Cleveland’s system shapes up a bit like our take on the Yankees pipeline. Both teams have Major League clubs in win-now mode and are loaded with low-level prospects. While some of these pieces look like future top prospects in the organization, others can be packaged in trades to pad the big league roster. Another similarity between the two farm systems is the amount of players that could jump into future iterations of the Top 125. While Cleveland won’t place more than two players on this off-season’s version—(#1) Nolan Jones and (#2) Triston McKenzie—as many as five other prospects (by our count) have high enough ceilings to potentially make the jump in years to come.
The Indians have been aggressive on the Latin American market in recent J2 periods. That—plus a penchant for prep players young for their class—has led to an impressive group of prospects low in the system. Nine of the organization’s 15 ranked prospects have ETAs later than 2020. In addition to the prospects mentioned just below, (#8) Ethan Hankins, (#11) George Valera, (#13) Lenny Torres, (#14) Jean Carlos Mejia, and (#15) Carlos Vargas all have significant upside. Gabriel Rodriguez (Pure Projection) and Junior Sanquintin (Pure Projection) also factor in to this mix, both toolsy infielders signed to seven-figure bonuses last summer.
Cleveland’s complex-level and short-season affiliates were stocked with talent last summer. We’re very high on (#5) Tyler Freeman, a 2017 draftee who could join last year’s first-rounder (#3) Bo Naylor on the Top 125s by mid-season with a strong start in full-season ball. (#7) Brayan Rocchio and (#12) Luis Oviedo should start to get much more buzz as they get closer to the big leagues, both potential future top prospects in their own right.
There isn’t a ton of starting pitching depth in the high-minors behind (#2) Triston McKenzie, though (#4) Sam Hentges should get his first taste of upper-level competition to begin 2019. (#14) Jean Carlos Mejia could also surface in Double-A late this season with a strong Carolina League showing. Otherwise, the majority of Cleveland’s potential future rotation pieces are low in the system. It’s worth noting that the Indians have one of, if not the, best Major League rotations in baseball, so there isn’t a ton of immediate need. They also just graduated a homegrown arm to the Major League rotation, as 2016 fourth-rounder Shane Bieber made 19 starts last year.
TOP 15 PREF LIST
|14||Jean Carlos Mejia||RHP||50||Extreme||2021|
CREAM OF THE CROP
(#1) Nolan Jones, 3B
Oftentimes, Northeast prep hitters take longer to find their footing in pro ball. Jones’ professional debut in the AZL wasn’t even terrible after signing as the 55th overall pick in 2016 from a Pennsylvania high school (.257/.388/.339), but he definitely has found a new level in the time since. After posting a .912 OPS in the New York-Penn League in 2017, Jones kept up the pace across two A-Ball stops in 2018 by slashing .283/.405/.466 with 19 home runs. He’s filling out a physical 6-foot-4 frame and the power is starting to come on, something even more enthusing considering the extra projection stemming from his cold-weather background. Jones’ left-handed swing has the barrel control to hit for a fair average while producing plenty of power. He’ll always come with some whiffs, but a propensity to draw walks and work for a pitch he can drive fits well with today’s offensive era. The chance to develop into a future 50-grade hitter with above-average power outputs places Jones among our Top 125 prospects. He’ll be most valuable by remaining at 3B defensively and making more contact against lefties, who held him to a .190 average-against last season.
(#2) Triston McKenzie, RHP
The 42nd overall pick in 2015, McKenzie has moved quickly through the system since signing for an above-slot bonus from the prep ranks. After missing the beginning of 2018 with forearm soreness, the 21-year-old was excellent in 16 starts versus more advanced competition in Double-A. McKenzie’s best attributes are his polished control and overall feel to pitch. He mixes speeds and throws secondary pitches for strikes like a veteran, able to command the fastball low in the zone. A rail-thin 6-foot-5, he’s athletic and loose but has struggled to add much physical mass since signing. His fastball touches 93 mph but dropped to the 87-88 mph range at times last year, though lively late finish still allows it to play as a miss-bat pitch against minor league competition. McKenzie’s curveball projects above-average, coming in at 75-to-79 mph with sharp bite and two-plane depth. His changeup is less developed than the fastball or curve, but McKenzie’s athleticism and clean delivery allow reason to project at least a workable third speed. Though less of a power pitcher than many of the arms in our Top 125 range, his ceiling is still that of a mid-rotation starter. We’d like to see him get a bit more durable and unlock more velocity before reaching Cleveland for good, which conservatively looks like some time in the 2020 season.
ON THE HORIZON
(#4) Sam Hentges, LHP
Cleveland’s fourth-rounder from a Minnesota high school in 2014, Hentges hadn’t played in full-season ball before 2018 due to injuries. He broke out in the Carolina League last year and was one of the circuit’s best pitching prospects. An athletic 6-foot-6, Hentges’ low-maintenance delivery allows significant projection to his control and changeup development—especially considering all the reps he has missed to date. The fastball works between 90-to-95 mph, sitting 91-92 mph, coming downhill on hitters with steep natural angle. Hentges is the rare pitcher with more fastball command than overall control, able to locate his heater within the zone but throwing less strikes with both secondary offerings. An upper-70s curveball grades as at least an average pitch, and his changeup can get there with continued development.
(#6) Yu Chang, SS/3B
Chang has moved steadily through the system, graduating one level at a time all the way up to a full season at Triple-A in 2018. Cleveland sent him to Fall League to work on his defense at 3B, and Chang looked fully ready for big league action there. His approach at the plate has changed over time, now favoring power and patience over hitting for average. Chang has struck out in more than 25-percent of his plate appearances each of the last two years, but the increase in power answers questions about whether he could fit a regular profile away from shortstop. In the best case, he’s a 2-3 WAR everyday infielder with a well-rounded set of average tools. Chang’s floor is no lower than a solid role player, and he might be forced to be utilized that way initially given the Indians’ crowded infield picture at the Major League level.
(#9) Oscar Mercado, OF
Cleveland acquired Mercado from the Cardinals last July in a rare prospect-for-prospect swap. He provides the organization a solid upper-level depth piece for now, capable of stepping into a role when needed. He’s most valuable defensively, where the former shortstop’s reads and routes pair well with plus speed. Mercado’s solid-average arm allows him to move between all three outfield spots. Those wheels translate to the bases, as Mercado cracked 30 steals last year for the fourth consecutive season. He doesn’t offer much in the way of power, but a playable hit tool–paired with the speed and defensive contributions–make Mercado a readymade role player entering his age-24 season.
(#10) Bobby Bradley, 1B
Bradley is well-suited for the three-true-outcomes style of today’s game. He is who he is offensively: a left-handed slugger that hits for power, strikes out a ton, and will walk a fair amount. The 22-year-old cracked the 20-homer threshold for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, reaching Triple-A by season’s end. Though he’s more mobile and a better 1B defender than his chunky frame appears, Bradley is completely land-locked to the position and can only DH otherwise. That—plus significant struggles with left-handed pitching—probably stands in the way of him fitting as a true FV 50 type. There’s a place for what he does do, though, and we see Bradley fitting a Major League role as a righty-masher. He’s the type of hitter that could hit 30 home runs in the big leagues, albeit with massive strikeout rates and a batting average that hovers around the Mendoza Line.
Chih-Wei Hu, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Low ETA: 2017 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 220 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 25y, 4m
Hu has gotten brief tours of duty in the big leagues each of the last two seasons. The Indians picked him up this November in a small deal with the Rays. He has experience as a starter in Triple-A but has pitched form the ‘pen at the game’s highest level, projecting as a versatile lower-leverage piece that can move between roles in middle relief, mopup duty, and even the occasional spot-start. Hu’s fastball sits in the low-90s and tops out at 94-95 mph in short-stints. He mixes a heavy dose of changeups, a firm split-like pitch in the upper-80s with armside dive. A workable slider and curve round out the arsenal.
Daniel Johnson, OF
Johnson was one of the young players Cleveland acquired from the Nationals in exchange for big league catcher Yan Gomes. Johnson is coming off an injury-shortened 2018 season, having started to find a groove at Double-A before missing most of June and July. He struggled in an assignment to the Fall League after the season to make up the lost reps. A plus athlete with a well-built 5-foot-10 and 200-pound frame, he has played all three outfield spots as a pro but projects best on a corner. That strength gives Johnson some sneaky power, though he is much more productive against righties. His ability to profile as an everyday corner outfielder will come down to whether he hits lefties enough to face them regularly. Otherwise, he checks the boxes of a solid role player.
Eric Haase, C
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Moderate ETA: 2018 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 5’10” / 210 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: MLB Age (as of April 1, 2019): 26y, 3m
Haase was a ninth-rounder from a Michigan high school in 2011, though he fell off the prospect map before resurgent seasons in the high-minors the last two years. He’s an average defense catcher who can come off the bench and hit for power. Haase will always strike out in bunches and won’t ever hit for much average. He made his big league debut last year and should compete for a role in 2019.
Zach Plesac, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 2m
Plesac was Cleveland’s 12th round pick from Ball State in 2016. He has been a pleasant surprise in the time since, emerging as a prospect and seeing his stuff take a tick up. A very strong 6-foot-3, Plesac has some stiffness to his arm-circle but still throws strikes, extending well down the mound and able to get ahead of hitters. His fastball worked 90-to-94 mph early last year but was touching 96 mph by season’s end, backed up by a mid-80s slider that projects as an average pitch. How much he can develop his changeup likely dictates Plesac’s future role. It’s interesting to think about him in relief, where he’d be able to focus on two pitches and could potentially see his velocity jump to the upper-90s.
Aaron Civale, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 9m
Considered a fairly polished college arm when he signed as Cleveland’s third-rounder in 2016, Civale has moved quickly through the system as a pro. He pitched all of 2018 in Double-A Akron’s rotation, posting solid walk numbers but showing fringy stuff and a propensity to catch barrels. Civale is made to eat innings, built with a durable frame and able to pound the zone from a low-maintenance delivery. His fastball sits 90-to-92 mph, backed up by a high-80s cutter/slider hybrid that grades as his best pitch. Civale rounds out his arsenal with a usable curve and changeup. He projects as a potential swingman that might sneak into the #5 spot of a lesser rotation or pitch multi-inning relief stints.
Ernie Clement, SS/2B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 175 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 0m
A three-year contributor at Virginia before being scooped up by the Tribe in the fourth round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft, Clement built his baseball rep off a skill set skewing more to “solid across the board” than impact in any one facet. Clement is an able middle-infielder with adequate arm strength for shortstop thanks to a quick release, but he’s very clearly a better fit at the keystone (not that either position looks to be available in Cleveland any time soon). He has an excellent feel for contact, sporting elite contact rates, but it’s mostly toothless thanks to bottom-of-the-scale power. That massively limits his ability to work walks at the upper-levels, as there is almost no disincentive for arms to attack the zone and force him to beat them with the bat. His heady approach to the game helps, as does his plus footspeed, but the ultimate profile is probably a bench bat capable of spelling the starting infield a couple times a week. If he can tease out enough power to at least threaten the gaps with consistency he could bump his profile a half grade.
Nick Sandlin, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 175 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 2m
Sandlin pitched as a closer and starter at the University of Southern Mississippi, going to Cleveland with the 67th overall selection in last year’s draft. He pitched exclusively in relief during his pro debut, reaching Double-A by season’s end. Sandlin is a high-floor prospect that could fill a role in the big leagues quickly. He attacks hitters with a deep arsenal of pitches from a funky low arm-slot, relying most heavily on a low-90s sinker and slider. Sandlin has enough of a slider and ability to change looks to fit a 7th inning role, even without the huge velocity that’s increasingly common among setup relievers.
Henry Martinez, RHP
The 24-year-old Martinez had his best season as a pro in 2018, reaching Triple-A by year’s end and making a push for the 40-Man Roster. Cleveland opted to leave him off, and though he was an interesting Rule 5 candidate, Martinez ultimately went unselected. He’s a bit of a sleeper in this system, but we’re high on him and think the raw stuff is here to potentially fit a 7th or 8th inning role. Martinez’ fastball touches the high-90s with explosive life both high and low in the zone. His high-80s slider flashes above-average action at best, backed by a split-like changeup at 86-to-90 mph that came a long way in 2018. Martinez will likely be assigned to Triple-A to begin next season, though he’ll have a chance to impress the big league staff as a non-roster invitee to Major League Spring Training.
Andruw Monasterio, SS
Monasterio was traded twice in 2018, first from the Cubs to Nationals, and later from Washington to Cleveland as the PTBNL in the Yan Gomes deal. Monasterio is an above-average defender at SS and 2B, showing a strong arm with easy carry and a quick release. His contact-focused offensive approach won’t produce much power, and while there’s some chance to develop a playable hit tool, it’s unlikely Monasterio impacts the game enough offensively for a regular role. His defensive ability and speed give a high floor as a bench/utility piece.
James Karinchak, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 230 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 6m
Karinchak was a starter at Bryant University but has pitched from the ‘pen in pro ball. He was Cleveland’s ninth-rounder in 2017 and has moved quickly, reaching Double-A by the end of last year. He misses a ton of bats but will need to cut the walks down to carve out a valuable full-time relief role in the big leagues. Karinchak’s fastball works in the mid-90s and tops out at 97 mph, backed up by a sharp power breaking ball that gets hitters to expand the zone.
Kirk McCarty, LHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Long Relief
Ht/Wt: 5’10” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 5m
A seventh-round pick from the college ranks in 2017, McCarty’s polished feel to pitch has dominated low-minors competition to date. He posted strong peripherals in the Midwest League (27-percent strikeout rate, 7-percent walk rate) before five sharp starts in High-A to end 2018. A short, muscular lefty, McCarty’s fastball touches 94 mph and sits in the low-90s. He mixes a cut variant he can also turn into a slider, backed by a slow curveball and developing changeup. His feel for changing looks on his fastball and breaking stuff is advanced, though McCarty will need to improve his changeup to face righties as a starter up the ladder. He could fit a relief profile if Cleveland wants to fast-track him that way, potentially with the ability to get more than three outs at a time. McCarty is likely to begin 2019 back in High-A but could move to Double-A quickly.
Eli Morgan, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Long Relief
Ht/Wt: 5’10” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 10m
Morgan’s lack of size and velocity caused him to drop to the eighth round coming out of college in 2017. Those things are still question marks but haven’t gotten in his way to date as a pro. Morgan has done nothing but dominate since signing, overwhelming low-minors competition with his command, polish, and excellent changeup. His fastball sits in the high-80s and rarely cracks 90 mph. He plays it up somewhat with well-developed command, able to hit spots low and to both sides of the plate. His change easily grades as his best pitch, thrown with deceptive armspeed and ridiculous dive. It speeds up the heater to some extent, though Morgan still doesn’t have margin to make location mistakes. His slider is a playable third pitch, but there’s a long road to this type of pitching prospect winding up a regular big league starter. Upper-level competition will be a good test for Morgan, who more realistically fits as a deceptive ‘pen arm or strike-throwing long reliever.
Dalbert Siri, RHP
Siri’s heavy fastball touches the upper-90s, and paired with his hard slider, it’s easy to see why he racked up strikeout rates above 30-percent. Unfortunately, he walks hitters at a similarly above-average rate, issuing free passes about 15-percent of the time. The raw stuff is here to fit a late-innings ‘pen role, but Siri’s lack of control Iimits his ceiling to middle relief. He won’t have much big league value without cutting down his walk numbers.
Mitch Longo, OF
Longo has been a steady performer since being drafted in the 14th round in 2016 from the college ranks. He slashed .275/.337/.410 with 18 steals last season in the Carolina League, showing a hit-first offensive approach. That makes him a bit of a tweener considering Longo’s best defensive fit is an outfield corner, though a solid throwing arm helps him in RF. The ceiling is a 5th outfielder, though there’s some chance the unorthodox profile causes him to wind up a 4A type. Double-A will be a good test for Longo, who figures to get his first crack at the upper-minors in 2019.
Jared Robinson, RHP
After producing so-so results the last two years in A-Ball, Robinson broke through with the best season of his pro career in 2018. He opened eyes in the Fall League, touching 97 mph on his fastball with a mid-80s slider. That two-pitch mix could give the foundation for a future middle relief role. A shorter righty who leans on a two-pitch mix, Robinson’s fairly generic profile runs some risk of winding up a high-minors or 4A depth type.
Justin Garza, RHP
Garza had Tommy John surgery as a college junior in 2015, though Cleveland took him in the eighth round that year anyway. He didn’t make his pro debut until 2016 and has moved fairly slowly through the system. Garza worked as a starter in High-A last year but projects better in a short-stint role. His slighter frame loses velocity as outings progress, and a below-average changeup could make it hard to turn lineups over. Garza’s fastball tops out at 95 mph and sits 92-to-93 mph early in games. His best off-speed is a tight mid-80s slider that grades as an average pitch. A fierce competitor with mound smarts, Garza really competes and knows how to get the most out of his stuff. The ceiling is a multi-inning relief piece or mopup type, though this type of pitching prospect can stall out in the high-minors if no one attribute carries the profile.
Shao-Ching Chiang, RHP
(#3) Bo Naylor, C
Like his older brother Josh Naylor, now with the Padres, the younger Naylor was also a first-round pick from the Canadian prep ranks. Naylor was unphased by the transition to pro ball and slashed .274/.381/.402 in the AZL. Scouts questioned hs ability to stick at catcher as an amateur, but he showed immediate improvements after a few months of professional coaching and now at least has a chance to stay at the position. His bat is the calling card, showing lots of high-upside traits offensively with a mature sense of the zone. Naylor creates excellent hip torque and whips the barrel through an efficient left-handed swing, capable of generating power without sacrificing contact. That offensive upside gives the ceiling for a FV 55 prospect if he’s able to develop into a serviceable defender. Naylor’s ceiling is high, and he’ll move into Top 125 range with a strong full-season debut in A-Ball next year.
(#5) Tyler Freeman, SS
The 71st overall pick in 2017 from a California high school, Freeman has moved onto the national prospect radar after a huge season in the New York-Penn League. He slashed .352/.405/.511 with 14 stolen bases, showing excellent bat-to-ball skill with a minuscule seven-percent strikeout rate. Freeman has all the makings of a plus hit tool, frequently barreling balls with a quick and short path. His swing is geared to spray line drives around the field, and the batspeed is here to grow into some sneaky power with any increase in lift. Freeman is more fundamental than flashy on defense, playing up average range and fringy arm-strength with a fast transfer. Both opposing scouts and team personnel rave about his excellent makeup and ability to get the most out of his tools. Freeman is on the short list for potential breakout prospects in 2019, able to move into Top 125 consideration with a strong showing in full-season ball. The chance for a plus hit tool with burgeoning power and the chance to play shortstop give him FV 55 upside.
(#7) Brayan Rocchio, SS
Rocchio’s $125K bonus already looks like a steal. He slashed a combined .335/.390/.442 last summer between two Rookie-level stops, hitting his way to the AZL as a 17-year-old. Rocchio opened eyes on a team stacked with some of Cleveland’s more notable prospects, now ranking among the organization’s best low-minors talents hmself. There’s more strength than you’re expecting in his 5-foot-10 frame, generating whippy batspeed that could develop into future gap power. He makes a ton of contact from both sides of the plate and has the ingredients of a future above-average hit tool. Cleveland has a track record teasing out more in-game power from hitters with this profile, something that bodes well for Rocchio’s development. His defensive instincts and overall polish are impressive, showing soft hands and a well-tuned game clock that plays up an average arm. We’re pounding the table a bit by putting him in the FV 55 tier, banking on the track record of other shortstop prospects that showed a similar mix of tools, instincts, and performance at this age.
(#8) Ethan Hankins, RHP
At his best, Hankins is a dominant power arm with a darting mid-to-upper-90s heater, deceptive changeup and power curve with two-plane action (as well as a true slider that flashes potential). Health has been the issue, however, as shoulder complications last spring saw the top-of-the-draft talent slip all the way to 35th overall pick where Cleveland nabbed him for an over-slot bonus. When healthy, Hankins has the pure stuff to register as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Additionally, he boasts a big, broad frame, as well as advanced body awareness and athleticism that translates to impressive consistency in his mechanics and a chance for above-average command at maturity. Cleveland will likely take a slow and very conservative approach with Hankins in 2019 with an eye towards 2020 as a true developmental jumping-off point.
(#11) George Valera, OF
Born in New York, Valera moved with family to the Dominican Republic as a 13-year-old. He rated as one of the top bats in 2017’s international class, signing for a $1.3 million bonus with the Indians. Despite a frame that seems on the slighter side by its 5-foot-10 and 160-pound listing, Valera’s muscular build and swing leverage produce plenty of present power. He opened eyes during Extended Spring Training but broke his hamate bone early into the AZL season, only appearing in six official games. He shows advanced feel for the strike zone and an understanding when to shorten up, giving hope Valera can develop above-average hit and power tools. Defensively, he’s currently a CF but could wind up on a corner as he keeps growing. Valera will be just 18-years-old for the entirety of next season, but his high offensive ceiling already places him in the FV 50 tier. He’ll continue to move up this list as he moves through the system.
(#12) Luis Oviedo, RHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 170 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 10m
Oviedo signed for a $375K bonus in 2015, and he has progressed quickly through the system since. After starting 2018 in Extended Spring Training, he dominated in nine New York-Penn League starts before a late bump to the Midwest League. He was shut down in August with a lower back/glute issue, but it isn’t seen as a long-term concern. Oviedo requires projection but has all the ingredients of a big league starter. His 6-foot-4 frame oozes projectability, and he repeats a low-maintenance delivery well enough to grade up on his control. The fastball touches 96 mph at best and generally sits 90-to-94 mph, showing solid run when angled down in the zone. Oviedo already can throw both a slider and curve with distinct action from one another, the slider flashing swing-and-miss upside at best. He also shows feel for a changeup, giving the foundation of a four-pitch mix. His best-case ceiling is about as high as any pitching prospect in the system.
(#13) Lenny Torres, RHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 18y, 5m
Torres wows with his arm strength, consistently working in the 93-to-95 mph range while taking regular jaunts into “Upper-90s Land”. He gets excellent giddy-up on the heater thanks to impact arm speed and likewise produces heavy spin and bite on his low-to-mid-80s slider and impressive deception and fade on his developing changeup. One of the younger high-level talents in the 2018 Draft, Torres oozes upside and already draws rave reviews for his mature approach to the craft and impressive feel. Circle Torres as yet another impressive breakout candidate for Cleveland in their lower levels.
(#14) Jean Carlos Mejia, RHP
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: League Average Starter (#4/#5 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 240 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 7m
Mejia was a late bloomer and a surprise add to Cleveland’s 40-Man Roster in November. Signed for just $45K as an amateur, he transitioned to the rotation in 2018 and had his best season as a pro. A large-framed 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Mejia looks the part of a big league starter. He’s able to throw a good amount of strikes for a tall pitcher that doesn’t always repeat his delivery. His heavy fastball sits at 91-to-94 mph, topping out at 95-96 mph and able to rack up ground balls. The primary off-speed is a low-80s slider that grades as at least an average future pitch, if not a tick more. There’s a bit more risk/reward to Mejia’s game than many pitchers age 22-23. He has the ingredients to develop into a #4 starter, but there are scenarios where this type of pitching prospect winds up in the ‘pen as well.
(#15) Carlos Vargas, RHP
Vargas signed for a $275K bonus in 2016 but didn’t pitch in an official game until last summer due to injuries. He turned heads across 10 AZL outings, showing terrific raw stuff but a similar amount of present rawness. A good athlete with plenty of projection left across a 6-foot-3 and 180-pound frame, Vargas’ fastball touches 97-98 mph at best and sits 94-to-95 mph. Though it wasn’t always consistent, a power 84-to-88 mph slider flashes sharp bite and late finish that hints it has a chance to finish plus. He didn’t show tons of feel for a third pitch, occasionally morphing the slider into a true cutter around 90 mph. Vargas is a lottery ticket, though one with a lot of promising ingredients. He could be a power starter with swing-and-miss stuff if the control, command, and third pitch come on.
Gabriel Rodriguez, SS
Ceiling: 50 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2024 Role Description: Everyday Player
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 175 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: DNP Age (as of April 1, 2019): 17y, 1m
Cleveland signed Rodriguez to a $2.1 million amateur bonus last July, a franchise record for an international position prospect. He has true five-tool potential with the chance to bring plus offensive value to shortstop. Rodriguez’ wiry 6-foot-2 frame is extremely athletic, lean enough to potentially stay up the middle even as he grows. His actions at the 6 are advanced, light on his feet with a quick transfer and good body control. At the plate, Rodriguez shows a loose, quick stroke with natural leverage and signs of lift. It’s the type of swing that could hit for both average and power with strength gains. Seeing as he’ll only be 17 for the entire 2019 season, it’s impressive Rodriguez already places in the FV 50 tier. He could be a full year away from playing in an official game stateside but has all the makings of a prospect that will feature prominently on this list in the future.
Will Benson, OF
The 14th overall pick from a Georgia high school in 2016, Benson has turned in an interesting first few seasons of pro ball. The contact concerns some scouts had as an amateur have been founded to date, as he’s a .201 career hitter with 292 whiffs across 223 games played. His prodigious power has also showed through, posting a .208 career ISO and still cracking 22 home runs last year despite a .180 batting average in the Midwest League. Benson’s patience at the plate has been enthusing, especially seeing as he’s shaping up to be the type of slugger that will always come with strikeouts. Defensively, he’s a prototype RF with the long strides to cover ground underway and a 60-grade throwing arm. Benson won’t turn 21 until midway through next season, and we’re projecting on the hit tool optimistically given his youth and overall athleticism. His ceiling is a slugging everyday corner outfielder, though Benson’s issues with contact—especially against lefties—will need to take a step forward to avoid winding up a part-time platoon masher.
Raynel Delgado, 3B
Delgado has impressive feel in the box and has the makings of an offensive-minded middle infielder capable of producing a solid average to go with good on-base production and perhaps 12-to15 roundtrippers annually at maturity. He tracks well and shows a good understanding of the zone while relying on a compact swing with good barrel acceleration through contract to spray linedrives across the diamond. Defensively, he shows good hands and a solid arm with limit range that is expanded some by his ability to finish plays at the margins. He’ll need to continue to add strength while demonstrating his offensive chops at each level along his developmental trail, with the upside of a solid utility option or offensive-minded plug-and-play infielder who will not hurt you on the defensive side.
Richard Palacios, 2B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2021 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: SS-A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 21y, 10m
The highest drafted player to ever come out of Towson, Palacios was Cleveland’s third-rounder in 2018. He had a strong pro debut, slashing .361/.421/.538 with six home runs across three levels and finishing the summer with Low-A Lake County. A shortstop in college, his below-average arm prompted a move to 2B as a professional. Palacios’ best tools are contact and speed, as a lightning-quick bat produces hard contact with surprising power. A plus athlete, Palacios can steal bases and puts pressure on the defense moving home to first. His ceiling is a utility player or low-end regular with positional versatility, though this type of prospect usually winds up in a bench role unless the speed or hit tool really carries the profile.
Aaron Bracho, SS/2B
Bracho’s $1.5 million bonus was the highest Cleveland gave to any international prospect in 2017. He came stateside for Spring Training last year but didn’t play in the AZL, missing the remainder of the season after suffering a fractured right arm in May. The switch-hitter shows a smooth stroke from both sides, a potential above-average hitter at maturity with feel from the barrel as a lefty and righty. His 5-foot-11 frame is stocky and compact, and while that allows projection on the power, it also makes Bracho likely to move to 2B long-term. Bracho’s mix of youth and precocious hitting ability deserve a mention on this list, and we’ll get a better feel for his prospect stock as he plays in his first official pro games in 2019.
Junior Sanquintin, SS/3B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2024 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 182 lbs. B/T: S/R Highest Level: DNP Age (as of April 1, 2019): 17y, 2m
Sanquintin signed for a $1.25 million bonus on the first day of this year’s international period. There’s serious growth potential in his 6-foot, 180-pound frame, and the switch-hitter shows intriguing batspeed from both sides of the plate. His defensive actions are loose and athletic, but it’s likely this type of frame ultimately outgrows short. Sanquintin has the glovework and arm-strength for 3B, however, where his power potential could be a fit.
Jose Fermin, SS/2B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: SS-A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 0m
Fermin fits Cleveland’s recent mold of high-dollar international signees, a center-diamond athlete with plus instincts and feel for the barrel. He signed for a $500K amateur bonus, struggling at the plate his first two years at the complex level due to a lack of physical strength. Fermin began to grow into his wiry 5-foot-11 frame before last year, turning 19-years-old just before the start of the season. After beginning his 2018 in Extended Spring Training, Fermin slashed .279/.391/.382 in the New York-Penn League, walking more than he struck out and stealing 17 bases. He could develop at least a 50-grade hit tool so long as he keeps getting stronger, showing a quick and efficient stroke with innate feel to barrel the ball. He won’t ever hit for a ton of over-the-fence power, but Fermin’s contact frequency and profile—putting a good amount of balls in the air last season—hints he could grow into the ability to drive the gaps. He’s likely a better defensive fit at 2B, though Fermin’s experience at short could help him move around the infield as a role player.
Johnathan Rodriguez, OF
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 180 lbs. B/T: S/L Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 4m
Rodriguez was extremely young for his draft class and didn’t turn 18 until the November after he was Cleveland’s third-rounder in 2017. He spent the last two summers in the AZL and took a step forward there offensively in 2018. Rodriguez shows intriguing bat-to-ball skill from both sides of the plate, something that could lead to switch-hitting power as he fills out a physcal 6-foot-3 frame. His contact profile is very ground ball heavy right now and will have to start lifting the ball more frequently, though that isn’t uncommon in young switch-hitters. Rodriguez has a RF tool set defensively given his size and strong throwing arm.
Quentin Holmes, OF
Holmes was seen as a slow-burn prospect when he signed as the 64th overall pick in 2017, and that has been the case so far. He struggled in his initial AZL pro debut, repeating the level in 2018 despite not getting back on the field until August due to a hamstring injury. Holmes’ plus speed and defense are his best attributes right now, though his bat still lags behind significantly and needs a lot more reps. There isn’t much feel to hit—especially against off-speed—and he still doesn’t look particularly comfortable at the plate despite excellent athleticism. His non-offensive tools can get him to the big leagues, and if Holmes hits at all, the speed and defense immediately make him a role player in CF. There’s a lot of projection required to get there, though, and Holmes should be viewed as a full-on development project that’s far from a sure thing.
Raymond Burgos, LHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2022 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 170 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: SS-A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 4m
Burgos was an unheralded 18th round pick in 2016 from Puerto Rico, weighing just 145 pounds at the time he signed. He needed Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t pitch in an official game until 2018. Burgos has grown a ton since then, now standing a lean, athletic 6-foot-5 and 170 pounds. His low-effort delivery allows advanced control, evidenced by his solid walk rates and ability to stay around the zone with three pitches. Burgos’ fastball now works in the 91-to-95 mph range, getting on hitters quickly from a very loose three-quarters slot. His slider is more advanced than the changeup, though both show potential to develop into workable secondary pitches. A sleeper in this system given the time missed with injury, Burgos could turn heads with a healthy 2019. He’s a lottery ticket, but the frame/delivery combo, left-handed velocity, and chance for three pitches are a good start.