Cleveland Indians Top 20 Prospects for 2015
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Francisco Lindor, SS, Grade A: Age 21, hit .276/.338/.389 with 28 steals, 11 homers between Double-A and Triple-A. Renowned for defense with a steadily improving bat and ready for big league trial in ’15. Likely more valuable in real baseball than in fantasy contexts in the short-term.
2) Bradley Zimmer, OF, Grade B+: Age 22, hit .302/.400/.492 in debut between short-season ball and Low-A, 2014 first-round pick from University of San Francisco. Broad skill base with speed, throwing arm, sound defense, on-base abilities, at least moderate power.
3) Clint Frazier, OF, Grade B+/Borderline B: Age 20, 2013 first-rounder hit .266/.349/.411 with 13 homers, 56 walks, 161 strikeouts in Low-A. This may not look that hot but in context was actually well above Midwest League averages and he was 2.5 years younger than competition. Still has the tremendous bat speed but contact is clearly an issue.
4) Francisco Mejia, C, Grade B: Age 19, hit .282/.339/.407 in New York-Penn League, switch-hitter with more offensive growth possible, also has sound defensive tools. This grade involves a lot of projection and is rather aggressive.
5) Bobby Bradley, 1B, Grade B: Age 18, hit .361/.426/.652 in rookie ball, won Arizona Rookie League triple crown, 2014 draftee could be huge bargain in the third round, was also one of the youngest players in the draft. Doesn’t have Mejia’s defensive value but the bat looks quite strong. Also an aggressive grade.
6) Justus Sheffield, LHP, Grade B-/Borderline B. Age 18, another fine draftee in first round of ’14 class, should develop into a four-pitch lefty and could rise rapidly compared to most high schoolers. 4.79 ERA with 29/9 K/BB in 21 innings in rookie ball. If he stays healthy, should be at least a mid-rotation guy and perhaps more.
7) Giovanny Urshela, 3B, Grade B-: Age 23, hit .280/.334/491 with 36 doubles, 18 homers, 36 walks, just 67 strikeouts in 485 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A. Excels with the glove at third base, power is developing nicely, and he doesn’t whiff much. I’m not sure why this guy doesn’t get more attention. The numbers are strong, the scouting reports are solid, and he’s pretty young.
8) Tyler Naquin, OF, Grade B-: Age 23, hit .313/.361/.424 in 304 at-bats in Double-A until going down with a broken hand. Looks like a perfect fourth outfielder to me with some across-the-board skills but not quite enough power to play a corner regularly for many teams.
9) Mitch Brown, RHP, Grade B-: Age 20, posted 3.31 ERA with 127/55 K/BB in 139 innings in Low-A, 113 hits. Rebounded from poor ’13 by getting his mechanics back in gear, showed strong curveball, low-90s fastball, greatly improved command compared to ’13, restoring the status he had as a prospect after being a second round pick in ’12.
10) James Ramsey, OF, Grade C+/Borderline B-: Age 25, acquired from Cardinals, hit .295/.382/.509 with 16 homers, 44 walks, 100 strikeouts in 352 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A. More power than Naquin, but older and not as fast, renowned for work ethic and instincts more than pure tools.
11) Nellie Rodriguez, 1B, Grade C+/Borderline B-: Age 20, hit .268/.349/.482 with 22 homers, 60 walks, 142 strikeouts in Low-A. Excellent power possibilities here, will have to see how on-base and contact abilities hold up, limited to first base but has a shot at being a very productive slugger.
12) Yu Cheng Chang, INF, Grade C+/Borderline B-. Age 19, hit .346/.420/.566 with 18 walks, 28 strikeouts in 159 at-bats in rookie ball, originally signed out of Taiwan. Very intriguing bat but I’d like to see at higher levels, also some questions about what infield spot he fits best at. You can make a case to rank him as high as 10. Could vault up the list next year.
13) Mike Papi, 1B-OF, Grade C+: Age 22, supplemental first round pick from University of Virginia, very successful in college but hit just .178/.305/.274 in 135 at-bats in Low-A. Nobody seems to be really worried about it at this point given his track record and reputation with scouts but I think the younger and more successful guys have to rank ahead at this point.
14) Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Grade C+: Age 24, hit .304/.395/.511 with 19 homers, 64 walks, 96 strikeouts in 427 at-bats in Triple-A, .121/.211/.121 in 33 major league at-bats with 13 strikeouts. Triple-A ripper with nothing left to prove at that level, but limited defensively to 1B/DH which makes it tough to slot him on modern rosters with their huge pitching staffs.
15) Erik Gonzalez, SS, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .289/.336/.409 in 308 at-bats in High-A then .357/.390/.473 in 129 at-bats in Double-A, stole 21 bases. Good glove, but didn’t hit much until this past year. If you believe that the Double-A hot streak was for real, he’d rank at least five spots higher. I want to see more before projecting him as more than a utility guy, but it is possible that he was just a late bloomer as the tools have always been present.
16) Austin D. Adams, RHP, Grade C+: Age 28, older prospect but hits mid-90s, good track record, career was slowed by shoulder problems but has recovered, 2.50 ERA with 52/16 K/BB in 54 innings in Triple-A. Middle relief type with fine stuff.
17) Grant Hockin, RHP, Grade C+: Age 18, second round pick from California high school in 2014, posted 3.86 ERA with 19/4 K/BB in 21 rookie ball innings. Throws four pitches, throws strikes, projection something like a Jeff Suppan inning-eater if it all works out.
18) Luis Lugo, LHP, Grade C+: Age 20, big 6-5, 200 pound Venezuelan lefty, posted 4.92 ERA with 146/40 K/BB in 126 innings in Low-A, 124 hits. ERA elevated by 16 homers, but K/BB and K/IP marks are more reflective of his potential. Shows control but not always command.
19) Adam Plutko, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, former UCLA ace, posted 4.03 ERA with 144/30 K/BB in 150 innings in A-ball, 148 hits. Average velocity but works the strike zone masterfully with breaking ball and change-up, eats innings, stays healthy.
20) Cody Anderson, RHP, Grade C/Borderline C+. Age 23, weak season in Double-A (5.44 ERA, 81/45 K/BB in 126 innings, 141 hits) due to troublesome secondary pitches. Fastball well in the 90s but needs more to go with it. Other sources rate him more highly Perhaps he winds up in pen.
OTHERS: Dylan Baker, RHP; Sean Brady, LHP; Li-Jen Chu, C; Trevor Frank, RHP; Eric Haase, C; Sam Hentges, LHP; Tyler Holt, OF; Ryan Merritt, LHP; Julian Merryweather, RHP; Carlos Moncrief, OF; Shawn Morimando, LHP; Alexis Pantoja, SS; Dorssys Paulino, OF; Jared Robinson, RHP; Casey Shane, RHP; Levon Washington, OF; Tony Wolters, C-INF
Although not currently among the elite conglomerations of minor league talent, the Indians farm system has strengths and features more depth than many systems.
Among the position players, Francisco Lindor is the obvious blue chip and will probably play enough in 2015 to lose his eligibility for ’16. Other infield options include Chang, Gonzalez, and slick-fielding rookie baller Alexis Pantoja up the middle. I like Ushela at third base and Mejia behind the plate could be/should be a real standout.
There are several first base/DH/power possibilities, some close to the majors (Aguilar), some further away (Rodriguez, Bradley, Papi if he can’t play outfield). Among the certain flycatchers, Zimmer stands out for his broad base of skills and Frazier still entices with his superb bat speed. Ramsey and Naquin should be useful fourth outfielders at least and both still have a shot at being regulars of some type.
The pitching side doesn’t have an obvious ace talent just yet but there some interesting arms. The best of the lot is Justus Sheffield, one of my favorite high school pitchers from the 2014 draft. Nobody cares that he is just 5-10 since he hits the mid-90s and has three workable secondary pitches to go with it.
2012 prep draftee Mitch Brown completely turned his career around after a difficult ’13. Hockin and Lugo could also be sound rotation arms. UCLA-trained strike-thrower Adam Plutko and lefties Ryan Merritt, Sean Brady, and Shawn Morimando don’t have as much upside but all have a shot at being useful. Sam Hentges and Casey Shane are additional low-level talents to watch. The Indians always seem to have a bunch of live arms looking for bullpen trials, with Trevor Frank and Austin Adams in that category this year.
Overall, this is a system that has made steady progress. They could use more high upside pitching but the same can be said for most organizations.