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 2017 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: 2
- First base: 2
- Second base: 2
- Shortstop: 2
- Third base: 3
- Outfield: 8
- Left-handed pitchers: 6
- Right-handed pitchers: 7
Yes, if you add those number up, it equals 32. That’s because Yandy Diaz is listed as 3B/OF and Mark Mathias is listed as 2B/3B so don’t freak out. Also, SS Erik Gonzalez just graduated off the top 30 prospect list, which allowed LHP Luis Lugo to sneak back in at number 30.
Just looking at the raw number counts, everything is pretty balanced. There’s no specific area of massive need, but you can never have too many prospects, so let’s dig a little deeper.
The cream of the first base crop is obviously Bobby Bradley -- a power-hitting left-handed bat who is an on-base machine due to high walk-rate. Bradley just turned 21 years old and is holding his own at Double-A Akron against peers who are three and a half years older than him on average.
Strikeouts will always be an issue with Bradley, but he’s actually whiffing at the lowest rate of his career since he began full-season baseball, at 27 percent, which is nearly five percent lower than Bradley Zimmer’s strikeout rate for the Indians right now.
The Indians took a hit at first base when Jesus Aguilar failed to make an impact on the big league roster and was removed from the 40-man in the offseason. The only other ranked first baseman, Nellie Rodriguez (25) has also been struggling mightily in Triple-A Columbus, striking out 45 percent of the time and batting just .120 and could likely be removed from the rankings entirely with their mid-season update.
There aren’t many options at the lower levels either as Anthony Miller has struggled in High-A, Emmanuel Tapia is striking out 37 percent of the time in Lake County and there aren’t any major first base prospects in any of the half-season leagues.
The Indians have two prospects listed at second base but they’re both in the back half of the top 30 (17 and 18) and they both play on the same team. Tyler Krieger is currently manning second base for Double-A Akron, while his compatriot Mark Mathias has been pushed to third base duties whenever they’re playing at the same time. Krieger appears to have surpassed Mathias, who began the year on the disabled list with a separated shoulder.
The good news is the Indians have two unranked players worth keeping an eye on. Sam Haggerty is having a breakout campaign in High-A Lynchburg while 2016 10th round pick Samad Taylor put up a .293/.359/.397 last year for the AZL Indians and is still just 18 years old.
What? How could I list this as a weakness when the team has six left-handed pitching prospects in their top 30? Here’s why. The top five southpaw prospects are currently underperforming. Brady Aiken and Juan Hillman both got off to very poor starts this year for Single-A Lake County and are only just now starting to turn things around. Rob Kaminsky pitched poorly and has been on the disabled list for six weeks. Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando have both struggled to keep the ball in the park in Triple-A. Only Luis Lugo, who was just added to the top 30 in the past week, has pitched better than anticipated in Double-A.
The good news is that Aiken and Hillman are both very young and can still get back on track, plus the Indians have an unranked southpaw named Thomas Pannone who will 100 percent be debuting in the top 30 during the next update. Also, 19-year old Dominican Republic signee Francisco Perez won “Pitcher of the Year” for the AZL Indians in 2016 and college arm Tanner Tully looks like a competent southpaw for Lake County.
The Indians don’t just have great talent in the Major League level with Francisco Lindor, they have top talent at shortstop at every single level.
Erik Gonzalez just graduated from MLB Pipeline as a top 10 Indians prospect and is currently manning the utility role in Cleveland, Eric Stamets, who came over in the deal for David Murphy in 2015, has put up some insane offensive numbers the last month, Yu-Cheng Chang is leading all Indians prospects in extra base hits in Akron and 20-year old Willi Castro is leading his team in batting average despite being one of the youngest players in the Carolina League.
That doesn’t include talented youngsters like Luke Wakamatsu and Jose Fermin, who have struggled with injuries but are still loaded with potential at Single-A and in the Rookie League.
Does this really need an explanation? Early returns on Bradley Zimmer make him look like a future superstar with the Cleveland Indians. Will Benson was the team’s first round pick last year and showed massive power potential in the Arizona Rookie League.
Greg Allen is injured, but should return soon and looks like he could be the center fielder and lead-off man of the future. Meanwhile, Yandy Diaz has been transitioning to the corner outfield while 2016 fifth round draft pick Conner Capel has blossomed into a power bat in the corner outfield in his full-season debut for Lake County.
That’s not even including Tyler Naquin, who was third in last year’s Rookie of the Year voting and is currently on the disabled list in Columbus with a back injury. Help is definitely on the way for the Indians in the outfield.
The only outfield prospect in the top 30 who has disappointed this year has been Gabriel Mejia, who struggled in leadoff duties for Single-A Lake County, failed to take advantage of his 80-grade speed, getting caught stealing four times in eight attempts, and has been on the disabled list for the last month.
Lastly, former prospect Mike Papi and Luigi Rodriguez have put themselves back on the radar with strong 2017 seasons thus far. Papi was recently promoted to Triple-A while Rodriguez went 7-8 with two home runs and two doubles in yesterday’s double-header for Double-A Akron.
The upper-echelon of right-handed pitchers in the Indians system is Triston McKenzie, a player who in my opinion could be a top 10 overall MLB prospect by the time the Indians call him up to the big leagues as long as he stays healthy. At just 19 years old, McKenzie is torturing High-A batters, leading the Carolina League in strikeouts, and has yet to really face adversity in his career.
Last year’s third and fourth round picks, Aaron Civale, and Shane Bieber, have shown elite command this season, walking just 10 batters unintentionally combined in over 133 innings pitched this year, both earning promotions from Lake County to High-A Lynchburg.
Number 24-ranked prospect Julian Merryweather is poised to make a huge leap in the rankings after dominating Double-A and earning a well-deserved promotion to Triple-A Columbus, where he continues to pound the zone with his upper 90’s fastball.
The only prospect who has truly struggled has been Adam Plutko, who appears to have stalled out a bit in Triple-A, having given up 44 earned runs in just 60 innings pitched this year.
Of the unranked right-handers, Matt Esparza looks like he could be debuting in the rankins soon after earning a promotion to Double-A while Shao-Ching Chiang has taken a leap in High-A, currently holding a 2.69 through 10 starts.