Baseball America ranked the top-10 prospects in the Cleveland Indians farm system. Here is another update on their 2017 campaigns.
The Cleveland Indians continue to defend their American League crown at the MLB level, while the stars of tomorrow develop in the organization’s farm system. Several of the players on this list hold the ability to immediately contribute at the big-league level.
This past week saw some of the Indians’ best young talent on full-display — especially the four Akron RubberDucks on the list. However, one former first-round pick has really struggled for Lake County. (stats through April 30, according to Baseball-Reference.com):
10- Greg Allen, OF
Allen collected his 2016 Rawlings Gold Glove Award prior to last Tuesday’s game against Binghamton. Only nine players are selected for the honor from the 10 MiLB leagues. The Akron RubberDucks centerfielder is the sole member of the Indians farm system to receive the honor.
Akron’s 24-year-old speedster recorded a .994 fielding percentage and 15 assists in 2016 – both career highs. Through 22 games this season, Allen’s range factor (RF) is 2.62 – surpassing his award-winning 2016 season that saw him record a 2.58 RF.
But enough about Allen’s glove, his recent offensive production highlights his all-around abilities. He leads the RubberDucks in runs (15), hits (23) and ranks second on the club in OBP (.380). Allen has nine RBI in his past 39 at-bats, stealing three bags in the process.
2017 Stats: Akron RubberDucks (AA), G- 22, AB- 79, R- 15, HR- 1, RBI- 9, AVG.- .291, SB- 8, OBP.- .380; Last 10 games: AB- 39, R- 7, HR- 1, RBI- 9, AVG- .282, SB- 3
9- Erik Gonzalez, SS/2B
Gonzalez can swing the bat. He leads Triple-A Columbus in several prominent offensive statistics, including: hits (25), total bases (44) and his kryptonite, strikeouts (25). I sound like a broken record discussing Gonzalez, his plate discipline needs to improve.
Despite his production at the plate, Gonzalez’s dwindling .295 OBP remains an alarming. With just three walks in 96 plate appearances, it seems the versatile Gonzalez has yet to learn. In fact, he’s walked more than 30 times just once in his nine-year MiLB career. Plate discipline is the primary area in need of improvement for Gonzalez.
2017 Stats: Columbus Clippers (AAA), G- 22, AB- 91, R- 12, HR- 4, RBI- 6, AVG.- .275, SB- 3, OBP.- .295; Last 10 games: AB- 42, R- 7, HR- 1, RBI- 1, AVG.- .286, SB- 2
8- Nolan Jones, 3B
With little news to share on Jones’ current progress, here’s another scouting report from MLB Pipeline:
"Jones’ bat speed and fluid left-handed swing allow him to make hard contact with ease, and he exhibits advanced plate discipline with an approach that belies his age. His raw power is impressive and should only improve as he adds strength to his projectable frame, and scouts peg him for at least average power in games at maturity."
2016 Stats: (AZL Indians), G- 32, AB- 109, R- 10, HR- 0, RBI- 9, SB- 3, AVG.- .257, OBP.- 388
7- Will Benson, OF
Again, there’s little to report on Benson’s progress. Here’s another scouting report, this time from MLB Pipeline:
"Benson endeared himself to scouts with his loud tools while playing for USA Baseball’s gold medal-winning squad in the 18U World Cup in Japan. As a senior, he batted .454 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs and led The Westminster School to a Georgia 3-A championship, the Wildcats’ first title since 1975. Targeting offensive upside, the Indians selected Benson, a Duke commit, with the No. 14 overall pick in June, and then saved nearly $500,000 by signing him for $2.5 million. He struggled at times in the Rookie Arizona League during his pro debut but still showed the ability to impact games in a variety of ways, finishing second on the team in doubles (10), home runs (6), walks (22) and stolen bases (10)."
2016 Stats: (AZL Indians), G- 44, AB- 158, R- 31, HR- 6, RBI- 27, SB- 10, AVG.- .209, OBP.- .321
6- Yu-Cheng Chang, SS
Chang owns the most bizarre stat line of any MiLB player this season. The RubberDucks’ shortstop leads the Eastern League in home runs (6), is sixth in runs scored (14) and fifth in RBI (16).
Outstanding numbers, right?
There’s a catch to Chang’s league-topping offensive output. He also leads in several less-flattering categories. The Taiwan native leads the EL in strikeouts (30), and holds the worst OBP (.264) on the RubberDucks, among qualified hitters. Of Chang’s 14 hits this season, 11 have been for extra bases – which explains his leading the RubberDucks in total bases (39).
I wasn’t kidding when I said Chang’s numbers are bizarre. His strikeout total and ability to reach base are vital to his development, because his current production is unsustainable.
2017 Stats: Akron RubberDucks (AA), G- 21, AB- 77, R- 14, HR- 6, RBI- 16, AVG.- .182, SB- 1, OBP.- .264; Last 10 games: AB- 41, R- 7, HR- 3, RBI- 5, AVG.- .122, SB- 0
5- Bobby Bradley, 1B
Last week, I focused on Bradley’s penchant for either striking out, drawing a walk, or hitting a home run. This week, I’ll do more of the same as not much has changed.
Of Bradley’s 85 plate appearances this season, 48 ended with a strikeout, walk, or home run. Meaning, 56.5 percent of Bradley’s offensive output comes from three categories. Entertaining numbers, but not quite on Chang’s level.
Bradley is fourth in the Eastern League in home runs (5), and second in walks (15) and strikeouts (28). With five of the slugger’s 12 total hits coming via the long ball, it’s safe to say he’s a boom-or-bust offensive player.
2017 Stats: Akron RubberDucks (AA), G- 20, AB- 68, R- 9, HR- 5, RBI- 14, AVG.- .176, SB- 0, OBP.- .318; Last 10 games: AB- 35, R- 6, HR- 4, RBI- 9, AVG.- .229, SB- 0
4- Brady Aiken, LHP
For Aiken – and the Cleveland Indians – his post-Tommy John surgery velocity remains a concern. According to Jim Callis of MLB.com, the former No. 1 overall pick’s fastball velocity has dipped more than five mph – now sitting in upper 80s and lower 90s.
After striking out 22 batters in 22.1 innings for Short-A Mahoning Valley in 2016, Aiken has fanned just 10 hitters in 19.2 innings this season for Full-A Lake County. The left-handed starter leads the Midwest League in walks (17) and WHIP (1.83) – two statistical categories pitchers avoid at all cost.
Despite an attractive stat line in his last start against West Michigan, troubling trends continued for Aiken. In six innings of one-run, two-hit ball Aiken threw 71 pitches – but just 37 for strikes. He walked four batters and perhaps most troubling, failed to record a single strikeout. It’s early, but it seems command may be an area Aiken needs to improve on, considering his Tomlin-like velocity.
2017 Stats: Lake County Captains (A-Full), G- 4, GS- 4, W/L: 0-4, SO- 10, ERA- 4.12, WHIP- 1.83, AVG.- .284; Last start (April 29, West Michigan Whitecaps): (L, 0-4): IP- 6, H-2, R- 1, ER- 1, BB- 4, SO- 0
3- Triston McKenzie, RHP
McKenzie’s torrid start to the 2017 was brought to a halt in his April 26 start against the Salem Red Sox. The 19-year-old righty was roughed up for four earned runs and four hits in 3.2 innings, while uncharacteristically conceding four walks.
The rough outing doesn’t change my opinion of McKenzie. Barring a trade, Tribe faithful will see McKenzie in the rotation at some point in the coming years. His 3.26 ERA is 12th in the Carolina League, while his 10.7 per nine innings leads all Lynchburg starters.
2017 Stats: Lynchburg Hillcats (A-Adv), G- 4, GS- 4, W/L: 2-1, SO- 23, ERA- 3.26, WHIP- 1.24, AVG.- .219; Last start (April 26, Salem Red Sox): (ND, 2-1), IP- 3.2, H- 4, R- 6, ER- 4, BB- 4, SO- 5
2- Bradley Zimmer, OF
Zimmer’s slow start in Triple-A Columbus can be officially labeled as such. His “concerning” OBP of .299 mentioned last week is now up to .330. And that mediocre .230 batting average Zimmer held through 16 games? That clip is now up to a team-leading .277.
In fact, Zimmer leads Columbus in runs (14), doubles (7) and is second to Erik Gonzalez in total bases (43). His five stolen bases also lead the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate. Zimmer is known for his eye, tallying 77 walks in 2016 between Double-A Akron and Columbus. His six walks this season are behind his usual pace, but through just 22 games, it’s too early to dwell on the total.
2017 Stats: Columbus Clippers (AAA), G- 22, AB- 83, R- 14, HR- 3, RBI- 8, AVG.- .277, SB- 5, OBP.- .330; Last 10 games: AB- 38, R- 5, HR- 2, RBI- 3, AVG.- .289, SB- 1
1- Francisco Mejia, C
Mejia is second among Eastern League catchers in both batting average (.333) and OBP (.370). His .333 clip at the dish leads Double-A Akron, despite enduring a “rough” stretch in his last 10 games (11-for-41).
With just four strikeouts in his last 41 at-bats, Mejia’s bat-to-ball ability is again worth mentioning. In high-pressure situations, the 21-year-old catcher delivers. With runners in scoring position this season, Mejia is 5-for-14 with 7 RBI and just one strikeout.
Much like Tribe third baseman Jose Ramirez, Mejia’s understands the importance of putting the ball in play. The mature approach of the Indians switch-hitting, No. 1 overall prospect will soon make its debut at Progressive Field; Patience is the key.
2017 Stats: Akron RubberDucks (AA), G- 17, AB- 66, R- 7, HR- 1, RBI- 8, AVG.- .333, SB- 0, OBP.- .370; Last 10 games: AB- 41, R- 3, HR- 1, RBI- 3, AVG.- .268, SB- 0