by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Cleveland Indians may not be considered among the elite farm systems in the game, but they have some strong pieces at the top. That’s not always common for a contender who has made moves in recent years to push towards a World Series title, but here we are with a fresh crop of youngsters primed to start producing. Are they all going to be elite prospects? Of course not, but there are some intriguing pieces that need to be monitored. Who are they? Let’s take a look:
1) Francisco Mejia – Catcher
Grade – A-
ETA – Already Arrived
We all know Mejia is one of the premier prospects in the game, regardless of position. The Indians appear to be tinkering with him at 3B, where the bat may not profile quite as well though he began tapping into his power more (14 HR, 37 total extra base hits, in 347 AB) while continuing to show an ability to consistently make contact (13.8% strikeout rate, 9.0% SwStr%) while at Double-A. That gives him the profile of a catcher who could hit .280+ with 20 HR, a rare commodity (think Buster Posey-esque, as the average could easily climb higher). That should give the team incentive to keep him behind the plate long-term, especially as a switch-hitter.
He’ll likely start the year at Triple-A, but given the production behind the plate that the team has gotten it may not be long before he arrives to stay.
2) Triston McKenzie – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B+
ETA – 2019
He won’t turn 21 until August, but after spending all of ’17 at High-A there’s clearly a lot to like. McKenzie continued to show swing and miss stuff, with an 11.71 K/9 courtesy of a 14.4% SwStr%. Coupling that with solid control (2.83 BB/9) only adds to the appeal, but there are two warning signs that need to be monitored:
- 8% groundball rate
- 6’5”, 165 lbs.
Obviously the groundball rate could mean he’ll be prone to home runs, though time will tell. Thus far he hasn’t developed physically, and he’ll need to add weight if he’s going to ultimately reach his ceiling. We’d think that would come, in time, though we’ll have to wait and see. The upside is obvious, as he has Top 25 starting pitcher potential.
3) Bobby Bradley – First Baseman
Grade – B
ETA – 2018
Hitting .251 isn’t going to blow you away, though we all know it’s Bradley’s power that is going to be the key to his success (23+ HR in each of the past three seasons). He improved his strikeout rate, despite the promotion, going from 29.7% to 22.9%, and continued to show an ability to draw walks (10.3%). Not only did he improve his strikeouts, but he dramatically cut his SwStr% (which further enhances his outlook):
- 2016 – 15.9%
- 2017 – 12.1%
Granted a .260 hitter with 25+ HR is fairly prevalent around the game these days, but that shouldn’t take away from his ability. The upside is there to make an impact.
4) Yu-Cheng Chang – Shortstop
Grade – B
ETA – 2019
The big question with Chang is going to be whether or not he’s capable of making consistent contact. He showed plenty of power last season, hitting 24 HR over 440 AB at Double-A, and an ability to draw a walk (10.2%). The problem was a .220 average, which came due to two problems:
- 4% strikeout rate
- .254 BABIP
He did carry a 21.0% line drive rate and while a 44.0% fly ball rate is slightly elevated, it’s hardly a mark that would concern you. The bigger issue is his strikeout rate, and while an 11.1% SwStr% is high for the level we’ve seen significantly worse (among those in the Eastern League with at least 400 PA, Chang ranked 23rd). If he can cut down on the strikeouts even a little bit he could profile as a .260-.270 middle infielder with 20+ HR.
5) Shane Bieber – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B-
ETA – 2018
A 2016 fourth round pick, Bieber pitched across three levels in ’17 including nine starts at Double-A. He showed all the skills we look for along the way:
- Strikeouts – 8.41 K/9
- Walks – 0.52 BB/9
- Groundballs – 48.1%
He did generate a lot of swings and misses (13.1%), but that was due more to his control than his pure stuff. Control is important, but it’s possible he gets exposed a bit as he continues to advance. The numbers are going to catch your attention, though time will tell if he can continue to deliver.
The Next Five:
6) Nolan Jones – Third Baseman (Grade – B-)
7) Aaron Civale – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B-)
8) Will Benson – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
9) Conner Capel – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
10) Greg Allen – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
Keep An Eye On – George Valera – Outfielder
Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists: