Indians Continue to Focus on Titles

The Indians farm system has been just strong enough to churn out decent enough prospects that they can trade them for veterans. They were ranked by myworld at number 15 last year, right in the middle of the pack and in years past usually sit around the lower part of the top ten. The highest ranked prospects they have had are Trevor Bauer (2013) who was acquired from the Diamondbacks and appeared at number five and Francisco Lindor (2015) who appeared at number six. Both prospects have made impacts on their major league roster. Last year the only two players who appeared in Top 100 lists were Tristan McKenzie and Francisco Mejia, but both appeared high enough to elevate the Indians status in the prospect rankings. Francisco Mejia was traded mid-year to the Padres.

Myworld saw Tristan McKenzie pitch in the NY Penn League a couple years ago and were quickly mesmerized. We liked the length in his arms making it hard for hitters to pick up on the ball. His skinny frame seemed to indicate that an increase in velocity on his low 90s fastball would increase once he fills out. The fastball still sits in the low-90s but his curveball gets lots of swings and misses and his change is an effective pitch. A 6′5″ frame that is not troubled with poor command makes him a future ace in the waiting. Last year he had success in AA (2.68 ERA and .191 opposition average) so the major leagues is not far away.

Another tall drink of water at 6′6″ 2018 first round pick Ethan Hawkins. A shoulder injury impacted his draft status dropping him all the way to the last pick of the 2018 draft. The faulty shoulder limited him to three innings on two starts last year. His fastball blazes across the plate in the high 90s but his secondary pitches need some improvement before he can be considered as an ace pitcher. The 2019 season will be critical to see if he can keep his health. He pitched for the gold medal winning 18 and under USA baseball team in 2018, one of ten players on that team selected in the first round.

The big thing Sam Hentges has going for him is a fastball he can hit in the mid-90s. Another large framed pitcher (6′6″) drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft he lacks a consistent secondary offering and struggles with control. Last year he had moderate success in High A as a starter but opposing hitters tagged him at a .260 clip. The Indians will give him another year in the rotation in an attempt to master his command.

The Venezuelan Luis Oviedo owns the best fastball of all the Indians prospects. It sits in the mid-90s and can tick higher. A good changeup makes the fastball look even more imposing. Establishing a breaking pitch will cement his spot in the rotation. He limited the opposition to a .190 average last year. Next year he should begin the season in Low A.

Chih-Wei Hu has bounced around since signing with the Twins out of Taiwan in 2012. He made his major league debut with the Rays in 2017 and got another five relief appearances with the Indians last year. He is not overpowering and at 6′0″ there could be durability concerns as a starter, but his pitch mix is varied. The change and his low 89s fastball location are his two best pitches but he also carries two breaking pitches and a palmball. Major league hitters only hit him at a .149 clip in his 13 major league innings. The Indians will probably use him out of the bullpen to begin the 2019 season and fit him in the rotation when a need exists.

Noah Naylor was the Indians first round pick in 2018. He is the brother of Josh, but his ability to catch and his better physique may ultimately make him a better prospect. He still needs a lot of improvement on his defense behind the plate, but his arm is solid. His bat should show enough power to hit 20 plus homeruns and he showed some good plate discipline with 21 walks in 33 games for a .381 OBA. If catching does not happen the bat is strong enough for him to see time at first base.

It appeared Bobby Bradley continued to improve his ability to make contact, striking out just 105 times in 97 games. It did not seem to help in his batting average (.214) but he did improve to .254 when promoted to AAA. Power will be his game. He has hit 20 plus homeruns since being drafted in the third round in 2014. DH appears to be his best position and his speed limits him to one base at a time, unless he bombs a pitch over the wall. If the power does not show in abundant quantities the major leagues will not happen.

Nolan Jones still has some developing to do. The 2016 second round pick has an excellent glove for third base. An ability to take a walk put his OBA for the 2018 season at .405. That will allow him to hit for a decent average (.283) with decent power that should improve as he matures. Last year Nolan slugged 19 homeruns. If for some reason he can not play third the legs carry enough speed for him to be able to play outfield.

The Indians signed Yu-Cheng Chang out of Taiwan in 2013. In 2017 he slugged 24 homeruns to open eyes as a possible slugging shortstop. That power unfortunately came with a lower average (.220). Last year the power was more muted with 13 homeruns but the batting average increased to .256. He may not have the range to stay at short, but if he moves to third he will need to show the power to fit the position. Next year he should make his major league debut if the Indians feel he is ready.

Tyler Freeman may not have the range to stick at short and lacks the power to play third. The supplemental second round pick in 2017 did hit .352 in rookie ball with 29 doubles to show he can spray the gaps. If that offense continues a move to second could be a possibility. Expect his role to be more of a utility player.

The one weakness the Indians have had is developing outfielders. They traded with the Nationals to acquire Daniel Johnson. Daniel was kind of the third wheel behind Juan Soto and Victor Robles. The tools are there for him to hit for power and average. With the Nationals his bat was second to Soto and his speed was second to Robles. With the Indians he has the ability to be one of their top outfielders. His defensive tools make him a better fit for right field.

The Indians paid George Valera $1.3 million in 2017. He lived in New York but moved to the Dominican at 13 years of age. A broken hamate bone limited his season to six games. The bat has the ability to mix power with contact so he should be a solid offensive player, making a move to right field a good fit.

Will Benson was the Indians 2016 first round pick. His arm is a rifle making him a perfect fit for right field but his legs carry some speed to make centerfield another option. Last year he hit 22 homeruns while showing good patience at the plate with 82 walks. What he needs to improve on is his ability to make contact with 152 whiffs in just 123 games. That struggle to make contact drove his average down to .180. In his three years in the minor leagues he has yet to hit over .238.

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