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January 14, 2015

2015 Prospects

Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects

by Chris Mellen and BP Prospect Staff

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Last year's Indians list

The Top Ten

  1. SS Francisco Lindor
  2. C Francisco Mejia
  3. OF Clint Frazier
  4. OF Bradley Zimmer
  5. CF Tyler Naquin
  6. LHP Justus Sheffield
  7. OF/1B Mike Papi
  8. 3B Giovanny Urshela
  9. 1B Bobby Bradley
  10. RHP Mitch Brown

1. Francisco Lindor
Position: SS
DOB: 11/14/1993
Height/Weight: 5’11” 175 lbs
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Montverde HS (Montverde, FL)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #6 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .273/.307/.388 at Triple-A Columbus (38 games), .278/.352/.389 at Double-A Akron (88 games)
The Tools: 7 glove; 6 arm; 6+ potential hit

What Happened in 2014: The slick fielding shortstop spent his age-20 season in the upper levels of the system, where he continued to play up to the level of competition despite consistently being one of the youngest in his league.

Strengths: Outstanding baseball instincts; extremely natural player; silky smooth actions; lightning-quick hands; soft glove; well above-average range; arm to make all of the throws; impact defender; easy stroke from both sides of the plate; stays back well; efficient swing path; controls barrel well; advanced approach; picks up spin; heady and smart on the bases; makeup is plus.

Weaknesses: Bat is likely to be a bit on the empty side; contact can be soft; tends to slap when going the other way; will need to learn to do some occasional damage to keep arms honest; over-swings at times; can lunge against stuff with break on outer third; well below-average power; speed isn’t of the impact variety.

Overall Future Potential: 7; all-star player

Realistic Role: 6; first-division player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; near major-league ready; consistency of creating hard contact.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The heights of Lindor’s glove both push his fantasy value up (for those just watching standard prospect lists) and down (for those who think he’s all leather), so it’s important to make sure he’s properly valued in your league. This is not an Austin Hedges situation, as Lindor is a top-25 fantasy prospect handily, as he is nearly ready and could hit .290 with 20-25 steals while scraping double-digit homers. His value also ticks up in points leagues.

The Year Ahead: When it comes to sure bets, Lindor’s defense at shortstop easily falls into this category, with the glove pretty much being plug and play in terms of inserting it into a major-league lineup in the near future. There’s going to be no assembly or waiting period required here. The 21-year-old is one of the more natural players you will see in the field, where he consistently flashes all the attributes to hold status as one of the premier defenders at the position for an extended portion of his career. It’s a true impact glove. All of the near-term focus will continue to reside with polishing the bat, with the signs pointing to a likely return assignment in Triple-A to start 2015 for further offensive seasoning and simmering before getting a first taste of The Show. Lindor is far from a slouch with the stick, but the switch-hitter should not be mistaken for a potential impact bat in the making. The offensive game is going to need to heavily lean on high contact rates, utilizing the whole field from both sides of the plate, and finding the necessary balance to keep high-end arms from unmercifully attacking him within the zone. The maturity level and innate feel for the game speaks volumes that the player can more than rise to the challenge and begin putting a foothold on owning the franchise’s shortstop position for the foreseeable future as soon as this season.

Major league ETA: 2015

2. Francisco Mejia
Position: C
DOB: 10/27/1995
Height/Weight: 5’10” 175 lbs
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2012, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org)
2014 Stats: .282/.339/.407 at short-season Mahoning Valley (66 games)
The Tools: 7 arm; 6 potential hit; 5+ potential glove; 5+ potential power

What Happened in 2014: The Dominican backstop continued to show impressive talent on both sides of the ball, while also proving to be more than up to the task of handling much more experienced competition in the college-heavy New York-Penn League.

Strengths: Athletic; explosive hands; plus-to-better bat speed from both sides of the plate; easy stroke; creates natural loft; contact is very loud; can turn around velocity; barrels up with backspin; thunder in stick; drives with carry; plus raw power; borderline elite arm strength; ball comes out of hand on a line; quick feet and reflexes; instinctive feel for position; embraces the game; good makeup reports.

Weaknesses: Overall game is unrefined; ultra-aggressive approach; extremely wide strike zone; fishes for breaking stuff; gets out front; footwork is choppy; ball control needs work; still learning how to get big with body; glove hand stabs; release gets long; body is very lean; plays at an accelerated pace.

Overall Future Potential: 7; all-star player

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Extreme; short-season resume; dual-threat development; big gap between present and future.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Mejia has an appealing package for a fantasy catcher, but the fact that he is a catcher and he’s years away puts a governor on his value for now. The upside is that of an easy top-five catcher in his prime, but that may not happen in reality until 2020 given the developmental challenges for young catchers. Be excited, but be sensible here.

The Year Ahead: The dual-threat development path often offers more bumps in the road than extended peaks during the early stages of the journey, but Mejia impressively hit the ground running against much more experienced competition this past season. The tools are extremely loud for this 19-year-old, which are highlighted by unteachable bat speed, surprising pop for his size, and an arm that can be the type of weapon that halts opposing team’s running games. All of the ingredients are here for impact on both sides of the ball, which in combination can lead to a very high payout and perennial upper-echelon player at the position. Make no mistake though, the game is very unrefined, and it’s likely going to be a longer developmental soak to polish away the rough edges. The healthy serving of risk due to the age and nature of the catcher position makes the achievement of the on-paper potential of each tool very volatile, but at the same time there is a strong feel here that Mejia is a special player in the making. It won’t be surprising to see the player perform ahead of the curve this season in the Midwest League, and if the aggressive approach is beginning to show signs of maturation, it’s a leading indicator a passage into the upper levels will come with little resistance.

Major league ETA: 2018

3. Clint Frazier
Position: OF
DOB: 09/06/1994
Height/Weight: 6’1” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, Loganville HS (Loganville, GA)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #36 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .266/.349/.411 at Low-A Lake County (120 games)
The Tools: 6 potential hit; 6+ potential power; 5+ arm; 6 run; 5 glove

What Happened in 2014: Frazier’s season in the Midwest League can be divided into two distinct parts: a first half that saw the highly regarded outfielder struggle to find his footing out of the gate, and then a second half filled with plenty of solid contact and pop.

Strengths: Fast-twitch athlete; excellent strength; plus-plus bat speed; very strong hands and wrists; swing shows plenty of lift; can impact the baseball, especially on inner third; will time as plus runner down the line; arm works in all three outfield spots; improving reads and routes in center; competitor.

Weaknesses: Questions on ability to stick up the middle; can be slow with jumps; instincts more in line with corner outfielder; has in-zone swing and miss; aggressive at the plate; very wide strike zone; can lack swing coverage on outer third; hit tool may ultimately play down.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division player/occasional all-star

Realistic Role: High 5; solid-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach Double-A; development of glove.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: As the resident Frazier fanboy, he remains one of the highest upside prospects in the minors—and now is the perfect time to check in on the Frazier owner in your league and see if they are down on him even slightly. The potential is there for him to hit .280-plus with 30 homers and 20 steals, and no, that’s not a typo.

The Year Ahead: There’s nothing that really jumps off the page in regards to Frazier’s composite line for 2014, but the year was marked with a strong second half ramp up and improvement by season’s end that leaves optimism heading into the offseason that firm developmental traction was made. It wasn’t pretty for the outfielder early on, where he consistently expanded his strike zone and had a tendency to exhibit the thinking he could hit anything thrown his way regardless of pitch type or location. As the year wore on, though, there was a tightening of his strike zone and a more cognizant approach to utilize both gaps that led to much more consistent loud contact. Frazier possesses the type of bat speed, swing path, and raw power to really impact the baseball making 280s averages and 25-plus home runs at peak possibly within reach.The questions come in as to whether he can limit the swing and miss, along with continuing to hone the approach against the rising competition. This year in the eight-team Carolina League will be a good litmus test as to whether the aggressiveness at the plate is becoming more controlled. A lot of eyes will also be on how the glove is refining in center, where there’s a fighting chance he can stick. The clues point to the profile progressing to a potential power-hitting corner outfielder, with a good chance at another round of tangible steps forward by this season’s end.

Major league ETA: 2017

4. Bradley Zimmer
Position: OF
DOB: 11/27/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 185 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, University of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .273/.385/.909 at Lake County (3 games), .304/.401/.464 at Mahoning Valley (45 games)
The Tools: 6 arm; 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential glove; 5 run; 5 potential power

What Happened in 2014: After being selected 21st overall, Zimmer quickly assimilated into professional ball, where the outfielder easily handled the New York-Penn League, and then got a brief taste of full-season ball to finish out the year.

Strengths: Athletic frame; room for continued filling out; good present strength; easy stroke; loose hands; works to stay inside of baseball; goes the other way well; patient in the box; all-fields approach; picks up ball out of hand quickly; long strides cover ground in outfield; takes good routes; solid fundamentals; easy plus arm—fits in all three spots; carries himself well on the field.

Weaknesses: Swing is on the flat side; more geared towards line-drive contact; questions on translation of power; will chase soft stuff down and away; can have trouble with velocity on inner third; at times looks clunky and awkward in center; may ultimately end up in a corner; slow with reads off pitchers when on the bases.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited pro experience; polished overall game.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Zimmer projects as the prototypical five-category player who doesn’t excel in any single one. Of course, that still translates into OF2 potential if everything clicks, but it gives him multiple paths to value. He is a worthy selection towards the end of the first round in dynasty drafts this year.

The Year Ahead: Zimmer didn’t miss a beat in transitioning from college to the professional ranks last summer, which wasn’t overly surprising given the advanced nature of the player’s game. There’s a chance here that all five tools can play at least average at full bloom, though the swing lacks good lift and is more geared to contact than producing home-run power. The mature approach at the plate and solid pitch recognition are strong clues that the prospect can track relatively quickly through the low minors. The 22-year-old should prove to be ahead of the curve in A-Ball, with the reasonable expectation of seeing time in the Carolina League before the 2015 season ends. If you believe Zimmer capable of sticking in centerfield, then the profile can play up to borderline first-division status even if the power ends up playing down due to the nature of the swing. If you see the California native more likely to slide into a corner, then the production of power becomes more of a premium, and the role is ultimately going to play down. The feel here based on our looks is that there’s a pretty good shot for a regular to emerge, but it’s likely to come in a corner.

Major league ETA: 2017

5. Tyler Naquin
Position: CF
DOB: 04/24/1991
Height/Weight: 6’2” 175 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org)
2014 Stats: .313/.371/.424 at Double-A Akron (76 games)
The Tools: 7 arm; 5+ glove; 5+ potential hit; 5 run

What Happened in 2014: The Texan put together a strong first half in the Eastern League, with a potential promotion to the next level just around the corner, before a pitch off the hand required surgery, putting an early end to his season.

Strengths: Good athlete; fluid actions; solid defensive instincts; improved reads and routes; enough glove to handle position; impact arm; adept at getting into position to unleash throws; shows more speed once getting into gear; simple stroke; solid-average bat speed; creates line-drive contact into both gaps; high baseball IQ.

Weaknesses: Some concerns on ability to consistently hit high-quality pitching; can be beat with high velocity middle-in; some swing and miss in the zone; will lunge against off-speed; needs work keeping weight back more frequently; below-average power; gets into stretches of being too defensive; hit tool may end up playing down due to lack of consistent hard contact.

Overall Future Potential: 5; major-league regular

Realistic Role: Low 5; below-average regular/platoon player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; 94 games at Double-A; hand surgery (2014); hit tool utility.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Those in shallow leagues are better off skipping over Naquin and moving on to some of the names here with more fantasy juice. In deep leagues, he could be an undervalued asset, but as someone likely to top out at around a .270 hitter with 15-20 steals and little over-the-fence power to speak of, his utility on a dynasty roster is limited.

The Year Ahead: 2014 turned out to be a bitter sweet season for the 23-year-old, where he definitely offered a round of positive progress towards rounding out his overall game, but saw further momentum dashed in the second half by a broken bone in his right hand. The setback will likely cost Naquin a chance to begin the year in the International League, but if he gets off to a similar start it likely won’t be long before he finds himself roaming centerfield in Triple-A. At his best,. the lefty is a gap-to-gap hitter who is more than capable of producing hard line drives with backspin. There’s been tangible improvement on both sides of the ball over the course of the last two seasons as well, where a future big-leaguer has come into focus. Evaluators do have some concerns about the profile, mainly in regards to how well he can consistently handle high-quality pitching and whether he’ll be able to hit enough to maintain status as a regular as a result. But the Texas native has shown the knack for making adjustments fairly quickly at each stop so far. A good showing this season will likely earn Naquin a call in some capacity by season’s end. The athleticism and arm at the very least give the prospect the chance to stick around on a roster in a bench capacity over the long term, with further offensive upswing making it a very real possibility he could compete for an outfield spot as a regular in 2016.

Major league ETA: Late 2015

6. Justus Sheffield
Position: LHP
DOB: 05/13/1996
Height/Weight: 5’10” 196 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, Tullahoma HS (Tullahoma, TN)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: 4.79 ERA (20.2 IP, 24 H, 29 K, 9 BB) at complex level AZL
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 5+ potential CB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2014: Though the senior season was inconsistent and the left-hander owned a commitment to Vanderbilt, the organization made Sheffield the 31st overall selection in this year’s draft, and then sent him to the Arizona League to begin his entry into pro ball.

Strengths: Very athletic; clean and repeatable delivery; low-energy expending; arm works well; strong, filled-out lower half; fastball works 91-93 with some arm-side run; can reach back for more occasionally (94-95); lively in lower tier; snaps off mid-70s curveball that flashes strong depth and bite; early feel for throwing curve for strikes; loose wrist action; turns over promising change; flashes fading arm-side action; good arm speed; plus command profile.

Weaknesses: Limited physical projection; has to pitch down to create angle; heater can play down in high 80s at times; will need to build arm strength to handle rigors of the long season; has a tendency to wrap wrist when delivering curve; will sweep at present; can get deliberate with change; command is on the loose side; maturity concerns stemming from a recent arrest.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter/long relief

Risk Factor/Injury History: Extreme; complex-level resume; 18 years old; large gap between present and future; legal issues (2015).

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The 18-year old left-hander was the last arm cut from the Top 50 list for dynasty drafts, but it really was due to depth (especially of prep arms) and not talent. There may not be huge upside in Sheffield, but he makes for a nice flier at the end of drafts this year.

The Year Ahead: An off-field incident that has resulted in aggravated burglary and underage drinking charges puts a damper on the immediate future, but when on the diamond, Sheffield is an intriguing young arm who, despite his lack of size, offers solid projection due to his athleticism and extremely loose, efficient delivery. While there isn’t an expectation that the heater is going to see much uptick in velocity or massive gains with the overall stuff, the potential growth with the command and crispness of the secondary arsenal offer a three-pitch mix that can play above average to push the overall role to that of a mid-rotation starter at the peak. Of course, like most arms of this age, there is a healthy serving of risk and variability, with the near term—after the results of his pending legal issue—likely to be focused on building arm strength and repetition to start stimulating the professional journey one step at a time. It isn’t likely that Sheffield is going to burst onto the scene in 2015, but the lefty is more than capable of stringing together positive results and showing the initial steps of polishing the overall command, which should come in a short-season assignment. All of the ingredients are here for a major-league arm, though expect ample development time and some seasoning in the lower levels over the next few seasons.

Major league ETA: 2018

7. Mike Papi
Position: OF/1B
DOB: 09/19/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .178/.305/.274 at Low-A Lake County (39 games)
The Tools: 6 potential hit; 5 potential power; 5 glove

What Happened in 2014: After a brief stop at Mahoning Valley, the University of Virginia product struggled to find his footing during a 39-game stint in the Midwest League, where he hit a paltry .178.

Strengths: Lean, wiry muscle; room for a bit more weight; shows a feel for hitting; loose hands; quick trigger with shorter stroke; plus bat speed; brings a plan to the plate; line-to-line hitter; can turn on offerings with carry; power can play as average; drives ball well into opposite field gap; plays with intensity.

Weaknesses: Average athlete; fringy foot speed in the field; flat with routes at times; fringe-average range; not enough arm for right; needs to learn how to get more lift and leverage out of swing; path on the flat side presently; hit tool may end up playing down in favor of increased power; limited defensive profile.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular

Realistic Role: High 4; bench bat/part-time player

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; limited professional experience; bat-first player.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Another player, like Sheffield, who will get overlooked because of the depth of the 2014 draft class, but Papi has the potential to be a .280-hitting first baseman with 15-20 homers—which in this offensively-depressed environment would still be good enough to be a top-20 first baseman.

The Year Ahead: It wasn’t pretty for Papi during his transitional stint in the professional ranks after signing with the org, but the left-handed hitter did show a technically sound swing and methodical approach in the box, which bodes well for offensive progress as he comes up to speed with seeing more advanced pitching on a consistent basis and begins to find his timing as a result. The 22-year-old was also pushed a bit with a more aggressive placement in the Midwest League where most of the opposing arms had the benefit of a full season at the level. The draw here is the stick, where the outfielder flashes a solid feel for controlling the head of the bat and a swing that is more than capable of covering all four quadrants of the zone. The near-term work for Papi resides with adjusting more to the speed of the game and building further trust with his pitch recognition. These aspects of the prospect’s game should have a much better showing in a return to A-Ball for the 2015 season given his level of experience coming from the college ranks, with the view here seeing much higher contact rates and a bat beginning to show that a quicker assent into the upper levels of the system is highly likely.

Major league ETA: Late 2017

8. Giovanny Urshela
Position: 3B
DOB: 10/11/1991
Height/Weight: 6’0” 197 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2008, Colombia
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: .276/.331/.473 at Triple-A Columbus (104 games), .300/.347/.567 at Double-A Akron (24 games)
The Tools: 6 arm; 6 glove; 5+ potential hit

What Happened in 2014: Urshela made quick work of the Eastern League and then settled in nicely at Triple-A, where he continued to show the ability to make contact at a frequent clip and flashed his trademark above-average defense.

Strengths: Athletic actions; excellent defensive instincts; quick reactions; soft glove; plus range; can pick it at the hot corner; plenty of arm for deep throws; line-drive stroke; improved efficiency to ball; feel for controlling the barrel; looks gap to gap; doesn’t over-swing; shows ability to adjust.

Weaknesses: Swing is more geared to contact; power likely to be doubles than consistent over-the-fence pop; hit tool lacks impact potential; some limitations covering outer third consistently; contact can play soft; aggressive early in the count; prone to spin away; pitch selection needs improvement against high-quality arms; defense may ultimately carry profile.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular

Realistic Role: High 4; second-division starter/bench player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; 240 games in upper levels; near major-league ready; emergence of power.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Really not much here for fantasy, as Urshela made this top-10 on the strength of his defense. He could make for an interesting reserve pick in AL-only leagues this year, as a hedge for Lonnie Chisenhall, but he doesn’t carry very much dynasty-league value.

The Year Ahead: The progression has been slow and steady since signing with the organization back in 2008, but Urshela now sits on the cusp of The Show, with a legit chance at getting a look as a potential regular in the near future. The slick-fielding third baseman brings an above-average glove to the table, which, paired with his plus arm, is the lead aspect of his overall game. The 23-year-old can easily provide defensive stability to the position. The questions in the past have centered on the capabilities of the bat and whether there’s enough with the stick to provide sufficient offense at the position. The Columbian has made improvements getting more efficient with his stroke and has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball, but at times the contact does play weak and light against arms more indicative of what is seen in the majors on a regular basis. The offense can be boosted by further maturation of Urshela’s pitch selection and subsequent tightening of his strike zone to drive offerings with more consistency. A return trip to Triple-A is likely to start 2015, with a good chance the prospect can earn a call at some point in the summer if the offensive momentum continues.

Major league ETA: 2015

9. Bobby Bradley
Position: 1B
DOB: 05/29/1996
Height/Weight: 6’1” 225 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2014 draft, Harrison Central HS (Gulfport, MS)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .361/.426/.652 at complex level AZL (39 games)
The Tools: 6 potential power; 5+ potential hit; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2014: Cleveland lured the big, prep first baseman away from a Louisiana State University commit with a large six-figure, over-slot bonus, and then saw immediate returns as Bradley torched the Arizona League in 39 games.

Strengths: Sturdy frame; big body; excellent present strength; efficient swing path with upward plane; drives offerings with lift and loft; life in hands; plus bat speed; advanced feel for strike zone; plus-to-better raw power; uses lower body well in swing mechanics; willing to use the whole field; mature approach to the game.

Weaknesses: Will have to watch body from becoming too muscle bound; swing can get loose; on the aggressive side; uppercut in stroke leads to swing and miss above belt; will reach for stuff with break away; swing presently favors pulling the ball; limited defensive profile; first base-only player.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average regular/bench bat

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; complex-league resume; early advancements with hit tool; bat-first profile.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The high-school first-base profile can be a good shield for fantasy hype, as I’d take Bradley fifth in this system for a dynasty league team, behind just the top four players on this list. With a strong 2015 season, he could solidify himself as a top 100 dynasty prospect capable of hitting .275 with 25-plus homers at the highest level.

The Year Ahead: Bradley’s quick assimilation into professional ball was a pleasant surprise this past summer, and lent further credence to pre-draft reports that the bat was on the advanced side for a player of this age. The stick is the main draw here, where the 18-year-old possesses plenty of raw power and an early feel for consistently barreling up offerings thanks to a shorter swing path. The first baseman is also willing to work through sequences, which bodes well for him continuing to smoothly transition during the early career stages. It’s not out of the question for Bradley to receive a placement in full-season ball this year, though the organization may be inclined to keep him back in extended spring training to work with the swing a bit to go the other way with more ease before fully letting him loose in 2015. Regardless, this is a good looking hitter, who can very well round into a middle-of-the-order type when all is said and done, and provide strong offensive production on a consistent basis. There’s a long developmental road ahead for the prospect, along with the first base-only profile putting pressure on the bat to fully play, but with a strong showing in 2015 this will be a rising player in status within this system by next offseason.

Major league ETA: 2018

10. Mitch Brown
Position: RHP
DOB: 04/13/1994
Height/Weight: 6’1” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2012 draft, Century HS (Rochester, MN)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: 3.31 ERA (138.2 IP, 113 H, 127 K, 55 BB) at Low-A Lake County
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential CT; 5+ potential CB

What Happened in 2014: The former second-round pick bounced back from a disappointing 2013 in a big way, where he logged a strong workload in the Midwest League and flashed improving fastball command throughout the year.

Strengths: Athletic; improved consistency repeating mechanics; good arm strength; strong body; fastball operates 91-95 with some downward action; difficult to lift in lower tier; learning to spot heater east/west with more ease; snaps off cutter with late horizontal action; will miss barrels; potential out-pitch; curve flashes two-plane break; changes eye levels with offering; improving feel for overall arsenal; excellent makeup reports.

Weaknesses: Runs into ruts of inconsistent command; heater flattens out above top of the thighs; must selectively elevate; curveball is presently fringe average; will cast and break early; command needs a step forward to solidify starter potential; shows changeup, but lacks quality action; not likely to be more than “show me” offering.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no.3/4 starter

Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter/long reliever

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach upper levels; command consistency.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s not a ton of upside with Brown, but the former cold-weather prep pitcher is finally starting to warm up in the professional setting—making him a name to remember in deeper leagues if he’s been dropped over the last year and a half.

The Year Ahead: After a rebound season in 2014, Brown has proved he is ready for the next step up the chain this year and that his development is beginning to gather steam. The 20-year-old’s fastball command has taken a nice step forward over the past twelve months, which has allowed the offering to play much better in the lower tier of the strike zone on a consistent basis as opposed to running wild above the belt as previously seen. The improvement repeating his delivery has also translated to more ease snapping off the cutter and curveball, though the latter offering will still come and go, with further refinement needed to stay above the ball on a consistent basis. At the minimum Brown can see both his fastball and cutter play as lead pieces in the arsenal, and paired with further command improvements through repetition, this arm possesses solid major-league potential. Given the loose wrist action when snapping his curve, and strong reports on the work ethic, there’s belief with evaluators that the offering can also play as better than average at full bloom. A strong showing in the Carolina League this season will go a long way to cementing this prospect’s stock, and potentially pushing him up into the top half of this system in the process.

Major league ETA: Late 2017


Prospects on the Rise:

1. SS/3B Yu-Cheng Chang: The 2013 import from Taiwan had a solid stateside debut in the Arizona League, where his overall game showed more refinement than initially expected. Chang possesses loose hands that enable him to quickly get the head of the bat through the hitting zone and also pull them inside of the ball well to control the head of the bat. The frame offers solid physical projection to where average-to-better power can continue to show down the line as strength gains further take. It would be the perfect world scenario for the 19-year-old to stick up the middle at shortstop, but it’s more likely that he transitions to the hot corner at some point in the future. A good showing with his hit tool against more seasoned competition in 2015 will put this prospect discussions as one of the ten best here in short order.

2. RHP Dylan Baker: A broken ankle put a major dent into this right-hander’s season, but when on the field in limited action, both the plus, lively fastball and hard breaking ball continued to show strong potential. The long pole for Baker remains the emergence of a third offering, where there’s questionable feel for his changeup and thoughts that the pitch has too far to go to become a viable piece of his repertoire. Reaching the majors as a starter may not ultimately be in the cards, but the arm could end up very effective in a set-up role given the power nature of both the fastball/breaking-ball combination. The 22-year-old has a good shot to track into Double-A by the end of the year, with traction gaining as a more solidified arm within this system and firm top-10 status in conjunction.

3. SS Willi Castro: The 2013 international signee out of the Dominican Republic made his stateside debut this past year in the Arizona League with middling results, but it was a fairly advanced assignment for the 17-year-old and offered some promise he can handle another aggressive placement in short-season ball this year. Castro’s game is all projection at present, with this just a collection of raw tools, but he flashes a compact stroke and solid potential with the glove on the infield. The bat will get a boost if the body begins to fill into the athletic 6-foot-1 frame, and the increasing strength level starts to enhance the quality of contact. It’s a rough sketch at present for sure, but one that can start putting a little more color to it as soon as this season.


Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)

1. OF James Ramsey: Acquired from the Cardinals in exchange for Justin Masterson at the end of July , the 25-year-old outfielder is likely to initially provide depth for the organization at Triple-A to start 2015, with a good chance he’ll be one of the first called if an outfield spot opens up. Ramsey flashes a smooth stroke from the left side of the plate, along with the ability to handle centerfield and an arm that can play in all three outfield slots. He offers the type of versatility to profile as a fourth outfielder off the bench, with the potential for the role to play up a bit for a few seasons. The Florida State product gives the organization a near-term ready outfielder in the upper levels, and an option to turn to this season for a legit look if he keeps things rolling with the bat in the International League.

2. RHP Cody Anderson: The right-hander may be a deeper option to start the season given his struggles in Double-A last year, but with a few adjustments, Anderson has the potential to quickly get back on track and offer the organization depth within the rotation should the need arise at some point in the summer. When the 24-year-old has his low-90s sinker and biting slider working, he can successfully keep hitters at bay and navigate deep into games. The fastball command is a concern, though, as it deserted the big righty to the point last year where the pitch was elevated way too often and batted around with ease. It may ultimately limit things to the back of a rotation or relief role, but major-league potential is here, with a chance to get on a role and help in 2015.

3. RHP Shawn Armstrong: Fueled by a high-octane fastball that consistently works in the mid-90s and power breaking stuff, this right-hander profiles as a late-innings reliever and can arrive as soon as this season to contribute out of the pen. Armstrong does run into ruts of overthrowing and has a lot of effort in his delivery, but he made strides this past year throwing strikes on a more consistent basis. If the trend continues to hold, the 24-year old has a very good shot at emerging as a legit eighth-inning arm tasked with getting outs in key spots. Look for the righty to start in the International League and get the first look when an opportunity in the bullpen opens up.


Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)

  1. Francisco Lindor
  2. Francisco Mejia
  3. Danny Salazar
  4. Clint Frazier
  5. Trevor Bauer
  6. Bradley Zimmer
  7. T.J. House
  8. Tyler Naquin
  9. Jose Ramirez
  10. Justus Sheffield

After finishing third in the American League Central and looking like a team on the rise with young guns like Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, and Corey Kluber as key cogs going forward, the Indians have a chance to be a team that could cause trouble in 2015 and beyond. That young core looks to be augmented by stud shortstop Francisco Lindor and could see additional influences from prospects like Francisco Mejia and Clint Frazier further down the line. All told, the Indians look like a team capable of being a factor in the near term, and that success will be contingent on some of the additional young talent that has mixed into the roster.

The emergence of Lonnie Chisenhall in 2014 would have ranked him highly on this list had he not missed the eligibility criteria, and his breakout campaign serves as notice of his impending arrival in the earlier-mentioned group of core talents.

With improved consistency the only thing holding right-hander Danny Salazar back from vaulting into the realm of core talents, he checks in as the highest non-prospect on this list. Though his raw numbers make it look as though he took a considerable step back in 2014, Salazar still has the electric stuff and enough control to hold down the middle of the Indians rotation, at an absolute minimum, while maintaining the potential to slot in nicely as a quality number two behind Kluber.

Long a sucker for Clint Frazier’s loud tools and immense raw ceiling, and long the low man on the Trevor Bauer totem pole, Frazier’s overall potential earns the nod over an enigmatic fourth starter. Bauer will likely become a quality inning eater for the Indians, but I don’t believe he carries the high-end potential that would push him above players like Frazier and Salazar.

Thought to be just a nice lefty bullpen arm, T.J. House emerged as a potential back-end starter capable of working through a lineup multiple times and keeping his team in the game on a consistent basis. House’s ability to work as a fifth starter provides additional value over the potential tweener outfielder (Tyler Naquin) and infielder Jose Ramirez, whose offensive profile still carries substantial questions within the scouting community.

All told, the Indians own a strong collection of young talent at both the minor-league and major-league eague level; enough talent to suggest that the club could sustain a role causing problems near the top of the Central Division. As young arms like Bauer, House, and Salazar cement themselves in the rotation, and potential stars like Lindor arrive, the Indians should remain competitive and may steal a few playoff berths along the way. –Mark Anderson


A Parting Thought: This system is starting to build more depth, with the front offering up-the-middle talent who can potentially impact the game in a big way, while some intriguing talent is starting to emerge down a few layers.

Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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