2017 Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects

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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 | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Oct. 27, 1995. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2012. Signed by: Ramon Pena.

Batting: 60.
Power: 45.
Speed: 40.
Defense: 50.
Arm: 80.
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
Lynchburg (HiA) .333 .380 .488 168 22 56 12 1 4 29 13 24 1

2. Bradley Zimmer, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Nov. 27, 1992. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Drafted: San Francisco, 2014 (1st round). Signed by: Don Lyle.

Background: Two years after the Royals drafted his older brother Kyle fifth overall, Bradley Zimmer became the second first-round pick in the family. It marked the third straight year the Indians used their top pick on a center fielder. Zimmer had a breakout 2015 and, while his 2016 wasn’t quite on the same level, he reached Triple-A Columbus in late July.

Scouting Report: Zimmer has the potential to be a five-tool player and is capable of affecting the game in many ways. He has a smooth lefthanded swing and a patient approach at the plate. His strikeout rate spiked in 2016, when he whiffed 30.7 percent of the time, up from 23.8 percent in 2015. At the same time, however, his walk rate also increased. Zimmer’s swing has natural loft to it, and his strength and bat speed give him above-average power. He also has above-average speed, which is further enhanced by his keen instincts on the basepaths and in the outfield. His power-speed combination gives him a chance to be a 20-20 player, while also providing plus defense in the outfield. He has primarily played center field, where his ability to track down balls and above-average arm strength profiles well.

The Future: The Indians’ outfield situation is muddled, leaving the door open for Zimmer to take over a starting spot during 2017. He appears destined for Columbus, however.

Akron (AA) .253 .371 .471 340 58 86 20 6 14 53 56 115 33
Columbus (AAA) .242 .349 .305 128 18 31 5 0 1 9 21 56 5

3. Triston McKenzie, rhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 2, 1997. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 165. Drafted: HS—Palm Beach, Fla., 2015 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Juan Alvarez.

Background: McKenzie presented scouts with a difficult assignment in 2015. He had an excellent track record and present stuff, but he was listed at a rail-thin 6-foot-5, 165 pounds. While some questioned how much weight his frame will ever carry, the Indians drafted McKenzie 42nd overall. He rewarded them in 2016 by excelling at short-season Mahoning Valley and then low Class A Lake County.

Scouting Report: McKenzie stands out as much for his pitchability as for his stuff. He earns praise for his makeup and understanding of his craft. That, along with his control, helps his stuff play up even more. His fastball can get up to 95 mph, but he more typically works in the low 90s. More strength would help him maintain his velocity deeper into games. He uses his height to his advantage and pitches down in the zone. He gets good depth on his curveball, which is a swing-and-miss offering. His changeup lags behind his other two pitches but has the potential to be an above-average offering as he gets more comfortable throwing it.

The Future: McKenzie’s combination of upside and advanced pitchability has many excited about his future. He could likely handle starting the 2017 season at high Class A Lynchburg, but the Indians can bring him along more slowly with an assignment to Lake County.

Mahoning Valley (SS) 4 3 0.55 9 9 1 1 49 31 2 16 55 .180
Lake County (Lo A) 2 2 3.18 6 6 0 0 34 27 2 6 49 .204

4. Brady Aiken, lhp | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 16, 1996. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 205. Drafted: HS—San Diego, 2015 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Soper.

Background: Aiken emerged as the best prep player for the 2014 draft, and the Astros made him the No. 1 overall pick. They agreed to sign him for $6.5 million before withdrawing the offer when a post-draft physical revealed an elbow issue. Aiken ultimately turned down a reported $5 million offer and chose to pitch for IMG Academy’s postgrad team in 2015. He left his first start of the year and required Tommy John surgery. The Indians selectedAiken 17th overall in 2015, and he finally made his pro debut in 2016.

Scouting Report: Aiken was slow out of the gate as he returned to playing in competitive games for the first time in more than two years. His fastball velocity, in the upper 80s and reaching 91, was down from what it had been in high school. But as the summer went on and he got stronger, his velocity ticked up, and he sat in the low 90s at instructional league. His curveball can be a plus offering and his changeup gives him a third promising pitch. At his best, he can locate his fastball well to both sides of the plate and has advanced feel. He has an ideal pitcher’s frame, plenty of athleticism and earns praise for his makeup and maturity.

The Future: Aiken understandably had some hiccups at the outset of his pro career. After a normal offseason, he should be ready for an assignment to low Class A Lake County.

AZL Indians (R) 0 4 7.12 9 8 0 0 24 24 32 1 13 .308
Mahoning Valley (SS) 2 1 4.43 5 5 0 0 22 30 3 8 22 .233

5. Bobby Bradley, 1b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: May 29, 1996. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 225. Drafted: HS—Gulfport, Miss., 2014 (3rd round). Signed by: Mike Bradford.

Background: Competition in the Mississippi high school ranks is not as stout as in other parts of the South, but that hasn’t held Bradley back. He won the Rookie-level Arizona League triple crown in 2014 by hitting .361 with eight home runs and 50 RBIs. He led the Midwest League with 27 home runs in 2015 and hit 29 more in 2016 to top the Carolina League—he also led in RBIs (102) and walks (75)—to claim the circuit’s MVP award.

Scouting Report: Bradley was one of the younger players in his draft class and he has continued to be among the younger players in his leagues. His inexperience has been exposed at times, but his impressive raw tools shine through more often than not. He creates excellent bat speed that turns into prodigious power. Like most young hitters, he gets pull-happy at times, but he can hit the ball out to all fields. Both his strikeout and walk rates improved a touch last season, though he is still learning how to handle advanced offspeed offerings. He is a well below-average runner. Defensively, Bradley has an average arm and is limited to first base.

The Future: Bradley will advance to Double-A Akron in 2017 for his first exposure to the upper minors. His power gives him the potential to become a middle-of-the-order hitter in the major leagues in time.

Lynchburg (Hi A) .235 .344 .466 485 82 114 23 1 29 102 75 170 3

6. Yu-Cheng Chang, ss | bba_video_icon_red

Born: Aug. 18, 1995. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Taiwan, 2013. Signed by: Allen Lin/Jayson Lynn.

Background: A prominent amateur player in Taiwan, Chang was one of the top amateur free agents to sign out of Asia in 2013. He has made steady progress in the minor leagues and earned all-star honors in the Carolina League in 2016. He reportedly received heavy interest in trade deadline talks and was set to be a part of the deal with the Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy that ultimately fell apart. Instead, he helped high Class A Lynchburg reach the Carolina League finals, going 14-for-28 in the playoffs.

Scouting Report: A switch-hitter, Chang has solid all-around offensive tools. He hits well from both sides of the plate and exhibits a good feel for the barrel. He has more power than his lean, 6-foot-1 frame suggests, and he is beginning to learn how to tap into it more often. His swing is more geared for hitting line drives, but he produced 51 extra-base hits in 2016, more than doubling his career total. Chang’s arm and speed both grade as above-average. That, combined with his athleticism and infield actions, gives him a chance to stick at shortstop, where the Indians believe he can develop into a capable defender. Some believe he will outgrow the position, which would necessitate a move to second or third base.

The Future: For now, Chang will continue his development at shortstop. He’ll likely move up to Double-A Akron to start the 2017 season.

Lynchburg (Hi A) .259 .332 .463 417 78 108 30 8 13 70 45 110 11

7. Will Benson, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: June 16, 1998. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS—Atlanta, 2016 (1st round). Signed by: C.T. Bradford.

Background: Benson began his senior year of high school by helping USA Baseball win the gold medal in the 18U World Cup in Japan. He ended it by being drafted 14th overall by the Indians. His spectacular senior year also included him leading The Westminster Schools to their first baseball state championship since 1975. He was a star basketball player for the Wildcats who earned second-team all-state honors as a forward.

Scouting Report: On the diamond, Benson stands out most for the elite bat speed his quick hands and strength produce. He turns that bat speed into well above-average lefthanded raw power. He is still learning how to get to that power more consistently and has worked to simplify his swing as a professional. When he struggles, he fails to use his lower half and his bat path gets too steep. He is an excellent athlete and runs well for his size, recording some plus times in the 60-yard dash, but he is slower out of the box and may lose a step as he physically matures. Benson has a plus arm and is a solid defender in right field.

The Future: As a big, athletic, lefthanded-hitting outfielder from Atlanta, Benson is often compared with Jason Heyward, whom the Braves drafted 14th overall. Benson has a long way to go to reach that ceiling and will likely make his full-season debut at Class A Lake County in 2017.

Indians (R) .209 .321 .424 158 31 33 10 3 6 27 22 60 10

8. Nolan Jones, 3b | bba_video_icon_red

Born: May 7, 1998. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HS—Bensalem, Pa., 2016 (2nd round). Signed by: Mike Kanen.

Background: Jones was regarded as one of the best prep hitters in the 2016 draft class, but he slipped to the second round, where the Indians were happy to be able to take him at No. 55 overall. He signed for $2.25 million, making him one of five players drafted after the first round to sign for more than $2 million.

Scouting Report: Jones has advanced consistency in his approach and contact skills, especially for a prep hitter from the Northeast. That helped him stand out on the showcase circuit in the summer of 2015, and continued to push him up draft boards in the spring. His easy lefthanded swing generates plus raw power now, but he projects to have more as he physically matures. He has plenty of room to add strength to his lanky frame as he begins to work in a professional training environment. He is an average runner. Jones was a shortstop in high school, but his size made it likely he would soon outgrow the position and profile better at third base. The Indians quickly moved him to the hot corner, and he should be able to develop into an average defender with steady hands and a plus arm at his new position.

The Future: While he has the defensive tools to develop, it will be up to his bat to carry him through the minor leagues. Jones will join fellow 2016 first-day prep pick Will Benson at low Class A Lake County in 2017.

Indians (R) .257 .388 .339 109 10 28 5 2 0 9 23 49 3

9. Erik Gonzalez, ss/2b

Born: Aug. 31, 1991. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2008. Signed by: Andres Garcia.

Background: Gonzalez played every position but pitcher and catcher at the outset of his career. When Francisco Lindor was promoted from high Class A Carolina in 2013, Gonzalez got a chance to fill the hole left at shortstop. He fared better than expected playing the position full-time and reached the big leagues in 2016. But with Lindor now firmly established as Cleveland’s shortstop, Gonzalez returned to his roots as a utility player, and he appeared at four positions in 21 big league games.

Scouting Report: Gonzalez has made effective adjustments to his offensive game, enabling the righthanded hitter to incorporate his above-average speed and tap into the pop his bat speed and wiry strength produce. He is an aggressive hitter and rarely walks, limiting his chances as a top-of-the-order hitter. Gonzalez has outstanding defensive skills. His quickness and plus arm strength allow him to make highlight-reel plays at shortstop, but he is also prone to making mental mistakes. He’s versatile enough to play anywhere in the infield and has gotten some work in the outfield.

The Future: If he can develop more consistency, Gonzalez has the tools to be an everyday shortstop—just not for the Indians. Regardless, his versatility is an ideal fit for the big league roster.

Columbus (AAA) .296 .329 .450 429 62 127 31 1 11 53 19 88 12
Cleveland (MLB) .313 .353 .313 16 2 5 0 0 0 0 1 8 0

10. Greg Allen, of | bba_video_icon_red

Born: March 15, 1993. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Drafted: San Diego State, 2014 (6th round). Signed by: Ryan Thompson.

Background: Allen excelled on the field and in the classroom at San Diego State and was named the school’s male student-athlete of the year as a junior. Since the Indians drafted him in the sixth round that year, he has made a smooth transition to pro ball and steadily climbed through the minor leagues, reaching Double-A Akron and ending the year with an assignment to the Arizona Fall League.

Scouting Report: Allen’s game is built around his plus speed. He has good on-base skills, having led the high Class A Carolina League in on-base percentage (.424), and his approach at the plate is geared toward making contact, limiting his power potential. He is a disciplined hitter and walks about as often as he strikes out. He is a good baserunner and has led the Indians system in stolen bases in each of the last two seasons. Allen’s speed plays well in the outfield, where he is a plus defender. He takes good routes, has an above-average arm and the speed to cover plenty of ground.

The Future: Allen came to the organization at the end of a stretch where it had selected a center fielder with its top draft pick for three straight years. While that has made for a crowded organizational depth chart, his defense is a separator. He’ll likely begin 2017 back at Akron and could push his way to the big leagues with another strong season.

Lynchburg (Hi A) .298 .424 .402 346 93 103 16 4 4 31 58 51 38
Akron (AA) .290 .399 .441 145 26 42 7 3 3 13 19 27 7

Last Year’s Indians Top 10 Prospects

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