This should not come as much of a surprise, but third baseman-turned-outfielder Nolan Jones earned the top spot in FanGraphs’ annual ranking of top Cleveland prospects. He, along with six other prospects, earned a Future Value (FV) of 50 on a 20-80 scale with his raw power and throwing ability each earning 70 grades.
Eric Longehagen praised Jones’ defensive versatility and noted that some evaluators felt he had already “outgrown” third base, regardless of the presence of José Ramírez on the major-league roster. That’s good, considering Ramírez is not going anywhere anytime soon and if Jones can play adequately in the outfield while playing near his projected bat skills, he would already be a huge upgrade.
While Longehagen provided a lot of optimism for Jones’ bat in his analysis, it’s also worth noting that he points out a “platoon-y, strikeout risk” with the 22-year-old’s future. Strikeouts have always been an issue with Jones — he has struck out at least 22% at every level of the minors, and peaked with a 29% whiff rate in 2019 — and playing in Double-A in 2019, Jones’ platoon issues came to light in the form of a .167/.250/.296 slash against lefties and .290/.417/.540 slash against righties.
Longehagen suggests Jones may either have to be dropped in the lineup or benched against lefties, but his power potential and eye at the plate line him up to be an offensive threat either way.
Following Jones in the rankings are pitcher Triston McKenzie (who did not reach the threshold to lose his rookie status in 2020), and outfielder George Valera.
McKenzie was dropped all the way to 10th in Longehagen’s rankings last May, but his promising debut has him as a potential middle-of-the-order starter and now Cleveland’s No. 2 prospect.
Valera has always been high on FanGraphs’ radar, and even with injuries limiting his exposure in recent years the hype is still there. His big uppercut swing, seen in action here, draws comparisons to Robinson Canó.
Longenhagen’s grades on individual skills include just two perfect 80s: Daniel Johnson’s arm and Emmanuel Clase’s fastball.
Johnson’s scouting report also includes a 70-grade run skill, but there are concerns about his raw hitting ability translating to the majors — a worry not helped by the fact that Cleveland was unwilling to give him a look in their talent-depleted outfield last year.
Clase, of course, comes with the huge question mark of a PED suspension during spring training last year. He can theoretically hit 102 mph on the radar gun, but it remains to be seen if he can still do it post-PED and after a year of not pitching in organized baseball.
With the potential that Cleveland may enter next season spending virtually nothing on the free-agent market, there is a chance we will see quite a few rookies take the field. By Longehagen estimates, shortstop Gabriel Arias, infielder Owen Miller, and pitchers Sam Hentges, Trevor Stephan, Emmanuel Clase, Raymond Burgos, Eli Morgan, Robert Broom, Scott Moss, and Jean Carlos Mejia could be ready to join McKenzie and (hopefully) Jones in the majors sometime in 2021.
You can read the full list, as well as detailed reports on each prospect, over at FanGraphs.