The Major League Baseball season is a marathon that requires a level of depth that is often difficult to anticipate; factor-in Cleveland’s salary clearing offseason and prospect depth becomes integral. The merits of the Indians offseason aside, the 2019 season will be shaped by their ability to get value from the player development system.
First, an outline of the Indians system. The Indians overall organizational talent may be at its best since Lindor and Ramirez were still playing for below minimum wage salaries. Marcos Gonzalez, Johnathan Rodriguez, Oscar Gonzalez, Tyler Freeman, Richie Palacios, Raynel Delgado, Gabriel Rodriguez, Aaron Bracho, George Valera, Ethan Hankins, Lenny Torres, Luis Oviedo, Brayan Rocchio, and Noah Naylor are a staggering amount of high-impact talent below A+.
For the Indians, the upper-levels lack the same level of upside and quantity but there remain a set of players who can make an impact. The players most likely to do so are outlined below:
This is perhaps the easiest and most obvious insertion but Mercado is fascinating. Mercado has elite speed and his route efficiency in the outfield is improving with a chance at above average or better defense in center field in my view. The biggest question for Mercado is whether there will be enough bat to allow his speed to impact games on the bases and in the outfield.
For this reason Mercado’s spring was so exciting; even average power and hit tool turn Mercado into a starting caliber player; any more and Mercado is an impact player. A productive April in Columbus where Mercado continues to show power gains and an above-average strikeout rate will force the Indians hand to trust him with a starting position sooner rather than later.
Sam Hentges-SP (potential RP)
Hentges 2018 breakout was one of the most positive outcomes in the organization. Hentges was a northern prep draftee who lost major portions of his 2015-2017 seasons. Hentges is a mountain of a man at 6’6″ with a long delivery and strong extension. Most exciting Hentges sits 92-95 and will run it up to 97 with a potential plus curveball.
While Hentges took four years to get to A+ ball his movement through the rest of the system could happen quickly. With another full, healthy season and the command improvements that should come along with it; Hentges should be fully ready. Further, with the Indians in need of bullpen help and Hentges pure stuff; an innovative organization might move him to the pen late in 2019 and return him to the rotation in 2020.
As Jason Kipnis goes through continual soft-tissue problems, Chang’s importance will come sooner than later. While Chang is the ideal platoon partner for Kipnis his bat may play as a starter and his arm +athleticism should make him above-average at 2B/3B and adequate at SS.
As for the offense; as I detailed at EHC earlier the risk and upside are complex:
If one wants to max out power the ideal approach is to pull fly balls. Chang pulls a plethora of fly balls. Chang hooks the ball to pull side 45%+ and hits line drives/fly balls 65%+. However, Chang has actual above-average power with an ability to clear the fence across the entire park and is not completely reliant on pull field power.
Johnson was an exceptional upside play by the Indians in terms of trading Yan Gomes. If an organization is looking to add top end upside for a mediocre asset often injuries or down seasons make that possible. In 2018, following his season as minor league player of the year for the Nationals, Johnson struggled. Specifically his power declined but there is reason to believe that was injury driven.
Johnson has above-average raw power, plus speed, and a plus arm; if Johnson makes the necessary improvements to tap into his power more frequently the Indians may have bought a long term starting outfielder. Either way, the Indians will have plenty of outfield opportunities for players in 2019 and betting on the toolsy is often worthwhile.
It would be nearly impossible to have a better post-draft performance than Nick Sandlin. His strikeout rate was significantly above 30% cumulatively at his four minor league spots; culminating in AA success.
Sandlin is unique for a side-arm pitcher because he often flashes velocity significantly higher than average for low-vertical release points, pushing it up to 95 MPH at times. As discussed recently on these pages; right-handed side-arm relievers may have the unique ability to significantly reduce exit velocity against right-handed hitters.
Finally, Sandlin has shown a strong ability to induce ground balls. The Indians bullpen will need help this year and Sandlin will be a key piece in stabilizing the back end in 2019.
Bobby Bradley- Plus power, pull dominant, high strikeout rate issues, and major struggles against left-handed pitching. Will need to make significant leap to be productive piece in 2019.
Eric Haase- Plus power, major strikeout rate issues, average defense at catcher. If he can get to his power enough; will add value to catcher tandem.
Henry Martinez- Plus fastball velocity and slider will flash plus. However, mechanics are not repeatable at the moment and his command limits the value of his offerings.