The corner infield spots are some of the weakest in the Cleveland Indians organization. At the major league level, Jose Ramirez is doing a great job at third base while Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion have shared first base/designated hitter duties.
Encarnacion is signed through 2019 with a team option for 2020 while Ramirez recently signed an extension through 2022. Santana, on the other hand, will have his contract expire at the end of this season.
With a potential vacancy looming at first base, it’s good to know that the Indians have one of their top overall prospects waiting in the wings.
MLB Pipeline Top 30 prospect 1B/3B
|4||Bobby Bradley||1B||Bats: L Throws: R||21||AA||2014 Draft, 3rd Round (97)||2018|
|6||Nolan Jones||3B||Bats: L Throws R||19||Rookie||2016 Draft, 2nd Round (55)||2020|
|10||Yandy Diaz||3B/OF||Bats: R Throws: R||25||AAA||Signed 9/20/2013 (Cuba)||2017|
|19||Mark Mathias||2B/3B||Bats: R Throws: R||22||AA||2015 Draft, 3rd Round (93)||2018|
|26||Nellie Rodriguez||1B||Bats: R Throws: R||22||AAA||2012 Draft, 15th Round (473)||2017|
*according to MLB Pipeline
While the system depth isn’t exactly deep, it’s good to know that the team does have some elite options coming down the pipeline. Power-hitting Bobby Bradley is the Indians’ number four overall prospect and is ranked the number two first base prospect in all of baseball. Bradley is currently at Double-A Akron where he is striking out a full-season career low of 27 percent, walking 12 percent and has hit eight home runs.
The Indians addressed third base in the draft last year, taking Nolan Jones in the second round with the 55th overall pick of the draft after he dropped due to signability concerns. Jones is just 19 years old and he’s still a long ways out, but with Ramirez locked up for the foreseeable future, there’s absolutely no rush with him.
Yandy Diaz was able to play some third base for the Indians to open the 2017 season, but an inability to keep from hitting ground balls as well as a spike in strikeouts saw him sent back to Triple-A. He’s currently getting work in at left and right field, a position he’ll likely have to master if he wants an opportunity to play every day.
Mark Mathias primarily plays second base, but he’s been moved over to third in Akron due to Tyler Krieger’s emergence as a top prospect while Nellie Rodriguez has struggled mightily in his first taste of Triple-A, batting just .120 and striking out over 45 percent of the time
Other notable 1B/3B
|Giovanny Urshela||3B||Bats: R Throws: R||25||AAA|
|Sicnarf Loopstok||C/1B||Bats: R Throws: R||24||A+|
|Emmanuel Tapia||1B||Bats: L Throws: L||21||A|
|Gavin Collins||C/3B||Bats: R Throws: R||21||A|
|Ulysses Cantu||1B/3B||Bats: R Throws: R||19||Rookie|
Once you get outside of the top 30 prospects, the Indians' future at third and first base isn’t particularly great. Giovanny Urshela failed during his time with the Tribe in 2015 and has yet to earn his way back to the club while in Triple-A.
Sicnarf Loopstok is actually having a great season in High-A, but he’s primarily a catcher and was playing first base due to injuries. Also, this is his third year with Lynchburg so his prospect status is fading fast.
Emmanuel Tapia is a big-time power prospect in Lake County with nine home runs, but he’s striking out too much (37 percent) and walking too little (5.5 percent) while hitting just .227. Gavin Collins is a catcher who’s being converted to third base and he’s shown a power spike, but still has a long way to go.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all the “other” prospects is Ulysses Cantu, a player with a potential third round or better grade in the 2016 draft who fell to the Indians in the sixth due to some nagging injuries. He’s still very young at 19 years old and hopefully is healthy and capable of hitting the way many experts expected him to hit at the pro level.
At this point, Bobby Bradley is really the only major prospect in the system at first base, so if the Indians are looking to add some depth, a big power-hitting prospect could be something they hone in on this season. Third base was addressed last season with early picks Jones and Cantu, but you can never have too many home runs, especially in the current era of Statcast baseball. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Indians took a risk on a big-time slugger this year.