2021 Cleveland Indians Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
After trading Francisco Lindor to the Mets in the offseason, the Indians had a narrow path to walk to contention this season. With the White Sox playing as well as any team in the American League, that path got even tougher for the Tribe.
Now, as the trade deadline approaches, Cleveland is in second place in the AL Central, but far behind Chicago and also chasing even wild card contention. That puts the team in an interesting spot in late July.
The Indians in recent years have fashioned themselves as neither buyers nor sellers, but rather as opportunists willing to trade from their current roster if it will benefit either their immediate or future chances. That tightrope might be tougher to walk this year as there is no obvious player on their roster to engage in significant trade talks, as they did with Trevor Bauer in 2019 and Mike Clevinger in 2020. They have a coming 40-man roster crunch as they will have to add several players following the season to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.
All of that will give the front office a lot to think about as it approaches the deadline. Nothing should be surprising, as Cleveland has shown time and again that it is willing to talk about any player and it has some holes to fill both on this year’s roster and for the future.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Tyler Freeman, SS
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Akron.
Freeman has moved to the top of the Indians’ prospect list with a strong first half of the season with Akron. He continued to show good bat-to-ball skills and has played mostly shortstop, but has also seen time at second and third base. He missed three weeks due to a shoulder strain but returned to action in mid July.
2. Nolan Jones, 3B
Age: 23. Team: Triple-A Columbus.
Jones this year is getting his first taste of Triple-A. He hit only .189/.341/.297 in May but has been more his normal self as the season has gone on. He’s playing mostly third base but has also played about a third of his games in right field as the Indians continue to try to expand his defensive versatility.
3. Daniel Espino, RHP
Age: 20. Team: High-A Lake County.
Espino began the year with Low-A Lynchburg and earned a promotion after a strong first half of the season which saw him strike out 64 batters in 42.2 innings. Espino has shortened his arm action, which previously had been a bit long, and touched 101 mph with his fastball.
4. George Valera, OF
Age: 20. Team: High-A Lake County.
Valera, like Naylor, got off to a slow start to the 2021 season and missed three weeks in May due to an oblique strain. After returning from the injured list, he found his stride—and his home run swing. He’s cut his strikeout rate so far this season, an important development of the first half.
5. Bo Naylor, C
Age: 21. Team: Double-A Akron.
After a very difficult first month of the season that saw him go 7-for-56 with 29 strikeouts, Naylor has started to pull out of that early-season funk, but his hitting has generally been far below what was expected—he’s yet to post a .300 OBP in any month of the season. He’s one of the youngest everyday players in the Double-A Northeast League and is doing a good job managing the pitching staff.
6. Gabriel Arias, SS
Age: 21. Team: Triple-A Columbus
Arias was acquired last summer from the Padres as a part of the Mike Clevinger trade and has spent his first season in the organization at Triple-A. He’s continued to build on the advances he showed in 2019 with his plate discipline and is walking at the highest rate of his career. He’s mostly played shortstop but has also seen time at second and third base.
7. Brayan Rocchio, SS
Age: 20. Team: High-A Lake County
Rocchio wasn’t able to take part in last season’s alternate training site workouts because he went home to Venezuela during the pandemic, but he’s impressed this season. He’s making more consistent hard contact—an important development for him because of his lithe frame—though that has come with more swing and miss. He’s mostly played shortstop but has also seen time at second and third base.
8. Gavin Williams, RHP*
Age: 22. Team: TBD
NEW Williams is the first college pitcher Cleveland has drafted in the first round since 2010, when it selected Drew Pomeranz fifth overall out of Mississippi. He has premium velocity, running his fastball up to 101 mph, and this spring was a first-team All-American at East Carolina.
9. Angel Martinez, SS
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Lynchburg
Martinez is one of just nine teenagers playing every day in the Low-A East. He’s more than holding his own in the league at the plate, showing solid power potential and the ability to play anywhere on the infield. He’s been one of the biggest risers of the first half for the organization.
10. Logan Allen, LHP
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Akron
Allen got his professional career off to a strong start at High-A Lake County, where he went 5-0, 1.58 with 67 strikeouts and 13 walks in 51.1 innings. That earned the 22-year-old a midseason promotion to Double-A Akron, where his early returns have been encouraging, giving him the look of a fast-mover.
11. Tanner Burns, RHP
12. Ethan Hankins, RHP
13. Carson Tucker, SS
14. Gabriel Rodriguez, SS
15. Owen Miller, SS
16. Richie Palacios, 2B/OF
NEW Palacios, 24, was drafted in the third round in 2018 but missed 2019 due to a torn labrum. Between his injury and the pandemic, coming into the year, Palacios had only played 45 professional games. He’s making up for lost time this year, putting together a solid season at the plate in Double-A. He’s mostly played second base but has seen action at all three outfield positions.
17. Peyton Battenfield, RHP
NEW Battenfield, 23, came to Cleveland at the trade deadline in exchange for Jordan Luplow and DJ Johnson. Listed at 6-foot-4, 224 pounds and armed with a solid four-pitch arsenal, he has a lot of starter traits. Battenfield was in the midst of a breakout season when he was traded and could soon get in the big league mix.
18. Doug Nikhazy, LHP*
NEW The Indians drafted Nikhazy in the second round after an outstanding spring at Mississippi earned him first-team All-America honors. He isn’t overpowering but has a strong track record of success in college and good feel for his secondary pitches. If he develops more velocity in pro ball, he could take a leap forward.
19. Joey Cantillo, LHP
20. Jose Tena, INF
NEW Tena, 20, this season made his full-season debut with High-A Lake County. He’s put together a strong all-around campaign while playing three infield positions.
21. Aaron Bracho, 2B
22. Isaiah Greene, OF
23. Bryan Lavastida, C
NEW Lavastida has always hit. He’s hit over .300 and posted an on-base percentage above .400 at every one of his four minor league stops so far. Lavastida has a shot to be an average hitter with above-average power and a chance to be an average defender behind the plate as well.
24. Lenny Torres, RHP
25. Jhonkensy Noel, 1B/3B
NEW Noel, 20, is an imposing figure in the batter’s box at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and he has the power to match. He’s made a lot of hard contact in his full-season debut with Low-A Lynchburg, though hand and ankle injuries have limited him some this season.
26. Tommy Mace, RHP*
NEW The Indians drafted Mace, 22, out of Florida in the supplemental second round. He has a long track record as a college starter and can run his fastball up to 97 mph, but his secondary stuff needs to be refined to create more swings and misses or weak contact.
27. Carlos Vargas, RHP
28. Josh Wolf, LHP
29. Oscar Gonzalez, OF
When Gonzalez first signed with the Indians, Francisco Lindor had yet to make his Cleveland MLB debut. Now seven years later, Gonzalez is having a breakout season, having already set a career high in home runs. The 6-foot-4, 240 pound Gonzalez has long had plus-plus raw power, but this year he’s doing a better job of swinging at pitches that he can actually connect with. The likelihood that Gonzalez will turn into a mashing everyday hitter is still slim. He’s also got a plus arm in the outfield. He’s more likely to be an up-and-down power bat. But it’s a possibility now, which is an impressive development for a player who has already been Rule 5 eligible and unpicked for three seasons.
30. Sam Hentges, LHP
Pontes Of View: May 20
In a remix on previous Pontes of View articles, here we focus strictly on live, in-person views from Week Five.
RHP Tanner Burns, 22, has been solid in his professional debut at High-A Lake County. His fastball plays well in the low 90s and he’s working to adjust to a regular professional workload.
OF Oscar Gonzalez, 23, has helped revitalize his career by getting to his power more than he did before the long 2020 layoff. It’s still an overly aggressive approach, but Gonzalez drives the ball without racking up sky-high strikeout rates thanks to his solid hand-eye coordination.
SS Aaron Bracho, 20, skipped past Low-A to High-A Lake County, but has struggled with the assignment. He got off to a poor start at the plate and has not been able to recover.
As he did in 2020, OF Daniel Johnson, 26, made a brief appearance in the major leagues in 2021. But even with the Indians looking for outfield help, he’s been unable to find a consistent role in Cleveland. He’s also struggled at the plate in Triple-A.
LHP Josh Wolf was one of the players who came to Cleveland as a part of the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to New York. He’s off to a slow start with his new organization, however, and has simply been too hittable, averaging 10.9 hits per nine innings in Low-A.
After pitching out of the bullpen since arriving in Cleveland as a part of the three-way trade that sent Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati, LHP Logan S. Allen this season made seven starts for the Indians. He struggled in the role, going 1-5, 9.13.
1B Bobby Bradley did not make a big league appearance in the shortened 2020 season, but in 2021 has found a role in Cleveland. His 10 home runs in 34 games rank fourth on the team.
INF Yu Chang has played every infield position for the Indians in 2021, mostly appearing at first base. He’s hitting .176/.211/.287 in a utility role.
RHP Emmanuel Clase missed the 2020 season due to suspension but has made an instant impact at the back of the bullpen in 2021. His powerful fastball has helped him save 11 games in 40 appearances.
SS Andres Gimenez came to Cleveland as a part of the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to New York. He spent the first six weeks of the season in the majors, hitting .179/.226/.308 before getting sent back to Triple-A.
RHP Triston McKenzie, the Indians’ top prospect, spent much of the first half in the rotation. The 23-year-old has had some control issues but has struck out 68 batters in 49 innings.
RHP Ethan Hankins, 21, was injured before the season began. He had Tommy John surgery in May.
RHP Carlos Vargas, 21, was injured before the season began. He had Tommy John surgery in April.
LHP Joey Cantillo, 21, was acquired last summer in the trade that sent Mike Clevinger to the Padres but has not been able to make his official debut in the Indians’ organization. He’s been held out all season due to an oblique injury.
LHP Scott Moss, 26, has been limited to 14 innings in six starts at Triple-A due to neck and back issues.