The Graduate: Bradley Zimmer, OF: Zimmer has above-average tools across the board with the exception of hit tool — and that was on full display during his MLB debut. He hit just .241 in 332 plate appearances thanks in part to a strikeout rate hovering around 30%. As he matures, though, he should post double-digit walk rates to go along with 20-20 (HR-SB) potential. In the field, he’s a plus fielder with a strong arm. Even if he hits .240-.250, he could be an all-star… but an increased contact rate would help further the case.
The Stud: Triston McKenzie, RHP: Catcher Francisco Mejia gets a lot of press for being the Indians’ top prospect but, for me, it’s McKenzie. The gangly right-hander, who stands 6-5, is just 20 years old but flashes three above-average pitches — including a heater that can tickle the mid-90s. His best offering is probably his curveball with the changeup making big strides. He struck out 186 batters in just 143 innings in 2017. He also showed above-average control with 45 walks. McKenzie could benefit from getting more downward plane on his offerings and generating a few more ground balls. He has potential to be a top arm in Cleveland’s rotation.
The Draft Pick: Johnathan Rodriguez, OF: The Indians had a lackluster draft in 2017 due to the absence of a first round selection but Rodriguez may have been a great value in the third round. Just recently turned 18, he’s already a big kid at 6-3 and could fill out to be a monster at the plate. He didn’t go deep in his pro debut but should be good for 20+ homers down the road. Known as more of a raw project, he showed signs of a good eye at the plate with 21 walks and 23 strikeouts in 31 games. Defensively, he has a strong arm and projects as a right-fielder.
The Riser: Willi Castro, SS: If he can remain at shortstop, Castro has a chance to develop into a middle infielder capable of hitting 15-20 home runs and stealing as many, or more, bases. He started his breakout in 2017 with a .290 average and a career high 11 home runs to go with 19 steals. And all of this was done at the age of 20 in high-A ball. The down side to Castro’s game is that he’s too aggressive at the plate, leading to not enough walks and a few too many strikeouts. His erratic play in the field could lead to a move from shortstop to second base or perhaps even center field. He’ll open 2018 in double-A despite not turning 21 until late April.
The Sleeper: Nolan Jones, 3B: You haven’t reach much about Jones yet but that might chance in 2018 when he moves up to full-season ball for the first time. The 19-year-old third baseman produced a .430 on-base percentage in 2017 in short-season ball thanks to a 16% walk rate and .317 batting average. The average is due for some regression thanks to his .417 BABIP and 22% strikeout rate but he has the frame (6-4, 190 pounds) and the line-drive pop (22 LD%) to grow into some serious power. Jones looks like a future stud at the hot corner and he has the defensive tools to stick there.