It’s Thanksgiving Eve! After New Year’s, this is my favorite amateur hour for drunkards. No Karen, you shouldn’t take nine Fireball shots at Buffalo Wild Wings just because you have a four-day weekend…you need to be up bright and early to watch the people lip syncing show tunes in the cold. It’s only fitting that on this magical holiday we celebrate the minor league system of the Indians. According to my history textbook, Christopher Columbus flew to Newark in 1962. There, he met the Indians and together they shared a fantastic feast of pork roll and cheese and that’s why we trample each other for video game consoles today. In what’s easily the biggest move of the baseball offseason, the Indians of Cleveland have non-tendered Chief Wahoo, who coincidentally organized that original Thanksgiving feast but apparently was also an extreme racist. It’s about time the Tribe cut ties with the image of that awful man. Here’s Cleveland’s top ten fantasy prospects according to Mike, a man who knows very little but tries very much.
1. Triston McKenzie, RHP | Age: 21 | ETA: 2019
I get the shakes when the top prospect in a system is an arm. I get the straight up DTs when that arm looks like he’ll top out as a number two or three starter. So I guess I’ll just be over here with McKenzie and the pink elephants. He does have a plus fastball and curve with decent control, so don’t put me down as a hater. His 2018 was spent in Double-A, where he whiffed 87 batters in 90 innings with a 2.68 ERA. This year he should see some time in Columbus and eventually Cleveland.
2. Nolan Jones, 3B | Age: 20 | ETA: 2020
Jones has a solid profile with above average marks in both pop and approach from the left side of the plate. He hit .283 with 19 homers in the low minors and should hit Akron this year. It looks like he has enough on the defensive side to stick at third, but his bat should play regardless. He doesn’t appear to be a future star, but rather a sturdy regular that glues your roster together. More power could be coming as he matures too.
3. Bobby Bradley, 1B | Age: 22 | ETA: 2019
If I had more faith in Bradley’s approach and batting average he’d be in the tier above and maybe even ahead of Jones, but for now there’s still a thundercloud over that part of his game (he hit .214 at Akron). The cloud’s getting smaller though – he cut his strikeout percentage in Double-A by seven percent. There’s easy plus power (he hit 27 bombs) but it comes with that three-outcome profile that can be hard to swallow in batting average leagues. He looks like a future DH to me even though he currently plays first. We should get a chance to see him in the majors this summer, especially if he gets off to a good start in Triple-A.
4. Yu Chang, SS/3B | Age: 23 | ETA: 2019
With Lindor at short, Chang is going to have to cut it at third or DH to help the Tribe. He’s a very similar profile to Bradley, with easy power but a bunch of strikeouts on the side. I like Chang, but I usually invest in prospects with the reverse grades. I like the ones with the good hit tools and developing power over the ones with the early power and shaky hit tools. Chang nailed it this fall in the AFL though, hitting .337 with four homers in 23 games.
5. George Valera, OF | Age: 18 | ETA: 2021
Valera is a youngster with a nice left-handed swing, average power, and average speed. It’s a lot of projection, but I could see him developing into a .280/15/15 player pretty easily. There’s room for more power to develop as well. This is the type of stock I’m bullish on.
6. Noah Naylor, C| Age: 18 | ETA: 2022
Another young gun in this system is Naylor, the Indians’ first round pick in 2018. He’ll take a while to develop, but Naylor already shows the ability to hit for average and power, giving him the offensive fantasy value that catching prospects really need to be worth owning. I don’t think he’ll end up being quite the stud that Mejia was, but Cleveland has a legit backstop spec here.
7. Ethan Hankins, RHP | Age: 18 | ETA: 2022
I just realized I nearly could have tiered this system another way: a) can legally purchase alcohol; b) can legally purchase tobacco; and c) can’t legally purchase either. Hankins rounds out the 18-year-olds with a double-plus heater and average (or better) everything else. If I wasn’t such a Debbie Downer on pitching prospects in fantasy he’d rank higher just on his pure stuff, but here he is at number seven. *comedic fart noise*
8. Oscar Mercado, OF | Age: 23 | ETA: 2019
Mercado came to Cleveland from St. Louis at last year’s trade deadline in a move that probably slipped under everybody’s radar. He had a crazy good season in Triple-A though, hitting .278 with eight homers and 37 steals. Caveat: The majority of his at-bats came in the PCL. I’m near Cleveland and watch the Indians regularly and I can tell you that their outfield roster is kinda…weird. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Mercado get a shot at some point, maybe even battling with Allen in spring training.
9. Brayan Rocchio, SS | Age: 17 | ETA: 2022
If you ever end up in a league with me and want to fleece my geese in a trade, just offer me a switch-hitting shortstop. That’s Rocchio, who hit .335 in rookie ball with a pair of homers and 22 steals in roughly 250 at-bats. There’s not much power, but that’s a tough one to call when these guys are this young, so it’s still projectable.
10. Gabriel Rodriguez, SS | Age: 16 | ETA: 2023
Rodriguez was signed at this year’s July deadline, so he’s about as fresh as they come. He gets average marks on all his tools, but like Rocchio it’s all projection at this point. He looks like a well-rounded player that can develop into something valuable over the next two or three years. Another name to look at here with the same idea is Aaron Bracho (17).