Cleveland_Indians_logo

The 2016 Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects

Announcement: After peaking as the #3 book among all baseball books on Amazon last year, my new book, The 2016 Prospect Digest Handbook, is on sale! Check it out here!

And for those wondering what CALs are, here’s an article on the Comparison And Likeness program I designed.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

1. Clint Frazier, CF/RF                                                      
Born: 09/06/94 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Domingo Santana, Cameron Maybin,

Angel Morales, Johermyn Chavez, Trayce Thompson

Height: 6-1 Weight: 190 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 18 R 196 11 5 5 0.297 0.362 0.506 0.209 8.7% 31.1% 137
2014 19 A 542 18 6 13 0.266 0.349 0.411 0.146 10.3% 29.7% 120
2015 20 A+ 588 36 3 16 0.285 0.377 0.465 0.180 11.6% 21.3% 147

Background: One could make the argument – with a high percentage of success – that Frazier took the biggest developmental steps (not step) forward last season – not only in the system, but perhaps the entire minor leagues as well. After posting enough whiffs to knock a hair loose on Donald Trump’s head, the former fifth overall pick cut nearly eight percentage points off his strikeout rate – it dropped from 30.1% in 2013-2014 to 21.3% in 2015 – while seeing a surge in the power department. The flaming-haired outfielder put a sluggish April behind him (.247/.317/.301) and batted an impressive .292/.387/.493 over his final 114 games. And his overall production, per Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 47% better than the league average last season, tied for the second best mark. And, oh yeah, he was one of just seven qualified hitters under the age of 21 in the Carolina League.

Projection: Just to put this into perspective a bit more consider this: among those seven qualified hitters under the age of 21, the White Sox’s Trey Michalczewski’s 113 wRC+ total was closet to Frazier’s 147 mark. A difference in percentage points of 34, for those counting at home. Frazier’s a supremely gifted athlete who offers up plus-power potential, above-average walk rates, and 20-stolen base speed; all the while adding value on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a bit uncertain as to whether he, or Bradley Zimmer, or Tyler Naquin (probably not) will get pushed from center field to right field. But Frazier has a chance to be one of the better homegrown Tribe bats in a long, long time.

Ceiling: 4.0- to 4.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2017

 

2. Justus Sheffield, LHP                                                    
Born: 05/13/96 Age: 20 Bats: L Top CALs: Angel Reyes, Jake Thompson,

Mitchell Taylor, Lucas Giolito, Felix Jorge

Height: 5-10 Weight: 196 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 18 R 20.7 3 1 4.79 2.68 12.63 3.92 30.9% 9.6% 0.00 52.9%
2015 19 A 127.7 9 4 3.31 2.99 9.73 2.68 24.9% 6.9% 0.56 70.2%

Background: The Indians’ second first round pick in 2014, 31st overall, Sheffield continued to shine in the lower levels of the minor leagues last season. After posting a 29-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Arizona Summer League during his debut, the smallish lefty maintained an impressive ratio as he moved up to full-season ball for the first time, finishing the year with 138 punch outs – the second best mark in the Midwest League – and just 34 free passes in 127+ innings of work. That strikeout total is the highest mark for a 19-year-old in any Class A league since 2012, when Archie Bradley (156) and Clayton Blackburn (143) accomplished the feat. Sheffield also became the first left-hander in Class A to rack up that many swing-and-misses since Madison Bumgarner did so in 2008.

Projection: In last year’s book I wrote how small starting pitchers just don’t total a whole lot of innings at the big league level; between 2000 and 2014 there have been just six starters 5-foot-10 or less to throw 100 or more innings at the highest level (Chad Guadin, Jesus Sanchez, Kris Medlen, Mike Hampton, Mike Leake, and Wandy Rodriguez). And it was accomplished just once in 2015 (Mike Leake, again). So Sheffield is going to always have that hanging over his head. However, southpaws that limit free passes, punch out hitters like Mike Tyson in his prime, and succeed against much older competition will always garner more than a few shots to stay in the rotation. You don’t have to squint too hard to see a mid-rotation caliber arm with some added upside. Whether his body can withstand grabbing the ball every fifth day for multiple seasons is a whole other question.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

3. Bradley Zimmer, CF/RF                                            
Born: 11/27/92 Age: 23 Bats: L Top CALs: Mike Daniel, Aaron Cunningham,

Zoilo Almonte, Brett Jackson, Brandon Jones

Height: 6-4 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 21 A- 197 11 2 4 0.304 0.401 0.464 0.161 9.6% 15.2% 157
2015 22 A+ 335 17 3 10 0.308 0.403 0.493 0.185 11.0% 23.0% 164
2015 22 AA 214 9 1 6 0.219 0.313 0.374 0.155 8.4% 25.2% 102

Background: For quite a while it was Zimmer, not Frazier, who was the toast of the baby-faced Tribe. The former University of San Francisco byproduct – and younger brother of KC’s Kyle Zimmer – battered the Carolina League pitching like one of those back-handed chest chops akin to professional wrestling. Then Zimmer got promoted and the Eastern League pitchers started hitting back. Hard. The 23rd overall pick in 2014 went from slugging .308/.403/.493 in the age-appropriate High Class A to batting – a term used loosely – a paltry .219/.313/.374. Overall, Zimmer would finish his first full professional season with a combined .273/.368/.446 triple-slash line, with 26 doubles, four triples, 16 homeruns, and a surprising 44 stolen bases, the 18th best mark among all minor leaguers.

Projection: Prior to the 2014 draft I likened the toolsy 6-foot-4, 185-pound outfielder to a healthy Corey Hart, the former two-time Milwaukee All-Star whose career was ravaged by injuries over the past couple seasons. So let’s take a look at how each player’s age-22 seasons stack up against each other:

Player Age Level AVG OBP SLG 2B 3B HR SB
Zimmer 22 A+/AA 0.273 0.368 0.446 26 4 16 44
Hart 22 AAA 0.281 0.342 0.485 29 8 15 17

 

Now to be completely fair, Hart spent the year at the highest MiLB level and Zimmer was just making his way through the middle rungs. But Zimmer did, however, jump straight from short-season ball all the way up to the Carolina League. Needless to say, I think the comparison still stands in the grand scheme of things. Don’t expect the sneaky-quick outifleder to be a regular member of the 40+ stolen base club – it’s very likely last season was one of those fluky year’s like Garin Cecchini had in 2012 when he swiped 51 bags, but has only totaled a 43 since – but he could approach 20/20 territory in his prime. Solid-average or better power, speed, a strong idea at the plate with some defensive value – add it all up and Zimmer has a chance to develop into a quasi-All-Star caliber player for the Indians down the line.

Ceiling: 3.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

4. Brady Aiken, LHP                                                         
Born: 08/16/96 Age: 19 Bats: L Top CALs: N/A

 

Height: 6-4 Weight: 205 Throws: L
 

Background: At this point Aiken’s draft story – or stories – is as well documented as it’s going to get. The Astros took the 6-foot-4 southpaw with the first overall pick in 2014, offered him a cool $6.5 million to sign, later withdrew that offer based on post-draft medical concerns, tried to low-ball him with a $5 million offer, and eventually failed to sign the promising youngster. Fast forward a handful of months and it appears that the Astros’ concerns about a “smaller than average” UCL ligament proved to be correct; Aiken succumbed to injury – and eventually Tommy John surgery – during his first game with IMG. The Indians, sitting with the 17th overall pick last June, swooped in, and signed him to a slightly above-average slot bonus of $2,513,280.

Projection: It can likely be taken with a grain of salt until Aiken actually toes a professional rubber against live competition, but after Houston grabbed him with the first pick Jeff Luhnow, the club’s GM, quipped: “It’s the most advanced high school pitcher I’ve ever seen in my entire career. He has command like I’ve never seen before of his stuff.” The internet’s littered with GMs for every sport gushing about their most recent picks – especially first rounders – so who knows if this is actually the case. But this is exactly the type of gamble the Indians (A) should have made sitting in the middle of the first round and (B) would have never made at any point under the guidance of former GM-turned-president Mark Shapiro, who often took low ceiling, low risk college prospects that quite never panned out. I’m looking at you Jeremy Sowers…Is Aiken going to be able to shake off having an abnormal UCL? Who knows? But the draft is a crapshoot anyways, so why not gamble on a player that likely would have been the #1 overall pick for the second year in a row if not for some injury concerns?

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

5. Rob Kaminsky, LHP                                                       
Born: 09/02/94 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Jairo Heredia, Randall Delgado,

Spencer Adams, Clayton Tanner, Ian McKinney

Height: 5-11 Weight: 190 Throws: L
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 18 R 22.0 0 3 3.68 2.87 11.45 3.68 28.6% 9.2% 0.41 60.1%
2014 19 A 100.7 8 2 1.88 3.28 7.06 2.77 19.4% 7.6% 0.18 77.0%
2015 20 A+ 9.7 0 1 3.72 3.98 3.72 4.66 9.3% 11.6% 0.00 66.7%
2015 20 A+ 94.7 6 5 2.09 2.51 7.51 2.66 20.1% 7.1% 0.00 74.6%

Background: The 20-year-old southpaw out of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, got off to a typical Kaminsky-like season in the Florida State League last year: he limited free passes, missed a handful of bats, posted a tidy 2.51 FIP, and failed to surrender a homerun through his first 17 starts. And then the Cardinals sent the promising youngster packing for a potent middle-of-the-order bat Brandon Moss, who hit roughly the league average during his tenure in St. Louis. On the outset it looks like the Chris Antonetti-led Indians fleeced the Cardinals by sending a useful, albeit declining, power bat for the system’s second or third best pitching prospect.

But here’s the thing when it comes to the Red Birds: When’s the last time the Cardinals genuinely got swindled when dealing away their homegrown talent? Just think about that for a moment. Here’s the best I could come up since the 2000 season:

  • On July 29, 2000, the Cardinals acquired lefty reliever Jason Christiansen for a light-hitting minor league defensive wizard at shortstop. Four years later that shortstop, Jack Wilson, slugged .308/.335/.459 en route to earning his first and only All Star game.

There have been deals that haven’t worked out as well as the front office would have liked – shipping Dan Haren and Co. to Oakland for what amounted to one healthy season of Mark Mulder – but St. Louis rarely (if ever) commits the cardinal sin in baseball (no pun intended): they never fail to properly evaluate their own talent. Remember this is an organization that turned Brett Wallace/Shane Peterson/Clayton Mortensen into Matt Holliday, or Allen Craig and Joe Kelly into John Lackey. And let’s not forget when they were criticized for dealing James Ramsey (see below) for a struggling Justin Masterson. So what, exactly, gives with dealing Kaminsky?

Projection: Here’s what we do know about Kaminsky: he’s incredibly young for his levels of competition; has never failed for any duration during his three-year professional career; is an absolute curmudgeon when it comes to allowing the long ball; and pitches well beyond his years. He’s not overpowering by any stretch of the means, but his fastball certainly won’t bounce off a pane of glass either. I pegged him as a mid-rotation caliber arm in last year’s book, and he’s done nothing to dissuade me from that opinion now either. Unless, of course, there’s something the Cardinals’ brain trust knows that we don’t yet… Either way, though, this was a fantastic deal for the Tribe; they essentially turned Joey Wendle, a nondescript minor league second baseman shipped to Oakland last offseason, into Rob Kaminsky.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

6. Mike Clevinger, RHP                                                  
Born: 12/21/90 Age: 25 Bats: R Top CALs: Chris Stratton, Tim Layden,

Atahualpa Severino, Hipolito Guerrero, Rob Rasmussen

Height: 6-4 Weight: 220 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 22 R 2.7 0 1 16.88 5.96 6.75 6.75 11.8% 11.8% 0.00 33.3%
2013 22 R 3.0 0 0 3.00 4.01 9.00 6.00 23.1% 15.4% 0.00 75.0%
2014 23 A 24.0 3 0 1.88 2.94 10.13 1.88 29.4% 5.4% 0.75 87.9%
2014 23 A+ 55.3 1 3 5.37 5.21 9.43 4.39 23.4% 10.9% 1.30 61.7%
2014 23 A+ 20.7 0 1 4.79 4.73 6.53 4.79 17.1% 12.5% 0.44 67.5%
2015 24 AA 158.0 9 8 2.73 3.02 8.26 2.28 22.7% 6.3% 0.46 74.6%

Background: Acquired for the baseball corpse of once-dominant eighth-inning setup man Vinnie Pestano in 2014, Clevinger spent the season teaming Adam Plutko, Shawn Morimando, Ryan Merritt, and Cody Anderson (for a bit, at least) to help form one of the more formidable rotations in the minor leagues. For his part, Clevinger, the Angels’ fourth round pick in 2011, had his finest professional season to date, setting a career low in walk percentage (6.3%) while somehow managing to uncork a career best 11 wild pitches – go figure. The big right-hander finished the year with a steady 145-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio en route to posting a 3.02 FIP, another career best.

Projection: Sort of the anti-Adam Plutko in the sense that Clevinger typically survives by missing nearly a bat per inning, not limiting an extreme amount of free passes (though his control took a tremendous step forward last season). He’s typically played in age-appropriate levels of competition, but has always handled himself adequately. Truthfully, he’s one of those guys that you could look up in a couple years and think, “It doesn’t surprise he’s developed into a decent, underrated mid-rotation arm.” Then again, one could easily be saying, “Yeah, he’s turned himself into one helluva late-inning reliever.”

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2016

 

7. Bobby Bradley, 1B                                                   
Born: 05/29/96 Age: 20 Bats: L Top CALs: Amaurys Minier, Oswaldo Morales,

Giancarlo Stanton, Ravel Santana, Roberto Ramos

Height: 6-1 Weight: 225 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 18 R 176 13 4 8 0.361 0.426 0.652 0.290 9.1% 20.5% 192
2015 19 A 465 15 4 27 0.269 0.361 0.529 0.259 12.0% 31.8% 153
2015 19 A+ 9 0 0 0 0.000 0.111 0.000 0.000 11.1% 22.2% -60

Background: Fun fact: prior to the 2015 season, the last time a 19-year-old led the Midwest League in homeruns was Minnesota’s Miguel Sano, who slugged .258/.373/.521 with 28 dingers in 2012. Fast forward three seasons and Bradley, the Tribe’s 2014 third round pick out of a Mississippi high school, batted a Sano-esque .269/.361/.529 with 27 long balls. Sano, by the way, appeared in 19 more games. For Bradley, though, it marked a successful conversion to full-season ball in 2015, proving that his monster debut in the Arizona Summer League (.361/.426/.652) was no accident.

Projection: And now for the bad news: Bradley’s swing-and-miss tendencies are a bit alarming at this point in his career. After whiffing in just about 20% of his plate appearances as a rookie, the lefty-swinging first baseman punched out in nearly 32% of his trips to the dish last season, the second highest mark in the Midwest League. Bradley offers up the system’s best power potential – grading out well above-average to plus – and looks like the typical Three True Outcomes hitter. Think of a not-so-quite-poor-man’s version of Ryan Howard, if everything breaks the right way.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2019

 

8. Francisco Mejia, C                                                    
Born: 10/27/95 Age: 20 Bats: B Top CALs: Sebastian Valle, Oscar Hernandez,

Alex Murphy, Carlos Perez, Ryan Casteel

Height: 5-10 Weight: 175 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 17 R 113 9 1 4 0.305 0.348 0.524 0.219 4.4% 15.9% 139
2014 18 A- 274 17 4 2 0.282 0.339 0.407 0.125 6.6% 17.2% 119
2015 19 A 446 13 0 9 0.243 0.324 0.345 0.102 8.5% 17.5% 99

Background: The Dominican-born backstop became the pop-up guy in the Cleveland system a couple years ago, bashing his way through the Arizona Summer League with a .305/.348/.524 triple-slash line in 30 games. The switch-hitting Mejia has followed that up with some good, not great, production in short-season ball in 2014 (.282/.339/.407) and in his first full-season action in the Midwest League last year. Playing for the Lake County Captains, the then-19-year-old batted a league average-ish .243/.324/.345 with handful of doubles (13) and nine long balls while posting a 78-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 446 trips to the plate. For his career, Mejia is sporting a .265/.333/.391 mark, coming mostly against older competition.

Projection: Important context. Here’s a list of the teenaged backstop in any Class A league with at least 300 plate appearances and a wRC+ total above 95 and an Isolated Power of at least .100 since 2006: Francisco Mejia, Chase Vallot, Chance Sisco, Carson Kelly, Jorge Alfaro, Austin Hedges, Gary Sanchez, Sebastian Valle, JR Murphy, Austin Romine, Jesus Montero, Wilson Ramos, Hank Conger, and Bryan Anderson. Of that group of 14, only two backstops – Mejia and Conger – were switch-hitters. Obviously, it’s a fairly strong amalgamation of backstop prospects. So Mejia’s place as a budding top prospect seems fitting. He’s shown no true holes in his skill set at this point: average or better power, strong contact skills, decent eye at the plate. On the defensive side of the plate, Mejia will never be confused with Ivan Rodriguez, but he won’t let the opposing running game get out of hand either.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2019

 

9. Triston McKenzie, RHP                                           
Born: 08/02/97 Age: 18 Bats: R Top CALs: N/A

 

Height: 6-5 Weight: 160 Throws: R
 

YEAR Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 17 R 12.0 1 1 0.75 1.73 12.75 2.25 39.5% 7.0% 0.00 85.7%

Background: After bemoaning about the Tribe’s inability to successfully develop high school-aged hurlers at length in last year’s book, the front office decided to open the 2015 draft with three teenaged arms: Aiken, right-hander Triston McKenzie, and lefty Juan Hillman. Hailing from Royal Palm Beach High School (FL), home to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and former big leaguer Kason Gabbard, McKenzie was the eighth and final prep arm taken in the first round last June. Standing a lanky 6-foot-5 and 160 pounds soaking wet, McKenzie briefly dominated the Arizona Summer League competition last year as a 17-year-old, posting an eye-catching 17-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 innings of work during his debut.

Projection: Very little information to go off of, but McKenzie does has the size and lack of weight where his fastball could tick up another notch or two as he begins to fill out – or as us people on the wrong side of 30 say, pack on the pounds. Justus Sheffield had a similar debut in the AZL two years ago, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Tribe push McKenzie up to the Midwest League where he’ll undoubtedly be one of – if not the – youngest player.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

10. Tyler Naquin, CF                                                       
Born: 04/24/91 Age: 25 Bats: L Top CALs: Mel Rojas Jr., Roger Bernadina,

Ryan Rua, Brandon Jones, Tim Smith

Height: 6-2 Weight: 190 Throws: R
 

Season Age LVL PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 22 A+ 498 27 6 9 0.277 0.345 0.424 0.147 8.2% 22.5% 115
2014 23 AA 341 12 5 4 0.313 0.371 0.424 0.112 8.5% 20.8% 122
2015 24 AA 160 12 1 1 0.348 0.419 0.468 0.121 9.4% 15.0% 158
2015 24 AAA 218 13 0 6 0.263 0.353 0.430 0.167 11.5% 22.5% 127

Background: The last member of the system’s triumvirate of center fielders/right fielders with a legitimate shot of seeing regular big league action. Naquin, the club’s first round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012, 15th overall, smoked the Eastern League to the tune of .348/.419/.468 before getting promoted up to Columbus last season. It should be noted, however, that it was his third stint with at least 85 plate appearances in Akron. He handled himself in perfect Tyler Naquin-form after the jump up to the International League, hitting .263/.353/.430. The former Aggie finished the year with a combined .300/.381/.446 triple-slash line with 25 doubles, one triple, seven homeruns, and 13 stolen bases (16 attempts).

Projection: In last year’s book I wrote:

“An everyday player for a non-contending team and a part-timer everywhere else. Naquin’s overall skill set is largely underwhelming. Coming out of college his hit tool was touted as a potential above-average to plus skill. But now that he’s entering his age-24 season with a .283 career average and more than 1,000 plate appearances under his belt, it looks like a solid-average skill, nothing more. Oh, and let’s not forget about his struggles against southpaws in his minor league career: .238/.334/.309.”

Let’s update those numbers a bit. His career mark in nearly 1,500 plate appearances stands at .289/.361/.413. And he did manage to (slightly) improve against those pesky southpaws as well: he batted .262/.312/.369 in 95 trips to the plate against them. Naquin doesn’t run very often, hit for a whole lot of power (his career ISO is just .124), and he’s now entering his age-25 season with just a little over 200 plate appearances above Class AA. If he plays defense at an above-average clip he might able to break the two-win mark. I just don’t see it happening on a consistent enough basis, though. He’s a very good fourth outfielder/fringey everyday guy.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: 2016

 

 

Author’s Note: All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com.



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.