International Reviews: Cleveland Indians
Top signing: RHP Carlos Vargas, Dominican Republic, $275,000. Total signings: 22.
Cleveland’s international department was in a year of transition in 2016. In January last year, the Indians parted ways with Ramon Pena, who had been the organization’s Latin American director for six years, Koby Perez, who had been with the Indians the last two years as an international crosschecker after previously working in Latin America for the Phillies, was promoted to become Cleveland’s new director of Latin American scouting. During the 2016-17 signing period, the Indians spent a little more than $2 million, mostly spreading that money around with 11 players getting low six-figure deals.
The best of that group right now is Marcos Gonzalez, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop the Indians signed for $250,000 on July 2. Gonzalez didn’t immediately jump out for his size (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) or tools as an amateur, but he was one of the top offensive performers in the Dominican Prospect League and his tools ticked up as July 2 got closer. He’s a righthanded hitter with a short, quick swing with a flat path that leads to him putting the sweet spot to the baseball frequently. Gonzalez has good plate coverage and a mature hitting approach, not chasing much outside the strike zone but remaining aggressive at the plate. He uses the whole field with a line-drive approach and has a knack for getting on base. He doesn’t project to big a power threat, with a chance to hit 10 or more home runs in his prime. Gonzalez’s speed improved from below-average to average before he signed. He can get flat with his feet in the field and doesn’t make the acrobatic highlight plays other shortstops pull off, but he’s fundamentally sound with good hands, instincts and a high level of overall game awareness. His arm is an average to a tick better tool, so he should have a good chance to stick at shortstop. Gonzalez trained with Hector Evertz.
Cleveland’s biggest signing bonus went to 17-year-old Dominican righthander Carlos Vargas, who got $275,000 on July 2. His 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame screams projection, with an easy delivery and arm action that point in the same direction. Vargas has a quick arm with a fastball that touches 93 mph now and should jump into at least the mid-90s with a chance to get into the upper-90s once he adds weight. He throws a hard curveball that gets swing-and-miss at times and is ahead of his changeup, though both his secondary stuff and control need to be more consistent. Vargas trained with “Fulanito.”
In December, the Indians gave $200,000 to righthander Tahnaj Thomas out of the Bahamas. Thomas had worked out for clubs as a shortstop, but he stood out more for his size (6-foot-4, 190 pounds), athleticism and arm strength than he did with his hitting or speed. When he went to the Perfect Game showcase in October, he stepped on the mound and his first pitch clocked at 92 mph. The Indians liked what they saw off that look and signed him as a pitcher. He’s still understandable crude on the mound and his offspeed stuff is still nascent, so he will be brought along slowly. Nehemias Celestin is a 17-year-old Dominican third baseman the Indians signed for $185,000 on July 2. Celestin’s main tool is his power. It’s plus power with the ability to drive the ball with authority to all fields, with a power-over-hit profile. He has a strong, heavy build (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) that he will have to work to maintain. He doesn’t run well but his arm strength gives him another plus tool. Celestin trained with “Ray.”
The Indians gave a pair of Colombian prospects $150,000 each in July, including 16-year-old outfielder Jhon Torres. He’s 6-foot-4, 200 pounds with a good timing and power from the right side of the plate. He’s an offensive-oriented prospect who spent time at third base and the outfield as an amateur. He fits best in right field, which is where he will play with the Indians, with his arm working better in the outfield than it did in the infield. The other Colombian prospect the Indians signed for $150,000 is Gaspar Palacio, a small, switch-hitting middle infielder at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds. Palacio is an above-average runner, but other than speed he stands out more for his game skills and scrappy, hard-nosed style than his tools. He’s a patient hitter who works the count and gets on base with occasional doubles power. He’s a smart, fundamentally sound player who could see time at shortstop, though his arm probably fits best at second base. Palacio trained with Orlando Cabrera.
Mike Garcia is a Venezuelan righthander who signed with the Indians for $140,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 11, making him one of the youngest players in the 2016 class. Garcia has a big frame (6-foot-4, 185 pounds) and was throwing 85-88 mph when he signed, but his velocity has since jumped to touch 92. It’s a good combination of size, athleticism, projectability and polish for his age, as Garcia is a good strike-thrower with all three pitches, including a changeup that’s ahead of his curveball right now. Garcia trained with Luis Arezeno. Jesus Maestre, a 17-year-old who signed for $125,000 out of Venezuela on July 2, is an offensive-oriented second baseman. Maestre isn’t that big (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) but he has consistently performed well in games. He’s an advanced righthanded hitter with good bat speed, a knack for making contact he puts a surprising charge into the ball for someone his size. He’s a plus runner too, though he’s going straight to second base in pro ball. Maestre trained with Carlos Yanez.
For $125,000, the Indians signed Makesiondon Kelkboom when he turned 16 on July 2. Kelkboom’s mom is a cousin of the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar, so Kelkboom and Profar are second cousins. Kelkboom was born and raised in the Netherlands, then spent time briefly in Curacao before the Indians spotted him and signed him. Kelkboom’s baseball skills are still on the raw side, but he has good bat speed to squaring up fastballs as he learns to recognize breaking pitches. He’s a good athlete at shortstop with a quick first step, average speed and a solid-average arm. Venezuelan righthander Luis Garcia signed for $100,000 in July. He has a large, strong frame (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and good pitchability. He throws 87-91 mph and his best pitch is his curveball, which flashes above-average already and gets swing-and-miss.
Extra Defensive Work Pays Off For Oneil Cruz
The 6-foot-6 shortstop hit his way to Double-A, all while working hard to improve his throwing accuracy.
Dominican third baseman Jeikol Contreras signed for $100,000 on July 2. Contreras, a 16-year-old who played in the COPABE 15U Championship in Mexico in 2015, stands out for his sweet lefthanded swing, with occasional power from his 6-foot, 175-pound frame. He signed as a third baseman but is athletic enough that he could see time at second base. One sleeper from the class trending in the right direction is Ignacio Feliz, a 17-year-old Dominican righthander the Indians signed for $85,000 in July after training with “Ney.” Feliz, who is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, had been a third baseman, but his arm was his best tool. He moved to the mound, where he touched 92 mph with a loose arm and feel for the breaking ball when the Indians signed him. Since then, his fastball has increased to touch 95 mph and he’s added power and sharpness to his breaking ball.