With the 2020 season and Rule 5 Draft in the rearview mirror, MLB Pipeline has been kept busy updating the Tribe’s top 30 prospect list.
Based on performance, promotions, trades, and injuries, several players have moved onto, up, down, and off the top 30 list.
Let’s break the Tribe’s current list down player-by-player.
1) 3B, Nolan Jones (2019 #1, LGT #1)
A second-round pick in 2016, Nolan Jones has been an on-base machine throughout his MiLB career. Jones sported a career-best 20.1% last season at High-A Lynchburg, where he earned a trip to the MLB Futures Game on All-Star weekend and was promoted to Double-A Akron, where he sported a career-best ISO (.213) with eight home runs in 49 games. Jones was added to the 40-man roster and has spent the summer at Lake County.
2.) SS, Tyler Freeman (2019 #4, LGT #2)
A high-contact, low-strikeout middle infielder, Freeman has put up tremendous numbers throughout his minor league career thus far, advancing to High-A Lynchburg last season, where he slashed .319/.354/.397 in 62 games. Freeman spent 2020 in Lake County where he got some opportunities to face MLB pitching in the spring and summer before the regular season started, picking up hits against the Rangers and Pirates. The 2017 second-round competitive balance pick still needs to add some pop to his bat and some patience to become a complete threat, but everything else is there.
3.) RHP Triston McKenzie (2019 #2, LGT #3)
Oh, what a mid-season call-up can do! Once the top prospect in the Indians system, McKenzie saw his stock fall after a year and a half of frustrating injuries in 2018 and 2019, almost dropping out of the MLB Pipeline top-10 at the midway point of the 2020 season. But when McKenzie was surprisingly called up to make his pro debut in late August, he whiffed 10 batters, touching 97 mph in his first career start, earning a full-time spot in the Tribe rotation after the trade of Mike Clevinger. Over six starts to close out the season, McKenzie sported an impressive 3.24 ERA and struck out 42 batters in 33.1 innings. Needless to say, the hype train is back in full force on “Dr. Sticks.”
4.) C, Bo Naylor (2019 #5, LGT #5)
The younger brother of recently-acquired outfielder Josh Naylor, Bo was the Indians’ first-round pick in 2018 as an athletic offensive-minded catcher. He skipped straight to full-season Single-A Lake County in 2019, where he was one of only a handful of minor leaguers to rack up double-digit doubles, triples, and home runs in the 2019 season. Still just 20 years old, Naylor most certainly would have spent this season at (then) High-A Lynchburg, and it will be interesting to see where the Tribe starts him next season as by far the top Indians catching prospect.
5.) OF, George Valera (2019 #6, LGT #6)
It’s been a small sample size, but George Valera has impressed everywhere he’s played, putting up solid power numbers and showing patience at the plate in his Low-A debut in 2019 at 18 years old, sporting a 236/.356/.446 slashline and leading the New York-Penn League in home runs before his promotion to full-season Single-A. Still just 19 years old, Valera was invited to the expanded roster in Lake County this season and got some great experience against some of the Indians’ best pitching prospects. Depending on what the Tribe brass thinks of him, he could have a rocket strapped to him in 2021.
6.) SS, Gabriel Arias (Acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Mike Clevinger trade)
Signed as an international free agent in 2016, Arias was pushed to full-season ball late during his age-17 season. After some growing pains at Single-A Fort Wayne in 2018, Arias had a great 2019, slashing .302/.339/.470 as a 19-year-old at High-A, bashing 17 home runs and sporting a 120 wRC+. Arias’ best tools are his plus glove and plus power at shortstop, but he still needs work on his patience, sporting an abysmal 4.9% walk rate compared to a 25.0% strikeout rate, and he was given special attention from San Diego coaches to help with his pitch recognition before he was traded to the Tribe. If Arias can improve his eye at the plate, he’s an intriguing option as a future replacement for Francisco Lindor.
7.) RHP, Daniel Espino (2019 #9, LGT #11)
The best high school arm in the 2019 MLB draft, Espino made an immediate impact in his minor league debut, whiffing 16 batters and walking five in 13.2 innings over six appearances in the Arizona Rookie League. His performance earned him a late-season promotion to Low-A Mahoning Valley, making him the last prep prospect in the Tribe system to do that since Francisco Lindor. Espino has a plus fastball with the potential for a wicked slider and curveball to go along with a developing change-up. Despite still being 19 years old, he was invited to Lake County this season. He could be rushed through the system depending on how well he performs in his full-season debut.
8.) SS, Brayan Rocchio (2019 #10, LGT #10)
After an incredible performance in the Arizona Rookie League in 2018 as a 17-year-old, where he slashed .343/.389/.448 in 35 games, Brayan Rocchio experienced his first taste of adversity in 2019 as one of the youngest players in the Low-A New York Penn League. Rocchio slashed .250.310.373 at Mahoning Valley last year, but he was hurt by bad luck with a .276 BABIP and still managed a 107 wRC+. Still just 19 years old, Rocchio has a tremendous glove and is another intriguing future Indians shortstop working his way up the minors.
9.) 2B, Aaron Bracho (2019 #13, LGT 13)
After an injury delayed his pro debut, Bracho made up for lost time in 2019, impressively slashing .296/.416/.593 in the Arizona Rookie League while walking (23) more than he struck out (21) in his age-18 season. Bracho’s performance merited a late-season call-up to Low-A Mahoning Valley, where he cranked two more home runs in eight games played. Many forget Bracho was the highest-paid Indians signee in their highly-regarded 2017 international class, which also included Valera and Rocchio. Look for him to be aggressively placed in 2021.
10.) RHP, Ethan Hankins (2019 #8, LGT #9)
A high-risk, high-reward pick by the Indians in 2018, Hankins made them look like geniuses in his first extended look in 2019 at Low-A Mahoning Valley. Standing 6-foot-6 with one of the best fastballs in the 2018 prep draft class, Hankins dominated the New York-Penn League to the tune of a 1.40 ERA, 1.06 WHIP while striking out 43 batters in 38.2 innings and holding opposing hitters to a .178 batting average. His performance earned him a call-up to full-season Lake County, where his strikeout rate actually improved, whiffing 28 batters in 21.0 innings. Hankins got some great experience as part of the Lake County expanded roster during the 2020 season.
11.) SS Gabriel Rodriguez (2019 #12, LGT UR)
The top Tribe international signing for 2018 out of Venezuela, Rodriguez debuted in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, earning a mid-season promotion to the Indians’ Arizona Rookie League team stateside. Rodriguez is all potential at this point, but scouts like his hit took and his chances to slug home runs as an athletic middle infielder. Rodriguez has shown a decent eye at the plate and average to above-average defense. He’s a player who potentially could have made huge strides behind the scenes during the lost 2020 minor league season.
12.) SS Carson Tucker (2020 1st round draft pick)
Tucker was the Indians’ first-round pick in the most recent MLB draft. The younger brother of Cole Tucker, who already is contributing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he has a strong hit tool, good hands, a strong arm, and improved speed. Keep an eye on where the Indians start him off in 2021.
13.) 1B Bobby Bradley (2019 #7, LGT #15)
The top slugging prospect in the Indians system, Bobby Bradley was called up to the big leagues in 2019, mashing one of the hardest-hit home runs by a Cleveland player in the Statcast era, although strikeouts were a major issue as he whiffed in a whopping 40.8% of his plate appearances while walking a career-low 8.2% of them. Bradley was hoping to get an opportunity in 2020, but the Indians had no room for him with a healthy Carlos Santana at first base and a healthy Franmil Reyes at DH. If there is ever a chance for Bradley to make it happen, it will be the 2021 season.
14.) RHP Tanner Burns (2020 first-round competitive balance draft pick)
The first pitcher taken by the Tribe in the 2020 MLB draft, Burns fits the Indians’ development mold perfectly, whiffing batters at a high rate while limiting his walks. Burns has a solid three-pitch mix and could be a fast-riser in the system due to his workhorse experience in the SEC during his college career.
15.) LHP Joey Cantillo (Acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Mike Clevinger trade)
Cantillo was one of the youngest players selected in the 2017 MLB draft, and after a slow start out of the gate to begin his pro career, he put up staggering numbers in his full-season debut in 2019. Cantillo struck out 128 batters in 98 innings with a 1.93 ERA and 0.87 WHIP at Single-A, earning a promotion to High-A. He was invited to the San Diego Padres’ expanded roster before becoming a feature in the Mike Clevinger trade.
16.) OF Daniel Johnson (Preseason #16, LGT #4)
A centerpiece of the Yan Gomes trade, Johnson put up spectacular numbers in 2019, earning an invite to the Futures Game. With the outfield a question mark in 2020, Johnson made his MLB debut in July but didn’t take advantage of his limited opportunities, reaching base just twice in his 13 plate appearances before being optioned back to the expanded roster. With Tyler Naquin and Delino DeShields Jr. gone, 2021 will be a huge opportunity for Johnson to earn regular playing time.
17.) OF Petey Halpin (2020 third-round draft pick)
The Indians saved money, paying under slot on their first three picks, and Halpin was their reward. Halpin was ranked the 76th best player in the draft, but the Indians selected him 96th overall. Halpin has a strong hit tool with the potential for power. A well-rounded athlete, he has a plus arm, speed and can play any outfield position. There’s a legitimate chance he could be the highest impact player the Tribe selected in the 2020 draft.
18.) 2B/SS Owen Miller (Acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Mike Clevinger trade)
A third-round pick by the Padres in 2018, Miller advanced all the way to Double-A in his second pro season. Miller is a bat-first prospect with some potential for power, but his lack of arm makes it unlikely he sticks around at shortstop at the MLB level. That being said, he could be an option for the Indians at second base in 2020 despite being a bit of an afterthought in the Clevinger trade.
19.) RHP Emanuel Clase (Acquired from Rangers in Corey Kluber trade, LGT #8)
There aren’t many players who can throw a cutter over 100 mph, but Clase did just that in 2019 when he debuted with the Texas Rangers. Clase was the centerpiece of the Corey Kluber trade in 2019, but then missed all of 2020 after testing positive for a banned substance in the offseason. With his suspension in the rearview mirror, look for Clase to immediately become an impact player in the back of the Indians’ bullpen in 2021.
20.) SS Angel Martinez (2019 #27, LGT UR)
A top international signing in 2018, Angel Martinez impressed in limited action during the 2019 DSL season, walking (29) as many times as he struck out (29) and sporting a nifty .309/.402/.428 slashline in 56 games while stealing 11 bases. Martinez is a switch-hitter with contact to all fields and boasts quick hands a strong arm. He could play shortstop or third base moving forward.
21.) LHP Logan T. Allen (2020 second-round draft pick)
Not to be confused with the 24-year-old Logan S. Allen, who the Indians acquired in the Trevor Bauer trade in 2019, Logan T. Allen was the Tribe’s second-round pick this past summer out of Florida International. A three-year starter in college, Allen pounds the strike zone while limiting hard contact. He has a high floor as a prospect and his ceiling could see his status explode if he adds some velocity, which is his current limiting factor.
22.) RHP Carlos Vargas (2019 #22, LGT UR)
One of the most promising arms in the Tribe system, Vargas was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft. Boasting a fastball that touches 100 mph, Vargas had a hit and miss 2019 season, but showed flashes of brilliance, tossing 7.0 shutout innings in his final start. If he can’t stick as a starter, Vargas has the type of power arm and slider that could blow hitters away out of the bullpen.
23.) SS Milan Tolentino (2020 fourth-round draft pick)
Another talented middle-infield prospect, Tolentino was the starting shortstop for the U.S. 18-and-under national team that won second place in September 2019. He is an elite defender but also has the versatility to play multiple positions in the shortstop-loaded Tribe system.
24.) LHP Scott Moss (2019 #17, LGT #12)
Moss was an intriguing piece thrown in the Trevor Bauer trade. The southpaw starter has picked the right time to put forth the best performances of his career, hitting a career-high in strikeout rate in 2019, career-low ERA, and career-low WHIP all after being acquired by the Indians and pitching at both the Double-A and Triple-A level. Moss was one of the options floated to join the Tribe rotation last year when the Indians ultimately sided with Triston McKenzie, and he’ll be another option this year if an opening develops due to injury or a double-header.
25.) SS Jose Tena (2019 #25, LGT UR)
George Valera, Brayan Rocchio, and Aaron Bracho get all the attention from the Indians’ 2017 international class but don’t sleep on Jose Tena. Tena slashed .325/.352/.440 in the Arizona Rookie League as an 18-year-old in 2019, sporting a solid opposite-field approach at the plate. He has a strong combination of hitting, fielding, and baserunning speed, although he’ll need to work on his discipline (3% walk rate) and power if he wants to really become a top prospect.
26.) LHP Sam Hentges (2019 #15, LGT UR)
A former 2014 fourth-round pick, Hentges bounced back from 2016 Tommy John surgery to explode up the Indians prospect rankings in 2018, but he came back down to Earth after struggling at Double-A in 2019. Standing 6-foot-6 with an imposing mound presence, Hentges can touch 100 mph, which makes him an intriguing bullpen option if there are too many people in front of him for the starting rotation. Hentges will have to get his walks under control (4.48 BB/9 in 2019) if he wants to make it in the big leagues.
27.) RHP Lenny Torres (2019 #19, LGT #17)
Torres was a highly touted arm out of New York who was selected as a competitive balance pick in the first round of the 2018 draft. He put up impressive numbers in limited action in 2018, but unfortunately missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, then compounded the issue by missing 2020 when the minor league season was canceled when he returned to the mound. Torres will pitch professionally for the first time in two years this upcoming season, and depending on how he has recovered, he could make up ground in the rankings in a hurry.
28.) RHP Nick Sandlin (2019 #30, LGT #20)
At one point, it seemed inevitable that Nick Sandlin would be the first player selected in the 2018 MLB draft to pitch in the major leagues. He advanced all the way to Double-A the year he was drafted, but injuries slowed the sidearm reliever in 2019. With Adam Cimber gone, there is plenty of room in the Indians bullpen for a lethal submarine pitcher, and 2021 will likely be Sandlin’s make-or-break season.
29.) RHP Trevor Stephan (2020 Rule 5 Draft Pick from New York Yankees)
At one point Stephan was a top-10 pitcher in the New York Yankees’ farm system, putting up incredible numbers at Low-A and High-A, but he’s struggled to perform after the transition to Double-A, and 2019 was a difficult year for the former third-round pick. Despite possessing a lethal two-pitch mix, Stephan was left exposed in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, and the Indians selected him. If he sticks with the Tribe, it will almost certainly be out of the bullpen. He’ll have to improve his command if he wants to last the full year at the Major League level.
30.) RHP Jordan Humphreys (Signed as a free agent after being DFA’d by San Francisco)
An 18th-round pick by the New York Mets in 2015, Humphreys was a starting pitcher in the Mets’ system, but his progress was halted after Tommy John surgery forced him to miss the entire 2018 season. Humphreys returned for limited action in 2019, pitching just two innings, and he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Billy Hamilton in August, before being DFA’d. The Indians saw something in him and he was signed as a free agent in late November.
RHP Aaron Civale (Graduated)
SS Yu Cheng (Graduated)
RHP James Karinchak (Graduated)
RHP Luis Oviedo (#25, taken by the Mets in the Rule 5 Draft, then trade to the Pirates)
LHP Logan S. Allen (Graduated)
OF Will Benson (Preseason #18, LGT #18)
Indians 2016 first-round pick Will Benson has four out of the five tools, but that hit tool still has a ways to go. He had a solid 2019 season with a four-homer game and was one of just two minor leaguers to bash 20 home runs with 20 steals (other than top prospect Luis Robert), but his elevated strikeout rate and lack of consistent contact remain an issue. Benson was not invited to Lake County, then was left exposed in the Rule 5 draft (and wasn’t taken). It’ll be interesting to see what happens to him in 2021.
RHP Jean Carlos Mejia (Preseason #20, LGT UR)
Despite an injury-plagued 2019 season that saw his prospect stock plummet, Mejia remains on the Indians’ 40-man roster, so the Tribe brass must see something in him. Unfortunately, he’s probably in the back of the line behind about 10 other prospects champing at the bit for a spot start in the Indians’ rotation in 2021.
SS Yordys Valdes (2019 #23, LGT UR)
One of the top defensive players drafted in the 2019 MLB draft, Valdez has not shown much yet with his bat. If he can improve his strength and plate discipline, he still has upside. If not, he’s going to get lost in the crowded field of Indians shortstop prospects.
2B Ernie Clement (2019 #26, LGT UR)
Clement cemented himself as one of the best contact hitters in the Tribe system in 2018, walking more times (41) than he struck out (35). He was just as difficult to whiff in 2019, striking out just 34 times in 101 games spread across Double-A and Triple-A, although his walk rate declined. Clement could be a utility infielder for the Indians tomorrow, and he has a legitimate chance to earn the starting second base position out of spring training after impressing the Tribe brass the last two offseasons.
2B Raynel Delgado (2019 #28, LGT UR)
Lost in the shuffle of a strong 2018 draft class, sixth-round pick Raynel Delgado was one of only a few Indians prep prospects to advance to full-season Lake County in 2019, his age-19 season. Delgado is versatile, having spent time at second base, shortstop, and third base at every level. He’s still waiting to break out, but perhaps 2021 could be his year.
SS Christian Cairo (2019 #29, LGT UR)
The son of MLB player Miguel Cairo, Christian Cairo was the Indians’ fourth-round pick in the 2019 MLB draft. Like Valdes, he struggled at the plate, batting just .178 in 46 games in the Arizona Rookie League. On the bright side, he walked 25 times, improving his on-base percentage to .324. Like Delgado, Cairo saw time at shortstop, second base, and third base in his first season. A lot can happen in a year, so 2021 will be crucial for his development.
Some others to consider
RHP Elijah Morgan
Boasting one of the best changeups in the Tribe system, Morgan has led all Indians pitching prospects in strikeouts since 2018. His 2019 season saw him start at High-A, earn a promotion to Double-A, then even a brief appearance in Triple-A. He’s undersized and isn’t going to blow anyone away with his velocity, but his control is excellent and the Indians clearly saw something in him because he added to the 40-man roster in November. Morgan could be making spot starts for the Indians in 2021.
OF Alexfri Planez
Depending on which Indians prospect rankings you’re looking at, Alexfri Planez could be as high as the top 10, or barely listed in the top 50. Having just turned 19 in August, Planez has yet to play at a level higher than the Arizona Rookie League, but he’s already blasted 10 home runs in about 296 career plate appearances. I’ve seen Planez described as 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, and also seen 6-foot-4, 210 (or bigger). Planez is a complete lottery ticket at this point, but it’s fun to dream.