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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Francisco Mejia, c|
|2. Bradley Zimmer, of|
|3. Triston McKenzie, rhp|
|4. Brady Aiken, lhp|
|5. Bobby Bradley, 1b|
|6. Yu-Cheng Chang, ss|
|7. Will Benson, of|
|8. Nolan Jones, 3b|
|9. Erik Gonzalez, ss/2b|
|10. Greg Allen, of|
After the Cleveland Cavaliers snapped the city’s 52-year championship drought in June with an NBA title, the Indians nearly replicated their neighbor’s jubilation. But they came up just short against the Cubs in the World Series, unable to close out a three games to one lead.
While the Indians’ season again ended in dejection, they showed they have found a winning formula, winning 94 regular season games and an American League pennant with their young core deftly managed by the braintrust of team president Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff and manager Terry Francona.
Corey Kluber again led the staff, going 18-9, 3.14 and shouldering a hefty burden in the postseason when other key starters went down with injury. Francisco Lindor built on a strong rookie debut and exceled in his first full major league season, earning an appearance in the All-Star Game and hitting .301/.358/.435 to go with his elite defense.
The farm system produced again, as Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez were pressed into everyday action due to injuries, and Tyler Naquin and Mike Clevinger, both Top 10 Prospects entering the season, graduated to Cleveland. Naquin, the 15th overall pick in the 2012 draft, became the team’s regular center fielder and hit .296/.372/.514 with 14 home runs.
The Indians also showed a willingness to go for it at the trade deadline. To acquire Andrew Miller, who became their biggest weapon out of the bullpen in the playoffs, they dealt outfielder Clint Frazier, their best prospect, and three pitching prospects to the Yankees. On the same day, they nearly dealt four more prospects, headlined by Francisco Mejia, to the Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy, only to see him exercise his no-trade clause.
After years of being on the other side of those kinds of trades, the Indians were ready to capitalize on their window for contention. That window should remain open, as Cleveland can bring its team back almost intact next year. The Indians will have just three free agents, and much of the core will be under control for several years, either through arbitration or long-term contracts. Their oldest pitcher is Josh Tomlin, who turned 32 during the World Series. The lineup is slightly older but is anchored by Lindor, who will play next season as a 23-year-old.
The farm system also remains strong, even after July’s trades. Mejia is their top prospect after nearly getting sent to Milwaukee. Bradley Zimmer, who topped the list a year ago, advanced to Triple-A Columbus and is in line to make his major league debut in 2017. Bobby Bradley was MVP of the Carolina League, Triston McKenzie stood out in his first full professional season, and Brady Aiken made his professional debut.
With a stout farm system backing the strong core in the major leagues, the Indians are well positioned for the future to break what is now the sport’s longest championship drought.
1. Francisco Mejia, c |
Born: Oct. 27, 1995. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012. Signed by: Ramon Pena.
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: The Indians challenged Mejia with aggressive assignments at the outset of his career, and he reached full-season ball as a 19-year old in 2015. That season, he was one of just three teenagers serving as an everyday catcher in the Midwest League. He scuffled at the plate against the older competition (hitting .243/.324/.345), and he returned to low Class A Lake County to start 2016. While repeating the level, Mejia broke out. He authored a historic 50-game hitting streak that is the longest in the modern era of the minor leagues (dating to 1963). Mejia’s streak, which began in late May and stretched into August, increased his notoriety, as did a promotion to high Class A Lynchburg and an appearance in the Futures Game, where he started behind the plate for the World team. He was also a popular name as the trade deadline approached, and the Indians nearly dealt him to the Brewers in an attempt to land Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline, but Lucroy exercised his no-trade clause to block the move. Mejia kept hitting, even with the off-field distractions, and his .342 average ranked sixth in the minors. He also led all qualified Indians’ minor leaguers in both slugging percentage (.514) and OPS (.896).
Scouting Report: Even before the streak, Mejia has long been known for his hitting ability. The switch-hitter consistently makes hard contact from both sides of the plate. He is a more productive righthanded hitter and has more power from that side of the plate, but can also do damage as a lefthanded hitter. Like many young hitters, he previously had a more pull-oriented approach at the plate. Part of his maturation as a hitter has been to become better at handling pitches on the outer half of the plate and using the opposite field to hit. His bat speed gives him more raw power than his lean, 5-foot-10 frame would suggest, but he more typically drives balls into the gaps than over the fence. He has an aggressive approach and doesn’t walk much, but his excellent feel for the barrel prevents him from striking out often and he is comfortable working down in the count. Like most catchers, he is a below-average runner. Mejia has made strides defensively, but his bat is more advanced than his glove. Mejia has elite arm strength and soft hands, but his setup behind the plate still needs work to allow him to block balls and frame pitches more consistently. He is learning how to call games and is comfortable speaking English, a key skill for him to develop a relationship with his pitchers. Mejia often played second base as an amateur and some believe he could handle that position if he moved out from behind the plate. But he is just 21 and has the tools to become a capable defender with some further refinements.
The Future: Mejia took a big step forward in 2016, but he will need to continue to improve as he advances to the upper levels of the system. He will likely begin 2017 at Double-A Akron. If he continues to progress, he should be in line to make his major league debut sometime in 2018.
|Lake County (LoA)||.347||.384||.531||239||41||83||17||3||7||51||15||39||1|