Indians Top Prospects: Honorable Mention

Jay Gehres

I am going to do an Indians Top 20 prospect list. Before that, I am listing honorable mentions of guys that are mostly not in the top 20. These players are not ranked formally. Just my thoughts. There are more guys to discuss and it is very possible someone not mentioned turns out to be really good, but time is a limitation. Also, I did not see any of the Arizona rookie league games so I am abstaining from commenting on the recent international signings. They will be off the list b/c I don't think I can evaluate them properly.

Richie Palacios (2B): Missed 2018 with a torn labrum. This was really disappointing because it is a significant injury but I am hopeful he returns at full strength. I saw him in 2018 with Lake County and was impressed with him primarily because of his quickness and I felt a mostly polished swing and approach at the plate. He is small and will always get that tag but I think with hard work he can get stronger and begin to drive the ball with more strength as he ages. This is the new-age hitter that has a smaller strike zone, contact-orientation that should be able to handle higher velocity FB’s up in the zone. I think he seems like a good kid. I would be willing to bet on guys like this over and over again. I think he was on his way to being a top 10 system prospect if not for the injury. If the shoulder is OK I can see him in the top 10 next year.

Jean Carlos Mejia (RHP, Starter): Might make it into the top 20. 6"4", 225 lbs and has the look of a MLB SP. Good body, good delivery, good leverage. The Indians added him to the 40-man roster last year which surprised many after only 1 start above low-A ball. The reason for the add in my opinion is the body frame and a very good SL that is tightly spun and has late, hard break. I thought it was a plus MLB pitch right now. He also has a good CH that could be a plus pitch. I only saw one start and he was low 90’s with his velocity but it was with an easy delivery and good movement. He is a sinker/slider pitcher which has grown out of favor in pro ball recently. Mejia potentially has 3 plus pitches at the MLB level with a big, strong MLB starter’s body frame. Unfortunately he had an abdominal strain and only pitched 33 innings in high-A ball. I’d like to know more about the injury but given the Indians pending roster crunch this winter, you have to question if he still needs to be on the 40-man. I think he projects at the MLB level well but he’s only going to have 2 options left and we’ve only seen modest success in A-ball from him to date.

Luis Oviedo (RHP, Starter): 6’4", 205 lbs. Oviedo has the look of a MLB starter and he has 4 pitches he can reasonably develop into MLB average, but he took a step backward this year after he looked good in 2018. I saw him in 2018 and he was throwing his FB anywhere between 90-94 mph (T 96) with plus movement, and he had good breaking balls and a CH. In a start this May (2019), I saw some 90-91 mph in the first inning and afterward he was 86-88 mph. In July he was put on the IL due to back soreness and did not pitch again the rest of the season. Oviedo’s stuff clearly took a step backward compared to 2018 when I saw him. He was probably pitching injured. When he is right he has a good CB with very nice shape. I’m not sure what his situation is in terms of health. I was bullish on him after last year but his stuff played down meaningfully this year. He is Rule V eligible this winter. The Indians have more info on his health than I do, but I would have a hard time adding him to the 40-man roster because (i) his stuff was down this year and (ii) he hasn’t shown success in full-season ball yet. I don’t think his upside is great enough to the point where he needs to be protected even when his stock is down.

Oscar Gonzalez (Corner OF): Might make it into top 20. 6’2", 190 lbs corner OF. Gonzalez is one of the better kept secrets in the farm system, mainly because he generates very good bat speed and has a short, compact swing for a powerful guy. He is an impatient hitter that historically has swung at bad pitches but despite weak plate discipline he has managed to put up good production because I believe he has good hitting talents. Only 21 years old and he’s .292/.325/.444 in full-season A-ball (Lake County and Lynchburg). Gonzalez is a FB hitter and has a line-drive swing. Seeing him turn on FB’s inside with his bat speed is quite a treat, although he is vulnerable to SL’s from RHP’s. He has a tendency to pull off on the ball so there is real stuff to clean up and pitch recognition needs to improve – at times he looks really bad in this regard. I recognize he struggles with important pieces of the formula needed to be a good MLB hitter (mainly plate discipline), but he has the requisite talents you want in an offensive contributor at the MLB level. Considering he swings at so many pitches and has a tendency to bail out in his swing, the fact that he only struck out 83 times in 481 AB’s this year between Lynchburg and Akron tells you that he is a talented hitter. Lots of potential offensively.

Hunter Gaddis (RHP, Starter): 6’5"-6’6" with good natural leverage. His primary strengths now are his CH and his SL, both of which are good pitches and thrown with good arm speed and command. His FB velocity is 90-93 mph and that is with some effort. His CH is 71-74 mph which is a lot off his FB and not ideal vs. more advanced hitters but still a good pitch. His #’s were very good in the NYPL (16 IP, 11 H, 4 BB, 27 K) and it is mostly because his offspeed pitches. Gaddis has a really good MLB body frame with plus leverage and if he is able to work out some of the effort in his delivery and add velocity through optimizing his leverage, he could be a really good prospect. He’s a smaller school guy and may not have had all of the advantages guys in the SEC or ACC may have (i.e. technology and highly paid coaches) so there could be more upside there with better instruction. If he can get into the 92-95 mph range with his FB after a year or two he will be good.

Nick Sandlin (RHP, Relief): I’m a huge college baseball guy and I saw him a few times with Southern Miss. I thought he was a big overdraft in the 2nd round. I still believe this. Sandlin was a fantastic college pitcher because he has a good SL and he could command it at near MLB level. Sandlin is 5’9"-5’10" and built like a middle infielder. He is known for a side-arm delivery. Unlike the successful side-arm guys in MLB, Sandlin has poor leverage b/c he has short arms and legs so when he comes from the side he gets less horizontal leverage (unlike Joe Smith who has longer levers, for example). That said, his SL is very good and he can command it very well. His FB velocity is 90-92 mph (T 94) and he gets good movement on the pitch. I’ve always thought he was a very high probability future MLB pitcher, but he lives and dies with throwing his SL to the glove side of the plate and I don’t think the good MLB hitters will be too fooled by him b/c they will sit on that pitch. I think he is vulnerable to left handed hitters. He will get RH guys out at the MLB level but I wouldn’t trust him in high leverage situations b/c I think his SL is only a 55 on the 20-80 scale and his FB isn’t good enough. Sandlin missed the second half of 2019 due to an arm injury, and he also missed time in college b/c of shoulder fatigue. If he is healthy we will see him in MLB but I just don’t think he’s going to be that good.

Ernie Clement (2b/ss/of): I saw a lot of him at Virginia b/c he was on the same team as Adam Haseley and Pavin Smith. Clement never stood out but the more you saw him the more you’d take note because he was a tough out (contact orientation), could play middle infield, could run well, had a MLB body frame and also was a birthdate guy (young for his class, which the Indians love). All of that still applies today. I thought he looked like he could grow into his body and hit for more power eventually, but the swing he has shown as a professional is devoid of power. He is still projectable physically in my opinion and the Indians seem to like his character, so this is a lot of stuff I generally like. Power has surprisingly developed with many players and it could happen with Clement but we’ve not seen evidence of it so far.

Kyle Nelson (LHP, Relief): 6’0", 180 lbs so undersized but he has a good SL that he relies upon heavily (70% of pitches). His FB velocity is only 90-91 mph so this is his primary weakness. He is good vs. LH and I think vulnerable to RH but he has shown an ability to effectively throw the SL down and in to RH. His SL is very good and he was successful in 2019 but he will need to add velocity to be a good MLB pitcher b/c I don’t think low 90’s is going to work. He has below average leverage and his arm slot is low, so RH will hit him very hard when he throws a FB. In the future I think velocity is going to be the key thing to watch – if he comes out next spring and is throwing 92-94 mph consistently he will probably be on the MLB club at some points in the 2020 season.

Ka’ai Tom (Outfield): Tom had a great 2019 generating .290/.380/.535 between Akron and Columbus. He is 5’8" and stout. He is 25-years old and had not shown power until this year but he retained his speed which I think is above MLB average. He runs well enough where you could consider CF in MLB. Despite being short, he is not a contact-oriented hitter and shows a pull-tendency in-game. Surprisingly, he hit .290 this year but watching his AB’s he did not look like a guy that would hit for average. He benefited from a .348 BABIP this year (.370 in Columbus) which I do not think is sustainable based on how he looks as a hitter. Tom is Rule V eligible this year. I do not see a hitter for average in MLB next year, though I do like his small strike zone. Tom is a borderline add to the 40-man this offseason. The Indians could use guys like him but is he much better than what else would be out there as far as potential DFA’s? Will be a tough call. I do not see him being that successful in MLB in 2020 because I think MLB pitchers will exploit him (strike out totals are high), so I would probably take a look at what else is out there.

Raynel Delgado (2b): 6’2", 180 lbs and can get stronger. Delgado has upside with the bat and has infield skills. He did not show much power this year but he has clear power potential. His swing is long and he needs to shorten it. Delgado has a promising combination of bat speed, physical projection and infield actions so he could be a real good power hitting 2b in the future if he develops properly. He also has the loft in his swing so is a launch angle guy.

Steven Kwan (cf): Definitely an undersized player at 5’7", 180 lbs but hit all through his college career. Kwan is a contact-oriented hitter with a short, quick swing. He’s got a leg kick to help him generate power but there is not much leverage in the swing plane he generates so I think power will always be limited. He is strong for his size. Kwan is a plus runner and covers ground in the outfield well, but arm is below average. He got off to a rough start in Lynchburg, but finished the season very well. I’m sorry to do this and I hate stereotypes because he is Asian, but Kwan is very similar to the "pesky" hitters you see in Japan because he makes contact with a short swing, spoils good pitches well for his age and is out of the box very quickly. A high probability MLB player but lack of power will limit his upside when he is there.

Will Benson (RF): Very toolsy and strong. He has always been a raw player as a hitter and it is extra difficult for him because he is 6’5" and has a lot of strike zone to cover. His power potential is excellent but realizing that in-game is going to be challenging. He is still very young, he has a big body (difficult to coordinate a swing) and he was raw to begin with as an amateur so he’s done OK considering but often times he looks bad at the plate. He had a great start with Lake Count this year (though still struck out a lot) and then struggled mightily in high-A. He has legitimate upside of Aaron Judge but he is a long way from reaching that level of success.

Cam Hill (RHP, Relief): Undersized 6’0", 185 lbs but throws 93-96 mph with movement and a good CB in the 79-82 mph range when he is right. I saw him over numerous outings in July with Columbus and I thought he looked close to being a MLB pitcher b/c his stuff was MLB quality for the bullpen and his command was close to where it needed to be for MLB success. In August he was not nearly as effective. I did not see any of his August outings. Hill had Tommy John in June/July 2018, so he came back very quickly. Hill is Rule V eligible this winter and I thought he looked like a sure-add two months ago, but his health (I don’t have insight on this) will play a key role in determining his roster status in December. I was not able to watch his August outings to see what I thought was wrong.

Jared Robinson (RHP, Relief): Very strong 5’11", 210 lbs pitcher with excellent raw arm strength. He sits 94-98 mph with good movement. His weakness is lack of a consistent SL which is 84-88 mph and I think his command of his FB needs some improvement. He is eligible for the Rule V draft this winter and he will get attention because his FB velocity is very impressive but I would not add him to the 40-man.

Nick Mikolajchak (RHP, Relief): 6’1"-6’2", polished RHP relief prospect taken 11th round in the 2019 draft. Plus command of a quality SL. FB velocity is 90-93 mph (T 94) and it seems to sneak up on batters evidenced by higher swing and miss off the FB in the small sample size I saw. He drops his arm slot a bit for his SL which will need to be fixed but I would expect him to put up good #’s in relief in A-ball next year and could make a Kyle Nelson-like ascent up in the system. Should move quickly. A bump in velo and we’re talking.

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