While the Indians made some waves with their international signing class of 2017-18, the biggest foreign born player to join the franchise in the last year may have come from the 2018 June amateur draft.
Raynel Delgado was born in Cuba, but moved to the United States when he was seven and attended high school in Florida, from which he was taken in the 6th round of the draft last year at 18 years old. Delgado quickly adapted himself to the Indians organization, being aided by the fact that he was bilingual and playing on a team that featured essentially half international signings who had spent the previous year playing in the Dominican Republic and half American high school and college graduates.
Before even getting into his playing ability, this unique upbringing made Delgado an asset in the infield. While the AZL Indians 2 catchers Yainer Diaz, Felix Fernandez and Micael Ramirez all spoke Spanish and Bo Naylor English, they were not always matched with a pitcher of the same native language. With Delgado nearby, there was never a communication issue with a translator available (this wasn’t an issue on AZL Indians 1 as catcher Bryan Lavastida also has a Cuban/Florida background and speaks both languages fluently).
Of course, while it may have been a slight factor in the Indians decision to draft and sign Delgado, his playing ability on the field was the real reason. Despite being one of the youngest players on the 2018 team, he was a leader and top offensive performer with a .306/.409/.382 line. As can be seen from his slugging percent, Delgado is not a power hitter yet, but is a great slash hitter to all fields and regularly doubles due to his proclivity towards gap shots and his good foot speed. When he didn’t reach second off the bat, he added ten steals during 2018 and has been active on the bases during 2019 extended spring training.
The greatest predictor for Delgado’s continued success through the minor league system may be his knowledge of the strike zone. In 2018 he walked 30 times to 44 strike outs and rarely looks bad by swinging at a pitch out of the zone. He is able to stay alive deep into counts and wait for his pitch without being overly aggressive and swinging at balls out of the zone. Unlike some young players, his strong batting line didn’t come from just swinging at the first pitch he could put in play and taking advantage of the poor fielding in the AZL. While he may have missed out on some “hits” this way, he has proven that he is much more suited for the mid-minors than some of his contemporaries.
Defensively, Delgado was one of many infielders the Indians moved around as much as possible in 2018 to see where they best fit. However, in the case of Delgado, the answer may be the one he was drafted at, third base. He has great reaction time and a strong arm, but doesn’t have the range of some of his teammates, particularly Brayan Rocchio. In addition, he had issues completing some plays when he did have to stretch, leading to seven errors at short stop in 18 games compared to just two at second and third in 13 and 12 games respectively. He has continued to move around the diamond in extended spring, but still looks best at third base.
Currently, Delgado stands to start the season at Mahoning Valley once they begin play where he will likely continue to split time with Rocchio and Jonathan Lopez, who is also best suited for third. If this is the infield roster, we could see more of Delgado at second, something that would allow him to continue to be versatile. Versatility is a trait greatly valued by the Indians and his ability to play multiple positions should help him continue to get starting playing time throughout the system without having to go through the severe position changes that players like Tyler Kreiger (from 2B to LF to 3B), Gabriel Mejia (from CF to 2B) and Sicnarf Loopstok (from C to 1B to 3B) have in recent seasons.
The Indians added a ton of very exciting talent during the last couple years both through the draft and international signings, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking Delgado. There’s a reason the Indians took him the 6th round out of high school and we named him the Indians 30th best prospect in 2018 after just a half season of official play. Already he is one of the Indians top 5 third basemen and he’s only going up.