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MLB Pipeline top 30 Cleveland Indians prospects reviewed

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MLB Pipeline has just released its mid-season top 30 prospects list, incorporating the new 2015 draft acquisitions. To the surprise of no-one, Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier occupy the first two spots, but who else is up and who is down?

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With the draft signing period behind us, MLB.com's MLB Pipeline has been busy producing a new top 30 prospect list for each team. (Just click on the photos of each prospect for a full scouting report.)

Compared to the preseason list, of course Francisco Lindor (preseason MLB #1, LGT #1), Giovanny Urshela (#4, #4) and Austin Adams (#18, N/A) aren't eligible any more, having graduated to MLB. In fact, there are 12 new names in all, since a whopping nine players from the preseason list have been dropped, largely to make room for the new draft picks.

Without further ado, let's break the Tribe's list down player-by-player. (All stats are as of 2 August.)

MLB Pipeline Top 30 list review

Alongside each player I have listed their preseason MLB Pipeline ranking, as well as their ranking in the preseason LGT community top 20 poll.

1. OF Bradley Zimmer (preseason MLB #3, LGT #3)
No surprises here. Having torn up the Carolina League, Zimmer is hitting just .213/.351/.328 in 17 games since being promoted to the Ducks, However, the transition from A+ to AA is widely considered to be the biggest in the minors (excluding AAA to MLB, of course), so some early adjustment issues are to be expected.

2. OF Clint Frazier (preseason MLB #2, LGT #2)
Nor here either. Zimmer's promotion certainly seems to have benefited Frazier, who is no longer in the shadow of his older, more advanced CF counterpart. In July he hit .363/.442/.559 with three homers, and promptly added another homer last night.

3. LHP Rob Kaminsky (preseason N/A, acquired from the Cardinals on 30 July)
Matt Lyons has a full analysis of the Tribe's new pitching prospect (who was acquired in the Brandon Moss) trade here.

4. LHP Brady Aiken (preseason N/A, 2015 1st rd pick)
Having been drafted and not signed by the Astros last year, it's been a long road to professional baseball for Aiken and, recovering from TJ surgery, he's still got a fair way to go before he even plays a game. However, in June 2014 he was the first overall pick, so the talent is clearly there.

5. OF Tyler Naquin (preseason MLB #5, LGT #6)
Naquin certainy has his knockers, but despite losing time to a hand injury last year, he's made great progress in the last season and a half and is on track for a MLB debut next year. Although Zimmer and Frazier are also playing CF in the minors, Naquin seems the one who is really best suited to replacing Michael Bourn in the Tribe's CF spot. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion when colliding with the wall last week, so he is currently back on the DL.

6. LHP Justus Sheffield (preseason MLB #8, LGT #9)
The overall numbers aren't all that impressive, but the strikeouts certainly are — over 100 already this season. As long as Sheffield stays healthy and continues to throw strikes, that's pretty much all you can ask for at this stage of his career.

7. 1B Bobby Bradley (preseason MLB #10, LGT #7)
Not surprisingly given his age, Bradley seems very hot and cold, striking out at a horrific one in three rate. However, the power is definitely there — there are very few 19yos who can hit like him (18 homers already this year, 50% higher than anyone else in the Midwest League)

8. RHP Triston McKenzie (2015 1A rd pick)
The Tribe splashed out big-time on McKenzie. He received a rather controversial $2.3MM bonus, which almost certainly meant that the FO weren't able to sign all the draft picks they would have liked. McKenzie is expected to make his farm debut on Tuesday 4 August.

9. LHP Juan Hillman (2015 2nd rd pick)
Some draft commentators actually preferred Hillman to McKenzie. I'm just happy that we have both.

10. RHP Cody Anderson (preseason MLB #17, LGT #18)
Everyone probably has a pretty good idea of Anderson's strengths and weaknesses by now. Ideally, he'd still be in AAA perfecting his craft, as he doesn't seem quite MLB-ready yet, which has led to some wildly inconsistent results.

11. SS Erik Gonzalez (preseason MLB #11, LGT #10)
After strong performances at AA over the past year or so, Gonzalez recently earned a promotion to AAA, but he hasn't really established himself there yet, hitting a dreadful .200/.227/.235 through 31 games. Given that he was promoted to the 40-man in late 2013, he is already on his second option year, so the clock is ticking. And blocked by Lindor at MLB, his best value may lie as a trade chip over the winter (assuming that he starts hitting, of course).

12. C Francisco Mejia (preseason MLB #7, LGT #5)
Mejia rocketed up the prospect lists after a stellar 2014, but he hasn't fared so well in full-season ball. Having said that, his second half line of .276/.333/.362 over 28 games suggests that he may well be gradually turning the corner.

13. OF James Ramsey (preseason MLB #6, LGT #8)
Ramsey came over from the Cardinals in the Justin Masterson trade so (given Masterson's pitching issues) that was a win in itself, even if Ramsey never actually makes it to MLB. His stock has dropped somewhat, as he hasn't hit well this season in AAA, where he has been usurped from CF by Tyler Naquin.

14. OF Mike Papi (preseason MLB #9, LGT #11)
Papi is something of a curate's egg. During his first year in the system, he had some people questioning whether he could even hit at all — all he seemed to do was walk and strikeout. However, a month-long .343/.477/.486 tear in June put him very much back on the radar, and he probably just about deservea a spot in the top 15.

15. RHP Adam Plutko (preseason MLB #19, LGT N/A)
After demolisihing the Carolina League in the first half of the season, Plutko has wasted no time settling in at Akron. He doesn't really have the "stuff" that prospect writers like to hang their hat on, but he's been effective whereever he's pitched and could emerge as a BOR starter.

16. RHP Mike Clevinger (preseason MLB N/A, LGT N/A)
Clevinger was acquired almost exactly a year ago in the Vinnie Pestano deal. Or should I say "steal", given that Pestano was as ineffective with the Angels as he was in his latter period with the Indians and was DFA last week (to make room for David Murphy, ironically),

Anyhow, Clevinger had TJ surgery in 2012, so it's hardly surprising that he has been something of a slow developer. But with a high 90s fastball, he's been terrific this season in Akron and is arguably the fastest-rising player on the farm this season.

17. LHP Shawn Morimando (preseason MLB N/A, LGT N/A)
Morimando has slowly but surely worked his way through the system and has been a standout performer in Akron. He doesn't throw particularly hard, but still manages to throw a lot of strikeouts. The main issue is whether he can get his walks under control, but his prospect status is probably at an all-time high right at this moment.

18. SS Luke Wakamatsu (2015 20th rd pick)
Apparently Wakamatsu fell in the draft due to doubts about his signability, but the Tribe somehow managed to get him for just $290K, which seems like an a amazing bargain. The fact that he is already so high on the MLB Pipeline rankings would seem to reinforce that view.

19. LHP Luis Lugo (preseason MLB #16, LGT #16)
Lugo has been largely disappointing this year. Everyone had high hopes for him and Mitch Brown in the Lynchburg rotation, but neither of them has proved that they are ready for the next level yet.

20. LHP Sean Brady (preseason MLB #28, LGT N/A)
The 2013 5th rd pick is enjoying a fine season with the Captains, but this jump eight spots up the list seems rather rich for the 21yo lefty to me. I would have put Nellie Rodriguez (see below) in this slot.

21. SS Tyler Krieger (2015 4th rd pick)
The 21yo Krieger was carrying an injury all though the college season, so it's no surprise that the Tribe has decided to let him sit for the time being.

22. 2B Mark Mathias (2015 3rd rd  pick)
The 20yo Mathias has settled in well to the everyday 2B role with the Scrappers. I'm not entirely sure why he is ranked lower than the injured Krieger. , After all. the Tribe drafted him higher and paid him a bigger bonus ($550K vs. $400K).

23. OF Luigi Rodriguez (preseason N/A, LGT N/A)
Once a top ten Tribe prospect, Luigi Rodriguez has emerged from a couple of years in the doldrums to put up an excellent line of .293/.335/.492 with 12 homers (before going down with a hamstring injury last week). Even though he's been at Class A+ for over two years, he's still only 22, an age at which many hitters experience a power surge. No doubt next year he will get his chance at Akron.

24. 1B Nellie Rodriguez (preseason MLB #27, LGT #20)
Even though he's improved his MLB Pipeline ranking, No.24 still seems too low for Nellie. He's a 21yo powering his way through A+ pitching. The Carolina League isn't exactly a hitter's paradise, and yet his line is .276/.356/.499 with 16 homers. Heck, no-one else in the entire league has more than 12 HRs (and that's Luigi Rodriguez, of course!).

25. 2B Claudio Bautista (preseason MLB N/A, LGT N/A)
The 21yo finally put it all together at Lake County early this season after nearly two full seasons there. However, following a promotion to Lynchburg, he is batting below the Mendoza line after 28 games. Frankly, I don't think he deserves a spot in the top 30 based largely on just two and a half good months at Class A.

26. 1B Jesus Aguilar (preseason MLB #13, LGT #13)
Aguilar has had several short stints with Indians (most recently at the end of July), but has yet to record an extra-base hit, which is bizarre for someone who has always hit for good power in AAA. I guess he will get another shot when rosters expand in September, but that might possibly be his last chance to establish himself in the bigs with the Tribe.

27. RHP Mitch Brown (preseason MLB #12, LGT #12)
A steep fall for Brown. However, after a terrible first three months of the season, he has started to get things together during July. Over five games his ERA was 3.16 with a WHIP of just 1.09 and 23 strikeouts in 31.1 IP. If he can continue with that kind of form then he should return to the top 20 by season's end.

28. RHP Shawn Armstrong (preseason MLB #30, LGT N/A)
Righty reliever Armstrong was promoted to the 40-man last November and has played well enough at the Clippers to suggest that he will earn a September call-up (if nt before). Obviously, his ranking is never going to be that high, since relievers are rarely highly valued as prospects. Personally, he wouldn't make my top 30.

29. 3B Yandy Diaz (preseason MLB N/A, LGT N/A)
The 23yo Diaz has basically been a hitting machine at AA this year. He hasn't shown a whole lot of power, but he has deservedly earned a spot in the top 30 with his consistency. With Lonnie Chisenhall out of options after this season (and apparently switching to RF anyway), the route seems clear for Diaz to start at 3B next year in Columbus.

30. SS Yu-Cheng Chang (preseason MLB #15, LGT #14)
After a great rookie season, the 19yo Chang's 2015 season with the Captains was badly derailed in early June when he was hit on the head by a pitch and suffered a concussion. After a couple of weeks on the DL, he simply wasn't the same hitter for his first few weeks back, which saw his average drop from a mediocre .238/.304/.376 to a catastrophic .204/.276/.325. However, he has bounced back with a vengeance over the past couple of weeks and his line is finally back to its early June level. I suspect that his future may lie at 3B rather than SS though.

So, in summary, I would have put Nellie Rodriguez in my top 20, and also omitted Claudio Bautista, Jesus Aguilar and Shawn Armstrong from the top 30. So who should be on there instead? Let's first take a look at those players who were dropped from the preseason list.

Dropped from the preseason top 30

RHP Dylan Baker (preseason MLB #14)
TJ surgery for the snakebitten Baker, who missed much  of last year with an injury as well.

LHP Ryan Merritt (preseason MLB #20, LGT #19)
A precipitous fall out of the top 30 for the 2014 Carolina League "Pitcher of the Year". OK, he doesn't strike out many guys, but a 3.61 ERA/3.39 FIP/1.15 WHIP at AA surely doesn't warrant this kind of drop. I would still place him in my top 30.

OF Dorssys Paulino (preseason MLB #21)
Paulino's value cratered when he was switched from SS to the much less valuable LF spot, and the MLB.com rankings were very slow to react. Despite a recent promotion to the Hillcats (which is working out very well so far), he's probably in the 31-40 range now.

RHP Grant Hockin (preseason MLB #22)
Unfortunately, the Tribe's 2014 2nd rd pick had to undergo TJ surgery in June.

OF Carlos Moncrief (preseason MLB #23, LGT #15)
After a terrible start in Columbus, Moncrief was sent down to Akron, and he isn't even hitting very well there. His time on the 40-man appears to be almost at an end. In fact, I wouldn't even place in my top 40 prospects list

C Tony Wolters (preseason MLB #24, LGT #17)
After struggling with the bat all year, Wolters was shut down last month to undergo knee surgery. He may struggle to keep his spot on the 40-man come November.

RHP Dace Kime (preseason MLB #25)
After an early season promotion from the Captains, Kime has yet to properly establish himself with the Hillcats.

SS Willi Castro (preseason MLB #26)
Castro was actually on the originally published MLB Pipeline top 30 list. However, since he was occupying the No.30 slot, he was the one bumped off when the Tribe traded for Rob Kaminsky on Thursday. I guess that make him the de facto No.31.

The 18yo Castro was signed for $850K out fo the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago, and although he didn't really show much in Arizona last year, he is hitting a reasonably respectable .259/.299/.321 with the Scrappers as their regular shortstop.

OF Greg Allen (preseason MLB #29)
Allen has actually had a pretty good season in CF in Lake County, hitting .279/.368/.399 with 36 steals (and 10 CS). Arguably, he is a very unlucky omission from the current top 30 and I would certainly include him in my list.

So that's two names for the three "vacated" spots. So who is the other one?

Some others to consider

OF Gabriel Mejia
The switch-hitting Dominican center-fielder has been an OBP and base-stealing phenom for the past year and a half. In his first stateside campaign he is hitting a ridiculous .398/.481/.460 after 29 games, with 29 steals and seven CS. Even though the 20yo has only been playing at the lowest MiLB levels, his numbers are out of this world and he should definitely be in the top 30.

SS/2B Alexis Pantoja
The 2014 9th rd pick is enjoying a fine season with the bat, hitting .309/.346/.394, but has recently been relegated to playing some 2B (with Luke Wakamatsu taking over at SS). Pantoja is only 19, so he's still very intriguing given his positional value.

RHP Casey Shane
After a poor rookie campaign in Arizona, the 19yo Shane bounced back last year and has pitched well enough that he must be fairly close to a promotion from the Scrappers to the Captains

SS Eric Stamets
Acquired just this week in the David Murphy trade, the light-hitting 23yo Stamets reportedly has a great glove, and was ranked '#23 in the (rather weak) Angels' farm system prior to his trade. The Tribe is starting him out in Akron.

So there we have it. A pretty exciting top 30 prospects and a handful of other players on the fringes. Whether or not you like my suggested replacement of Baustista, Aguilar and Armstrong with Allen, Merritt and G.Mejia, one thing is for sure: this is looks like the deepest farm system that the Tribe has had for many years.

Incidentally, the new MLB.com Prospect Watch top 100 has Bradley Zimmer rather lower than most other evaluations at #32, with Clint Frazier at #42 and new acquisition Rob Kaminsky at #88.