2016 Cleveland Indians

Hitters

  • C – Francisco Mejia – 20 yo
    • 3.75/.862 combined  – PAG/APPA  (LoA Lake County – 3.92/.907;  HiA Lynchburg – 3.50/.799)  
    • 2016 stats combined:  .342/.382/.514;  .896 OPS;  29 doubles, 11 home runs;  .988 Fld%, 43% CS

I ran into this “problem” a few times when penning the A.L. East OAS. Sometimes Jim and I run into a position where there’s just too much space between the top prospect and the UTR kids we attempt to justify. It’s difficult to choose a kid or kids who have a ton of ground to make before they even show up on the UTR radar. Thus is the case with catching corp of the Cleveland Indians. Next to Tampa Bay’s Brett Sullivan, the 21-year-old Dominican Mejia had as good a season as any catching prospect I’ve covered since the inception of this website. How can you deny a catcher who had a hit in 50 consecutive minor league games? One of the top prospects in the defending American League champions stable, Mejia has all the skills to become an everyday major league catcher. 

  • 1B – Bobby Bradley – 20 yo
    • 3.73/.853  –  PAG/APPA  (HiA Lynchburg)
    • 2016 stats:  .235/.344/.466;  .810 OPS;  23 doubles, 29 home runs;  .988 Fld%

After lengthy consideration, I decided to include another top prospect on this years Indians OAS. I took a pensive approach with the addition of the 6’1″ – 225 lb. lefty slugger Bradley due to several factors. The first was because of his insane level of production in 2016. Bradley’s 29 homers ranked 2nd in the organization behind AAA’s Jesus Aguilar‘s 30, but his 102 RBi’s led the entire organization. The other reason was to prove that you simply must never overlook a kid’s production no matter the level, no matter the age, no matter the draft status. Bradley burst onto the professional scene in 2014 and in 39 games posted a gargantuan PAG/APPA of 5.36/1.188. And we here awarded Bradley with a 2014 UTR OAS honor. But shockingly, the 3rd rounder was absent from most major top prospect publications heading into the 2015 season. Why???? Bradley responded in 2015 with a two-level (LoA Lake County/HiA Lynchburg) PAG/APPA score of 3.87/.899. I guess this was enough for the majority of analysts to be convinced that Bradley finally belonged with the Indians elite prospects. Along comes 2016, and it was business as usual for Bradley. He ranked within the Carolina League top 5 in runs scored (82), led the league in home runs, RBi’s and walks with 75.  Now, if you’re feeling a bit of a jaded tone within my Bradley write-up, you’re very perceptive. I touted Bradley back in 2014 simply based on one thing: his production. We here don’t require wait-and-see, because numbers push who makes our lists, not projection. So, for those who were willing to add Bradley to their minor league rosters directly after reading our work here at UTRMinors, bravo to you. You grabbed (at the time) a no-risk future high-reward impact bat long before those who waited until major publications added Bradley to their prospect lists. My sincere condolences to all those fantasy owners who are missing out on what really drives a kid to the majors. Production. 

  • 2B – Samad Taylor – 17 yo
    • 3.19/.756  –  PAG/APPA  (AZL Indians)
    • 2016 stats:  .293/.359/.397;  .755 OPS;  .961 Fld%

One thing the Indians aren’t short on is infield prospects. In fact, nearly half of MLBPipeline’s current Indian’s prospect list contains an infielder. Two of those kids are sitting side-by-side: 2015 – 4th rounder out of Clemson, Tyler Krieger and Mark Mathias, a 2015 – 3rd rounder from California Polytechnic State University (or Cal Poly for short). Both Krieger and Mathias provided all the Indians could ask for in potential first-level second baseman. Both hit for average, showed incredible pop, (Mathias clubbed 39 doubles in HiA) and Krieger logged 30 extra base hits and 21 stolen bases across two levels (LoA Lake County and HiA Lynchburg). Therefore, in routine UTR fashion, we’re here to promote the floor. Samad Taylor helps me do that. Although 20-year-old Wilbis Santiago posted slightly higher peripherals, he posted lower PAG/APPA numbers than Taylor coming off a repeat of the Dominican Summer League. Taylor, a high school shortstop, bypassed a commitment to the University of Arizona and started his pro career in the Arizona League. The 2016 – 10th rounder out of Corona Senior HS (CA) came to the system with reports of having “quick feet, good hands and surprising pop for a kid 5’10” – 160 pounder.” He didn’t light the AZL leaderboard on fire, but for a 17-year-old beginning his career state side, there’s a lot to like here. Cleveland could challenge Taylor to bring his plus-speed and good contact skills to Short Season Mahoning Valley in 2017.

  • 3B – Henry Pujols – 17 yo
    • 2.50/.614  –  PAG/APPA  (DSL Indians)  
    • 2016 stats:  .168/.295/.337;  .632 OPS;  .893 Fld%

It’s common to hear among fantasy participants in leagues where minors play an important part say that certain prospects are, “too far away.”  For one, this is the reason Jim and I created UTRMinors. To create a landscape where, even though the wait may be long, even the youngest of kids are within reach. This is the case with 17-year-old Dominican Henry Pujols and the Cleveland Indians third base situation. It’s common knowledge that we stick to our “HiA and below” criteria for the most part, but we have to look at the majors, Triple-A and Double-A to see how clogged or clear a path is for a prospect.  Pujols has a long, long way to go, and although he posted a horrid .168 batting average, when he did hit the ball, he hit it hard and far. Nearly 60 percent of his hits went for extra-bases. I’ll agree that 2016 – 2nd rounder Nolan Jones is for real. The Holy Ghost Prep (Philadelphia, PA) star had a mediocre debut, but pound-for-pound, I put my UTR money on Pujols. It’s a long shot, but the 6’3″ – 195 lb. teenager has the size and the obvious power to make the third base race interesting.  

  • SS – Yu-Cheng Chang – 20 yo
    • 3.64/.832  –  PAG/APPA  (HiA Lynchburg)  
    • 2016 stats:  .259/.332/.463;  .795 OPS;   30 doubles, 13 home runs;  11 stolen bases

Back in 2014 when I chose the aforementioned Bobby Bradley as an Organizational All Star, he joined teammate Yu-Cheng Chang as the only two Arizona League players to make my list that year. What had me perplexed however is that Chang ranked 13th in Baseball America’s 2015 Prospect Handbook, but Bradley wasn’t?? It is what it is and both 20-year-olds find themselves firmly planted within the current Cleveland Indians top 10 prospects list. Chang improved on all offensive fronts in his second season of full-season ball; and a portion of me simply put him on this list because of affirmation that PAG/APPA works. But, let’s face it though. As long as Cleveland superstar Francisco Lindor is manning the shortstop position, everyone else behind him is a distant second and will be for a long, long time. Luckily for the Indians, Chang possesses the skills to make a successful shift to third base, which we could see in 2017 if Chang takes the next step in Double-A Akron.

  • LF – Oscar Gonzalez – 18 yo
    • 3.68/.950 combined  –  PAG/APPA  (Arizona League – 3.75/.968;  SS Mahoning Valley – 1.00/.250)  
    • 2016 stats combined:  .297/.340/.554;  .894 OPS;   10 doubles, 8 home runs

With every choice Jim and I make for our OAS lists, we truly trust our own metrics. They are the first set of criteria we use despite comparative numbers sometimes falling short. Take for example 2011 – free-agent signee Anthony Santander out of Venezuela. The kid absolutely killed it this year for HiA Lynchburg; and in my humble opinion should have won the 2016 Carolina League MVP award instead of teammate Bobby Bradley. Another solid comparison to this year’s OAS choice Oscar Gonzalez, is 2016 – 11th rounder Andrew Calica. The UC-Santa Barabara draftee posted a combined 3.94/.912 PAG/APPA in 50 games for Short Season Mahoning Valley and LoA Lake County. But when it comes to pure peripherals in the fantasy game, the 6’2″ – 180 lb. Dominican Gonzalez logged the best “per game” numbers. When you take his 2016 APPA score and translate it to full season ball, you’re looking at a possible 500+ point fantasy player folks. I’ll temper my enthusiasm. He’s known more for his defense with a strong arm and has the potential to strongly increase his home runs. I think he starts 2017 with Short Season Mahoning Valley with a possible promotion to LoA Lake County as a 19 year old. 

  • CF – Gabriel Mejia – 20 yo
    • 3.42/.758 – PAG/APPA  (SS Mahoning Valley)   
    • 2016 stats:  .322/.378/.375;  .753 OPS;   28 stolen bases. 

I could have followed the pattern (so far) in choosing current Cleveland Indians top prospects as OAS’ but, even though I love 2014- 6th rounder Greg Allen as much as the next guy, I’m sold on the 5’11 – 160 lb. Dominican Mejia. Now, Allen spent 3/4 of the 2016 season in HiA where he posted a 3.98/.831 PAG APPA before he received a late-July promotion to Double A. In 37 games for Akron, his numbers dipped a tad, logging a 3.49/.741 PAG/APPA. Not bad when Double-A is considered the ultimate litmus test for prospects. Once Allen hit Double-A, he no longer sat within the UTR scope. As for Mejia, he spent all season at Short Season Mahoning Valley and not only led the Scrappers, but the New York-Penn League in hits (85) and stolen bases. Although he’s a speed demon and lacks power, he has skills to build upon while working to fill out his rail thin frame. I’d like to see Mejia promoted to LoA Lake County and hope he can come closer to the 72 bags he swiped in his 2014 pro debut while with DSL Indians. 

  • RF – Connor Marabell – 22 yo
    • 2.96/.749 combined – PAG/APPA  (LoA Lake County – 3.14/.748;  HiA Lynchburg – 2.49/.649)   
    • 2016 stats combined:  .298/.346/.461;  .807 OPS;   45 doubles, 7 home runs. 

In the race for the right field UTR OAS choice, it came down to only two candidates: 2016 – 1st rounder Will Benson and my ultimate choice, 2015 – 25th rounder Connor Marabell. I’ll admit, Benson had a unique debut for the Arizona League Indians. Despite batting only .209 in 44 games, the 6’5″ – 225 lb. lefty posted a 3.57/.853 PAG/APPA. This is mostly due to his whopping .576 extra-base percentage, 10 stolen bases and 31 runs scored. But, this is UTR. We look to raise the floor, not brag about the ceiling. The 6’1″ – 195 lb. Jacksonville University draftee Marabell debuted in 2015 for Short Season Mahoning Valley. He posted a weak 1.77/.439 PAG/APPA in 61 New York-Penn League games, but rebounded in his sophomore season. He received a surprising promotion to LoA Lake County and then a late-July move to HiA Lynchburg. Between Lo and HiA, Marabell combined to slug 45 doubles which ranked second in all the minors behind Colorado’s Brian Mundell

 

Pitchers

The Indians fell short of adding another world championship (Cavaliers) for the city in losing to the Cubs. Besides their 1948 title run, it was the Indians deepest playoff run since the 2007 ALCS. Most recently, they made a “one & done” wild card appearance in 2013. In the 2014 debut year of UTRMinors.com, Marc and I began tracking the American League. Prior to that, we were solely pundits for the National League, as it was our strength being long-time owners in a NL keeper league. In what could have taken a few years to target AL minors, our formula’s quickly narrowed the UTR rosters. Ryan Merritt was that focus pitcher for me in 2014. My advice during the 2014 post-season where Merritt was named a UTR Organizational All-Star:
  • If your in a AL-only Keeper/Dynasty Fantasy League and Merritt is available, you have to place him tops on your draft list in the end-game for your 2015 draft. There’s a very good chance that he might be, as his name doesn’t appear on any of the top prospect list for Indians, a true under the radar arm. The lefty was one of my top UTR pitchers in receiving the most mentions but was only focused on once during the season. If you have a leaguemate that focuses on win-loss records, then Merritt’s 13-3 record will draw attention. To me, its the pure command of his pitches which limits walks and opposing batters to a .216 average over 160.1 innings. He’s not that power pitcher who will blow you away with his stuff (127 K’s), as his fastball doesn’t even touch 90 mph. He keeps hitters off-balance and pitches to contact. He will appear on those lists this Spring and if success follows him to Double-A Akron, Merritt will command notice all the way to Cleveland.
All that played itself out, as the 16th round pick in 2011 progressed through the system and made his way to Cleveland, and screamed up the prospect chart with an outstanding appearance in the ALCS, shutting down the Blue Jays. He may not have been on anybody’s radar before that, but definitely will be on someones list during your 2017 draft. Another arm that was highlighted in 2014 was Shawn Morimando. Taken three rounds later than Merritt, the lefty had a successful 2016 season and saw spot appearances in July and August with Cleveland. Looking back, my first list of UTR Indians was actually a solid grouping, that produced Michael PeoplesAnderson Polanco, and Mitch Brown. Peoples and Polanco also made the 2015 UTR-OAS list, but won’t appear below. Peoples fell from the scope being in Double-A, but was solid (13-6,3.65 ERA) but needs to miss more bats (87 K’s in 165 IP). Polanco was tagged as a “Legit UTR” in 2015 and took a step back (5.54 ERA) in HiA with a taste of Double-A. Nobody has been stronger as a UTR-OAS than Thomas Pannone, who will appear below for the 3rd straight season. I easily named him as a “Legit UTR/Solid Stash after the 2015 season and placed the 9th round pick (2013) on the “Ones to Watch list for 2016. He’s no doubt living-up to that billing. With Pannone possibly moving on to Double-A next season, look for another two-timer (14-15′) to make a move. Luis Lugo won’t be a UTR-OAS this season because he hit a wall at Hi-A Lynchburg, but finishing the season as a 21 year -old with a nice 4-pitch mix, he’ll be OK.
 
Alot happened in the Indians low minors over those two seasons, but on the International end, its been uneventful. Not one pitcher from the foreign leagues appeared on those lists, but a bright spot might be emerging in Gregori Vasquez, who was my International Watch to begin the 2016 season. Vasquez was state-side with the AZL Indians and had an outstanding U.S. debut. My spreadsheet had numerous mid-line pitchers in the DSL, which are hoping to come North in 2017. Tops for that group vying for the 2017 watch list are two 20 year-olds in Luis Araujo and Juan Mota, but a rising stock arm might be the 17 year-old Luis Oviedo.
 
 
 
Top 5 Starting Pitchers – Factor Score/TPS
 
1. LHP Thomas Pannone – 21 / .083 “Instant Roster Add”
  • 22 years old – (LoA Lake County / HiA Lynchburg)
  • 9th round – 2013
  • As I stated above, this marks the third time that Pannone appears as an Indians UTR-OAS. He saw a mid-season promotion to Lynchburg, so the question will be whether he can make it 4 in-a-row with a repeated 2017 assignment to HiA. He has been unbelievably consistent over the last three seasons considering he’s was a converted outfielder.
2. RHP Matt Esparza  – 2o / .086  “Legit UTR”
  • 22 years old – (LoA Lake County / HiA Lynchburg)
  • 14th round – 2015
  • I know its quick to place the Legit UTR tag on Esparza, in only his 2nd season, let alone his first full season, plus seeing time in a rotation full-time. It was fun watching the product out of the University of California going start for start against Pannone to see who would be the best at the end of the month. Esparza won that contest overall boasting in leading all Cleveland minor leagues with 141 strikeouts.
3. RHP Shao-Ching Chiang – 18 / .153

  • 23 years old – (LoA Lake County)
  • International Free Agent – 2011
  • The right-handed Taiwan native got off to a slow start in only making two appearances in his first two years in the Untied States. He then showed some flashes in 2014-15 with the AZL Indians and NYPL Mahoning Valley in striking out 52 but only 10 walks over 87 innings. He took a full workload this past season in making 27 starts (152.1 IP). Don’t let the large TPS number fool you, as its skewed with him pitching to contact and inducing a load of ground balls with his above-average sinker.
 
4. RHP Triston McKenzie – 16 / .062 “Solid Stash”
  • 19 years old – (Short-Season Mahoning Valley / LoA Lake County)
  • 1st round – 2015
  • The Indians paid handsomely for this talented, but very raw right-hander out of high school. Over two levels in 2016, the old saying…..”you get what you paid for”….proved to be very true. His production over 6 starts during a late season promotion to LoA should be a precursor of things to come.
5. LHP – Sean Brady – 15 / .120
  • 22 years old – (HiA Lynchburg)
  • 5th round – 2013
  • Brady was “Just off the Scope” on my pre-season watch list, but elbowed his way into a UTR-OAS.
 
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – Factor Score/TPS
 
1. RHP – Yoiber Marquina – 11 / .062
  • 20 years old – (LoA Lake County)
  • International Free Agent – 2012
  • Buoyed by a 12.4 K9 rate, Marquina rates tops in his first full season
2. RHP – Cameron Hill  – 8 / .088
  • 22 years old – (HiA Lynchburg / AAA Columbus / AA Akron)
  • 17th round – 2014
  • Another solid season for Hill who ranked as the #1 TPS as a 2015 UTR-OAS.
3. LHP – Billy Strode – 11 / .062
  • 23 years old – (LoA Lake County / HiA Lynchburg)
  • 10th round – 2015
  • Florida State product charged onto the UTR radar by posting a 1.37 ERA with 52 strikeouts and only 8 walks over 52.2 innings.