Having a farm system that is particularly strong in one position does not necessarily mean that a team will not draft another player of that position, but it sure does feel nice knowing your favorite team is absolutely loaded with starting pitchers. As we continue our coverage of the 2016 MLB Draft, let's take a look at the good and the bad of the Cleveland Indians farm system.
There is, of course, much more to a farm system than the top 30 players, but take a moment to look at how many players from each position MLB Pipeline has in their own top-30 list.
- Catcher: 1
- First base: 2
- Second base: 1
- Shortstop: 5
- Third base: 1
- Outfield: 6
- Left-handed pitchers: 7
- Right-handed pitchers: 8
Just looking at the raw number counts, a couple of things stick out: A lot of pitchers and not many catchers. There are not many players listed as second basemen, either, but many times shortstops will transition to a second baseman; putting too much stock into the fact that only one is listed in MLB Pipeline's rankings would be a bit premature. Catchers and pitchers, on the other hand, usually stay as catchers and pitchers through the minor leagues.
The cream of the catcher crop is obviously Francisco Mejia -- the only catcher to make MLB Pipeline's list of top 30 Indians prospects. Mejia is a player that also occasionally pops up on top-100 prospect lists, including Baseball Prospectus' prior to the 2015 season. He was ranked No. 84 by BP, ahead of even Clint Frazier -- who made the list at No. 89 -- and the then-unranked Bradley Zimmer.
In a scouting report prior to this season, FanGraphs' Dan Farnsworth praised Mejia's arm strength and acumen behind the plate, with some questions about his offense. In that way, he is almost similar to Yan Gomes, who is one of the best defensive catchers in the league.
The Indians took a hit at catcher when they were forced to let Tony Wolters go to make room on the 40-man roster for offseason acquisitions. Wolters was claimed by the Colorado Rockies and has made an immediate defensive impact in the Mile-High City. Daniel Salters has filled the gap left by Wolters nicely, however, slashing .288/.365/.387 in 32 games this season for the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats.
If Yan Gomes' career really is already on the downturn, almost all of the Indians hopes rely on Mejia panning out. And he is still a couple years away, at best.
I know people are going to disagree with calling third base a weakness, and that is perfectly fine. However, as someone who does not have a lot of faith in Giovanny Urshela turning into an everyday player and seeing Yandy Diaz still not hit for much power in the minors, it would be difficult for me to call third base a strength right now.
Diaz's walks are encouraging, and if he can turn his bat into even a slight power threat I could pretty quickly reverse this into a strength. It's close.
Again, as I said up there in the intro paragraph, this only a "weakness" based on the players in the organization listed as second basemen. Luckily, the Indians do need a new everyday second baseman until 2020 at the earliest (unless Jason Kipnis experiences a sudden, sharp decline) because there is not much help on the horizon.
Mark Mathias is the highest-upside second baseman currently in the organization, but he is only 21 and struggling to hit well in Double-A.
Yhoxian Medina has been a pleasant surprise in Triple-A, slashing .313/.389/.500 in his 11 games for the Columbus Clippers.
I casually mentioned first base as a weakness in my position-by-position breakdown, but I will gladly reverse that now. Bobby Bradley has me excited enough to almost call it a strength based on him alone, but Nellie Rodriguez pushes it over the top. Bradley's strikeouts are still a very real issue (28.9% K-rate in 2016), but he is starting to walk more and still blasting home runs. His 11 long balls currently leads the Carolina League, as well as the entire Indians organization.
Nellie Rodriguez is having similar issues in Double-A with strikeouts (32.2% K-rate), but he also has 11 home runs on the season.
Some of these guys are going to either have to be traded or move to second/third base because Francisco Lindor is not going anywhere for a good, long time. Either way, the Indians are absolutely loaded with future shortstop talent right now. Erik Gonzalez remains the closest to major-league ready (and could even be part of a trade package at the trade deadline if the Indians really wanted), but the majority of shortstop talent resides Class-A.
Tyler Krieger has been mostly playing second base for the Lake County Captains this season, while Willi Castro has been handling duties at short. Both of them can absolutely fly around the basepaths although they still do not make the greatest decisions when it comes to base-stealing.
Eric Stamets, who came over in the deal for David Murphy last season, has struggled for the Double-A Akron RubberDucks this season, offensively.
Does this really need an explanation? Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier are both looking great in Double-A right and sitting pretty atop almost all Indians top prospects lists (*shakes fist at Brady Aiken and Baseball Prospectus*). Greg Allen has hit well in High-A this season, as well, while Tyler Naquin had his major-league debut and could be back before the end of the season.
As almost a form of addition by subtraction, the Indians cut ties with James Ramsey and Zach Walters before the season, and they have both looked abysmal in their new organization, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Indians currently lack a lefty in their normal rotation, but that will probably change in a few years. First-round pick Brady Aiken is working back from Tommy John surgery and should join the Mahoning Valley Scrappers when they start their season in June. Justus Sheffield has looked downright dominant for the Lynchburg Hillcats this season as well, and could be getting a call-up to Double-A soon.
Another 2015 draft pick, Juan Hillman, is still extremely young -- having just turned 19 this month -- but he has already impressed scouts with his fastball-changeup combination and budding curveball.
Shawn Morimando is another big lefty that has impressed this season, his 1.65 ERA for the Akron RubberDucks should help him earn a promotion to the Clippers soon.
Ryan Merritt is a soft-tossing lefty who is also considered on this list, although he is currently sitting in the Indians bullpen for some unknown reason. His last start was a May 19 start before he was called up to replace the injured Joba Chamberlain. He finally made his major-league debut on Monday in a blowout against the Texas Rangers.
The big disappointment for this crop of lefties has been Rob Kaminsky. After being ranked as the Indians top pitching prospect when he arrived last season (which, to be honest, probably was not the right ranking, anyway), he has struggled mightily in 2016. He had a 4.75 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in six starts with the Akron RubberDucks before being placed on the disabled list.
The upper-echelon of right-handed pitchers in the Indians system includes Mike Clevinger and Triston McKenzie. Clevinger has looked like a typical rookie in his first few starts at the major-league level, but his excellent breaking stuff is exciting. Similar to Juan Hillman, McKenzie was drafted last season and his still extremely young. His upside is higher than Hillman's, however, and scouts believe he could develop a deadline fastball once he grows into his 6-foot-5 frame more.
Casey Shane is a RHP who has looked good for the Lake County Captains this season, utilizing his excellent control and plus fastball to a 5-1 record and 3.73 ERA.