Cleveland Indians 2019 Top 10 Prospects Chat

Image credit: Triston McKenzie (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

To see Cleveland’s updated 2019 top 10 prospects, click here.

Teddy Cahill: Welcome to the Indians’ prospects chat. When I was working on this year’s list, it struck me that we’re entering a new era in the Indians’ system. Between trades and graduations in the last couple years, the faces in the top 10 (and beyond) have almost completely changed. That made this list more challenging and it will be interesting to see how these players in the lower levels develop in the coming seasons. Now, let’s get to your questions.

DH (PA): 

    I think every listing of McKenzie, since the day he was drafted, said 6’5″ and about 165. Is that still accurate? Seems like something they could fix. I mean, is he eating 12k calories? Anyway, do you think he can eventually carry enough innings to be a front of the rotation type? If not, is he a RP?

Teddy Cahill: Let’s start with the system’s top prospect, Triston McKenzie. Yes, that height/weight is still accurate. I specifically double checked it this year because he’s now the No. 1 prospect. I can also tell you that he has worked really hard at putting weight on. It’s just not that easy for some people (especially when you’re as young as he still is: 21) and scouts going all the way back to when he was in high school had concerns about how much weight his frame would ever carry. I think McKenzie has done everything he can to prove that his weight is not an issue going forward. He threw 143 innings a year ago. His injury this year was not related to his weight. I think he’ll be fine. Now, will he ever throw 250 innings a year in the big leagues? Probably not. But Chris Sale has thrown 200+ innings four times in the big leagues at 6-foot-6, 180 pounds. It’s a concern, but it’s not so great of a concern that he ends up in the bullpen because of it.

Warren (New London): 

    As a third baseman, Nolan Jones improved from terrible to not very good in 2018. The bat looks like it could be ready in another year or two. Will he be able to play a major league third base by then?

Teddy Cahill: Maybe? I know that’s not much of an answer, but there are a lot of factors at play here. One is where is Jose Ramirez playing then? If he’s at third base – either because second is no longer an option for him or that the Indians have someone established there – then, no, Nolan Jones is not going to be good enough defensively to unseat Ramirez. If Jones can be about average at third base, I think that’s probably good enough. But there’s still development needed to get there. The Indians are going to keep working with him there but if it ends up that he needs to go to an outfield corner, I don’t think it’s a problem. Jones’ bat will profile just fine out there.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    I’m looking for some quick additions to the Indians bullpen: who are 2019 candidates: Nick Sandlin? James Karinchak? Henry Martinez? Rob Kaminsky?

Teddy Cahill: Yes to all of them, plus Aaron Civale and Dalbert Siri. I could see Kirk McCarty in that mix as well. Honestly, there was a time this summer that I thought Nick Sandlin was going to be a September call up. I think he’s got a good shot at being the first player from the 2018 draft to reach the big leagues.

Eric (Detroit, MI): 

    Who are you higher on between rhp’s Eli Morgan and Carlos Vargas and why? Thanks!

Teddy Cahill: Carlos Vargas because he throws gas. The ceiling is just much higher for a guy that runs his fastball up to 99 as an 18-year-old. I like Eli Morgan but he’s fighting a very tough profile as a short righthander whose primary pitch is his changeup.

Zac (NYC): 

    Living walking distance from Quentin Holmes’ high school I’ve been hoping he might develop into a true major leaguer. So far, not so good. What would Holmes have to do to elevate himself into a top prospect?

Teddy Cahill: Stay healthy. It’s not like Holmes had a bad year, he had a lost year. We’ll see where he is when he gets back to full strength in 2019.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    Obviously batting .170 doesn’t enhance a prospect, but Will Benson did walk a ton, hit a lot of homers and still can play a good RF. Is there much reason to hope he’ll progress?

Teddy Cahill: Several Will Benson questions today. Let’s try and answer them here. Will Benson had a weird year. There’s no way around that. He still has so much athleticism, he still has so much power and he’ll still be just 20 years old on Opening Day 2019. Some of the underlying numbers (like exit velo, BABIP, etc.) were encouraging. But, at the same time, at some point you’ve got to hit. It’s not time to give up on him, that’s for sure. But it’s also fair to be concerned about him reaching his ceiling. And that’s why you don’t see him in the top 10.

Mike (Tampa, FL): 

    What did you think of the acquisition of Oscar Mercado? Will we see him in the 11-15 range, and which OF position suits him best?

Teddy Cahill: I laid out my thoughts about the Oscar Mercado trade at the time here: I don’t think my overall thoughts on the deal have changed in the last few months. I think the Indians added a solid option for next year’s outfield. Mercado could have been in the top 10, he was definitely in the mix, so you’ll see him in the 11-15 range in the handbook. He’s got plus speed and can be an above-average defender in center field. It’s all about how much he hits.

Clayton (Galveston): 

    Why is it that with both Zimmer and Naquin coming up, the Indians STILL need help in the OF? Did Cleveland drop the ball on developing them?

Teddy Cahill: Tyler Naquin finished third in ROY voting. I don’t think it’s a development issue there. The problem with both of them has been health – and in Naquin’s case, hitting lefthanded pitching. But even if Naquin and Zimmer had perfectly transitioned to the big leagues and stayed healthy, the Indians would still have an outfield hole because Brantly and Chisenhall are both free agents. It’s a fluid situation out there. I think the Indians have some intriguing pieces, but when you’re competing for pennants, the team would like a little more certainty. I think that’s what Cleveland is looking for out there right now.

Chris (Illinois): 

    Any outfielders in the system have a realistic shot of contributing in 2019, or will the Tribe be forced to look to free agents/trade and end up blocking someone?

Teddy Cahill: Continuing with the outfield, I think the Indians could totally reasonably open the season with an outfield of Allen, Mercado, Naquin and Zimmer. I don’t think it happens, but I don’t think that would be a disaster (assuming they’re all healthy). I think they do something to get a veteran out there, whether that means resigning Brantley or bringing in someone like Melky or both. But, again, there are pieces. There just isn’t a lot of certainty with those pieces.

Brian (Georgia): 

    General question: After seeing Hankins pitch his second start in front of a slew of scouts, his FB was mid 90’s and he looked relatively polished for a HS arm. Throwing that out there, why does he not start out at Lake County? Cold weather? Keeping him on a low IP?

Teddy Cahill: The Indians tend to be more conservative with high school players. In recent years, there have been very few guys to go straight to Lake County in their first full professional season. Clint Frazier did it, but he went a month late due to a hamstring issue. Bobby Bradley did it – after winning the AZL Triple Crown. Connor Capel did it – but he was old for his draft class. The more conservative approach of extended, then Mahoning Valley with a late-season promotion to Lake County if they earn it does a few things. It limits their workload, avoids the worst of the cold weather in NEO and allows them to build confidence in the NYPL. Could Hankins handle the Midwest League next April? Probably. But I just don’t think the Indians will push it on him (or Bo Naylor).

Chief Wahoo (Toronto): 

    Is the Tyler Freeman hype train real or will it be short lived? Can his bat carry him to an above average regular, or will be be more of a utility type?

Teddy Cahill: Well, I mean, I just ranked him third. So, clearly I’m on the hype train. His whole deal is that he hits. So, yes, I think he hits enough to be an everyday player. And at this point, I think he hits enough that it doesn’t matter whether he plays second base or shortstop.

Aaron (Kenosha): 

    Yu Chang seems to be on a pretty nice run in the AFL with a .344/.400/.531 slash and he recently roped a 110 mph triple in the stars game. Did he receive any consideration for this list and what does his future look like?

Teddy Cahill: Yes, Chang was in the mix for the top 10 and in no way would he look out of place in it. Ultimately, we went with the upside of guys like Rocchio and Hankins instead of the proximity of Chang and Mercado. Chang is in a tough spot. He can probably play shortstop, but he won’t ever do it in Cleveland. He’s playing a lot of third base this fall and that puts more pressure on his bat. He’s got some juice in there, but he’s also a career .250 hitter in the minors. It’s a bit of a tough profile and with the reality of how crowded the infield is in Cleveland, he’s just in a tough spot.

Ryan (Detroit): 

    Valera or Rocchio: Who has the higher ceiling? Who has the higher floor?

Teddy Cahill: I’ll take Valera for both. His hit tool is for real. I know Rocchio had a really good debut but they’re both teenagers that have never played above the complex league. It’s not like either one has a particularly high floor at this point.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): 

    So will Bo Naylor, as he matures and gains weight and strength, ever catch up to his brother Josh in the power department?

Teddy Cahill: I don’t think so. They’re just not the same kind of player. Josh Naylor’s whole deal going back to high school has been that he has big-time power. Bo is hit over power. He has impressive raw power, but he’s not that kind of a slugger. It’s hit over power for Bo, and my guess is it always will be.

Mark (San Antonio): 

    What would you say George Valera’s ultimate hitting upside is? Is it really Cano at corner OF? More or less.?

Teddy Cahill: The comp we’ve had on him since he was an amateur is Juan Soto. Now, that was before Juan Soto posted a .923 OPS in the big leagues as a 19-year-old, but that’s the idea for Valera.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    Some of your Rocchio comments sound like Francisco Lindor scouting reports when he first signed [and Rocchio is younger]. Think Rocchio could be that good?

Teddy Cahill: I do not. I think Francisco Lindor is an elite player – as in, top five player in baseball. If I thought Rocchio was that kind of player, he’d rank a lot higher in this top 10.

Jay (Cle): 

    Did the Indians ever give an explanation as to what Brady Aiken was up to this past season? Too soon to consider him a bust or is his best bet for a future as a reliever now?

Teddy Cahill: Jim Ingraham just wrote about Brady Aiken’s story for us. You can catch up on Aiken’s 2018 here: I don’t want to slap the bust label on him yet but it’s hard to be optimistic at this point. That said, I don’t see why reliever would be his future right now. If all the stuff the Indians have been working with him on to get his velo back works, then there’s no reason he can’t go back in the rotation. If it didn’t, well, it’s hard to see how going to the bullpen would really help much.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    Aaron Civale? Still a chance to be a major league starter following in Bieber’s footsteps?

Teddy Cahill: It’s not so much following in Bieber’s footsteps because he never made the velo jump that Bieber did, but Civale still has a chance to be a starter. That said, it’s really hard to break into this rotation. Even if the Indians were to open a spot, McKenzie is coming soon. Sam Hentges isn’t that far behind. Cody Anderson is still out there. Not to mention a reclamation project like they’ve had success with in the past. My guess is when Civale makes his Indians debut it will be in the bullpen but he’s going to keep starting and maybe he is able to break through there.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    Obviously the Indians are rebuilding their system nearly from scratch. With a shallow top and a deep bottom how does the system rate overall?

Teddy Cahill: I’m not good at predicting our farm rankings and it’s not something I’m particularly involved in. Generally, however, without high-end prospects, it’s hard to have a top-half farm system. So when the rankings come out, I think you’ll see Cleveland in the 20s. But I think the group of prospects the Indians have in the lower levels is very exciting. I don’t want to say it’s unrivaled, because it isn’t, but I think if you lined up every team’s prospects in low A and below, Cleveland would come out much, much better.

JR (Dayton): 

    What does the scouting report for OU Bobcats legend Mitch Longo look like? Could he have a chance in the near future?

Teddy Cahill: I think that’s actually Mayfield Wildcats legend Mitch Longo (Cleveland high school baseball represent). He’s an intriguing player with a pretty good feel for hitting. But he faces a tough profile because he doesn’t have big power and he doesn’t run well enough for center field. I’m very interested to see how he does this year in Akron.

Johnny (Cleveland): 

    Another question regarding Mercado: That was a really interesting trade at the deadline as a rare prospect for prospect deal. The Cards gave up Mercado, a pretty much big league ready OF and gained Torres and Capel, both a little farther away but not on the 40 man and possibly higher ceilings. Where would those guys have ended up were they still with Cleveland? Could this be a trade that turns out pretty badly for the Indians if one or both of Torres and Capel reach their potential?

Teddy Cahill: Capel is interesting, but probably a tweener outfielder. Capel last year ranked No. 15 in Cleveland and probably would be in about the same spot. Torres probably finds a home somewhere in the teens, given the reports we had this summer. I don’t think anyone will regret this trade when it’s all said and done, but it’s certainly possible. But that’s true any time there’s a trade.

Warren (New London): 

    Raynel Delgado got off to a great start in the Arizona League, but faded in August. Do you think he was tiring, or just finding his true level? What position do you see him settling in at, or does he profile best as a multiple position guy?

Teddy Cahill: I think he was a high school player making his professional debut and we shoulnd’t worry about what he did this summer. But, yes, he wore down late in the season. As a Florida prep product, he’d been playing since January and needs to get stronger, an area that the Indians are already working with him on. His tools play on the left side of the infield. We’ll see whether that’s SS or 3B, but he’s an intriguing player either way.

DH (PA): 

    How many of these guys are top 100

Teddy Cahill: As I say every year, my opinion only counts for so much with regards to the top 100. It’s a collaborative process, so just because I think X number of these guys should be on the top 100, it matters what the rest of the staff thinks. That said, McKenzie is a lock and I think Jones makes it. I’d rank Freeman and Naylor and would consider Valera and Hentges, but I don’t think the rest of the office would agree with me on that.

Moe (Chicago): 

    What are your thoughts: should the Indians go all-in and trade some of their top prospects in order to make one last push to the World Series? There’s talk that they might start trading away and doing a semi-rebuild. Could they dangle McKenzie as bait and get the final pieces to make a deep post-season run?

Teddy Cahill: The talk about the Indians making trades confuses me a lot. Not because they won’t this winter but because they have gone into every offseason at least for the last decade in a mode where they’ll listen to offers. That’s what they do. Cleveland is a smaller market and this is a creative front office. So if someone steps up with a huge offer for Carrasco or Kluber, of course they’ll consider it. But I don’t think they’re out they’re looking to unload them for just anything. So I don’t think the question should be should they go all in on 2019 or blow this team up. That’s not the decision they’re trying to make. I, personally, would not trade McKenzie in just about any deal. I don’t think the Indians can afford to make moves like that. Top-end pitchers are too expensive, so if you can develop your own, that’s massively valuable. But if there was a way to get an affordable, controllable outfielder (I don’t even know who I’m describing here), the Indians should explore such a move.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    Another impressive Arizona pitcher: Tahnaj Thomas, 2 questions? How impressive? And how do pronounce that?

Teddy Cahill: I’m terrible at writing pronunciations, but it’s TA-nahj. And, yes, he’s impressive. He’s raw because he came to pitching a little late but the stuff is real. He’s got mid 90s fastball, tightened up his breaking ball and is very athletic. He’s one to keep an eye on.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    Can’t do a Raynel Delgado question without one on Richie Palacios. Like a lot of this year’s draftees he moved through several levels. What’s his ceiling and what’s his ultimate position?

Teddy Cahill: I don’t think they’re particularly similar. Palacios has good hittability, impressive bat speed and is a plus runner, but he’s not going to play on the left side of the infield. He’s worked on his defense and maybe he’s a second baseman, but I think he probably will end up in the outfield.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    These team chats are the highlight of the offseason. Once we’re done today, I take a baseball break until Pitchers and Catchers arrive in 3 months. Thanks. These are great.

Teddy Cahill: Thank you Elliott and all of the commenters. It’s always a fun time talking about the Indians’ system. Like I said at the top, it’s a very different looking list as we go into a new era. Pitchers and catchers seem like a long way off now and the Cleveland winter is never an easy one to get through. But I think the organization is still in a really good spot, especially when you look around the rest of the AL Central. It’ll be interesting to see what the Indians do this winter and if they do work some trades, you know we’ll have full analysis of them here. And if you want the rest of the top 30, along with all of my reports on these players, remember to buy the Prospect Handbook. You can preorder it now here at Baseball America, and if you do, you’ll get it sooner than if you wait for Amazon. Thanks again for all the questions today.

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