A Minor Review of 2017: Cleveland Indians

The Indians system boasts some top-level talent that includes Triston McKenzie, Nolan Jones and Triston McKenzie – plus some fun sleepers.

The Graduate: Bradley Zimmer, OF: Zimmer has above-average tools across the board with the exception of hit tool — and that was on full display during his MLB debut. He hit just .241 in 332 plate appearances thanks in part to a strikeout rate hovering around 30%. As he matures, though, he should post double-digit walk rates to go along with 20-20 (HR-SB) potential. In the field, he’s a plus fielder with a strong arm. Even if he hits .240-.250, he could be an all-star… but an increased contact rate would help further the case.

The Stud: Triston McKenzie, RHP: Catcher Francisco Mejia gets a lot of press for being the Indians’ top prospect but, for me, it’s McKenzie. The gangly right-hander, who stands 6-5, is just 20 years old but flashes three above-average pitches — including a heater that can tickle the mid-90s. His best offering is probably his curveball with the changeup making big strides. He struck out 186 batters in just 143 innings in 2017. He also showed above-average control with 45 walks. McKenzie could benefit from getting more downward plane on his offerings and generating a few more ground balls. He has potential to be a top arm in Cleveland’s rotation.

The Draft Pick: Johnathan Rodriguez, OF: The Indians had a lackluster draft in 2017 due to the absence of a first round selection but Rodriguez may have been a great value in the third round. Just recently turned 18, he’s already a big kid at 6-3 and could fill out to be a monster at the plate. He didn’t go deep in his pro debut but should be good for 20+ homers down the road. Known as more of a raw project, he showed signs of a good eye at the plate with 21 walks and 23 strikeouts in 31 games. Defensively, he has a strong arm and projects as a right-fielder.

The Riser: Willi Castro, SS: If he can remain at shortstop, Castro has a chance to develop into a middle infielder capable of hitting 15-20 home runs and stealing as many, or more, bases. He started his breakout in 2017 with a .290 average and a career high 11 home runs to go with 19 steals. And all of this was done at the age of 20 in high-A ball. The down side to Castro’s game is that he’s too aggressive at the plate, leading to not enough walks and a few too many strikeouts. His erratic play in the field could lead to a move from shortstop to second base or perhaps even center field. He’ll open 2018 in double-A despite not turning 21 until late April.

The Sleeper: Nolan Jones, 3B: You haven’t reach much about Jones yet but that might chance in 2018 when he moves up to full-season ball for the first time. The 19-year-old third baseman produced a .430 on-base percentage in 2017 in short-season ball thanks to a 16% walk rate and .317 batting average. The average is due for some regression thanks to his .417 BABIP and 22% strikeout rate but he has the frame (6-4, 190 pounds) and the line-drive pop (22 LD%) to grow into some serious power. Jones looks like a future stud at the hot corner and he has the defensive tools to stick there.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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4 years ago

When you say that McKenzie “has potential to be a top arm in Cleveland’s rotation”… Cleveland has a pretty good rotation. Is that really just saying that he has potential to be good, or does he have potential to be in the same tier with Kluber and Carrasco?