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Let’s Go Tribe’s top Indians prospects for 2018

As voted on by the community.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Three weeks ago, our annual voting for top prospects concluded. It was a month-long series of debates, campaigning, and FanGraphs searching. In the end, a new top overall prospect stayed the same, and we learned that the Let’s Go Tribe community still really loves prospects that are almost ready for primetime.

Before I get into a breakdown of each prospect, let’s take at how the vote shook out over the course of the last month. Of the 18 results we tracked, 4,325 votes were cast for prospects, with winners taking a combined 2,256 votes, or 52.16 percent of all votes. Most polls were spread out among several top vote-getters; but the top two prospects, Francisco Mejia and Triston McKenzie, both raked in over 70 percent of the vote in the top two most-voted polls, which skewed the results a bit. The only other prospects to bring in over 50 percent of the vote were Shane Bieber at #5 and Will Benson at #11.

Here are the the 1-20 prospects, as voted by you, the LGT readers:

Top prospect voting results

Prospect # Name Runner-up Total votes Winner votes % of votes
Prospect # Name Runner-up Total votes Winner votes % of votes
1 Triston McKenzie Nolan Jones 388 287 74
2 Nolan Jones Yu Chang 708 460 65
3 George Valera Ethan Hankins 314 93 30
4 Ethan Hankins Tyler Freeman 296 144 49
5 Tyler Freeman Yu Chang 239 88 37
6 Yu Chang Brayan Rocchio 266 82 31
7 Bobby Bradley Brayan Rocchio 253 78 31
8 Brayan Rocchio Bo Naylor/Luis Oviedo 248 78 31
9 Bo Naylor Luis Oviedo 233 74 32
10 Luis Oviedo Sam Hentges 217 110 51
11 Lenny Torres Sam Hentges 191 73 38
12 Sam Hentges Nick Sandlin 216 80 37
13 Daniel Johnson Nick Sandlin 221 69 31
14 Nick Sandlin Jean Carlos Mejia 199 54 27
15 Jean Carlos Mejia Oscar Mercado 168 65 39
16 Oscar Mercado Richard Palacios 196 52 27
17 Richard Palacios Eric Haase 199 46 23
18 Aaron Civale Ray Delgado/Will Benson 195 48 25
19 Will Benson Johnathan Rodriguez 204 46 23
20 Johnathan Rodriguez Eric Haase 205 50 24

*The polls for Greg Allen and Willi Castro were accidentally re-used in the next article and the data was lost/corrupted.

Comparisons to top prospects from other outlets currently include Baseball America (BA) and MLB Pipeline (MLB). Baseball America only ranked the top 10 so after the last Baseball America prospect is ranked, I’ll switch over to John Sickels’ minorleagueball rankings.

Let’s get to it.

No. 1: Francisco Mejia, C

(BA: 1 | MLB: 1)

The top catching prospect in baseball, Mejia possesses an elite hit tool and a cannon arm. He’s currently stuck behind Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, but he’s been one of the best hitters in minor league baseball over the course of the last two seasons. He made his major league debut as a September call-up last season and is expected to contribute to the Indians at some point in 2018.

What you said

Broten: “I voted Mejia but I really could go either way. Nice to have two super top prospects. My thought is that as a catcher he provides more value, plus I just don’t trust pitching prospects that much. Kluber was not much of a prospect, and Adam Miller was one of our top prospects for a while.”

No. 2: Triston McKenzie, RHP

(BA: 2 | MLB: 2)

The top pitcher in the Tribe system, McKenzie spent his entire 2017 season in High-A Lynchburg, where he amassed a whopping 186 strikeouts in 143 innings pitched, garnering Carolina League Pitcher of the Year honors along the way. McKenzie has a lanky frame, a dynamite arm with a plus fastball, curveball and developing change up. He has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter and just turned 20 years old in August. Look for McKenzie to debut at Double-A Akron this year.

What you said

MTF: “McKenzie. After his excellent season last summer (105 hits allowed in 143 innings, 4:1 K/BB), it’s easy to be enthusiastic. If he can learn to manhandle lefties like he does righties, and improve his stamina a little, the sky might really be the limit.”

No. 3: Bobby Bradley, 1B

(BA: 3 | MLB: 3)

The top power hitter in the Indians system, Bradley bashed a whopping 79 home runs over his last three seasons. Still 21 years old, Bradley dropped his strikeouts significantly in 2017, whiffing 48 less times despite debuting at Double-A. Bradley also saw his batting average climb 16 points as he worked to utilize all fields and improve his contact rate. Bradley is in Arizona for Spring Training right now and dropped 30 pounds after an extensive off-season workout regimen. Look for him to debut at Triple-A in 2018 and potentially get a call-up if the Indians are in need of first base help.

What you said

DelGua: “I voted Bradley (close call between him and N.Jones) and think there’s some prospect fatigue at play. He wasn’t even allowed to drink a beer after two months of AA play, so he was one of the youngest player at the level. Despite facing more advanced pitching, he improved his K/BB ratio. His defense has improved significantly too, according to Clay Davenport’s DTS, from -10 in 2016 to +6 last season.”

No. 4: Greg Allen, OF

(BA: 9 | MLB: 9)

The best defensive player in the system, Greg Allen is a switch-hitting speedster that can get on base at a high rate, steal them and prevent runs with his play in the outfield. Allen debuted with the Indians in 2017 down the stretch, helping the club with his defense and base-running. Those aspects of his game are already MLB-ready, and if he can get his bat up to speed, he could be a long part of the Indians future as an outfielder. Barring injuries, Allen will likely begin the year in Triple-A Columbus.

What you said

munsoned95: “Allen’s baseline is a 4th outfielder. I think his ceiling is more like a solid CF/lead off hitter, not a star but someone that can hold down the position with no power but good OBP, steals and stellar D”

No. 5: Shane Bieber, RHP

(BA: 5 | MLB: 8)

The pitcher with the best command of anyone in the minor leagues, Shane Bieber simply doesn’t walk batters. Bieber has walked just 12 hitters in his two-year career, two of them intentionally, and was promoted all the way to Double-A Akron last season. The right-hander has added velocity and is still missing bats at a respectable rate despite not having a particularly nasty “out” pitch.

What you said

The Bottom!: “The way I see it with Bieber, his ceiling is actually pretty high as long as he keeps striking guys out. He’ll look more like a trusty soft-tosser if he puts up 7 k/9 in AA or something”

No. 6: Nolan Jones, 3B

(BA: 4 | MLB: 4)

The player with the best ability to get on base in the Indians system, Nolan Jones had a breakout 2017 where he led the New York Penn League in on base percentage with a lofty .430. Jones showcased improved power and is still just 19 years old. He will likely begin the year in Single-A Lake County, his first taste of full-season ball.

What you said

DelGua: “Of 2500 minor league players with at least 250 PA, Nolan Jones’ wRc+ of 171 ranked 4th... The rest of the top 15 is a who’s who of top prospects in the game. Jones cut down his K% significantly, upped his power, got on base a ton. He’s the McKenzie of our position player prospects.”

No. 7: Willi Castro, SS

(BA: 7 | MLB: 5)

One of the youngest players at every level he’s played, Castro had a breakout 2017 which saw him more than double his career home run total. Castro also posted a career high in batting average (.290) and walk rate (5.5%). He will make his Double-A debut this season and is still just 20 years old.

What you said

jhon: “Castro is kinda getting overlooked in much the same way Jose Ramirez usta be.”

No. 8: Yu-Cheng Chang, SS

(BA: 6 | MLB: 6)

The best power-hitting shortstop in the minor leagues, Yu-Cheng Chang set a career high for home runs last season with 24 long balls. Chang’s batting average wasn’t particularly good (.220), but he suffered from an unsustainable career low BABIP of .254. His strikeout rate jumped three percent but he also set a career high in walk rate, reaching double digits for the first time. Chang should begin the 2018 season in Triple-A Columbus.

What you said

JLK14: “Based on Fangraphs recently released top 100, I’d say we underrated Chang.”

No. 9: Conner Capel, OF

(BA: NR | MLB: 12 | MILB: 10)

The only high school player from the Indians’ 2016 draft to begin the 2017 campaign in full-season ball, Capel went from 0 home runs in 153 plate appearances in 2016 to 22 homers in 492 plate appearances last season. Capel had some growing pains, but still finished the year with a .246/.316/.478 slashline. The Texan should begin the 2018 campaign at High-A Lynchburg.

What you said:

Matt Y.: “The argument for Capel above Benson would be where they’re at in their development – Capel already sort of being Benson in a year from now, as he’s just 13 months older and already through Lake County, while it remains to be seen how Benson will handle his first exposure to full-season ball. Also it might be likelier that Capel will be able to stay in center field.”

No. 10: George Valera, OF

(BA: 9 | MLB: 11)

The top-rated international prospect that the Indians signed in 2017, Valera has yet to make his professional debut due to age restrictions. The talented Domincan Republic native has great power potential and a plus hit tool. Depending on how the Indians view his current state of development, Valera will begin the 2018 season in either the Dominican Summer League or the Arizona Rookie League.

What you said

pezzicle: “I have Valera as high as I do simply because of the reports of his tools. He has no performance to actually engage with, but every report I’ve read has been glowing. I’ve read that Valera can rake.”

No. 11: Will Benson, OF

(BA: 10 | MLB: 7)

The first round pick by the Indians in 2016, the 2017 season was a tale of two halves for Benson. After getting off to a very slow start, Benson kicked it into high gear and showcased both his power potential and ability to get on base in the second half of the season in his debut for Low-A Mahoning Valley, helping the Scrappers reach the playoffs. Benson should begin the 2018 season in Single-A Lake County.

What you said

DelGua: “Benson improved every month, which is a very incouraging sign, especially liked the 12/18 BB/K ratio after the league’s AS break”

No. 12: Aaron Civale, RHP

(MLB: 10 | MILB: 9)

Possessing the best slider in the Indians’ system, Civale has successfully been converted from reliever to starting pitcher. The 2016 third round draft pick isn’t quite Bieber-esque with his control, but he’s close, walking just 14 batters in 2017 despite throwing 164.2 innings. Civale was promoted to High-A Lynchburg mid-season and blossomed there, stranding runners at a high rate and posting a stellar 2.59 ERA, which would have been tops in the Carolina League had he not just missed qualifying.

What you said

Mike Bobal: “The numbers Civale posted in Lynchburg after his mid-season promotion were almost freakish and an improvement over the numbers he was posting in Lake County.”

No. 13: Eric Haase, C

(MLB: 20 | MILB: C+)

Haase put himself on the radar in 2017 with an impressive display of power, blasting a career best 26 home runs and was second in the Eastern League in slugging percentage. Strikeouts have always been an issue for Haase, whiffing at at 30 percent rate the last three seasons, but he also walked at a double-digit rate for the first time in 2017 and was added to the 40-man roster at the end of the year.

What you said

Matt Y.: “Going with Haase here, due to the 27 home runs, .923 OPS, premium position – even if a back-up – and proximity to the big leagues. This is actually where I would have him on my list.”

No. 14: Ryan Merritt, LHP

(MLB: 22 | MILB: 17)

The 2016 ALCS hero had a very consistent 2017 season, silencing Triple-A hitters with a decent 3.03 ERA, and actually pitched better than that when called to the big leagues for spot start duty, holding a 1.74 ERA in 20.2 major league innings. Merritt is out of options so this spring is make-or-break for the soft-tossing southpaw.

What you said

MTF: “I like Merritt for proven performance as well, recognizing that he doesnt throw hard.”

No. 15: Mitch Longo, OF

(MLB: 27 | MILB: “of note”)

Mitch Longo didn’t play the entire 2017 season due to injury, but when he did, he had the highest batting average of any player with over 250 plate appearances. On top of his prodigious .376/.448/.541 slashline, Longo also stole 20 bases while only getting caught once. He finished his 2017 season with a brief stint in High-A Lynchburg and likely will begin the 2018 campaign there unless the Indians brass is feeling aggressive with his development.

What you said

big.kahuna: “Just curious, why isn’t Longo making it higher in your prospect list? He hit a combined .376 last year with an OPS of .990, and stole 20 out of 21 bases. He just turned 23 a few days ago and was younger than the average player in the Carolina League, where he tore the cover off the ball after promotion. Seems like a lot of the guys on your list get there because of potential, while Longo has actually produced – in a big way!”

No. 16: Tyler Freeman, SS

(MLB: 14 | MILB: 12)

A second round compensatory pick by the Indians in the 2017 draft, Freeman had the best offensive season of any Indians 2017 pick, slashing .297/.364/.414 in 36 rookie league games. Freeman has a good eye at the plate and limits his strikeouts, so look for him to at least debut at Low-A Mahoning Valley, although he could skip the level entirely depending on how the experts feel about him.

What you said

DelGua: “Freeman. Wanted the Indians to draft him and now I’m happy and vote for him. Seriously though, 6th best SwStr% in AZL and only one other kid was the same age, 2nd in K%. Among the league’s best in LD% too. And beautifully balanced all field approach (all parts of the field under 40%). All around good. Bodes well for next levels.”

No. 17: Julian Merryweather, RHP

(MLB: 16 | MILB: C+)

The best fastball in the Indians system, Merryweather is a bit older for a prospect, but that’s what happens when you’re drafted as a college senior. Merryweather was brilliant at High-A Lynchburg in 2016 and was nearly as good at Double-A Akron last season, although he was knocked around a bit after being promoted to Columbus. There’s a strong chance he makes his debut in the big leagues in 2017.

What you said

PaduaDSP: “I’m a sucker for a pitcher with a good fastball so I went with Merryweather. Doesn’t seem like any bad options here.”

No. 18: Aaron Bracho, SS

(MLB: 15 | MILB: C+)

Similar to George Valera, Bracho is another highly regarded international prospect that was signed by the Indians in 2017. Bracho also has not debuted professionally, but projects to have excellent offensive skills while playing a premier position at shortstop. Just like Valera, Bracho could begin the 2018 campaign in the DSL or in Arizona depending on how the Tribe brass feels about him.

What you said

Adverb Harry: “If Bracho develops into a plucky, hard-working go-getter who always shows up and shows a constant willingness to get better at his job, I propose that we refer to him henceforth as Aaron Bracho-vich.”

No. 19: Quentin Holmes, OF

(MLB: 13 | MILB: C+)

The first pick taken by the Indians in the 2017 draft, Holmes did not have a very good professional debut, slashing .182/.220/.289 in 41 games. He also only stole five bases in nine attempts despite being graded as the fastest player in the 2017 draft class. It’s far too early to give up on the 18-year-old, however, so it’ll be very interesting to see how Holmes responds to his first offseason working with Indians’ trainers and coaches.

What you said

Matt Schlichting: “I know Quentin Holmes looked bad for a 17-year-old but I’m surprised everyone thinks he’s a waste of carbon now.”

No. 20: Johnathan Rodriguez, OF

(MLB: 19 | MILB: 13)

The youngest player taken in the 2017 draft, Johnathan Rodriguez is a talented prospect out of the Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico. Rodriguez put up a solid .250/.381/.333 slashline in his pro debut for the AZL Indians and walked nearly as many times (21) as he struck out (23), showcasing a great eye at the plate. Rodriguez didn’t hit for much power in his debut, but his 6-foot-3 frame suggests he could develop some pop in his bat.

What you said

munsoned95: “Going with Rodriguez here… impressive on base skills for such a young toolsy kid. Scouts think he’ll add power and if you add some slug% to that slash its pretty damn impressive”