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Last year's Cleveland list

The State of the System: Flags fly forever, baby! Okay, well, it’s not the exact flag they wanted. But they also still have Andrew Miller and a very nice one-two punch at the top of the system.

The Top Ten

  1. C Francisco Mejia
  2. RHP Triston McKenzie
  3. OF Bradley Zimmer
  4. LHP Juan Hillman
  5. OF Greg Allen
  6. OF Will Benson
  7. 1B Bobby Bradley
  8. LHP Brady Aiken
  9. SS Yu-Cheng Chang
  10. RHP Adam Plutko

The Big Question: Should an amateur pitcher send in an MRI to teams?

I could have addressed this question in the introduction to just about any team list. The minors are littered with pitching prospects that have lost time to elbow injuries, and plenty of teams have had to “renegotiate” a bonus after a post-draft physical. Cleveland draws this topic because, well (A) there isn’t a ton else to talk about in what’s now a fringe-average system, and (B) Brady Aiken. It’s not the Indians fault they drafted Aiken. Well it is, but you know what I mean, but his entire saga had already become a flashpoint for these kind of conversations long before Cleveland found him atop their 2015 draft board. What came after is a matter for down below. Up here, I want to discuss how the “before” might have changed the balance of power in the draft.

Commissioner Manfred floated the idea of a pre-draft medical combine for all amateurs last year, and a test balloon made its way into the new CBA in the form of a voluntary predraft MRI for pitchers. I am approaching the age when I would be hypothetically old enough to have a draft-eligible child—le sigh—and I’m fairly certain I would strongly recommend he not participate in this. There’s an undercurrent of “well, if there’s nothing wrong with your elbow, what do you have to hide?” to the whole proceedings. The argument is a clean MRI could actually help your draft stock, but that only really works if other pitchers send in balky ones, which seems like they wouldn’t do. If enough of the top pitching prospects don’t, I suppose a sense of vague uncertainty—see that above undercurrent—might have the same effect, but you aren’t really being rewarded for your “health,” just others in your class being punished for suspicions about theirs.

And then there is the old baseball cliché that you can always find something on an MRI. You’d think teams wouldn’t be able to manipulate this. After all, they’ve had them for months! But there really isn’t stopping an org from drafting you and saying, “yeah we took you at pick 17, but we do have some concerns about the MRI.” Maybe you are a high school arm with a Vanderbilt commitment and can tell them to go pound sand, but maybe you are Anthony Kay and out almost a million bucks because you can’t negotiate with anyone else. Maybe the “medical concern” even got accidentally leaked.

From the team’s perspective, I suppose imperfect knowledge beats no knowledge, but a clean MRI today is no guarantee of future health, and sometimes Jon Lester pitches for years with a grenade in his elbow. I joke about “being a pitcher” being a notable risk for a prospect—one we are probably both tired of at this point—but I think my underlying point was we really have no idea which pitchers will get hurt and why it will happen. All we know is that pitchers get hurt an awful lot.

None of this helps Brady Aiken of course, or Mac Marshall, or Jacob Nix. It feels a brutish thing to give the Astros post-TJ plaudits for not signing Aiken, to praise their calculus. They were ‘right,’ but I don’t know if that should be incentivized.


1. Francisco Mejia, C
DOB: 10/27/1995
Height/Weight: 5’10” 175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Acquired: Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012 for $350,000
Previous Ranking(s): #9 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .347/.384/.531, 7 HR, 1 SB in 60 games at Low-A Lake County, .333/.380/.488, 4 HR, 1 SB in 42 games at High-A Lynchburg

The Good: A 50-game hit streak is pretty good, right? There’s always going to be a bit of luck and happenstance involved in a long hitting streak, but the underlying tool here is what we want, and oh yeah, it is pretty good too. Mejia’s stroke is short and strong from both sides of the plate. There’s plus bat speed here and with it the potential for double-digit home run pop. He’s improved rapidly behind the plate and he has a plus-plus arm to back up solid receiving skills.

The Bad: If you want to nitpick, Mejia has a very aggressive approach, and it’s not impossible upper-minors arms are able to front-foot him at times. He makes a lot of contact, but not all of it is good contact, He’ll drop the back shoulder at times and pop balls up. He runs like a catcher.

The Irrelevant: Maybe it’s not quite as impressive as the longer one, but Mejia will start 2017 riding an eight-game hit streak.

The Role:

OFP 60—First-division starting catcher
Likely 55—Above-average major league catcher

The Risks: Catchers are weird, man. Mejia still has to hit in the upper minors. I think he will, but catchers are weird, man.

Major league ETA: Late 2018

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Have I mentioned how much I hate it when Craig Goldstein is right? Our resident Mejia lover has long been the high man on this backstop, and his patience was rewarded in a big way in 2016. Mejia’s hit tool is at a premium at the catcher position, and when you factor in his (relative) closeness to the majors and his potential for some power, he starts looking an awful lot like a top-50 guy. Catchers are inherently risky and their development is rarely linear, but Mejia has all the makings of an easy top-10 backstop in due time.

2. Triston McKenzie, RHP
DOB: 08/02/1997
Height/Weight: 6’5” 160 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired/Bonus: Drafted 42nd overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Royal Palm Beach HS (Palm Beach, FL); signed for $2.3025 million
Previous Ranking(s): #7 (Org.)
2016 Stats: 0.55 ERA, 2.44 DRA, 49.1 IP, 31 H, 16 BB, 55 K in 9 games at short-season Penn League, 3.18 ERA, 1.04 DRA, 34 IP, 27 H, 6 BB, 49 K in 6 games at Low-A Lake County

The Good: McKenzie checks all the boxes to make me swoon. He’s tall and lean, über projectable. However, he’s not the mere conjurings of a rarebit fiend. He’s already quite advanced as a pitcher, dominating the Penn and Midwest Leagues while spending most of the season as an 18-year-old. The fastball sits on either side of 90, but features good extension and plane—as you’d expect from a teenaged Stretch Armstrong. His curveball already shows the makings of a swing-and-miss offering at higher levels. It certainly was at the lower ones.

The Bad: Let’s dive back into our pocket “teenage changeup” thesaurus—McKenzie has “limited feel for the pitch at present.” The curve can have an inconsistent shape at times as well. The velocity can dip into the upper 80s later in outings.

The Irrelevant: The only prior "Triston" in organized baseball was Triston Cortez, who lasted 22 games for Macon of the South Coast Independent League. No word on if he gave a "burn the ships" type speech.

The Role:

OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 50—No. 4 starter

The Risks: The thing about being a projectable pitcher is you actually have to project at some point. McKenzie has plenty of time to develop, but also a lot of developing to do, so there’s a lot of risk in the profile. He’ll need a tick or two more on the fastball, and he will have to find some feel for the change. He’s also a pitcher.

Major league ETA: 2020

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: McKenzie is on the short list of dynasty prospects from the 2015 draft who’ve improved their stock the most. The reports on him are fairly glowing, and even if the upside isn’t legendary, it’s high enough to get our attention. Be sure to monitor McKenzie as the year progresses if you roster 100 prospects. If you roster 150 or more, pounce now or forever hold your peace. He has good SP3 upside.

3. Bradley Zimmer, OF
DOB: 11/27/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 21st overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, University of San Francisco (CA); signed for $1.9 million
Previous Ranking(s): #1 (Org.), #23 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .253/.371/.471, 14 HR, 33 SB in 93 games at Double-A Akron, .242/.349/.305, 1 HR, 5 SB in 37 games at Triple-A Columbus

The Good: Zimmer combines strong physicality—he certainly looks more stout than his listed 185 pounds, in a good way—with a group of advanced baseball skills. He’s an easy plus runner with plus raw power. He has a very advanced plate approach, and will take more than his fair share of walks. He’s awful big to play center long-term, but he tracks the ball well enough out there for now.

The Bad: To be unusually blunt, it’s unclear at this point if Zimmer can hit. His swing is long—a combination of a long body with long arms and a long bat path. He’s had terrible swing-and-miss problems in the upper minors resulting from this, and it’s concerning that he’s missing so much and running huge strikeout totals despite being a polished college bat who rarely gets himself out. He’s looked particularly hopeless at times against lefties, which is a problem if you want a regular, but at least opens up the possibility of a platoon role if this doesn’t work out as much. He could end up profiling better in right than center down the road.

The Irrelevant: Zimmer was a teammate for one season with his brother Kyle for the University of San Francisco Dons. Despite having a pair of future first-round pick brothers, the 2012 Dons went 29-30.

The Role:

OFP 60—First-division center fielder who might get “flu-like symptoms” against Madison Bumgarner
Likely 50—Second-division/platoon outfielder

The Risks: It’s easy to look at a player like Joc Pederson who has roughly the same strengths and weaknesses and has become a borderline MLB star, but Zimmer is only seven months younger than Pederson and has yet to conquer Triple-A. If the hit tool doesn’t play, the power and speed will have less opportunities to contribute. At 24, Zimmer is also getting on the older side for a position player prospect who has yet to make the key adjustments.

Major league ETA: Mid-season 2017 —Jarrett Seidler

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Zimmer was viewed as a safe prospect a year ago, but as you can tell from the write-up above, that’s no longer the case. There’s a pretty wide gap between who Zimmer could be if it all works out and who he’ll be if it doesn’t in fantasy. The good version could see Zimmer hit .250-260 with 20-plus homers and steals apiece, and would be especially valuable in OBP leagues. The bad Zimmer might not play that often for a first-division team, and could end up posting decent HR/SB stats on a rate basis, but with an average closer to the .220 line. His proximity and upside still make him a solid prospect, but for a guy who was on the cusp of elite dynasty prospect status a year ago, it’s a bit disappointing.

4. Juan Hillman LHP
DOB: 05/15/1997
Height/Weight: 6’2” 180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired/Bonus: Drafted 59th in the 2015 MLB Draft, Olympia HS (Orlando, FL); signed for $825,000
Previous Ranking(s): #8 (Org.)
2016 Stats: 4.43 ERA, 5.09 DRA, 63 IP, 66 H, 24 BB, 47 K in 15 games a short-season Mahoning Valley

The Good: Hillman features a deceptive, low-90s fastball that he can spot to either side of the plate. The pitch will show some sink and run down in the zone. He’ll occasionally find 95 with the pitch as well. He’s a good athlete with a repeatable, uptempo delivery. The change is potentially above-average. The overall repertoire and command profile is advanced for his age.

The Bad: Hillman’s stuff—and especially his velocity—varies from outing to outing. When the fastball isn’t down in the zone—or dips into the upper 80s—it’s hittable even in short-season. He can lose his feel for the breaking ball and even when it’s there the pitch shows early and is a little loopy. The stuff can dip in games as well, leading me—and others—to wonder if he can hold up as a starter long term.

The Irrelevant: There’s a forecasted high of 69 degrees in Orlando today. It is not nearly that nice where I am sitting.

The Role:

OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
Likely 45—Back-end starter

The Risks: Short-season resume, questions about if he can hold up across a starter’s workload in-game and across a season. Oh yes, and he’s a pitcher.

Major league ETA: 2019

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I believe I’ve made my feelings on back-end starting prospects abundantly clear. When Hillman is closer to the majors, you can start dabbling if you’re in a deeper league. But for right now, his lead time and modest ceiling should keep him out of sight and out of mind for your average dynasty enthusiast. He’s in a good system to get the most out of his abilities, though.

5. Greg Allen, OF

DOB: 3/15/1993
Height/Weight: 6’0” 175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB Draft, San Diego State University (San Diego, CA); signed for $200,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .290/.399/.441, 3 HR, 7 SB in 37 games at Double-A Akron, .298/.424/.402, 4 HR, 38 SB in 92 games at High-A Lynchburg

The Good: Allen is a switch-hitter with a similar swing from both sides of the plate, and it is one built on barrel control and efficiency into the zone at the expense of separation and plane. It’s a handsy, whip of a swing, and he’s a smart player; he stays back well and fights off difficult pitches, extending at-bats and spoiling quality execution with line drives to all fields. The pesky barrel command pairs with excellent strike zone discipline that helps an already-solid-average hit tool play up with outsized on-base skill. He’s an aggressive, plus runner who gets quality releases on his stolen base attempts and can impact the game once on base. The speed plays well in center, where his quick releases and quality angles help the glove threaten plus potential. His arm strength is above-average as well, opening the door to versatility all over the grass.

The Bad: There is very little power to speak of in Allen’s game, as both his slight frame and swing mechanics conspire to leave him precious little ability to drive the baseball with any authority. His approach held up through an initial introduction to high-minors pitching last year, but the lack of power may eat into the hit tool after further exposure. He can struggle at times with initial reads in center, and while he’ll generally show enough track-and-close to make up for it, there are still some raw edges there.

The Irrelevant: Allen was selected in the sixth round in 2014, one of six San Diego State Aztecs to hear their names called in the draft class. Last June’s draft marked just the second time since 1971 that the school failed to produce a single pick.

The Role:

OFP 55—Defense-first, solid-average center fielder
Likely 45—High-end fourth outfielder with occasional bouts of second-division starting

The Risks: Allen boasts a deep box of tools, along with the baseball I.Q. to bring them to bear on the field. The lack of pop limits his ceiling, but the speed and glove combine with encouraging foundational skills in the box to make him a high-probability contributor at the highest level. He could force a call-up as soon as next summer if the on-base percentage continues to hold.

Major league ETA: Late 2017 —Wilson Karaman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You know how earlier I said McKenzie was on the short list of prospects who’d helped their fantasy stocks the most since the 2015 draft? Allen might lead that group. He’s emerged from relative anonymity to hit well in the mid-to-high minors, and his speed and average give him two potential carrying fantasy tools. Ender Inciarte hit .291 with 16 steals, 85 runs and pretty much no power last season, and that was enough for him to finish as a top-50 OF option. Allen could produce similar numbers in his prime, and he’s a valuable pop-up prospect for those of you who play in deep keepers where every (relatively) known prospect quantity was gobbled up long ago.

6. Will Benson, OF
DOB: 6/16/1998
Height/Weight: 6’5” 225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 14th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, Westminster HS (Atlanta, GA); signed for $2.5 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .209/.321/.424, 6 HR, 10 SB in 44 games at complex-level AZL

The Good: Benson is an enormous human being with potential for plus-plus raw power. He struggles to consistently tap into that raw power in games, but even when he shows glimpses, he can put the ball into orbit. He’s athletic for someone his size, and should be able to cover enough ground in a corner to avoid being a liability. His arm is average at present, but there’s enough toolsiness with Benson where there could be room for improvement. He earned free passes at a solid clip in his debut, though it was certainly padded by AZL arms pitching around him.

The Bad: The lack of contact will need to be addressed in order for him to reach the highest levels. He lacks balance at the plate, and his long arms can get too far from the rest of his body, creating a long, loopy swing. Despite impressive athleticism, he still hasn’t fully grown into his body, lacking commensurate coordination to control his quick-twitch movements.

The Irrelevant: Benson was committed to Duke before being drafted by Cleveland, and he reportedly was interested in trying to walk on to the school's basketball squad in addition to playing baseball there. Because "basketball is fun," he said, and when you're built like this, why not try?

The Role:

OFP 55—Three-true-outcome slugger who doesn’t hurt you in the outfield
Likely 40—Strong-side platoon bat

The Risks: The sky is the ceiling for Benson, but if the hit tool never comes around, he’s likely no more than a minor leaguer who puts fans in the seats by hitting baseballs over the fence. It’s unlikely his defense will add significant value at any point in his career, so his bat will have to carry him.

Major league ETA: 2021 —Matt Pullman

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Don’t let the first-round pedigree fool you; Benson has a long way to go before he even flirts with being a fantasy factor. The tools are attractive and the upside is real, but unless my league rosters around 200 prospects, I’m waiting until the hit tool shows up in games before I take the plunge with Benson. Bret Sayre had him at 35 on his top-50 dynasty signees for 2016, but honestly, that says more about the paucity of impact talent this year than it does Benson.

7. Bobby Bradley, 1B
DOB: 05/29/1996
Height/Weight: 6’1” 225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired/Bonus: Drafted in the third round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Harrison Central HS (Gulfport, MS); signed for $912,500
Previous Ranking(s): #5 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .235/.344/.466, 29 HR, 3 SB in 131 games at High-A Lynchburg

The Good: Power: You want it, Bob Bradley has it. He is a big man with strong wrists and some serious loft. You could call it plus-plus raw and I couldn’t argue. It’s comfortably plus for sure. Ball go far, prospect status go far. Uh, how many more ways can we talk about the pop to stretch out this section? If he keeps hitting bombs, he will keep getting on-base enough to buoy what’s likely to be a below-average hit tool.

The Bad: You can’t argue with the effectiveness of Bradley’s swing (at least so far), but it’s a weird little thing with a long, low load by his back hip. I suspect he will be vulnerable to better velocity above his hands, something he will see more of in Double-A, and he already expands the zone against A-ball spin. The profile could collapse if he is a .200 hitter at higher levels. He’s limited to first base and not going to offer much defensively there.

The Irrelevant: Bradley’s 29 home runs is the most by a Lynchburg Hillcat in the 2000s. Yes, I got tired of scrolling back year-by-year on baseball-reference.

The Role:

OFP 50—Average first baseman of the TTO variety
Likely 45—Second-division starter or lefty bench bat maybe if you aren’t carrying 13 pitchers

The Risks: He may strike out 220 times a year…in Triple-A.

Major league ETA: Late 2018

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I totally understand why Bradley ranks here, but there’s an argument to be made that he’s the third-best dynasty prospect in this system. The 30 percent strikeout rate is more than a little worrisome, as is the .235 average, but Bradley was just 20 for most of last season, and he did manage to walk a bunch and mash 53 XBH. The floor here is very low because it’s entirely possible Bradley never makes it as an everyday starter in the majors, but the ceiling is pretty high, because 30-homer first basemen don’t grow on trees. He’s still a top-100 guy for me, though I know Bret Sayre disagrees, so we’ll have to see if he makes the final list.

8. Brady Aiken, LHP
DOB: 08/16/1995
Height/Weight: 6’4” 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 17th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, IMG Academy (FL); signed for $2.51328 million
Previous Ranking(s): #2 (Org.)
2016 Stats: 7.12 ERA, 3.15 DRA, 24 IP, 32 H, 13 BB, 35 K in 9 games at complex-level AZL, 4.43 ERA, 3.23 DRA, 22.1 IP, 20 H, 8 BB, 22 K in 5 games at short-season Mahoning Valley

The Good: Well, Aiken is throwing again. That’s a good thing. His curveball remained intact from his amateur days, and his command of the pitch didn’t seem to wane despite the time off and rehab. His fastball regained some of its riding life as the year wore on and he worked himself back into form and he showed the ability to command the heater to all quadrants. The changeup fades on hitters and induces weak contact. Aiken’s ability to sequence and command meant he was too advanced for short-season competition. He’s filled out significantly compared to his pre-draft days…

The Bad: …but that hasn’t added any velocity. In fact, he’s down a few ticks at present, and pitched mostly in the 88-92 range this summer. It’s easy to abuse low-level hitters with sequencing and command, and it’s worth noting even those batters tagged Aiken in his first season back. His change can arrive a bit firm in the mid-80s, though a tick up in fastball velocity could render that moot.

The Irrelevant: Aiken joined Danny Goodwin and Tim Belcher as 1-1 picks that did not sign.

The Role:

If we gave three grades—but who does that—we’d have to mention the possibility that Aiken regains some of his pre-draft velocity and is suddenly a premium pitching prospect. That is tough to project though, so instead we offer a very unconfident

OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
Likely 40—Middle reliever

The Risks: He’s a pitcher with Tommy John on his C.V., who hasn’t found the velocity he lost in the process. That he’s added weight and still not recovered any oomph closes one spoke on which to hang one’s hat. The broad spectrum of skills and advanced pitchability lend some optimism to his case (and some positive risk), but given that he’s yet to pitch in full-season ball, caution wins the day.

Major league ETA: 2020 —Craig Goldstein

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Soooooooooo remember those things we said about 2015 draftees? Perhaps none have fallen so far as Aiken, who’s not a top-100 name at this point. The upside still remains if the velo comes back, but boy, that’s a big if. He can be on your watch list, but I think he’ll always be overrated in dynasty thanks to his draft pedigree/relative frame.

9. Yu-Cheng Chang, SS
DOB: 8/18/1995
Height/Weight: 6’1” 175 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Signed in June 2013 out of Taiwan for $500,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .259/.332/.463, 13 HR, 11 SB in 109 games at High-A Lynchburg

The Good: Chang’s scouting report isn’t going to be mistaken for an Iron Maiden hit single, but he has a broad base of offensive and defensive skills that should serve him well in the majors. He has a quick stroke and good enough pitch recognition skills to adjust to offspeed and drive it. There’s some extra-base hit power here, although it may play as doubles over homers. He’s a fluid defender with an above-average arm.

The Bad: Although reports on Chang’s defense were better late in the season, his ultimate defensive home is ideally second or third. He has enough arm for the hot corner and enough athleticism for second, just not enough of either for short. There’s some loft in his swing, but it won’t be a traditional third base power profile…or a nouveau second base power profile. He might profile best as 350 plate appearance utility type.

The Irrelevant: There’s a lot of Hillcats on this list, so it’s not a huge shock that they won 84 games. Going to be tough to match the sustained success of the 1983-85 Lynchburg squad though. They averaged 93 wins as a Mets affiliate those years, peaking at 96 wins in 1983 on the back of a 100 BB/100 SB season by Lenny Dykstra and 300 strikeouts from Doc Gooden.

The Role:

OFP 50—Average infielder…somewhere, probably not shortstop though
Likely 40—Fifth infielder

The Risks: Potential tweener skillset, no upper minors performance as of yet.

Major league ETA: 2018

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Wait until Chang is more of a lock to remain at short or starts hitting better at higher levels (or both) before you show him a ton of interest. There’s not really a carrying fantasy tool here.

10. Adam Plutko, RHP
DOB: 10/3/1991
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 11th round in the 2013 MLB Draft, University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA); signed for $300,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 7.36 ERA, 5.55 DRA, 3.2 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 3 K in 2 games at major league level, 3.27 ERA, 2.12 DRA, 71.2 IP, 64 H, 12 BB, 63 K in 13 games at Double-A Akron, 4.10 ERA, 4.42 DRA, 90 IP, 87 H, 34 BB, 67 K in 15 games at Triple-A Columbus

The Good: Plutko has a collection of four average-ish pitches with pretty good fastball command. He carved up the Eastern League mixing a two-seam and four-seam fastball both of which sit in the low-90s, and a mid-70s curve which can miss bats when it is diving 11-5. He spots the fastball down in the zone well and has good feel for the breaker. The change is already an average offering with some depth to it, and Plutko is comfortable throwing it to both righties and lefties. He gets the most out of his repertoire by mixing sequencing and he has an ideal frame and delivery to start.

The Bad: There’s no great shame in having a back-end starter rank tenth in your system. We can’t all be the Braves after all. Plutko just isn’t all that exciting. It’s a collection of four average-ish pitches with pretty good fastball command. He didn’t do quite as well against Triple-A bats. The curve might miss enough barrells to let him weave through a major league lineup multiple times. But those mid-70s big breakers don’t always fool major-league hitters. The change is just average, and the slider exists primarily to show a different look or just sneak a strike.

The Irrelevant: Apparently it’s pronounced “plett-KOH,” which…yeah, okay fine. I can’t really cast aspersions on how someone chooses to pronounce their last name anyway.

The Role:

OFP 50—No. 4 starter
Likely 40—No. 5 starter/swingman

The Risks: Plutko has already debuted in the majors, so the risk here is that he has to nibble a bit more with average stuff, leading to more walks and home runs when he has to come over the plate. Also, he’s a pitcher. They get hurt in the majors too.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016

Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: It shouldn’t be pronounced “plett-KOH.” He shouldn’t be on your dynasty roster.

Others of note:


Nolan Jones, 3B
A quality athlete who has already outgrown shortstop and showed signs of adapting quickly at the hot corner, Jones has a well-balanced profile but lacks a true carrying tool. A cold-weather kid, he didn’t show innate bat-to-ball skills last summer, but he did show an advanced concept of the strike zone. The power didn’t materialize during his debut, but there’s clear room for him to put on muscle and address the lack of pop in short order. The hit tool is the big question mark here, but with a bit of development, Jones has a chance to turn into an everyday big league third baseman. —Matt Pullman

The factor on the farm

Yandy Diaz, 3B/OF
Ever-shortening major league benches have sent some classic MLB archetypes careening towards extinction. The pure pinch hitter is almost gone, as is the backup first baseman, the pinch runner/defensive caddy, and the third catcher that can play somewhere else. However if you can play all four corners and hit lefties, you will never want for work. I noted in our Eastern League preview that is was a little strange Diaz was sent back to Akron after raking there in 2015. So all he did was rake there again, and then rake in Columbus. The power is not really enough to start in a corner, and the Indians roster doesn’t have an obvious fit for him outside of “break glass in case of Jose Ramirez injury,” but there is always a role for an effective short-side platoon bat that can play four positions—okay he hasn’t played any first base yet, but come on.

Whoa, Nellie

Nellie Rodriguez, 1B
This is a man who comes to the plate with bad intentions. There have been some first base prospects recently—Cody Bellinger and Josh Bell both come to mind—that are athletic players who could play further up the spectrum and have broad-based skills. Nellie Rodriguez is more of what we think of as a first base prospect, a hulking presence with big power and bat speed who goes up there to hit one a country mile every time up. The rest of the game is a bit rough, but the power could play, and it’ll be fun to see him try. Currently behind Bobby Bradley on the organizational depth chart for now, Nellie might beat him to the majors. —Jarrett Seidler

At least he’s still left-handed

Rob Kaminsky, LHP
Hey, it turns out the Cardinals don’t hit on every draft pick. St. Louis made what looked like a strange trade at the 2015 deadline, shipping their 2013 first-rounder off for a season-and-a-half of platoon corner bat Brandon Moss. The Cleveland prospect version of Kaminsky only bears slight relation to the preternaturally advanced prep lefty of draft time, unfortunately. His once impressive curve has flattened out. He’ll throw a kitchen sink’s worth of fastballs that go in all kinds of directions, but the velocity is mostly in the mid-high-80s and the command just isn’t there. With a lower arm-slot and a curveball that’s still enough to give same-side hitters problems, a LOOGY’s career may now be what awaits. —Jarrett Seidler

The post-hype slee…uh, left field prospect?

Dorssys Paulino, OF
He’s baaaaaack! Unfortunately for him, it’s as an outfielder. 2012’s wunderkind has been through it in the intervening four years, but he’s still just 22 (how is he only 22???), and still shows the bat-to-ball that intrigued back when Gangnam Style was a thing. The problem is the power never truly developed and doubles pop is a tough profile for a starter in left field, even with Paulino’s approach. If he can somehow start putting more balls over the fence, his OBP could push him to a low-end starter’s role. —Craig Goldstein

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/90 or later)

  1. Francisco Lindor
  2. Francisco Mejia
  3. Triston McKenzie
  4. Jose Ramirez
  5. Tyler Naquin
  6. Bradley Zimmer
  7. Juan Hillman
  8. Greg Allen
  9. Will Benson
  10. Bobby Bradley

This is the fifth straight year that Francisco Lindor has held the top spot on this list; barring anything disastrous, he should occupy it for two more years to come. And man, is it deserved. The current depth of shortstop talent across the league makes it difficult to anoint one player as clearly the best at the position, but Lindor’s argument is just about as strong as any after his second year in the majors. While he’s not quite as talented offensively as Carlos Correa or Corey Seager, he’s still solidly above average at the plate and makes up for any potential shortcomings with his spectacular defense—courtesy of ridiculous instincts that make just about any play look natural and silky smooth. (He also bests Correa and Seager in all of the various defensive metrics, however much you want to consider those.) Regardless of whether or not he’s the best, he’s certainly among them, and one of the more exciting players to top an edition of these lists.

The other two big-leaguers on this list both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2016, but it’s hard to imagine either continuing to be who they were at their best last year. Jose Ramirez was forced to convert to left field for much of the first half of the season, where he was adequate defensively and on fire offensively—he slashed .331/.393/.497 in the 48 games he spent there. His production wasn’t quite as strong with his permanent move back to third base, but he can be a well-rounded switch-hitter who could be Cleveland’s long-term answer at the hot corner. Even if the bat regresses, he’s a nice utility piece. Tyler Naquin, meanwhile, went from boring fourth outfield prospect to candidate for Rookie of the Year. Though he’d never been known for his bat, he got himself noticed after being called up by hitting .343/.425/.731 through June and July. That didn’t last, of course, and his future will more likely be as a platoon guy. —Emma Baccellieri

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Man, rough day for Jose Ramirez. Goes from being a good fantasy player in one article to ranking behind Triston McKenzie on the U25 list. Is Ramirez' glove that bad at 3B?

Steamer has him at 287/345/421 which is maybe a bit optimistic if you don't buy 2016, but even 275/330/410 with a good glove seems better than a guy who's likely a 50 starter and finished at Low-A.
Yeah, seriously. I'm still trying to figure out what "Top Talents" means in this context. What do you think are the odds of Triston McKenzie becoming a star pitcher in the majors?
At least Ramirez is top 5. Going into 2014 they had Jose Altuve as the 6th best talent in the Astros organization. He was a year removed from a 3.9 WARP season. Sure, he was behind a couple guys named Springer and Correa, but also Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz, and Jarred Cossart. Every once in a while there is just a misunderestimation.
Absolutely true.
I'm curious what sort of AAR, if any, is done when wiffing on a prospect evaluation; for good or ill. I get someone like Profar where injures derailed development, but on someone like Appel what happened?
Good question. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I try to go back and review the processes that led me to my belief (or lackthereof) in the prospect in question (this should also occur when we're right to avoid crediting the wrong process, to be sure).

With Appel, it's worth noting that there was a relatively wide range of opinions given how high he was drafted twice. He was oft-derided for lacking fortitude on the mound, which, at the time I considered a bit unfair. I'm not a proponent of assuming I know someone's inner self based on a game or two. I think there were competing points there as well -- it doesn't lack fortitude to turn down $3 million and go back to school, then pitch well enough to go 1-1.

He also flashed superb quality in his arsenal, but we rarely saw them do so in concert. I don't think it's wrong to assume that this is an issue that gets worked out, though it's probably one worth revisiting. Then there was the aspect that he got hit harder than he should for someone with his stuff. This was also a criticism of Gerrit Cole, and that sure looked like a silly one prior to the 2016 season. It was a question of whether you saw the raw quality of the stuff overriding the complete lack of deception in Appel's delivery.

The questions or competing concerns above seemingly all fell on the negative side for Appel. I think the best thing I can do is keep in mind that this happened and use it as a (but crucially not *the*) data point going forward. I won't presume to think I know exactly why some of these things happened for him. At some point there's just too much noise, along with a number of things we don't know without having access to the player and other information.

I don't know that that's a satisfactory answer to your question, but I'm happy to talk about it more if not.
Mr. Goldstein I thought it was a great answer and I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I know speaking for me I'd enjoy reading the occasional "What I missed"-type relook at players.
Parks used to do a series called "What I missed" on guys. I'll be doing something similar. Funnily enough, it will be the essay for the Tigers list tomorrow.
Well, okay but he's never produced even the latter slash line you indicated until 2016. So if you don't buy 2016, you're not buying that either, necessarily. Right now he's projected at about half a win by our system for 2017. That's probably overly conservative, but there's as good a chance that he's the part-time player he's been in years past as he is the all-star quality guy he was last year. We happen to like McKenzie a lot, but if you'd rather flip the two, I don't think people would make a stink about it.
It's less about wanting to flip these two specifically and more about wanting to understand what "Top Talents" means. When a guy is 23 and already has 1200+ major league plate appearances I would think he's a demonstrably a better "talent" than all but the very, very top 18-year old pitchers in the sense that he is far more likely to be a useful major leaguer going forward. If all of this is not about being a more useful major leaguer and is simply about perfect world projections of tools, then I question the utility of the list.

Also, I think I'd still say this if Jose Ramirez didn't hit 312/363/462 last season and instead just hit his major league average. Either way, while 312/363/462 might be near the top of his capabilities, I don't think anyone should have been hugely surprised. As far as I can tell, he has always hit really well, at every level.

Lastly, I'd disagree that there's a good chance he's a part time player. There's a chance, but I think it's much more likely that he's full time with the Indians or elsewhere.

Back to the original question though: What do you think the odds are of McKenzie becoming a star pitcher in the majors?
You're more than welcome to think that he'll be full time, but let's also not twist my words. I said there's as good a chance he's a part-time player as he is the all-star caliber guy he was last year. That's not to say there's not a large area in between, and I don't think either of us would be shocked if he landed there. I think there's a chance last year was mostly real, and if it turns out to be the case I'll happily be wrong. It's not an infrequent thing for me.

I might be the high man on McKenzie. I think he has the potential to lead a rotation, and that there's a lot of projection left for a guy who is already succeeding in relatively dramatic fashion (SSS, to be sure). Is there significant risk? You bet, and it'd be a fair criticism to say that my opinion might not weigh that risk enough. I happen to think there's more risk in Ramirez than you (and I'm guessing a majority of people) think.
Yeah, as Craig said, you can very easily flip these two (and I did, several times, as I was making the list). Ultimately, it came down to the fact that I just didn't see Ramirez continuing to produce at the level he did last year while there's an awful lot to like about McKenzie moving forward—but obviously projecting a 19-year-old pitcher is risky, and there's nothing wrong with valuing Ramirez over that.
"The Top Ten" at the top of the page lists Mejia as "LHP"
and that was fixed as I was reading
"Catchers are wired, man." -Dennis Hopper
"Catchers are wierd, man." -Jeffrey Paternostro
Also, Yandy Diaz has done nothing but hit, and in 1400 minor league appearances (the overwhelming majority of which were in the high minors) he's put up 307/403/410, so he must be hitting and drawing walks against some righties, right?
He's been fine against righties, but doesn't offer much power against them and has generally been old for the level.
He's no Adam Plutko.
Sorry to pester you, Craig. I do love reading these pieces, and I have for years. I just like to get on prospect evaluators' cases. It's never really made a ton of sense to me, and I like to challenge it from time to time.
I'm not really sure what you're challenging, but okay. You're arguing for a guy in our others area over the 10th guy in a system that falls off dramatically after number 8. There's not a significant gap between the two guys and if you want to prefer Diaz to Plutko, you're more than welcome to. I explained Diaz in the prior comment and Plutko is more than covered in his own writeup.
It seems like an extreme overreaction to list Aiken behind Hillman, among others. We aren’t talking about a big sample of innings post-Tommy John. I would gladly take the inherent risk/up-side over the security of a non-impact player. Am I missing something?
I guess I would just say I don't know if Aiken has that upside anymore. How much more likely is he to add a couple mph than Hillman? Probably more, if only because he used to throw that hard, but I don't think it outweighs the downside risk. I also really like Hillman, and anyway there isn't a huge gap for me between like 4 and 12 in this org.
Your point regarding the variability of the 4th and 12th best prospects in a given system is well received. It’s easy to forget that we are working with ordinal data, and I probably lost sight of that briefly. I kind of mentally arranged an understanding of this system as one with four potential impact talents and then a less clearly defined group of role players and guys that I would need to see more success from before really believing in. For me, Aiken was (and still is) the fourth guy.

I would justify that by simply having patience in the process of recovering from Tommy John. I didn’t expect a 100% recovery after just a few months of pitching this year. And yeah, I think that there is already a narrative for the velocity drop, which to my thinking also means that there is a reasonable chance of regaining some of that. At least it is easier to wrap my head around that than a magical spike in velocity from a lesser-known entity, you know?

I think that there is a non-zero chance that we are talking about the placement of two players who don’t make any meaningful contribution to the club, so I’m not really concerned with the downside risk as much (unless you are referring to the sunk costs associated with Aiken’s bonus, but that seems tangential to the nature of talent rankings). I’m seeing that you gave Hillman a mid rotation OFP, which means that you like him more than I initially realized. I guess I can’t argue the logic in the that, other than to reiterate my position on Aiken.

Thanks for responding.
What's the prognosis for Shawn Morimando? Setup man/backend starter type?