The Cleveland Indians surprised nearly everyone in 2017, making a run to the World Series and forcing the absolutely stacked Chicago Cubs to a Game 7. I would say they took everyone by surprise, but the only surprise this writer had was that they didn’t win the whole thing (see Bold Predictions). And thanks to the signing of Edwin Encarnacion and a loaded farm system that could help them fill in some holes in 2017, they should be right back in the thick of things next season.
This is another one of my ongoing team prospect rankings articles. I have already talked about the top prospects in the Chicago White Sox system and all the teams in the AL East. Later this week, I will be delving into the systems of the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals.
By the way, if you are interested in more MLB prospects columns, head on over to our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. Throughout the offseason, you will find the rest of our team prospect breakdowns, fantasy baseball prospect rankings, tiered positional rankings, keeper values articles, and more - all in one easy place.
Cleveland Indians Top Prospects for Dynasty Leagues
Top Overall Talent: Bradley Zimmer
Top Prospect to Debut in 2017: Bradley Zimmer
Dynasty owners who own Zimmer are likely ecstatic with the player he is shaping out to become. At nearly every level, Zimmer has proven himself to be worthy of the well above-average grades in plate discipline, power and speed he has been given. The only problem right now is his long swing which has kept the strikeouts high and the batting average low. But scouts are confident he can turn it around with some more time to develop. If he can start producing more consistent contact, he will set himself up to be a perennial All-Star and extremely valuable fantasy asset given his 30/30 potential.
Top Prospect who won’t debut in 2017: Brady Aiken
For the first time since being taken 17th overall back in 2015, Aiken set foot on a mound in a professional baseball game. In fact, he did it a couple of times, starting in five games for Low-A Mahoning Valley and pitching a couple teams at the Rookie League. At Low-A, Aiken compiled 22.1 innings with a 4.43 ERA while striking out 22.5% of the batters he faced and only walking 8.2%. These numbers, though not overly exciting, are certainly a nice start for a guy with all his potential. But no matter how well he does in 2017, Aiken will not reach the big leagues this year.
Biggest Boom or Bust: Bradley Zimmer
You won’t often find the top prospect in a farm system also being the biggest boom or bust prospect, but that is the case with Zimmer. As discussed earlier, Zimmer's upside is tantalizing, few prospects have his combination of power and speed and he just screams 20/20, possibly even 30/30 in the big leagues. But much of this hinges on shortening his long swing. Though he possesses a great understanding of the strike zone, Zimmer has continued to swing-and-miss at extremely high rates. If he can control his swing a bit more, he has the potential to be one of the most dynamic outfielders in baseball, but he still has some improving to do before he is fully ready for everyday big league lineups.
Biggest Sleeper: Greg Allen
Allen has never received a lot of hype despite all he has done over the past couple seasons to deserve recognition. The 23-year-old outfielder has never posted a season with fewer than 30 successful swipes, including the year he was drafted. The switch-hitter has also shown little trouble recognizing pitches at the plate, having neither posted a walk rate below 9% nor a strikeout rate higher than 15.5% at any level with more than 100 plate appearances. Scouts praise his ability to make consistent contact and put his speed to use, serving as a great tool for beating out infield singles. Allen profiles as a future leadoff hitter and dynasty owners would be wise to pick him up soon before people start to recognize how good this guy really is.
Best Power Hitter: Bobby Bradley
First basemen are expected to have a lot of power and Bobby Bradley is no exception. In back-to-back seasons of fewer than 135 games, he has been able to bash more than 25 home runs, posting 27 at Class-A in 2015 and 29 at High-A last season. The biggest concern with Bradley is his swing which has seen him swing-and-miss a ton over his professional career. At only 20 years old, Bradley has plenty of time to turn it around before we label him a three-true-outcome slugger, but that is the path he is currently following.
Most Likely to Hit over .300: Francisco Mejia
You probably heard Mejia’s name thrown around a bit last season in reference to a little hitting streak he had going on. A 50-game hitting streak to be exact. Mejia had been under the radar for much of his career, but that streak gave him some name recognition. Scouts have always said Mejia had the potential to be a .300+ hitter and finally in 2016, he started to prove them right. The switch-hitting catcher kept his walk rate high and strikeout rate low as he has always done and increased his rate of line-drives, helping to increase his average. Mejia is quickly establishing himself as one of the premier catching prospects to own and while he may never hit 20 home runs, Mejia will certainly provide owners with enough offensive value out of an offensively-challenged position to remain an elite prospect to own.
Best Burner on the Bases: Bradley Zimmer
The only time Zimmer has stolen fewer than 40 bases in a season was in 2014, the year he was drafted, when he still managed 12 in only 48 games. Most wouldn’t picture someone at 6’5” to be as fast as he is, but Zimmer can flat out run. Scouts agree for the most part that while he will have a tougher time stealing 40 bases per season in the majors, Zim should not have too much trouble racking up at least 30 in a given year. Owners will absolutely love this level of production, especially when coupled with the possibility of 20+ home runs.
Strikeout Machine: Brady Aiken
Best Command: Brady Aiken
As discussed earlier, Aiken will not be reaching the majors in 2017, but that shouldn’t really matter too much. What should matter is that for the first time in a long time, he is actually healthy. Aiken possesses an array of pitches few can match. He boasts a mid-upper-90s fastball, a nasty hook and one of the best left-handed changeups in the minors. To top it all off, Aiken has received praise for the command of his arsenal far exceeding the control of most pitchers his age. Aiken’s velocity did take a dip early in the 2016 campaign, but he got better as he pitched more and it is still early to be super concerned. He still has plenty of time to develop and strive to reach his lofty potential.
Top 10 Dynasty Prospects for the Cleveland Indians
1. Bradley Zimmer (OF, AAA)
There are not many prospects in the game who can match Zimmer’s power/speed combination and owners should be extremely excited about him, even if he does struggle to hit for average.
2. Francisco Mejia (C, A+)
Mejia swung an incredibly hot stick in 2016 at all levels and if he can replicate that success at Double-A this season, he will be in the majors by the middle of August.
3. Brady Aiken (SP, A-)
Aiken could be considered the best pitching prospect in baseball if it weren’t for a history of health concerns. With his arsenal and command, Aiken is a future ace if he can stay healthy.
4. Bobby Bradley (1B, A+)
Bradley suffers from the same long swing issues that plague Zimmer, but there is no denying he has some of the most raw power in the minors.
5. Triston McKenzie (SP, A)
McKenzie burst onto the scene in his first full professional season of work, demonstrating advanced command for someone of his age (19) while flashing a near elite repertoire of pitches. Dynasty owners need to pounce on this sleeper before too many catch wind of his upside.
6. Greg Allen (OF, AA)
Allen provides serious competition with Zimmer for fastest player in the system. And though he lacks the power of his former Akron teammate, Allen still looks like an exciting prospect to own given his top-of-the-lineup makeup.
7. Yandy Diaz (3B, AAA)
Though not the most exciting bat in the Tribe’s system, Diaz should be a near lock to hit for a solid average with 10 home runs and 10 steals per season. He could have value as a solid utility guy in deeper dynasty leagues.
8. Will Benson (OF, ROK)
Though he currently has some holes in his swing, Benson is only 18 years old and possesses an explosive power/speed combination. If owners can show patience with him, they could be rewarded in a few seasons with a 30/30 outfielder.
9. Nolan Jones (3B, ROK)
Jones doesn’t have the power/speed of Benson, but he looks like the safer bet to hit for average and to reach the big leagues. Scouts love his bat and think he could eventually translate that into a .280+ average with 20 home runs in a full season of work. He might also steal 15-20 bags.
10. Yu-Cheng Chang (SS, A+)
Unlikely to actually stick at shortstop, Chang and his solid power/speed combination would also play well at second base. He will need to start making more consistent contact, however, if he is to find a home in a Major League lineup.
The Indians have quietly built up an outstanding farm system over the past couple seasons, despite shipping off guys like Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield at the trade deadline. The Tribe still has two pitchers with top-of-the-rotation potential, an outfielder with the 30/30 potential, a first baseman who could hit 40 home runs and a catcher with a swing good enough to win a batting crown. In this system, I would say that each of the top nine prospects are worth owning in some dynasty format, even if the eighth and ninth guys both really only have value in the deeper leagues due to their distance from the majors.