A Minor Review of 2018: Cleveland Indians

Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.

The Cleveland IndiansIf you were perusing last year’s series, you would have read this:

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.

Now onto the new stuff:

First Taste of The Show: Shane Bieber, RHP: Bieber had his ups-and-downs but he held his own during his first taste of the majors better than I thought he would. He chewed up innings and threw strikes — but got too much of the strike zone at times. With improved fastball command, Bieber could develop into a solid mid-rotation starter thanks to his strong breaking stuff and the aforementioned control. His development (along with Mike Clevinger’s) has made it easier for the club to consider parting ways with Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.

The Draft Pick: Lenny Torres, RHP: I absolutely loved what the Indians did with their draft this past year as they took three or four players I had highlighted pre-draft as potential steals — from Ethan Hankins to Noah Naylor to Raynel Delgado to Torres, the 41st overall selection. The biggest knock on the young hurler is his lack of size but he still has a strong fastball-slider combo. He’s also athletic, has a solid delivery and can throw strikes. I think he’ll move relatively quickly for a cold-weather prospect.

The Riser: Luis Oviedo, RHP: The Indians didn’t have a ton of players to take huge steps forward in 2019 but Oviedo made solid strides as a 19-year-old who began the year in extended spring training. Already standing 6-4, he’s learning to use that height to his advantage in generating a strong downward plane on his offerings to induce ground balls. He missed a lot of bats in rookie ball by striking out 61 batters in 48 innings but struggled against more advanced hitters when he moved up to low-A ball. His control is significantly better than his command at this point, which is common among young pitchers. Oviedo currently shows a promising fastball-changeup mix but needs to polish the breaking ball(s).

The Fallen: Will Benson, OF: The Indians bet on Benson’s immense athleticism when they selected him in the first round of the 2016 draft. The boom-or-bust player is looking more bust after falling on his face in full-season ball last year (.180 average, 152 Ks in 123 games). Benson, 20, has significant contact issues and swings from the heels every time, despite the fact his powerful build will generate nature pop. On the plus side, he walked 82 times so he’s not a complete lost cause. I’d like to see him bulk down a bit to rediscover some of his athleticism, and quiet his hands at the plate. Right now, he looks like a football player trying to play baseball.

The 2019 Contributor: Daniel Johnson, OF: As it stands in early January, the Indians’ outfield looks pretty gross (although I hope for good things from Greg Allen). As a result, there should be some opportunity for prospects to secure some significant playing time in 2019 — including Oscar Mercado and Johnson. Both are athletic players but I feel like Johnson has more explosive potential. He has an intriguing power-speed mix but he falls in love with the homers and gets into bad habits. Johnson needs to be more patient and focus on hit over power for now while focusing on getting on base and utilizing his plus speed.

The 2019 Sleeper:: George Valera, OF: A top international signee, Valera lasted just six games in 2018 before getting hurt. He shows an advanced approach for his age and could eventually develop above-average hit and power tools, even though he’s still filling out. He has the defensive skills to be a solid right-fielder and has enough speed and smarts to swipe a few bases. He’ll look to make up for lost time in 2019, although he’s likely to open the year in extended spring training.

The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Brayan Rocchio, SS: Rocchio is already beginning to make a name for himself despite being just 17 with one pro season under his belt. He came out absolutely stinging the ball and he could be the next player to take a Wander Franco/Fernando Tatis Jr. like jump in 2019 as a very advanced teenager with great make-up. There might even be plus-plus hit potential here, along with good speed and defensive value. The only tool lacking at this point is the power but that could eventually come and develop into double-digit pop.

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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