Cleveland is a team that is already competitive, but financial constraints lead to them needing to lean on their farm team to keep it that way long-term. While there are some impressive names nearing the Majors, they are also stocked with high-upside youngsters at the lower levels with the potential to rise quickly (improving by a full grade, or more, depending on their performance in ’20). Who needs to be on our radars? Who could take that meteoric leap? Let’s take a look:
1) Nolan Jones – Third Baseman
ETA – 2020
Grade – A-
Jones rarely gets the recognition of being one of the better prospects in the game, and that’s going to put him in the category of being significantly underrated. Splitting time between High-A (324 PA) and Double-A (211 PA) he hit .272 with 15 HR, 63 RBI and 81 R, though there is no denying his knowledge of the strike zone:
- Strikeout Rate – 27.7%
- SwStr% – 8.8%
- Walk Rate – 17.9%
The strikeout rate is due to his extreme patience (he has 185 walks over the past two years), and as he learns to get just a little bit more aggressive the power should rise and the strikeouts will regress. He’s still 21-years old and should be able to develop 30+ HR power with a solid average and a potentially elite OBP.
2) George Valera – Outfielder
ETA – 2023
Grade – B+
We don’t have too much to go on with Valera, who was signed as an international free agent in 2017 and then missed most of 2018 due to a broken hamate bone. The Indians were aggressive with their assignment of him to start 2019, with the 18-year old playing the bulk of the year at Low-A (188 PA) before getting an opportunity at Single-A (26 PA). While he hit .217, considering his age and level his 13.4% SwStr% (28.5% strikeout rate) isn’t a red flag when paired with a 14.5% walk rate.
The power was already on display (7 doubles, 2 triples and 8 HR) and there’s also some speed (6 SB). He’s a long ways away from arriving and a lot can happen during his development, but there is top-end talent depending on how he matures.
3) Triston McKenzie – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B
McKenzie entered 2019 considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game, but a pair of injuries ultimately sidelined him for the entire season and re-enforced the questions about his durability. He has avoided significant injuries throughout his career, but minor ones have continued to be there and limit his time on the mound. Considering that the Indians have already been cautious with their handling of him, due to his size (he’s listed at just 165 lbs.), his ability to hold up for an entire season isn’t going to disappear.
There’s no questioning McKenzie’s pure stuff and if he can recover and get back on the mound he has the potential to rise back into elite status. For now the questions drag him down and he’ll need to be watched closely.
4) Logan Allen – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B
Allen was traded from the Padres to the Indians, but regardless of the team he was on or the level he was pitching at he struggled:
- Triple-A (80.0 IP) – 5.85 ERA, 1.57 WHIP
- Majors (27.2 IP) – 6.18 ERA, 1.77 WHIP
While he showed an ability to miss bats his control (3.82 BB/9 in the minors, 4.23 in the Majors) and home run issues (1.57 HR/9 in the minors, 1.30 in the Majors) hang over him. That’s not a good combination, though the stuff is there and the Indians’ ability to develop pitchers should help him. He needs more time to develop, but the upside is there and he’s proven it before.
5) Bo Naylor – Catcher
ETA – 2022
Grade – B
He spent the year at Single-A, hitting .243 with 11 HR and 65 RBI (adding 18 doubles and 10 triples). Those are solid numbers, considering the aggressive assignment (he played the year at 19-years old after being selected 29th in the 2018 draft) and the fact that he also had the responsibilities that come with catching. He has the potential to stick behind the plate and that could delay his development, though there’s a lot to like in terms of his upside (including his solid 10.0% SwStr% and 9.5% walk rate). It could all come together to create a .260+ hitter with 15 HR and 5-8 SB annually, and there could be even more than that.
The Next Five:
6) Ethan Hankins – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B) – The 2018 first round pick spent time at Low-A (38.2 IP) and Single-A (21.1 IP) showing the ability to both miss bats (12.1% SwStr%) and generate groundballs (55.1%). His control wasn’t there, but at 6’6” it’s not a surprise as taller pitchers tend to take longer to find their control. With experience he should at least be able to post average control, and he has the pure stuff to be even better than that. He’ll turn 20-years old in May so there’s plenty of time for him to figure it out, but as he does he could also start to advance quickly. There is risk, as there is for any young pitcher, but he took take a significant step forward in his grade this season.
7) Tyler Freeman – Shortstop (Grade – B-) – Freeman brings an elite ability to make contact, with a miniscule 4.6% SwStr% while spending time at Single-A and High-A, and also has the speed to routinely steal 20+ bases. However he is aggressive, barely drawing a walk (4.8% walk rate), and lacks any semblance of power (3 HR). With his ability to make contact and with his speed if he could develop into a 10+ HR hitter there’s going to be value, and with 32 doubles and 5 triples it’s not impossible. There is a ceiling, and you have to wonder if his propensity to swing gets exposed a little bit as he advances.
8) Brayan Rocchio – Shortstop (Grade – C+) – Playing at Low-A there’s clearly upside (like an 8.8% SwStr% at 18-years old) and there is speed, but he needs to prove that he can learn to be more efficient on the bases (in two years he’s 36-for-57 in SB attempts) and that he can develop a little bit more power (5 HR over 295 PA). Many believe he can fine tune both, adding some power as he physically matures and doing a better job on the bases considering his baseball IQ. There’s plenty of time and he’s another player with the potential to see his stock rise.
9) Aaron Bracho – Second Baseman (Grade – C+) – The switch-hitter was another part of the 2017 international class for Cleveland, and while he’s not quite George Valera the upside is there. He had 21 extra base hits in 169 PA last season, including 8 HR, and while he did swing and miss a lot (15.9% SwStr%) given his age it’s not a red flag considering how many walks he was able to draw (16.6% walk rate). There are questions about where he fits defensively and if he’ll be able to maintain his speed as he matures physically, but he’s a name to keep a close eye on.
10) Daniel Espino – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+) – The team’s 2019 first round pick, there are questions about his size and ability to maintain his control considering his delivery (he had a 3.80 BB/9 over 23.2 IP in his first taste of professional baseball). He has the pure stuff, with reports of a four pitch mix including a fastball that hits 99 mph already, and the potential to climb quickly in Cleveland’s system.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: