MLB 2020 Farm System Overview: Cleveland Indians

While we wait for the 2020 MLB season to get underway, it’s time to take a closer look at players who could one day be on opening day rosters. For the next month or two, we’ll be examining each team’s farm system, which will contain several prospects that will either one day be contributors for them, or could be used to acquire impact major leaguers. 

Since we’ll be going in alphabetical order by city, our eighth farm system overview will be of the Cleveland Indians. We’ll rank their top ten prospects, discuss some of their other notable minor leaguers, and then analyze the overall state of the farm system.

#1: RHP Triston McKenzie

Photo Cred: Let’s Go Tribe

Age: 22

Height: 6’5″ Weight: 165 lbs

Drafted: 42nd Overall- 2015

Fastball: 60 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 56.5

You know the saying, “he’ll grow into his frame”? Well, that assumption is being challenged at the moment by Triston McKenzie, who despite standing at 6’5″, weighs just 165 pounds. At some point, the 22-year-old will add some weight, but given his age, he’s running out of time. However, at the moment, his lightweight nature isn’t a concern for me, as his mid 90s fastball plays up due to its high spin rate and the extension he creates on it. Furthermore, he complements with a deadly curveball, and overall he has command for all his pitches. Unfortunately for McKenzie, he didn’t pitch this year due to a back injury, and dealt with a forearm injury in 2018; he hasn’t pitched a lot. Nevertheless, his upside is tremendous, and since he’s already relatively polished as well, the lost time in development shouldn’t hurt him too much. He’s unlikely to make his debut until he’s at least 24-years-old, but when he does, he figures to be the next of Cleveland’s successful pitching development stories.

#2: 3B Nolan Jones

Photo Cred:

Age: 21

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 185 lbs

Drafted: 2nd Round- 2016

Hit: 60 Power: 55 Field: 47.5 Arm: 65 Speed: 35

Overall Grade: 55.525

In my opinion, the most important skill in baseball has to be the ability to get on base, as doing so is more valuable to scoring runs than having a high slugging percentage. Luckily for Nolan Jones, this won’t be a problem for him. After all, the 21-year-old has a career minor-league walk rate well over 15%, and because of that, his worst on-base percentage at any levels of the minors was .370 in 211 plate appearances in Double-A. Sure, Jones does strikeout a lot, but his ability to draw walks more than makes up for it, and to his credit, he’s also an above-average power threat. His defensive home has yet to be determined, but whether it’s at third base or right field, his arm strength will allow him to stick at either position. To be honest, I love Jones’ profile as a prospect, as he should make a quick transition to the majors, and could be an above-average everyday player for the next 10-15 years. McKenzie may be their best overall prospect, but Jones is who Indians fans should be the most excited about.

#3: RHP Daniel Espino

Photo Cred: The 3rd Man In

Age: 19

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 205 lbs

Drafted: 24th Overall- 2019

Fastball: 67.5 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 45 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 55.375

Heading into the 2019 MLB draft, few prospects were as polarizing as Daniel Espino. Despite being just 18-years-old (now 19-years-old), he was able to touch 100 MPH with his fastball, yet his smaller frame and delivery were concerns. Nevertheless, I saw him as a top-ten pick, and when the Indians snatched him with the 24th overall selection, they got an absolute steal. That fastball not only at home a very high velocity, but also has plenty of late life to it, and Espino pairs it with two excellent breaking balls. Yes, he could use a proper changeup, but given his feel for pitching and overall command, I have no doubts that he’ll develop into a frontline starter. He’s a high-risk prospect, but that also means the reward is enormous, and given Cleveland’s track record with developing pitchers, it’s safe to say that he’s in a great situation.

#4: OF George Valera

Photo Cred: Baseball America

Age: 19

Height: 5’10” Weight: 160 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2017

Hit: 60 Power: 55 Field: 50 Arm: 47.5 Speed: 50

Overall Grade: 53.7

Despite being born in New York, George Valera classified as an international prospect, as he moved to the Dominican Republic at the age of 13, and signed for $1.3 million in 2017. He’s barely played since then due to a broken hamate bone in his right hand, and because of that, it’s hard to judge him at this point of his career. Nevertheless, what we know about Valera is that he’s an advanced hitter that will draw plenty of walks, and his Robinson Cane-style swing gives him the type of lift he needs to maximize on his raw power. His defense and athleticism may be limited, but the 19-year-old’s offensive upside is terrific, and similarly to Jones, is a prospect I’m intrigued by even more than the overall grade would indicate.

#5: RHP Emmanuel Clase

Photo Cred:

Age: 21

Height: 6’2″ Weight: 206 lbs

Signed: Feb 11, 2015- SD

Fastball: 80 Breaking Ball: 52.5 Third Pitch: 30 Command: 45

Overall Grade: 53.375

When you’re the centerpiece of a trade involving Corey Kluber, expectations are going to be high. That’s what Emmanuel Clase will face with the Indians, which is his third organization already, and in a way, the trades involving him represent his growth as a prospect- he went from being traded for Brett Nicholas to being traded for Kluber, which is quite the progression. From Cleveland’s perspective, it’s easy to see why they were so enticed by the 21-year-old. His cut fastball sits at 100 MPH and touches 102 MPH, and even better, it ranks in the 97th percentile (per Baseball Savant) in spin rate. Besides that, his slider at times is a plus pitch, but when you have such a dominant pitch, it’s okay to throw it 80% of the time. Furthermore, he’s dominated at every level over the past two years, which included a 3.42 xFIP in 21.1 innings at the majors- his walk rates have been fantastic. Relievers aren’t always very valuable, but nevertheless, Clase figures to be a pretty stable option at the back-end of the bullpen for years to come, which starts this year for a team with postseason aspirations.

#6: RHP Lenny Torres

Photo Cred: Let’s Go Tribe

Age: 19

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 190 lbs

Drafted: 41st Overall- 2018

Fastball: 60 Breaking Ball: 55 Third Pitch: 50 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 53.25

A major red flag with several high school pitchers it that they’re all projection, as they have to be properly developed and need to prove they can handle an increase in velocity.  The latter concern has been particularly true with Lenny Torres, as he had to have Tommy John surgery in May, which will hurt his development. Plus, we figure his velocity will spike up from its current 92-95 MPH range as he matures, but we can’t be sure of that, which further casts some doubt on his future. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why Torres was drafted with a top 50 pick in the 2018 draft- his upside is excellent. His athleticism and feel for pitching is better than you’d expect for a pitcher of his age, and right now, his power slider is his best pitch, as it comes with great spin rates. Upon returning, I could still easily see Torres becoming a solid #3 starter at the next level. His floor is pretty low, however, so Cleveland will have to make sure he’s in the best position possible to develop properly.

#7: OF Will Benson

Photo Cred: Let’s Go Tribe

Age: 21

Height: 6’5″ Weight: 225 lbs

Drafted: 14th Overall- 2016

Hit: 42.5 Power: 55 Field: 52.5 Arm: 70 Speed: 55

Overall Grade: 53.05

Speaking of high upside prospects that Cleveland has invested a high draft pick in, no prospect in the Indians’ farm system fits that description better than Will Benson, who was drafted with the 14th overall pick in 2016 due to his elite athletic profile. Those some tools – his raw power, incredible arm, and solid speed – remain intact, and to his credit, he’s able to draw walks enough to make up for his poor strikeout rates. Still, he hasn’t dominated the minors like you’d hope for especially since he just now reached High-A, as he doesn’t demonstrate the pure hitting ability you’d hope for. At the same time, he’s maintained his five-tool potential, and at the very least, has a decent floor as a power-hitting outfielder with decent on-base percentages and terrific athleticism. He’s a prospect that I don’t believe is getting enough attention right now, and at his age, still has time to become the star the Indians thought he’d become.

#8: Daniel Johnson

Photo Cred: Let’s Go Tribe

Age: 24

Height: 5’10” Weight: 200 lbs

Drafted: 5th Round- WSH 2016

Hit: 42.5 Power: 50 Field: 52.5 Arm: 75 Speed: 65

Overall Grade: 52.9

He’s never been a high-end prospect, but there is something to be said about consistently producing, and that is what outfield prospect Daniel Johnson has done in the minor-leagues. He’s worked hard to improve his plate discipline in recent years, and with an increase in power, has seen his stock rise since being acquired by Cleveland for catcher Yan Gomes. Plus, the 24-year-old is also a solid defender in the outfield with a near 80-grade arm and elite athleticism, and with that, will at the very worst be a fourth outfield type. Still, I wouldn’t put it past him to at least be a platoon outfielder in the future, and given his age and the Indians’ lack of outfield talent, his opportunity should come this season.

#9: RHP Carlos Vargas

Photo Cred:

Age: 20

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 180 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2016

Fastball: 65 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 45 Command: 45

Overall Grade: 52.25

Another young pitching prospect with a high ceiling, Carlos Vargas was signed for $250,000 in 2016, and is a very flashy pitcher. His high 90s fastball is fantastic and works great up in the zone, and when it’s working, his slider is a true wipeout pitcher. Yet, that’s where the red flags start piling up, which starts with his injury history- he missed all of 2017 with an elbow strain, and has pitched just over 100 innings over the past two seasons. That, and his lack of a changeup and feel for pitching (his walk rate was great this year though) may mean that he’s a reliever, which as mentioned with Clase, does hurt his overall value. Nevertheless, his elite two-pitch mix would work excellent in a multi-relief role, and those types of pitchers are at an all-time high in terms of necessity at the moment. Whether it’s as a starter or reliever, I see a role for Vargas at the next level, yet at the moment, he’s a long ways away from being big-league ready.

#10: RHP Ethan Hankins

Photo Cred: Let’s Go Tribe

Age: 19

Height: 6’6″ Weight: 200 lbs

Drafted: 35th Overall- 2018

Fastball: 62.5 Breaking Ball: 50 Third Pitch: 52.5 Command: 47.5

Overall Grade: 52.125

In the summer before the 2018 MLB draft, Ethan Hankins looked like a candidate to be the first high-school right-hander selected with the #1 overall pick, yet due to injury concerns, he fell all the way to the 35th overall pick. Yet, unlike Espino and Torres, I’m not sure Hankins will follow their paths in becoming a steal for the organization. He’s got a solid fastball and changeup pairing, but as far as him becoming a power pitcher, he doesn’t have the breaking ball necessary to become that, and I don’t really trust his command to develop. There’s also his long injury history, which cannot be ignored and raised serious questions about his durability, and because of that, I’m not sure I can trust him to have a starter’s workload in the future. His talent is tremendous, and hopefully I’m wrong, but right now, I’m pretty skeptical about the 19-year-old’s future; being a reliever like Vargas isn’t out of the question.

Best of the Rest

  • Bo Naylor is a solid hitter all-around, but I’m not sure he’ll stick as a catcher, and if he moves up the position, the value he brings with his offense goes down.
  • Logan Allen is a highly-regarded prospect who was a major piece in the Trevor Bauer trade, but he doesn’t really have a standout quality, and will probably be a back-end starter.
  • Junior Sanquintin is a switch hitter with some nice raw power, and should be a nice utility player like Yangervis Solarte.
  • Luis Oviedo has the sinker-changeup combination that will entice scouts, but also has posted very poor K-BB ratios.
  • Gabriel Rodriguez and Bryan Rocchio are recent international signings that should stick at shortstop, but don’t have a true above-average trait at the moment.
  • Tyler Freeman is ranked much lower on my list than other’s, as even though he’ll hit for a .300 average, he doesn’t walk enough to make up for his lackluster power.
  • Sam Hentges doesn’t have any flashy pitchers or great command, but he could be a lefty reliever with his fastball-breaking ball pairing.
  • Yu Chang has some raw power, but doesn’t get on-base and has average infield defense at best.

Farm System Overview

Currently, I believe the Indians have a top-three farm system in all of baseball, as it’s very deep, yet also has the type of high-end talent that you’re looking for. Jones, Espino, Valera, and Clase are among my favorite prospects throughout the league, and if he’s fully healthy, McKenzie is a true future front-line starting pitcher. Cleveland has done a great job developing pitchers and bolstering their farm system via trades and through the draft, and should they trade Francisco Lindor, one can only imagine how much young talent they’ll have to build around.

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