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Cleveland Indians 2016 draft in review

Who were the hits and misses of the Tribe’s 2016 draft?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

As we continue our coverage of the upcoming 2019 MLB draft, which begins June 3rd, I’ll be reviewing the last four Cleveland Indians drafts, which have added considerable depth to their minor league system.

Just FYI, the age listed below is the age of the players when they were drafted just under one ago, so just add three years for their current age.

1 (14). Will Benson. OF/LHH. Age 17. $2.5MM bonus. (Interview)

The Indians drafted Benson 14th overall in the first round out of Westminster High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Here’s what Indians scouting director Brad Grant had to say about the 6’5 physical specimen at the time:

”We see Will as a five-tool right fielder. He’s still young at 17 years old. He’s an unbelievable athlete, a basketball player as well as a baseball player. He’s a guy we feel is going to hit for average and power. He’s got power to all fields and they travel a long way. On top of that, he’s a solid-average runner with a plus arm. He’s a very special person as well and we’re excited about his personality and his ability to get better.”

Benson has displayed four of the five tools in his minor league career, but has had trouble making contact. After struggling with an ugly batting average in 2018, he’s repeating this season at Single-A Lake County, where he’s flourished. Benson currently is tied for the lead in the Indians organization in home runs with 14 and is tops in stolen bases with 17. He should expect a promotion to High-A Lynchburg any day now.

2 (55). Nolan Jones. 3B/LHH. Age 18. $2.25MM bonus.

Drafted out of Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, Jones was expected to be a first round pick but surprisingly fell to the Tribe in the second. Here’s what Grant had to say about Jones:

”He’s gotten stronger since the spring and has continued to grow. He was a hockey player in the past and his brother, a professional hockey player, put him on a weight-training program and he gained about 25 pounds. He’s a guy we feel is going to hit and hit with power.”

Jones has soared up the prospect rankings after a breakout 2017 in Low-A Mahoning Valley. He began this season at High-A Lynchburg, where he currently leads all of minor league baseball in walks and sports a ridiculous .446 on base percentage. Jones also has begun to tap into his power potential, hitting 19 home runs in 2018 and after a slow start with power this year, has started blasting off with four home runs the past 10 days.

2A (59). Logan Ice. C/SH. Age 21. $850K bonus. (Interview)

A solid defensive catcher, Ice has struggled offensively as he’s moved through the promotion. Ice walks at a decent 10 percent rate, and has reduced his strikeout rate this year in his first full season at Double-A, but he’s been hurt by a horrific .175 BABIP, which has kept his batting average to a career worst .144 through 27 games, where he has split time with Taiwanese catcher Li-Jen Chu, who has more thump in his bat.

3 (92). Aaron Civale. RHP. Age 21. $625K bonus.

Civale was on a fast-track through the Indians system, dominating during his 17-start stint at High-A in 2017 with a 2.56 ERA and an 88/9 strikeout to walk ratio, but he has had his development slowed the past two years with injuries, missing time twice in 2018 and missing the first month and a half this season.

Thus far in 2019, Civale has looked decent, giving up two runs in all four of his starts while stretching out to 6.2 innings his last two times on the mount. He currently sports a 2.96 ERA through four starts with 14 strikeouts and six walks in 24.1 innings this season.

4 (122). Shane Bieber. RHP. Age 21. $420K bonus. (Interview)

The feel good story of the Indians’ 2016 draft, Bieber wasn’t in the minor leagues long.

After embarrassing opposing hitters in 2016 at Low-A Mahoning Valley, Bieber began 2017 at Single-A Lake County, advancing to High-A Lynchburg and then to Double-A Akron before the end of the season thanks to his ridiculous command.

Bieber only walked 19 batters in his minor league career in 277 innings pitched, striking out 260. He was downright insane in 2018 after seeing an uptick in his velocity, sporting a 1.47 ERA in 13 starts spread between Double-A and Triple-A including throwing a no-hitter. He was promoted to Cleveland in June of 2018 and has now become a staple of the Tribe’s major league rotation.

5 (152). Conner Capel. OF/LHH. Age 19. $361.3K bonus. (Interview)

Capel was the most aggressively promoted high school position player in the Indians 2016 draft, skipping Low-A in 2017 and starting the season at full-season Lake County. Capel made the Tribe brass look smart with 21 home runs that year and was off to a good start at High-A Lynchburg last season when he was traded to St. Louis at the deadline along with Jhon Torres for Oscar Mercado. He’s struggled since the trade and is currently hitting just .213 at Double-A for the Cardinals with a 73 wRC+.

6 (182). Ulysses Cantu. 1B/RHH. Age 18. $270.3K bonus.

Cantu was projected to be a nasty offensive threat, but injuries and inconsistent play has slowed his development. Cantu put up a 106 wRC+ at Low-A in 2017, but missed the second half of the 2018 season with an injury and only lasted four games into the 2019 season before landing on the injured list, where he has repeated at Lake County.

7 (212). Michael Tinsley. C/OF/LHH. Age 21. $175K bonus.

Tinsley hit well his first season, but had trouble settling in after being converted to an outfielder from catcher. Despite being drafted as an advanced college bat, he hit poorly in 2018 at Low-A Mahoning Valley, slashing an ugly .147/.207/.174 before being released prior to the start of the 2019 season.

8 (242). Andrew Lantrip. RHP. Age 21. $125K bonus.

A shoulder injury sidelined Lantrip the year he was drafted and he missed the 2017 season after going under the knife. He finally made his pro debut in 2018 but did not pitch well after being promoted to Low-A, instead being released before the start of this season.

9 (272). Hosea Nelson. OF/LHH. Age 19. $125K bonus. (Interview)

Nelson has shown flashes of his talent, but has never struck out in less than 31 percent of his at bats in his minor league career. He repeated at Low-A Mahoning Valley in 2018 and is currently struggling in his first taste of full season ball, sporting a .195/.297/.352 slash and batting at the bottom of the order for Lake County this season.

10 (302). Samad Taylor. 2B/SH. Age 17. $125K bonus.

Taylor got off to a hot start to his pro career, slashing .293/.359/.397 in the AZL after being drafted. He was hitting .300 at Low-A in 2017 when he was traded along with Thomas Pannone to the Toronto Blue Jays for a two-month rental of Joe Smith, one of the worst trades the Indians have made in the past five years, in my opinion.

Taylor is currently struggling with a .168 batting average in his first taste of High-A with the Jays.

11 (332). Andrew Calica. OF. Age 22. $100K bonus. (Interview)

Calica was extremely impressive the season he was drafted, advancing all the way to full-season Lake County by the end of 2016. He put up excellent numbers in Double-A last season, slashing .278/.389/.375 with 27 stolen bases.

He lasted just eight games this season before suffering an injury and shockingly retired. Not much is known about his injury, but it must have been pretty bad because he looked like he had the make-up to at least become a fourth outfielder at the MLB level.

12 (362). Zach Plesac. LHP. Age 21. $100K bonus. (Interview)

The nephew of former MLB pitcher Dan Plesac, Zach underwent Tommy John surgery before he was drafted, missing the rest of the 2016 season.

He pitched well in 2017 and then had flashes of brilliance in 2018 at High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron before becoming a dominant force in 2019 thanks to an uptick in his velocity. Plesac was the best pitcher in the Indians system this year, getting promoted to Columbus in early May and then getting called up to the Indians, where he allowed just one run in 5.1 rain-soaked innings in his major league debut against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Tuesday.

13 (392). Gavin Collins. C/3B/LHH. Age 20. $100K bonus.

Another catcher who was transitioned to a different position, Gavin Collins has played third base, catcher and first base throughout his minor league career.

Collins was excellent in 2017, advancing to High-A Lynchburg, but he’s still there in 2019 and is slashing .233/.308/.367 this season, although he has increased his walk rate dramatically while striking out a career low 13.5 percent.

14 (422). Mitch Longo. OF/LHH. Age 21.

Longo broke out in 2017, tearing up Single-A with a ridiculous .361/.431/.530 slashline. While he hasn’t been as hot as 2017, he’s continued to hit at each level, advancing to High-A in 2018 and Double-A this season, although his power numbers have dropped each level and his strikeout rate has risen each season as he faces tougher pitchers. Longo will need to make better adjustments if he wants to make it to the major leagues.

16 (482). Ben Krauth. LHP Age 22.

A soft-tossing former southpaw starter for Kansas, Krauth has found success as a long relieving strikeout artist in the Tribe system. Krauth did not face any adversity his first three seasons, sporting a sub-2.00 ERA each year until this season.

In 2019, Krauth has finally stopped fooling hitters quite as much. He’s still striking out a batter an inning, but his walk rate has spiked to dangerous levels. He has a 4.56 ERA and an ugly 1.48 WHIP this season.

17 (512) Trenton Brooks. OF/RHH. Age 20. $100K bonus

Brooks didn’t hit particularly well his first two seasons in the Tribe system, but he was terrific in 2018 at High-A Lynchburg, slashing .281/.362/.407 over 107 games with 28 doubles.

Perhaps frustrated by not being promoted to Double-A, Brooks has regressed this season in a repeat stint at Lynchburg, batting just .225, although he has walked (19) almost as much as he has struck out (23).

18 (542) Raymond Burgos. LHP. Age 18.

Burgos underwent Tommy John surgery in August of 2016 and didn’t make his professional debut until June 20, 2018, but he looked sharp in his first taste of action.

The southpaw jumped to full-season Lake County this year and has pitched well, striking out 40 and walking 12 in 36 innings with a 3.44 ERA, but he recently hit the injured list with a stress reaction in his elbow. On the bright side, the structure of his surgically repaired elbow appears strong and he should be back on the mound in a couple weeks.

19 (572) Dakody Clemmer. RHP. Age 20. $100K bonus

Clemmer progression stalled when he failed a drug test in December of 2016 and received a 50-game suspension, which covered nearly his entire 2017 season.

He has since bounced back strongly, pitching well for Mahoning Valley and Lake County in 2018 and has earned a promotion to High-A Lynchburg this season, where he sports a 2.61 ERA and has struck out 10 batters in 10.1 innings thus far.

23 (692) Michael Letkewicz. RHP. Age 22.

Letkewicz was used out of the bullpen for Mahoning Valley his debut season where he sported a 1.74 ERA through 41.1 innings. He looked sharp in 2017 as well in his first taste of full season ball, but an elbow injury ended his season and he chose to retire.

24 (722) Skylar Arias. RHP. Age 18.

Like Clemmer, Arias also failed a drug test and missed almost all of the 2017 season. He struggled in his first taste of full-season ball last year, but has looked impressive this season at Lake County with a 1.54 ERA and 0.99 WHIP through 15 appearances out of the bullpen and 23.1 innings pitched. Of note, he’s already hit seven batters this year.

25 (752) Jonathan Laureano. C/3B/RHH. Age 20.

Laureano has played a little bit of everything thus far in his minor league career, and had a decent 2018 season with nine home runs at Lake County but that brief success hasn’t translated in his promotion to High-A Lynchburg this year, where he’s hitting just .165 through 27 games thus far.

26 (782) Tanner Tully. LHP. Age 21.

Tully isn’t going to blow hitters away, but the southpaw has eaten innings regularly and currently holds a spot in the Double-A Akron rotation, where he has pitched well thus far.

The southpaw currently holds a 3.70 ERA through 10 starts. The former Buckeye has drawn some comparisons to Tribe 2016 folklore hero Ryan Merritt.

28 (842) Jamal Rudledge. 2B/RHH. Age 21.

Rudledge hit very poorly (.109/.128/.152) in limited playing time in 2016 for the AZL Indians and he was released from his contract in May of 2017.

30 (902) Ryder Ryan. RHP. Age 21.

Ryan was a midseason All-Star in his first taste of full-season ball as a late inning bullpen option in 2017, but he was traded to the Mets in the Jay Bruce deal. He again was a midseason All-Star at High-A for the Mets in 2018, but has struggled mightily this year after beginning the season at Double-A. He currently has a 6.91 ERA and is on the injured list.


MLB: 2 (Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac)

AA: (Aaron Civale, Logan Ice, Mitch Longo, Ben Krauth, Tanner Tully)

A+: 3 (Nolan Jones, Trenton Brooks, Gavin Collins, Jonathan Laureano, Dakody Clemmer)

A: 9 (Will Benson, Raymond Burgos, Skylar Arias, Hosea Nelson, Ulysses Cantu)

Traded: (Ryder Ryan, Samad Taylor, Conner Capel)

Retired: (Michael Letkewicz, Andrew Calica)

Released: 1 (Jamal Rudledge, Andrew Lantrip, Michael Tinsley)

Signed players/Still in the organization (25/17)