Top 18 Prospects: Cleveland Indians

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Cleveland Indians farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. -Eric Longenhagen

The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections. -Chris Mitchell

Other lists: NL West (ARI, COL, LAD, SD, SF), AL Central (MIN)

Indians Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Francisco Mejia 21 A+ C 2019 55
2 Brad Zimmer 23 AAA CF 2018 55
3 Triston McKenzie 19 A RHP 2020 55
4 Greg Allen 23 AA OF 2018 50
5 Bobby Bradley 20 A+ 1B 2019 45
6 Will Benson 18 R OF 2021 45
7 Nolan Jones 18 R 3B 2020 45
8 Erik Gonzalez 25 MLB UTIL 2017 45
9 Yu Chang 21 A+ INF 2019 45
10 Brady Aiken 20 A- LHP 2020 45
11 Juan Hillman 19 A- LHP 2020 45
12 Yandy Diaz 25 AAA 3B 2017 45
13 Anthony Santander 22 A+ 1B/OF 2019 40
14 Rob Kaminsky 22 AA LHP 2018 40
15 Gabriel Mejia 21 A- CF 2021 40
16 Shawn Armstrong 26 MLB RHP 2017 40
17 Willi Castro 19 A SS 2020 40
18 Mark Mathias 22 A+ 2B 2019 40

55 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 5’10 Weight 175 Bat/Throw S/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/70 50/55 30/45 50/40 40/50 70/70

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .333/.379/.500 as a left-hander in 2016, .359/.390/.542 as right-hander.

Scouting Report
Arguably the best catching prospect in all of baseball, Mejia’s prodigious arm strength and bat-to-ball ability give him the raw physical material to impact the game in a variety of ways. A switch-hitter, Mejia has fantastic bat control from both sides of the plate and tracks pitches well. He has plus bat speed and, except for the occasional rash of overswinging, generates it with little effort. As a right-handed hitter, Mejia hits to all fields. He’s more pull-heavy as a left-handed hitter but is better at creating airborne contact from that side. Mejia’s strikeout rate has fallen as he’s risen up the minor-league ladder. I have a future 70 on the hit tool.

Mejia’s power projection, especially his in-game power, is cloudy. He’s short but not small — not in his lower half, at least — and showed at glimpses of above-average raw power during the Futures Game with max-effort swings. His approach to hitting probably won’t allow for that kind of power output during games, but he could hit 12-15 homers annually. Mejia’s sturdy lower half is indicative of some future growth but probably not enough to move the power needle any further than that. If anything, it will help him hold up under the rigors of a full season’s worth of catching. A converted infielder, Mejia has only been catching for a few years and his receiving remains quite raw. He’s twitchy and quick, especially for a catcher, but his hands are raw and, at times, Mejia looks timid and uncomfortable. He has a plus-plus arm and delivers throws with carry and accuracy. Mejia’s modest size allows him to get out of his crouch quickly.

I think Mejia is a potential All-Star catcher. He’ll need to answer questions about the receiving, but he has a chance to hit .300 with 12-15 homers and have one of the better catching arms in baseball.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 4.1 WAR

francisco-mejia-likelihood-of-outcomes

Drafted: 1st Round, 2014 from San Francisco
Age 24 Height 6’5 Weight 205 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 55/60 40/50 60/55 45/55 60/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded .218 ISO at Double-A.

Scouting Report
Zimmer had serious contact issues this season, including a 37% strikeout rate after his promotion to Triple-A. Indeed, there are scouts who are concerned about Zimmer’s bat. His swing is long, he’s been bad against left-handed pitching, and he struggles with good velocity. But even if Zimmer is only ever a below-average hitter at peak, he’s still probably a good everyday player because he generates terrific power on contact and plays a premium defensive position well.

Zimmer is a plus runner with a plus arm, he strides from gap to gap and goes back on balls with comfort and ease. He projects as an above-average defender in center field. This obviously takes some pressure off the bat. Zimmer made some of the Arizona Fall League’s loudest contact (I mean that literally, skip to the 2:10 mark in the linked video) with a relatively effortless swing that lacks mechanical red flags beyond its length. Zimmer should produce average game power as far as home run totals are concerned, but has the speed/power combination to leg out 50 extra-base hits at peak. Only 10 hitters who saw big-league time as a center fielder in 2016 did that, and some of them (Ian Desmond, Yoenis Cespedes, Andrew McCutchen) aren’t the defenders in center that Zimmer projects to be.

This is a traditional right-field profile (power/speed/arm/strikeouts) on a center fielder. I’ve got a Randal Grichuk comp on the offensive profile. Even if Zimmer’s platoon issues persist (I think they will) he’ll be facing more right-handed pitching than left and should remain in the lineup against lefties because he can play a fine center field. He’s an above-average regular for me and is likely to debut in 2017.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 8.9 WAR

bradley-zimmer-likelihood-of-outcomes

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Royal Palm Beach HS (FL)
Age 19 Height 6’5 Weight 165 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
55/60 55/60 45/60 45/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Produced strikeout and walk rates of 36.8% and 4.5%, respectively, as 18-year-old in 34 Midwest League innings.

Scouting Report
Perhaps the most physically projectable (on paper) high-school pitcher I’ve ever seen, McKenzie was listed at a spindly 6-foot-5, 160 pounds as a rising high-school senior and was so skinny that not all scouts were confident the body would ever come along. He remains wiry but has developed enough that he’s held his prep velocity under a heavier workload. McKenzie sits 88-92 and will occasionally touch as high as 95 with downhill plane. The delivery is a delightful mix of ease and explosion that has led to far more consistent strike-throwing than scouts anticipated from McKenzie at this stage of his career. After a late-season promotion to the Midwest League (McKenzie was four years younger than the average MWL-er) he walked just one batter per start on average.

In addition to the promising delivery/body/strike-throwing, McKenzie has good feel for an above-average curveball that could mature to plus. It has good depth and bite and McKenzie can manipulate its tilt. He’s already beginning to use it effectively against left-handed hitters. His changeup is behind, but McKenzie is loose, athletic, has terrific arm speed and only turned 19 in August, so there’s room for lots of projection there. The upside here is pretty significant, especially if more velocity comes.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 6.3 WAR

triston-mckenzie-likelihood-of-outcomes

50 FV Prospects

4. Greg Allen, OF
Drafted: 6th Round, 2014 from San Diego State
Age 24 Height 6’0 Weight 175 Bat/Throw S/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/60 30/30 20/30 60/60 50/55 60/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded more walks than strikeouts (58:51) at High-A Lynchburg prior to promotion. Was +8 defender in center field, per Clay Davenport.

Scouting Report
Despite vanilla offensive tools, Allen’s peripherals have always been intriguing, and he’s continued to perform even as he’s entered the upper levels of the minors. He lacks any sort of power, let alone the kind that profiles in a corner, but Allen’s feel for the strike zone, baseball IQ, baserunning acumen and defensive ability are all excellent and, I think, give him a chance to be an average everyday player despite the paltry home-run totals.

Not all scouts love Allen in center field. He has short-area quickness and his athleticism allows him to make spectacular plays, but his jumps on balls can be slow and his routes can be tentative. He could probably be average there with reps but Bradley Zimmer is the better defender of the two and I have Allen’s glove projected in a corner. Allen’s arm is plus and fits in right field where he could be plus because of the range and athleticism.

While he’s been a bit older than your typical prospect at each of his mino- league stops, Allen has posted a .386 career OBP and maintained a double-digit walk rate in Double-A and in the Fall League against pitching more equipped to exploit his lack of power by pounding the strike zone. He grinds out good at-bats by spoiling tough pitches and eventually punches contact to all fields. Allen’s legs play a large role in his ability to take extra bases. He stole 56 bases this past year, with a 79% success rate, and reads balls well off the bat while on base. I think he’s a plus hitter without much power. His ability to draw walks will need to hold water as he reaches the majors.

There are scouts who like Allen as an everyday player because of the robust array of secondary skills; there are others who consider him a high-end fourth outfielder because of the lack of power. I saw a lot of Allen this year and fall into the former category.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 2.8 WAR

greg-allen-likelihood-of-outcomes

45 FV Prospects

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2014 from Harrion Central HS (MS)
Age 21 Height 6’1 Weight 225 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 60/60 40/60 20/20 40/45 50/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Homered, walked or struck out in 48% of his plate appearances in 2016. Was -10 defender at first base, per Davenport.

Scouting Report
The loft in Bradley’s swing allows him to consistently put the ball in the air when he makes contact. The operative phrase here is “when he makes contact,” as Bradley’s strikeout rates have been consistently excessive as a pro. Bradley clubbed out 29 homers this season despite striking out in about 30% of his plate appearances. Only three major-league first basemen (Mike Napoli, Chris Davis and Chris Carter) coupled similar strikeout rates with that kind of power output this season. As noted above, nearly half of Bradley’s 2016 plate appearances resulted in one of the three true outcomes, which would have ranked him third among 2016’s qualified big-league hitters behind Davis and Carter. It’s a pretty unique offensive profile, an outlier, but the consistency with which Bradley gets to his power has most onlookers confident in his ability to do it in the upper levels — even if he does swing and miss constantly.

Bradley’s approach is pull-happy (and it’s possible a year’s worth of batted-ball data and the shifts that followed were somewhat responsible for a big drop in Bradley’s BABIP in 2016), but he has plus bat speed and the power to hit balls out the other way. His body is maxed out and he’s unlikely to add any more raw power as he ages. His defense receives mixed reviews: some think it will just be passable, while others think Bradley’s athleticism allows for more growth in this area.

This is a rare mixture of traits and one with which very few big leaguers succeed. For some, Bradley’s has a whiff of Quad-A hitter to him. I think he’ll get to the power consistently, the way Chris Carter does, but his value will similarly be limited by position.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.7 WAR

bobby-bradley-likelihood-of-outcomes

Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Westminster Schools (GA)
Age 19 Height 6’5 Weight 215 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 55/70 30/55 55/40 40/55 70/80

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
None. Raw teenager in Rookie ball.

Scouting Report
Benson had some of the most intriguing upside in the 2016 draft. He’s a projectable physical specimen at a well-proportioned 6-foot-5 and an above-average athlete who was offered the chance to walk on to Duke’s basketball team by Mike Krzyzewski in effort to get him to campus. Some teams were concerned about Benson’s signability due to what seemed like a strong commitment to Duke. Others were concerned about a high-maintenance swing and, especially for a prospect from the southeast, an undercooked feel for hitting.

Benson’s swing can get long and stiff, leaving him vulnerable on the inner half and often late on even mediocre fastballs. He’s shown some ability to make changes to his swing as an amateur (some dislike all the tinkering while others think it’s encouraging that Benson can clearly make adjustments), but it remained raw in pro ball after the draft and will likely need to evolve and change as Benson moves through the minors. There’s a chance he never hits.

If he does, the ceiling here is astronomical. Benson has prodigious raw power that projects to plus-plus at maturity. He runs well now (arguably plus underway but more fringe to average from home to first) and should retain respectable speed as his body matures and thickens. I saw Benson throw a strike to third base from just shy of the warning track in the right-field corner during AZL play, and if he grows into any more arm strength it will be elite. He could be an above-average defender with an 80 arm in right field.

He’s drawn comparisons to Jason Heyward because of the body, swing and geographical background, but Heyward was in the big leagues at 20 and Benson will probably still be in A-ball at that point. He has arguably the most upside in this system but is an extremely risky prospect.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Holy Ghost Prep (PA)
Age 19 Height 6’3 Weight 195 Bat/Throw L/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/55 50/60 30/50 40/30 40/50 55/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
None. Raw teenager in Rookie ball.

Scouting Report
Jones’ advanced approach and in-game success during his summer showcases came as a pleasant surprise to those who thought he’d struggle against better pitching than he was used to seeing in Eastern Pennsylvania high-school games. He showed an ability to make solid contact to all fields during Area Codes and looks likely to grow into natural game power as his body hits its prime. He also showed the actions to remain on the infield, albeit away from shortstop, and there’s some dissent about Jones’ defensive destiny now.

He struggled to track and make contact in a short pro stint but still displayed terrific and promising strike-zone awareness. Jones’ swing allows both for quality contact and power output that should be corner-worthy once he fills out. He should also add some arm strength as he matures, giving him plenty for the left side of the infield. His footwork at third base is raw but he’s a promising athlete learning a new position as he adjusts to pro ball. He has the physical tools to be above average at third but some are concerned the body will force a move to first base.

Despite lacking a multitude of impact tools, Jones has a well-rounded, projectable skillset and has a good chance to carve out a favorable place on the defensive spectrum over at third. He’s a potential above-average regular but a great distance from the majors.

8. Erik Gonzalez, UTIL
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2008 from Dominican Republic
Age 25 Height 6’1 Weight 195 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/50 45/50 30/30 55/50 50/55 60/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .296/.329/.450 at Triple-A Columbus in 2016.

Scouting Report
Cleveland began prepping Gonzalez for multi-positional duty when he first arrived in the U.S. back in 2009, and he’s continued to work at several different spots throughout his career, including in 2016. He saw time at second, third, short, center field, and right this season. He doesn’t have the bat to profile anywhere other than shortstop and likely won’t work there very often due to Francisco Lindor’s presence, but he’s a very likely utility contributor who has already seen major-league time and could play short everyday if the need arises.

Gonzalez has above-average bat speed but his bat path doesn’t produce much in-game power and instead makes low-lying contact to all fields. The swing can get clunky and messy at times, leading to a bit of swing and miss, but it’s fine for a utility profile. Gonzalez’s above-average speed could inflate his average and OBP despite a relative lack of walks. He has a comfortably plus arm.

After spending seven season in the minor leagues, Gonzalez is now poised to yield respectable big-league value. Scouts who like the defense at shortstop enough think he could be a low-end regular if given the opportunity but scouts generally put a high-end, high-probability utility grade on him.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.3 WAR

erik-gonzalez-likelihood-of-outcomes

9. Yu Chang, INF
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Taiwan
Age 21 Height 6’1 Weight 175 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 50/55 30/40 50/50 40/50 50/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Posted .204 ISO as 20-year-old at High-A Carolina League. Saved +7 runs at short, per Davenport.

Scouting Report
Chang was one of the more advanced players in the AZL in his first pro season but was pulling everything and looked like he’d soon move to third base due to his size. He’s kept his body in check for two years and has retained solid, if unspectacular, range at short. He’s also begun hitting the ball to right field more often.

Not all scouts like Chang at shortstop because he lacks explosive range and big arm strength. Cleveland has Chang working with John McDonald to relax his fundamentally rigid and conservative defensive style and become more creative, but unless he grows into the physical tools to play there it isn’t going to matter. If he has to move off of the position, then he’ll need to develop more power to profile as a regular at second or third.

He does have sneaky raw power that, despite a Jeter-ish opposite-field approach to hitting, yielded 51 extra-base hits this season. He homered the opposite way at cavernous Frawley Stadium in Wilmington mid-year. There’s a chance for above-average raw power at peak. Some scouts dislike the opposite-field approach — or at least dislike the way it contributes to Chang’s strikeout rate by making his bat tardy to the hitting zone.

There are still several potential outcomes for Chang (non-zero chance he stays at short, though I’m skeptical), the most likely of which, I think, is a move to either second or third coupled with the kind of physical development that leads to a well-rounded offensive profile. He projects as an average everyday player.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 2.3 WAR

yucheng-chang-likelihood-of-outcomes

10. Brady Aiken, LHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from IMG Academy
Age 20 Height 6’4 Weight 205 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
45/50 55/60 40/45 40/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Has recorded 57 strikeouts in 46 pro innings.

Scouting Report
Aiken’s origin story has been told frequently, so I’ll run through it quickly here before getting into what he looked like this season, his first since returning from Tommy John. Aiken was drafted No. 1 overall by Houston in 2014 but his post-draft physical exam revealed an issue with his UCL, which caused Houston to drop their offer. Negotiations with Houston became publicly contentious and Aiken didn’t sign. He went to IMG Academy in Florida, where he planned to pitch the 2015 season before that year’s draft. Just 13 pitches into his debut for IMG, Aiken exited his start due to an elbow injury and had UCL surgery in March of 2015. Cleveland drafted him in the first round that June.

I saw Aiken three times this year. The first was in his pro debut during extended spring training, the next was during AZL play, and the third and final time was in an instructional-league start. He was mostly 88-92 during those starts, touching 94 during his AZL outing. He was 87-90 during my instructional-league look. Now a year and a half removed from surgery, the low-to-mid 90s velocity that helped make Aiken one of the best prep arms of the century has yet to return. His body has filled out considerably and some scouts who saw him as an amateur are shocked at how big he’s gotten. The pace of his delivery has slowed considerably.

Aiken’s curveball feel remains impressive. It has above average depth and bite and he locates it consistently both in and beneath the strike zone. He flashed some changeup feel during the summer but was struggling to get into changeup counts during instructs and at times leaned heavily on his curveball just to throw strikes. The curveball has plus projection and, if the arm speed that enabled 94-plus mph fastball returns, the changeup deserves a healthy future grade as well.

I think it’s reasonable to keep a wait-and-see approach with Aiken and have a look next spring when he’s had an offseason to recover and train. But most pitchers see their pre-surgery velocity return by this point in their recovery and, objectively, Aiken’s has not — even while his body has undergone an alarming transformation.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.8 WAR

brady-aiken-likelihood-of-outcomes

11. Juan Hillman, LHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2015 from Olympia HS (FL)
Age 20 Height 6’2 Weight 183 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
40/50 45/50 45/60 40/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Posted 2.41 ERA in June and July combined, 7.36 ERA in August and September.

Scouting Report
The quality of Hillman’s stuff waxed and waned during his senior year of high school and again this season as he struggled to maintain his stuff throughout the entire summer, his first as a pro. At his best, Hillman will sit 90-93 and touch 95 with a repeatable, athletic delivery and a promising changeup and curveball. However, he also has starts where he’s pitching with a below-average fastball and struggling to find the zone.

Since Hillman signed, Cleveland has improved the way he incorporates his lower half in his delivery but it hasn’t allowed for sustained stuff yet. Hillman has only been pitching since his sophomore year of high school, has modest physical projection, and should get a bit stronger as he ages, but with two straight years of inconsistent stuff on his resume it’s fair to question whether or not Hillman can maintain his stuff over 180-plus innings.

If he can, he has a chance for a mid-rotation arsenal. His changeup will flash plus and dive late when he’s maintaining his fastball’s arm speed, and he’s improved the bite on what was a loopy but shapely amateur curveball. He’s got a good chance to be a No. 4 starter if he develops the physicality to handle the necessary workload.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 0.7 WAR

juan-hillman-likelihood-of-outcomes

12. Yandy Diaz, 3B
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Cuba
Age 25 Height 6’2 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/45 50/50 30/40 50/50 55/60 70/70

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Has compiled more career walks than strikeouts.

Scouting Report
Diaz’s downward bat path results in unimpactful ground-ball contact and, at age 25, he doesn’t project to hit for the kind of power befitting an everyday corner guy. But he has an excellent eye for the strike zone, runs fairly well, and plays great defense at third and should yield big-league value in a utility role. Diaz has a 70 arm, a great first step over at third, good hands and a quick transfer. There are scouts who think he could play a passable shortstop. He played at several different positions (second base, third, left field, right) this year in preparation for his utility destiny but he’s best, and plus, at third base. His eccentric swing produces very little strong contact, but he takes good at-bats. Some think he could be a low-end regular based on the quality of his approach. Diaz was signed for $300,000.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 3.3 WAR

yandy-diaz-likelihood-of-outcomes

40 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2011 from Venezuela
Age 22 Height 6’2 Weight 187 Bat/Throw S/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 55/60 30/50 40/30 40/45 50/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded .204 ISO at High-A Lynchburg. Worth -10 runs in left, per Davenport.

Scouting Report
Santander made up a formidable 3/4 combination at Lynchburg along with Bobby Bradley and laid waste to the Carolina League, albeit as a slightly older prospect for the level. Santander has above-average raw power and taps into it consistently because of the loft in his swing. He has average bat speed and the power mostly comes to his pull side. Santander also has good bat control, especially from the left side, and he could be an above-average to plus hitter from that side at maturity, while he’s more of a fringe hitter as a righty. He has a chance to hit .260 or so with 18-22 homers but that combination needs to profile in either left field or at first base. A below-average athlete, Santander has respectable straight-line speed that gives him a chance to remain in left as a below-average defender, but most scouts prefer him at first base.

He has a chance to be a fringe regular at first base, but some feel the numbers he produced this season are a bit of a mirage due to Santander’s age.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 0.5 WAR

anthony-santander-likelihood-of-outcomes

14. Rob Kaminsky, LHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2013 from St. Joe’s Region HS (NJ)
Age 22 Height 6’0 Weight 191 Bat/Throw S/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
40/45 55/60 40/45 40/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded only 16% strikeout rate in Double-A, but also 63% ground-ball rate.

Scouting Report
Kaminsky was drafted in the first round despite a lack of physical projection because he had such a promising curveball. It remains one of the better breaking balls in the minors, but its depth and shape have evolved. Kaminsky’s fastball velocity has fallen since his high-school days (not uncommon for a projectionless prep pitcher forced to endure a pro workload) and his fastball now sits in the upper-80s, but he can reach back for more in big spots. The changeup is below average and not everyone buys in to its projection, citing Kaminsky’s somewhat stiff arm action and inconsistent arm slot. His delivery is hip-y and rotational.

If his changeup comes along, Kaminsky can be a back-end starter. If he moves into a bullpen and his fastball plays up, he could be a solid two-pitch reliever.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.6 WAR

rob-kaminsky-likelihood-of-outcomes

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 5’11 Weight 160 Bat/Throw S/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/50 20/20 20/20 80/80 45/60 40/40

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Has recorded 140 steals in three pro seasons, with 78% success rate. Worth -10 runs in center, per Davenport, despite 80 speed.

Scouting Report
Nicknamed “Cheetah” by his teammates in Rookie ball, Mejia is an 80 runner whom I’ve clocked below 3.9 seconds from home to first as a left-handed hitter. He flies, and he uses his speed to get on base. Mejia is an extreme slash-and-run hitter, but he has barrel feel from both sides of the plate and strong wrists. It’s going to be difficult to sustain this kind of hitting approach and produce starter-level offensive output the way Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre once did, but Mejia has the physical tools to pull it off.

With that kind of speed, he’s got a chance to be a plus or better defender in center field, though his arm is below average. Even with an offensive profile entirely devoid of power, Mejia’s got an elite carrying tool and should produce major-league value as a bench outfielder at the very least. He’s raw at the plate and might require a serious mechanical overhaul at some point, but I think there’s sufficient big-league physicality here.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 0.6 WAR

gabriel-mejia-likelihood-of-outcomes

Drafted: 18th Round, 2011 from ECU
Age 26 Height 6’2 Weight 210 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Cutter Command
50/50 55/60 50/50 40/45

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded 35% strikeout rate at Triple-A.

Scouting Report
Middle-relief profile all the way. Armstrong’s sinking fastball sits 92-94, he has an average upper-80s cutter that he tries to work to both sides of the plate, and also features a low- to mid-80s power curveball with vertical drop that flashes plus but that Armstrong struggles to control. He has a tendency to become a two-pitch guy with runners on base because of how difficult it is for catchers to keep the breaking ball in front of them. This is an effective relief package but the stuff is unlikely to merit high-leverage innings.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 2.2 WAR

shawn-armstrong-likelihood-of-outcomes

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Puerto Rico
Age 20 Height 6’1 Weight 165 Bat/Throw S/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 40/45 20/30 55/50 45/50 55/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Has just 3.5% career walk rate.

Scouting Report
Castro is extremely raw on the offensive side of the ball both in approach, in mechanical consistency, and in comfort. He shows promising bat control from the left side and flashes glimpses of potential offensive impact but doesn’t do anything consistently. He’s been very young for each of the levels to which he’s been assigned and has excellent makeup, which has allowed him to deal with his statistical struggles. Defensively, Castro worked at shortstop and second base in his first pro season but has played exclusively short during each of the last two seasons. He’s a competent defender with a good first step, solid footwork, hands and an above-average arm that projects to plus. He should be an average defender at shortstop with reps.

Cleveland is waiting for Castro’s body to develop the physicality required to handle the bat and do enough damage to merit major-league utility work. There’s a chance for more than that, perhaps as a fringey everyday player, but he’s a long way from that and will need to answer questions about his viability as a right-handed hitter and approach as he moves through the minors.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 1.8 WAR

willi-castro-likelihood-of-outcomes

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2015 from Cal Poly SLO
Age 22 Height 6’0 Weight 200 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/55 45/45 20/30 40/40 40/45 50/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Strikeout rate rose from 12% in 2015 to 18% in 2016.

Scouting Report
Mathias has little to offer beyond excellent bat-to-ball skills that allow for consistent gap-to-gap power and lots of doubles. He’s a below-average athlete with fringe defensive projection at second base; though he’s worked at both shortstop and third as a pro, he lacks the arm strength for the left side of the infield. There’s very little over-the-fence power here, and Mathias’ body is essentially maxed out. As a result, he’ll either have to absolutely rake to claim a starting role or somehow improve his defensive versatility, which is an easier proposition for good athletes.

Mathias’ peripherals in his first pro season were excellent, but this was a college hitter in short-season ball. His walk and strikeout rates pulled apart in 2016 following a move up to High-A. I’ve gotten Joey Wendle comps on the skill set, but Wendle is a bit more twitchy and, as a left-handed hitter, had a more favorable platoon advantage.

KATOH+ Projection for first six years: 0.7 WAR

mark-mathias-likelihood-of-outcomes

*****

*****
Other Prospects of Note (In Order of Preference)

Sam Hentges, LHP, 1.5 KATOH+ WAR – A big-bodied (6-foot-6, 250-pound) lefty from a cold-weather background, Hentges has fluid delivery and big-time pitch projection. He was 86-91 in Rookie ball but saw his velo tick up this year before he got hurt. He has feel for a changeup and curveball. Looked like an inning-eating fourth starter before requiring Tommy John at the end of the season. Will likely miss most all of 2017 as he recovers. Would have been atop the 40 FV section if not for injury.

Oscar Gonzalez, OF (video) – Gonzalez is a free-swinging prospect with plus-plus raw power projection. He takes big, aggressive swings and has a heavy, power-friendly weight transfer. Hand-eye coordination and free-swinging approach lead to too much weak contact or, often, no contact at all. Corner-only athlete. Boom-or-bust right-field profile.

Logan Ice, C (video) – Ice has experience catching good velocity from his days at Oregon State and is a polished receiver with an average arm that sometimes plays down if he takes a while to get out of his crouch. He hit well this spring for OSU but scouts aren’t sure if the power we saw this year will play with wood. His wrists lack whip and the bat speed is fringey. He does have an excellent approach. Profiles more as a backup right now.

Conner Capel, OF (video) – A twitchy little outfielder without much physical projection, Capel is also a 70 runner. He showed better feel to hit as an amateur than he did in his short stint in pro ball. He has pull power when he maxes out, but there’s probably a fourth-outfielder ceiling here.

Dorssys Paulino, LF, 0.9 KATOH+ – Paulino has tumbled down the defensive spectrum very quickly and now profiles in left field, where his intriguing combination of doubles power, solid approach and natural feel for the barrel profile as more of a bench option.

Jesus Aguilar, 1B, 0.2 KATOH+ – Plus raw power, some barrel control but it’s first-base-only and lots of scouts think he’s a Quad-A hitter.

Yoiber Marquina, RHP – A converted catcher, Marquina mixes a mid-90s fastball with a feel for creating movement on a breaking ball and changeup, but they often play down due to arm deceleration. His secondaries obviously remain projectable because of the recent conversion. Marquina missed time this year with a shoulder ailment.

Ryan Merritt, LHP, 1.5 KATOH+ – An ice-cold pitchability lefty with a mid to upper-80s fastball and cutter, Merritt also features an above-average changeup and lollipop curveball. Profiles as an up-and-down arm.

Perci Garner, RHP, 0.4 KATOH+ – Former college quarterback at Ball State, Garner has a heavy mid-90s fastball, a tight but short low-80s slider, and 30 control. He profiles as a ROOGY.

Adam Plutko, RHP, 1.5 KATOH+ – Plutko’s a fringe relief arm with an 89-92 mph fastball that will touch 94 and an above-average shape-shifting slider in the low-80s that will break straight down or tilt out depending on where Plutko locates it.

Shane Bieber, RHP- A strike-throwing righty with average fastball/slider combination, Bieber features very little projection. The fastball lacks movement but a big stride and short arm action aid in deception. Up-and-down type of arm.

Aaron Civale, RHP – Civale pitched well on the Cape as a rising junior with a low-90s fastball and upper-80s slider that will flash plus. He struggled to miss bats as an old-for-the-level starter in the NYPL, though, and profiles better in relief.

Tyler Krieger, 2B, 0.7 KATOH+ – A 40 runner with good bat-to-ball skills, Krieger lacks the speed to play a premium defensive position or the power to profile at a lesser one. Cleveland has players like this littered throughout the org. Krieger has had shoulder surgery.

Andrew Calica, OF, 3.6 KATOH+ – Calica had a tough season at UC-Santa Barbara after winning the conference’s Player of the Year Award as a redshirt sophomore. It fueled the fire for scouts who were skeptical about his swing working in pro ball. He profiles as a speedy, powerless fourth outfielder.

Luke Wakamatsu, SS (video) – The son of former big-league manager Don Wakamatsu, Luke has grown into his body quite well since signing but hasn’t added much bat speed or power. He remains polished and graceful at short but lacks the range to remain there long term. He profiles as a light-hitting utility man at peak.

Cistulli’s Guy
Selected by Carson Cistulli from any player who received less than a 40 FV.

Connor Marabell, OF, 1.9 KATOH+
As Longenhagen notes in his system overview (below), the Cleveland system features a number of players whose performances offer more optimism for major-league success than their tools. Greg Allen and Yandy Diaz are both examples of this sort — and both appeared among the top-10 finishers on the author’s arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard. Because both receive at future-value grade of 40 or higher, however, they’re rendered ineligible for the designation of Cistulli’s Guy here.

There were multiple candidates for that designation. Catcher Logan Ice was excellent in almost every way for Oregon State during his junior year there, but seemed to have trouble making contact in his first exposure to professional ball. Right-hander Matt Esparza (1.2 KATOH+), meanwhile, has actually recorded stronger numbers as a pro. That said, he appears to lack even average velocity, rendering his chances of major-league success unlikely.

Marabell, ultimately, possesses the most promising overall profile of those omitted. He struck out in just 13% of his plate appearances this past year between Low- and High-A; he was well acquitted by the defensive numbers, even in center; and, at 22, he was aged appropriately for his levels. Moreoever, this all appears just to be an extension of the profile he exhibited in college.

*****

System Overview

Cleveland’s system is rife with players who have statistically favorable profiles. After losing some of their top-end talent in the Andrew Miller trade, however, the system now sits in the bottom half of baseball in terms of depth. They have potential stars in Mejia and McKenzie — and a likely impact player in Zimmer — but there’s a drop-off after that, not just in talent but in scout consensus on players like Benson, Bradley and Allen, who all draw mixed reviews. This system is full of bat-first infielders with unfavorable defensive projections, including unmentioned prospects like Manny Tapia (0.0 KATOH+), Nellie Rodriguez (1.1 KATOH+) and Ulysses Cantu who can all hit and have power but no position.



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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.


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