There’s little question that the Indians greatest current need at the Major League level is in the bullpen and the fact that they have been grasping at AAAA retreads to fill the gap rather than their own prospects is telling as far as the overall strength in the system. Because there are so many relievers, but so few left handers, rather than doing a full top ten for each side, we’ll do a top 20 and include all types of relievers.
From the 2017 list, Ryder Ryan and Dylan Baker are with new teams, Matt Whitehouse has been converted to be a starter, Michael Letkewicz has retired, Jeff Johnson and Neil Holland are free agents, D.J. Brown is in independent ball. Since they have so recently joined the club, 2018 draft picks will not be included in this list, but will be in all future lists.
25. Jared Robinson – Age: 23 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2014, Round 11
24. Jose Oca – Age: 19 – Unranked in 2017
2015 International Free Agent
23. Jake Paulson – Age: 26 – Unranked in 2017
2017 MiLB Free Agent
22. Skylar Arias (pictured at top) – Age: 21 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2016, Round 24 – RHP
A Lake County
21. Josh Martin – Age: 28 – RP Rank 2017: 15
Drafted 2011, Round 25
AAA Columbus (DL)
20. Tommy DeJuneas – Age: 22 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2017, Round 22 – RHP
A Lake County
DeJuneas was drafted late in the 2017, yet has already advanced to A ball and is dominating there, striking out 37 in 27.1 innings. He’s ranked as low as he is due to the lack of innings.
19. Billy Strode – Age: 25 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2015, Round 10 – LHP
After a solid season in high A in 2017, one has to wonder if the fact that the Indians are desperate for AAAA relief at the MLB level and are storing many of these pitchers in Columbus is directly effecting pitchers like Strode. Instead of a deserved promotion to AA, he’s been having a slightly worse year in Lynchburg than last year. He’s ranked fourth among lefties, but unlike the others, he holds extreme splits and is likely set to become a true LOOGY.
18. Nick Pasquale – Age: 27 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2012, Round 20 – RHP
Heading into his final season of MiLB team control, Pasquale picked the perfect time to break out. It appears a move from the rotation to the bullpen at the age of 27 was incredibly beneficial for the right hander, who has a 2.45 ERA in Akron this year. He doesn’t have great peripheral stats this year or in his career as a whole, but he is old. Simply being successful in the upper minors makes him more likely than most pitchers within the system to get a shot in the majors in the near future.
17. Cole Sulser – Age: 28 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2013, Round 25 – RHP
Like Pasquale, Sulser’s greatest asset could be that he’s already made it to AAA. With Head and Hill struggling there, he’s one of the top available options right now, but he’s already 28 and his prime season is equating to an ERA near five in AAA. Still, he’s always been on the high range of strike outs and doesn’t walk many. Sulser had a great 2017 and it’s possible that at 28 he’s getting a bit burned out on the minor league life. While he’s under control for two more years, if he can’t break into the Indians by the end of this season he should be given a shot somewhere else.
16. Adoni Kery – Age: 22 – Unranked in 2017
2017 Minor League Free Agent – RHP
SS Mahoning Valley
Originally signed by the Astros, Kery joined the Indians last year and struck out 50 batters in 40.1 innings in Arizona during his first full season. He has not been dominant this year after promotion to Mahoning Valley, but has the stuff to succeed at any level. He is certainly a high ceiling, low floor pitcher who could be a MLB closer or a single A burnout.
15. Henry Martinez – Age: 24 – Unranked in 2017
2013 International Free Agent – RHP
An under-the-radar reliever, Martinez has been among his team’s top relievers every year of his minor league career, but has never stood out as the best. Because of that, he’s now in Akron with 2.75 ERA, 20 K’s and 5 walks in 19.2 innings while slightly below the league average age and significantly younger than the Indians AAA crew. No one is saying Martinez is a high end reliever, but he could certainly make it to the big leagues at some point.
14. Jean Carlos Mejia – Age: 21 – 2017 RP Rank: 19
2013 International Free Agent – RHP
A Lake County
There’s a good chance that Mejia won’t qualify for this list next season as he is currently being converted to the rotation in Lake County, but he has been so good out of the bullpen over the last few seasons that I think this could be a mistake. Mejia’s greatest attribute is his command, which could translate into a starter’s role, but I don’t think he has enough plus pitches to face a line-up three times or more. That being said, he isn’t likely to be a back end reliever, but could be a low end MLB option eventually.
13. Kyle Nelson – Age: 21 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2017, Round 15 – LHP
A Lake County
One of the most talented lefties in the system (no insult meant to the many lefties added in the 2018 draft who were not considered in these rankings), Nelson has maintained his K/9 of above 12.0 through his second minor league season after being promoted to full season A ball. At the same time, he’s decreased his walk rate to less than one per nine while significantly dropping his home run rate as well. One problem that is consistent among the pitchers higher in the rankings is that they have been promoted slowly and are now too old to be considered real relief prospects. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen to Nelson, but if they make him spend a full year at every level, they run the risk of wasting his best years in the low minors.
12. Cam Hill – Age: 24 – 2017 RP Rank: 3
Drafted 2014, Round 17 – RHP
Hill was drafted out of college and pitched extremely well for the Indians from Mahoning Valley in 2014 until he went to the Arizona Fall League in 2016. After that, he was a fine pitcher in Akron, although not as great as he had been previously and he is currently failing for the first time in his career in Columbus. Hill doesn’t have elite velocity, command or movement that could make him a top end closer, but he certainly has enough of all three to be an early inning reliever. His struggles in Columbus have been disconcerting, however, and he risks becoming another elder statesman in AAA like Louis Head, who was a promising reliever for years, but has yet to make his MLB debut.
11. Maiker Manzanillo – Age: 21 – Unranked in 2017
2015 International Free Agent – RHP
AZL Indians #2
Manzanillo will always stick out to me personally as the pitcher who threw the final three innings of the 2017 AZL Indians combined no hitter. He is more than that however, with solid stuff that has always kept him with a K/9 above nine. In his first season, he struck out 42 batters to just 6 walks and he is already continuing on that trend in 2018, striking out all three batters faced in his debut. It’s odd he is still pitching in Arizona as he would fit better in Lake County than any of the short season leagues.
10. Leandro Linares – Age: 24 – 2017 RP Rank: 2
2013 International Free Agent – RHP
Considered one of the highest ceiling relievers in the Indians system, I saw Linares for the first time in the AFL in 2017 which was coincidentally the first time he had trouble striking out batters. That trend has continued into 2018 while his walk rate has skyrocketed. It’s rare to see a pitcher fall off so much, so late in his MiLB career and it’s almost to the point where you hope he is injured as that would give him an excuse for his recent problems. If his performance this season is indicative of his future, then he may not have a future in baseball.
9. David Speer – Age: 25 – 2017 RP Rank: 5
Drafted 2014, Round 27 – LHP
Speer was considered the Indians top left handed reliever for a few years, but had a terrible season last year as he looked to hit AAA for the first time. He has returned to form this year in his second AA season and should hit AAA for good shortly. He is not a LOOGY as he has nearly identical numbers from both sides of the plate and thus should be considered a full inning reliever.
8. Robert Zarate – Age: 31 – Unranked in 2017
2017 Rule 5 Pick – LHP
The oldest player on this list and the highest lefty in terms of level and ranking, Zarate played in Japan for a few years after initially signing with Toronto, then came to Cleveland as a rule five pick last winter from Tampa. He is having the best season of his life as far as strike outs are concerned, although that could be because he’s 31 years old in AAA. He also allows too many home runs and isn’t a LOOGY as he has similar numbers against hitters of both sides. The Indians are desperate, however, and he is left handed, so he has that going for him.
7. Mitch Brown – Age: 24 – 2017 RP Rank: 16
Drafted 2012, Round 2 – RHP
Brown spent five years in the rotation before moving into the bullpen and finally finding his first real success. As a starter, he was a control specialist with a BB/9 below 4.0 and a K/9 below 9.0, but as a reliever he has increased both rates, walking 7.3 per nine in his first year of relief, but improving to 4.0 this year. He’s used an increase in velocity to raise his K rate to 11.4 per nine this year, a career high.
While it doesn’t always work, Brown looks like a completely different pitcher as a reliever and could now be a potential MLB option, something he never was as a starter. Already 24, he could be the perfect option for a long reliever in the near future as the Indians don’t need to worry about years of control, MiLB options and other things that would be of major importance to top prospects.
6. Luke Eubank – Age: 24 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2014, Round 15 – RHP
Arguably the best qualifying reliever in Columbus right now (we don’t rank players who have as much as a single inning pitched in the majors), Eubank doesn’t have a very high ceiling, but could at least have a Major League floor. He hasn’t had poor results since 2016, but doesn’t have great peripherals and struggled in the 2017 AFL. With the amount of pitchers the Indians have used out of the bullpen this year already, it’s a bit surprising that they haven’t tried out Eubank yet.
5. Argenis Angulo – Age: 24 – 2017 RP Rank: 10
Drafted 2014, Round 19 – RHP
Angulo has consistently been one of the Indians top relievers and hasn’t had a drop off since being promoted to Akron this year. He’s a bit old for the level, but has a solid K-rate. He walks a few too many batters to be comfortable at this point, something that really plagued him in the Arizona Fall League in 2017. He’s within a year or so of potentially hitting the majors and could be an option in the near future.
4. Kieran Lovegrove – Age: 23 – 2017 RP Rank: 20
Drafted 2012, Round 3 – RHP
Playing as a starter for his first four seasons, Lovegrove was always a bit below expectations, but he has finally turned things around this year. This was his third year in the bullpen, but his first dominant one and it lead to a well deserved promotion to Akron early in the season. He has lowered his walk rate and raised his strike out rate, showing that his improvement in ERA isn’t all superficial. While not an extremely high ceiling pitcher, Lovegrove has raised his floor and could be in the majors within two seasons. Unfortunately, he has to be added to the 40 man roster by the end of 2018 or he will become a free agent. While the Indians generally don’t protect players like this, they could make an exception for the first pro South African player.
3. Ben Krauth – Age: 24 – 2017 RP Rank: 1
Drafted 2016, Round 16 – LHP
I’m pulling back my projections of Krauth a bit after increasing his walk rate in 2017 and 2018, but he is still a dominant reliever, even if he’s walking more than two batters per year. He is a unique reliever as he doesn’t throw hard and has a quick, compact delivery. Rather than relying on the deception of a long follow-through, he has a big difference in speed between his fast ball and change with a solid slider. He has near perfect command and rarely allows home runs, despite his low velocity. Because of his advanced age and skill set, he should be considered near MLB ready.
2. James Karinchak – Age: 22 – Unranked in 2017
Drafted 2017, Round 9 – RHP
Karinchak didn’t really stand out in his rookie year, but he has dominated in both A and Advanced A this year. He strikes out hitters at an alarming rate and is yet to show any issues with command. While he was a little old to start the year in Lake County, it’s just his second season and he hasn’t slowed a bit since his mid-season promotion.
1. Dalbert Siri – Age: 22 – 2017 RP Rank: 14
2014 International Free Agent – RHP
It took Siri a little longer than normal to break through the rookie levels, but he dominated at Lake County last season as the closer and has been even better in 2018 in Lynchburg. He has a K/9 well over 12.0 since coming to the U.S. and has continued to improve in inducing weak contact over the past three seasons. Featuring a solid fastball, Siri has now been closing for three straight seasons, something that matters more to say he has been the best reliever on each team than anything else, but is also proves he isn’t afraid of high leverage situations. With few high end relievers in the system, Siri is an exciting player that could be just a year or two away.