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MLB Pipeline 2017’s top 30 Cleveland Indians prospects, reviewed

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

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

With the trade deadline approaching and with the draft signing period behind us, MLB.com'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, Bradley Zimmer, Erik Gonzalez, and Shawn Armstrong are no longer eligible, having graduated to MLB. In fact, there are 10 new names in all, since 10 players from the preseason list have been dropped and/or graduated.

Let's break the Tribe's list down player-by-player. (All stats are as of July 25)

1.) C Francisco Mejia (Preseason #2, LGT #1)

This won’t come as a huge shocker. After exploding onto the top prospect scene with a 50-game hitting streak last year, Francisco Mejia has been as good, if not better this year, batting .328 during his first taste of Double-A, good for second in the Eastern League. Mejia is striking out at a lower rate than last season, walking the same and has showcased an improvement in power with 10 home runs already compared to 11 all of last season. The only concern about the 21-year-old phenom is durability. Mejia spent time on the disabled list this year with a groin issue and is currently day-to-day with a hip injury. Leg problems are a much bigger deal for catchers than other position players and the Indians have been treating him with baby gloves this year.

2.) RHP Triston McKenzie (Preseason #3, LGT #3)

The top pitching prospect in the Tribe system, Triston McKenzie was given an aggressive promotion to High-A Lynchburg this season and the results couldn’t have been better. Despite concerns about his wiry frame, McKenzie has already more than doubled his career professional innings pitched and he not only leads the Carolina League in strikeouts, he’s currently tied for the lead in all of minor league baseball with 134 in 103.2 innings pitched (11.6 K/9). McKenzie also currently sports a 2.86 ERA and a nasty WHIP of 1.00. He easily could have been promoted to Double-A already and hopefully the Tribe brass sends him there soon.

3.) 1B Bobby Bradley (Preseason #4, LGT #5)

The top slugging prospect in the Indians system, Bobby Bradley took the biggest leap of his career this season moving from High-A to Double-A, and he’s exceeded expectations. Bradley’s power is still there (17 home runs, 15 doubles) but his strikeouts have dropped dramatically (29.7 percent -> 22.6 percent). One casualty of Bradley’s more aggressive approach at the plate has been his walk-rate, which has dropped from 13.1 to 10.9 percent. Bradley is currently batting .244 on the year, but that’s been affected by a career low BABIP of .272. If his luck increases, he should be sitting around the .270 mark or so with his batting average, and he’s doing this all having just turned 21 years old less than two months ago.

4.) SS Yu-Cheng Chang (Preseason #11, LGT #9)

An international signing out of Taiwan in 2013, Yu-Cheng Chang has seen his power explode in 2017 after a promotion to Double-A. Chang has already bested his previous career high in home runs by six, sitting at 19 on the season. His walk-rate has stayed steady at 9.4 percent, but he’s striking out much more, whiffing at a career-worst 28.0 percent, which is five percent higher than last year. Chang’s batting average has also taken a hit (.227) but that’s been affected by a career-worst BABIP of .264. He is also on pace to set a career high in stolen bases (currently at nine) while his defense has stayed about the same (fielding percentage .960)

5.) 3B Nolan Jones (Preseason #6, LGT #11)

A second-round pick in 2016, Nolan Jones has been showing signs of life for first-place Mahoning Valley in Low-A. His walk-rate has remained pristine at 17.5 percent while his strikeout-rate from last year has dropped dramatically from 36.6 to 21.7 percent. Jones is hitting for a little more power this year, smacking his first career home run and already besting his doubles from last season despite having played less games thus far. Defense is still a work in progress as he already has 10 errors in 27 games played at third base, but he has plenty of time to continue to improve in that department.

6.) 3B/OF Yandy Diaz (Preseason #10, LGT #4)

While Yandy Diaz’s stints with the Indians didn’t result in a permanent stay with the big league club, he’s definitely proven this year that he doesn’t belong at Triple-A either. Diaz is currently batting .335 for Triple-A Columbus, good for tops in the International League. He’s also walking 15 percent of the time and has dropped his Triple-A strikeout rate from 16.8 to 15.7 percent. His issues with the Indians were a lack of true position, a major uptick in strikeout rate at the MLB level (23.9) while walking less (8.5 percent) and failing to hit line drives. If he can bring his Triple-A production to the big leagues, Diaz’s future is still very, very bright.

7.) CF Quentin Holmes 2017 2nd-Round Pick

The fastest player in the 2017 draft, Quentin Holmes still has quite a bit of work to do offensively. In a small sample size of 13 games for the Rookie League AZL Indians, Holmes has walked just twice while striking out 21 times. He’s shown flashes of speed and power with three doubles, a triple and a home run, but he’s surprisingly been caught two times compared to just one stolen base. We’ll learn a lot more about Holmes next season after he’s had a full offseason to work with trainers and coaches.

8.) CF Greg Allen (Preseason #9, LGT #8)

Allen has all the tools to be great, but a broken hamate bone has completely torpedoed his 2017 season. Allen likely would have taken Bradley Zimmer’s spot in Columbus when Zimmer was promoted to The Show, but he was injured for over two months with the wrist problem. Allen finally returned to action recently, but he’s still working out the kinks, sporting a .246/.329/.326 slashline through 41 games played. This is beginning to feel like a lost season for Allen, and hopefully he can salvage something in the final two months.

9.) OF Will Benson (Preseason #7, LGT #7)

Things aren’t looking great for Indians 2016 first-round pick Will Benson. The super-athletic slugger has seen his already-high strikeout rate climb to 37.4 percent, his walk-rate drop from 12.0 to 9.3 percent and his power has also dropped from an ISO of .215 to .125. Benson has been better in July, but he still clearly has a lot of work to do with his timing and his swing before he becomes a polished top prospect.

10.) SS Willi Castro (Preseason #13, LGT UR)

Having turned 20 during the first month of the season at High-A Lynchburg, Willi Castro is having the best offensive year of his professional career. Castro is walking 2.2 percent more while striking out about the same rate, but he’s also seen a spike in power, already tying his previous career high in home runs with seven. Castro is currently batting a career-best .294, a good 30 points higher than he’s ever hit at any level. One issue is defense, as he’s already committed 21 errors this year with a fielding percentage of .948.

11.) RHP Aaron Civale (Preseason #21, LGT UR)

A third-round pick by the Indians in last year’s MLB draft, Aaron Civale has seen his stock skyrocket thanks to plus command. Civale earned a promotion to High-A Lynchburg, and he actually began pitching even better despite facing stiffer competition. Civale has struck out 104 batters this season compared to just 11 walks. He currently sports an ERA of 2.91 through 10 starts for Lynchburg, good for fourth in the Carolina League and his 1.04 WHIP would be fourth best once he qualifies.

12.) RHP Shane Bieber (Preseason #16, LGT UR)

If you thought Aaron Civale had great control, Shane Bieber has demonstrated unbelievable command since being drafted in the fourth round last year that puts Josh Tomlin to shame. Bieber has walked just seven batters in 144 career innings, and two of those were intentional! This season, he’s struck out 113 while walking five (two intentionally), which is downright batty. Granted, since batters know Bieber will be in the strike zone, he’s a bit more hittable, giving up an opponent’s average of .275. Bieber began the year in Single-A Lake County, was promoted to High-A, where he sported identical ERAs of 3.10. Just yesterday, he was promoted again to Double-A Akron, the only Indians prospect to be promoted two levels this season legitimately.

13.) RHP Julian Merryweather (Preseason #25, LGT UR)

Graded as the best fastball in the Indians system, Julian Merryweather continues to impress. Drafted as a college senior in 2014, Merryweather began skyrocketing through the Indians system last year when he dominated High-A. He was the ace of Akron’s staff to begin 2017 before earning another promotion to Triple-A. Merryweather has flashed a plus change-up and developing curveball, which have helped him keep a solid strikeout rate of 9 K/9 this year. A brief stint on the disabled list derailed him slightly, but Merryweather has been excellent since returning to the Columbus rotation and the 25-year-old should be knocking on the door to Cleveland very soon.

14.) OF Conner Capel (Preseason #30, LGT UR)

The only prep player in the Indians’ 2016 draft to begin the year in full-season Lake County, Conner Capel has begun harnessing all the power people thought he would develop, smashing 14 home runs this season. His batting average is still low (.216) but he’s managed to increase his walk rate two percent while nearly tripling his ISO from .080 to .216 despite facing significantly stiffer competition. Capel turned 20 in late May and is still a work in progress due to a sharp rise in strikeout rate (24.6 percent) but he definitely is beginning to flash his potential now.

15.) 2B Ernie Clement 2017 4th-Round Pick

A seasoned hitter drafted out of Virginia this year, Ernie Clement’s best claim to fame has been how difficult he is to strike out. He’s currently whiffing just seven percent of the time for Mahoning Valley and sports a .265/.286/.353 slashline through 19 games. He’ll have to increase his 2.8 percent walk-rate if he wants to hit at the top of the line-up, but Clement definitely has a plus hit and speed tool already.

16.) RHP James Karinchak 2017 9th-Round Pick

James Karinchak fell in the 2017 draft due to a shoulder injury he suffered this spring, which has resulted in a loss of velocity and command. He’s been knocked around in his first taste of professional ball with Mahoning Valley, having given up nine runs in his first 10 innings pitched. We’ll learn a lot more about Karinchak’s potential next year once he’s had an offseason to rest and recover.

17.) LHP Shawn Morimando (Preseason #17, LGT #17)

Shawn Morimando has been beauty and the beast this season. A stretch of three complete game shutouts thrown over a period of four starts had many fans clamoring for a promotion to the Indians, but he’s been wildly inconsistent in his other appearances, most recently getting knocked around in his last three starts for Triple-A Columbus. Morimando definitely has ability, he just needs to be more consistent before he can be relied on.

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

A horrific start to the season saw Juan Hillman’s stock completely tank, but the 20-year-old has started to turn things around. After sporting an ERA over eight through the first two months for Lake County, HIllman has given up two runs or less in all but two starts since May 30. Most recently, Hillman has pitched seven innings or longer in four of his last five starts, tossing a career-best eight shutout innings in his last outing. His season stats don’t show it, but the former 2015 second-round pick looks like he’s beginning to figure it out. A strong finish to his 2017 season could put Hillman back on the prospect radar moving forward.

19.) 2B Tyler Freeman 2017 2nd Round Comp Pick

Shortstop Tyler Freeman has gotten off to a very hot start in his first taste of pro ball. The 18-year-old is sporting a very impressive .357/.393/.536 slashline through 16 games, connecting for seven doubles and a home run already in his career’s first 20 hits.

20.) 2B Tyler Krieger (Preseason #18, LGT #19)

After a very strong start to the season and an appearance in the World Baseball Classic on Team Israel, Tyler Krieger has really struggled for Double-A Akron. Krieger’s walk-rate has dropped from 10.9 to 8.3 percent and he has been plagued by a horrific .267 BABIP, which is nearly 100 points lower than it was last year in High-A Lynchburg (.355). Just about everything else has stayed the same, so hopefully Krieger can get some positive regression the rest of the season.

21.) C Logan Ice (Preseason #22 , LGT UR)

A second round compensatory pick in 2016’s draft, Logan Ice has seen his strikeout rate drop over five percent this year in his first taste of full-season ball. Ice’s power has increased, slugging eight home runs thus far in 2017, raising his ISO from .103 to .152 although his walk rate has dropped from 14.9 percent to 10.9. The former Oregon State Beaver has been pretty unlucky at the plate this year (.257 BABIP) and has also dealt with a few injuries, but he seems to be progressing in his first taste of full-season baseball.

22.) LHP Ryan Merritt (Preseason #23, LGT #12)

Ryan Merritt is never going to blow hitters away, topping out at about 90 mph with his fastball on a good day, but the talented southpaw and 2016 ALCS darling has the command to continue making spot appearances with the Indians. Merritt has been steady in Triple-A this season, sporting a 3.36 ERA through 15 starts, good for seventh best in the International League. He’s also given up three runs (two earned) in five innings with the Indians this year. Barring a slew of injuries, Merritt is going to spend the majority of his time in Triple-A the rest of the way.

23.) OF Oscar Gonzalez (Preseason #27, LGT UR)

After winning the 2016 MVP of the Arizona Rookie League, Oscar Gonzalez is picking up right back where he left off in Low-A Mahoning Valley. The 19-year-old has dropped his strikeout rate significantly from 36 percent last year to 20 percent this year. Gonzalez is currently hitting .314 and has the second most hits in the New York Penn League, although he might be sacrificing power as his ISO has dropped from .262 to .107. Gonzalez is definitely a prospect to keep an eye on moving forward.

24.) OF Johnathan Rodriguez 2017 3rd-Round Pick

The youngest player taken in the 2017 MLB draft, Johnathan Rodriguez is all projection at this point. Rodriguez stands 6’3 and 180 pounds. His current best tool is his 60 grade throwing arm. Rodriguez isn’t get a ton of playing time yet at the AZL and has put up a meager .143/.231/.200 slashline through 10 games. We’ll learn a lot more about him as he starts filling out his frame and developing the rest of his skills.

25.) LHP Brady Aiken (Preseason #5, LGT #6)

How the mighty have fallen. Once taken #1 overall by Houston in 2014, Brady Aiken became the Indians first-round pick in 2015 despite needing Tommy John surgery. Command is the last thing to come back while recovering from TJ, but Aiken’s control has disappeared entirely. Aiken has walked 74 batters while striking out just 63 through 100 innings pitched this year. The good news is that he’s staying healthy and has been able to pitch 100 innings thus far. 2017 has been a disappointment, for sure, but Aiken is not beyond redemption just yet. Hopefully he can finish the year out strong and build some momentum for 2018.

26.) OF George Valera Int. Signed July 2

Still just 16 years old, George Valera won’t debut until the 2018 season, but he was one of the top-rated international prospects signed earlier this past month.

27.) C Mike Rivera 2017 6th-Round Pick

Mike Rivera was the last player in the Indians 2017 draft to sign thanks to winning the College World Series with Florida. He debuted yesterday going 1-3 with an RBI single. He should slot in as the starting catcher for Mahoning Valley moving forward.

28.) SS Luke Wakamatsu (Preseason UR, LGT UR)

One of the surprise signings of the Indians 2015 class, Luke Wakamatsu has been plagued by setbacks and injuries in most of his time with the Indians, but he’s shown some promising signs this season for Single-A Lake County. Wakamatsu has flashed some power, doubling his ISO from .072 last year to .144 this season. His batting average is starting to climb ever since he was bumped up in the batting order and he currently sports a .249/.310/.393 slashline. The son of Don Wakamatsu is still developing, but there definitely appears to be something here.

29.) SS Aaron Bracho Int. Signed July 2

Just like Valera, Aaron Bracho is just 16 years old and won’t debut in the Indians farm system until next season, although he was also one of the more coveted international players.

30.) Marcos Gonzalez (Preseason UR, LGT UR)

Gonzalez was the top Indians international signing in 2016 and he’s looked spectacular in his debut for the DSL Indians this year. Gonzalez is currently walking (12.3 percent) more than he’s striking out (11.7 percent) and while he hasn’t shown much power yet, (30 singles out of 34 career hits) he is clearly a top young prospect to keep an eye on.

Dropped off

CF Bradley Zimmer (Graduated)

SS Erik Gonzalez (Graduated)

LHP Rob Kaminsky (Preseason #14, LGT #10)

I covered this in my Midseason Prospect report, but Kaminsky has been plagued by injury this year, making just one start and spending the rest of his time on the disabled list. It is his third straight season spending a month or longer on the DL.

RHP Adam Plutko (Preseason #15, LGT #16)

Plutko has been far too hittable in Triple-A this year, currently sporting an International League-worst 6.64 ERA.

2B Mark Mathias (Preseason #19, LGT #20)

Injuries have plagued Mathias who began the season on the DL and is back on it. A rough stretch with Double-A (.212/.328/.308) was sandwiched between those stints.

CF Gabriel Mejia (Preseason #20, LGT UR)

Mejia was slow coming out of the gate this year, losing his spot batting leadoff for Single-A Lake County, then he went down with an injury two and a half months ago. Mejia is currently on rehab assignment with the AZL Indians, but his 80-grade speed is not producing stolen bases (5 SB vs 6 CS).

RHP Shawn Armstrong (Graduated)

1B Nellie Rodriguez (Preseason #26, LGT #18)

Rodriguez is having a nightmare Triple-A debut, batting an International League-worst .154 and striking out over 40 percent of the time. He’s in danger of losing his job to Bobby Bradley at any moment.

RHP Micah Miniard (Preseason #27, LGT UR)

An inability to strike out opposing hitters has really hurt Miniard this season as he’s been knocked around to the tune of a 6.10 ERA in Single-A Lake County. Miniard needs to start missing bats because his 6’7 frame is extremely projectable.

OF Andrew Calica (Preseason #28, LGT UR)

Calica was a sensation last year, batting .382/.474/.556 in his 50 games after being drafted, but he’s dropped off significantly this season, currently batting .265/.351/.376 although he’s shown signs of life with multi-hit efforts in five of his last nine games.

Some others to consider

LHP Thomas Pannone

Yes, I made his name this big on purpose. What the hell, guys? How is Thomas Pannone not on the top 30 list? These are his numbers over the last full year of his career dating back to his promotion to High-A Lynchburg on July 13, 2016:

25 Games Started
147.1 Innings Pitched
104 Hits
30 Earned Runs
44 Walks
151 Strikeouts
1.83 ERA
9.2 K/9
1.00 WHIP

Those are elite pitching numbers for the 2017 Easern League All-Star. It’s not even like Pannone is old. He just turned 23 years old two months ago and is currently pitching in Double-A Akron, where the average age is 24. He shouldn’t just be in the top 30, Pannone should be in the top 15. I have to assume that Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis made a clerical error and put a zero behind his name in the Indians prospect rankings at this point because they should seriously be ashamed of themselves that he isn’t in the top 30.

RHP Matt Esparza

Matt Esparza broke out in 2016, leading all Indians full-season pitchers in strikeouts. This year, he pitched well for Lynchburg (3.26 ERA) before earning a promotion to Double-A Akron. Esparza started strong for Akron but has tailed off a bit as of late, but still holds a respectable 3.84 ERA through 10 starts for the RubberDucks as a 22-year-old.

OF Mike Papi

Once a top prospect who had lost his luster, Mike Papi has returned to form in 2017. Papi is hitting very well in Akron, slashing a career-best .272/.380/.429 for the RubberDucks. Papi owes his success to dropping his strikeout rate seven percent while retaining his elite walk rate of 14.3 percent. There’s still time for the 24-year-old.

2B Sam Haggerty

Haggerty has turned from “org guy” to a potential future second baseman with his breakout 2017 season. Leading off for High-A Lynchburg, Haggerty is tops in all of baseball with 12 triples and he’s leading all Indians prospects with 30 stolen bases thus far. Haggerty’s success has been attributed to dropping his strikeout rate five percent while very slightly elevating his walk rate (0.6 percent). He’s batting .272/.358/.447 on the year.

2B Samad Taylor

A 10th-round pick in 2016, Taylor flashed a strong bat in the AZL with a .293 average and that has translated to Low-A Mahoning Valley with more power. The 19-year-old has already clubbed four home runs, raising his ISO by 80 points this year while batting near the top of the Scrappers order.

LHP Francisco Perez

Having just turned 20 years old and flashing a mid-90s fastball as a left-handed starter, Francisco Perez is a pitching prospect worth getting excited about. Perez won “Pitcher of the Year” in the Arizona Rookie League last season and he’s been impressive thus far in 2017. Through seven starts, Perez currently holds a 2.97 ERA and batters are hitting just .217 against him this season. There is still a ton of projection with this kid.

1B Ulysses Cantu

Cantu has either crushed the ball or struck out this year, whiffing 33 percent of the time, but when he hits it, it goes far. Despite the strikeouts, Cantu is near the league lead in hits for the New York Penn League with 35 already. Of those 35 hits, 10 have gone for extra bases as Cantu’s ISO has more than tripled this year from .046 to .151. If he can get his strikeouts under control, Cantu could be a serious threat in the middle of the order moving forward.