While the Indians are weak at quite a few positions currently in the minors, short stop is certainly not one of them, possibly with the greatest depth after starting pitching. While there are no more superstars of the caliber of Francisco Lindor, the existence of Lindor makes that unnecessary. Instead, combined with the two elites at second base (Tyler Krieger and Mark Mathias), it gives the Indians a lot of options up the middle for a long time.
10. Ernie Clement – 2017 Draft, Round 4 – SS Mahoning Valley
Other Positions: 2B (6 Games Played)
by Gavin Potter
The Indians took Clement in the 4th round of the 2017 draft, and signed him to a below-slot deal of $350,000, and has put up a mediocre 91 wRC+ in his first 18 games at Mahoning Valley this season. Clement’s best tool is his contact ability, striking out 7 times in 285 PA in his senior year at Virginia. Unfortunately, he also only took 13 walks in that stretch, and posted a meager .366 SLG%, so his batting average must carry him going forward. As such, Clement is a low-ceiling, high-floor prospect who could end up as a utility player down the road.
9. Makesiondon Kelkboom – 2016 International Free Agent – DSL Indians/Brewers
Other Positions: 2B (4 GP)
by Joseph Coblitz
One of two high ceiling 17 year old short stops in the Dominican Summer League (the other one is next), Kelkboom has arguably the coolest name in all of baseball. A cousin to the Rangers Jurickson Profar, Kelkboom was one of the DSL Indians/Brewers top hitters prior to missing time recently with injury. We know extremely little about Kelkboom to this point, but his baseline stats don’t look great for defense or baserunning at the moment. Of course, this is playing in the poor conditions of the Dominican Republic where it seems every other game is rained out, so we’ll have to wait to judge him seriously until he hits Goodyear. He only turned 17 two weeks ago, so there’s a long time to go and Kelkboom does appear to have a decent ceiling.
8. Marcos Gonzalez – 2016 International Free Agent – DSL Indians
by Joseph Coblitz
A player I was lucky to see in Extended Spring before he played his first official professional season with the DSL Indians. At the moment, he isn’t blowing anyone out of the water with a .308 slugging percent, but he appeared to have a great glove (although he’s committed 13 errors in 32 games) and is definitely dangerous on the base paths. We’ll need to see him play real games in the US to really evaluate him, but expect a light bat, decent defense and great wheels (nine steals in ten attempts) until then.
7. Alexis Pantoja – 2014 Draft, Round 9 – A Lake County
Other Positions: 2B (87 GP), 3B (27 GP), LF (1 GP), 1B (1 GP)
by Caitlin Boron
Pantoja has never really been known for his bat, but more so his quick glove. Since being called up from rookie ball to the A levels, I’ve heard praises of his defense, at the time at 2B and SS, and have been a witness to it a few times since then. He has a flare in the infield that can be explained by saying it’s the love child of cockiness and confidence, a fun combination to watch. Pantoja has quick hands with a matched reaction time to turn a grounder into a double play with ease.
This season Pantoja played at quite a few positions, going from LF, to every spot on the in field aside from pitcher and catcher. He plays his best leaning towards the left side of the in field, however it seems the Indians are grooming him to become a confident utility man. The type that might not bring a ton at the plate, but will balance that with the amount of runs saved.
Also another reason they are probably trying to convert him from a single position player to a utility guy could be that the in field for Cleveland is stacked for the foreseeable future. His best chance at adding value and progressing further through the system will be with that added experience across the field. With a slew of other promising infielders ahead of him, being the same log jam for many parts of the Indians farm system, Pantoja will probably have to get comfortable in Lake County but I wouldn’t rule out ending his season in Lynchburg with the Hillcats.
6. Jesse Berardi – 2017 Draft, Round 10 – SS Mahoning Valley
by Gavin Potter
Cleveland’s 10th round pick in the 2017 draft, Berardi signed for the slot value of $131,300 out of St. Johns. He put up an impressive .312/.412/.426 slash line in his senior year, and has started his professional career strongly at Mahoning Valley this year with a 123 wRC+ in 17 games. His walk rate is just 2.3%, but his 14% rate in college suggests that could come up. While still very early, Berardi has a shot to be on of Cleveland’s top-20 prospects, given his track record and initial success.
5. Luke Wakamatsu – 2015 Draft, Round 20 – A Lake County
by Justin Lada
Luke Wakamatsu’s dad is long time MLB coach and former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. He was a 20th round in 2015 and there didn’t seem to be a lot of hope he’d sign. The Indians managed to lure him away from his college commitment. The glove isn’t really the question for the switch hitting Texan. He’s shown plenty that he’ll stay at shortstop long term though he could probably handle second base and maybe third to add some versatility to his game because shortstop is in good hands (I’ve heard that Francisco Lindor guy is pretty good). He’s overcome a few minor injuries that have hampered his development at the plate. He’s not “knock the bat out of his hands” weak but at 6-foot-3 and a reported 185lbs, he still has a little room to grow into his body. Since coming off of the DL June 28 he’s hitting .291 and has three homers. There’s still a lot of swing and miss to his game but his bat was never his calling card and if it develops a little, he’s a good bet to carve out a role in the majors because of his defensive potential.
4. Tyler Freeman – 2017 Draft, Round 2 – AZL Indians
Other Positions: 2B (3 GP)
by Joseph Coblitz
Simply being a high draft pick brings a lot of hype and many were certainly excited when the Indians picked up Freeman in the 2nd CBA round this year. In extremely limited playing time, he’s been one of the few players on the AZL Indians to hit well and has his first home run in addition to a team high seven doubles. Defensively, however, there’s much to be desired although the transition between high school and the pros is so extreme that we shouldn’t judge him too harshly, or even at all until next year.
3. Willi Castro – 2013 International Free Agent – A+ Lynchburg
Other Positions: 2B (29 GP)
by Caitlin Boron
Willi Castro has been one of the most fascinating minor leaguers I’ve had the pleasure to follow since 2015. He caught my eye from game one with his natural ability to dance between second and third. However, where there was natural talent, there was also a lot of work to be done honing in that talent to the level of a professional ball player.
Since then, it seems the young short stop has been molded into a smooth defender, with a few edges left over leaving room for his raw spirit for the game. He’s not perfect, sometimes getting over aggressive handling the ball in a way that shows when a routine play is overthought. The aggressive errors fade when he lets go and plays the game his way, leaning on the feel for the ball and reading the situation between the pitcher and batter.
At the plate, Castro has stood out as a lead off at all level he’s played at, though as of this season has batted second behind Sam Haggerty. His OBP at .342 has been his best of his career to date, and across the board for almost all of his numbers he’s improved upon his previous seasons. Castro is close to the top of the leader board regarding a number of different stats from average (4th, .294), RBI (3rd, 43) among others and leads in Hits (99) and total bases (144) through 90 games and 337 ABs.
He has grown through every level he’s been at, maturing at the plate and on the field. Going by that trend, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s AAA ready by the middle of 2018, save for the positional logjam in the way. Due to his value within the Indians top 30 prospects, 11th by MLB and 14th by Baseball America, it wouldn’t be out of the question seeing him as crucial piece to a deal as well.
2. Yu-Cheng Chang – 2013 International Free Agent – AA Akron
Other Positions: 3B (16 GP)
by Justin Lada
The jump from High-A to Double-A is widely regarded as the toughest jump for a player to make until he gets his call to the Majors. So naturally Chang is putting up a.259 ISO while playing in a league and ballpark that usually suppresses even better prospects power potential. Chang, 21, was probably 2B (Francisco Mejia, Greg Allen) in last summer’s failed Jonathan Lucroy trade because of his offensive potential. For him to put up that kind of power display in his first go around in Double-A at age 21 is probably why he’s on everyone’s top 5 Indians prospect list. The holdup is the 28% strikeout rate. Chang always ran a below average strikeout rate before this so it’s not a shock to see it zip up even more because of the level. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Chang cut his strikeouts eventually as he learns the level (it’s currently 20% in 79 June PA’s along with 10 walks, which would be his highest of any month in 2017 to date). The question for Chang will likely be where his home on the diamond will be down the road. His arm strength is good although most don’t feel it’s particularly great. His range leaves something to be desired. Weirdly enough, he reminds some of Jhonny Peralta at shortstop where his frame and range might just be a little too big for the position even if he can make the routine plays. Offensively, there’s a lot of Peralta in his game too, oddly enough. A lot of his power is to the opposite field. Chang doesn’t have his hit tool but if he maintains the power stroke, his bat will play at second base and possibly at third base.
1. Eric Stamets – 2012 Draft, Round 6 – AAA Columbus
Other Positions: 3B (17 GP), 2B (9 GP)
by Gavin Potter
Previously considered a top-notch defensive shortstop with no glove, Stamets has put together a promising offensive season in 2017. In 76 games between AA and AAA this year, Stamets has slashed .278/.348/.500. His biggest jump has been in power – his 12 home runs this season are equal to his previous three seasons combined. If he can maintain any of his elevated offensive performance, he can be a useful major league player, though at 25, his clock is ticking.