Surveying the Top 10 Prospects in the Indians Farm System
Prospects and having a well regarded farm system is very important for all thirty teams in baseball today. In many regards, no longer can teams get through an entire season with 25-30 players. Rather, it takes 35-40 players and sometimes even more to help teams navigate their way through a 162-game season.
As such, over the last few years a lot of emphasis and importance has been placed on prospects and farm systems alike. As a result, many fans have joined in that movement and now know almost everything there is to know about many teams prospects. Additionally, teams have begun to realize the importance of prospects as illustrated by their reluctance to trade certain prospects.
Focusing more specifically, the Cleveland Indians are one of the teams around baseball that rely heavily on internal player development and scouting. As a small market team, prospects and having a well regarded farm system is critical.
State of the Cleveland Indians Farm System
Given where the Cleveland Indians are currently in their window, the farm system is surprisingly in good shape. The good news is that it is among the top half in baseball currently.
According to MLB.com, the Indians farm system currently ranks twelfth in all of baseball. One of the more notable characteristics of the Indians farm system is the fact that it does contain some young, promising prospects. Many of those prospects are ones that are viewed as having a high-ceiling or eventual impact on the big league club.
Over the last few years, the strongest quality of the Indians organization has come in the pitching department. The farm system includes some impactful pitching at the top as well as some position players that project to play a significant role in the future. With that being said, here are the Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects heading into the 2020 season.
10. SS/3B Gabriel Rodriguez
Shortstop and third baseman Gabriel Rodriguez is a stand out in the Cleveland Indians farm system. Cleveland has focused heavily on international scouting over the last handful of seasons. From those scouting efforts, Rodriguez is the name that many scouts have circled as the one to watch the most. Coming off of the 2019 season, Rodriguez made his pro debut, but did not play in a full season.
One of the key qualities about Rodriguez is his offensive abilities. Scouts note that Rodriguez does a tremendous job of hitting the ball to all parts of the field. In addition, Rodriguez has shown flashes of being a very patient and disciplined hitter. Given that Rodriguez is only 18 years of age, both of those things are likely to get even better in the future. Furthermore, as Rodriguez becomes more comfortable playing baseball here in the United States, both of those qualities should improve as well.
Projecting forward, some scouts believe that Rodriguez has the athleticism and defensive abilities to be a true shortstop. Meanwhile, other scouts believe Rodriguez would be better suited at third base. Last season, Rodriguez made 15 starts in 48 games at third. However, it will likely still be some time before Rodriguez is a member of the big league club.
9. RHP Triston McKenzie
Right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie is one to watch for the coming season. Depending on when the season starts and how long it is, McKenzie could be called upon. With some of the uncertainty in the Indians starting rotation, McKenzie could be a viable solution. McKenzie is a pitcher with lots of high upside and has a slender body type coming in at 6’5″ and 165 pounds.
However, it’s important to note that McKenzie hasn’t been immune from injuries either. During the 2018 regular season, McKenzie missed two months with forearm soreness. Once 2019 rolled around, McKenzie was put on the shelf for the entire season with an upper-back strain. Moving forward, scouts believe that if McKenzie puts on some muscle mass, he could potentially make himself less vulnerable to injury.
If McKenzie does just that, then he will be effective and will display his three-pitch repertoire. One of his most notable pitches is his changeup which consists of a lot of fade against left-handers. That pitch along with his curveball and low-to-mid 90’s fastball are what help McKenzie to rake up a lot of strikeouts. That’s something that scouts continue to rave about McKenzie’s craft.
8. RHP Ethan Hankins
Right-handed pitcher Ethan Hankins is further down on the organizational chart for the Cleveland Indians. Hankins concluded the 2019 regular season between Short-Season and Single-A. In that span, Hankins posted a 2.55 ERA over 60.0 innings of work with 71 strikeouts and an opponent batting average against of .206.
After being drafted in the first round of the 2018 Amateur Draft, Hankins looks like a potential future middle-to-back of the starting rotation option for Cleveland. Last season, many scouts note that his most effective pitch was his curveball. Hankins curveball featured a lot of depth and resulted in a lot of swing-and-miss action. Additionally, Hankins relies on a fastball, changeup, and during certain situations a slider.
If there was one thing Hankins should focus on, scouts believe it relates to the idea of adding muscle mass. In turn, scouts believe that will make Hankins stronger and allow him to add velocity onto all of his pitches. If Hankins is able to do that and mixes it with his varying temp on the mound, he should have no problem reaching his eventual potential for the Cleveland Indians.
7. 2B Aaron Bracho
Second baseman Aaron Bracho was drafted out of Venezuela and signed a $1.5 million dollar bonus with the Indians in 2017. That ended up being the largest bonus awarded to any international prospect in that draft class. Bracho came to the United States in 2018 at 17 years of age to make his pro debut. However, it was cut short when he broke his arm in May of that year which put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season.
The most impressive thing about Bracho is his ability to be a switch hitter. Scouts note that Bracho is very quick on both sides of the plate and has a very compact swing. Furthermore, scouts believe that Bracho has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark from foul pole to foul pole. Regardless though, Braco still received a grade of 50 in the power category on the scouting scale.
Looking ahead to the future, Bracho is likely to stay as a second baseman. Scouts believe that his defensive instincts would work well at shortstop. However, from an organizational standpoint, the Indians are more likely to keep Bracho at second. If he is able to improve the paths that he takes to make different plays, then Bracho could be a quality defender.
6. SS Brayan Rocchio
Shortstop Brayan Rocchio was included in the same 2017 International Draft class as the aforementioned, Aaron Bracho. Rocchio made his professional debut here in the United States in 2018. Right from the get-go, Rocchio developed a nice reputation ending the 2018 season with a .335 batting average at 17 years of age.
More recently, last year over the span of 69 games in Short-Season Ball, Rocchio hit: .250/.310/.373. Due to the intense knowledge of the game that Rocchio has, teammates have established the nickname of “The Professor” for him. Rocchio is very intelligent when it comes to the game of baseball. Furthermore, many scouts feel as though Rocchio is very analytical in his approach to hitting.
As another switch-hitting prospect in the Indians farm system, Rocchio is able to hit a lot of line drives. With his ability to use quick hands on the bat, it has resulted in above-average hit skills for the now 19-year old. Eventually, scouts project Rocchio to play at the shortstop position. Scouts note that Rocchio has great ball transferring skills, but just average arm strength.
5. RHP Daniel Espino
Right-handed pitcher Daniel Espino made a name for himself back in 2018. That was when Espino broke Hunter Greene’s record throwing a 99 mile per hour heater. Furthermore, Espino built his reputation as the hardest throwing pitcher in the 2019 class. Ultimately, that led the Indians to draft Espino with the twenty-fourth pick in the first round of last year’s Amateur Draft.
On the mound, Espino throws a fastball that has the potential to reach triple digits. Additionally, his two-seam fastball features a lot of sink and his four-seamer has a lot of movement on it as well. Beyond those three pitches, Espino features a curveball and a slider that often sits in the low-80’s. When Espino is throwing all of those pitches effectively, they result in a lot of swing-and-miss action.
Right now, the Indians have used Espino exclusively as a starting pitcher. Last season with Short-Season A Ball, Espino made 9 starts. However, there is still a chance that Espino could eventually turn into a late-inning relief option. Despite that though, the Indians remain committed to developing him as a starting pitcher with potential front of the rotation impact.
4. OF George Valera
Outfielder George Valera is yet another prospect that is a few years away from impacting the Cleveland Indians big league club. Valera wrapped up the 2019 season at Single-A. Between Short Season and Single-A last year, Valera hit: .217/.336/.411 over 52 games. In that span, Valera recorded eight home runs, 32 RBI, 31 walks, and 61 strikeouts.
Scouts rave about Valera’s ability to swing from the left side of the plate. In fact, scouts say that it might be the best swing of all of the prospects in the Indians farm system. Additionally, Valera displays constant plate discipline and is able to work counts into his favor. Ultimately, scouts believe that Valera could be a middle of the order bat with the potential to put up 25-30 home runs every season.
To this point, Valera has primarily played in both center and right fields. However, scouts believe that he could eventually turn into a left fielder with his solid speed and arm strength instincts. Valera displayed such great arm strength during his first season that he threw out 11 base runners over the span of his first 51 professional games.
3. C Bo Naylor
Catcher Bo Naylor is another name to circle on this list. It’s unlikely that Naylor will make it to the big leagues this season though as he concluded last year in Single-A. Although, with the Indians lack of impactful catching in the system, Naylor could be fast tracked. Still, it looks more likely that his impact will be felt come 2021 or 2022.
As a member of the Canadian Junior National Team in 2017 and 2018, Naylor won MVP awards both years. Ultimately that along with Naylor’s impressive offensive abilities is what convinced the Indians to draft him in the first round of the 2018 Amateur Draft. Scouts note that Naylor displays a very disciplined approach with his hitting at the plate. In turn, that allows Naylor to use the whole field and show moments of true, raw power.
Scouts go onto say that Naylor is very skilled from a receiving standpoint behind home plate. Last season, Naylor threw out 39 percent of base stealers, but that’s also something scouts feel like Naylor could improve on. Although with Naylor’s offensive potential, he could become the next best two-way catcher down the road.
2. SS Tyler Freeman
Shortstop Tyler Freeman is yet another middle infield prospect in the Cleveland Indians farm system. Freeman was originally drafted during the supplemental second round of the 2017 Amateur Draft. During the 2018 season with the New York-Penn League, Freeman really stood out. That season Freeman led the league in multiple categories including in hitting with a .352 batting average as well as in total bases with a total of 138.
The biggest takeaway about Freeman is his superb ability to make contact. Scouts note that Freeman frequently displays well-above-average bat-to-ball skills. Furthermore, scouts believe that Freeman could eventually display even more power if he is able to put on additional muscle mass. Despite that though, Freeman seemingly always finds a way to make contact with the baseball and put it in play.
Another quality for Freeman is his ability to run the base paths. Scouts say that Freeman is a sneaky good base runner and one that knows the perfect time to steal a base. Moving forward, that speed could play well for Freeman as he looks to make an impact on the big league roster for the Cleveland Indians.
1. 3B Nolan Jones
Third baseman Nolan Jones is the position player on this list with the highest potential to impact the Cleveland Indians big league team this season. Granted, that all depends on when the season starts and how long it is, but Jones is someone the Indians view very highly. Last season between High-A Ball and Double-A, Jones led all minor league players in walks with 96 over the span of 126 games.
As a left-handed hitter, Jones displays an enormous amount of power. In the power category, Jones received a grade of 60 on the scouting scale. Scouts believe that eventually with time and more development, that power could translate to Jones putting up 30 or more home runs every season. Additionally, scouts note that Jones has started to develop more plate discipline as he has aged.
If the Cleveland Indians did bring up Jones this season, it would likely move current third baseman Jose Ramirez to his natural position of second base. In turn, that would make current Opening Day second baseman Cesar Hernandez as more of a role player off the bench. Regardless, it’s a good problem for the Indians to have. That’s especially true when considering the high, upside that Jones has.
In the end, the Cleveland Indians farm system might not be the most recognizable in the game of baseball right now. However, it features a lot of switch-hitting, middle infielders and prospects with high upside. For a small-market team like the Indians, being able to have an impactful farm system is critical as is scouting and player development.
In regards to the coming season, right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie and third baseman Nolan Jones look like the two most likely names on this list to impact the Cleveland Indians big league team. Regardless though, that all depends on the length of the season and the needs of the big league team.
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