With the 2018 season in the rear view mirror and the Indians busy filling holes in the lineup and dumping salary, MLB Pipeline has been kept busy updating the Tribe’s top 30 prospect list. (Just click on the photos of each prospect for a full scouting report.)
Compared to the preseason list, Bradley Zimmer, Shane Bieber and Greg Allen are no longer eligible, having graduated to MLB. In fact, there are 13 new names in all, since 13 players from the preseason list have been dropped, traded and/or graduated.
Let’s break the Tribe’s current list down player-by-player.
1.) RHP Triston McKenzie (Preseason #2, LGT #2)
The top pitching prospect in the Tribe system, Triston McKenzie began the 2018 season on the disabled list. He debuted on June 7th and through 16 starts, he impressed in his first taste of Double-A with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP through 90.2 innings. McKenzie’s strikeout rate was a bit low in July but he got better as the season wore on, increasing his K-rate and dropping both his ERA and WHIP. Of note, the Indians shut McKenzie down for the Double-A playoffs due to general fatigue so his durability entering the 2019 season is a bit of a question mark.
2) 3B Nolan Jones (Preseason #6, LGT #6)
A second-round pick in 2016, Nolan Jones made huge strides in 2018, showcasing the power scouts had predicted would arrive by bashing 19 home runs on the season. Jones did this while maintaining his elite 16.2 percent walk-rate for Single-A Lake County while sporting a solid .279/.393/.464 slashline. Jones’ performance was impressive enough to earn a promotion to High-A Lynchburg, where he actually played better despite facing better opposition with a .298/.438/.471 slashline in 30 games. Jones also showed improvement defensively as his fielding percentage improved by nearly 8 points. Still just 20 years old, Jones is the most promising offensive player in the Tribe system
3.) RHP Ethan Hankins (2018 1st Round Compensatory Pick)
Hankins was a high risk, high reward pick by the Indians. He had some of the best velocity, best life to his fastball and most polished pitches of pretty much any prep arm in the draft, but his stock dropped after a shoulder injury that saw his velocity tick down in 2018. Hankins signed in July and made two appearances in the Arizona Rookie League. He allowed a pair of runs on four hits in his debut, but he dominated with four strikeouts in 2.0 innings in his second start without walking a batter. As long as he stays healthy, Hankins has the best upside of any pitcher in the system and could be one of the best pitching prospects in all of minor league baseball. Just look at his performance for the U-18 Team USA in 2017 as proof.
4.) C Noah Naylor (2018 1st Round Pick)
A bat-first catching prospect, Naylor was the first player selected by the Indians in the 2018 MLB draft and debuted in the Arizona Rookie League. In 33 games, Naylor sported a .274/.381/.402 slashline and a mature approach at the plate, striking out (28) almost as many times as he walked (21) while knocking in 17 runs and also scoring 17 runs. Defense is the biggest concern with Naylor and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to stay behind the plate moving forward, but the Indians look like that’s what they’ll try to do for now
5.) OF George Valera (Preseason #11, LGT #10)
Valera was one of the most prized international signings of the Indians in 2017 and optimism was extremely high for him in 2018 when it was announced he would skip the Dominican Summer League entirely and debut in the AZL at 17 years old. Valera only played six games before a hamate injury ended his season prematurely, but he showed his potential with a .333./409./556 slashline and one hell of a bat flip in his first professional home run. He should continue to fly through the Tribe system now that he’s healthy.
6.) SS Yu Chang (Preseason #5, LGT #8)
An international signing out of Taiwan in 2013, the player now simply known as Yu Chang saw his power explode in 2017 after a promotion to Double-A. Chang moved to Triple-A in 2018 and saw his walk-rate drop to 8.5 percent and strikeout rate increase to 27.8 percent while slashing .256/.330/.411 in 127 games. Chang stood out in the Arizona Fall League offensively and the fact that he spent time playing shortstop, second base and third base while sporting a .975 fielding percentage makes it seem highly possible he could be the Indians new utility man in 2019 now that Erik Gonzalez has been traded to Pittsburgh.
7.) 1B Bobby Bradley (Preseason #3, LGT #3)
The top slugging prospect in the Indians system, Bobby Bradley repeated at Double-A Akron last season before earning a promotion to Triple-A with mixed results. Noticeably slimmed down, Bradley saw his power spike in 2018, rocking his best ISO (.263) since he won the Arizona Rookie League triple crown in 2014. Bradley bashed 27 home runs, 26 doubles and surprisingly 5 triples last year, although his slashline wasn’t as impressive as usual due to a terribly unlucky .226 BABIP for Akron. Bradley saw his strikeout rate increase dramatically in his 32 games at Triple-A, skyrocketing to 33.6 percent from 24.9 percent at Double-A. He’ll need to cut down on his whiffs if he wants to be the first baseman of the future and he was added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster.
8.) LHP Sam Hentges (Preseason #17, LGT UR)
A former 2014 fourth round pick, Sam Hentges bounced back from 2016 Tommy John surgery to explode up the Indians prospect rankings last year. Standing 6’6 with an imposing mound presence, Hentges is by far the Tribe’s most polished left-handed starting pitching prospect, sitting in the low 90s with his fastball and topping out in the mid to upper 90s while flashing a nasty three pitch mix with his curve and change-up. Hentges rocked a 3.27 ERA through 23 starts while striking out 122 batters in 118 innings, nearly double his biggest workload in a season since he started pitching in the Tribe system. Hentges was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason.
9.) RHP Lenny Torres 2018 1st Round Competitive Balance Pick
Another intriguing arm out of the northeast, the Indians third first round pick of 2018 impressed in his brief stint with the Arizona Rookie League, striking out 22 batters in 15.1 innings while walking four and only allowing three earned runs, good for a 1.76 ERA. The future is bright for Torres and it will be interesting seeing how he performs when he likely debuts for Low-A Mahoning Valley in 2019.
10.) RHP Luis Oviedo (Preseason UR, LGT UR)
Luis Oviedo exploded into relevancy after earning Pitcher of the Week for three straight weeks in the New York Penn League for Low-A Mahoning Valley. Oviedo embarrassed hitters to the tune of a 1.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP while striking out 61 batters over 48 innings in nine starts. The 19-year old wasn’t quite as impressive for Single-A Lake County after being promoted, walking 7 and striking out 6 in 9.0 innings over two starts, but Oviedo has quickly become one of the most intriguing arms in the system.
11.) SS Brayan Rocchio (Preseason UR, LGT UR)
While everyone was hyping up George Valera and Aaron Bracho as 2017 Indians international signings, it was Brayan Rocchio who has the best season. Rocchio was the third highest paid signing that year for the Tribe and he played like he was the big fish, earning a promotion out of the Dominican Summer League to Arizona after just 25 games. While in Arizona, Rocchio was a revelation, slashing .343/.389/.448 in 35 games while showing patience at the plate, walking 10 times and striking out 17. I’ve seen reports stating Rocchio was the most impressive player out of any team that played in the Arizona Rookie League in 2018, and that’s why he went from unranked to #11 in the MLB Pipeline rankings for his debut.
12.) OF Daniel Johnson (Acquired from Washington in Yan Gomes trade)
A power-hitting outfield prospect, Johnson was the centerpiece of the Yan Gomes trade. He was limited in 2018 due to a broken hamate bone, but his 22 home runs in 2017 combined with the fact he’s only been playing professionally for three seasons mean the Indians may have found themselves a future starting outfielder. Johnson played in the Arizona Fall League and while he didn’t put up the greatest numbers, he did manage to register the hardest hit ball of any player that appeared in the league this year at 117 mph.
13.) SS Gabriel Rodriguez 2018 International Signing out of Venezuela
Rodriguez was the top Tribe international signing for 2018 and is expected to debut either in the DSL or AZL for the 2019 season.
14.) SS Aaron Bracho (Preseason #15, LGT #18)
The brakes were slightly pulled on Bracho’s hype train when it was first announced he would begin the 2018 season in the DSL instead of joining Valera in the AZL. He then unfortunately missed the entire 2018 season with an arm injury, although he’s been playing this winter to try to catch back up.
15.) SS Raynel Delgado 2018 6th Round Pick
A sixth round pick in the 2018 MLB draft, Delgado fell due to signability concerns, but the Indians ponied up by going $664,400 over slot to get him. Delgado had a strong 2018 season for the AZL Indians, slashing .306/.409/.382 in 46 games. He showed a great approach at the plate as well, walking 30 times while striking out 44 and also stealing 10 bases. Delgado saw time at second base, third base and shortstop as the Indians attempt to find him a permanent position.
16.) OF Oscar Mercado (Acquired from St. Louis in Conner Capel trade)
A former infielder turned outfielder, Mercado was instantly one of the fastest players in the Indians organization when they acquired him at the trade deadline in a low-key deal for outfielder Conner Capel. He has all five tools, although power isn’t tremendous, slashing .278/.349/.390 last year between Columbus and Memphis in Triple-A. He isin the mix to play in the Tribe’s 2019 outfield with Guyer, Brantley, Chisenhall, Cabrera and Davis all gone.
17.) RHP Chih-Wei Hu (Aquired from Tampa Bay in Gionti Turner trade)
Hu was picked up this offseason from Tampa Bay. The 25-year-old Taiwanese import has some experience at the MLB level but has spent the majority of the last two seasons both starting and relieving in Triple-A. He’ll serve as starting pitching and bullpen depth for the Indians in 2019.
19.) RHP Elijah Morgan (Preseason #28, LGT UR)
The player with the best change-up in the Indians’ system, Morgan had a strong 2018 that saw him earn a midseason promotion from Single-A Lake County to High-A Lynchburg. Morgan showcased excellent control last season, striking out 156 batters in 143.1 innings while walking just 34. He wasn’t quite as effective at High-A, but between both levels, he had a 3.27 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, earning “Pitcher of the Week” a combined three times.
19.) RHP Aaron Civale (Preseason #10, LGT #12)
A third-round pick by the Indians in the 2016 MLB draft, Civale’s plus command has helped him move quickly through the Indians system, although he wasn’t quite as effective in his first taste of Double-A last year in an injury-hampered season. Civale struck out 78 batters while walking 21 in 21 starts over 106.1 innings. Hopefully a healthy 2019 will see his strikeout rate spike a bit as he pushes towards a future role in the Tribe rotation.
20.) SS Richard Palacios 2018 3rd Round Pick
An experienced college bat out of Towson, Richard Palacios made quick work of the lower levels of the Indians’ system, batting .438/.591/.875 in the AZL, then batting .411/.477/.589 in Low-A before an injury finally slowed him down after a promotion to Single-A Lake County, where he still batted a respectable .300/.317/.425 in 20 games. Palacios is of a similar vein to players like Tyler Krieger and Mark Mathias and could continue to accelerate through the system until he’s properly challenged.
21.) RHP Nick Sandlin 2018 2nd Round Pick
Talk about a rocket strapped to his back, Nick Sandlin started in the AZL and the Indians liked what they saw so much in three relief appearances that he skipped Low-A entirely and was promoted directly to Lake County. Sandlin then held a 1.74 ERA while striking 15 and walking none in 10 appearances before being promoted to High-A, where he held a 1.42 ERA while striking out 10 and walking two in seven appearances. Despite being drafted in June, Sandlin finished his season in Double-A, where either he ran out of gas or finally met players at his skill level. Sandlin has a wicked sidearm delivery with excellent control and is on a trajectory to potentially join the Indians bullpen in 2019.
22.) 2B Tyler Freeman (Preseason #14, LGT #16)
No player in the Indians system had a better offensive season than Tyler Freeman. Freeman won the New York Penn League batting title by 21 points (.352), was tops in slugging at .511, third in OBP at .405, tops in doubles with 29 (beating any other player in the league by 11) while scoring the most runs in the league. Freeman also is one of the most difficult players in all of minor league baseball to strike out, whiffing just 22 times in 270 at bats, although he does need to improve his patience at the plate, as he walked just 8 times. I’m very anxious to see how he performs in his first taste of full-season ball in 2019.
23.) OF Oscar Gonzalez (Preseason #18, LGT UR)
After winning the 2016 MVP of the Arizona Rookie League, Oscar Gonzalez had a strong 2018 season, sporting a .292/.310/.435 slashline in his first taste of full-season ball at Single-A Lake County. Gonzalez has a cannon for an arm, strong contact skills and good power, but his complete lack of patience at the plate (12 walks in 462 at bats) is his limiting factor. The good news is his strikeouts have dropped at each level as he’s been promoted, so he might be able to make up for the lack of walks with a high contact rate.
24.) OF Johnathan Rodriguez (Preseason #19, LGT #20)
The youngest player taken in the 2017 MLB draft, Johnathan Rodriguez repeated at the Arizona Rookie League with mixed results. Rodriguez showed improved power, speed and contact, slashing .294/.370/.406 with eight stolen bases, but he also saw his strikeout rate increase slightly while his walk rate dropped from 17.6 percent to 10.4, although it was a small sample size.
25.) OF Will Benson (Preseason #7, LGT #11)
Indians 2016 first-round pick Will Benson has four out of the five tools, but that hit tool needs some work. Benson was an All-Star for Single-A Lake County, bashing 22 home runs while seeing his walk-rate spike to 16.2 percent and his strikeout rate drop slightly to 30 percent in his first taste of full-season ball. That being said, he suffered from an unsustainably low .218 BABIP, which led to his poor .180 batting average. If he can make some swing adjustments (and get luckier), he could get back on track as a top prospect in 2019.
26.) OF Mitch Longo (Preseason #27, LGT #15)
Longo had an insane 2017 season and followed that performance with a solid .275/.337/.410 slashline in 2018 while spending the entire year with High-A Lynchburg at age 23. Longo’s strikeouts and walks trended in the wrong direction and he now has the most difficult transition in minor league baseball ahead of him as he’ll likely play Double-A in 2019.
27.) C Eric Haase (Preseason #20, LGT #13)
Nothing shows the faith the Indians had in Eric Haase more than the fact the Tribe brass traded top catching prospect Francisco Mejia and then All-Star Yan Gomes. Haase had the highest ISO of any player in the Tribe minor league system over the last three seasons, hitting 20+ home runs in both 2017 and 2018. His defense was superb last year, throwing out 48.5 percent of would-be basestealers and unless the Indians make another move, the 25-year-old should expect to see a significant amount of time with the Indians in 2019.
28.) RHP James Karinchak (Preseason UR, LGT UR)
James Karinchak fell in the 2017 draft due to a shoulder injury and didn’t pitch well in his pro debut, but he was dominant in 2018. Karinchak held a 0.79 ERA for Lake County in 11.1 innings while striking out 20, then held a 1.00 ERA with 13 saves for High-A Lynchburg while striking out 45 in 27 innings. He then earned a promotion to Akron where he struck out 16 batters in 10 innings. While Karinchak was very difficult to hit (.177 BAA), his command is the biggest concern as he walked 36 batters in his 48.2 innings pitched last season.
29.) 2B Ernie Clement (Preseason #24, LGT UR)
Clement cemented himself as one of the best contact hitters in the Tribe system last season, walking more times (41) than he struck out (35). Clement played well for Single-A Lake County, but it was his performance after being promoted to High-A Lynchburg that stood out, slashing a ridiculous .346/.425/.421 in 33 games. Clement lacks power, but can be a major pain from the top of the batting order with his on-base skills and speed.
30.) SS Marcos Gonzalez (Preseason #26, LGT UR)
Gonzalez was the top Indians international signing in 2016 and he was sensational in his U.S. debut this past season, rocking a .305/.397/.458 slashline in 35 games for the Arizona Rookie League. Gonzalez saw a power spike with three home runs and looks ready for a challenge at the next level.
C Francisco Mejia (Traded for LHP Brad Hand and RHP Adam Cimber)
RHP Shane Bieber (Graduated)
CF Greg Allen (Graduated)
SS Willi Castro (Traded for CF Leonys Martin and RHP Kyle Dowdy)
OF Conner Capel (Traded for OF Oscar Mercado)
CF Quentin Holmes (Preseason #13, LGT #19)
Holmes disappointed in his 2017 debut with poor on base skills and baserunning despite being graded the fastest player in the 2017 MLB draft. Holmes repeated 2018 with the AZL Indians but a leg injury limited him to just seven games where he batted just .143/.280/.190 in limited action. At 19 years old, Holmes can still turn things around. He just needs to stay healthy or the talented crop of young talent in the system will continue to pass him by.
Julian Merryweather (Traded for 3B Josh Donaldson)
C Logan Ice (Preseason #21, LGT #UR)
Ice saw time at both High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron last season, actually playing better for Akron (.250/.315/.396) than for the Hillcats. He’s the second closest catching prospect to seeing time with the big league club after Haase, although Naylor is far ahead of him in regards to potential.
LHP Ryan Merritt (Preseason #22, LGT #14)
Merritt was injured for the beginning of 2018, was DFA’d, went unclaimed and pitched reasonably well, but elected free agency after the end of the season, marking the end of the 2016 ALCS hero’s run with the Tribe. He was signed by Tampa Bay in November.
OF Ka’ai Tom (Preseason #23, LGT UR)
Tom wasn’t incredible, but he had a decent 2018 season, spending the whole campaign with Double-A Akron, where he batted .245/.329/.399 with a career-high 12 home runs. His walk rate tumbled a bit but his strikeout rate stayed level despite the jump in competition. The logjam of young outfielders the Indians have added in the last year make Tom’s future cloudy.
LHP Brady Aiken (Preseason #27, LGT UR)
Aiken did not pitch one inning in 2018 and his future remains as hazy as ever. The former number one overall pick stayed in spring training to work out some mechanical issues and then never pitched. He was not injured, but the Indians were concerned with how many innings he pitched in 2017 in his first full season after Tommy John surgery as well as his poor results. Hopefully he can come back strong in 2019 as he hunts to regain his lost command and velocity.
LHP Shawn Morimando (Preseason #28, LGT UR)
Morimando barely pitched for Triple-A Columbus before getting injured and then DFA’d. He was picked up by the Blue Jays.
2B/OF Tyler Krieger (Preseason #25, LGT UR)
Krieger had a bounce-back 2018 season for Double-A Akron that saw him transition to the outfield for all but 17 of the 123 games he played. Krieger slashed .276/.332/.372 in his repeat stint and looks primed to play for Triple-A Columbus in 2019.
Some others to consider
OF Conner Marabell
Marabell led all Indians prospect in doubles in 2016, slowed down in 2017, but bounced right back with a strong 2018 that saw him slash .296/.341/.481 for Double-A Akron in 89 games. He tied Vladimor Guerrero Jr for most doubles in the Arizona Fall League, which is some pretty impressive company. He could see time in Cleveland in 2019 depending on injuries and performance.
RHP Jean Carlos Mejia
Mejia became one of the Indians’ most terrifying starting pitching prospects in 2018, striking out 10 batters in back-to-back starts in late July to put his name on the map. Tribe brass was impressed enough by him to add him to the 40-man roster to avoid the Rule 5 draft despite the fact that he hadn’t reached Double-A yet.
LHP Kyle Nelson
Nelson was outright scary as a reliever for Single-A Lake County last season, sporting a 0.76 ERA while striking out 51 batters in 35.1 innings pitched. Nelson is one of the best left-handed relief prospects in the Tribe system, although he did struggle a bit after being promoted to High-A Lynchburg.
SS Jose Fermin
Fermin walked 39 times compared to just 26 strikeouts for Low-A Mahoning Valley last season, where he was among the league leaders with a .391 on base percentage. Fermin was one of the Tribe’s top international signings in 2015 and responded with his best season last year, slashing 279/.391/.382 and was part of a dynamic duo at the top of the batting order with Tyler Freeman. He also impressively stole 17 bases while getting caught just four times.
LHP Kirk McCarty
A seventh round pick in 2017, McCarty blossomed about halfway through the 2018 season, giving up three runs or fewer in all but one start from June 14 on while earning a promotion from Single-A Lake County to High-A Lynchburg. McCarty impressively struck out 161 batters in 146.1 innings pitched and his success continued at the High-A level, sporting a 3.19 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP with the Hillcats.