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Burning River Baseball’s 2017 Cleveland Indians Prospect Rankings: #11-20
Papi stands in at the plate during a 2017 MiLB Spring Training game. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

20. Mike Papi – Right Field
Drafted 2014, 1st Round
Age: 25
Level: AAA Columbus

By Michael Melaragno
When he was drafted in 2014, Papi joined the Indians farm system as already one of the most advanced hitters in college baseball. He hit .338 during his final two seasons at Virginia, including a .381 as a sophomore. However, things have not gone as smoothly for Mike since joining the Indians. He’s hit just .235 in four seasons with the Tribe. Papi repeated a level in 2016 that resulted in an identical .236 batting average at Lynchburg. He also split the 2017 season at two locations and performed… somewhat better; slashing a .258/.368/.388 in 415 AB’s

What Papi has excelled at, though,  is getting on base. Despite the .258 average, he has a .368 on-base percentage thanks to a very good 15.4-percent walk rate. Papi took a big step forward in the power department in 2016 and 2017. He hit 15 home runs in 2016 and 12 this past season after hitting just four in 2015. Papi will need to continue hitting for power to make up for the low batting average. As we’ve seen in today’s game of big power and strikeouts, Papi could make it even more routine. Defensively, Papi has spent most of his time in left and right field, though he has played some first base and even started a couple of games in center field. He actually played primarily first base his final year at Virginia, but did play outfield there as well and has made a decent transition back to the spot. Defense will never be his strongest asset but he has average speed for his size and a good arm.
Perez pitches during Extended Spring Training in 2017. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

19. Francisco Perez – Left Handed Starting Pitcher
2014 International Free Agent
Age: 20
Level: SS Mahoning Valley

By Michael Melaragno
Even as an avid follower of the farm system, even I didn’t know who Francisco Perez was shortly before doing rankings for this site. The 20-year-old Dominican international free agent hasn’t pitched above short season ball in three seasons but those seasons have been very impressive so far.

Standing 6-foot-2 and already hitting the mid-90s as a southpaw, Perez blew opposing batters away last year to the tune of a 3.28 ERA and a great 1.28 WHIP in 15 starts for the Scrappers, In 2016, he won Pitcher of the Year honors for the Arizona Rookie League as he posted similar stats in 13 starts.

I expect him to rush up the prospect rankings and a promotion to Lake County to start the 2018 season. There is no reason to rush him as the Indians pitching staff is already deep at the Major League level.

Hillman warms up prior to a 2015 Instructional League game against Cincinnati. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

18. Juan Hillman – Left Handed Starting Pitcher
Drafted 2015, 2nd Round
Age: 20
Level: A Lake  County

By Gavin Potter
Regarded as a high-ceiling arm when he was drafted out of high school, Hillman has struggled so far as a professional, tallying a 5.41 ERA in 224.2 minor league innings. Specifically, Hillman struggles with consistency, and the fatigue of pitching full seasons – he averaged 7.4 K/9 in the first three months of 2017, but only 5.77 K/9 in the final three months of the season. When at his best, Hillman is a lefty who sits 92-94 with two plus pitches, giving him the ability to be a mid-rotation starter at the MLB level, but for the most part, he’s struggled to put everything together.

Mejia flips a ball back to the coach during an outfield drill in minor league Spring Training camp 2016. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

17. Gabriel Mejia – Center Field
2013 International Free Agent
Age: 22
Level: A Lake County

By Caitlin Boron
Mejia’s numbers aren’t the flashiest from an Indians center fielder, though he might be one of the most fun minor leaguers to watch live. He’s not a big power guy, has yet to hit a home run in a Tribe uniform, and for such a speedster it’s surprising the small amount of extra base hits, but his feel for the game and the passion he plays with is undeniable.

His promotion to Lake County in 2017 surprised me as I felt he still has some things to learn in Mahoning Valley. In the middle of the season he was sent back down to Rookie ball in Arizona in July due to a wrist injury.

His biggest upside is that he’s one if the fastest prospects in the indians farm system and has great range in the outfield. He also has proven to have a great bat, though that wasn’t seen a whole lot in 2017 but that might be due to his wrist.

I’d be surprised (again) if he gets promoted out of spring to Lynchburg, as I feel he still has some growing to do with the Captains. I don’t feel he’s ready to move up quite yet, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

16. Matt Esparza – Right Handed Starting Pitcher
Drafted 2015, 14th Round
Age: 23
Level: AA Akron

By Gavin Potter
Esparza stuff doesn’t jump out to any scouts, as he sits 90-93, with mediocre offspeed offerings, but is a command-oriented pitcher, allowing him to maximize his pitches. He had a successful 2017 at High-A Lynchburg, posting a 3.26 ERA, while striking out 7.7 and walking 2.1 per nine innings. Even more impressive was Esparza’s 50% ground ball rate. He initially was dominant in Akron, putting up a 2.11 ERA, but faded down the stretch, with a 6.49 ERA in his final 12 outings. Esparza will never be a top prospect, but could potentially be a useful Josh Tomlin or Ryan Merritt type pitcher in the future.

Freeman takes his base after being hit by a pitch in a 2017 AZL game. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

15. Tyler Freeman – Short Stop
Drafted 2017, 2nd Round
Age: 18
Level: AZL Indians

By Joseph Coblitz
The Indians second pick from the 2017 draft is the highest from that group in the rankings after a very successful rookie campaign in Arizona. While he was drafted as a defense first short stop, he ended up being the AZL Indians most consistent hitter, batting .297/.364/.414 with a couple home runs, nine doubles and only 12 strike outs.

As for the future, Freeman has a long way to go. He ranks fourth among pure short stops on this list despite coming in at 15 overall and that doesn’t include Jesse Berardi and Ernie Clement who both stood out in Mahoning Valley last year in their rookie campaigns. It also doesn’t include the current MLB talent that stands to be around through at least 2021. Freeman can’t worry about all that, however, as no one can project the future for even a single player, let alone a depth chart full of great short stop potential. Instead, he’ll likely play for Mahoning Valley or Lake County next year, starting the season as an 18 year old. If he can keep up his play from the AZL, he could be a big name in the Indians system, but for now he’ll have to sit on the back burner.

Krieger makes a throw from second during a 2017 AFL game in Glendale. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball

14. Tyler Krieger – Second Base
Drafted 2015, 4th Round
Age: 23
Level: AA Akron/AFL

By Joseph Coblitz
The highest ranked true second baseman on our list (although a few others can play the position), Krieger has had quite the year. It started off in South Korea playing with team Israel in the World Baseball Classic as their starting second baseman. Then, in just his second professional season (he missed all of 2015 due to a pre-draft injury), he jumped all the way to Akron. Finally, he wrapped up his year playing through November in the Arizona Fall League.

Through all of that, his numbers did not look good, but there is so much more to a minor leaguer than the numbers. Having watched him closely in the WBC and AFL this year as well as in Instructional League back in 2015, I feel I can vouch for that with Krieger. He is at least an average defender at second, but where the excitement should draw from is his line drive stroke and incredible speed and aggressiveness on the bases. It’s very likely that he took too much on in 2017 and he should probably repeat AA for the first half of 2018, but poor offensive numbers in Akron shouldn’t sour the Indians on one of their most advanced and highest potential bats.

Haase works out with minor league pitchers during 2016 Spring Training. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball.com

13. Eric Haase – Catcher
Drafted 2011, 7th Round
Age: 24
Level: AAA Columbus

By Justin Lada
Haase grew up just a short ride away from the University of Michigan campus and was set to play baseball at Ohio State University before the Indians convinced him to sign when drafting him in 2011. Haase’s tools and profile coming out of the draft where good character, good throwing arm behind the plate, smooth mechanics, power and patience.

He hit 14 homers at Low-A Lake County in his full season debut in 2013 then 16 in 2014 when he oddly repeated Lake County. He slugged .456 in 2015 and battled injuries in 2016 as he finally reached Double-A. In 2017 though, Haase was able to fully tap into the raw power he had coming out of the draft thanks to some of the Indians hitting coordinators and PitchTrax, a tracking system that records virtually every bit of information of pitches from the time it leaves a pitchers hand. Haase used this to develop an approach that would allow him to identify which pitches he could drive and do damage with and which ones he knew he couldn’t do anything with. Haase is readily willing to talk about what some players (and reporters) consider “taboo” like his launch angle and trying to hit more fly balls. Haase understands the value of those concepts and he put them to work in 2017 by slugging 26 homers and a .933 OPS in 95 in 333 at bats in AA Akron having to split time with Francisco Mejia.

Haase did run a 30.4% strikeout rate with some of these changes, which he attributes some to adjusting to his new approach early on and then having to make adjustments off of his new approach once pitchers in the league had a scouting report on his changes. He’s a smart hitter and baseball player and understands the cat and mouse game of hitter vs. pitcher. He still posted a .349 OBP thanks to 44 walks, so the patience is still there that he had in years prior. The most impressive thing about Haase’s power that makes it very real is 19 homers at Canal Park, which is cavernous for hitters of either side of the plate and that is coupled by the Eastern League being known as a pitcher’s league.

In addition to Haase’s ability to tap into his power, he embodies everything the Indians want in a receiver. He feels he’s a catcher first and wants to develop good relationships and trust in his entire pitching staff. He’s a better blocker and receiver than Mejia right now. While Mejia has the better natural arm behind the plate, Haase’s mechanics and footwork are much smoother, which has given him regular sub-2.0 “pop” times (how long it takes a catcher to “pop” from his stance to throw the ball on a steal attempt) that make his arm better than it really is. Haase can be a minor league free agent this offseason and would be Rule 5 draft eligible. While the Indians have Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez locked up long term and Mejia in the wings, Haase fits their profile of catchers they like and would be a mistake to let get away given his improvements in 2017.

Krauth looks in for the sign during a 2016 AZL game at Goodyear Ballpark. – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball.com

12. Ben Krauth – Left Handed Relief Pitcher
Drafted 2016, 16th Round
Age: 23
Level: A+ Lynchburg

By Caitlin Boron
Krauth had a stellar second season between Lake County and Lynchburg this year. The Indians had the lefty doing a little bit of everything, throwing primarily from the long-relief role, but also coming in as a short reliever and even a starter.

No matter what his role was in a game he was locked in. Krauth set the bar very high for himself after being drafted in the 16th round in 2016. With his season season under his belt? It’s safe to say he raised that bat even higher.

He strikeouts a lot and walks quite a few but the southpaw has a great feel for his pitches and his command, being someone who’s more in accuracy and less in velocity.

I’m curious to see if he will continue the upward progress in 2018 and I see no reason why it shouldn’t. Similar to his first two seasons, I can see him being promoted early in the season, if not directly out of spring training, to Akron.

Merryweather exhibits a high leg kick during a minor league Spring Training start in March 2017 – Joseph Coblitz, BurningRiverBaseball.com

11. Julian Merryweather – Right Handed Starting Pitcher
Drafted 2014, 5th Round
Age: 26
Level: AAA Columbus

By Gavin Potter
While Merryweather is an older prospect, he remains one of the more intriguing arms in Cleveland’s system, due to his stuff that could profile as mid-rotation MLB starter. He has a fastball that sits 92-95, along with a solid curveball and change up. So far in his career, his talent hasn’t matched the results – he just put up a poor 6.58 ERA with Columbus, and has only averaged a solid but not spectacular 8.1 K/9 for his career. Control isn’t the problem, as he’s also limited his walk to just 2 BB/9 for his career. Despite his struggles in 2017, he has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter for Cleveland in the not-so-distant future.