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Let’s Go Tribe’s top Indians prospects for 2019

Earlier this month, our annual voting for top prospects concluded. It was a month-long series of debates, campaigning and googling. In the end, there was some massive overhaul as the next wave of elite recently drafted and internationally signed talent begins it’s slow and steady ascent through the Tribe system.

Before I get into a breakdown of each prospect, let’s take at how the vote shook out over the course of the last month. Of the 18 results we tracked, 5,156 votes were cast for prospects, with winners taking a combined 2,077 votes, or 40.3 percent of all votes. Most polls were spread out among several top vote-getters; but the top two prospects, Triston McKenzie and Nolan Jones, raked in 74 and 65 percent of the vote respectively. The only other prospect to bring in over 50 percent of the vote was Luis Oviedo at #10.

Here are the the 1-20 prospects, as voted by you, the LGT readers:

Top prospect voting results

Prospect # Name Runner-up Total votes Winner votes % of votes
Prospect # Name Runner-up Total votes Winner votes % of votes
1 Triston McKenzie Nolan Jones 388 287 74
2 Nolan Jones Yu Chang 708 460 65
3 George Valera Ethan Hankins 314 93 30
4 Ethan Hankins Tyler Freeman 296 144 49
5 Tyler Freeman Yu Chang 239 88 37
6 Yu Chang Brayan Rocchio 266 82 31
7 Bobby Bradley Brayan Rocchio 253 78 31
8 Brayan Rocchio Bo Naylor/Luis Oviedo 248 78 31
9 Bo Naylor Luis Oviedo 233 74 32
10 Luis Oviedo Sam Hentges 217 110 51
11 Lenny Torres Sam Hentges 191 73 38
12 Sam Hentges Nick Sandlin 216 80 37
13 Daniel Johnson Nick Sandlin 221 69 31
14 Nick Sandlin Jean Carlos Mejia 199 54 27
15 Jean Carlos Mejia Oscar Mercado 168 65 39
16 Oscar Mercado Richard Palacios 196 52 27
17 Richard Palacios Eric Haase 199 46 23
18 Aaron Civale Ray Delgado/Will Benson 195 48 25
19 Will Benson Johnathan Rodriguez 204 46 23
20 Johnathan Rodriguez Eric Haase 205 50 24

Comparisons to top prospects from other outlets include Baseball America (BA) and MLB Pipeline (MLB). Baseball America only ranked the top 10 publicly and MLB Pipeline is showcasing it’s updated rankings for the Tribe system on Wednesday, with only the Indians’ top three prospects currently revealed (I’ll update this article when Pipeline is updated).

Let’s get to it.

No. 1: Triston McKenzie, RHP

(BA: 1 | MLB: 1)

The top pitcher in the Tribe system, McKenzie spent his entire 2018 season in Double-A Akron, although he got off to a delayed start due to some soreness in his forearm. McKenzie’s strikeout numbers dropped when he returned from the injury scare, but he got stronger as the season wore on, finishing with a stellar 2.68 ERA through 16 starts. McKenzie is primed to hit Triple-A in 2019 and is an injury or two away from making his debut in the big leagues.

What you said

markn95: “ It seems like Triston McKenzie has been a top prospect forever, yet he’s only 21 and was drafted in 2015. In any case, he’s the clear-cut No. 1 this year, as he and Nolan Jones are the Indians’ only high-end prospects close to the major league level. And McKenzie, who will start in Columbus in April, is a lot closer than Jones.”

No. 2: Nolan Jones, 3B

(BA: 2 | MLB: 2)

The player with the best ability to get on base in the Indians system, Jones responded to his breakout 2017 by breaking out yet again in 2018, showcasing his power potential with 19 home runs in his full season debut while maintaining an elite on base percentage of over .400. Jones has yet to meet his match while showcasing some of the best offensive tools in the minors and is on track to have another big season.

What you said

Quincy Wheeler: “Keith Law says that (Jones) has potential to be comparable with Kris Bryant, but could end up moving to right-field where his arm would be plus-plus. Projects to a high OBP/30 homer guy.”

No. 3: George Valera, OF

(BA: 5 | MLB: -)

The top-rated international prospect that the Indians signed in 2017, Valera made a brief and spectacular debut before suffering a hamate injury that ended his season. The talented Dominican Republic native has great power potential and a plus hit tool. Depending on how the Indians view his current state of development, Valera will begin the 2019 season in either Low-A Mahoning Valley or could skip straight to full season Lake County.

What you said

pezzicle: “There really is no prospect in this system I am more jacked about than George Valera.

I know it’s all hype at this point, but last year I read multiple evaluations of him saying “if he has a full year doing what we all think he can do he will be a top 10 prospect before he even sees AA”.

Salivating.”

No. 4: Ethan Hankins, RHP

(BA: 10 | MLB: -)

The pitcher with the most upside of any in the Tribe system, Hankins was the Indians first round compensation pick for losing Carlos Santana (and then we got Santana back, muhahaha). Hankins has the size of an elite pitcher and the ability to throw fastballs in the upper 90s with insane tailing action. As long as he stays healthy (after a shoulder scare last year which turned out not to be serious), Hankins could become a top arm in all of MiLB whether alone the Indians system.

What you said

OhioTommy: “Hankins looked amazing in the summer of 2017. He did not look amazing in the spring/summer of 2018. Two very different pitching prospects. … Did Hankins look like a Verlander type of talent before his senior year? Absolutely, yes. Did he look like that this spring and after signing? No.”

No. 5: Tyler Freeman, SS

(BA 3 | MLB: 3)

A second round compensatory pick by the Indians in the 2017 draft, Freeman had a breakout 2018, leading the Low-A New York Penn League in batting average, wRC+, hits, doubles, slugging percentage, total bases and runs. Freeman also is one of the toughest hitters to strike out in the system and thus far has been able to stay at shortstop. Freeman will go wherever his bat takes him as one of the best pure hitters at any level of the Tribe minor leagues

What you said

jhon_: “What Freeman did as a hitter compares favorably to Nolan Jones at the same age / level. Then we must consider Freeman’s position and the adequacy of his defense (Jones had an incredible 22 errors, and a pitiful 0.835 fld%), while Freeman played all but a couple games at SS and did fine. It’s not an unreasonable claim that Freeman is a better prospect than Jones was this time last year.”

No. 6: Yu-Cheng Chang, SS

(BA: – | MLB: -)

The best power-hitting shortstop in the minor leagues, Yu-Cheng saw a drop in power in his debut at Triple-A Columbus last season but he improved his contact rate and batting average. Chang can play three infield positions well and had an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League. With Francisco Lindor tending to his calves, Chang is going to get a long, hard look at shortstop during Spring Training.

What you said

TheMadThinker88: “I think (Chang’s) proximity to majors has to be considered along with his showing in the 2018 Arizona Fall league. We need to fight back the ‘prospect fatigue’ that tends to set in.”

No. 7: Bobby Bradley, 1B

(BA: 7 | MLB: -)

The top power hitter in the Indians system, Bradley bashed a whopping 106 home runs over his last four seasons. Last season while repeating at Double-A, Bradley posted the best ISO of his minor league career since he won the triple crown in the Arizona Rookie League in 2014. On the downside, his batting average was poor, although that primarily was due to the fact he got off to a horrific start to the season, batting .114 in April. If you eliminate April from his 2018 season, his numbers were solid, slashing .245/.329/.512 and that included a promotion to Triple-A for the final two months of the season. Bradley will compete for a job with the Indians this spring but is expected to begin the 2019 season in Columbus.

What you said

DelGua: “Considering Bradley’s rocky start, which was a mix of bad luck and bad performance (pressing too probably), it’s actually a positive for me that he proceeded to produce .892, .840 and .888 OPS the next three months before his promotion. He still had the lowest BABIP in the entire league around .220.”

No. 8: Brayan Rocchio, SS

(BA: 9 | MLB: -)

While all the international signing hype went to Valera and Aaron Bracho in 2017, it was Brayan Rocchio who had the breakout season in his professional debut, impressing in the Dominican Summer League and then standing out to scouts as one of the best position players after he was promoted to the Arizona Fall League. Rocchio has the size, the speed and contact ability to advance quickly through the system despite his young age.

What you said

mcrose: “Rocchio just turned 18 a couple days ago. A youngster with the hit and field tools he has already shown as a pro is actually a pretty good bet to make it to the upper levels of the minor leagues. I think Francisco Mejia was the last 17 yr old to perform as well in rookie league. I’m sure you could find counter examples, but his projection is pretty clean right now, no real red flags.”

No. 9: Bo Naylor, C

(BA: 4 | MLB: -)

The first round pick by the Indians in the 2018 MLB draft, Naylor is the younger brother of top slugging Padres prospect Josh Naylor, except he has a better pure hit tool and plays a premier defensive position. Naylor played in the Arizona Fall League and put up solid numbers in his pro debut, showcasing a nice mix of contact, on base ability, power and even a little speed with five stolen bases. Naylor will remain a top prospect as long as he sticks at catcher.

What you said

markn95: “It’s unusual for a first round draft pick to not immediately be ranked as a top 5 organizational prospect on pedigree alone, but I guess that goes to show the depth the Indians have added in the IFA market the last two summers. Considering our top picks in 2015-17 have disappointed thus far, you’d think Naylor’s successful season at a premium defensive position would have more people excited. Also—and I’ve pointed this out before—he was drafted out of high school in Ontario, Canada so his ability to immediately hit in the AZL at age 18 is impressive. Maybe he’ll have a quicker developmental curve then we’re expecting.”

No. 10: Luis Oviedo, RHP

(BA: 8 | MLB: -)

Luis Oviedo seemingly came out of nowhere to burst onto the prospect scene in 2018, winning three consecutive New York Penn League ‘Pitcher of the Week’ awards for Low-A Mahoning Valley during a run of pitching dominance that was unmatched by any Tribe prospect last year. For his efforts, Oviedo earned a promotion to full season Lake County. With his elite strikeout stuff combined with excellent control, he could be a top five Tribe prospect by this time next year as long as he stays healthy and continues to develop.

What you said:

The MadThinker88.: “Oviedo over Torres at this time as the upside is significant on both but Oviedo has already made it to LC.Torres had a very good WHIP in Arizona at 1.17 (15 IP) while Oviedo posted a better WHIP of 0.982 over the season (57 IP between MV & LC).”

No. 11: Lenny Torres, RHP

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

A 2018 first round competitive balance pick, Torres showcased his excellent control and nasty strikeout arsenal in his brief appearance in the Arizona Rookie League. Baseball America said he would have been listed as the best pitcher scouts saw had he qualified with a few more starts under his belt. Torres has flown a bit under the radar thus far but could have a huge 2019 in Low-A Mahoning Valley, where’s expected to be in the starting rotation.

What you said

jhon_: “Going with Torres cuz he seems to have the best combination of stuff and polish we’ve seen since McKenzie entered the system.”

No. 12: Sam Hentges, LHP

(BA: 6 | MLB: -)

The top-rated southpaw pitcher in the Indians’ system, Sam Hentges had his first full season back from Tommy John surgery in 2018 and it went well, posting a stellar strikeout rate at High-A Lynchburg, whiffing 122 batters in 118.1 innings over 23 starts. Hentges has the size (six-foot-six) to be a dominant left-handed starter as long as he can improve his control (4.03 BB/9 and 1.41 WHIP in 2018). He was added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster in November.

What you said

PaduaDSP: “Next up Sam Hentges, please. I like his Draft pedigree, production, handedness, size, and proximity to the majors (although with our rotation, we can afford to bring him along slowly).

In one of his last posts on the Indians for minorleagueball.com, John Sickels was pretty high on Hentges. He thought he could be the next Andrew Miller if developed correctly.”

No. 13: Daniel Johnson, OF

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

Acquired in the Yan Gomes trade with the Washington Nationals this past November, Johnson immediately became one of the Tribe’s best outfield prospects. Johnson possesses excellent speed and power, although a broken hamate injury in 2018 prevented him from showcasing his ability to go yard. As long as he stays healthy, Johnson could be in the outfield mix as soon as September and will definitely be competing for a spot in the Tribe’s outfield in spring of 2020.

What you said

Adverb Harry: “I really like Daniel Johnson. When the Gomes trade was announced, my first reaction to the return was “who??” I’m familiar with most clubs’ top 1-3 prospects, but I honestly hadn’t heard of him and I just saw his middling numbers last season and was decidedly underwhelmed. Once I realized his numbers the previous season and that he had spent 2018 with a broken hamate bone, I saw him in a totally new light.”

No. 14: Nick Sandlin, RHP

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

A second round pick by the Indians in the 2018 draft, Sandlin had a rocket strapped to his back after he was drafted, making a brief appearance in the Arizona Rookie League before skipping Low-A entirely and pitching in full Lake County, where he also dominated. Sandlin’s continued to overmatch hitters after being promoted again to High-A Lynchburg before earning a few late season appearances in Double-A, where he suffered some bad BABIP luck but continued to showcase stellar strikeout and walk numbers. The sidearmer is expected to be the first player in the 2018 draft to make it to the big leagues and that could happen sooner rather than later depending on the Indians’ 2019 bullpen situation.

What you said

JLK14: “Sandlin excites me the most. I think he could be an integral part of our bullpen this year.”

No. 15: Jean Carlos Mejia, RHP

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

While Luis Oviedo had his breakout for all of 2018, Jean Carlos Mejia had his big moment in the second half of the season, where he was among the top strikeout artists in all of MiLB. The standout moment for Mejia was his back-to-back shutout 7.0 inning, 10 strikeout starts at the end of July that cemented him as a force to be reckoned with. Mejia earned a late season promotion to High-A Lynchburg and was added to the 40-man roster in November.

What you said

V-Mart Shopper: “I had to go with Jean Carlos. Someone recently posted video to twitter of this guy. Wow! Looks like he has some great stuff. Also he seems bigger than 6’4” but maybe that’s just the angle it’s shot at. Definitely an imposing presence on the mound.”

No. 16: Oscar Mercado, OF

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

Acquired in an under-the-radar trade last season from St. Louis for Conner Capel, Mercado instantly became the best defensive outfield prospect in the Indians system and one of the organizations’ best base thieves. Originally drafted as a shortstop out of high school, Mercado saw his offense improve drastically when he switched full time to the outfield. The speedster will have every opportunity to earn a spot in the Tribe outfield to start the 2019 season.

What you said

pezzicle: “Mercado is so under-rated here. He has no power to speak of really, but he controls the zone well, his walk and k rates are perfectly adequate, and he plays a solid D and is a good base-stealer. I’d say he could be starting in the OF this year out of the gate and won’t be this huge bust everyone thinks he will be. He is my sleeper of the year for sure.”

No. 17: Richard Palacios, SS

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

Another college player drafted in 2018 by the Indians that soared through the Tribe system, Richard Palacios excelled at both the Arizona Rookie League and the Low-A New York Penn League before he finally met his match (but still put up good numbers) in full-season Lake County. Palacios put up a ridiculous 1.466 OPS in the AZL and then followed that with a 1.066 OPS through 20 games in Low-A before slashing .300/.317/.425 in an injury shortened stint at Single-A. Palacios has a bat that already plays at a high level and could begin the season at High-A already if the Tribe brass feels comfortable pushing him.

What you said

V-Mart Shopper: “I like Palacios here. Although he’s a bit older, he justified a rapid ascent through the lower levels with his production. This could be a big year for him if he excels in A+ ball.”

No. 18: Aaron Civale, RHP

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

Possessing the best slider in the Indians’ system, Civale has successfully been converted from reliever to starting pitcher. The 2016 third round draft pick possessed the best control in the system by any pitching prospect not named Shane Bieber, but he stumbled a bit in 2018 with multiple stints on the disabled list while also pitching through some injuries. Civale was right on Bieber’s tail before last season so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he can get back on track as a top starting pitching option if he can stay healthy this year.

What you said

Del Gua: “Civale should really be up on the list by now. This guy has a career 3.29 minors ERA and 1.1 WHIP. Don’t let his AA stats fool you. Civale was crushing the level until an injury he pitched tried to pitch through. He handful of starts where he got bombed before going to the DL.”

No. 19: Will Benson, OF

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

The first round pick by the Indians in 2016, Benson led the entire Midwest League in home runs with 22 in his first taste of full season baseball. Benson had a very strange season, sporting an unsustainable .218 BABIP which led to a .180 batting average despite decreasing his strikeout rate slightly while sporting an impressive career high 16.2 percent walk-rate. Benson is the best athlete in the system and it remains to be seen whether he can improve his hit tool to at least an average rating, because he’s above average everywhere else.

What you said

nate2095: “I’ll go on record now that Benson is going to rebound to top 10 status next year. He’s insanely young, has all the tools, and ran a ridiculously low BABIP last year. I think he’s clearly fallen down the ranks but I don’t think he’s done.”

No. 20: Johnathan Rodriguez, OF

(BA N/A | MLB: -)

The youngest player taken in the 2017 draft, Johnathan Rodriguez is a talented prospect out of the Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico. Rodriguez repeated at the AZL but definitely improved, showcasing improved power, contact and base-stealing ability. Rodriguez also was graded as having the best outfield arm in the Indians’ system. He will definitely begin the 2019 season at least at Low-A Mahoning Valley with hopes his power potential blossoms.

What you said

Cerrano13: “Hoping Johnathan Rodriguez can pull this one out. A rangy, athletic OF prospect with power potential and some patience at the plate. He’s got a good swing and if he rack up some PA’s this year could sky rocket in the rankings next year.”

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