With the 2018 Minor League Baseball season coming to a close, its time to take a look at which prospects took the biggest jump in 2018, as well as who took the biggest step back.
In this new series, I’ll be taking a look at six players per system—three of whom rose the most in 2018, while the other three fell the most in 2018.
Next up are the Cleveland Indians.
Most (Strikeouts) over the last 3 combined minor league seasons by #Indians pitcher:— Indians Prospective (@indiansPro) September 29, 2018
Triston McKenzie (377)
Adam Plutko (314)
Shao-Ching Chiang (286)
Shane Bieber (260)
Juan Hillman (258) pic.twitter.com/Z30Y4CzGVN
With Francisco Mejia out, Triston McKenzie is now the clear top prospect in the Indians system. His 2018 season left little doubt that he is the rightful holder of that role.
In 16 starts for Double-A Akron, McKenzie went 7-4 with a 2.68 ERA. Despite missing two months due to arm soreness, McKenzie still managed to pitch 90.2 innings, striking out 87 and holding opponents to a .191 average.
While the Indians might be out of the playoffs, their future rotation continues to form, especially with the emergence of Shane Bieber. Next season could be the time for McKenzie to step in, joining Bieber alongside aces Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco in what looks like one of the most dominant rotations in all of baseball.
All must go right in Triple-A, but 2018 was a huge indication that Triston McKenzie is the real deal.
While the pitching of the Indians looks to be in good hands, the infield of the future could be in even better shape, especially after the encouraging 2018 season that Nolan Jones put together.
In 120 games between Single-A and High-A, Jones hit a combined .283 with 19 homers and 66 RBIs. In 427 at-bats, Jones walked 89 times while getting on base at a .405 clip.
Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are two of the best infielders, if not overall players, in the game of baseball. Jones looks like the heir apparent to the third base role by 2020, with Ramirez likely moving over to third, given Jones’ plus arm strength.
For a winning team like the Indians, the success of prospects in future positions of need only extend the already wide window of competing in Cleveland.
Andrew Miller is likely on the way out following a disappointing 2018 season, leaving the Indians with a hole to fill in the left-handed portion of their bullpen.
Enter Sam Hentges. The 2014 fourth-rounder made 23 starts at High-A in 2018, but has all the intangibles to be the future weapon of the Indians bullpen. In 118.1 innings, Hentges recorded a 3.27 ERA with 122 strikeouts in 118.1 innings. His fastball-breaking ball combo are eerily similar to Miller.
Hentges is still about a year away from being major league ready, but as a winning team, the Indians don't necessarily need to exercise patience with all of their prospects. Hentges broke out in a big way in 2018, and it wouldn't be of much surprise to see him as a main fixture of the Indians bullpen come next September.
The shortstop position isn't going to be challenged any time soon in Cleveland, however Yu Chang, who was once a premier prospect in the Indians system, did all but remove his name from being considered.
In 127 games at Triple-A, the 23-year old hit .256 with 13 home runs and 66 RBIs. However, in 457 at-bats, Chang struck out a whopping 144 times, while swiping just four bags. In everything that Lindor excels in, Chang seems to lack.
A change of scenery would be great for Chang, who still holds 20-homer potential. Unfortunately, Cleveland likely won't be the place where that comes to fruition. Chang’s 2018 Triple-A stint was a major disappointment, and it wouldn't be too surprising if the Indians decided to ship him out of town this winter.
The 14th-overall pick of the 2014 draft, Will Benson is now a shell of what he used to be.
Still just 20, Benson had a disastrous 2018 season in Single-A, Hitting .180 in 123 games. In 416 at-bats, Benson struck out 152 times, completely overshadowing his 22 home runs.
20 is way too young to give up on a former first rounder, however, Single-A struggles are extremely concerning, and the magnitude in which Benson struggled is really, really troubling.
The Indians have struggled with their first rounders as of late (Brady Aiken, Mike Papi), and Benson looks like the next in line to join them.
The first-overall pick of the 2014 draft, Brady Aiken and the Houston Astros failed to come to terms on a contract.
Aiken was draft-eligible for 2015, when the Indians picked him in the first round out of IMG Academy. Unfortunately, Aiken’s pro career has been a disaster. His career was only magnified in 2018.
Aiken missed all of the 2018 season due to injury. After going 5-13 with a 4.77 ERA last season, Aiken never got a chance to recover from an abysmal campaign, only making things worse by completely losing a developmental season.
2019 will be a last-ditch effort for Aiken to regain his past premier prospect form, or else he’ll soon join Mark Appel on the unemployed list.