For your viewing pleasure, the BurningRiverBaseball staff has joined together for the second year in a row to bring you the top prospects in the Cleveland Indians minor league system. In 2015 it was a top 30 list, but this year we have expanded to a top 50 with each writer ranking 60 to make sure it is as accurate as possible. Overall, 89 different prospects received at least one vote. Ranking the prospects this year were Joseph Coblitz, Justin Lada, Kevin Gall, Gavin Potter, Caitlin Boron and John Hutchison. Prospects must not have played a single inning at the Major League level to be included. Below follow the first ten, numbers 41 through 50.
50. Jose Medina – 1B/OF – Age: 21
Level: A – 2013 International Free Agent – 2015 Rank: Unranked
By Joseph Coblitz
Medina first caught my attention as a first baseman during Extended Spring Training in April 2016. Prior to this, he had been primarily an outfielder where he didn’t look very elegant. At first, he’s a plus defender when fielding balls, but has work to do when picking throws from across the diamond. In Lake County in 2016, he played about 50% of the time at 1B and 50% in the corner outfield positions, so the Indians have yet to pigeon hole him in one spot, but my guess is his future is in the infield.
Offensively, he has shown some power, including hitting a home run out of the Major League size Extended Spring field and eight in 60 games in Lake County this year along with 11 doubles. However, his BB/K rate has dropped in each of his last two seasons as have his average and OBP. He’ll be 22 in 2017 and could start off in A ball again before making the jump to Lynchburg. At this rate, he’s a fringe prospect at best, but there is some potential there.
49. Eric Stamets – SS – Age: 25
Level: AAA – Traded from Angels in 2015 – 2015 Rank: Unranked
By Gavin Potter
When the Indians traded David Murphy at the trade deadline in 2015 to the Angels, it is impressive they got anything of value. For Murphy, Cleveland received Stamets: a top-flight defensive shortstop prospect, albeit with very limited offensive potential and injury problems. If Stamets could manage any sort of offensive production and also stay healthy, he could see time in the MLB because of his elite glove and plus speed (has successfully stolen 81% of bases in his career). At 25, Stamets’ prospect window is beginning to close, but he showed signs of life in Akron in 2016, posting a 109 wRC+ driven by a career-high .418 slugging percentage. However, once promoted to AAA Columbus, he was putrid in 22 games, putting up a pitcher-like 25 wRC+.
If nothing else, Stamets’ defensive ability at a premium position and speed could give him an opportunity to reach the majors, but he will have to hit in order to have any meaningful role. To date, he hasn’t consistently proven he can do that, which heavily limits his potential.
48. Todd Hankins – UTL – Age: 26
Level: AAA – 2011 Draft, Rnd 15 – 2015 Rank: Unranked
By Kevin Gall
Hankins is one of the most well-liked prospects in the Indians’ system. He’s been in the system since 2011 and he has played every position except 1B, C, and Pitcher during which time he’s been known for solid defense and good base running.
While he’s a versatile defender, he lacks any real hitting prowess, which is what has slowed his progress through the system. At age 25 he finally made his first appearance in AAA, where he figures to begin next season. Now at age 26, Hankins doesn’t figure to fit into the Tribe’s long-term future, his future more likely being in providing organizational depth, with an outside shot at a call up to the big leagues should his defensive flexibility prove necessary.
47. Thomas Pannone – LHP – Age: 22
Level: A+ – Drafted 2013, Rnd 9 – 2015 Rank: Unranked
By Justin Lada
46. Sean Brady – LHP – Age: 22
High-A – Drafted 2013, Rnd 5 – 2015 rank: #25
By Justin Lada
45. Ronny Rodriguez – 2B – Age: 24
Level: AAA – 2011 International Free Agent – 2015 Rank: Unranked
By Kevin Gall
Once viewed as one of the Indians’ best prospects, two poor seasons in 2013 and 2014 erased him from nearly every prospect rankings list. However, the past two seasons have seen Rodriguez make strides in returning to the form that initially attracted so much attention. Rodriguez has long been lauded for his hitting ability as a middle-infielder, a trait so dearly sought after in baseball. This past season he slashed .258/.293/.400 with 10 home runs, while primarily playing second base. Certainly his numbers don’t exactly wow anybody, and given the Tribe’s current infield situation it is not likely that Rodriguez will be able to break in to the big league club with Cleveland. The 2017 season will likely be Rodriguez’ last shot to show he has major league potential, though it’s likely to come with another team if it does at all.
T43. Micah Miniard – RHP – Age: 20
Level: A – 2014 Draft, 8th Rnd – 2015 Rank: Unranked
By Caitlin Boron
If you’ve never heard the name before, don’t be alarmed. He’s a good enough pitcher to get into our top 50 and has come a long way since he was drafted. In 2014, Miniard pitched out of the pen in Arizona, relieving 12 innings over 6 games with 8 strikeouts, a .196 opposing average, 1.17 WHIP and collected the save in his only save opportunity.
He was moved to the starting position in 2015, opening the season for the rookie league with just 3 strikeouts, 2 hits and zero earned runs in 5 innings. He went through that season coasting on impressive performances tied with pretty alright stats. Over the course of the year, Miniard posted a 4.19 ERA, but only walked north of 2 batters (3 BB) once and struck out 47 (6.2 K/9) in 14 games. After his promotion from the rookie league to the short-season club in Mahoning Valley he struggled mightily, giving up 9 earned runs, 3 walks and a home run on 105 pitches in 5.2 innings.
To start his 2016, Miniard gave up 3 earned runs but struck out 5, setting the tone for the rest of his time in MV with 7.2 K/9 in 7 appearances. His bread-and-butter fastball kept his go-to strikeout pitches like his breaking ball saved for the kill. Mid-season, he was again promoted to a higher level, this time to Lake County, where he seemed to have a slightly better handle on the transition than the season before.
Miniard has good command and a knack for painting the corners for strikes, but has a long way to go still before his full potential starts to show. Going forward into 2017 I would not be surprised if they move him back to the pen if his progress is slow as a starter. The Indians have had success at multiple levels putting starters who struggle in relief positions in order to get the best from that player. Being that the success from stint in the pen was at the rookie level for Miniard, a move back to relief in Lake County could go either way, though I lean towards a positive result for him.
T43. Michael Letkewicz – RHP – Age: 22
Level: SS – 2016 Draft, Rnd 23 – 2015 Rank: Not in System
By Caitlin Boron
Letkewicz is a pitcher who will calm your nerves when he comes in to relieve. His first professional year after being drafted started at the short-season level where he found his footing and with that a lot of confidence.
He tied the team lead in wins (6-0) with Ryan Colgate (6-2) in 21 games with the 3rd lowest ERA (1.74) among pitchers with 40+ IP (the two ahead of him, Triston McKenzie and Tanner Tully, being starters). Letkewicz never pitched more than three innings in a game and never allowed more than four base runners in an appearance. The 22 year old righty also only gave up 8 earned runs with zero home runs.
Letkewicz gives the vibe of a pitcher a fan can trust in a sticky situation and close out the game with addictive confidence (doing so 7 times in 2016). It wouldn’t shock me to see him start his 2017 with Mahoning Valley, but I would hope to see him move up to Lake County not long after the 2017 draft picks start signing.
42. Daniel Salters – C – Age: 23
Level: AA – 2015 Draft, Rnd 13 – 2015 Rank: Unranked
By Gavin Potter
Just a 13th round pick, Salters exceeded expectations early in his minor league career by posting a 105 wRC+ in his professional debut at Low-A Lake County in 2015. He continued to impress in 2016 by slashing .281/.363/.395 in 48 games at High-A Lynchburg, while throwing out 30% of base stealers. His strong play resulted in Salters being promoted to Akron on June 27, where he unsurprisingly struggled. In 38 games at AA, he posted just a 74 wRC+ and watched his walk rate drop to 6.7% (10.4% in High-A) and strikeout rate climb to 26% (18.2% in High-A). One of the few positives from Salters’ time in AA was that he continued to throw out baserunners at a solid clip, throwing out 29% of would-be base stealers.
Salters isn’t young for a prospect, so 2017 will be big for the catcher in terms of cementing his prospect status. Despite MLB Draft scout Jeff Ellis saying that Salters had the potential for above-average power when he was drafted, the power hasn’t shown yet, as Salters has only hit seven home runs in his career. As a result, Salters will need to rely heavily on contact and plate discipline in order to be successful. He managed to accomplish that in High-A, and if he can again at the upper-levels on the minors, Salters could end up as depth option/emergency catcher for the Indians, but likely nothing more.