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Cleveland Indians 2015 draft in review

Who were the hits and misses of the Tribe's 2015 draft that featured Brady Aiken, Tristen McKenzie, Juan Hillman, and more?

As we continue our coverage of the upcoming 2017 MLB draft, I’ll be reviewing the last two Cleveland Indians drafts, which have added considerable depth to their minor league system. If you want to turn back time for immediate reactions to this draft, you can find the original Let’s Go Tribe review here.

Just FYI, the age listed below is the age of the players when they were drafted just under two years ago, so just add two years for their current age.

1 (17). Brady Aiken. LHP. Age 18. $2.5MM bonus.

Originally the #1 pick in the 2014 draft but unsigned, Brady Aiken was still on the board at #17 and despite having undergone Tommy John surgery, the Indians took a shot on him.

Things haven’t exactly panned out thus far for the former hot-shot prospect.

Aiken missed all of 2015 while recovering and didn’t exactly have his best stuff when he debuted in the Arizona Rookie League last year, owning a 7.13 ERA in eight starts. Things improved when he was promoted to Low-A Mahoning Valley halfway through the shortened season, but Aiken is struggling mightily this year at Single-A Lake County in his first taste of full-season ball.

Command and inconsistent velocity have both been problems for Aiken, who has walked 30 batted compared to just 23 strikeouts in 38 innings in 2017 spread over his first eight starts. He’s lucky to have a 4.46 ERA because opposing hitters are batting .312 off him.

Aiken’s stock is currently falling, and it’s up to him to right the ship because he should be healthy by now.

1A (42). Triston McKenzie. RHP. Age 17. $2.3MM bonus.

Drafted out of Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida, McKenzie has skyrocketed up the prospect radar as he continues to downright intimidate opposing hitters. Here’s what Indians scouting director Brad Grant had to say about the youngster after drafting him:

"Triston McKenzie, we have a high school right-handed starter. He still is young at 17, and he's got a lot of upside to him. Tall, thin frame, 6-5, 160 pounds. What we like with Triston is it’s the fastball that’s up to 93, another one who can spin a curveball, a guy with a good feel for the changeup. And Triston as well throws a lot of strikes and has a very good delivery."

McKenzie blew away opposing hitters last year, earning a promotion from Low-A Mahoning Valley to Single-A Lake County and he didn’t slow down once there, beginning 2017 at High-A Lynchburg, where he’s currently leading the Carolina League in strikeouts (58), third in WHIP (0.98) and fifth in ERA (2.60).

Still just 19-years old, McKenzie could be in Double-A by the All-Star break. He has front of the rotation potential and the sky is currently the limit for him.

2 (59). Juan Hillman. LHP. Age 18. $825K bonus. Interview

The godson of former reliever Tom Gordon, Juan Hillman looked poised to break out alongside McKenzie last year in his first taste of Low-A ball, having a stretch of five straight starts without giving up an earned run, but he faded badly as the season wore on, finishing with an ERA of 4.43.

Things have not improved for the young southpaw in his full-season debut at Single-A Lake County, where he currently sports an ERA of 8.03, although in his defense, Hillman has been pitching better as of late, lasting at least five innings each start, although he has yet to give up less than three runs in any of his eight starts this season.

Hillman doesn’t possess McKenzie’s nasty strikeout stuff, so he has to be craftier, pitching to contact and trying to force hitters to get themselves out. That’s still a work in progress as he’s given up 46 hits and 18 walks in 37 innings thus far. It’s far too early to give up on him at this point, but he’ll need better command and the ability to hit his spots if he wants to have success at the upper levels.

3 (93). Mark Mathias. 2B/RHH Age 20. $550K bonus.

The first position player drafted by the Indians in 2015, Mathias skipped Single-A Lake County entirely last year, and it paid off, as he finished 2016 with 40 doubles, even earning a late promotion to Double-A.

Mathias began 2017 on the disabled list after suffering a separated shoulder during Spring Training, and after a slow start, he seems to have picked things back up where he left off in Akron. Strikeouts are an issue as he’s currently whiffing at 30.2 percent, which is a dramatic increase compared to his 17.8 percent strikeout rate at High-A Lynchburg last season.

4 (124). Tyler Krieger. 2B/SH. Age 21. $400K bonus.

After missing all of 2015 with a shoulder injury, Krieger was been a revelation last year for both Lake County and Lynchburg after a mid-season promotion, slashing .299/.377/.417 between both levels. He started out red hot in his Double-A debut this year, but has cooled off as of late, currently batting .244, although his slugging is still a respectable .405 thanks in part to 12 doubles and three home runs.

Krieger is also improving his eye at the plate, as his strikeout rate has actually dropped two points to 18.8 percent despite moving up to Double-A.

5 (154). Ka'ai Tom. CF/LHH. Age 21. $250K bonus. Interview

Blaze Ka'ai Tom not only had the best name in the 2015 Indians draft but he also can hit the cover off the ball. Tom was brilliant last season for Lake County before a shoulder injury ended his year just two months into the campaign. He started 2017 in High-A Lynchburg and has been one of the team’s leaders offensively, currently with nearly as many walks (26) as strikeouts (28) while batting second in the order.

6 (184). Jonas Wyatt. RHP. Age 17. $253K bonus. Interview

Wyatt was spectacular in his first eight games for the AZL Indians after being drafted, striking out 20 in 16.2 innings while only giving up three runs on eight hits. Unfortunately, he went under the knife last year for Tommy John surgery. He recently began pitching off the mound again and after missing all of 2016, will hopefully be debuting in Low-A Mahoning Valley this year trying to make up for lost time.

7 (214). Nathan Lukes. OF/LHH. Age 20. $130K bonus.

Lukes was rock solid in his time with the Indians, earning a promotion to High-A at mid-season last year, but he was sent to Tampa Bay as one of two pieces in the Brandon Guyer trade last year. He’s currently batting .270 in Double-A for the Rays organization.

8 (244). Justin Garza. C/LHH. Age 21. $170K bonus.

Similar to Brady Aiken, Garza underwent Tommy John surgery prior to the 2015 draft after a slight tear in his UCL during what was a strong season for Cal State Fullerton. The Indians tried to draft Garza out of high school and failed to sign him so they clearly liked him. Garza pitched six times last year in the rookie league and debuted in 2017 for full-season Lake County as part of the starting rotation after Shane Bieber was promoted.

Garza has electric stuff, with 36 strikeouts in 34.2 innings, and he’s beginning to show some promise as a starter, but he still has given up far too many runs (5.71 ERA) despite a decent opponent batting average (.213) and WHIP (1.21)

9 (274). Devon Stewart. RHP. Age 22. $5K bonus.

Stewart had trouble getting batters out, holding an 8.10 ERA for Lake County last year and he was released by the team on March 23rd of this year.

10 (304). Billy Strode LHP. Age 22. 5K bonus.

A left-handed reliever, Strode was dominant in both 2015 and 2016, quickly ascending through the Tribe minor league system, but he’s stalled out at High-A Lynchburg. After holding an excellent 2.08 ERA for Lynchburg last year, Strode has not been as impressive in 2017, currently sporting an ERA of 5.03. The biggest culprit is his command. He’s currently walked 10 batters in 19.2 innings despite only allowing eight walks in all of 2016 spread over 52.2 innings. Hopefully he can right the ship.

12 (364). Ryan Perez. LHP. Age 21. $80K bonus.

The infamous switch pitcher, Perez could hit at least 95 mph with both arms, but he never held an ERA lower than 5.02 out of the bullpen with opponents batting over .300 against him for his career and he was released by the Indians this past March.

13 (394). Daniel Salters. C/LHH. Age 22.

Salters seemingly broke out in 2016, skipping Lake County altogether and then making the Carolina League All-Star team before earning a promotion to Double-A, but then he stalled out badly.

He was surpassed by super prospect Francisco Mejia, did not hit well for Double-A in 2016 and was demoted back to Lynchburg for 2017, where he has hit abominably, currently sporting a slash line of .161/.228/.250 through 31 games. Hopefully he can figure things out because there are plenty of other hungry catching prospects in the system looking to take his spot.

14 (424). Matt Esparza. RHP. Age 20. Interview

Esparza had a breakout 2016 campaign for the Indians, leading all Tribe prospects in strikeouts for the year at 141. After a slow start in 2017, he’s picked things up right where he left off for High-A Lynchburg, currently sporting a 3.26 ERA and striking out 40 batters compared to just 11 walks. He’ll be a candidate for a midseason promotion to Double-A if he can keep things up, which would make his underground #TeamEsparza fanclub very happy.

18 (544). Anthony Miller. 1B/LHH Age 20.

Miller had a rough 2016, batting below the Mendoza line (.195) and striking out 38.6 percent of the time. He looked to be considerably improved this year after getting promoted to High-A Lynchburg, slashing .257/.297/.429 and striking out a bit less (32.4 percent). He’s been on the disabled list since April 29th with a wrist injury.

19 (574) Todd Isaacs. OF/RHH. Age 19.

Isaacs had a breakout 2016, batting .333 for Low-A Mahoning Valley and he began 2017 in full-season Lake County, blasting off for two home runs on opening day.

He’s come back down to Earth since then, however, currently batting .216. He’ll have to improve upon his 34.4 percent strikeout rate if he wants to continue to work his way through the system.

20 (604) Luke Wakamatsu. SS/SH. Age 18. $290K bonus

The biggest surprise signing of the Indians' 2015 draft, Luke, the son of Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu, signed with the Indians despite being more of a Hail Mary pick in the 20th round. Wakamatsu had high expectations in 2016 but they were derailed by a shoulder injury.

He’s off to a slow start for full-season Lake County, batting .206, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance, even earning a POTW nomination. He still has a considerable amount of development left, but as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be an intriguing prospect.

21 (634) Brock Hartson. RHP. Age 21.

Used primarily as a piggyback long reliever and spot starter, Hartson has impressed thus far in his first three seasons in the Indians organization. Hartson has showcased improved control in 2016 and is currently pitching very well for High-A Lynchburg as a full-time starter, sporting a 2.93 ERA. He’s definitely making #MamaHartson proud.

24 (724) Sam Haggarty. 2B/SH. Age 21.

Haggarty has been the biggest surprise of 2017 offensively. After batting .230 last year in a utility role for Lake County, he exploded out of the gate this season for Lynchburg, currently leading all of MiLB in triples with seven and stealing 12 bases out of the leadoff role for the Hillcats. His batting average has dipped as of late but is still a strong .276 for the year.

25 (754) Conor Marabell. OF/LHH. Age 21.

An absolute steal, Marabell flourished in his first opportunity to play full season ball at Lake County in 2016. He led all Indians minor leaguers in doubles last year with 45 and while his role wasn’t permanent, he impressively batted 7 for 15 (.467) in five games with Triple-A Columbus this year. Marabell makes great contact, only striking out in 11.9 percent of plate appearances and he solidifies the middle of the batting order for High-A Lynchburg.

28 (844) Jake Goihl. C/RHH. Age 22.

Goihl hit poorly, never batting over .160 in two years and was released this past March.

29 (874) Christian Meister. RHP. Age 21.

Meister had decent stuff, but a lack of command (40 walks in 53 innings last year) kept him from breaking out. He was released this past March.

36 (1084) Ryan Colegate. RHP. Age 21.

Colegate pitched well as a long reliever for Mahoning Valley last year (3.22 ERA) and was recently promoted to Lake County out of extended spring training where he has not yet given up a run in two appearances out of the bullpen.

Summary

AA: 2 (Mark Mathias, Tyler Krieger)

A+: 9 (Triston McKenzie, Ka’ai Tom, Billy Strode, Daniel Salters, Matt Esparza, Anthony Miller, Brock Hartson, Sam Haggerty, Connor Marabell)

A: 6 (Brady Aiken, Juan Hillman, Justin Garza, Todd Isaacs, Luke Wakamatsu, Ryan Colegate)

DL: 1 (Jonas Wyatt)

Traded: 1 (Nathan Lukes)

Released: 4 (Devon Stewart, Ryan Perez, Jake Goihl, Christian Meister)

Signed players/Still in the organization (23/18)