State of the System: Cleveland Indians
Starting in October and running through the end of the year, MiLB.com's State of the System series evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlighting prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offering a peek at 2021. After the Indians' three-year playoff streak was snapped
Starting in October and running through the end of the year, MiLB.com's State of the System series evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlighting prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offering a peek at 2021.
After the Indians' three-year playoff streak was snapped in 2019 despite their 93-69 record, Cleveland made it back to the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons this year, bowing out in two games in the Wild Card round against the Yankees.
Despite the disappointing end, there were plenty of positives to take from Cleveland's season. Homegrown ace
Another homegrown star led the offense, with Jose Ramirez finishing second in AL MVP voting to division rival
Regardless of what happens with a potential Lindor trade, the Indians expect to be back in the postseason mix again next season.
System strengths: Cleveland's top five prospects play different positions, including shortshop
Two of them,
"Credit to both our amateur and international scouting staffs in this case ... we have some super talented shortstops, and we're trying to foster that into growth at shortstop and versatility, because we have to," Indians assistant director of player development Rob Cerfolio said. "Introducing them to second base, third base and even other positions just to add to their versatility.
"Some of the guy in the next class,
Areas for growth: The best outfielder on the Indians' Major League roster is
"Valera is one that immediately jumps out. He's younger by age, but by skill set, he's not quite as young," Cerfolio said. "For a guy who hadn’t played above Short-Season A to jump in with Double-A and Triple-A players, it was an awesome learning experience and he tackled it head on. He fits the mold as an exciting young outfielder in the organization ... where we do lean a little more on the young side."
Valera's advanced abilities, Josh Naylor's two-game playoff spurt, increased outfield reps for top prospect
What's changed: The Indians made the biggest splash at this season's Trade Deadline, shipping right-hander
Arias and Miller add to the system's strength up the middle. At age 19, Arias batted .302/.339/.470 with 17 home runs, 75 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 120 games for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in 2019. Miller hit .290/.355/.430 with 13 homers, 68 RBIs and five steals at Double-A Amarillo the same year.
"Arias is a really good defender that can hit for power as well, and he showed that with us [at the alternate site]," Cerfolio said. "Probably a 75- or 80-grade arm, which was one of the first things that stood out ... and his overall defensive prowess is super impressive.
"Miller can play all over the place. Plus contact and can hit for some power as well. Another young infielder that can bounce all around that we’re excited about the offensive upside with."
Cantillo went 9-3 with a 1.93 ERA and 128-to-27 strikeout-to-walk-ratio in 19 starts for Class A Fort Wayne in 2019 before moving up for three starts at Lake Elsinore in August. The soon-to-be 21-year-old particularly stood out in an Aug. 17 start against Stockton, picking up a win by allowing two hits and striking out six over five frames, and he slots in as the top left-handed pitching prospect on the organizational depth chart.
"[Cantillo was] one of the younger guys in the group and really held his own," Cerfolio said. "For him to get a chance with some of the group we've had success with and jump in with [guys like]
Alternate site standouts: The top of the Indians farm system represented itself well at the alternate site despite the relative youth of guys like Jones, Freeman, Valera and No. 4 prospect Bo Naylor, the latter two of whom entered camp at age 20 or younger.
"The ones that jumped out to me, not that this is much of a surprise given how they're regarded, but Jones, Freeman and Bo Naylor were obviously three of our younger players that were younger but held their own and were some of the best performers of that group," Cerfolio said. "Credit to those guys on how they go about their business. … I thought they did an awesome job coming with a certain mind-set.
"It kind of got monotonous at times … but those three, in particular, did an awesome job of raising their own games."
With several players reaching the Majors for the first time this season as well, that created extra spots for prospects to impress this summer, and several took advantage of the opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff.
"It was obviously great to have some of the younger prospects like Hankins, Espino and Cantillo, and some of our relievers,
Impact rookies: A little more than a week before the Clevinger trade, the Indians promoted top pitching prospect
Two starts later, McKenzie tossed six scoreless innings against the Royals to officially put the AL Central on notice. The lanky right-hander finished the season with a 2-1 record, a 3.24 ERA, 42 strikeouts and nine walks in 33 1/3 innings.
"You talk about a guy who hadn’t been able to play structured baseball due to injuries, it's just a huge credit to him and how he went about partnering with our coaches and diving into his rehab," Cerfolio said. "He's just an awesome competitor and [did] everything he could to get himself back to the Triston McKenzie we all saw dominate in 2017 and 2018."
You think @T_eazy24 came ready to pitch this season?— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) September 3, 2020
The @Indians No. 10 prospect put in another 🔥 outing, lowering his ERA to 1.69 through three big league starts. pic.twitter.com/0DwVriLgaX
Despite his success, McKenzie didn't even lead Cleveland rookies in strikeouts. That honor went to right-hander
"[Karinchak's] stuff is so good it speaks for itself," Cerfolio said. "The way he’s continued to refine his approach and strike throwing and delivery, the results speak for themselves."
Next big thing: The Indians added Jones to their 40-man roster in November to shield him from the Rule 5 Draft, and a debut for the 2016 second-round pick could be on the horizon in 2021. With starting second baseman Cesar Hernandez hitting free agency and third baseman Jose Ramirez capable of shifting back to the keystone, there is a theoretical opening in Cleveland's starting lineup for the 2021 season.
Add in the added versatility to potentially play the outfield, and Jones is setting himself up for an opportunity after he batted .272/.409/.442 with 15 home runs, seven stolen bases and a Minor League-leading 96 walks in 2019, despite missing out on potential Triple-A experience in 2020.
"Nolan’s character, work ethic and desire to want to play and challenge himself, that’s what really stands out about him," Cerfolio said. "The way he goes about his business every day, whether it’s at third or in the outfield, when he ultimately gets that chance, he’s going to attack his work and go about his business in a true professional method. We're really excited for his opportunity whenever that comes and just looking to help support him so when he gets that chance, he’s ready to impact our team."
Chris Tripodi is a coordinator for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.