Jhonkensy Noel Makes Lots Of Hard Contact
The Indians’ 2017 international signing class looms prominently in the organization's future.
Outfielder George Valera, shortstop Brayan Rocchio and second baseman Aaron Bracho all ranked as top prospects. Shortstop Jose Tena hit .319 in his first two Rookie-level seasons and jumped to High-A this year.
The next player to emerge from that class is burly corner infielder Jhonkensy Noel, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound masher who, according to Indians vice president of player development James Harris “hits the ball harder than almost anyone in our system.”
Signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, Noel more than held his own in his first two years in Rookie ball, hitting .263 with 16 home runs in the Dominican Summer and Arizona leagues.
This year at Low-A Lynchburg, the 19-year-old Noel hit the ground running, hitting .347/.368/.639 in 17 games. He had nearly as many extra-base hits (11) as strikeouts (13).
Hand and ankle injuries had slowed Noel's ascent, but he was expected to return this summer.
The righthanded-hitting Noel had split his time between first base and third base. Regardless of where he plays, Noel hits.
“He’s played primarily first base, but we are increasing his time at third base,” Harris said.
Noel's physicality makes him an intimidating figure at the plate. “He has shown plus power and is an agile defender,” Harris said.
What the free-swinging Noel is not is patient. While he had kept his strikeout rate in check, he likes to swing the bat and had drawn just two walks and seen roughly three pitches per plate appearance as a result.
The Indians cannot argue about the results on contact, especially in what was shaping up as a breakthrough season for Noel.
— Righthander Triston McKenzie, the Indians’ top prospect heading into the season, took a major step backward due primarily to some alarming control problems. He was demoted to Triple-A Columbus following a start against Seattle on June 12 in which he walked four of the six batters he faced, throwing 32 pitches, only 12 of them strikes. In 11 appearances, 10 starts, with Cleveland, McKenzie averaged 12.5 strikeouts but also 8.3 walks per nine innings.
— In his first 17 appearances, reliever Nick Sandlin, a second-round pick out of Southern Mississippi in 2018, was averaging 14 strikeouts per nine innings and holding opposing hitters to a .106 average. Righthanded batters were 3-for-43 (.070) against him.