2020 Prospect Opportunities — Indians

Today, we begin the American League Central teams in our 2020 Prospect Opportunities series as I start the division with the Indians. Overall, the Indians have a fairly solid offense, with the majority of its problems coming from its patchwork outfield. Though there are health questions at the front end of the starting rotation, the back end is at risk.

At Risk: Cesar Hernandez
Replacement: Christian Arroyo

After peaking at 3.8 WAR back in 2016, Cesar Hernandez has seen his value decline each season since, to a low of 1.7 last year with the Phillies. His UZR has now been negative for two straight years, while his wOBA has hit a four-year low and he suddenly stopped taking a walk.

Luckily for Hernandez, the Indians aren’t exactly flush with second base prospects in the upper levels. At this point, the only real threat is former top prospect Christian Arroyo, who is admittedly not much of a fantasy prospect. But he represents the best of a weak replacement lot. In the minors, Arroyo has shown solid contact skills, having kept his strikeout rate below 20% at every stop, though his walk rate was almost always far too low. He has shown power at times, but not consistently, and even when he has, he always always posted a too low sub-30% fly ball rate, so he couldn’t convert that power into the home runs fantasy owners crave. He also has limited speed, so we’re not looking for more than a handful of steals given a full season’s worth of plate appearances. So yeah, Arroyo isn’t exciting, but he’s borderline acceptable and the one to know if Hernandez falters.

At Risk: Everyone – Oscar Mercado, Domingo Santana, Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow, etc.
Replacement: Jake Bauers & Daniel Johnson

Sure, some of these names have interesting fantasy prospects (I especially like Oscar Mercado for his power/speed combo and the price he was going for during draft season), but from a real baseball perspective, there are major flaws here and none of them should have a firm grasp on regular playing time.

I refuse to give up on a player that has strong plate discipline like Jake Bauers. He has posted a double digit walk rate in eight of 10 professional stops and at six straight, while his SwStk% has been in single digits in five of his last seven minor league stints, peaking at just 11%. The power hasn’t been there, as his ISO has peaked at just .183 and HR/FB rate at 13.8%, but I always feel like a guy with that kind of plate discipline will eventually learn to hit for good power. We could probably say goodbye to the steals, unfortunately, so with that category contribution gone, he’s best to speculate in an OBP league, as he hits too many grounders into the shift to be a batting average asset.

Daniel Johnson is the team’s sixth ranked prospect, as he posted a solid .371 wOBA at Triple-A in 2019. The SwStk% suggests the potential for a worse strikeout rate, but he doesn’t seemingly swing at everything since his walk rate has been acceptable. He has shown power at times, fly ball propensity at times, and BABIP ability at times, meaning it’s anyone’s guess whether the Majors will be one of those times he’ll show those skills. He also owns 70 grade speed, but only swiped 12 bags last year. He seems like a real wildcard, but does have the potential for multi-category contributions if given an opportunity.

At Risk: Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Logan Allen, Adam Plutko
Replacement: Triston McKenzie & Scott Moss

Yeesh, that back end of the Indians rotation might look potentially solid if just looking at Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac’s debut ERAs, but we know to look deeper than that. Civale’s skills were poor and he posted a 4.74 SIERA, while Plesac was in a similar position, vastly outperforming his 5.13 SIERA. Sure, these guys could improve their skills dramatically and become fantasy and Indians assets, but it wouldn’t have anything to do with their 2019 performances. Both Logan Allen and Adam Plutko’s ERAs did match their weak 2019 skills, so expectations here are likely already low.

Triston McKenzie is the team’s 10th ranked prospect even though he missed all of 2019 to lat and pec strains. He even endured injury in 2018, which may have led to the precipitous decline in strikeout rate at Double-A that year. That said, he has posted elite strikeouts rates at times, solid walk rates backed by 50/60 grade command, and is a fly ball pitcher that may be able to suppress BABIP. Obviously, having not pitched since 2018 might make it extremely difficult to shoot right up to the Majors if there’s no minor league season, but hey, perhaps he mightily impresses during “Spring” training and makes the rotation, when/if that actually occurs.

I never heard of Scott Moss, but he posted a solid 28.9% strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A last year, including elite SwStk% marks of 15.1% at Double-A in the Reds organization and eye-popping 17.9% mark on the Indians Triple-A club, though over a tiny sample. Of course, all those whiffs comes with a flaw — poor control. He posted an ugly 12.7% walk rate, but those control problems just manifested last year. From 2016-2018 from Rookie league up to High-A, he hadn’t posted a walk rate above 8.7%. So maybe it was a one season fluke and he’ll get that rate back into single digits. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, as his FB% has risen every minor league stop since 2017, peaking at 51.1%. The optimistic side is what I said about McKenzie above — lots of fly ball outs, suppressing BABIP. Of course, it will also lead to lots of homers. Clearly, tons of risk here, but the strikeout potential is intriguing.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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2 years ago

What about moving Ramirez back to second to make room for Nolan Jones?