C – Yainer Diaz – The Indians catching situation has pure UTR written all over it. Five-year pro Roberto Perez looks to be the Tribe’s opening day starter, with recent trade acquisition Kevin Plawecki serving primary backup duties. This leaves a trio of post-UTR backstops (Eric Haase, Daniel Salters and Sicnarf Loopstok) to carry the upper minors torch until their services are needed at the big league level. Then you have a smorgasbord of catchers strewn across all levels, and when looking at Cleveland’s current Top 10 over at Baseball America, 2018 – 1st rounder Bo Naylor leads the pack. I won’t argue. He’s a pure hitter, good power, plus arm and above average speed. Great overall package for a young catcher. However, the UTR in me points the dial straight toward Naylor’s 2018 AZL2 squad teammate Yainer Diaz. The Indians signed the Dominican free-agent back in December of 2016. The 6’0”- 195 lb. righty began his pro career in the DSL in 2017 and in 42 games he batted .294 with 10 extra-base hits and 21 RBi. He earned a promotion to the Arizona League this past season becoming teammates with Naylor, whom he split time with behind the plate. Sure, Diaz may have registered 38 more at bats than Naylor, and you could point out that Diaz is a year older too, but pound-for-pound, Diaz performed equally as well without any of the first-tier praise, batting .355 with 9 doubles, two home runs and 28 RBi over 41 games. Plus he posted a .995 fielding percentage and 43 percent caught stealing rate. Don’t sleep on Diaz simply because Naylor is now in town. 1B – Jhonkensy Noel – This is as pure a UTR circumstance as it gets. If longtime readers recall, current Indians #7 prospect Bobby Bradley was an Organizational All-Star after his 2014 rookie season in the Arizona League where he led the Indians AZL roster in nearly every statistical category as an 18 year old. Most major prospect publications were late to Bradley’s party, with top prospect recognition not arriving until after his 2015 season with LoA Lake County and HiA Lynchburg. My gut tells me this could also be the case for the 16-year-old Noel. The 6’1”- 180 lb. Dominican signed with Cleveland back in July of 2017, and debuted this past season in the DSL. Despite batting .243, he belted 11 doubles, led the team with 10 home runs and collected 94 total bases in 64 games. Not bad for a kid who’d qualify as a high school sophomore. Much like any fresh teen ball player, he has holes. Defensively he spent 67 percent of his time at first and 33 percent across the diamond at third. Either position however, he was a liability, committing 19 total errors with 9 at first, 10 at third. So, Cleveland has a young, fun teenager to keep tabs on now that Bobby Bradley sits among the prospect elite and recent trade acquisition Jake Bauers is poised to start everyday in the majors. 2B – Jose Fermin – When you have the likes of SS Francisco Lindor, 3B Jose Ramirez, 2B Jason Kipnis as three-fourths of your major league infield, while 3B Nolan Jones, SS Tyler Freeman and SS Brayan Rocchio sit next to 1B Bobby Bradley in the organization’s top 10, middle infielder’s like Jose Fermin have to work extra hard to grab attention. Not here though. Guys like him are who we gravitate toward, especially when Fermin remained neck-and-neck statistically with Freeman all season long with Mahoning Valley of the New York-Penn League. Both 19 year olds, they ranked 1 and 2 for the Scrappers in runs scored, hits, doubles, stolen bases, total bases, tied in triples and home runs, while Fermin logged 39 walks to 22 strikeouts, as Freeman drew eight free passes to his own 22 strikeouts. I don’t want this mini diatribe to be mistaken for me dumping on Freeman. The kid is fire and deserves all the recognition he’s gotten. But like I’ve said about a lot of kids over the years: Don’t sleep on guys like Fermin. 3B – Nolan Jones – Going back to my spiel about the Indians major league infield, it makes you wonder what Cleveland is going to do about third base. But they have Jose Ramirez you say right? Sounds like we might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves though? The 2-time All-Star and (2x) Silver Slugger has four years left on his contract, with 2022-23 seasons as option years, which could be the perfect storm brewing for #2 prospect Nolan Jones. After all, the 2016 – 1st rounder out of Holy Ghost Prep HS (Philadelphia) has no competition behind him. In fact, Jones, over two levels last season (LoA Lake County & HiA Lynchburg), combined to hit six more home runs (19 total) than all other (listed) third baseman in the organization HiA-down combined. Plus, he walked 89 times, which led all Indians minor leaguers from Triple-A down to the DSL. Jones has made a methodical climb through the ranks and could see Double-A Akron this season. If he reaches Triple-A in 2020, Ramirez would be sitting behind the final year of his contract. Cleveland could cash in with a Ramirez trade, while smoothly slotting Jones into third. Makes sense right? Both are studs. Keep a close eye on the situation, and immediately add Jones in all your minor league heavy fantasy leagues. SS – Brayan Rocchio – Much like the above scenario with Nolan Jones and Jose Ramirez, you have 25-year-old superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor. The recently turned 25-year-old is a stud in every sense of the word. He finished second in 2015 Rookie of the Year voting, is both a Gold Glove and Platinum Glove winner, a 2-time Silver Slugger and 3-time All-Star; all within his first four years in the majors. Impressive resume I must say, but in the fine print is looming free agency. Lindor is currently sitting on a one-year deal in 2019, then arbitration in ‘20 and ‘21. If it were me, I’d pony up and pay they guy. But, just in case Lindor exits Cleveland at the end of his contract and if real life were like building a fantasy roster, the Indians are doing it right, as they’ve built quite the offensive arsenal at short behind Lindor with 2017 – 2nd rounder Tyler Freeman, mentioned above and my UTR OAS choice, 17-year-old Brayan Rocchio. The Indians signed the Venezuelan teen during the July 2017 international signing period for $125K, and so far, he’s played well above expectations. In his first 25 games as a pro, he batted .323 with six extra bases (three of them triples) and eight stolen bases for the DSL squad. He was promoted to the AZL and didn’t slow down. He posted a .343 batting average, smacked 10 doubles, another home run and added 14 more stolen bases. It wouldn’t shock me to see Rocchio sitting atop the Indians Top 10 list prospect list in another year or two. His high IQ for the game mixed with his “sky’s the limit” offensive skills could eventually position him high atop the minor’s overall middle infield prospects, not just for Cleveland. LF – Mitch Longo – In what’s a mish-mosh of outfielders in the Cleveland system, the 2016 – 14th rounder out of Ohio University posted (I wouldn’t say) the best season among Indian outfielders, but his inclusion on this year’s OAS is more of a snapshot of how mediocre the organization’s depth is in current quality, not so much quantity. The 6’0”- 185 lb. Longo played all season for HiA Lynchburg batting a career low .275, but did reach career highs in doubles (25), homers (8), while stealing 18 bases. I expect Longo to play all season for Double-A Akron. At this point in time, I just don’t see the 24-year-old as more than organizational depth. But you never know. CF – Alexfri Planez – I’m going raw UTR here. The Indians signed the 6’2”- 180 lb. righty on August 17, 2017 – the day he turned 16 – to a $400K contract, and assigned him to the Dominican Summer League to start his pro career. He more than held his own next to teammates Brayan Rocchio and Jhonkensy Noel (mentioned above), leading the DSL roster in runs scored (39), hits (70), doubles (18), RBi (40), SLG% (.482) and total bases (121). Scouting reports say he’s much more glove than bat, which proved legitimate, as defensively, he started 46 games in center and committed only one error in 115 chances. But waving the bat that he did in his pro debut with an already mature defensive skill set, Planez might be one of the better, un-talked about prospects in the entire system. RF – Ruben Cardenas – Rounding out the Indians UTR OAS is Cardenas, whom Cleveland drafted as a junior out of Cal State Fullerton (CA) in 2018. Cardenas was originally drafted by the Marlins in the 37th round out of Bishop Alemany HS (CA) in 2015, but he chose to honor a commitment to the perennial baseball powerhouse. In his three years as a member of the Titans, Cardenas batted .274 with 10 home runs, 84 RBi and 22 stolen bases. The 16th rounder brought athleticism, above average speed, and plus power to the Arizona League to start his pro career and despite zero home runs and only three stolen bases, he batted an even .300 with 20 runs scored, 26 RBi and an near even 18 walks to 19 strikeouts. He received a late-August promotion to SS Mahoning Valley, and in five games, logged a .385/.556/.538/1.094 slash line. Oh, and in his 42 total games, he committed only one error. So, it’s difficult not to get excited about both Planez and Cardenas. For now however, they offer more of a “wait and see” capacity heading into 2019 than anything, with the potential to be much much more. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Eli Morgan –(22.5) / HiA Lynchburg
** Morgan has an uphill climb to crack the Cleveland rotation. As a smallish right-hander (5′ 10″ 190 lb), Morgan will look to break the stigma, that you don’t need to be over six feet tall to create the right plane from the mound. The 22-year old has already smashed barriers early in his career. He went from getting a last minute offer from Gonzaga (his only D1 offer) to becoming their ace. He went pitch for pitch against other top pitching prospects within the Summer Leagues, ie. Cape Cod. And after 35 innings with Mahoning Valley (NYPL) in his debut season, Morgan found himself at HiA Lynchburg a year later. The 2017 8th round pick was listed as the Indians #29 prospect in 2018 according to Baseball America, and should have vaulted higher in that publication by the time of this posting. Morgan’s calling-card is a filthy change-up, as he doesnt throw with a lot of heat (upper 80’s FB). That will be another obstacle for Morgan to overcome, whether his stuff will play-up against more advance bats.
2. LHP Kirk McCarty – (13.5) / HiA Lynchburg
3. LHP Francisco Perez – (13) / HiA Lynchburg“Watch List”
** Perez was my Indians choice as the “One to Watch” heading into the 2017 season. The 6′ 2″ 195 lb left-hander was already throwing into the mid-90’s and was coming off a successful season in the AZL, earning Pitcher of the Year honors. Last season, the 21-year old got a shot a full season Lake County and combined with fellow UTR-OAS James Karinchak in a no-hitter. Continue to watch Perez, as he matures and adds bulk to his projectable frame.
4. LHP Sam Hentges– (11.5) /HiA Lynchburg “Legit UTR”
**Hentges signal hit my system after his 2015 AZL/Short-Season where he scored a UTR-OAS mention. That signal quickly faded when the lefty missed a portion of the 2016 and 2017 seasons due to Tommy John surgery. He makes his UTR-OAS return after a solid full season with Lynchburg. He made 23 start, striking out 122 hitters in 118.1 and keeping the ball in the year, only allowing four home runs. Hentges frame (6′ 6″ 245 lbs) and age (22) screams more projection to come, and is already the top lefty in the Indians system. The club recently added Hentges to their 40-man roster.
5. LHP Juan Hillman – (11) / LoA Lake CountyTop 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained1. RHP – Dalbert Siri – (11) /HiA Lynchburg “Legit UTR”
** Siri not only returns as a UTR-OAS, but retains the top spot amongst Indians relief pitchers below Double-A. The 23-year old Dominican native has the deadly arsenal of a fastball that touches need the triple digits, and an advanced changeup. The organization left Siri unprotected during the Rule 5 period and he went undrafted. While hammering a K9 rate of 13.4 last season, the 6′ 2″ 190 lb righty struggles with his command. The last two seasons, Siri has posted a BB9 rate around the 5.5 range. His stuff is electric, but he needs to harness it before he can advanced through the system.
2. RHP – James Karinchak – (9)/ Double-A Akron3. LHP – Ben Krauth – (8) /Double-A Akron
** Krauth spent the most of 2018 at HiA Lynchburg, only seeing one appearance at Akron. In 38 appearances with the RubberDucks, the 24-year old 16th round pick in 2016 struckout 100 batters in 68 innings. Krauth has posted a 11.4 K9 rate (186.2 IP) in 3 career seasons. Krauth was no 9th inning guy this past season, as he pitched more than one inning in 29 of his 39 appearances.