30. Gavin Collins – Third Base
Drafted 2016, 13th Round
Level: A+ Lynchburg
By Justin Lada
Collins suffered an ankle injury his senior year of high school that prevented him from being drafted, but he landed a solid commitment to Mississippi State and was an all-SEC freshman at catcher. It appears as if Collins’ days behind the plate could be coming to a close. He wore the gear just seven times in his 80 games played in 2017. He settled into third base solidly, but it was his bat that opened eyes. He posted a .220 ISO in 159 plate appearances at Low-A Lake County (eight homers) while posting an average walk rate (8.8%) and a slightly below average strikeout rate (18.9%).
While Collins will have to curb the strikeouts as he moves up (he spiked to 27.8% at High-A Lynchburg in 162 plate appearances with a 8% walk rate), his batted ball profile is what makes him intriguing with the bat going forward. His fly ball rate at Lake County was 44.1% and 48.9% at Lynchburg. Collins has decent enough pop that might play at third base and if he’s able to get the ball in the air enough to make get to his power and he’ll be a name to keep a closer eye on going forward. He’ll likely start at Lynchburg again, but he’ll be 23 by mid-season, a good age to get to AA if he doesn’t need major work on keeping his strikeout issues at bay (he only had an 8.9% swinging strike rate at Lake County).
29. Mitch Longo – Outfield
Drafted 2016, 14th round
Level: Low- Lake County/High-A Lynchburg
By Justin Lada
Despite a wrist injury that took up almost half his season, the product of Mayfield High School just south of Cleveland and Ohio University did nothing but hit, hit, hit and hit some more. After coming off of the DL for good in June 26, Longo proceeded start off with a 10 game hitting streak with 15 hits in those 10 games. He had hitting streaks of 12, nine and seven as well. Longo also had an on-base streak of 42 straight games as well.
While it is important to note that Longo is 22 and a four-year college player, which is typically older for any player in the Midwest League that can lead to performances based on being too advanced for the level, Longo didn’t merely put up just average numbers for his age there. He did carry a .470 BABIP and an absurd 170 wRC+ thanks to his 9.9% walk rate and 15.1% strikeout rate (7.6% swinging strike rate). His .168 ISO is merely average and his 1.47 GB/FB ratio will probably curb his insane BABIP from this year and subsequently some results. But again, despite being a bit old for the level, Longo still performed the way you’d want a player of his age to perform at the level so as he moves up the ladder and the numbers may come down, he may have at least proven he has a solid offensive ceiling.
Longo has a good approach to hitting and wasn’t afraid to take the ball the other way and showed the ability to hit left handers (.864 OPS vs. 1.006 OPS vs. RHP). The Indians may want him to pull the ball a little more (as well as reduce the amount of ground balls he hits) to maximize his hit tool. While not known for his speed coming out of college, Longo did still 20 bases in 21 attempts and a solid right field with a good arm. His hit tool will likely carry him as far he will go but Longo proved to have a very high baseball IQ and is the type of player who’s sum of his entire game exceeds any individual tool he may posses. It’s never too wise to judge any player on results at Low-A, but I would be far from surprised if the Indians don’t wind up with something of a steal in Longo if he continues to hit as he moves up.
28. Leandro Linares – Right Handed Relief Pitcher
2013 International Free Agent
Level: AA Akron/AFL
By Joseph Coblitz
Linares likely has the highest ceiling of any minor league reliever in the Indians system and is the second highest in these rankings, first among right handers. He successfully made the transition to AA this year, then continued on in Arizona with the Glendale Desert Dogs.
Linares has great swing and miss stuff, posting a 11.1 K/9 in 2016, then a 9.1 across both levels in 2017. His only issue is that he walks too many hitters for an elite relief arm. Considering his ability to limit hard contact and miss bats, he is only a little bit of control away from being one. If he can have a good season in Columbus in 2018, Linares is probably the best internal bet to replace Cody Allen should the Indians closer leave when he hits free agency after 2018.
27. Connor Capel – Center Field
Drafted 2016, 5th Round
Level: A Lake County
By Peter Conti
Capel is the most likely to be called upon to Columbus within the next two to three years if he keeps hitting the baseball as well as he has with Lake County. He made some much needed mechanical changes with the assistance of the Indians’ staff which is a positive sign for his career offensively. This was his first full season and, even though he started off struggling at the plate with a .184/.271/.276 slash line through April, he was able to turn things around and hit .259/.326/.521 through the rest of the season.
Capel was known for some advanced tools coming out of the draft with good bat to ball skills, speed, centerfield defense and the ability to make hard contact to the gaps. That gap power turned intop 22 home runs and 22 doubles. If he can keep up those kind of numbers, the Indians may have a steal in this fifth rounder.
26. Quinten Holmes – Center Field
Drafted 2017, 2nd Round
Level: AZL Indians
By Joseph Coblitz
The hype train must have fallen off the tracks for the Indians first draft pick to not be in the top 15 prospects the following ranking on prestige alone, yet Holmes sits at 26 after his first professional season.
Considered the fastest player in the 2017 draft, Holmes certainly didn’t showcase it during his debut season as he often ran at less than full speed. Having seen him leg out more than one triple, I can verify that the speed is there, but there have been many more aggressive baserunners and fielders than Holmes to grace the AZL Indians in recent years. When he did reach base (rarely with a .220 OBP) he didn’t steal often or successfully, being caught in five of nine tries. This is extremely surprising as catchers in the AZL are generally more focused on more important things with catching base runners not becoming a priority until later levels. For example, last year Connor Capel, Will Benson and Hosea Nelson all stole ten or more bases while being caught four or fewer times (Nelson was 13-13) and in 2015 Gabriel Mejia stole 34 of 44.
Holmes was only 17 when he was drafted, so he has plenty of time to turn things around, but it wasn’t a good start to his career as he struck out 61 times to 8 walks in addition to all the other negatives.
25. Sam Hentges – Left Handed Starting Pitcher
Drafted 2014, 4th Round
Level: A Lake County
Before undergoing Tommy John surgery towards the end of the 2016, Hentges was one of most underrated arms in Cleveland’s system. He’s already shown he can miss bats when healthy (10.89 K/9 with Lake County in 2016), and his frame suggested he could add to his fastball velocity, which sat 88-90 out of high school. He looked healthy enough when he returned in 2017, striking out 41 hitters in 30.2 innings between the Rookie League and Short Season ball. In 2018, Hentges will look to get his career back on track, where if all goes well, he has the potential of a #4 starter in the MLB.
24. Ka’ai Tom – Outfield
Drafted 2015, 5th Round
Level: A+ Lynchburg/AFL
By Joseph Coblitz
Tom missed much of 2016 with an injury and came back for his first full season in 2017 with the Hillcats, finishing off the year with some extra work in the Arizona Fall League. He plays all three outfield positions, but is a little slow to continue playing center, especially considering the tremendous defenders the Indians have at that position within the organization. In any event, he doesn’t have stand out talent in the field.
Offensively, he has provided a great balance of power and speed, hitting for extra bases 48 times during the regular season in 2017 including seven triples. He also stole 23 bases and now has 40 steals in 64 attempts in his career. The biggest worry for the moment with Tom is his plate discipline. He was impressive in his first two pro seasons, walking 54 times to 59 K’s, but struck out 100 times in 2017 alone and has been worse in the AFL against more advanced pitching. Having seen him live in 2016 (Extended Spring while rehabbing) and 2017 (AFL), Tom definitely seems more aggressive at the plate and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
23. George Valera – Outfield
2017 International Free Agent
Level: DNP in 2017
By Gavin Potter
Valera was considered one of the best pure hitters in the 2017 international free agent class, and that was why Cleveland gave him $1.3 million to sign with them. The only knocks on Valera come with his defense and his physical projection: his mediocre athleticism means he’ll have to play an outfield corner position, and already 5’11, 190 pounds at age 16, he doesn’t have a ton of room to grow. However, if Valera hits like many scouts think he can, neither of those will be issues. Also of note: born in New York and a fluent English speaker, Valera won’t be subject to the struggles of adapting to US culture, like many international prospects.
22. Shao-Ching Chiang – Right Handed Starting Pitcher
2011 International Free Agent
Level: AA Akron
By Justin Lada
Signed in 2011 out of Taiwan, Chiang has put together only two full season after spending three years in Arizona in the rookie leagues and then pitched a season with the short-season New York Penn League (Mahoning Valley) before finally spending 2016 and 2017 at full season affiliates for the first time. On the surface of those two seasons, Chiang’s numbers are uninspiring and don’t look that of a player who would be in any organization’s top 20ish prospects. However, there are some interesting parts of his profile that make him noteworthy.
You may have heard that Chiang threw a nine inning no hitter at Lynchburg this year, very rare due to pitch counts. Chiang threw just 106 pitches (76 strikes) in that performance. What’s most notable is Chiang has never posted lower than a 48.2% groundball rate in any of his full or partial seasons in the Indians system. In 23 starts at Lynchburg this year it was 57.6% and 32 2/3 innings at AA Akron it was 54.3%. His strikeout rates of 16% and 13.1% at those two 2017 stops are obviously uninspiring for a 23-year old at High-A/AA and his inability to miss bats may wind up making him a non prospect even as soon as 2018 or prove that he’s not a major league pitcher long term if he gets the chance to prove otherwise. But, his walk rate at Lynchburg was 4.4% and 7.2% in his brief stint in Akron, so he limits free base runners and has the obvious skill of getting a ton of groundballs. Those two skills combine to create an intriguing profile for a pitching prospect who could have a career as a back of the rotation starter, maybe a bullpen groundball specialist or at least as sixth or seventh starter. Chiang most notably features a two-seam fastball/sinker that gets groundballs and the potential for an above average changeup.
He may wind up as a career minor leaguer with an interesting but uninspiring profile because he doesn’t miss bats and is just 6’0 tall. But at the moment, his profile makes him interesting enough to be our 22nd best prospect at the end of 2017.
21. Ronny Rodriguez – 2B/SS
2010 International Free Agent
Level: AAA Columbus
By John Hutchison
It could potentially be the last season in the Indians organization for Rodriguez if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster over the winter and is selected by another team in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. As a player who just completed his seventh minor league season with the Indians, Rodriguez played six positions (1B, 2B, 3B, SS, RF, LF) in 2016 and 2017 with AAA Columbus. He has appeared as a second baseman more than any other position, but realistically projects to be a super utility defensive player.
Rodriguez has added a bit of power to his game with 17 home runs in 2017 along with 15 stolen bases. Realistically, he may need a change in organization either by a trade or Rule 5 acquisition to move up to the Majors. That’s because his role with the Tribe appears to be blocked for the time being with Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis manning second base at the MLB level and utility players Giovanny Urshela and Yandy Diaz ahead of him on the organizational depth chart.
Rodriguez will need things to go his way to get a call-up to the Majors in 2018, but could get a shot with the Tribe if a multitude of injuries and/or trades occur and if he continues to improve over the winter in the Dominican Winter League.