Top 10 Prospects (2019): Cleveland Indians: A Thinner System, But With Upside…

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The Indians have been a team pushing for a World Series title for the past few seasons, and that has led to them using some of their prospect currency to improve the MLB roster. While that has helped to thin out the system, they’ve gone the other way over the past few months and added some intriguing upside options who are close to the Majors. Who are the players with the highest upside? Who should you be targeting? Let’s take a look:

1) Tristan McKenzie – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B+
ETA – 2019

McKenzie spent the year at Double-A, though a forearm injury led to a delayed start and limited him to 90.2 IP.  When healthy he posted a 2.68 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with his strongest skill being his control (2.78 BB/9).  While the upside is there, he faces a slew of questions:

  • Strikeouts – 8.64 K/9 (10.1% SwStr%)
  • Groundballs – 33.2%
  • Size – 6’5” and 165 lbs.

Now 21-years old, McKenzie has yet to fill out physically and there are obvious home run questions.  He did show more potential at High-A in ’17 (41.8%) and there is a lot of upside in the strikeout department (11.71 K/9 in ’17).  Assuming he’s healthy the stuff is there to take that next step and arrive in Cleveland this season, though there’s still development to be done.

2) Nolan Jones – Third Baseman
Grade – B
ETA – 2020

The left-handed hitter continues to develop, as the 20-year old split time between Single-A and High-A to hit .283 with 19 HR and 66 RBI over 427 AB.  The obvious question is going to be his ability to make consistent contact as he continues to advance, with a 25.2% strikeout rate (26.2% after his promotion to High-A).  However the other numbers indicate a great approach and a better strikeout rate coming:

  • SwStr% – 10.1%
  • Walk Rate – 17.1%

At 6’4” and 185 lbs. the power should continue to blossom as he matures, and with a strikeout rate that should also improve he could put it all together at any time.  The heir apparent at third base for Cleveland could fly a little bit under the radar, but it won’t be long before he fully emerges.  While we are conservative with the grade currently, he could rise to a B+ quickly (and maybe even an A- by year’s end).

3) Noah “Bo” Naylor – Catcher
Grade – B-
ETA – 2022

An athletic high school catcher, Noah is the brother of Padres’ prospect Josh Naylor.  The 18-year old is expected to stick at catcher, though it’s not a guarantee, and if he does that will only make him a more valuable potential asset.  In 117 AB at Rookie Ball he hit .274 with 2 HR and 5 SB, and there’s power that should grow as he develops/matures.  The wear and tear of catching should ultimately cost him some of his speed, but he should be able to contribute 5-8 SB at this point.

While he did struggle to make consistent contact (22.8% SwStr%), considering his age and 15.1% walk rate it’s easy to give him a little bit of a pass.  He should be able to refine that approach and continue to improve, with the potential to come together and create the total package behind the plate.

4) Bobby Bradley – First Baseman
Grade – B-
ETA – 2019

Bradley struggled with strikeouts (27.0%), with the number jumping to 33.6% over 128 PA at Triple-A.  That said his .214 average at Double-A was fueled more by a .226 BABIP, and while a more fly ball-centric approach (44.8%) will help to suppress his BABIP this took it to an extreme.  Couple that with a 10.7% walk rate while at Double-A and there’s hope, though we’d like to see his 14.0% SwStr% (15.1% overall) improve.

That said Bradley’s calling card is his power, as he hit 27 HR (to go along with 26 doubles and 5 triples), and he has the potential to pop a 30 HR season at the highest level.  With an improved BABIP he could pair that with at least a .250 average, and any improvement in his approach could ticket him for .260 or better.  With the position getting weaker and weaker, that makes him a strong candidate to monitor.

5) Oscar Mercado – Outfielder (Grade – B-)
Grade – B-
ETA – 2019

Mercado never seems to get the respect he deserves, despite producing year in and year out.  Last year, splitting time between the Cardinals and Indians Triple-A teams, he hit .278 with 8 HR and 37 SB.  The power was down, though that’s never going to be his strongest skill.  At the same time, with his speed (he’s had at least 33 SB in four straight seasons, and 26+ in five straight) and ability to make consistent contact (8.9% SwStr%) all he needs to do is contribute 8-12 HR.  That’s exactly where he profiles, and for a team that needs help in the outfield the 24-year old should finally get an opportunity to prove his worth.

The Rest:

6) Luis Oviedo – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B-)
It was only 57.0 IP, but the 19-year old Oviedo (he’ll turn 20-years old in May) showed off all the skills that we look for from a pitcher:

  • Strikeouts – 10.58 K/9
  • Control – 2.68 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 49.3%

Listed at 6’4” and 170 lbs., the Venezuelan could add more velocity as he matures physically and the repertoire is already there.  While the Indians may take a slow and steady approach, don’t let him fly under-the-radar.

7) George Valera – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
He turned 18-years old in November and was limited to 6 games in 2018 due to a broken hamate bone.  In other words there’s very little known, after he was signed for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2017.  Talk is that he has the potential to be a true five-tool prospect, though he has a lot of room to develop physically (he’s currently listed at 5’10”, 160 lbs.) and he’s a long, long way from arriving in the Majors.  His outlook could go any number of ways, but there’s enough upside to have him squarely on your radar.  While we are placing him as a C+ prospect given the complete unknown, he could climb to a B-/B quickly with a strong start.

8) Ethan Hankins – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+)
His grade is dragged down, much like his spot in the 2018 draft, by the shoulder issue that sidelined him.  He has the stuff to emerge as a bargain at the 35th overall selection, with the 6’6” sporting a big fastball.  The secondary offerings also need to develop, which help to drag him down a little bit more, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens with his health. 

9) Daniel Johnson – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
Johnson, acquired from Washington as part of the Yan Gomes deal, is very similar to Mercado as a prospect as he spent the bulk of his season at Double-A, with 20 AB at Rookie Ball mixed in, hitting .269 with 7 HR and 22 SB overall.  The difference is Johnson’s propensity to swing and miss, with a 13.6% SwStr% leading to a 22.2% strikeout rate (and also a pedestrian 6.0% walk rate).  While there is power and speed, the potential for the strikeouts to continue to rise looms large.

10) Eli Morgan – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C)
Splitting time between Low-A and High-A Morgan posted a 3.27 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 143.1 IP.  He showed big swing and miss stuff (14.2% SwStr%) with good control (2.13 BB/9).  However there are questions, especially standing at 5’10” and generating a 39.9% groundball rate.  There’s enough to keep him on our radar, but a ticket to the bullpen could be in his future.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com, Baseball Reference

Make sure to check out all of our 2019 Top 10 Prospect Lists:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

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