The Indians have a balanced system with good bats, good arms, and fantasy upside at all levels. At the tippy top there’s Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier. Both should arrive in the next two years and the one you like better depends on whether you’re more of a speed freak or a power geek. You really can’t go wrong with either at this point. 2015 was the debut of Francisco Lindor, who exceeded expectations with his bat and was as advertised with his slick fielding at short. Given how hard it is to find offense at the position, it will be interesting to see how strongly fantasy players believe in his rookie year numbers and how high he’ll go in 2016 redrafts. I’m guessing pretty high. The Tribe had, in my humble opinion, a great 2015 draft and walked away with good players at great values. Their low minors is well stocked and it was honestly difficult to choose which players to profile down there.
Tier 1: Specs On The Beach
Potential stars. Consensus T100 prospects with premium fantasy ceilings.
Bradley Zimmer, OF | Age: 23 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: A+/AA
2015 Stats: 549 PA, .273/.368/.446, 16 HR, 44 SB, 10% BB, 24% K
Zimmer straight up raked in High-A, then struggled in the second half at Double-A Akron. It came out later that he had a hairline fracture in his foot, and you have to wonder if that contributed to his difficulties. At any rate, even though the stats weren’t there with the jump in level, it’s easy to see why scouts project him to be an everyday major leaguer. He’s a big kid with sneaky speed, a nice left-handed swing, and a frame that looks like it could add even more power. Dream on Carlos Gomez but be prepared for Dexter Fowler.
Clint Frazier, OF | Age: 21 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+
2015 Stats: 588 PA, .285/.377/.465, 16 HR, 15 SB, 12% BB, 21% K
Frazier still has the plus power and huge bat speed that had us drooling over him when he was drafted. He hasn’t put up monster stats yet and a lot of scouting reports still see him having problems with breaking balls, but his plate discipline improved in 2015 and Frazier is still just 21 years old entering this season. He’ll get a taste of better pitching in Double-A, and we may see a bump in the road as he adjusts, but you could actually argue that Frazier is the best fantasy prospect in this system with a 30-homer ceiling and some wheels.
Tier 2: Floorboreds
Lacking the “star” upside. They might have some warts, but their ETAs are on the horizon.
Tyler Naquin, OF | Age: 24 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: AA/AAA
2015 Stats: 378 PA, .300/.381/.446, 7 HR, 13 SB, 11% BB, 19% K
Naquin is an athletic center fielder that profiles somewhere between an everyday starter and a fourth outfielder. He’s like Zimmer Lite, with some pop, speed, and a quicker ETA with more experience in the upper levels. James Ramsey is another prospect to look at in deep formats who offers a bit more pop and a bit less speed than Naquin but is also a fringe everyday outfield guy.
Mike Clevinger, RHP | Age: 25 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: AA
2015 Stats: 158 IP, 2.73 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
Clevinger had a great 2015, but most impressive are the 2.3 walk rate and 158 innings pitched. Clevinger underwent Tommy John and missed most of the 2013 season, so those two things point to a solid return to health. He’s a #3 starter ceiling with a good four-pitch mix. There’s currently no room in the Indians’ rotation, but Clevinger should be on your radar in deeper formats and the Tribe has had some recent success developing arms in their system.
Rob Kaminsky, LHP | Age: 21 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+
2015 Stats: 104.1 IP, 2.24 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 7.2 K/9
The lefty from Jersey has a special place in my heart and soon he’ll have a special slot on a lot of my dynasty rosters. There’s nothing flashy and the only real plus pitch is his curve, but it’s a nasty one and is complemented by good command of the rest of his arsenal. The Cardinals selected him in the first round of the 2013 draft before sending him to Cleveland in the Brandon Moss trade. Despite the challenges of moving to the AL, it’s still a good landing spot for a young arm. He has a chance to provide good ratios and decent strikeout numbers to round out a fantasy rotation.
Adam Plutko, RHP | Age: 24 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: A+/AA
2015 Stats: 166 IP, 2.39 ERA, 1.5 BB/9, 7.4 K/9
Clevinger and Plutko are similar in that they both proved durable with over 150 innings pitched in 2015, both showed great control with their sub-3 walk rates, and both are on the cusp of contributing to the major league club. If you put a gun to my head, I’d probably cry and wet myself, but then I’d choose Clevinger since he spent the entire season at Double-A and has slightly more fantasy upside. Plutko’s control is outstanding though and should help him carve out a role in a rotation.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B/DH | Age: 25 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: AAA
2015 Stats: 570 PA, .267/.332/.439, 19 HR, 0 SB, 8% BB, 20% K
Aguilar is starting to look like a career Triple-A player with no real home on the major league roster. He’s hit for power at Columbus, and has enough pop to be a decent bench bat in the bigs, but it’s a 1B/DH profile that really needs more in the stick to work for fantasy. If Aguilar gets your juices flowing, check out Nellie Rodriguez, who is basically a younger version of Aguilar.
Luigi Rodriguez, OF | Age: 23 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+
2015 Stats: 399 PA, .293/.335/.492, 12 HR, 24 SB, 6% BB, 21% K
The good news is that Rodriguez had his best season statistically in 2015. The bad news is he was a 23-year-old in High-A. The really bad news is he was popped for PEDs and suspended 80 games. Shallow leaguers can safely ignore him, but deep leaguers will want to see what a clean season in the upper minors looks like, since there have been flashes of power and speed.
Tier 3: Long Shot Lolitas
Sexy ceilings, but these youngsters also come with risks and distant ETAs.
Bobby Bradley, 1B | Age: 19 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A/A+
2015 Stats: 474 PA, .264/.357/.518, 27 HR, 3 SB, 12% BB, 32% K
First base profiles don’t have much wiggle room on the defensive spectrum, so it puts pressure on their bats to perform. Such is the case with Bradley, who has big raw power but also a little too much swing and miss in his game based on the 2015 strikeout rate. Outside of monitoring those whiffs, Bradley looks like he’d work as a fantasy first baseman with 30-homer upside.
Brady Aiken, LHP | Age: 19 | ETA: 2019 | 2015 Level: DNP
2015 Stats: N/A
Aiken is obviously a gamble, but he also has the most upside of any arm in this system. All three of his pitches graded as plus before he underwent Tommy John surgery, and while he won’t pitch this year it’s a good bet he’ll return to top prospect status when he gets back on the mound in 2017. It’s not my cup of tea, but I can see how he might be considered a steal outside of round one in dynasty drafts this winter.
Justus Sheffield, LHP | Age: 19 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 127.2 IP, 3.31 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 9.7 K/9
As if it weren’t enough that the Tribe has Aiken and Kaminsky in the hopper, they have yet another quality southpaw in Sheffield. He’s more polished than your average teenage arm and should move quickly if he continues to show good control of his arsenal. I like the strikeout upside here for fantasy but there’s still a good ways to go in his development, so he’s not a must-own in shallower leagues.
Triston McKenzie, RHP | Age: 18 | ETA: 2019 | 2015 Level: Rk
2015 Stats: 12 IP, 0.75 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 12.8 K/9
McKenzie’s stuff isn’t quite the same level as Aiken’s, but he still has an above-average fastball and curve. It’s mostly projection, but scouts think McKenzie can add some velo as he matures. If it all comes together, he could have frontline starter stuff that you didn’t have to pay frontline starter prices to acquire.
Yu-Cheng Chang, SS | Age: 20 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 440 PA, .232/.293/.361, 9 HR, 5 SB, 6% BB, 23% K
Chang is a switch-hitter with average pop and speed that should stick on the left side of the infield. His 2015 stat line in A-ball wasn’t quite the encore his owners were looking for after a big debut in rookie ball, but there’s still enough here to monitor in deeper dynasty leagues. Chang should see High-A in 2016 and an offensive rebound would obviously help his value reinflate.
Luke Wakamatsu, SS | Age: 19 | ETA: 2019 | 2015 Level: Rk
2015 Stats: 119 PA, .267/.339/.400, 1 HR, 4 SB, 9% BB, 34% K
The scouting reports on Wakamatsu’s tools don’t match up with where he went in the draft. The MLB.com profile mentions that it was assumed he wouldn’t sign, which would explain why he fell so far. Nonetheless, the Tribe landed a switch-hitting shortstop with an average to above average offensive skillset and a good chance to stick on the dirt…in round 20.
Francisco Mejia, C | Age: 20 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 446 PA, .243/.324/.345, 9 HR, 4 SB, 9% BB, 17% K
It’s tough to invest in catchers when they are far away, but Mejia looks like a long-term project that the Indians are committed to. He’s been young and raw for each level, and while his best tools are on the defensive side of the ball, Mejia could blossom into an everyday option behind the plate. He’s one that you can probably wait on before investing in dynasty leagues.