The 2017 MLB draft has come and gone and that means a new crop of prospects are about to enter the Indians farm system. Now looking ahead to the upcoming weeks, we should find out just where some of these young men will slot in whether it be in Arizona or Mahoning Valley, plus it could also mean some promotions and, sadly, some roster cuts for guys higher up on the ladder.
Hare my top four takes from this week in the Indians farm system…
1. Draft thoughts.
Thanks to the Indians going to the World Series and signing free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason, costing them a first round pick, they would not pick until the second round (pick #64), which they used to draft a speedy young outfielder out of Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School named Quentin Holmes. The 17-year-old came into the draft as arguably the fastest player in this year’s class after stealing 22 bases in 23 attempts in his senior season while batting .420, earning him 2016-17 Gatorade Player of the Year honors for New York State. Holmes marks the latest result of a recent shift in draft philosophy that the Indians have employed where they have gone with more athletic, higher upside talent, as evidenced by the likes of Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer.
That same mindset also led to the selections of second round CompB pick Tyler Freeman and third rounder Johnathan Rodriguez, more so with the latter since Freeman is more of the safer bet with an all-around solid profile without any real standout tools, but plays hard and is the gritty type of player coaches love. With Rodriguez, on the other hand, the Indians went out a little further on a limb drafting a guy who has big time hit and power potential, but also a decent chance of flaming out. If his hitting doesn’t pan out, he could maybe switch to the mound and try his luck out of the bullpen as he can throw in the mid-to-upper 90s.
The Indians are taking elevated risks with their high-round selections lately as evidenced by their last two first rounders Will Benson and Brady Aiken. We’re still a ways away from finding out how those guys pan out, but the organization is now clearly committed to drafting more high-upside players rather than playing it safe. Of course there’s more potential for these picks blowing up in your face, but if they pan out, you’re talking about future cornerstone players.
2. Naquin returns to Clippers lineup.
After nearly a month and a half on the disabled list with a lower back injury, Tyler Naquin finally returned to the Columbus lineup on Tuesday against Durham and so far through two games has gone 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts. The 26-year-old started the year in Cleveland where he only batted .235 with one extra-base hit, one walk and five strikeouts in six games before being sent down. In 14 games prior to his DL stint, however, Naquin batted an impressive .396 with a homer and five RBI’s.
It’s likely going to be a little while yet before Naquin is back to full strength as he is being eased back into games having been subbed out in each of his first two contests. There’s no need to rush him back, though, as Bradley Zimmer and Daniel Robertson are both doing good things up in Cleveland, but don’t count out the 2016 Rookie of the Year finalist just yet.
Last season, the former first round pick struggled against left-handed pitching hitting just .250 against lefties in the majors and .133 in 17 games at Triple-A. So far in 2017, however, Naquin’s splits have been almost dead even hitting .368 against both right and left-handed pitching in 16 games. It’s a small sample size, but hopefully a sign of things to come. Naquin had his struggles late last season, but there’s no denying the impact he had and if another opportunity comes along in Cleveland, Terry Francona is going to give it to him.
3. Linares facing challenges in Double-A.
Leandro Linares had been one of the more underrated success stories of the 2017 campaign prior to his promotion to Akron. Coming off his first full season in the bullpen where he went 1-1 with a 1.21 ERA between three different affiliates last season, the right-hander picked up right where he left off in his first 12 appearances in Lynchburg posting a 1.32 ERA. Double-A is putting him to the test, however, as Linares has now allowed 14 runs (10 earned) on 19 hits in just eight appearances (11 innings) so far for the RubberDucks.
Double-A ball is often thought of as the great equalizer as the level of competition increases substantially from the A-ball levels and can often challenge players more than ever before in their careers. This appears to be the case with Linares, who is hoping to put his days as subpar starter behind him and turn himself into a viable relief prospect. His high strikeout rate of 10.5 since moving to the bullpen point to a potentially bright future in that role, but he’ll have to figure out the Double-A level first.
4. Sulser settling into relief role.
Speaking of former starters moving to the bullpen, Cole Sulser has started to find his groove in the bullpen after switching roles last season. Unfortunately his transition was more out of necessity as the right-hander was coming off Tommy John surgery that kept him out of action for the entirety of the 2015 campaign. It was the second reconstructive procedure of his career as Sulser had previously gone under the knife back in 2012 when he was still at Dartmouth. So his days as a starter were pretty much behind him at that point.
After mixed results last season between Lynchburg, Akron and Columbus where he posted a 2-5 record and 4.34 ERA along with seven saves in 11 opportunities. So far this year, however, Sulser appears to be finding his stride as a reliever posting a 1.84 ERA in 19 appearances so far between the RubberDucks and Clippers while walking only 10 and fanning 25 over 29.1 innings holding opposing hitters to a mere .212 clip. At 27 years old, time is not his best friend, but hopefully he can stick in Columbus and maybe eventually find his way onto the big league depth chart if his success continues.
Twitter Question of the Week.
“Given all the hype on Mejia, how does he compare as a prospect to Victor Martinez and Carlos Santana?”
I was going to consciously try to avoid talking about Francisco Mejia this week, but it’s hard not to considering he’s batting .474 with five homers and 14 RBI’s in 10 games so far in the month of June and has earned Eastern League Player of the Week honors. So far through 40 games this season, the 21-year-old is actually putting up better numbers than he did in his historical campaign last year where he posted a .342/.382/.514 slash line, including his 50-game hit streak. This season, Mejia has racked up a .365/.405/.622 line adding up to a whopping 1.026 OPS.
The comparison between Victor Martinez and Carlos Santana is interesting as both also came up as high upside catching prospects putting up impressive numbers on their way to the big leagues. Unfortunately both came up through the minors before my days as a prospect analyst, so I couldn’t give you a first-hand comparison, but looking at the numbers, there are some similarities. All three are switch hitters and have have hit for high averages while posting low strikeout rates, so they all know how to put the bat to the ball.
Where I would set them apart from Mejia is that both had more power potential, particularly Martinez, who stands at a hulking 6’2″, whereas Mejia is listed at 5’10”, which may be a tad generous. He’ll be more of a #2 or #3 hitter rather than the big middle-of-the-order boppers that Martinez and Santana have become. Mejia will likely be more of a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter who will hit 10-15 homers a year and drive in a lot of runs, but he can be a perennial .300+ hitter who will consistently barrel up the ball and rarely swing and miss. He’s a special player who the Indians will hopefully hold onto at this year’s trade deadline.
- Yu-Cheng Chang (SS, Akron): Looks like Chang is starting to put things together again in the month of June as he is batting .275 through 11 games while hitting three homers and driving in 11. His 13 homers through only 56 games this season match his career high from 109 games in Lynchburg last year.
- Richie Shaffer (OF, Columbus): Like Chang, June has been kind to Shaffer as he is batting .340 with four homers and 14 RBI’s through 12 games so far as he now has 13 homers and 48 RBI’s through 59 games.
- Gavin Collins (3B, Lake County): Collins has found his groove again at the plate over his last 10 games hitting .333 with three homers and six RBI’s.
- Matt Esparza (SP, Akron): Esparza has actually pitched better in Akron than in Lynchburg this season going 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in three starts, including pitching a no-hitter through six innings this week against Harrisburg.
- Brady Aiken (SP, Lake County): Aiken has slowly but surely begun to put things together over his last three starts as he has pitched six-plus innings in each outing while allowing no more than three runs and three walks per outing.
- Bobby Bradley (1B, Akron): Bradley is starting to hit for a higher average after batting .314 with three homers and 11 RBI’s over his last 10 games, raising his season average to .240 while hitting 10 homers and driving in 37.
- Triston McKenzie (SP, Lynchburg): McKenzie’s last two outings have resulted in 12 shutout innings of two-run ball while allowing only six hits and striking out 19.
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ season is about to get underway this weekend and now that the draft is over, we’ll be finding out who will make up first-year manager Luke Carlin’s ballclub, but the smart money is on last year’s top selections, Will Benson and Nolan Jones, headlining the 2017 roster, both of whom will be getting their first taste of affiliated ball after spending last season in Arizona Rookie League. Media day will take place Saturday morning, after which the team well head to Morgantown, West Virginia where they will open up their campaign on Monday against the Black Bears.
Jake Dungan is the Managing Editor for IBI and a podcast host on the Smoke Signals Network. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JakeDBaseball.