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TRACK RECORD: In the spring of 2015, McKenzie presented scouts with a difficult assignment. He had an excellent amateur track record and impressive present stuff, but he was listed at a rail-thin 6-foot-5, 165 pounds. While some questioned how much weight his frame will ever carry, the Indians drafted McKenzie 42nd overall and have been rewarded for the decision. He has built an impressive track record of success in pro ball. In 2017 alone, he pitched in the Futures Game, was named Carolina League pitcher of the year and ranked second in the minors with 186 strikeouts. He was slowed by forearm soreness in 2018 that the Indians took a very conservative approach with, delaying his debut until June. Still, he was pitching in Double-A Akron as a 20-year-old and put together a strong summer despite being one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. The concerns about his thin frame remain today, but his track record and stuff are such that they have been lessened.
SCOUTING REPORT: McKenzie’s fastball can get up to 95 mph and in each of the last two years it averaged about 92 mph. He held that velocity throughout the season and while it would dip during starts, he also showed the ability to reach back for more and finish strong at the end of his outings. His plus fastball plays up and gets swings and misses thanks to the extension in his delivery and the high spin rate he generates. He also has a good feel for spinning his plus curveball and gets good depth on the offering, which can be an out pitch. McKenzie’s changeup continues to develop and has the potential to be an above-average offering. He is starting to learn how to sequence and attack hitters with his full arsenal. He commands the ball well and earns praise for his makeup and understanding of his craft. McKenzie’s biggest area for development remains improving his physique to allow him to manage a starter’s workload.
THE FUTURE: McKenzie will pitch nearly all of 2019 as a 21-year-old and is speeding toward the big leagues, where he has the upside to be a frontline starter. To this point he hasn’t been challenged much and he has a chance to earn a spot in the big leagues in 2019. But with Cleveland’s crowded big league rotation, the Indians can afford to let McKenzie force the issue with a strong showing in the upper levels of the minors.
TRACK RECORD: Jones was regarded as one of the best prep hitters in the 2016 draft class, and he’s lived up to his amateur reputation in pro ball. After leading the New York-Penn League in OPS (.912) in 2017, he followed that up with a strong year at two Class A stops in his first taste of full-season ball.
SCOUTING REPORT: Jones has an easy lefthanded swing and uses the whole field to hit. He is a patient hitter who led all Indians minor leaguers in walks (89), though his patience also means plenty of deep counts. He will always strike out fairly often as a result. He has plus raw power and in 2018 began to turn what had previously mostly been doubles pop into over-the-fence strength. Jones fits the third base profile, but he will need to improve defensively to stay at the hot corner. He has a plus arm but needs to improve his glove work and infield actions, especially when ranging to his right. If he did need to move, his athleticism and average speed should play in the outfield, though some believe he is destined for first base.
THE FUTURE: Jones has impressed the Indians with his all-around offensive game and work ethic. He likely will return to high Class A Lynchburg to begin 2019.
TRACK RECORD: Freeman this summer starred for short-season Mahoning Valley in his first full professional season. He led the New York-Penn League in batting (.352), slugging (.511), runs (49), hits (95) and doubles (29).
SCOUTING REPORT: Freeman stands out most for his feel for hitting and excellent feel for the barrel. He has a very aggressive approach at the plate and rarely walks as a result, but when he swings he makes contact. Thanks to his ability to consistently square balls up, he produces plenty of doubles—he hit the most doubles in the New York-Penn League since 1999—and he may be able to develop fringe-average power as he physically matures. Freeman was drafted as a shortstop and the Indians are developing him there, though he’s also gotten time at second base in each of the last two years. He’s already improved his hands, infield actions and instincts but he’s still an average runner with average arm strength, which may mean a move to second base is still in his future.
THE FUTURE: Regardless of where Freeman ends up defensively, his bat will be his main attraction. He’ll advance to low Class A Lake County in 2019 and look to continue his impressive performance at the plate.
TRACK RECORD: Naylor, the younger brother of Padres’ prospect Josh Naylor, starred with the Canadian Junior National Team. The Indians drafted him 29th overall and sent him to the Rookielevel Arizona League, where he had a solid summer.
SCOUTING REPORT: Naylor, like his older brother, stands out for his offensive skills, but he’s a different kind of hitter. He’s a plus hitter with average power. There were some scouts who believed Naylor had the best hit tool among all prep hitters in his draft class thanks to his smooth swing, pitch recognition and approach. His power hasn’t always played in games, but he makes consistent hard contact and has the ability to drive the ball. Naylor is an above-average runner and his athleticism plays well behind the plate, as does his plus arm. Like all high school catchers, he’ll need to refine his catching skills. He also played a lot of third base as an amateur and he profiles well at the hot corner, but the Indians are committed to him catching.
THE FUTURE: The Indians in recent years have taken a conservative approach with their highly drafted prep bats. That means Naylor probably will head to short-season Mahoning Valley as a 19-year-old.
TRACK RECORD: Valera, the fifthranked player in the 2017 international singing class, headlined the Indians’ big haul, inking 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. He made his professional debut in 2018 in the Rookie-level Arizona League as a 17-year-old, but he was limited to just six games before a broken hamate ended his season.
SCOUTING REPORT: Valera 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 covet. He has above-average raw power and gets to it in games well, 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 as an amateur drew comparisons with the Nationals’ Juan Soto, and while he’s unlikely to mimic Soto’s meteoric rise through the minor leagues, he is advanced enough that an assignment to low Class A Lake County is possible in 2019.
TRACK RECORD: Hentges was one of the youngest players in the 2014 draft class and didn’t pitch much until late in his junior year of high school. He started his pro career slowly in part because he needed Tommy John surgery in 2016. Back to full health in 2018, he took a big step forward with high Class A Lynchburg, where he ranked third in the Carolina League in strikeouts (122).
SCOUTING REPORT: Hentges has a big, physical frame that he has grown into since signing and he has the powerful fastball to match. His fastball averages about 93 mph and he can run it up to 97. Because his fastball is so good, he can overpower lower-level hitters with it, and as he advances, he’ll have to refine his secondary offerings. The good news is that he has the makings of three good offspeed pitches. His curveball flashes plus— he just needs to throw it more consistently. This year he added a cutter to give him another weapon and he also mixes in a promising changeup. Like many big, young pitchers, Hentges needs to improve his control and take better advantage of his height.
THE FUTURE: Hentges has mid-rotation potential and will likely begin the 2019 season with Double-A Akron.
TRACK RECORD: Bradley has been one of the most productive players in the Indians’ farm system since they drafted him in 2014. He won the Rookie-level Arizona League triple crown that summer 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, while also collecting MVP honors. He has hit 50 homers over the last two years.
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, and he has struck out in 25 percent of his plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A. Bradley is a well-below average runner with an average arm, limiting him to first base.
THE FUTURE: After reaching Triple-A Columbus in the second half of 2018, Bradley will return there to start 2019. With Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion signed through 2019 (both have team options for 2020), Bradley’s opportunity in Cleveland is fast approaching.
TRACK RECORD: Oviedo, the top pitcher in the Indians’ 2015 international signing class, stood out in 2017 for his tools despite his unsightly 7.14 ERA during his U.S. debut in the Rookie level Arizona League. The next year at short-season Mahoning Valley, Oviedo’s considerable talent and his stats began to line up and he earned a late promotion to low Class A Lake County.
SCOUTING REPORT: Oviedo has filled out his big frame and refined his body since signing, and his velocity has grown as a result. His fastball now sits 94-98 mph with sinking action, up from the upper 80s when he signed. He got back to throwing his big curveball this year, which along with his slider gives him two distinct breaking balls that can induce swings and misses. He also has good feel for his changeup, which is advanced for his age. In the end, Oviedo could have four average or better offerings. He did a good job of refining his delivery to get it to be more controllable and allow him to throw strikes more consistently.
THE FUTURE: With his power stuff, Oviedo has considerable upside. He’ll return to the Midwest League in 2019 and look to show that he can handle the workload of a full season.
TRACK RECORD: Rocchio joined George Valera and Aaron Bracho in the Indians’ deep 2017 international signing class . Rocchio advanced to the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2018, where he ranked third in batting (.343).
SCOUTING REPORT: Rocchio doesn’t stand out physically but he was quickly nicknamed “The Professor” because of his high baseball IQ and game awareness. A switch-hitter, he has a smooth, consistent swing from both sides of the plate and excellent pitch recognition. He’s an aggressive hitter and consistently barrels the ball. His size means power isn’t a part of his game now, but as he physically matures he’ll start sending some of his line drives over the fence. He likely will always be a hit-over-power player, however. While there were questions when he signed about his ability to stick at shortstop, Rocchio did his best to show he can play the position in 2018. He’s a plus runner, and his hands and arm are good enough for the position, especially because his instincts and baseball IQ help his tools play up.
THE FUTURE: The Indians have a logjam of lower-level middle infielders. But it will be hard to slow Rocchio down now, and he will likely go to short-season Mahoning Valley in 2019 .
TRACK RECORD: Following Hankins’ performance on the showcase circuit during the summer and a stellar showing for USA Baseball in the 18U World Cup, Hankins was considered the best prep player in the 2018 draft class. But he suffered a shoulder injury in February and while he returned to the mound before the draft, his stuff was not as crisp as it had been. That led Hankins to slide to the last pick of the first round.
SCOUTING REPORT: Hankins has a long, lean frame and uncommon athleticism for a pitcher of his size. At his best, he runs his fastball up to 97 mph and typically sits in the mid-90s with plus life. He has the makings of quality secondary pitches, but they’ll need to become more consistent offerings. His slider and changeup both have the ability to be above-average, and he also throws a bigger curveball, though it lags behind his other pitches. Hankins controls his arsenal well, but it will be important for him to maintain his delivery as he grows into his large frame.
THE FUTURE: The Indians are confident Hankins’ shoulder issues are behind him. If he’s able to get back to the level he showed in 2017, he has high-end upside. He’ll likely start 2019 with short-season Mahoning Valley.
- Teddy Cahill
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