out the Fantrax Dynasty Baseball Podcast weekly with Nathan Dokken, Van Lee, and Ron Rigney!
Top-25 Cleveland Indians Prospects – 2020
1. Nolan Jones, 3B
In a system filled with upside in the low minors, Nolan Jones might seem like a boring or safe prospect. He might not be the flashiest prospect around, but the combination of ceiling and floor Jones has cannot be matched by any other prospect in the system right now. And out of all the prospects in this system, he’s the one I’m most confident in having a long Major League career. Here’s why.
To say that Jones is a professional hitter is a vast understatement. While Jones isn’t a threat to win a batting title any time soon, he’s displayed above-average contact skills with the ability to generate hard contact to all fields. The average should likely settle into the .270-.280 range for the most part with an OBP around .400 due to Jones’ enormous walk rate which sits at 17.3% for his minor league career. A higher strikeout rate has accompanied that walk rate, but that’s not necessarily all from him chasing bad pitches. Jones’ patience at the dish gets him into deeper counts, and in turn, that elevates his strikeout rate a bit. It’s not something I’m concerned with moving forward.
#Indians top prospect 3B Nolan Jones 8 (AA) HR's over his 49 games with the Akron Rubberducks. Jones was promoted to Akron from Lynchburg on July 8th 2019. The 2016 2nd Round Draft Pick could see Cleveland as soon as 2020.@Nolan_Jones10 @excelsm #Future pic.twitter.com/uv8Hn5sSSb
— Guardians Prospective (@CleGuardPro) October 12, 2019
What’s really great about Jones, outside of the walk rate, is that he’s still just scratching the surface of his power potential. He’s long shown off his easy plus raw power in batting practice, but a more groundball heavy approach has limited how much of that translates into game action. That flyball rate has ever so slowly begun to trend upwards and Jones has always been one of the top prospects in terms of estimated flyball distance. A slight adjustment and some added loft should balloon his homer totals into the low-30s. This is a middle of the order force in the making that we should see in Cleveland by early-2021. Oh yeah, Jones is an exceptional defender at the hot corner with a plus arm as well. Outside of his below-average speed, Jones is the whole package.
2. George Valera, OF
If we’re talking pure upside, you could make a strong argument for Valera being the top dog here. Valera signed for $1.3m as part of the loaded 2017 J2 international class that has gifted us Julio Rodriguez, Kristian Robinson, some guy named Wander Franco, and so many others. While Valera hasn’t quite exploded onto the prospect scene like the other big names in this class, the hitting ability is one to dream on and one that could see him develop into an offensively-gifted outfielder at the highest level.
More eyes on top international @Indians prospect George Valera. Here's his swing slowed down. Opposite field contact here. Natural swing with loft, power is + at his age. Might to need to chill some of the action in the swing at some point #ProspectOne pic.twitter.com/PrgB44DCUl
— The Welsh (@IsItTheWelsh) June 24, 2018
As I mentioned, the 2019 season wasn’t one to write home about for Valera, however, there were several positives to take away. One area that greatly impressed me was his patience at the dish with a 14.5% walk rate. A near 30% strikeout rate went along for the ride, but with Valera’s tools, I expect that to improve as he develops. At the plate, Valera has a smooth left-handed stroke with plenty of bat speed due to his quick wrists and strong hips that he uses to create torque. He’ll drop his hands slightly during load which turns into a slight uppercut swing path, but mechanically, there are no glaring concerns. With his plus raw power, 30-home runs aren’t out of the question at peak to go along with a high batting average as well.
Valera isn’t a speed demon on the field by any means, but he’s displayed solid foot speed and athleticism so far with some base running instincts. If he can add 10-15 steals, which I believe he can, we could be seeing his name as a top-50 fantasy asset down the road.
3. Tyler Freeman, SS
You’ll quickly sense a trend with these top Cleveland Indians prospects. Maybe you already have. You’re going to see a ton of above-average or better hit tools throughout this top-25. We discussed two of them with Jones and Valera, and now we have our third here at #3 with Tyler Freeman. Valera puts up a good argument, but Freeman just might be the best pure hitter on this list.
Drafted in the 2nd round back in 2017 as a California high school shortstop, Freeman has done nothing but rake in the minors, hitting .292 or higher at every level thus far. The Indians finally pushed him a little in 2019, promoting him to the Class-A Advanced Carolina League mid-season, and Freeman responded with a .319 average at the level and .306 for the season. On top of that, Freeman is incredibly stingy with strikeouts, posting a 9.7% strikeout rate this season and 8.8% for his career.
There are several reasons why Freeman is such a polished hitter. First, his contact skills and feel for the barrel are easily plus, and Freeman can use the entire field well as evident by his 33.3% or better oppo rate at every level so far. His swing is simple, compact, and quick from the right side with an aptitude for keeping his hands inside the ball. Sure, he doesn’t walk a ton, but with contact skills like this, you can live with a 5-6% walk rate. There isn’t a ton of power upside here with below-average raw and a mostly linear swing path, but this is the type of hitter that might be able to approach double-digits annually due to how much hard contact he makes.
But power is not why you want Freeman in dynasty. You want him for the high batting average, his plus speed, and the fact that he’s a middle infielder. Notice how I didn’t say shortstop? Yes, he’s a shortstop now, but his defensive profile projects better at second base in my eyes. Regardless, this is a high-floor prospect with .300/10/30 upside. That will play at any position.
4. Brayan Rocchio, SS
See, I told you there was a trend here with these high contact hitters. When you boil it down, Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman are very similar prospects, minus the fact that Rocchio is a switch-hitter. Both possess above-average to plus hit tools and speed with below-average power upside. I will say though, Rocchio appears to have a touch more pop than Freeman does with 12-15 homers annually possible at peak. He’s already begun listing the ball a bit more too, increasing his fly ball rate to 40.7% in 2019.
As a switch-hitter, Rocchio has shown a good feel for hitting from both sides of the plate. His pre-pitch setup is quiet with hands slightly below the shoulder. Everything is fluid and synced through load, hands coiling back and up in unison before exploding through the zone with exceptional bat speed and some natural loft. Simply put, I love Rocchio’s swing. He hasn’t shown a ton of power so far, but with his swing and some further physical development, I firmly believe he can reach that 12-15 homer range I mentioned above.
One area Rocchio will have to improve upon is his efficiency on the bases. Rocchio has plus speed and athleticism but has only converted on 63.2% of his stolen base attempts in his minor league career. If he can improve the efficiency, there’s 25-plus stolen base upside in these legs to pair with double-digit homers and a high batting average. I’d anticipate seeing Rocchio’s name higher in prospect rankings at this time next year. Another current shortstop, I like Rocchio’s chances to stick at short more than Freeman’s. However, his athleticism has allowed him to play some second and third as well and gives him plenty of defensive versatility. That will be huge down the road with all these talented infield prospects.
5. Ethan Hankins, RHP
Before we continue with the onslaught of infield prospects in this top-10, let’s discuss fireballer Ethan Hankins. At 6’6 and 200 pounds, Hankins is a projectable right-hander with an electric fastball in the mid-90’s currently out of a 3/4 arm slot. His delivery is easy with repeatable mechanics. Hankins might end up in the upper-90’s when it’s all said and if he adds some strength to his frame which he’s already done since being drafted. His legs and lower half are very strong and allow Hankins to generate solid extension in his delivery. In addition to the velocity, the arm side run Hankins gets on his fastball is ridiculous. Here, take a look…
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 8, 2017
Now, as sexy as that fastball is and projects to be in the future, the secondaries need work. The potential is there with each of the three, but the consistency is where Hankins can make the most gains. His secondary offerings consist of a slurvy mid-70’s curveball with 2-7 break, a upper-70’s slider, and a mid-80’s changeup with fade and tumble. Both the curve and changeup flash above-average to plus and Hankins has shown a feel for at least an average slider. With some additional development there and continued command refinement, Hankins could blossom into an electric #2 starter with considerable strikeout upside. This is an arm to invest heavily on in dynasty leagues.
6. Aaron Bracho, 2B
Alright, back to the middle infield prospects. There’s so damn many of them, I could probably make a top-25 using just the 2B/SS prospects in this organization. Aaron Bracho was another 2017 J2 signing for the Indians and one that has considerably more power upside than Freeman and Rocchio. In fact, Bracho is closer to Nolan Jones in the power department than he is the aforementioned duo. He might only be 5’11/175, but Bracho packs a punch with a strong lower half and some of the quickest wrists and bat speed in the system. His swing is simple and compact, keeping his hand in and whipping the head of the bat through the zone with a direct swing path. Bracho will use more of a toe tap to time pitches and incorporates his lower half well in his swing.
Presently, there’s already above-average raw power here and Bracho has 25-homer upside down the road once he matures physically. Although, I’m not sure there’s a ton of physical projection left. The batting average should look nice too as Bracho is an advanced hitter with a sound approach and good feel for hitting from both sides. There’s also double-digit speed here, making Bracho a well-rounded offensive second baseman.
7. Daniel Espino, RHP
The 2019 draft class lacked an elite name like Casey Mize, but there were a handful of 1st-tier high-upside arms in the class, headlined by Daniel Espino. A 6’2 power right-hander, Espino might just have the highest pitching upside of any arm in this system, even over Ethan Hankins. The arsenal runs deep with potential above-average to plus offerings, with his mid to upper-90’s fastball currently the best of the bunch. Espino can really run his fastball up near triple-digits with great extension in his delivery thanks to a very strong lover half. He’ll generally sit in the 95-97 range with strong life from a 3/4 arm slot and can maintain that velocity deep into his starts.
— Kyler Peterson (@KPeterson813) April 2, 2019
Espino’s secondaries are nearly as impressive as his heater. He’ll throw two distinct breaking pitches, a low-80’s slider and mid-70’s curveball, both with good shape and strong break. Espino can use either pitch as his out pitch, and when he’s commanding both pitches well, good luck. While the changeup is inconsistent and well behind the rest of his arsenal, Espino has shown a feel for it. If the changeup can develop into at least an average 4th offering and the command and control continues progressing, Espino has the upside to become an electric #2 type of starter capable of challenging for strikeout titles annually.
8. Gabriel Rodriguez, SS/3B
The Cleveland Indians have really done well for themselves on the international market over the last few years and Gabriel Rodriguez is another example of that. Signed in the 2018 J2 period for $2.1m out of Venezuela, Rodriguez hasn’t performed to the level of the others above him quite yet, but he certainly has the tools to do so. Rodriguez is another middle infielder with a good feel for hitting in this system and some budding raw power as well.
From the right side, his swing is remarkable quick with quick, strong hands and plenty of torque from his strong hip rotation. He’s already displaying above-average to plus raw power with a swing that creates natural backspin and loft. As he matures physically and likely adds bulk, Rodriguez should develop into a plus raw power or better type of infielder. With that added bulk, a move from short to third will likely be in order though. At present, Rodriguez has shown serviceable range and foot speed but any regression in those areas will likely push him to the hot corner where he has a strong enough arm to fit.
With Rodriguez’s AVG/HR potential, and still enough speed to add 5-10 SB annually, the offensive upside is there to become an above-average offensive third baseman (or shortstop) at the Major League level. Grabbing as much Rodriguez dynasty stock as you can now is highly recommended as this is likely the lowest his price tag will ever be.
9. Alexfri Planez, OF
If you play in a dynasty league that rosters 200-plus prospects, stop reading this and go add Alexfri Planez. Go ahead, I’ll wait. All set? Good, now let’s continue. Planez might not be a household prospect name quite yet, but by this time next year, we very well might be talking about him as a top-100 type of dynasty prospect. Planez was another 2017 international signing for Cleveland but didn’t sign until mid-August due to not being 16 yet when the international period started. It’s already beginning to look like the Indians stole him for $400K too with the type of offensive upside he has.
Seguimos 💯🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/pPpgopIQIJ
— Alexfri Planez (@ajplanez33) November 14, 2019
Standing in at 6’2/180, Planez is a strong outfielder with plus athleticism and physical projection remaining. He’s already showing off his easy plus raw power and should grow into even more, very likely ending up with 70-grade raw power. There’s plenty of leverage and torque in Planez’s swing with a bigger leg kick used to time pitches. As long as he continues showing average or better contact skills, Planez shouldn’t have any issues getting to that raw power consistently in games. There are still some swing and miss concerns to iron out, but he’s in a great system and is still very young. His plus athleticism and above-average speed should allow him to continue being a threat on the bases even if he adds bulk.
The upside here with Planez is special and it will be up to the hit tool to determine just how special an offensive talent he becomes. The upside here is a middle of the order force that can hit for average, plenty of power, and chip in double-digit steals as well. Buy, buy, buy.
10. Triston McKenzie, RHP
While the majority of the names on this list are trending up, the prospect gleam for Triston McKenzie dulled a bit in 2019. Not playing at all this season due to a back strain is a big reason for that. Not that he missed all that time per se, but there were already durability concerns with McKenzie before this injury and the back strain just exasperates those concerns. At 6’5 and 165 pounds, McKenzie’s frame is in desperate need of some bulk. Someone get this man a cheeseburger or something for crying out loud. While having a slight frame like this doesn’t guarantee durability concerns, the fact that McKenzie has had injury concerns off and on throughout his minor league career sure i. And a back injury at such a young age is a big red flag for me.
But enough about all that. We can’t forget that McKenzie is a very talented pitching prospect with plenty of upside. His bread and butter is a fastball/curveball combination with both pitches projecting as above-average to plus Major League offerings. Before missing the 2019 season, McKenzie would sit mostly in the low-90’s with his fastball but would often struggle to maintain that velocity deep into his starts. His plus command helped the pitch remain effective at the lower velocity, but McKenzie is going to need to add bulk to maintain his velocity or risk moving to the bullpen where his fastball would play better in shorter stints and pair nicely with his big breaking curveball. Further development of his changeup would also greatly benefit McKenzie, as the pitch is very inconsistent and lacks velocity separation.
11. Jhonkensy Noel, 1B/3B
Here’s another name that is quickly sneaking into prospect notoriety. Jhonkensy Noel was yet another 2017 international signing for the Indians and one that rivals Planez for the best raw power of the group. Everywhere I’ve seen lists him at 6’1/180, but there’s no freaking way he’s that size anymore. I’d guess more in the 6’2/210-220 range from what I saw. As I mentioned, his double-plus raw power is Noel’s calling card and his strong frame and swing are built for power.
Like Planez, Noel utilizes a bigger leg kick to time pitches and creates significant torque from his strong hips and lower half. There’s some length to his swing, which isn’t overly shocking for a guy his size, but Noel has shown solid bat speed once he begins forward movement in his swing. So far in the minors, Noel has split time between first and third, but with how he’s projecting, I’m expecting him as a first baseman moving forward, and one with massive power upside. If Noel can shorten his swing a tad and keep his strikeouts in check as he has so far, there’s a chance he’ll be able to hit for a solid batting average as well due to at least average contact skills and a solid approach. This is definitely a name on the rise.
12. Angel Martinez, INF
After discussing a few power bats in Planez and Noel, we’re back to the hit and speed over power infielder. A 2018 J2 signing from the Dominican Republic, Martinez has shown a good feel for hitting from both sides of the plate with plus bat speed and quick wrists. His swing is clean and compact with a good feel for the barrel and Martinez has shown that he can use the whole field from both sides. In addition to his above-average contact skills, Martinez has displayed an advanced plate approach for someone his age and can work the count. He doesn’t chase too much junk outside the zone either and only struck out in 11.1% of his plate appearances this season.
While power will never be a big part of Martinez’s game, his bat speed and raw power should get him into double-digit homer territory at peak if he can lift the ball enough. And what he might lack in power, Martinez makes up for in the speed department with plus speed and 25 SB upside. While he doesn’t quite have the same ceiling as the names above him, the upside here is still high and the price tag is likely still fairly low in dynasty leagues. It will be interesting to see if that plate discipline stays strong when he comes stateside in 2020.
13. Daniel Johnson, OF
In a normal, average system, Daniel Johnson would likely be a top-10 prospect. In fact, he was a borderline top-5 prospect during his time in the weak Washington Nationals system. The Indians acquired Johnson from the Nats last November in the Yan Gomes deal and assigned him to Double-A Akron to start the 2019 season. While his end of season line looks impressive with a .290 average, 17 home runs, and 12 steals in 123 games, I’m still not fully sold on Johnson hitting for a high average at the Major League level.
Saw Daniel Johnson a couple times w/ Double-A Harrisburg this season. Athletic w/ plus SPD but I question the hit tool & game power. Raw power is there, but Johnson doesn't incorporate his lower half much in his swing. Minimal load. Swings with upper half. Quick wrists. #Indians pic.twitter.com/FlMOZhRFgi
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) December 1, 2018
His contact skills are below average to average and he didn’t really show much patience at the plate until the 2019 season. With that being said, Johnson hasn’t let his strikeouts get too far out of hand, barely exceeding 20% in 2019. Ultimately, he’s probably a .250-.260 type of hitter with the upside to go 2020. But like I said in my above tweet, Johnson is more raw power than game power at the moment and he also hasn’t been the most efficient base stealer during his minor league career. With his raw power and quick swing that generates loft, Johnson could be a 25 homer type if he incorporates his lower half a bit more. If everything clicks, Johnson has the ceiling of a .260/25/25 hitter. But the floor isn’t overly high either.
14. Bobby Bradley, 1B
Trust me when I say that I want to buy into Bobby Bradley. I truly do. But with what I saw during his minor league career, including my live looks at him in 2017 and 2018 in the Eastern League, I see a hitter that is going to struggle to hit for any sort of batting average. The raw power is legit elite with plus bat speed and a swing that creates plenty of loft. This type of power and swing could translate into 40-homers annually with a full season of at-bats. But the problem is that Bradley’s below-average contact skills and strikeout woes will likely limit his in-game power a bit against Major League pitching while keeping him below .240 or so.
There are a ton of holes in his swing, especially against offspeed, and that’s something that was exposed during his brief stint with Cleveland this season and will continue to be exposed until Bradley makes some adjustments. With that being said, Bradley does walk a healthy amount and should keep his OBP respectable, even with the lower batting average. If you play in OBP leagues and are intrigued by the mammoth power, then Bradley is a nice target as a poor man’s Joey Gallo type. Just don’t go hog wild on this likely future DH with literally zero speed upside.
15. Will Benson, OF
If toolsy hitters are your thing, then let me introduce you to Will Benson. In a deep and talented system like this, Benson might be the toolsiest of them all. That’s really saying something. At 6’5/225, Benson is a physical specimen with incredible strength and athleticism. You would expect a guy his size to move so well in the field and have borderline plus speed on the basepaths, but that’s exactly what we have here with Benson who swiped 27 bags in 31 attempts last season.
Will Benson (@_thekidbilly_) hit 4⃣ DONGS last night. 💪💪💪💪
In honor of the achievement, I give you 3⃣ slo-mo swings from 2018.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) April 19, 2019
At the plate, Benson has some length in his swing, as one might expect from a guy his size. But when he connects, oh boy. Benson has easy plus power with a leveraged swing. He drops his hands during load which creates a nice uppercut swing path, enabling him to launch the ball with ease. However, his approach is incredibly aggressive and pull-heavy which has often gotten him in trouble. At every level so far, Benson has pulled the ball over 50% of the time and has a career 30.8% strikeout rate. He does walk a fair amount which has kept his OBP respectable, but Benson is going to need to cut back on the strikeouts if he wants to fully unleash all of his tantalizing offensive tools.
16. Bo Naylor, C
Whether you want to call him Bo or Noah, Josh’s little brother has some nice offensive upside. Drafted as a first-round pick as a Canadian prep bat, Naylor has displayed a good feel for hitting with a smooth left-handed swing. Naylor isn’t the biggest guy around, but packs a punch with plus bat speed and above-average raw power. He’s also a fairly athletic catcher with at least average foot speed.
The results haven’t wowed anyone yet, but Naylor has shown glimpses of his solid all-around offensive upside that should carry him to the Majors. Whether that’s at catcher remains to be seen, but the bat will play. The upside is a .280 bat with 15-20 homers at peak and an OBP around .350. Don’t sleep on him.
17. Lenny Torres, RHP
Tommy John grabbed another victim in 2019, causing the promising young right-hander, Lenny Torres, to miss the entire season. After drafting Torres 41st overall in 2019, Cleveland assigned him to the Arizona Rookie League where Torres really impressed in his brief stint. In 15.1 innings, Torres allowed just three earned runs and four walks while striking out 22. His plus fastball/slider combination dominated from the get-go and made him a prospect to watch heading into his first full professional season. That is, until the surgery.
As I mentioned, Torres attacks hitters with a plus fastball in the low to mid-90s with life and a sharp, biting slider with two-plane break. Those two pitches alone could make him a late-inning weapon out of the bullpen down the road, which is where some scouts project him to end up due to his smaller frame. That’s something I can see happening, but the Indians will give him every chance to remain a starter for now. Torres has shown feel for at least an average changeup and has solid enough command and control with a delivery he repeats well, all of which give me hope that he can remain a starter moving forward.
18. James Karinchak, RHP
There is one reason and one reason only why James Karinchak is ranked this highly: Elite closer upside. Lets jaunt over to his baseball-reference page for a second. What’s that I see? A 22.0 K/9? Surely that can’t be accurate! Well, believe it because 74 strikeouts in 30.1 innings will give you that video game strikeout rate. Actually, I’m not even sure you can achieve that in a video game. Now, striking out a ton of guys doesn’t immediately give you closer upside. But what does, is having a dynamic fastball/curveball combination with both pitches grading as plus or better.
Karinchak will sit in the mid to upper-90’s with plenty of arm side life on his heater. His curveball is a true hammer with great 12-6 shape and depth in the low to mid-80’s. Like with most young flamethrowers, command and control can be an issue at times, but as along as Karinchak can keep that all in check, we should be seeing him in the 9th inning fairly soon with the upside to become one of the game’s top closers. After impressing down the stretch in Cleveland, Karinchak should be one of the Indians top pen arms in 2020.
James Karinchak, 97mph Fastball and 84mph Curveball, Overlay (at release) pic.twitter.com/2BbSZJrujZ
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 15, 2019
19. Logan Allen, LHP
Every system needs a few high floor guys. In this Cleveland system, Logan Allen is one of them. Originally drafted by the Red Sox in 2015, Allen was traded to the Padres after the 2015 season and then from San Diego to Cleveland during the 2019 season. His time in the Padres system was where Allen really flourished, developing into a borderline top-100 prospect due to his high floor and upside as a mid-rotation arm.
The arsenal Allen works with won’t knock your socks off, but all of his four pitches grade as plus or better and Allen has shown a good feel for them all with above-average command which has allowed him to get the most out of his arsenal. He’ll sit in the low-90’s with some arm side run on his fastball while mixing in a borderline plus changeup and two different breaking balls. I’d really like to see Allen develop one of those into a true out pitch, but his arsenal as it stands gives him the upside of a #4 with the frame needed to be an inning-eating arm.
20. Yordys Valdes, SS
Were you having Cleveland shortstop prospect withdrawals? Well, don’t worry, we got a few more before this top-25 concludes. But as you could probably figure out from this ranking, Yordys Valdez doesn’t have the upside of the other’s we’ve talked about and is much lesser of a finished product. That’s not to same there isn’t some decent upside though. The Indians thought enough of him to take Valdez in the 2nd round with the 63rd overall pick out of the Florida high school ranks.
His best tool is his above-average to plus speed that has benefitted him both on the bases and in the field. Some might even say that Valdes has the potential to become one of the best defensive shortstops in the system down the road. And I might agree with that notion. But at the plate, he’s a work in progress, albeit, with some building blocks to work with. As a switch-hitter, Valdes exhibits solid bat speed from both sides of the plate, but needs to work on making more consistent contact. That will be key as Valdes doesn’t have more than 5-10 HR pop and will need to hit for a high average to make an impact. File him away as a player to watch for now.
21. Junior Sanquintin, SS/3B
You really can’t praise the Indians enough for all the talent they accrued in the 2017 and 2018 international periods. While Junior Sanquintin wasn’t one of the elite names in 2018, many considered him to be one of the five best shortstops in that class with solid tools across the board. Like several others in this top-25, Sanquintin is a switch hitter and one with a different type of swing from each side of the plate. From what I’ve seen, he looks more comfortable from the right side with more fluid motions and a smoother swing. The left side looks kinda awkward with a massive Garry Sheffield like bat wiggle pre-pitch while being slightly hunched over.
His ability to generate natural loft is apparent from both sides, as is his above-average to plus raw power. With further physical development, Sanquintin could be a 20-plus homer bat with enough contact skills to hit for a respectable batting average. As he develops, Sanquintin might lose the range and speed to play shortstop, but the offensive tools are here to fit at third base or wherever he ends up.
22. Jose Tena, INF
Oh look, another shortstop and another intriguing international signing from 2017. Jose Tena wasn’t considered a big name from that international class, but certainly has the skills on both sides of the ball to develop into a Major League shortstop in time. From the left side of the plate, Tena uses a quick and compact swing geared for line drives into the gaps. His contact skills are above-average to plus which has translated to higher batting averages out of the gate, but Tena’s approach is overly aggressive. A 22.1% strikeout rate isn’t too concerning, but a 3.0% walk rate is.
I’d love to see just a tad more patience from Tena moving forward to feel better about projecting that average to remain near or above the .300 mark moving forward. If he can, Tena’s mix of contact, above-average speed, and defensive versatility should carry him up the ladder. Although, his longterm defensive home is still to be determined and there’s minimal power upside here. Keep an eye on him.
23. Joe Naranjo, 1B
Generally speaking, there aren’t a ton of high school first baseman that get drafted early year to year. But this is the Indians who love dipping into the high school ranks when drafting, so picking Joe Naranjo in the 3rd round back in June isn’t too surprising. It makes even more sense when you factor in Naranjo’s offensive upside and advanced feel for hitting for a high school bat. This is one of the smoothest left-handed swings you’ll see from this year’s draft class and Naranjo’s above-average to plus contact skills and sound approach should allow him to hit for a higher batting average north of .280 moving forward.
How much power he hits for is still in question though. Naranjo has exhibited average raw power so far, but lacks much physical projection and doesn’t incorporate his lower half much or get a ton of loft on his swing. As of now, I’m projecting him as a 15-20 homer bat.
24. Richie Palacios, 2B
Although it was a lost season for Richard Palacios due to a torn labrum, I’m not ready to drop him out of the top-25 due to the skills he showed before the injury in 2018. Mainly, above-average contact skills, a sound plate approach, plus speed, and double-digit pop with a high baseball IQ. Across three levels in 2018, Palacios flashed all of those tools, hitting .361 with six home runs, seven stolen bases, and a 19/27 BB/K ratio in 45 games. Torn Labrums aren’t the easiest to come back from, so it will be interesting to see how Palacios fares in 2020. He’s not a target outside of the deepest of dynasty leagues right now, but definitely keep an eye on him next season.
25. Jean Carlos Mejia, RHP
After being used strictly in a relief capacity from 2014-2017, the Indians moved Jean Carlos Mejia into the rotation for the 2018 season. Two years later that is looking like a wise move. JCM is a big 6’4/230 pound right-hander with an enticing four-pitch mix. He’ll attack hitters with a low to mid-90’s sinking fastball and mix a curveball, slider, and changeup with both breaking balls flashing above-average to plus at times. His changeup is behind the rest of his arsenal, but Mejia has at least shown a feel for it with some fade and tumbling action.
Mejia has already made strides as a starter in his first two seasons and has shown above-average control and command already. If he can continue making gains, he projects as a high-K #4 starter down the road. One area of concern though is durability as Mejia missed a ton of time in 2019 with multiple abdominal strains.
Others to Monitor
Yu Chang, 3B: It might be a tad surprising to not see Chang in this top-25 as he’s been there for so long. But ultimately, I don’t think Chang projects as a starter in the Major Leagues. The tools project him as more of a high-leverage backup infielder in my eyes.
Jose Pastrano, SS: A 2019 J2 signing with solid speed and defensive skills, but limited offensive upside at present.
Ernie Clement, SS: Solid contact skills and plus speed, but not sure he impacts the ball enough or is strong enough defensively to be a full-time starter.
Raynel Delgado, 2B: Has flashed above-average raw power from the 2nd base position but has yet to translate that into games.
Luis Oviedo, RHP: Works with a nice four-pitch mix but has struggled with his command throughout his minor league career. Cleveland also left him unprotected for the Rule-5 draft which is interesting.
Scott Moss, LHP: Moss is the epitome of a #5 starter. The arsenal is filled with a bunch of serviceable offerings without any standout pitches and his control has been mostly inconsistent. Should be up with Cleveland at some point in 2020.
Nick Sandlin, RHP: Doesn’t quite have the closer upside of Karinchak, but Sandlin has the stuff and mentality to flourish as a setup man.
Oscar Gonzalez, OF: There are some nice all-around tools here, but those are limited by an aggressive approach. Gonzalez doesn’t necessarily strike out a ton, but he avoids walks like they’re a contagious disease.
Johnathan Rodriguez, OF: Has a nice blend of tools, but hasn’t developed at the plate as much as one would hope. Still an intriguing name to keep an eye on for dynasty leagues.
Ka’ai Tom, OF: Former 5th-round pick, now 25 years old in Triple-A. Tom had a strong 2019 campaign and should help out in Cleveland at some point in 2020. There’s some AVG/HR potential here, but the overall upside isn’t overly high.
Media Credit: Robert Robinson, Rob Friedman, Brayan Rocchio, Indians Prospective, Alexfri Planez, Lance Brozdowski, Kyler Peterson, Chris Welsh.
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