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Cleveland Indians Top 20 prospects for 2018 (updated)

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Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie lead the Indians farm system

MLB: SEP 11 Tigers at Indians Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cleveland Indians Top 20 Prospects for 2018

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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses.

This list was updated March 14, 2018

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. 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 Mejia, C-3B, Grade A-/B+: Age 22, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2012, hit .297/.346/.490 with 14 homers, 24 walks, 53 strikeouts in 347 at-bats in Double-A, then .154/.214/.154 in 13 major league at-bats; switch-hitter with impressive track record adapted well to high minors; isolated power is steadily picking up; makes contact easily though not a high-walk bat; has made steady progress with the glove, cutting error and passed ball rates while throwing out 30% of runners; has the tools to catch and has improved his skills but not ready for the majors defensively just yet; has seen action at third base to enhance versatility and get him to the majors sooner; he looks like an excellent prospect to me, but not everyone buys into him to the same extent. ETA 2018.

2) Triston McKenzie, RHP, Grade A-/B+: Age 20, compensation round pick in 2015, posted 3.46 ERA with 186/45 K/BB in 143 innings in High-A, 105 hits; 6-5 but just 165 pounds, still throws 90-95; even if fastball doesn’t pick up much further his ability to locate it compensates enough for it to rate as a plus pitch; excellent curveball, change-up coming along nicely, throws strikes with everything, pitching instincts stand out; potential number two starter. ETA 2019.

3) Willi Castro, SS, Grade B/B+: Age 20, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2013; hit .290/.337/.424 with 11 homers, 19 steals, 28 walks, 90 strikeouts in 469 at-bats in High-A; good speed and more power than you’d expect from a 6-1, 165 frame, switch-hitter, too, and young for his levels; needs more polish on defense but has the physical tools to remain at shortstop; could stand to improve strike zone feel but overall he’s been quite successful at a young age and deserves far more attention than he’s received. ETA 2020.

4) Shane Bieber, RHP, Grade B/B+: Age 22, fourth round pick in 2016 from UC Santa Barbara; posted combined 2.86 ERA with 162/10 K/BB in 173 innings between Low-A, High-A, and Double-A; 185 hits allowed; obviously the K/BB is ridiculously good and accurately reflects stellar command of fastball, curve, change-up, and slider; secondaries are all respected and his fastball velocity reportedly increased in ’17, from 88-92 when drafted up to 90-94 with higher spikes; projects as number three starter if all goes well. ETA 2019.

5) Bobby Bradley, 1B, Grade B: Age 21, third round pick in 2014; hit .251/.331/.465 with 23 homers, 55 walks, 122 strikeouts in 467 at-bats in Double-A; scouting profile hasn’t changed much, huge power from the left side but with concerns about batting average/contact and defense; lowered strikeouts from 170 in 485 at-bats in 2016 to 122 in 467 at-bats in 2017, which is progress of course; defense has also improved a bit but may never be more than average, which is OK if he hits enough; I have been positive about him overall and remain so. ETA late 2018 (UPDATED 3/14/2018, grade change from B/B+ to regular B to reflect placement on Top 175 prospects list)

6) Nolan Jones, 3B, Grade B/B-: Age 19, second round pick in 2016 from high school in Pennsylvania; hit .317/.430/.482 in New York-Penn League with 43 walks, 60 strikeouts in 218 at-bats; draws praise for bat speed and strike zone judgment, hasn’t manifested big home run power yet but more may come as he fills out 6-4, 185 pound frame; defense at third base is very rough right now, very high error rate with minimal range so far, may wind up at first base or outfield if he can’t clean up footwork but bat could play at those spots as power develops. ETA 2021.

7) Yu-Cheng Chang, SS, Grade B-: Age 22, signed out of Taiwan in 2013; hit .220/.312/.461 with 24 homers, 11 steals, 52 walks, 134 strikeouts in 440 at-bats in Double-A; interesting dichotomy between scouting reports of polished bat and line drive approach vs. numbers that seem more like a free swinger, though all agree he has unusual power for a middle infielder; range, arm, and reliability all good enough for shortstop but he’s blocked there with the Indians; could be super-utility type with power bat. ETA late 2018.

8) Will Benson, OF, Grade B-: Age 19, first round pick in 2016 from high school in Georgia, hit .238/.347/.475 with 10 homers, 31 walks, 80 strikeouts in 202 at-bats in New York-Penn League; explosive raw power and bat speed from the left side, draws walks too but strikeout rate was very high and could be an issue at higher levels; runs well too and is 17-for-20 in stolen base attempts in his career so far; strong arm works in right field and could fit prototype for position. ETA 2021.

9) Aaron Civale, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, third round pick in 2016 from Northeastern University, posted 3.28 ERA with 141/14 K/BB in 165 innings between Low-A and High-A, 160 hits; doesn’t throw as hard as Shane Bieber but similar profile based on fastball command and ability to locate complete arsenal of secondary pitches; need to see him in Double-A but what we’ve seen so far is good. ETA 2019.

10) Conner Capel, OF, Grade B-: Age 20, fifth round pick in 2016 from high school in Texas, hit .246/.316/.478 with 22 homers, 15 steals, 43 walks, 108 strikeouts in 439 at-bats in Low-A; solid full season debut worthy of more attention than he’s received; 70-runner though still learning how to use it, with more power than anticipated; good throwing arm, too; don’t overlook him. ETA 2021.

11) Greg Allen, OF, Grade B-: Age 24, sixth round pick in 2014 from San Diego State University; hit .264/.344/.357 with two homers, 21 steals, 22 walks, 55 strikeouts in 258 at-bats in Double-A, then .229/.282/.343 in 35 major league at-bats; broken hamate cost him eight weeks and may have impacted his hitting; relies on above-average speed and defense for value but he’s got a lot to offer in those categories, gets on base, and might develop more power than he showed in ’17. ETA 2018.

12) Tyler Freeman, SS, Grade B-: Age 18, compensation round pick in 2017 from high school in Rancho Cucamonga, California; no word on how much time he spent in Azusa or Anaheim; hit .297/.364/.414 with two homers, five steals, seven walks, 12 strikeouts in 128 at-bats in rookie ball; line drive bat, expected to hit for average with gap power and above-average speed; probably a second baseman long-term but bat is quite intriguing and a favorite of West Coast scouts. ETA 2021.

13) Johnathan Rodriguez, OF, Grade C+: Age 18, third round pick in 2017 from Puerto Rico, played pro debut at age 17, hitting .250/.381/.333 in 96 at-bats in rookie ball, drawing 21 walks; no power yet but the 6-3, 185-pound switch-hitter should develop more pop as he matures; 60-arm, 50-speed fit nicely in right field; possible breakout guy although probably more in 2019 than 2018. ETA 2022.

14) Ka’ai Tom, OF, Grade C+: Age 23, fifth round pick in 2015 from University of Kentucky; hit .254/.340/.418 with 31 doubles, 10 homers, 59 walks, 100 strikeouts, 23 steals in 457 at-bats in High-A; showed speed, gap power, and some on-base ability as well as polish at all three outfield positions; some breakout potential this year in Double-A as multi-category sleeper. ETA 2019.

15) George Valera, OF, Grade C+: Age 17, signed out of Dominican Republic in July 2017 for $1,300,000; hasn’t played yet so tough to rank until we see his skills play against pro competition but scouting reports are uniformly glowing, focused on excellent offensive potential from the left side with chance to hit for both power and average. ETA 2023.

16) Ernie Clement, 2B-SS, Grade C+: Age 21, fourth round pick in 2017 from University of Virginia; hit .280/.315/.343 with six steals, six walks, 12 strikeouts in 175 at-bats in NY-P; reliable contact hitter with good speed, strong track record with wooden bats in summer ball; often projected as a second baseman but held his own when given a chance at shortstop for Mahoning Valley; ETA 2021.

ANALYST NOTE: Spots 17 through 20 as well as the subsequent C+ guys are more or less interchangeable.

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees - Game Two
Ryan Merritt

17) Ryan Merritt, LHP, Grade C+: Age 25, 3.03 ERA with 85/25 K/BB in 116 innings in Triple-A, 1.74 ERA in 21 major league innings with 7/4 K/BB; very polished finesse pitcher with nothing left to prove in the minors, always behind other people on the depth chart because he doesn’t throw hard but has always been successful; I don’t see why that will change. ETA 2018.

18) Shawn Morimando, LHP, Grade C+: Age 25, posted 4.41 ERA, 128/57 K/BB in 159 innings in Triple-A, 177 hits; throws harder than Merritt with low-90s fastball and a plus breaking ball, but change-up and overall command still inconsistent; watch for any improvement in K/BB ratio, spike in strikeouts, or both. ETA 2018.

19) Eric Stamets, SS, Grade C+: Age 26, the Ryan Merritt of Triple-A infielders, hit .259/.336/.463 with 16 homers, 10 steals, 38 walks, 100 strikeouts in 374 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; very polished and reliable defensive shortstop who has looked good in trials at second and third base; problem has always been the bat but he started to show power in 2017; I have felt for years that Stamets could surprise us in his late 20s and that started to happen last season; several guys in the other Grade C+ section below have higher ceilings but aren’t as close to the majors; ETA 2018.

20) Mike Rivera, C, Grade C+: Age 22, sixth round pick in 2017 from University of Florida, hit just .170/.231/.234 in 47 at-bats in New York-Penn League, small sample of course but a faster start would have been nice given extant questions about his hitting; draws raves for defensive ability and threw out 50% of runners in debut; like Stamets, I think the bat could improve eventually and glove will keep him employed long enough for us to find out.. ETA 2021.

OTHER GRADE C+: Brady Aiken, LHP; Aaron Bracho, SS; Matt Esparza, RHP; Marcos Gonzalez, SS; Oscar Gonzalez, OF: Eric Haase, C; Juan Hillman, LHP; Quentin Holmes, OF; Rob Kaminsky, LHP; James Karinchak, RHP; Tyler Krieger, 2B; Jean Carlos Mejia, RHP; Julian Merryweather, RHP; Elijah Morgan, RHP; Francisco Perez, LHP; Zach Plesac, RHP; Gregori Vasquez, RHP; Luke Wakamatsu, INF

OTHERS OF NOTE: Jesse Berardi, SS; Sean Brady, LHP; Andrew Calica, OF; Ulysses Cantu, 1B; Jodd Carter, OF; Li-Jen Chu, C; Gavin Collins, 3B; Tommy DeJuneas, RHP; Luke Eubank, RHP; Sam Hentges, LHP; Cameron Hill, RHP; Logan Ice, C; Leandro Linares, RHP; Mitch Longo, OF; Sicnarf Loopstok, 1B; Mark Mathias, 2B; Kirk McCarty, LHP Kyle Nelson, LHP; Mike Papi, OF; Dorssys Paulino, OF; Adam Plutko, RHP; Nellie Rodriguez, 1B; Dalbert Siri, RHP; Emmanuel Tapia, 1B; Felix Tati, RHP; Jonathan Teaney, RHP; Tanner Tully, LHP; Matt Turner, LHP; Jose Vicente, 1B-C; Austen Wade, OF; Matt Whitehouse, LHP

I will be around in the comments section the next few days to answer questions, particularly about the “Other C+” guys.

Mejia vs. McKenzie at one-two is not a slam dunk and I may flip them ultimately when I reconcile all the lists in spring training.