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Graduations and a few trades have diminished the depth in the system.
The Indians have a bevy of exciting young hitters throughout the system, stretching from Francisco Mejia and Greg Allen on the cusp of the big leagues all the way to Nolan Jones and Will Benson at the short-season level. They also remain adept at developing middle infielders, with Yu-Cheng Chang, Willi Castro and Erik Gonzalez all in the upper levels.
Triston McKenzie looks like he’ll give the Indians a homegrown starter, but they don’t have as much pitching depth in the minors. It is a departure from recent years, when the system regularly churned out impact arms such as Cody Allen and Danny Salazar or trade pickups Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Righthander Shane Bieber took a big step forward in 2017, but the same can’t be said for pitchers at lower levels, such as Brady Aiken or Juan Hillman.
Notable Graduations: OF Bradley Zimmer (1) and 3B Yandy Diaz (11).
Track Record:Mejia's precocious talent has been apparent since the Indians signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 and sent him to make his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League the following season. He had an eventful path through the minors that included a historic hitting streak and nearly being included in a blockbuster trade before making his major league debut in September 2017 as a 21-year-old. Mejia broke out in 2016 and authored a 50-game hitting streak at two Class A levels that is the longest in the modern era of the minor leagues (dating back to 1963). He kept hitting in 2017 as he advanced to Double-A Akron. He finished the year in the Arizona Fall League, where he was one of the circuit's leading hitters. Scouting Report: Mejia has long been known for his hitting ability, and the switch-hitter consistently makes hard contact from both sides of the plate. He has matured as a hitter to use the whole field to hit, instead of relying on the pull-oriented approach he had when he was younger. 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 means he also doesn't strike out much and is comfortable working behind in the count. Mejia has made strides defensively, has elite arm strength and has become a good receiver. He has gotten comfortable speaking English, a key skill for him to work with his pitchers, and has developed more consistency behind the plate. For all his progress defensively, however, Mejia's bat remains ahead of his glove. Because his bat isn't far off from being ready for the big leagues, and because the Indians have Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, a pair of excellent defensive catchers, in Cleveland, Mejia went to the AFL to get experience at third base. He is naturally still learning the position but he will continue to see action at the hot corner in 2018. The Future: Mejia will open 2018 at Triple-A Columbus, and if he continues to hit the way he has throughout his career, he will find his way into the big league lineup during the summer. His long-term future remains behind the plate, but his added defensive versatility will help him as he breaks into the majors.
Track Record: McKenzie continued to build on his track record of success in 2017 and ranked second in the minors with 186 strikeouts. He presents the same challenge to evaluators today that he did as an amateur: His track record is unimpeachable and he has impressive stuff, but he is listed at a rail-thin 6-foot-5 and 165 pounds. Scouting Report: McKenzie's fastball can get up to 95 mph and averaged about 92 in 2017. He held that velocity throughout the season, and while it would dip during starts, he also showed the ability to reach back for more at the end of his outings. His fastball plays up and gets swings and misses thanks to the extension in his delivery and the high spin rate on the pitch. He also has a feel for spinning his curveball, which can be an out pitch. His changeup isn't as advanced but has the potential to be above-average. McKenzie needs to improve his routines and physique to allow him to manage a starter's workload. The Future: McKenzie is speeding toward the big leagues and has the upside to be a frontline starter. He will advance to Double-A Akron in 2018 for his first taste of the upper minors.
Track Record: Bradley has been one of the most productive players in the Indians' farm system since they drafted him. 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 the Carolina League with 29 home runs in 2016. He fell short of making it four straight home run crowns, however, when he ranked sixth in the Eastern League with 23 homers at Double-A Akron in 2017. Scouting Report: Bradley's raw power is the best in the system, and he has shown he is adept at getting to it in games. He has a strong, physical frame and creates excellent bat speed that allows him to drive the ball out to all fields. That power comes with a lot of swing and miss, but he cut his strikeout rate in 2017 from 29 percent to a much more manageable 22 percent. Bradley is a well below-average runner with an average arm, limiting him to first base. The Future: Bradley will advance to Triple-A Columbus in 2018, where he could take advantage of Huntington Park's hitter-friendly dimensions. He has the potential to become a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Track Record: 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 take him at No. 55 overall. He got back to his elite hitting in 2017 at short-season Mahoning Valley, where he led the New York-Penn League with a .912 OPS as a 19-year-old. Scouting Report: Jones has an easy lefthanded swing and uses the whole field to hit. He is a patient hitter who led the NYP in with 43 walks. He reduced his strikeout rate, but his patience means he works many deep counts and will always strike out a fair amount. He has proven to be an advanced hitter but also has above-average raw power that he is still learning to get to consistently in games. As he physically matures, he projects to hit for plus power. Jones fits the third-base profile, but he still has work to do to ensure he can stick at the hot corner. He has plus arm strength but needs to improve his glove work and infield actions. If he moves, his athleticism and average speed will play in right field. The Future: Jones provides plenty of upside. He will get his first taste of full-season ball in 2018 when he opens the year at low Class A Lake County.
Track Record: Bieber took over as UC Santa Barbara's ace in 2016 and led the Gauchos to their first appearance in the College World Series. He made a smooth transition to pro ball and excelled in 2017, his first full season, by reaching Double-A Akron. Scouting Report: Bieber came to pro ball with a reputation for relying more on his command than his stuff to succeed. He has continued to show above-average control as a professional, and his walk rate of 0.5 per nine innings in 2017 led all full-season minor leaguers. But Bieber is starting to outgrow the command-and-control label, because his stuff made a jump in 2017. His fastball, which sat around 90 mph in college, now sits 92-94 and touched 96. His curveball got sharper and more consistent, developing into his best secondary pitch. He also throws a slider and changeup, which can both be average offerings. He has a clean, easy delivery and has shown he can handle a heavy workload--his 173.1 innings led all minor leaguers in 2017. The Future: Bieber made one of the biggest jumps in the Indians' system in 2017 and now profiles as a potential No. 3 starter. He will advance to Triple-A Columbus in 2018 and could pitch his way into the big league mix.
Track Record: Chang was a prominent prep player in Taiwan and was one of the top amateur free agents to sign out of Asia in 2013. His profile has risen in 2016 and 2017 as his power has developed. Scouting Report: Chang has solid all-around offensive tools and is now tapping into his raw power. He has produced 104 extra-base hits in the last two years, more than half his total hits (205) in that time. His swing is still geared to hit line drives, but he has done a better job of incorporating his lower half into his swing and understanding what pitches he can drive. He is a patient hitter, but his willingness to work deep counts leads to an elevated strikeout rate, which spiked to a career-high 26 percent in 2017. Chang's tools are good enough to play at shortstop, though his future as an everyday player may be elsewhere. He is an average defender with average or better speed and arm strength. The Future: Chang has exclusively played shortstop in full-season ball, but that will likely change at Triple-A Columbus in 2018. With Francisco Lindor holding down shortstop in Cleveland, and with the Indians' predilection for versatility, Chang will likely begin gaining exposure to other infield positions.
Track Record: The Indians have pushed Castro since signing him out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, and he had been the youngest player on his team at every stop of his pro career until 2017, when he was edged by Triston McKenzie and had to settle for being the youngest position player. Despite his youth, Castro has held his own at every level and had a breakout 2017 season at high Class A Lynchburg. Scouting Report: A switch-hitter, Castro sprays line drives from both sides of the plate. He started coming into his power more in 2017, when he hit 11 home runs to more than double his previous career total. He is an aggressive hitter, limiting his walks, but he controls the strike zone well and makes a lot of contact. He has above-average speed and is a threat on the bases. Defensively, he has an above-average arm, good hands and sound infield actions at shortstop. He still has to work on his consistency after making 25 errors in each of the last two years, but his tools and instincts give him a good chance to stay at shortstop. The Future: Castro is a confident player whose approach to the game has matured in the last year. He will advance to Double-A Akron in 2018.
Track Record: Allen got off to a strong start in 2017 at Double-A Akron before breaking the hamate bone in his right hand. The injury sidelined him for two months, but he played well enough upon his return to get called up to Cleveland in September to make his major league debut. He made the playoff roster and appeared in two games. Scouting Report: Allen's game is built around his plus speed. He has good on-base skills, is a disciplined hitter and has walked about as often as he has struck out in his career. His approach at the plate is geared toward making contact, limiting his power potential and some of his offensive impact. He is a good baserunner and is always a threat to steal. Allen's speed also plays well in center field, where he is a plus defender. He takes good routes, has an above-average arm and has the speed to cover plenty of ground. The Future: Allen doesn't fit the typical corner outfield profile, but with Bradley Zimmer set to man center field in Cleveland, that may be where the Indians ask him to play. He will open 2018 either in Cleveland or at Triple-A Columbus.
Track Record: The Indians took advantage of their recently revamped international scouting department and the rule changes in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement to make a splash on the international market in 2017. Valera, the fifth-ranked player in the class, was their top target, and he signed a deal worth $1.3 million. He was born in New York and lived there until his family moved to the Dominican Republic when he was 13. Scouting Report: Valera was one of the best hitters in the international class and drew comparisons with Nationals outfield prospect Juan Soto. He has a loose, compact swing and keeps his bat in the hitting zone for a long time. His feel for the barrel, bat-to-ball skills, pitch recognition and discipline all help him to make consistent, hard contact and give him the kind of hitting ability the Indians look for. He has above-average raw power and gets to it in games, though he has more of a hit-over-power profile. Valera profiles as a corner outfielder with average speed and arm strength. The Future: Valera will make his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2018 as he begins his path to reaching his considerable ceiling.
Track Record: Benson was a two-sport star in high school and, as a senior, was a member of the USA Baseball team that won the 2016 18U World Cup in Japan. Scouting Report: Benson produces elite bat speed thanks to his strength and quick hands, and he turns that bat speed into tremendous raw power, rivaling Bobby Bradley for the best in the system. He is learning to get to that power more consistently and in 2017 led the short-season New York-Penn League in home runs (10). His power comes with a lot of swing-and-miss, however, and he has struck out in one-third of his plate appearances. He has frequently tinkered with his swing but seemed to be more comfortable in the second half. Those adjustments, as well as his ability to work a walk, led to some optimism that he will cut down his strikeout rate. He is an excellent athlete who runs well for his size, particularly once he is underway. He has a plus arm and is a solid defender in right field. The Future: As a physical, athletic, lefthanded-hitting outfielder from Atlanta, Benson is often compared with Jason Heyward. Benson has a long way to go to reach his ceiling and will advance to full-season ball when he opens 2018 at low Class A Lake County.
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