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The 2017 Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects

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1. Francisco Mejia, C                   
Born: 10/27/95 Age: 21 Bats: B Top CALs: John Ryan Murphy, Travis D’Arnaud, Angel Salome, Pablo Sandoval, Austin Romine
Height: 5-10 Weight: 175 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 18 A- 274 17 4 2 0.282 0.339 0.407 0.125 6.60% 17.20% 119
2015 19 A 446 13 0 9 0.243 0.324 0.345 0.102 8.50% 17.50% 99
2016 20 A 259 17 3 7 0.347 0.384 0.531 0.184 5.80% 15.10% 165
2016 20 A+ 184 12 1 4 0.333 0.380 0.488 0.155 7.10% 13.00% 140

Background: Taking a page right out of Wilmer Flores’ book – minus the crying, I assume – it looked like the talented backstop was headed to the land of Beer-and-Cheese as part of the Indians’ busy deadline as they geared up for what would become a miraculous postseason run. And then…Jonathan Lucroy, easily the most attractive catcher on the market, decided the town wasn’t for him. So Mejia and outfielder Greg Allen unpacked their duffle bags and donned the regalia of the Tribe’s minor league system – once again. The switch-hitting backstop out of the Dominican Republic, however, didn’t let the failed move become more than a blip as he established himself as one of the premier offensive players in the minors. After a steady showing with Lake County in 2015 – he batted .243/.324/.345 with 13 doubles and nine homeruns – the 20-year-old Mejia grabbed some marshmallows and roasted the Midwest League to the tune of .347/.384/.531 en route to topping the average production by 65%. And he didn’t stop there either. Near the end of June, Mejia made his High Class A debut with the Lynchburg Hillcats and never looked back. Overall, he finished the year with combined .342/.382/.514 triple-slash line, slugging 29 doubles, four triples, and 11 homeruns.

Projection: Just to put Mejia’s offensive explosion into perspective a bit, consider the following:

  • No other MiLB catcher with at least 400 PA was more lethal with the bat than Mejia’s combined 155 wRC+ last season.
  • Since 2006, there have been three other minor league backstops to post a 155 wRC+ or better in 400+ plate appearances before their age-21 season: Derek Norris, Wil Myers (before he was moved to the outfield), and Clint Coulter. Mejia being the only switch-hitter. Norris and Myers, by the way, have turned into better-than-average MLB bats.
  • Only one other player under the age of 21 with the same criteria was a better hitter in 2016 (Chicago Cubs’ Eloy Jimenez).

As a prospect Mejia appears to be the complete package: he hits for average and power, doesn’t swing-and-miss at an alarming rate, takes the occasional walk, and provides some additional value on the defensive side of the ball; he threw out 43% of would-be base-stealers in 2016.

Quite frankly, on one hand, this could be one of the trades that the front office is glad they didn’t make in the coming years. On the other hand, under Chris Antonetti’s watch, the Indians have never shied away from dealing top prospects (see: Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, Clint Frazier, and Justus Sheffield). So it wouldn’t be shocking to see the team flip Mejia to a contender in 2017.

Either way, though, he has the talent to become an All-Star caliber backstop. CAL thinks he’s capable of putting together a .290/.340/.450-type line, which seems reasonable enough.

Ceiling: 4.0- to 4.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018

 

 

2. Triston McKenzie, RHP                     
Born: 08/02/97 Age: 19 Bats: R Top CALs: Alex Cobb, Alberto Bastardo, Aaron Blair, Adam Ottavino, Anthony Banda
Height: 6-5 Weight: 165 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2016 18 A- 49.1 4 3 0.55 2.67 10.03 2.92 28.70% 8.30% 0.36 90.90%
2016 18 A 34.0 2 2 3.18 1.97 12.97 1.59 36.80% 4.50% 0.53 70.50%

Background: Pop Quiz: Name the most successful prep right-hander Cleveland has taken in the opening round of the draft. Hint #1: he tallied less than 5.0 career wins above replacement. Hint #2: his old man won 100 big league games across 10 seasons, including a 22-and-12 showing in 1970. Give up? The answer: Jaret Wright. In fact, before McKenzie’s selection at the butt-end of the first round two years ago, the Indians selected just eight prep righties since 1965. Needless to say, the bar’s set pretty low. Anyway, McKenzie’s done absolutely nothing in his limited time in the minors to suggest he won’t be the franchise’s most successful prep right-hander. The lanky 6-foot-5, 165-pound hurler sparkled during his brief 12-inning pro-debut (17 K and 3 BB), looked like the second coming of Clemens with Mahoning Valley (49.1 IP, 55 K, and 16 BB), and continued to march to his own dominant drum during a late-season call-up to full-season ball (34.0 IP, 49 K, 6 BB). For those counting at home, through his first 95.1 career innings, McKenzie has struck out 32.9% and walked just 6.8% of the total hitters he’s faced.

Projection: Context. Context. Context. Right? OK. Here’s the context: Among all MiLB arms with at least 80 innings last season, McKenzie’s strikeout-to-walk percentage, or K/BB%, was the second highest mark (25.2%). More context: the last teenager to match or exceed that feat was none other than Madison Bumgarner in 2008 (though the big lefty spent the entire year in Low Class A as opposed to splitting time between there and short-season ball). Look for McKenzie’s workload to jump to about 120- to 130-innings in 2017, taking with it his skyward-pointing prospect arrow.

Ceiling: 4.0- to 4.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2019

 

 

3. Bradley Zimmer, CF                              
Born: 11/27/92 Age: 24 Bats: L Top CALs: Brett Jackson, Derrick Loveless, Jai Miller, Michael Crouse, Niko Goodrum
Height: 6-4 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level 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 9.60% 15.20% 157
2015 22 A+ 335 17 3 10 0.308 0.403 0.493 0.185 11.00% 23.00% 164
2015 22 AA 214 9 1 6 0.219 0.313 0.374 0.155 8.40% 25.20% 102
2016 23 AA 407 20 6 14 0.253 0.371 0.471 0.218 13.80% 28.30% 136
2016 23 AAA 150 5 0 1 0.242 0.349 0.305 0.063 14.00% 37.30% 95

Background: Zimmer had his sights set on getting the bad taste that his 49-game appearance in Class AA left in his mouth in 2015. Consider it mission accomplished. In a 93-game return back to the land of RubberDucks, the former first round pick out of University of San Francisco slugged a solid .253/.371/.471 with 20 doubles, six triples, and 14 homeruns. And then…the International League treated him as well as the Eastern League during his first time through. He batted a disappointingly low .242/.394/.305 with just six extra-base hits in 37 games. Overall, Zimmer finished the year with an un-top-prospect-like .250/.365/.425 with an alarmingly high number of swings-and-misses (171).

Projection: If you’re in search of why Zimmer struggled so badly last season than look no further than his inability to handle southpaws. He batted – a term used in the loosest sense possible – putrid .179/.343/.250 in 143 trips to the plate. The basic skill set is still intact for Zimmer: power, speed, and patience. But his strikeout rates have been trending in the wrong direction for years, going from 15.7% in 2014 to 23.9% the following year before finally peaking at 30.7% last season. And the fact that CALs top comparison is former top prospect turn bust Brett Jackson only further muddies his potential big league water. If there’s one silver lining for this Corey Hart-like player, it’s the fact that he batted .313/.415/.373 over his first 24 games in Class AAA (as opposed to going 5-for-44 over his final 13 contests). There’s some upside here, but, again, it comes with a certain level of risk thanks to those K-rates.

Ceiling: 3.0-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

4. Yu-Cheng Chang, SS                                     
Born: 08/18/95 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Alen Hanson, Ronny Rodriguez, Yamaico Navarro, Chris Bostick, Richard Urena
Height: 6-1 Weight: 175 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 18 R 181 9 4 6 0.346 0.420 0.566 0.220 9.90% 15.50% 173
2015 19 A 440 16 4 9 0.232 0.293 0.361 0.130 6.10% 23.40% 91
2016 20 A+ 477 30 8 13 0.259 0.332 0.463 0.204 9.40% 23.10% 117

Background: Signed out of Taiwan for $500,000 at the age of 18, Chang’s offensive development continued to flourish as he was – once again – among the youngest players at his level. After a quietly solid year in the Midwest League in 2015, Chang, who posted a 91 wRC+ as a 19-year-old, looked much more comfortable at the plate with Lynchburg last season. In 109 games, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound shortstop batted .259/.332/.463 while settings career highs in all the important counting stats: doubles (30), triples (8), homeruns (13), and stolen bases (11). His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by 17%. For his career, Chang is sporting a .262/.331/.439 triple-slash line.

Projection: Since the beginning of 2006 only two shortstops under the age of 21 have met the following criteria in High Class A: 450 plate appearances, a walk rate above 9.0%, and an Isolated Power north of .200. Those players: Addison Russell and Yu-Cheng Chang. While Chang isn’t up to par with Russell’s once illustrious prospect shine, the Taiwanese-born middle infielder does offer up a very promising skill set: above-average power, patience, and speed. And his overall numbers are actually better than they appear. He slugged .272/.346/.490 through the end of July. After that he would play just 13 more games the rest of the way courtesy of a wrist strain. Defensively speaking, according to Clay Davenport’s defensive metrics, Chang has been a revelation in the infield: he’s saved 17 runs at shortstop over the past two seasons. He’s due to start 2017 with Akron in the Eastern League. And with the Indians in win-now mode, I wouldn’t expect him to spend the entire season in the Cleveland franchise.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018

 

 

5. Nolan Jones, 3B   
Born: 05/07/98 Age: 19 Bats: L Top CALs: N/A

 

Height: 6-4 Weight: 185 Throws: R

Background: Jones, a sweet-lefty-swinging third baseman out of Holy Ghost Prep High School in Philadelphia, corralled the largest second round bonus in team history when he inked a deal worth $2.5 million – just about TWICE the allotted slot value. Also of note: that hefty bonus was more than what half of all first rounders received last season.

Projection: Per the usual, there’s very, very limited data to look at. Jones, who stands a sturdy 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, tore up the Arizona Summer League through his first 16 games, hitting a scorching .358/.493/.396 with a 19-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he quickly cooled as he batted a dismal .161/.277/.286 the rest of the way (with a hideous 30-to-9 K/BB ratio in 65 plate appearances).

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

 

6. Brady Aiken, LHP                                   
Born: 08/16/96 Age: 20 Bats: L Top CALs: N/A

 

Height: 6-4 Weight: 205 Throws: L

Background: Taking a very un-Mark Shapiro-like chance in the first round two years ago, Chris Antonetti and Co. grabbed the injured southpaw with the 17th overall selection. Aiken, of course, is famous – or infamous – for being the top pick in the draft the previous year, but failed to sign a significantly lower deal once the Astros discovered an “abnormally small UCL” during his post-draft physical. A few innings into his season the following year, the big lefty succumbed to Tommy John surgery – an injury that forced him out of action until this season. He would split his debut between the Arizona Summer League and Mahoning Valley.

Projection: Prospect attrition rates, even for first rounders, is absurd; so it’s not surprising to see the Indians take a calculated risk in the middle of the round and grab a player that Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow called “the most advanced high school pitcher I’ve ever seen in my entire career.” And so far…the results are pretty favorable. The big lefty posted a 57-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a FIP several runs below his actual ERA. Aiken also rattled off three consecutive strong starts with the Scrappers before the end of the year, throwing 15.0 innings while allowing three runs, fanning 17, and walking just four. The jury’s still out, especially on the durability front, but so far, so good…

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

 

7. Bobby Bradley, 1B                                   
Born: 05/29/96 Age: 21 Bats: L Top CALs: Chris Carter, Nelson Rodriguez, Chris Parmalee, Cody Bellinger, Matt Olson
Height: 6-1 Weight: 225 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level 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 9.10% 20.50% 192
2015 19 A 465 15 4 27 0.269 0.361 0.529 0.259 12.00% 31.80% 153
2016 20 A+ 572 23 1 29 0.235 0.344 0.466 0.231 13.10% 29.70% 121

Background: Big Bopper Bobby Bradley continued to…well…bop. Big. The hulking first baseman out of Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Mississippi, tied for the 11th most dingers in the minors last season with 29. The former first round pick would finish the year with a solid .235/.344/.466 while topping the Carolina League average production by 21%.

Projection: I’m just going to let CAL paint the initial picture of Bradley; his top five comparisons: Chris Carter, Nelson Rodriguez, Chris Parmelee, Cody Bellinger, and Matt Olson. See a trend? Big, big time power. Strong walk rates. And lots o’ strikeouts. But here’s something interesting to note: three of the five comps – Carter, Parmelee, and Bellinger – all saw significant declines in their strikeout rates as they moved up from High Class A to Class AA.

Bradley isn’t going to add a lot of value on the defensive side of the ball, so it severely limits his upside as a prospect. And I wouldn’t be shocked to see him slide into a full-time DH role as he continues to fill out.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018/2019

 

 

8. Will Benson, RF              
Born: 06/16/98 Age: 19 Bats: L Top CALs: N/A

 

Height: 6-5 Weight: 225 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2016 18 R 184 10 3 6 0.209 0.321 0.424 0.215 12.00% 32.60% 112

Background: Dipping back into the high school ranks once again in the first round, the Tribe grabbed the mammoth outfielder with the 14th overall pick last June. Benson responded by hitting just .209/.321/.424 with a 112 wRC+.

Projection: So there are a couple things to note here:

  1. Benson’s $2.5 million deal was $473,700 below the allotted slot value.
  2. That money saved went towards signing second round pick Nolan Jones, who was viewed as a first round talent, to a $2.25 million pact.
  3. Benson really struggled with making contact in the Arizona Summer League during his debut, whiffing 60 times in just 184 trips to the plate.
  4. He didn’t punch out in only six of his 44 games – one of those times he didn’t record a strikeout was a pinch-hitter appearance where he went 0-for-1.

Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell

Risk: N/A

MLB ETA: N/A

 

 

9. Erik Gonzalez, SS                                
Born: 08/31/91 Age: 25 Bats: R Top CALs: Trevor Plouffe, Marco Hernandez, Angel Chavez, Carlos Sanchez, Chris Nelson
Height: 6-3 Weight: 195 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2010 18 R 258 18 1 1 0.346 0.384 0.442 0.096 5.40% 7.40% 145
2011 19 R 176 2 3 2 0.258 0.316 0.346 0.088 6.80% 17.60% 74
2012 20 A- 230 9 1 2 0.220 0.264 0.299 0.079 4.80% 21.70% 68
2013 21 A 383 23 7 9 0.259 0.307 0.439 0.180 6.30% 18.50% 108
2013 21 A+ 163 9 5 0 0.242 0.259 0.366 0.124 3.10% 23.30% 66
2014 22 A+ 336 14 7 3 0.289 0.336 0.409 0.120 6.80% 19.30% 109
2015 23 AA 327 18 4 6 0.280 0.304 0.421 0.141 3.40% 17.10% 106
2015 23 AAA 261 6 3 3 0.223 0.277 0.311 0.088 5.70% 18.00% 70
2016 24 AAA 460 31 1 11 0.296 0.329 0.450 0.154 4.10% 19.10% 122

Background: The flavor of the month a couple years ago after stinging the hell out of the ball in 31 games as a 22-year-old in Class AA. Or more appropriately, offensive production buoyed by an absurd .429 battings average on balls in play (BABIP). Then the regressions gods called in 2015 as his production with Akron hovered around the league average mark and his work in Columbus tanked (.223/.277/.311). Last year, though, proved to be a nice turnaround campaign for the Dominican-born shortstop as he set a career high in homeruns (11) and narrowly missed in doubles (31). His overall production, 122 wRC+, pushed to him to the top of the pack among all International League shortstops as well.

Projection: Following his “breakout season” in 2014, I warned that Gonzalez was headed for a rough readjustment period thanks to his unsustainable BABIP. And last year I wrote the following:

“Gonzalez is a nice prospect, but there’s no true standout tool. He doesn’t walk, won’t hit for a ton of pop, has OK speed, and won’t ever be mistaken for the next Ozzie Smith. It all sums up to a nice, but replaceable, backup infielder at the big league level. He’ll help at times, a little here, some more there, but he’ll end up getting exposed in long stints.”

Well…ditto. And CAL seems to agree, comparing him to Trevor Plouffe, Marco Hernandez, Angel Chavez, Carlos Sanchez, and Chris Nelson. The best being Plouffe, slightly below league average bat.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

10. Rob Kaminsky, LHP                            
Born: 09/02/94 Age: 22 Bats: R Top CALs: Shairon Martis, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robert Gsellman, Jake Thompson, Oswaldo Sosa
Height: 5-11 Weight: 190 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 19 A 100.7 8 2 1.88 3.28 7.06 2.77 19.40% 7.60% 0.18 77.00%
2015 20 A+ 94.2 6 5 2.09 2.51 7.51 2.66 20.10% 7.10% 0.00 74.60%
2016 21 AA 137.0 11 7 3.28 3.91 6.04 3.15 16.10% 8.40% 0.46 73.70%

Background: The final move in the club’s wheeling-and-dealing that originally sent Joey Wendle to Oakland for Brandon Moss and then turned around 7.5 months later and flipped Moss for the slight-framed southpaw. The former first round pick spent his first full season in the organization twirling games for the Akron RubberDucks in the Eastern League. In 25 starts – across 137.0 innings – the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Kaminsky posted a decent 92-to-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio en route to finishing with a 3.91 FIP, easily the worst mark of his four professional seasons. For his career, the lefty has fanned 18.7% and walked 8.0% of the total batters he’s faced.

Projection: It’s no secret that Class AA is widely considered the make-or-break level for minor leaguers, so it’s not surprising to see production numbers decline a bit for younger players getting their first taste of action at the level – a la Kaminsky. So let’s dive into the numbers a bit, shall we:

  • Here are Kaminsky’s numbers if we ignore his April 16th and 21st clunkers against Bowie and Trenton: 127.0 IP, 92 K (6.5 K/9), 42 BB (2.98 BB/9), 2.76 ERA.
  • Here are his numbers over his final 15 games: 92.0 IP, 65 K (6.4 K/9), 26 BB (2.5 BB/9), and a 2.35 ERA.
  • Here are his numbers over his final 10 games: 63.0 IP, 46 K (6.6 K/9), 18 BB (2.6 BB/9), and a 2.29 ERA.
  • Here are his numbers over his final seven games: 43.1 IP, 30 K (6.2 K/9), 14 BB (2.9 BB/9), and a 1.87 ERA.

Granted, the peripherals basically held firm, but he pitched better and better as year continued – a very positive sign. CAL seems to think quite highly of him, tying him to Robert Gsellman and Jake Thompson.

Kaminsky generates gobs – and GOBS – of groundballs and will miss a fair amount of sticks. His control/command could stand to improve a bit, but he the makings of a solid backend starter, perhaps peaking as a good #4.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017/2018

 

 

Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.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.