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Best of the Rest: Which unranked Cleveland position player prospects should we keep an eye on in 2021?

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Cleveland has one of the deepest minor league systems in all of baseball, so plenty of talented position players got left off our Let’s Go Tribe top-20.

Cleveland Indians Summer Workouts Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

With seven and a half teams in its minor league system, Cleveland has over 200 players under contract heading into the 2021 season, so it’s a bit unfair to stop counting prospects at just the top 20.

Since there was no article in 2020 due to the pandemic, I’ll reference standout position prospects from 2019’s “Best of the Rest,” which included Aaron Bracho who was promoted to the top 20 these past two years.

Let’s Go Tribe readers finished their voting recently, but here are some prospects who just missed the cut and deserve some recognition as well.

And for clarity’s sake, I’m going to list these players by proximity to MLB per position, not by ranking.

Catchers

Bryan Lavistada, 22, C

Drafted in the 15th round out of Hillsborough Community College in 2018, Lavistada was converted from shortstop to catcher, and he immediately started hitting. After slashing .292/.415/.367 in the AZL in 2018, Lavistada improved his numbers almost across the board to .335/.408/.483 in 2019 at Low-A Mahoning Valley, earning a late-season promotion to Single-A Lake County. He also has been improving defensively behind the plate, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering his relative inexperience at the position. Perhaps most impressive was his 4% drop in strikeout rate to just 11% in 2019.

Yainer Diaz, 22, C

Diaz might be the best offensive catcher in the system. After putting up a 104 wRC+ in the DSL in 2017, he had a 149 wRC+ in the AZL in 2018, then a 212 wRC+ when he surprisingly repeated at the AZL to start 2019, slashing .451/.477/.707 before he earned a midseason promotion to Low-A Mahoning Valley (where he still slashed .274/.293/.393). If Diaz’s defense can catch up to his offense, he could graduate to top 20 prospect status as he prepares for his first full season.

Infielders

Ernie Clement, 24, SS/2B

One of the toughest players to strike out in the Cleveland system, Clement has shown decent bat-to-ball skill ever since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2017. While he hasn’t shown power yet, with just three home runs in his minor league career, he’s been able to get on base at a decent clip and has been successful in stealing them as well. He sported an impressive 145 wRC+ in a 33-game stretch at High-A in 2018, and advanced to Triple-A briefly in 2019. Clement also impressed Cleveland skipper Tito Francona in spring training in 2019 and will have a chance to earn a gig as the team’s utility man in 2021, as well as earn regular playing time if someone on the infield goes down with an injury.

Richard Palacios, 23, 2B

A third-round pick out of Towson University in the 2018 MLB draft, Palacios advanced three levels the year he was selected and seemed primed for swift advancement in the Cleveland system after sporting a wRC+ of 281, 208, and 109 in the AZL, New York-Penn League and full-season Midwest League, respectively. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury caused him to miss the entire 2019 season, a year he likely could have progressed to Double-A. Palacios has not played professionally for two years now with the 2020 season canceled, but he seems healthy and hopefully can pick up where he left off in 2018.

Jose Fermin, 21, 2B/SS

The top international signing by Cleveland out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, Fermin has steadily progressed through Cleveland’s system at one level per year since 2016, culminating in a career-best season in his full-season debut in 2019 at Single-A Lake County, where he slashed 293/.374/.379 and walked (42) more than he struck out (40) while also stealing 28 bases. In my opinion, Cleveland is lucky he wasn’t taken in the Rule 5 draft this past December.

Marcos Gonzalez, 21, SS

Gonzalez was Cleveland’s top international signing in 2016, and while he’s not as heralded as some top prospects in the system, he’s managed to post a wRC+ above 100 at every level he’s played, including skipping Low-A straight to full-season Lake County in 2019, although his season was cut short by injury. Gonzalez played shortstop in the rookie leagues but was moved to third base in 2019 when he was playing alongside Tyler Freeman and Jose Fermin.

Jose Tena, 19, SS

Signed by Cleveland out of the Dominican Republic in 2017 for $400,000, Tena was the best hitter for the DSL Indians in 2018, slashing .313/.367/.410 over 51 games. He continued to rake in the AZL in 2019, slashing .325/.352/.440, although his strikeout rate exploded to 22.1% while his walk rate plummeted to 3%. Tena makes good contact and covers the strike zone well, but his success as a prospect will likely be limited by his swing-happy nature, which will make things more difficult for him as he faces better pitching in full-season ball.

Jhonkensey Noel, 19, 1B

Noel is one of the most powerful young prospects in the Tribe system. Despite being just 16 years old to begin his professional career, he bashed 10 home runs in the DSL, good for third overall in the league. Scouting reports list him as having some of the best exit velocities of each level he’s played, most recently slashing .287/.349/.455 with a 114 wRC+ in the AZL in 2019. The most positive sign for Noel was his strikeout rate dropping 4% despite moving up a level.

Gabriel Rodriguez, 18, 3B

Rodriguez was the top international signing by the Tribe in 2018. The 6-foot-2 shortstop out of Venezuela was inked for $2.1 million and was rated the No. 6 international prospect by MLB.com. He has already developed well physically, earning a promotion to the AZL from the DSL after making his pro debut in 2019, although his production wasn’t particularly impressive after making it to the States.

Junior Sanquinton, 19, SS

Sanquinton was signed by Cleveland for $1.25 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2018. He was rated the No. 12 international prospect by MLB.com. The switch-hitter has plus power potential, and he improved dramatically after moving from the co-op squad to the regular DSL team, slashing 297/.357/.422 in his final 16 games of the 2019 DSL season.

Carson Tucker, 19, SS

A first-round pick by Cleveland in the 2020 MLD draft, Carson Tucker is the younger brother of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop/outfielder Cole Tucker. He appears to be well rounded with a relatively high floor. Look for him to debut in the AZL once the short season begins this summer.

Milan Tolentino, 19, SS

One of the best defenders in the 2020 draft, Tolentino was Cleveland’s fourth-round pick in 2020. Scouting reports say he has an advanced feel for contact and he should also play in the AZL this summer.

Outfielders

Conner Marabell, 26, OF

Marabell has consistently overperformed his 25th-round draft position, breaking out in 2016 when he slashed .298/.346/.461 across Single-A and High-A, hitting 45 doubles that season. Since then, he’s performed well at Double-A but has yet to his much higher than his weight in three brief stints at Triple-A in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Marabell is increasingly becoming a longshot to make the MLB roster at this point, especially after the signing of Eddie Rosario in the offseason.

Trenton Brooks, 24, LF

Brooks has improved every season in the Cleveland system, picking the best time to have his best year in 2019 after a midseason promotion to Double-A, where he slashed .274/.333/.502 with nine home runs in 65 games, good for an impressive 143 wRC+. Brooks is expected to play in the Columbus outfield to begin the 2021 season with a longshot to make the MLB club should Cleveland need depth in the outfield.

Oscar Gonzalez, 23, LF

A former AZL MVP in 2016, Gonzalez raked to the tune of a .319/.342/.455 slash and a 129 wRC+ in his first taste of High-A in 2019, although he’s limited by his abysmal 3% walk rate. He earned a promotion to Double-A, although he struggled there with a 37 wRC+ in 29 games. Gonzalez makes consistent contact with plus power and a cannon arm, but he is limited by his swing-happy approach, although he impressively dropped his strikeout rate below 20% for the first time in his career in 2019, including during his promotion to Double-A.

Steven Kwan, 23, CF

A fifth-round draft pick in 2018, Kwan has posted a positive wRC+ at every level, and despite skipping Lake County entirely in 2019, he posted a reasonable .280/.353/.382 slash, good for a 115 wRC+ with Lynchburg as the team’s leadoff hitter. Kwan has decent speed and excellent on-base ability, walking (53) more than he struck out (51) in 2019 and posting a 9.4% strikeout rate, although a lack of power may be a limiting factor for his MLB aspirations.

Will Benson, 22, LF

Power is not an issue for this former 2016 first-round pick, who blasted 22 home runs in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Benson began 2019 by repeating at Single-A Lake County, where he posted a 172 WRC+ including a four-homer game. His strikeout rate (30.1%) remained alarming, but he wasn’t cheated when he made contact. Perhaps most impressive for Benson were his 27 steals that season despite being 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds. The only other MiLB player to post a 20/20 season in 2019 was top White Sox prospect Luis Robert. Benson was not invited to the alternate site in 2020 but was given permission to play summer ball in an independent league. He still remains an intriguing prospect due to his 80-grade arm, 70-grade raw power, and 55-grade speed, but a 30-grade hit skill is his biggest limiting factor.

Johnathan Rodriguez, 21, LF

One of the youngest players drafted in 2017, Rodriguez has quietly improved his wRC+ each year, slashing .247/.318/.424 in 2019 at Low-A Mahoning Valley and showcasing a flash of his improving power with six home runs, increasing his ISO by 65 points. He should expect to make his full-season debut in 2021, possibly at High-A if the Cleveland brass believes his development continued during the lost 2020 season.

Alexfri Planez, 19, OF

Planez has impressed in limited action thus far in the DSL in 2018 (125 wRC+) and in six games in 2019 (139 wRC+) before breaking his hamate bone and ending his season early. He filled out significantly, with some scouting reports saying he’s 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, and others saying he’s as big as 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. Regardless, he possesses decent contact skills and plus power. As long as he can keep his strikeout rate down, he could make a big move in 2021.

Isaiah Green, 19, OF

Acquired from the Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade, Green has mixed reviews from scouts about his swing, but everyone likes his speed and fielding potential. He’s very projectable at 6-foot-1 with broad shoulders and could add a decent amount of power as he matures in the Cleveland system.

Petey Halpin, 18, OF

A third-round pick in 2020, Halpin was young for his draft class and possessed a good feel for contact with decent power. He combines strong offensive potential with above-average speed, defense, and throwing arm, making him one of the most well-rounded high school outfielders in the 2020 draft.


Did I miss any of Cleveland’s minor league players that you felt deserved a shoutout? Feel free to comment or share your opinion on the “best of the rest” below.