Cleveland Indians' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 12, 2015

Cleveland Indians' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    SS Francisco Lindor checks in as the Indians' top prospect for the third straight year.
    SS Francisco Lindor checks in as the Indians' top prospect for the third straight year.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The best way to describe Cleveland's farm system after the 2014 season is sneaky good. Though it's thin on pitching prospects (less so after this year's draft), the Tribe have assembled a promising collection of young hitters, including several who are either switch-hitters or swing from the left side of the plate exclusively and project to remain at an up-the-middle position long term. 

    Shortstop Francisco Lindor is an absolute wizard with the glove, and after the Tribe moved Asdrubal Cabrera at the trade deadline, the stage is now set for the 21-year-old to take over as the team's everyday shortstop in 2015. Outfielder Tyler Naquin, the No. 15 overall pick in 2013, continued to silence his skeptics this season with a strong offensive campaign in the Eastern League. The 23-year-old also made strides with his defense in center field, easing some of the concern about his ability to handle the position at higher levels.   

    The Tribe's top draft pick from 2013, Clint Frazier (No. 5 overall), had an up-and-down full-season debut at Low-A Lake County, but the 20-year-old red-headed outfielder showed improvement during the second half and finished with respectable numbers.

    As for this year's draft class, the Indians added one of the top college bats in outfielder Bradley Zimmer (No. 21 overall), a high-probability left-hander in Justus Sheffield (No. 31), a polished (left-handed) college hitter in Mike Papi (No. 38) and a projectable right-hander in Grant Hockin (No. 61). 

    They also landed one of the best all-around bats from the high school ranks in the third round in first baseman Bobby Bradley, and suffice it to say, the slugger made a strong impression by leading the rookie-level Arizona League in most offensive categories.

    Meanwhile, the Indians have received breakout performances from 18-year-old catcher Francisco Mejia, who has some serious raw power and a patient approach, and 23-year-old shortstop Erik Gonzalez, who moved up the ladder one level behind Lindor.

    Unfortunately, the Indians' crop of pitching prospects isn't nearly as impressive or projectable as their young hitters. Overall, the Tribe's top arms are back-end types like Cody Anderson or guys who lack the command/control profile to stick in a rotation such as Dylan Baker, Dace Kime or Adam Plutko.

    Here are the Cleveland Indians' top 10 prospects for the 2015 season.

How They're Ranked

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: Number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project.
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: Approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present vs. projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity; up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: Delivery; arm speed; release point
    • Age vs. highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: Present vs. future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: Feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal.
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?  
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Jesus Aguilar, 1B/DH

    Cody Anderson, RHP

    James Ramsey, OF

10. Giovanny Urshela, 3B

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 10/11/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 197 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2008 (Colombia)

    Last Year's Ranking: NR

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5050406060

    Scouting Report

    Signed back in 2008 out of Colombia, Urshela had a long-overdue breakout campaign in the 2014 season, batting.280/.334/.491 with 18 home runs and 36 doubles between the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

    The 23-year-old third baseman was tearing the cover off the ball for a month in the Venezuela Winter League before suffering a knee injury though he's expected to be healthy in time for spring training.

    Urshela is an above-average defender at the hot corner thanks to a slick glove, good mobility and range and above-average arm strength. At the dish, he exhibits strong bat-to-ball skills and an overaggressive approach, almost making too much contact at times. He's learned to stay back on the ball and use his lower half in the last year, and it's resulted in an uptick in his power frequency.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (average major leaguer) – Low risk

9. Erik Gonzalez, SS/2B

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    Position: SS/2B

    DOB: 08/31/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 175 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2008 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year's Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    4530606560

    Scouting Report

    Gonzalez enjoyed his finest season as a professional in 2014, batting .309/.352/.428 with 34 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases in 105 games between High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron.

    The right-handed batter has good contact skills and uses the whole field, but as a line-drive hitter, he's unlikely to exceed single-digit home runs in a give season.

    On the other side of the ball, the 23-year-old is an above-average defender at shortstop with more than enough range and arm strength to stay at the position long term.

    Gonzalez has top prospect Francisco Lindor, as well as Jose Ramirez, blocking his path to the major leagues in Cleveland though his defensive chops should at least make him a valuable utility man.

    Ceiling (OFP): 45 (reserve) – Low risk

8. Bobby Bradley, 1B

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    Position: 1B

    DOB: 05/29/1996 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 225 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: Third round, 2014 (Harrison Central HS, Miss.)

    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5060305040

    Scouting Report

    The Indians selected Bobby Bradley in the third round (No. 97 overall) for his big-time hit/power potential from the left side, and that was exactly what the 18-year-old showed in his professional debut.

    The 6'1", 225-pound left-handed batter won the rookie-level Arizona League Triple Crown with a .361 batting average, eight home runs and 50 RBI in 39 games. Meanwhile, his 1.078 OPS last season was the highest among all 2014 draftees.

    Bradley has a first base-only profile, meaning his development and progression through the minor leagues will always be tied to his bat. Luckily, the 18-year-old has a good one, with a smooth, left-handed stroke and plus bat speed that yields loud contact to all fields. He's more of a pure hitter than simply a one-dimensional slugger though there's obviously plenty of juice in his bat.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (Solid-average regular) – High risk

7. Mike Papi, OF/1B

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    Position: OF/1B

    DOB: 09/19/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 190 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (Virginia)

    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6050405550

    Scouting Report

    Coming off a long and grueling college season at Virginia, Papi struggled in his first taste of pro ball, batting .178 with seven extra-base hits in 39 games at Low-A Lake County.

    One of the better pure hitters in the 2014 draft class, Papi has excellent hand-eye coordination and always finds ways to barrel the ball and hit it the other way. He doesn't always make hard contact but consistently puts the ball in play, and as long as he can prove there's enough strength there to drive the ball, he should have no problem becoming an above-average hitter in the big leagues.

    There's never been much power in Papi's game, and as weird as it may sound, I have trouble gauging how he's going to handle wood bats as a professional. That beings said, his swing and hip rotation are such that Papi should develop average power in the future.

    As a fringy defensive outfielder, Papi will have to prove that his limited speed won't ruin his ability to play left field. Plus, he doesn't always take great routes to the ball and struggles getting reads off the bat. The one positive Papi provides on defense is above-average arm strength, which is what gives him a greater-than-zero chance to be an outfielder.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (average major leaguer) – Medium risk

6. Tyler Naquin, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 04/24/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 190 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2012 (Texas A&M)

    Last Year's Ranking: 5

    ETA: Late 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5540606555

    Scouting Report

    A surprise pick by the Indians in 2012, Naquin continued to surpass expectations last season by hitting .313/.371/.424 in 76 games at Double-A Akron before an errant pitch broke his wrist and prematurely ended his season in June.

    Naquin has taken some steps forward to at least project as a starting big league center fielder though he still has too much of a tweener profile. While the 23-year-old doesn't drive the ball as much as you'd want from a corner spot, he has a simple, compact stroke that sprays line drives all over the field. His range in center field has improved but still is only average, but his plus throwing arm would likely be one of the best for an MLB center fielder.

    Naquin's bat and ability to make contact will determine his ultimate role, as he'll need to make solid contact to stick in center given his below-average power.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50/55 (Average major leaguer) – Medium risk

5. Justus Sheffield, LHP

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    Position: LHP

    DOB: 05/13/1996 (Age: 18)

    Height/Weight: 5'10", 196 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (Tullahoma HS, Tenn.)

    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    60555050

    Scouting Report

    Justus Sheffield, the nephew of former All-Star Gary Sheffield, fared well in his brief introduction to professional baseball, striking out 29 batters in 20.2 innings in the rookie-level Arizona League.

    While he lacks physical projection, Sheffield's mature arsenal leaves plenty of room for improvement and eventually should help him carve out a role in the middle of a major league rotation. The 18-year-old's fastball isn't overpowering, consistently registering around 88-92 mph and at times touches 93-94, but he has an advanced feel for pounding the zone and getting ahead in the count.

    Sheffield also has a good feel for a true curveball that he throws with consistent pace in the high 70s with hard, 1-to-7 break. The southpaw throws his changeup in the low 80s with some fading action, and he sells the pitch with arm speed and a follow-through that mimic that of his fastball. It's a highly effective offering when around the zone with his fastball, and he shows a feel for spotting the pitch to the arm-side corner of the plate.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (No. 3 or 4 starter) – High risk

4. Francisco Mejia, C

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    Position: C

    DOB: 10/27/1995 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 5'10", 175 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Signed: 2012 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year's Ranking: 4

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5055307050

    Scouting Report

    The 19-year-old switch-hitting backstop quietly put together an impressive campaign in the New York-Penn League with a .282/.339/.407 batting line, 23 extra-base hits and 36 RBI over 66 games at Mahoning Valley.

    Rarely do you find a legitimate catching prospect with Mejia's kind of offensive potential, as he possesses excellent bat speed and power potential from both sides of the plate. Defensively, Mejia has an athletic build and boasts elite arm strength behind the plate, but his game-calling, receiving and blocking all have considerable gaps between present and future.

    Mejia has one of the highest ceilings among all catching prospects, but he's still very raw defensively and several years away from being ready for the major leagues.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (First-division player) – High risk

3. Bradley Zimmer, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 11/27/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 185 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: First round, 2014 (San Francisco)

    Last Year's Ranking: N/A

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

      

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5550556055

    Scouting Report

    Zimmer made an immediate impact in the professional ranks after signing with the Indians, batting .302/.400/.492 with 20 extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases in 48 games between the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues.

    A left-handed hitter, Zimmer was widely considered one of the better college batters in last year's draft class thanks to a mature feel for hitting and above-average power potential. In general, the 6'5" outfielder showcased one of the more intriguing collections of tools among amateur prospects, with good speed and plus arm strength as well as the defensive prowess to possibly stick in center field.

    Zimmer projects as a solid-average center fielder in the majors though that's also assuming his bat translates and he sticks in center. His value stands to take a significant hit if he's forced to move to a corner position, as Zimmer would likely be expected to show more consistent power. Should Zimmer never tap into his power potential, he suddenly becomes more of a fourth-outfielder type (or "tweener") rather than a dynamic center fielder.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular) – Medium risk

2. Clint Frazier, OF

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 09/06/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 190 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (Loganville HS, Ga.)

    Last Year's Ranking: 2

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5565555550

    Scouting Report

    After scuffling through the first three months of his full-season debut, Frazier, 20, ultimately settled in to bat .282/.367/.448 with nine home runs and 11 doubles in 65 games during the second half of the season—when most of his full-season debut peers were battling fatigue.

    Frazier's strikeout rate remains a concern after fanning 29.7 percent of the time this season, but he still produced a respectable 10.3 percent walk rate behind an approach that noticeably improved as the season unfolded.

    The right-handed hitting Frazier's wrists and forearms are loaded with strong, quick-twitch muscles that help generate off-the-chart bat speed and one of the more explosive swings in the minor leagues. Granted his pitch recognition is raw and could result in too much swing-and-miss, but he still should have the potential for an above-average or better hit tool and plus in-game power.

    Frazier's offensive ceiling is especially valuable should he remain in center field long term; however, his projection as a .275-plus hitter with 25-plus home runs at maturity will more than suffice at a corner spot.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (First-division player/potential All-Star) - High risk

1. Francisco Lindor, SS

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    Position: SS

    DOB: 11/14/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 5'11", 175 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted: First round, 2011 (Montverde Academy, Fla.)

    Last Year's Ranking: 1

    ETA: 2015

    2014 Stats

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    6045556070

    Scouting Report

    The switch-hitting Lindor's offensive skills have steadily improved over the last four years, as he's developed an outstanding hitting eye and aptitude from both sides. He's also refined his ability to read pitchers and stay within his zone, which in turn has led to him working deeper counts and chasing fewer pitches out of the zone.

    Lindor never will offer much power, but he has enough strength and bat speed, especially from the left side, to hit 10-12 homers at maturity. He's more likely to be a line-drive machine that accrues roughly 20-25 doubles and a handful of triples over a full season in The Show.

    Lindor's above-average speed fuels his extra-base hits total, as his wheels and baserunning instincts help him turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Lindor is also an adept base stealer who knows how to pick his spots while his on-base skills suggest numerous seasons with 15-20 stolen bases.

    Lindor is an absolute wizard with the glove and profiles as an elite defensive shortstop in the major leagues. The 20-year-old's phenomenal instincts always have him in the right spot to make plays, and that doesn't take into account his impressive range and quick feet. Meanwhile, his plus arm strength is ideal for the position.

    Even if Lindor's bat doesn't develop as hoped, he still has the potential to enjoy a long, successful career in the major leagues based on his defensive prowess, superb makeup and ability to control the speed of the game. However, even modest offensive production could make Lindor a perennial All-Star.

    Ceiling (OFP): 65 (Potential All-Star) – Low risk