Cleveland Indians Top Ten Prospects For 2017
After the Cleveland Indians made the World Series and fell just short in one of the most exciting game 7’s in recent history, what do they have left to build into the team for 2017?
Our minor league top 10 series is coordinated by Benjamin Chase, one of our contributors at Call To The Pen.
He has poured over thousands of minor league games over the course of the year via milb.tv along with speaking with a number of team and independent scouts. These lists are based out of those conversations.
Each system will have prospects from 10 to 1, and then finish with one newcomer to the system that is worth keeping an eye on that is not in the top 10 at this time.
Conversations are certainly encouraged in the comments section on each system as we go along!
Indians System Review
When you have a small payroll, you have to be very smart with your cash. That makes smart development even more important for a small market team.
The Indians have been very intelligent in finding their talent from a wide swath of paths. Jason Kipnis, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Roberto Perez, Josh Tomlin, and Chad Allen were drafted by the team and worked their way through the Indians system. Jose Ramirez and Danny Salazar were international signings out of the Dominican Republic. Guys like Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Bryan Shaw, and Zack McAllister were all picked up in trade as they were working their way up the minor leagues.
Now, as the team turns the page to 2017, there is some need to fill a few holes on the roster, but the Indians do have a pleasant problem in that they used major pieces to acquire Andrew Miller last summer and still have major league ready prospects knocking at the door along with multiple top 100 guys.
While there may not be a top 10 guy in the system, the system is still producing useful players, and often under the radar guys who become quite useful, such as Jose Ramirez.
Let’s take a look at the top 10!
10. Yandy Diaz, 2B/3B/OF
Birthdate: 8/8/91 (25 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA
Stats in 2016: .318/.408/.446, 9 HR, 11 SB
Diaz signed out of Cuba before the 2014 season. He had been a solid player in his teens for the Cuban national team, but after the 2009-2010 season with Cuba, he did not play organized ball until the 2014 season.
He ended up starting in high-A, which is a huge jump for someone with that kind of layoff. Yet, he handled the jump quite well, going .286/.396/.367 in that season with 49 walks to 37 strikeouts over 338 plate appearances.
Diaz has exceptional plate discipline, which is one of those things you don’t have a tool rating for. He also has very good contact skills. The combination should allow Diaz to have excellent batting average and solid BB/K ratios.
Diaz doesn’t have exceptional power, but he finds the gaps well with his solid bat control and his average to above-average speed allows him to rack up doubles and triples, if not a large amount of home runs.
Defensively, Diaz is a solid defender, but he doesn’t really have a defensive home. His instincts at third are okay, but not exceptional. He has shown the ability to handle outfield corners very well. He also has experience playing second base in Cuba and in pro ball.
His exceptional contact and plate discipline along with his defensive flexibility could get Diaz to the big league club in spring of 2017, and he should have a very high floor as a solid utility man.
9. Greg Allen, OF
Birthdate: 3/15/93 (23 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A, AA
Stats in 2016: .295/.416/.413, 7 HR, 45 SB
A guy who seemingly flew under the radar coming into the 2014 draft, picked in the 6th round by Cleveland out of San Diego State, Allen has made progress his first two years, but 2016 was his breakout campaign.
Allen had been known for his speed and defense coming into this season, and that defense is no joke. He’s got incredible instincts and gets great jumps on balls in center field, looking like a true natural out there. He flashed the speed as well, stealing 45 bases.
What caught everyone’s attention this season was the combination of excellent line drive power and a step forward in his contact ability. When Allen was promoted to AA Akron, he didn’t slow down whatsoever, actually hitting even better in his 37 games at AA
Allen then went to the Arizona Fall League, and the reports from those in the AFL raved about his natural skills as a switch-hitting leadoff man who can provide excellent defense in center field.
Allen may be 24 to open the 2017 season, but he should be in the Indians outfield or a significant part of a trade sooner rather than later.
8. Nolan Jones, 3B
Birthdate: 5/7/98 (18 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: .257/.388/.339, 0 HR, 3 SB
Two of my favorite high school bats in the 2016 draft were from Pennsylvania. The Twins picked one in the first round, but the second was Jones, and the Indians were able to wait all the way until the 56th overall selection in the second round to grab Jones, who had been mocked as high as a top 15 overall selection.
Jones has an excellent overall skill set, though most figured he’d need to move off short to third as a pro, and the Indians wasted no time in doing just that. His glove work was rated highly at third, though his instincts were still a work in progress, though that’s to be expected.
Where Jones really shines is with the bat in his hands. He has a solid left-handed swing that rockets balls with his quick wrists and high-end contact skills.
Jones has projection for plus-level power with a smooth lefty swing. He also has excellent pitch recognition, as evidenced by his 131 point on-base delta.
Jones will be interesting to see where the Indians put him in 2017. He has the natural skill set to jump forward to full-season ball, but the Indians may ease him into that by letting him start with short-season ball in the New York-Penn League as well.
7. Bobby Bradley, 1B
Birthdate: 5/29/96 (20 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A
Stats in 2016: .235/.344/.466, 29 HR, 3 SB
This is where I may come against a lot of other organizations in their rankings. I’m not blind. I see the huge power of Bradley, but I see his current contact issues before he’s ever seen AA as a bad omen.
With that as the lead, I’ll then lead in to say that I’ve seen Bradley in the last 12 months rated as high as #3 in the Indians system, and that was before their big trade for Andrew Miller that chopped off a number of guys who I would have also placed ahead of Bradley on the list.
Bradley has legit power. I’ve seen grades as high as 75 on his power, and I can’t go that high on the 20-80 scale, but I think he’s a legit future 65-70 possible grade with current 60 game power. That’s huge power, for sure.
Getting to that power is the issue for Bradley. He’s a guy who does walk at a solid rate, but it’s also been typically less than half of the time he strikes out. He has some significant swing and miss issues due to over-swinging consistently.
Bradley has the type of swing that should allow for a solid contact approach and monster power with excellent bat speed and great wrist adjustment that should allow him to spray solid line drives around the field if he wasn’t arching his follow through and putting every bit he had into every single swing.
He’s shown an average-level arm that had some thinking he could possibly play an outfield spot, but he’s added enough size that I simply don’t see his running enough to handle an outfield spot, so he needs to not just hit for power, but also for passable average to handle 1B in the big leagues, and .235 before getting to AA is a bit worrisome to me.
6. Yu-Cheng Chang, SS
Birthdate: 8/18/95 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: high A
Stats in 2016: .259/.332/.463, 13 HR, 11 SB
Chang was one of the most highly sought-after Taiwanese free agents in some time when he came over to the Indians in 2013.
While Chang doesn’t really have any one tool that would grade as plus, he has a very solid skillset across the board, with a lot of average to above-average tools.
Chang has really taken a jump forward in the last year in the system, showing a lot more ability to handle the shortstop position, not showing a ton of flash, but making all the plays he gets to with ease.
At the plate, Chang has a solid swing that can really generate power off the bat. He’s a solid athlete that can steal bases as well, but he’s more a skilled base runner than a base stealer.
While Chang may not be a guy who stands out in stats or skills at any time, Jose Ramirez was a similar guy all the way up to the major leagues, when he broke through in 2016, so a guy who has a wide base of skills is a guy to never really ignore!
5. Will Benson, OF
Birthdate: 6/16/98 (18 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: .209/.321/.424, 6 HR, 10 SB
Coming into the draft process, a blessing and a curse of a comparison kept coming up for Benson – Jason Heyward. Like Heyward, Benson is from the metro area, and like Heyward, he has a mammoth build that looks like he could put on just a few pounds and play linebacker in the SEC rather than playing baseball.
Like Heyward, Benson swings from the left side and oozes athleticism as well. He can run with incredible speed and has a big arm that would be well-suited in right field, but he has the speed to handle center as well.
His big tools were absolutely on display with the Indians Arizona Rookie League squad as he hit 6 home runs and stole 10 bases. He also immediately earned a reputation for his arm, and while he only had two assists from the outfield, it was due to runners not challenging him, not due to a lack of arm strength.
With Benson, the Indians would be wise to learn from the positive and negative moves that have been made with Heyward in his career. Heyward ended up with a lot of different hitting instructors and was never able to get comfortable in his own swing. However, the Braves were willing to let Heyward advance on his talent rather than wait for statistics, and that is really where you need to be with a guy like Benson as well.
4. Brady Aiken, LHP
Birthdate: 8/16/96 (20 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie, short season A
Stats in 2016: 46 1/3 IP, 5.83 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 9.68 BB%, 26.27 K%
One of the most interesting draft stories of all time in his ordeal with the Astros in 2014 after being selected #1 overall and then being having his offer pulled after initially agreeing to a deal with the Astros when they found “something” in his medicals, Aiken has been in the mind of many in the prospect world for some time.
He ended up fulfilling the Astros’s worries when he ended up having Tommy John surgery the next season. That made him a risky upside pick in the 2015 draft, and the Indians were willing to take the swing at #17 overall on Aiken.
His 2016 was not great as he slowly worked his way back to the mound. His strikeout rate was excellent, but his control was lacking, not uncommon upon return from TJS.
When healthy, Aiken has the makings of three possible plus pitches with a present plus fastball that can touch 97 with excellent life, a curve with big time break that he can manipulate, and a change that he has excellent late movement on as well.
I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s become a mantra that the return from TJS is a two-year process. In the first full year back, the pitcher gets back his velocity, and in his second year, his control works its way back.
Aiken had his first year this year, and with him, control is such a big part of how he is successful as he is able to move the ball around the zone on hitters that he needs that command/control to come back. That is the major reason he is where he is on this list for me. I’d have him as high as #2 if he had that command back because the raw stuff is just so good.
3. Triston McKenzie, RHP
Birthdate: 8/2/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: short season A, low A
Stats in 2016: 83 1/3 IP, 1.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 6.77 BB%, 32 K%
After selecting him in the CBA round with the #42 overall selection in the 2015 draft, Cleveland has been very impressed with McKenzie. They limited his innings in his debut, but he showed so much that they moved him straight to short-season class A for his first year.
McKenzie was one of the youngest players in the 2015 draft, and his body is still developing, with reports of an additional inch or two of height added since he was drafted along with some solid muscle weight developed. He has room to still develop physically without hurting his high level of athleticism.
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After dominating the New York-Penn League, he was bumped up to low-A Midwest League, and he arguably performed BETTER after promotion as one of the youngest players in the entire league.
McKenzie works with a fastball that works more velocity now than had been reported at draft time, touching as high as 95 now, but sitting more like 90-92 in game. He gets tremendous sink on the fastball from his height and long arms, and his long legs allow him to get great extension toward the plate as well.
He has two above-average off speed pitches with both having future values that could be plus. He has a great curve that has incredible depth at its best and generates weak contact even when it’s not getting as deep. His change gets excellent late movement down in the zone as well to mimic his fastball.
McKenzie’s control took a huge step forward this season, and he is a legit top 100 guy at this point. What will be intriguing is to see how the Indians promote him and protect his inning progression as he moves up the system as he has the chance to be a truly special arm.
2. Francisco Mejia, C
Birthdate: 10/27/95 (21 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: low A, high A
Stats in 2016: .342/.382/.514, 11 HR, 2 SB
Mejia grabbed national attention this summer as he pursued a long-held hit record in the minor leagues, finishing with a 50-game hitting streak before it was snapped. The streak carried across a promotion from low-A Lake County to high-A Lynchburg.
While that may have put him on the national radar, Mejia was a guy who had legitimate reasons to rank high before that hit streak. He is a guy whose defense has been highly-regarded since the Indians signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2012.
His bat has shown to be very solid offensively all along the way as well, especially with excellent contact. Mejia is a switch-hitter with very good ability to get the bat through the zone and make adjustments to all kinds of pitches while making loud line-drive contact consistently.
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While he will rack up tons of doubles and triples currently with his line drives, Mejia has some power to come as he works his swing at the MLB level to intentionally reach for the fences without sacrificing his contact ability.
He does not strike out a ton, but the one thing that I would like to see improved in Mejia’s offensive game is taking more pitches. He has a contact focus to his approach, which leads to him attacking early in the count, which means he doesn’t get deep into counts frequently to take walks.
Regardless of all that offense, Mejia’s defense will continue to be his calling card. Mejia has an arm that could be argued as an 80-grade arm behind the plate on the 20-to-80 scale, which means it’s as good as it gets back there. On top of that, he has excellent movement skills behind the plate, really able to move well behind the plate. The biggest thing to work on coming into this season was his working with a pitching staff, and he got high marks for this from scouts this year. All in all, he is one of the rare catching prospects who has enough offense to rank, but the defense to make him a clear top 100 guy.
1. Bradley Zimmer, OF
Birthdate: 11/27/92 (23 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: AA, AAA
Stats in 2016: .250/.365/.425, 15 HR, 38 SB
Zimmer comes from a baseball family, as his older brother Kyle Zimmer is a prospect of note in the Kansas City Royals system. He has a very natural feel for the game, able to pick up situations that many others wouldn’t be able to know how to react to as instinctively.
Zimmer offensively may remind a lot of Mike Cameron, and the resemblance is uncanny in that Zimmer is an exceptional defender as well with a very broad skill set offensively that, outside of batting average, will be among the league’s best.
Zimmer is a rare guy who is a true five-tool talent. He has no tool that is rated below a 50 on the 20-80 scale, and only his power tool is even rated a 50.
Zimmer’s elite defense is based off his excellent instincts in center, and he has tremendous awareness in the field. His arm is also above average, which would allow him to play well in right field as well if need be.
He has shown a solid ability to draw walks, if he does have a looping swing that ends up leading to a large amount of strikeouts. His base stealing acumen is incredible, as he’s an above average runner, but he’s stolen bases at a pace of a plus runner at this point.
Zimmer could challenge for the center field job in Cleveland in 2017, and it would not surprise me at all if he were to put together a notable rookie campaign if he did win the job.
Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: Conner Capel, OF
Birthdate: 5/19/97 (19 years old)
Level(s) Played in 2016: rookie
Stats in 2016: .210/.270/.290, 0 HR, 10 SB
With major league bloodlines (his father is former major league pitcher Mike Chapel) and the exposure of Texas high school ball, many were worried that Capel would be a tough sign as he had committed to his father’s alma mater, the University of Texas. Instead, the Indians snared him in the 5th round at pick value.
Capel has the excellent makeup that you would expect from a guy with big league bloodlines. He has leadership on the field and in the outfield as a center fielder.
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Capel has probably his best assets on defense, as his arm and his speed are his two best tools. He has a fringe-plus arm that he plays up due to very solid accuracy. His speed is a definite plus tool.
He’s got a mature approach at the plate and did well laying off pitches in his first exposure to pro ball, but he struggled to make consistent contact. Some comments I got were that he may have even been a bit too passive in his approach, and being more aggressive early in counts would be ideal.
Regardless, he’ll be fun to watch hit in likely advanced rookie or the New York-Penn League.
Agree? Disagree? Someone you have a question about from the system? Leave a comment down below!