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MLB Pipeline 2016 top 30 Cleveland Indians prospects, reviewed

MLB Pipeline shuffled their top-30 lists for all MLB teams since the trade deadline. Here's what the Indians' looks like.

Columbus Dispatch

With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror and with the draft signing period behind us,'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, Tyler Naquin is no longer eligible, having graduated to MLB. In fact, there are seven new names in all, since a seven players from the preseason list have been dropped and/or traded.

Without further ado, let's break the Tribe's list down player-by-player. (All stats are as of August 11th)

1. OF Bradley Zimmer (Preseason #1, LGT #1)

Not a big surprise here, especially after fellow top outfield prospect Clint Frazier was traded at the deadline for Andrew Miller, Bradley Zimmer had a decent run in Double-A Akron this year, earning a spot on the Eastern League All-Star team and the home run derby, but he’s really shone brightly since being promoted to Triple-A Columbus. His line for the Clippers is .309/.415/.400 but the big concern has been and always will be strikeouts. He’s struck out 21 times in 66 plate appearances (31.2%) after striking out in 28.3% of plate appearances in Double-A.

2. LHP Brady Aiken (Preseason #4, LGT #7)

This grade is entirely based on potential, because Aiken hasn’t shown much of yet. The former #1 overall draft pick in 2014 was taken with the Indians first pick in last year’s 2015 draft after falling due to Tommy John surgery. Aiken’s velocity has not returned, and he’s been very hittable thus far in his 2016 starts, but he was recently promoted to Low-A Mahoning Valley anyways. Hopefully he can turn things around, but I’d expect him to drop in the rankings as soon as the preseason 2017 list comes out.

3. 1B Bobby Bradley (Preseason #3, LGT #4)

Bradley’s potential has always revolved around his power, and he hasn’t disappointed in that department this season. The 20-year old Lynchburg first baseman has clubbed 22 home runs this season, which leads all Tribe prospects. His strikeouts are very slightly down (31.8% -> 30.7%) and his walk rate is slightly up (12.0% -> 13.8%) this year but he’s also dropped his batting average 25 points. If people are concerned about his defense, he’s actually improved his fielding percentage from .982 to .986 and that’s despite his two errors in last night’s game.

4. C Francisco Mejia (Preseason #8, LGT #11)

Francisco Mejia has soared up the boards this season and was nearly traded for Jonathan Lucroy. He definitely benefited from a repeat stint in Lake County, which saw his numbers explode. The 20-year old switch-hitting Dominican catcher was a Midwest League All-Star, a participant of the MLB Futures game and was promoted to High-A Lynchburg while in the middle of a 24-game hitting streak. Oh yeah, and he’s hit in 24 more games since being promoted, raising his streak total to 48 (and counting), good for seventh best in MiLB history. Mejia also has thrown out 42% of would-be basestealers this season. He could be the top prospect in the system if he can keep this pace up.

5. RHP Mike Clevinger (Preseason #7, LGT #3)

Mike Clevinger is very close to graduating the prospect rankings, having made four starts for the Indians this season and one relief appearance. While his numbers with the Tribe have not been particularly good yet, he’s still been lights out in his starts for Triple-A Columbus (3.00 ERA, 9.4 K/9, 1.22 WHIP). Clevinger is solid depth to an already spectacular Indians starting rotation and he could potentially take Josh Tomlin’s place in 2017 if Tomlin continues his recent struggles.

6. 3B Nolan Jones 2016 2nd Round

Despite being taken with the 54th overall pick, Jones debuts very high on the Indians prospect list. He dropped in the draft due to the fact that many teams were concerned about how much money it would take to sign him, and the Indians benefited from that concern. Jones currently sports a .275/.420/.304 line through 21 games with the rookie league AZL Indians. Jones hasn’t displayed much power (2 doubles, 19 singles in 21 hits) but he’s walked 17 times already, which is getting him on base at a very high clip. Hopefully the power will come as the 18-year old develops.

7. RHP Triston McKenzie (Preseason #6, LGT #10)

What more can I say about Triston McKenzie? In my opinion, he’s the Indians top overall pitching prospect at this point. McKenzie was a 2015 first round compensatory pick and has been flat out dominant. He murdered Low-A hitters in his 2016 debut with Mahoning Valley, giving up just three runs in nine starts (49.1 innings) while striking out 10 batters per nine innings, which resulted in a quick promotion to Lake County. In his first start for Lake County, he struck out 11 batters in 5.1 innings and looked like he was a step above that competition as well. Some fans are even wondering if McKenzie (19 years 10 days) could beat CC Sabathia’s age of major league debut (20 years 9 months).

8. OF Will Benson 2016 1st Round

A monstrous 6’6 athlete with a ton of potential, 2016 first round pick Will Benson still needs to improve his overall contact rate, but his power has definitely blossomed since debuting with the AZL Indians earlier this year. Benson currently sports a .239/.358/.487 batting line through 32 games in the rookie league and has shown steady improvement after a slow start to his professional MiLB career. Out of his 27 career hits, 15 have been for extra bases with five of them being home runs. He’s also stolen eight bags and has only been caught once. Benson is a project player, but he could definitely be worth the wait.

9. SS Erik Gonzalez (Preseason #12, LGT #17)

Erik Gonzalez earned a cup of coffee with the Indians thanks in part to his incredible 2016 season for Triple-A Columbus, which saw him make the International League All-Star game (where he hit a home run). A career shortstop, he’s in a bind thanks to Francisco Lindor’s presence on the big league club. He’s certainly hitting the cover off the ball for Columbus, however, to the tune of a .305/.336/.459 batting line. The Indian tried him out as a utility player, but he looks like a career shortstop to me. He’s at his highest value right now and could be trade bait in the offseason.

10. SS Yu-Cheng Chang (Preseason #13, LGT UR)

Yu-Cheng Chang was nearly traded as part of the vetoed Jonathan Lucroy deal, but the Indians managed to hang on to the Carolina League All-Star. Chang has had a breakout year offensively despite moving up a level to Lynchburg. He currently sports a .271/.345/.484 byline thanks in part to his ridiculous 48 extra base hits out of 102 hits in total. When Chang makes contact, he hits it hard. While it’s not a strongsuit, his defense has improved each season, currently a career-best .965 fielding percentage. He projects to be a future third baseman thanks in part to Francisco Lindor’s presence on the MLB roster.

11. 3B/OF Yandy Diaz (Preseason #14, LGT #12)

Yandy Diaz was severely underestimated heading into this season. Outside of Francisco Mejia, he’s been the best offensive performer for the Indians out of any prospect in the system. Diaz is an on base machine, reaching safely at a .420 clip overall in 2016. His offense launched to another stratosphere after being promoted to Columbus, where, despite being pushed from his third base role, he’s leading the International League with a .334 batting average. He’s now hitting for extra bases as well, with 18 doubles, two triples and six home runs for Columbus. The 25-year old Cuban defector projects to be a Jose Ramirez-esque utility style player for Cleveland with a very similar offensive approach and ability. The Diaz-era will be arriving to a MLB stadium near you very shortly.

12. LHP Juan Hillman (Preseason #11, LGT #13)

Just two months older than fellow 2015 draftee Triston McKenzie, Juan Hillman is having a solid year for short season Mahoning Valley. He had a spectacular 25 inning scoreless streak at one point, but has come back down to Earth in his most recent starts, getting smacked around a bit. All things said, Hillman is still a very impressive southpaw who strikes out just over seven batters per nine innings and has plenty of room for future growth.

13. LHP Shawn Morimando (Preseason #16, LGT #15)

Through the first two months of 2016, Shawn Morimando was untouchable, going 9-0 in his first 11 starts with a 1.64 ERA. He was promoted to Triple-A Columbus in July (following a brief appearance on the big league roster) and has been lights out for the Clippers. In his six starts for Columbus, Morimando is 4-1 with a 1.96 ERA and he hasn’t given up a run in any of his last three starts, spanning 18.1 innings in total. While he’s not the hardest thrower, Morimando has some great off speed pitches and projects to be a contributor for a big league club. Whether or not that club will be the Indians is the big question.

14. RHP Adam Plutko (Preseason #15, LGT #9)

Adam Plutko has suffered from consistency issues this season. He was excellent for Akron, earning a call-up to Triple-A Columbus in mid-June. Plutko has great command, and is capable of being flat out dominant, as evidenced by recently taking a perfect game into the eighth inning, but he also has games like July 9th, where he gave up nine runes in five innings. Plutko definitely has the ability to be a major league pitcher, and it’s surprising he hasn’t been called upon to make a spot start or a long relief appearance for the Indians this season. Don’t be shocked to see him come visit when September rolls around.

15. SS Willi Castro (Preseason #21, LGT UR)

Still just 19 years old, switch-hitting shortstop Willi Castro is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, but that didn’t stop him from making the All-Star team. Castro hails from the Dominican Republic and he’s shown a bit of a power surge this year, hitting seven home runs compared to just one last season. His defense, while still needing significant work, has improved as well. He has 24 errors this season, but his fielding percentage is at a career best .945. One area of concern for Castro is his plate approach, as he is impatient at the plate, walking just 3.5% of the time compared to a surging 17% strikeout rate. Depending on if there’s an opening at shortstop for Lynchburg next year or not, Castro might be a candidate for a repeat stint at Lake County.

16. 2B Tyler Krieger (Preseason #22, LGT UR)

2016 was Tyler Krieger’s professional debut year, and he’s made the most of it. He dominated Midwest League pitching, earning an All-Star nod after batting .313. Power is still developing for Krieger, but that didn’t stop him from getting promoted to High-A Lynchburg in late June. His breakout performance this year was so impressive that he was recently added to the top 10 overall second base prospects in all of the minor leagues according to MLB Pipeline.

17. 2B/3B Mark Mathias (Preseason #17, LGT #18)

Mark Mathias completely skipped Lake County this year and started with High-A Lynchburg. After a slow start, he’s been downright exceptional the past month. Mathias leads the entire Carolina League in doubles with 36 and has raised his batting average up to .287, which is even better than his .285 for Mahoning Valley last year. Mathias has a great eye at the plate, walking 43 times this year compared to 66 strikeouts. He’s played second base, third base and shortstop this season for the Hillcats, although his best role defensively right now is second.

18. RHP Aaron Civale 2016 3rd Round

A former relief pitcher, Aaron Civale is currently in the process of transitioning to starting and he’s off to a great start. While he has yet to pitch four innings in any of his starts this season for Mahoning Valley, Civale currently sports a 2.38 ERA and has only given up an earned run in two out of his eight starts thus far. Civale is striking out 7.1/9 and walking 2/9 thus far.

19. LHP Rob Kaminsky (Preseason #10, LGT #5)

Poor Rob Kaminsky took a steep tumble in the rankings this season thanks to his horrible start to 2016. I feel he’s gotten a raw deal, however, because if you look at his numbers after he returned from the disabled list on May 30th, he’s been very good. Since healing up his lower back strain, Kaminsky has a 3.03 ERA, a 3.42 FIP, is striking out 19% of batters faced and has a WHIP of 1.14. He’s also still 21 years old. While he’s certainly not the top Indians pitching prospect, I’m not ready to give up on him just yet.

20. OF Greg Allen (Preseason #23, LGT UR)

Gret Allen has done everything the organization has asked him to do. He’s the best pure leadoff hitter out of all Tribe prospects, reaching base safely at a .419 clip overall in 2016, and he’s stolen a whopping 41 bases this year compared to just eight times being caught. Allen leads all players in all of MiLB in runs scored this season with 105, and he more than earned a promotion to Akron just under three weeks ago. Since arriving in Akron, he hasn’t missed a beat, currently batting .323. He has all the tools to be a future big leaguer.

21. SS Luke Wakamatsu (Preseason #20, LGT UR)

It’s been a tough year for Luke Wakamatsu. He started the season very promising for Low-A Mahoning Valley with hits in his first four games, but proceeded to go 9-52 over his next 13 games before being placed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain, and he’s still on the DL over a month later. Hopefully he can heal up back to 100 percent and start next season fresh.

22. OF Conner Capel 2016 5th Round

A speedy left-handed outfielder, Conner Capel is still adjusting to professional baseball. The AZL Indians currently use him in the leadoff role, but he’s only hitting .240 and not even walking in five percent of his at bats. Capel is still a work in progress, but he’s also just 19 years old so there’s plenty of room for growth.

23. C Logan Ice 2016 2nd Round Supplementary

The third player drafted by the Indians this past year, Logan Ice is a solid defensive catcher with a decent plate approach. While he hasn’t hit for average thus far in 2016 (.207), he’s picked up 19 walks thus far compared to 25 strikeouts. Hopefully he can take it to the next level when he likely starts next season in Lake County.

24. 1B Nellie Rodriguez (Preseason #19, LGT #14)

Nellie Rodriguez is on pace to have a career high in home runs this season, but he’s paying for it by inflating his strikeout rate to a ridiculous 32.8%. Rodriguez has some of the biggest power potential in the entire Indians farm system, but the 22-year old has to cut down his K’s. Look for him to replace Jesus Aguilar in Triple-A next season.

25. 1B Ulysses Cantu 2016 6th Round

Originally a third base prospect, Ulysses Cantu was switched over to first base after being drafted this year. The 18-year old is still adjusting to pro ball, batting just .208/.307/.273 thus far through 21 games, but it’s still far too early in his development at this point.

26. OF Mike Papi (Preseason #18, LGT #20)

After a hot start for Lynchburg this season, earning Carolina League Player of the Week, Mike Papi has cooled off tremendously. The Indians organization hoped a promotion to Double-A Akron would help, but he’s still ice cold at the plate, batting just .205/.329/.335 thus far for the RubberDucks. Unless he can start to turn things around, Papi is likely going to be dropping off the prospect list entirely for the 2017 preseason.

27. RHP Shane Bieber 2016 4th Round

One of the last Indians 2016 picks to sign, Shane Bieber has been superb thus far in a small sample size. Bieber has only started four games, and hasn’t pitched longer than three innings, but he’s also only given up one run thus far for Mahoning Valley. Bieber is currently striking out nine batters per nine innings while walking less than one. He’s definitely a college arm to keep an eye on.

28. LHP Luis Lugo (Preseason #26, LGT UR)

Luis Lugo seemed to be stagnating in his repeat stint at High-A Lynchburg, but the 22-year old southpaw Venezuelan has been red hot the past month. In his last five starts dating back to July 18th, Lugo has a 1.26 ERA, a 9.1 K/9 and a FIP of 2.89. It’s a small sample size, but if he can keep anything even close to this up, he’ll definitely be starting next season in Double-A.

29. RHP Shawn Armstrong (Preseason #24, LGT #16)

The Cleveland Indians have been in desperate need of bullpen help all season, yet they refuse to promote Shawn Armstrong for more than a day or two. The talented right-hander has a solid 2.03 ERA this season as one of the primary back-end relievers for the Clippers. His 13.4 K/9 should make him a major league contributor next season at least although he’ll have to improve upon his 5.7 BB/9 rate.

30. LHP Ryan Merritt (Preseason #28, LGT UR)

A 24-year old southpaw, Ryan Merritt has showcased excellent control in 2016, and his ERA has held steady at a decent 3.94 with a 3.76 FIP. Merritt pitched 5.1 scoreless innings for the Indians this season out of the bullpen, but has spent the rest of his time as a starter for the Clippers. He tossed a shutout earlier in May, the only complete game shutout by any Indians prospect in 2016,


1. Clint Frazier (Preseason #2, #LGT 2)

A former first round pick, Clint Frazier is a beast, and was having a breakout season in the Tribe system before he was traded to the Yankees for Andrew Miller. He was a member of the Eastern League All-Stars as well as a participant in the 2016 Futures game. It’s a shame to see him go because he would have looked a lot better in Navy Blue compared to Pinstripes.

5. Justus Sheffield (Preseason #5, #LGT 6)

Also a first round pick, this time in 2014, Justus Sheffield was having a solid season for High-A Lynchburg, making the Carolina League All-Star game before being traded for Andrew Miller. He was the second highest-rated pitcher in the Indians system at the time of the trade, but there is so much depth right now that he will not be too sorely missed.

30. Ben Heller (Preseason UR, LGT UR)

Ben Heller wasn’t on the preseason prospect rankings, but played himself into a top 30 appearance right before he was traded thanks in part to his complete dominance of hitters. Heller throws 97+ out of the back end of the bullpen and was promoted to Triple-A early this season before the trade. He was also just called up to the Yankees big league squad yesterday. Hopefully he doesn’t hurt us too badly in years to come.

Dropped off

OF Tyler Naquin (graduated)

RHP Dylan Baker (Preseason #25, LGT UR)

Baker has all the potential in the world, but can’t stay healthy. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015, then needed follow-up surgery on an infection from the harvest site of his tendon (not in the throwing arm) this past January. He has yet to make his 2016 debut.

OF James Ramsey (Preseason #27, LGT UR)

Ramsey was traded to the Dodgers for cash considerations at the beginning of the 2016 season and faded into oblivion.

OF Dorssys Paulino (Preseason #29, LGT UR)

Paulino was having a forgettable 2016 until recently, where he’s been much improved after coming off a DL stint for High-A Lynchburg.

RHP Casey Shane (Preseason #30, LGT UR)

Shane has been slow to develop. His strikeout rate is down in 2016, his walk rate is up, his ERA is up and his FIP is waaaay up. The nearly 21-year old is losing some of his luster at this point.

Some others to consider

OF Anthony Santander

After three years of frustrating injuries in Lake County, Anthony Santander has had a breakout year for High-A Lynchburg, batting .283/.363/.481 and is among the league leaders in doubles, home runs and OPS. The Venezuelan is still just 21 years old and should definitely start next season as a staple of the Akron outfield.

RHP Julian Merryweather

Merryweather wasn’t considered a top prospect due to his age (24) but that’s not something he could help. He wasn’t drafted until he was 22 years old after his senior college season, but he’s had a monstrous 2016. He had a ridiculous 1.03 ERA for High-A Lynchburg before being promoted in late June and while his transition to Double-A was slow, he appears to have figured things out, most recently throwing eight innings of one-hit ball for the Rubberducks. He throws mid 90’s with great control. Keep an eye out for him.

RHP Matt Esparza

Matt Esparza leads all Indians minor league pitchers in strikeouts for 2016 with 125 thus far. He was amazing for Lake County and has been just as good if not better since being promoted to High-A Lynchburg in late July. Esparza has quite the cheering section among LGT readers, and hopefully the 2015 14th round draft pick shoots up the prospect rankings heading into 2017.

LHP Thomas Pannone

A 2013 9th round draft pick, 22-year old southpaw Thomas Pannone is having a breakout 2016. He had a 3.02 ERA through 17 starts for Lake County this year before earning a promotion to Lynchburg, where he’s currently sporting a 1.59 ERA in a small sample size of three starts.

OF Gabriel Mejia

While Gabriel Mejia will never be a big power threat, he’s an absolute terror on the basepaths due to his speed and ability to get on base at a high rate. The 21-year old is batting .300 through 45 games for Mahoning Valley and has stolen 13 bases, although he’s been caught seven times. He’ll almost certainly start 2017 in Lake County.

OF Andrew Calica

An 11th round draft pick by the Indians in 2016, Andrew Calica has hit the ground running for Mahoning Valley, currently sporting a ridiculous .370/.480/.530 batting line through 29 games. He’s an advanced offensive threat due to his college experience, so don’t be shocked to see him skip a level next year.

RHP Francisco Perez

Don’t sleep on Francisco Perez. The 19-year old Dominican pitcher has been lights out for the AZL Indians this year, sporting a 1.91 ERA over his last nine starts/appearances, which have all lasted at least five innings. Opposing batters are hitting just .166 against him and he’s currently striking them out at a 20% rate. This is definitely a kid you should not be sleeping on.