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 pitching prospects from 2019’s “Best of the Rest,” including Zach Plesac, who cracked into Cleveland’s rotation, and James Karinchak, who finished sixth in the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year voting. Then there is Eli Morgan, who was promoted to the top 20 these past two years, and Carlos Vargas, who debuted in the top 20 this year.
Others, like Rob Kaminsky and Kyle Nelson, made their MLB debuts in 2020 (although Kaminsky did it with another organization).
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 pitchers by proximity to MLB, not by ranking.
Adam Scott, 25, LHP
Drafted in the fourth round as a college senior in 2018, Scott soared quickly through Cleveland’s farm system, advancing to Double-A in the 2019 season, where he posted a respectable 3.94 ERA with a 3.83 FIP in 14 starts spanning 75.1 innings. Scott has pitched at five MiLB levels in fewer than two seasons and should easily make the Triple-A rotation in Columbus. He was not invited to the alternate site during the 2020 season, but his reasonable strikeout rate and low walk rate make him an option should injuries or inconsistency hit Cleveland’s rotation in 2021.
Jean Carlos Mejia, 24, RHP
Just two years ago, Jean Carlos Mejia was the No. 15 prospect in Cleveland’s system as voted by Let’s Go Tribe readers. But he only pitched 33 innings in 2019 due to injuries (although his first start that year was 5.0 perfect innings with eight strikeouts and his second start in 2019 was 6.0 innings where he allowed one run with seven strikeouts and two walks). Mejia seemed to recover in 2020 and got to play in the expanded roster, showing no signs of lingering injury and he remains a member of the 40-man roster. I think he starts 2021 either in Double-A or Triple-A, depending on where there is room for him in Cleveland's crowded minor league rotation.
Juan Hillman, 23, LHP
Many Let’s Go Tribe readers gave up on former 2015 second-round pick Juan Hillman when he struggled in full-season ball and repeated at Single-A Lake County without showing much improvement. But after being promoted to High-A, he had the best season of his young career in 2019 with a career-low 3.85 ERA, dropping his walk-rate to 2.63 BB/9, although a lack of strikeouts at just 6.35 K/9 may put a limit on his ceiling. Regardless, he was a Carolina League All-Star that season and put in a workhorse 140.1 innings over 25 starts, lasting 7.0 innings or longer in six of them.
Cody Morris, 24, RHP
A seventh-round pick in 2018, Cody Morris was a flame-throwing starting pitcher out of the University of South Carolina. Having undergone Tommy John surgery at the end of his high school pitching career, Cleveland shut him down the season they drafted him, instead debuting him at Single-A Lake County in 2019. Morris impressed, sporting a 3.20 ERA and striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings with a 2.11 FIP to earn a promotion to High-A Lynchburg, where his strikeout rate remained consistent but the rest of his numbers dropped. Reports claim Morris was touching 98 mph while pitching at the alternate site in 2020 and he has the potential to be an impact arm either as a starter or out of the bullpen.
Raymond Burgos, 22, LHP
Taken by Cleveland in the 18th round of the 2016 draft, Burgos missed the entire 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Standing 6-foot-5, Burgos has an imposing presence on the mound and continues to add velocity. Burgos once barely touched 90 mph, but in 2020 he was hitting 96 with a well-rounded four-pitch arsenal headed by a filthy changeup. Injury concerns have kept Burgos from earning top prospect status, (he missed the final three months of 2019 with a stress reaction in his elbow) but a healthy and successful 2021 season could finally earn him the recognition he deserves.
Hunter Gaddis, 22, RHP
A fifth-round pick out of Georgia State in 2019, Hunter Gaddis is a projectible dream due to his 6-foot-6 frame and filthy strikeout stuff that features a filthy slider and changeup. Gaddis completely overwhelmed the opposition in his brief 2019 stint in the Arizona Rookie League, then didn’t miss a beat after a midseason promotion to Low-A Mahoning Valley, where his strikeout rate actually increased to 15.51 K/9 and his ERA dropped to 2.30 with an eye-popping 0.72 FIP. Already touching 96 mph, Gaddis should be a fast-mover in 2021 as long as he stays healthy.
Josh Wolf, 20, RHP
A second-round pick by the New York Mets in 2019, Wolf possesses a plus fastball that already hits 97 mph and a plus curveball that has been graded as a 60 potential on the 20/80 scale. Wolf impressed in a brief stint in the rookie league in 2019, striking out 13.5 batters per nine innings while walking just 1.13 per nine, sporting a wicked 0.88 FIP. Wolf was one of the younger returns in the Francisco Lindor trade.
Tanner Burns, 22, RHP
A standout starting pitcher for Auburn, Burns sported impressive strikeout numbers that improved each season, culminating in a 12.9 K/9 in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season which lasted just four starts. A first-round competitive balance pick by Cleveland in 2020 at No. 36 overall, Burns currently touches 94 mph and his slider is his best pitch. He has the potential to continue to grow if he can add a tick of velocity while improving his control while working with Cleveland’s elite pitching development.
Logan T. Allen, 22, LHP
A second-round pick by Cleveland out of Florida International University in 2020, the “other” Logan Allen also is a left-handed starting pitcher. Allen finished his college career with a strong final season plus standout appearances in the Cape Cod League and on Team USA. He struck out 24 batters in 15.0 innings in the Cape and had an 11/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Team USA. Allen already features a strong changeup and currently tops out at 94 mph with more room for growth.
Cam Hill, 26, RHP
A former 17th-round pick in 2014, Hill debuted in the Cleveland bullpen in 2020, earning a few decent high-leverage opportunities, including his first career save, although he had mixed results overall. Hill’s WHIP was outstanding at just 0.873, but allowing four home runs in 18.1 innings ballooned his ERA to 4.91. Hill’s status for 2021 is uncertain due to an offseason car wreck that resulted in him having wrist surgery in early December.
Kyle Nelson, 24, LHP
Needless to say, Kyle Nelson is better than what we saw in 2020. In one appearance at the MLB level, Nelson allowed four runs in 0.2 innings, good for an ERA of 54.00. Before that, Nelson was one of the best relievers in Cleveland’s system in 2018 and 2019. Nelson led all pitchers in the minor leagues in FIP at 1.11 in 2018. He followed that up by dominating across three levels out of the bullpen in 2019, advancing from High-A to Double-A before finishing the season in Triple-A. All in all, he struck out 69 batters and walked just 14 in 42 appearances spanning 47.1 innings in 2019. Nelson should have a decent chance to make the club with Oliver Perez gone.
Trevor Stephan, 25, RHP
A Rule 5 pick from the New York Yankees, Stephan possesses a nasty two-pitch mix with a plus fastball that touches 97 paired with a filthy slider that still has room for growth. Drafted in the third round out of Arkansas in the 2017 MLB Draft, he advanced as far as Double-A in 2019. Stephen was a starting pitcher in the Yankees system, but with so much starting pitching depth in Cleveland, the only way he’ll stick is out of the bullpen, where his two-pitch mix, velocity, and cross-body deception should play up.
Sam Hentges, 24, LHP
A former top-10 prospect in Cleveland’s system, Hentges’ future is now almost certainly out of the bullpen, where his elite velocity touching 99 mph as a 6-foot-8 lefty could make him a devastating option in one inning increments. Hentges has been a starter his entire career, but he likely spent a lot of time working as a reliever at the taxi squad in Lake County in 2020. If he can improve his command, which has always been his limiting factor as a prospect, then he should easily have an opportunity to help Cleveland in 2020.
Nick Sandlin, 24, RHP
The former 2018 second-round draft pick out of Southern Mississippi lived up to his pre-draft hype. After striking out 144 and walking just 18 in his junior year of college as a sidearm starter, Sandlin soared through Cleveland’s system, advancing to Double-A the year he was drafted. Sandlin seemed primed to be the first player in the 2018 draft to make his pro debut, but it didn’t happen in 2019 due to some injuries, although he did make it to Triple-A. He was a member of the taxi squad in 2020 but didn’t get the call to the big leagues. Unlike Adam Cimber, Sandlin’s wicked sidearm action comes at multiple angles and can sit in the mid-90s. He’ll almost certainly make his MLB debut in 2021.
Dalbert Siri, 25, RHP
Signed by Cleveland out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, Siri has back-end stuff, earning midseason All-Star nods in 2017 and 2018 at Single-A and High-A. Siri has closed at every level he’s pitched, including 10 more saves at Double-A in 2019, where he briefly earned a trip to Triple-A. He should start 2021 in the Columbus bullpen, although the number of players I already have listed as depth options ahead of him could limit his pro opportunities.
Robert Broom, 22, RHP
Like Sandlin, Broom tore through the minor league system in 2018 and 2019 after being drafted in the 10th round as an advanced college sidearmer. He doesn’t throw as hard as Sandlin, topping out at about 92 mph, but he makes up for it with plus command and a devastating slider. Thus far in his minor league career, his ERA is a ridiculous 0.90, and that includes an incredible 2019 where he had a 0.36 ERA at High-A Lynchburg in 17 appearances, followed by a 0.96 ERA over 24 appearances and 37.1 innings in Double-A.
Skylar Arias, 23, LHP
It took a minute, but Skylar Arias may have figured things out. Drafted in the 24th round out of community college in 2016, Arias repeated 2016 and 2017 in the AZL, but in 2019, he was dominant. After starting the year repeating in Single-A Lake County, Arias held a 1.79 ERA over 34 appearances, earning mid-season All-Star status in the Midwest League. Arias was promoted to High-A Lynchburg, where he dropped his ERA to 1.42 in five appearances, striking out 10 batters and walking two in 6.1 innings.
Aaron Pinto, 24, RHP
Like Arias, Aaron Pinto also was a 24th round pick, although he was selected in the 2018 MLB draft. Pinto has moved quickly through the Cleveland system, impressively striking out 38 batters and walking just seven at Single-A Lake County, where he sported a 1.14 ERA over 17 appearances spanning 31 innings. Pinto finished the 2019 season at High-A Lynchburg, where he dropped his WHIP to 0.98 and held a 1.90 ERA over 25 appearances spanning 42.2 innings.
Did I miss any of the Indians’ minor league pitchers that you felt deserved a shoutout? Feel free to comment or share your opinion on the “best of the rest” below.