With all the votes tallied up, Let’s Go Tribe readers have completed their mission and selected their official top 20 prospects for the upcoming 2017 season.
A lot can happen in a year.
Just one year ago, Greg Allen wasn’t even cracking the LGT top 20 prospects, now he’s in the top 10. Francisco Mejia wasn’t in the top 10, and now he’s number one overall. Hell, four players from the 2016 top 10 aren’t even eligible to be ranked anymore.
So let’s play a fun game and compare this year’s list to last year’s! Obviously, a few things need to be put into consideration:
- Two prospects from the 2016 list graduated and lost their rookie status (#8 Tyler Naquin, #3 Mike Clevinger)
- Two top 20 prospects were traded for Andrew Miller in a four-player deal (#2 Clint Frazier, #6 Justus Sheffield)
- One prospect dropped off the list from 2016 (#20 Mike Papi)
- One prospect dropped off the list, then the 40-man roster, and was recently signed by the Brewers (#19 Jesus Aguilar)
I’ll be doing my best to rationalize why a player moved up or down compared to 2016’s list by analyzing their performance as well as tossing out some educated guesses.
Now let’s get to it!
This one isn’t a huge shocker, despite being such a high jump. Mejia as you all know by now, made waves in 2016 by going on a 50-game hitting streak which was spread across Single-A and High-A. He also made appearances in the Midwest and Futures All-Star games and finished the season batting over .340 overall. Believe it or not, Mejia’s best-graded tool isn’t even his hitting, it’s his cannon arm, which he used to throw out nearly 50 percent of would-be basestealers last season. Mejia was ranked the number one prospect in the Tribe system by Baseball America and that certainly helped him with the community vote.
Zimmer didn’t have a bad season in 2016, but it also wasn’t an incredible one. His power numbers and walk-rate improved but his strikeouts skyrocketed, especially after being promoted late in the year to Triple-A. Zimmer also compared poorly early on to fellow prospect Clint Frazier, who had a very strong beginning to his 2016 campaign before being traded. Zimmer actually fared better down the stretch and then put on a great performance in the Arizona Fall League, so he more than deserved to remain high on the prospect list.
McKenzie was all potential heading into 2016, so the readers justifiably were cautious with his ranking. Then he actually pitched for a half season, and he blew everyone away. McKenzie humiliated hitters in Low-A Mahoning Valley, then actually improved his numbers when he was promoted to Single-A Lake County. This kid appears to be downright special and the fans justifiably upped his ranking.
Diaz has consistently hit well ever since signing with the Indians as a Cuban defector in late 2013, but he really broke out last season. Diaz has long been a favorite of Fangraphs’ “Fringe Five” prospect report, and he put up career best numbers last year in regards to power, batting average and walk rate, all despite being moved around multiple positions due to Giovanny Urshela staking claim to third base in Columbus. He has a decent chance to make the main roster out of Spring Training.
Bradley has always put up huge power numbers, and last year was no different as he set career highs in home runs (29), runs batted in (102) and walk-rate (13.2%) while earning Carolina League MVP honors as a 20-year old. That being said, his contact rate took a nosedive, so LGT readers were notably weary and slightly dropped his stock.
To be honest, I think Aiken was a bit under-ranked in 2016. The 2015 first round draft pick finally debuted last year after recovering from Tommy John surgery to mixed results. He actually performed better after being promoted to Low-A Mahoning Valley, but 2017 will be the real year where we can determine if he can get back to the form that made him the #1 overall pick in 2014 (pre-injury).
7.) Will Benson, OF, Age 18, 2016 first round draft pick
Benson wasn’t rank-able last year due to not being on the Indians roster yet. There are definitely high hopes for him in 2017 though!
The biggest jump of all was Allen, who has improved his overall performance every year despite increasing his level of competition. In 2016, Allen led all minor leaguers in runs scored, stole a ton of bases, improved his power numbers and walk-rate while winning the minor league Gold Glove for center field. He went from being an afterthought in the outfield to very likely being the center-fielder of the future.
Considering Baseball America had Chang listed as the Indians 6th best prospect, it might come as a surprise that he wasn’t even on the LGT top 20 last season, but it actually makes sense. Chang was ranked #14 in the LGT 2015 rankings, then proceeded to have a pretty lousy year at Single-A Lake County due to multiple injuries. Chang healed up in 2016 and had a great year in the middle of the insanely talented Lynchburg batting order and then batted over .300 as one of the youngest players in the AFL this past fall to get back on everyone’s radar.
You have to almost feel bad for Rob Kaminsky, because he didn’t deserve to nosedive in the rankings. Kaminsky actually had a great 2016 season, holding a 3.28 ERA while pitching in Double-A as a 21-year old. His problem was he started the year very poorly while pitching with an injury and he made a very bad first impression. People simply weren’t paying attention when he found his curveball again and dominated down the stretch to help Akron win the Eastern League championship.
11.) Nolan Jones, 3B, Age 18, 2016 second round draft pick
Another player who wasn’t capable of being ranked last year due to being drafted in June. Keep an eye on Jones, though, as most pre-draft rankings had him listed higher than Tribe first round pick Will Benson.
Merritt went form afterthought to one of LGT’s favorite pitching prospects after a strong 2016 which saw the soft-tossing lefty throw the only shutout in the Indians minor league system, pitch admirably for the Indians in spot appearances, then toss over four shutout innings in Game 5 of the ALCS to help the Indians reach their first World Series in nearly 20 years.
13.) Juan Hillman, LHP, Age 19, 2016 rank: 13, Change 0
Hillman started strong in his first extended taste of professional ball last year with a 25+ streak of scoreless innings, but he faded pretty hard down the stretch. He still has all the tools that made him a 2015 second round pick, but will need to prove himself this upcoming season if he wants to do any better than treading water in the rankings.
Gonzalez moved up in the rankings after having a very successful season in Triple-A where he batted .296. He also slugged double digit home runs for the first time and made his Major League debut, batting .313 in 17 plate appearances with the Tribe. He’ll also be in contention for the utility spot this year.
Despite pitching well in brief stints with the Indians in 2015 and 2016, Armstrong is still holding prospect status because the Indians keep signing and trading for too many veteran relievers. Armstrong has great strikeout stuff, but 2017 might be his make-or-break year with the Indians.
Plutko made his big league debut in 2016 with two relief appearances and mixed results. He had a strong campaign both in Double-A and Triple-A, so it’s a bit of a surprise he dropped so much. My personal theory is he emergence of some top younger prospects mixed with some career years from established players in the system outshone Plutko’s season and he kind of got lost in the shuffle.
Morimando also had a solid 2016, even making his big league debut as well, but despite putting up some pretty good numbers spread across Double-A and Triple-A, he wasn’t exactly blowing people away. Morimando has talent, but it’s not other-worldly, so his stock very slightly dropped.
Rodriguez put up big power numbers for Double-A Akron last season, setting career highs in home runs and walk rate, but he also struck out in over 30 percent of his plate appearances, which is not exactly something to get all excited about. We’ll learn a lot about him in Triple-A this season now that Jesus Aguilar is out of the picture.
You can’t blame LGT readers for not ranking Tyler Krieger in 2016. He didn’t play a single game after being drafted in 2015 due to a lingering injury from college. He debuted at Single-A Lake County last year and tore the place apart, batting well over .300 and earning a promotion to High-A Lynchburg. He’s definitely a prospect to keep an eye on moving forward.
Mathias didn’t do anything wrong in 2016, he just got overshadowed a little bit by Tyler Krieger. Both players were drafted in 2015 and have performed very well. Mathias skipped Single-A entirely and was a double-hitting machine last season for Lynchburg, socking 40 on the season and earning a late promotion to Double-A.