Cleveland Indians 2021 Top MLB Prospects Chat

Image credit: Nolan Jones (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Following the release of today’s Indians Top 10, Teddy Cahill answered Cleveland farm system questions below.

Teddy Cahill: I’m running a little late – the reporting never ends. But I’ll be here to take all your questions soon!

Teddy Cahill: Better late than never? Who’s to say. Thanks everyone for stopping by, let’s dive into your questions about the Indians’ system.

Jonathan (NJ):

     How do they do it? How do they keep churning out successful pitcher after successful pitcher? It looks to me like Triston McKenzie is the next Indian arm to break out and I’m pretty confident Daniel Espino won’t be too far behind him. Do you credit the success moreso to their scouting approach or are they masters at pitcher development?

Teddy Cahill: For me, the secret to the Indians’ success in building a steady pipeline of homegrown pitching to Progressive Field is that their scouting and player development teams work in harmony. The organization knows what kind of pitchers it has success developing and the scouting staff knows how to find them. I really think it takes all levels working together to pull this off. They have some very talented individuals working on this throughout the organization, but it takes them all working in concert to build the machine.

George (Toledo):

     Last year, you dropped Triston McKenzie all the way down to #7. Now healthy, he’s back at #1. In hindsight, was that an overreaction, especially with Cleveland’s track record for developing pitching?

Teddy Cahill: What I think it’s most indicative of is how little separation there is on the list. I may have gotten a little spooked about McKenzie’s injury but I’d note that at the time he’d had back-to-back injury marred seasons and lost the entirety of 2019 season to an injury that was a little difficult to understand and seemed to directly link back to the thing that had always been the biggest knock on him: his strength. There’s also a case to be made that he shouldn’t be No. 1 now, though obviously I don’t agree with it. But the nature of the 2020 season means that he didn’t have to throw 140+ innings and as a result one could take a more conservative approach and want to see him do that before getting back on the bandwagon. But I’m all the way back in on the McKenzie hype train.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     Any good power arms to look forward to join the bullpen?

Teddy Cahill: Emmanuel Clase is at the front of that line. If not for the suspension, you would have seen him in the bullpen in 2020. You can be sure to see him in 2021.

Fred (CT):

     Not sure if Logan Allen graduated based on time on big league roster, but either way how if at all did his brief appearance in the bigs this year affect your view of him?

Teddy Cahill: Logan S. Allen (the one acquired via trade) is still prospect eligible. He just missed out on the list, you’ll see him in the top 15 in the handbook. I can’t say what he did this year didn’t impact my thinking, mostly because I had expected not to still be ranking him this winter, but he’s been in a tough spot since arriving in the organization. He’s pitched in a variety of roles and breaking into this rotation obviously is pretty difficult. He’s still a strong asset and I think he’ll be a solid member of the staff, but carving out a role that suits him is going to be important.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     What do you expect from Bobby Bradley; now or never I’d assume.

Teddy Cahill: I’ve been a Bobby Bradley believer from the start. So, I’m not going to stop now. But it has been a bit discouraging that he hasn’t been able to break through or make more of the few opportunities he has had. The thing is, Bradley needs an extended opportunity to show he can do it or not in the big leagues. The Indians, as a contender, don’t have the ability to give him that shot. They’ve been down this road before not that long ago with Jesus Aguilar and we saw how that worked out. I’m still a believer overall, but less of a believer that it’ll happen for Bradley in Cleveland.

Jake (OH):

     There were spring reports that the Padres had been working with Arias intensively on pitch recognition drills and that he had been showing improvement. I know the Cle development staff hasn’t had a lot of time working with him, but do you have a sense that they think he has the foundation to improve that area? If so, what kind of ceiling does he have? Thanks.

Teddy Cahill: That is the word from Padres camp about Arias. I would like to see him prove it in games, outside of the Cal League and for something of an extended clip. If Arias can make those strides, he has pretty significant upside. He’s an excellent defender and you’d then be talking about someone who can play shortstop at a high level and also hit for a decent average. Those players don’t come around every day.

Kristin (San Diego,CA):

     Why do they struggle developing hitters at a consistent basis when they get to the majors?

Teddy Cahill: If I had a solid answer for this, I don’t think I’d still be a writer haha. But this is the $100 million question, right? If homegrown outfielders like Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer had the kind of success rate that homegrown pitchers in the organization have, the Indians would be a behemoth. I would say that consistently doing that is among the hardest things to do in baseball, but there are teams that do it (LAD, CHC to name a couple). It is entirely possible that the Indians have already figured it out and that there’s just a lag time to get players like Nolan Jones and Tyler Freeman to the big leagues. But finding a way to solve the problem is imperative, especially as Lindor approaches free agency and stalwarts like Santana and Kipnis and Bradley have moved on already.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     Oscar Gonzalez is on the BA “Rule 5 possibilities” list again this year. Why would the Indians hold a spot on the roster for a career AAAA catcher Beau Taylor when they risk again losing a possible repeat of Anthony Santander?

Teddy Cahill: That’s pretty easy: the Indians don’t think he’s Anthony Santander 2.0. He went unpicked last year. He’s not going to be on the 30 this year should he go unselected again. His strikeout rate is a real concern.

Jordan (Finland):

     Does the BA team have a designated Hunter Gaddis enthusiast? He was briefly spectacular in the NYP & AZL in 2019 & BA had reported his FB velo substantially up, I wonder if there have been any updates since then.

Teddy Cahill: I think that position is still open. But Gaddis fits the mold of a lot of the college pitchers the Indians have targeted in recent years. I’m eager to see what he can do in a full season of the minors in 2021.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     The Indians are loaded with shortstops and really thin with outfielders yet keep drafting SS in the first round. Is this a sound strategy?

Teddy Cahill: Prior to Carson Tucker, the Indians hadn’t drafted a first-round shortstop since Lindor. They took four outfielders in that span. And if we don’t count Nolan Jones (who was drafted as a shortstop, but was never going to stick there), they’ve drafted just four shortstops with top 100 picks in the last decade. While they have incredible shortstop depth, the draft isn’t the primary source of it. The international market is really where they’ve cleaned up. As for the soundness of the strategy, they’re not blind to the depth chart. But I think playing to your strengths is generally smart. Those shortstops can be traded for outfielders later on, if necessary.

Mike (Honolulu):

     Prospect-wise, where does the organization need to shore up their stable of players?

Teddy Cahill: All together now: the outfield

Gary (Virginia):

     What are the chances Arias is the SS of the future in Cleveland?

Teddy Cahill: He has the advantage of being ahead of Rocchio, Carson Tucker, Gabriel Rodriguez, Yordys Valdes, etc. on the minor league ladder. He’s a better defender than Freeman, Yu Chang, Owen Miller and Ernie Clement. So, right now it looks like he’ll be well positioned to get a crack at it when he’s ready. But, as previously mentioned, he’ll have to prove his strides in pitch recognition are going to play against upper-level pitching to hold on to that spot in the long run.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     The Indians haven’t had a lefty in the rotation since Sam McDowell, well not quite. Do any of the current prospects have a chance: Scott Moss, Joey Cantillo or one of the Logan Allens?

Teddy Cahill: How quickly you forget Carsten Charles Sabathia and Clifton Phifer Lee. How fun was it watching those guys? I would guess Sabathia wears a Yankee hat on his Cooperstown plaque, but there should be consideration given to him going in as an Indian. ANYWAY – I’d say they all have chances. You’ll probably see Logan S. Allen (the one via SD) highest in this year’s handbook, but I wouldn’t bet against Logan T. Allen being the best rotation contender when it’s all said and done.

Mike (Honolulu):

     Is Triston McKenzie likely to be in one of the five rotation spots for the Indians in 2021? What are your expectations for him?

Teddy Cahill: I think that’s a safe assumption and I’d expect him to do very well with it. The biggest questions are about how well he’ll hold up over a long season, but as long as he’s healthy, I think what you saw is what you can get. He’ll have some rookie scuffles like anyone, but he’s got premium upside.

Tom (Akron):

     Since joining the organization, Eli Morgan has led Indians minor leaguers in strikeouts. BA has been lukewarm on him in the past…does his addition to the 40-man roster improve your outlook on him at all?

Teddy Cahill: It’s going to get him back in the 30 this year. I can say that for sure. But the knocks on Morgan are the same as ever – he’s undersized and he has to be ultra-fine with his control to succeed. He’s done a good job of that so far, but he’s only thrown 107 innings in the upper levels. I really wish we could have seen him in games in 2020 because I think it would have been very instructive. But the Indians’ implicit endorsement of him by adding him to the roster is meaningful.

John (Shaker Heights):

     The Indians seem to have a lot of pitching prospects that have seemed to have flown under the radar nationally. Outside of those in the top 10, who do you think may have the best combination of upside and probability to develop into a mid-rotation starter or better?

Teddy Cahill: Tanner Burns is at the top of that list for me. Carlos Vargas, Logan T. Allen and Joey Cantillo are worth mentioning here as well. But I’m very excited about what Burns could become as he works with the Indians PD staff.

Elliot (Youngstown OH):

     Who do you see as possible closer candidates to challenge Karinchak in a few years?

Teddy Cahill: Emmanuel Clase comes immediately to mind. If the Indians were to decide one of the pitchers currently being developed as a starter is better served in the bullpen, perhaps a Sam Hentges, you never know who might take to that role. But writing Karinchak in as the 2024 closer may have been the easiest part of compiling that lineup.

Corey (Washington):

     Which of these 3 pitchers currently on the Indians’ 40 man roster has the best chance of ending up as a starter, Scott Moss, Sam Hentges, Carlos Vargas?

Teddy Cahill: Vargas for me. I’m a big, longtime fan of both Moss and Hentges, but I see the best combination of upside and certainty in Vargas.

Mike (Honolulu):

     The Indians only MLB debuted 4 players in 2020 — Daniel Johnson, Cam Hill, Triston McKenzie, and Kyle Nelson. Excluding McKenzie, do any of these remaining three players have any role on the 2021 Indians?

Teddy Cahill: I think yes. The Indians outfield depth chart is pretty wide open right now, so there’s no reason to exclude Johnson, even if it’s in a part-time role. And as relievers, Hill and Nelson are certainly in the mix as well. As a lefthander, Nelson especially can never be counted out. Now, are any of the three big pieces on the roster? I don’t think so, but with such an open outfield picture and the fact that every team runs through a lot of arms every year, you can’t discount the possibility someone grabs an opportunity and runs with it.

Mark (Cleveland):

     It seems like the Indians are taking a half-step back for the next year or two and hoping to reopen the competitive window when the young guys in the minors are ready. What’s the outlook for this team once that happens? Do they have all the pieces they’ll need in place?

Teddy Cahill: I wouldn’t really agree with the idea that they’re taking a half step back, at least not yet. If Lindor is traded and the return doesn’t include win-now pieces, I might have to change that assessment, but this is a team with a Cy Young winner and MVP candidate in place for the next few years. But I would say that, yes, I think the Indians have the pieces to make a big push in a few years when the younger players are reaching the big leagues. Bieber, Plesac and McKenzie are young. Jose Ramirez is on a long-term deal. Nolan Jones should be established ahead of the big wave of younger players, whether you’re talking about the one that could be playing in Double-A this year or in A ball. Over the years, this organization has been good at signing useful veterans to short-term deals to complement the core. To me, that sounds like a winning formula.

John (Shaker Heights):

     The Indians seem to collect young, athletic, hit-over-power infielders like many of us collected baseball cards when we were kids. Have you gotten any sense why they’ve been so focused on that? Is it because they believe those players are statistically more likely to be big leaguers? Is it a belief in specific aspects of their player development program? Something else? Finally, beyond those mentioned in top 10, which of those infielders stand out the most?

Teddy Cahill: I think organizationally, there is a belief in the importance of the hit tool and athleticism. The guys with big tools but who are raw and have questions about their ability to consistently make contact are riskier. I don’t think this is a unique view to the Indians, but there are teams that don’t see it that way or at least aren’t as disciplined in their approach. And the Indians have had success with that profile – think Tyler Freeman and Brayan Rocchio. We’ll see if it pays off at the big league level, but the early returns are promising. As for infielders outside the top 10, Gabriel Rodriguez is the most obvious. He was in the 10 a year ago but got squeezed out by the Clevinger trade and Gabriel Arias’ arrival. As far as deeper cuts, I really like Yordys Valdes and Angel Martinez.

Logan (MI):

     I love this list. I think this system is very underrated and tons of upside. Do you project Rocchio and Bracho as above average big leageurs? Do they have top 100 upside? Also, Could you explain why you have Naylor over Valera? Is a knock on Valera or praise for Naylor?? Thank Teddy!

Teddy Cahill: Valera vs. Naylor was a significant point of debate among the group here as the list was being finalized. Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any significant separation between them. They’re both Top 100 players for me. The case for Naylor is that he’s a really productive hitting catcher with impressive framing ability. The case for Valera is that he’s thought of as having serious upside at the plate and has drawn Juan Soto comps dating back to his amateur days. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer there. But the premium position Naylor is playing now and his athleticism to play third base if he needed to move out from behind the plate was the edge for me. As for Rocchio and Bracho, I would say yes. Long way to go, questions still to be answered, but they have that ability.

Bill B (Glen Allen, VA):

     Thanks for taking our questions. Does Daniel Espino become the next young Indians pitcher with high upside to work his way relatively quickly to the majors? Seems a great young talent who just needs innings… and given Cleveland’s desire to shed payroll, wonder if a late 2022 ETA is possible.

Teddy Cahill: Late 2022 would be aggressive, but Espino has already forced the Indians to be more aggressive with him then they usually are. I’d peg his ETA more likely as late 2023, early 2024, though with the caveat that it’s still an unknown how the organization is going to handle the lost developmental time of 2020. Espino missed out on an opportunity to log a lot of starts and establish his routine and learn what it takes to be successful over a full season. Do they want him to be able to focus on that at a lower level in 2021 or will they prioritize him facing as challenging hitters as he’s ready for? I could see them taking either approach.

Rod (Seattle):

     Wow! I don’t think I have ever seen so few “Bests” that are not in the projected line-up. Any insights?

Teddy Cahill: It’s maybe a little weird, but a few things are at play here. 1) the Indians don’t have a lot of diversity in the top 10. Seven of the 10 spots go to middle infielders or pitchers. The best tools categories are a very diverse bunch. 2) There are some guys who have a clear carrying tool represented on the best tools. Those kinds of players don’t always fare so well on the overall list. All in all, I wouldn’t take much from it. It’s more quirky than telling.

John (Shaker Heights):

     No one from the Indians’ 2020 Draft class made the top 10. I suspect that is more a function of the depth in this farm system, correct? However, since the scouting reports don’t include anyone from the draft, can you share any interesting news or updates on any of their picks?

Teddy Cahill: As a Shaker native myself, I have to make sure I get to all questions from Shaker. Yes, it’s a function of the Indians not graduating anyone from their top 10 and adding a new top-10 player in Arias. You’ll find Carson Tucker and Tanner Burns in the 11-15 range in the handbook. I’d say the most interesting notes I have to pass on from the draft class is that Carson Tucker and Petey Halpin both added weight/strength over the last year. Tucker especially got bigger and stronger and, as a result, the Indians think there’s more power in there that he would have shown this spring if he had the opportunity.

Nancy (Tribetown):

     After the Clevinger trade & a great 2020 draft, when is the last time the Indians system had this much depth?

Teddy Cahill: I’ve been writing the Indians’ prospect list since 2013 and I can’t recall a time the organization has had this much depth. It’s been brewing for the last couple years but it’s gone to another level this year because Karinchak was the only graduation this year, the three prospects added in the Clevinger trade and the draft class. Give it another month to add in another international class and it figures to get even deeper. I personally think we aren’t giving it enough credit in our organization rankings, but that comes down to some philosophical questions about depth vs. stars and proximity to the big leagues. Overall, I think it’s a really impressive system and one that gives the Indians a lot of reason for optimism over the next decade.

Teddy Cahill: That’ll do it for me today. Thanks to everyone for subscribing and chatting. This really is a fun system to break down. Hopefully you enjoy reading about it as well!

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