The Cleveland Indians are pretty darn good right now, sitting at an American League best 58-42. They have done so behind a blend of exciting youth and solid veteran play. They may even be stronger on the pipeline.
I’m not here to tell you that the Indians suddenly have the best farm system in baseball. What they do have however is a top ten list of prospects that could rival any in the game. Having seen a few of these guys live and following some others pretty closely this season, they have quite a few exciting players coming along on all levels.
Seven of their top ten prospects recently appeared on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 100. Most are there because of performing well this season, while others are there because of the potential they have. Either way you dice it, they are stacked and talented in the top ten of their organization.
It is hard to project who will be a future Indian with the trade deadline looming and the Tribe clearly in a position to improve their big league club by using the prospects on the farm. But let's take a look at who they have for now.
Brady Aiken and Justus Sheffield top the list as potential future starters. I looked at Aiken’s long awaited professional debut back at the end of June, and it hasn’t been pretty thus far. He currently sits with a 6.38 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP behind a very high walk rate of 4.91 per nine and .295 batting average against (that number is influenced by a very high BABIP of .423). Still, with a respectable FIP of 3.83 and a pretty 12.76 strikeout per nine in the Arizona League, there is plenty to be happy about with in the 19-year old rookie.
It may look like Sheffield is having a "down" year after his breakout 2015, but don’t be fooled. Yes, his walk rate is a bit higher (up to 3.78 from last year’s 2.68), and I am aware that his strikeout rate is a tad bit lower (down to 8.78 from last year’s 9.73), but none of this seems to stem from a drop in velocity. Most reports seem to feel that he is working his secondary pitches more often than in the past, improving his slider and changeup to go with his often used curve. He has always thrown with a lot of effort being just 5-foot-10, and that usually hurts a young pitcher’s command. Still, there is little reason to think the 20-year old can’t become a mid-rotational big league arm one day.
Mike Clevinger didn’t look so hot in his brief big league debut this season, but man has he dominated the IL. He currently sits at 11-1 with a 3.00 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP, posting a nice 97:35 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His poise in last season’s Governor’s Cup run for the Columbus Clippers shows he has the makeup to take the next step should he be given another chance this season.
18-year old Triston McKenzie is having an insane season for the second time since the Indians made him the 42nd overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft. He doesn’t like to allow hits. Or walks. Or runs for that matter. Over eight NYPL starts this year (most of which he goes five or six innings, which is impressive for an 18-year old) , McKenzie has a 0.61 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and a .199 batting average against. His 47:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio is just fine for a teenager still learning the art of pitching.
Jose Ramirez, Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall are currently part of the starting outfield platoon for the first place Cleveland Indians. That being said, should they remain in Indians garb past the deadline, the future outfield in Cleveland is Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer’s for the taking. A Zimmer, Tyler Naquin, Frazier outfield is pretty darn exciting for anyone to envision.
Zimmer and Frazier were both promoted to Columbus on July 25th and their four game Triple-A debut has been underwhelming. They both bring a balance of power and speed that could reach 20/20 potential at the next level. Frazier is slashing .275/.351/.465 with 25 doubles, 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases on the season, while Zimmer is slashing .251/.371/.460 with 20 doubles, 14 home runs and 33 stolen bases. Both strikeout quite a bit, Zimmer more so than Frazier, but both show the ability to draw a walk, with Frazier walking nearly 11 percent of the time in 2016 and Zimmer drawing a free pass 14 percent of the time.
Bobby Bradley likes to hit home runs. Last year he led the Midwest League with 27 and this year he is currently tied for the Carolina League with 19. He also strikes out a lot, finishing second in the Midwest League with 148 and sitting at third in the Carolina League with 126. His power presence also helps him walk a lot, currently leading the Carolina League with 62 walks. Simply put, despite that he looks like a career first baseman or designated hitter, there is still plenty to like about Bradley’s power game.
Francisco Mejia is enjoying a breakout season like no other, currently amid a 41-game hitting streak. He was a Midwest League All Star who earned an invite to the MLB Futures Game (where he singled, while watching his teammate Frazier go 2-for-3 himself) before a promotion to High-A Lynchburg, where he has hit in all 17 games he has appeared in thus far. The 20-year old catcher has a ways to go defensively, but his big arm has thrown out 40 percent of attempted base thieves this season. With an improving bat that is looking capable of 15 home runs and a .290 to .300 average, plus defense that gets better each day, he is on his way to a nice future.
Two 18-year olds — 2016 first rounder, outfielder Will Benson and 2016 second rounder, third baseman Nolan Jones — have just seen their professional careers kick off in the Arizona League. I haven’t seen any game action yet of either but when one is compared to Jason Hayward (Benson) and the other was considered a second round steal of first round talent (Jones) it’s safe to say the Indians did alright for themselves in the draft.
Again, I’m not saying the Indians have the best farm in the land, but their top ten are certainly exciting to watch. It will be interesting to see if any are moved to bring in a starter or bullpen help down the Indians likely-playoff stretch, but until then, it seems that the Indians are set up nicely for the time being.