Though the Indians have cut payroll and gotten younger in each of the last two seasons, they still managed to make the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years and post a winning record for the eight straight time in 2020. They're shedding more salary and age this offseason, already declining options on Brad Hand and Carlos Santana, letting César Hernández head to free agency and reportedly preparing to trade Francisco Lindor.
The winning may continue, however, because Cleveland has a sneaky-good farm system. The prospects on MLB Pipeline's Indians Top 30 have an average age of 20 years and five months, making them the third-youngest group in the game. Many of their best prospects have yet to reach full-season ball, but others are ready to contribute in the near future.
Right-hander Triston McKenzie had missed most of the previous two seasons with forearm soreness and back issues before posting a 3.24 ERA and a 42/9 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 big league innings this summer. Third baseman Nolan Jones offers a combination of power and patience and could shift to an outfield corner to plug a hole in Cleveland's lineup. Shortstop Tyler Freeman possesses some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the Minors.
Behind that trio, the Indians have a collection of promising young hitters (led by catcher Bo Naylor and outfielder George Valera), a surplus of sweet-swinging middle infielders (headlined by shortstops Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio) and a pair of first-round right-handers (Daniel Espino and Ethan Hankins) who should help form a strong nucleus in the future. They bolstered their talent with one of the best Drafts in the game in June, starting with first-round shortstop Carson Tucker, and the Mike Clevinger trade with the Padres in August that netted Arias, two other prospects and three young big leaguers.
All in all, Cleveland's system hasn't been this strong in a decade. Ten years ago, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, Lindor, José Ramirez and Santana were rising through the Minors, setting the stage for the Indians to become a perennial contender.
FARM SYSTEM RANKINGS
2020 Midseason: 14 | Preseason: 12
2019 Midseason: 12 | Preseason: NR
2018 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2017 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2016 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2015 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
Only the top 10 systems were ranked from 2015 to 2019 preseason; the top 15 systems were ranked 2019 midseason.
TOP FIVE PROSPECTS
The Indians adeptly managed their bonus pool in the Draft, allowing them to assemble a balance of hitters and pitchers as well as high schoolers and collegians, all of whom stand out with their polish. The same is true of Cantillo and Miller, who arrived in the Clevinger deal along with Arias, who has some of the loudest tools in the system.
2021 IMPACT PROSPECT
Nolan Jones, 3B (No. 1): He has plus power and led the Minors with 96 walks in 2019, and he's athletic enough to shift to an outfield corner if Ramirez remains at the hot corner.
2022 TOP PROSPECT
George Valera, OF (No. 5): Scheduled to make his full-season debut at age 19 in the cancelled 2020 Minor League season, he has a pretty left-handed stroke that could translate into a .300 average with 25-30 homers per season.
Hit: Tyler Freeman
Power: Bobby Bradley
Run: Quentin Holmes
Arm: Gabriel Arias
Field: Gabriel Arias
Best athlete: Daniel Johnson
Fastball: Emmanuel Clase
Curveball: Triston McKenzie
Slider: Daniel Espino
Changeup: Eli Morgan
Control: Triston McKenzie
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
Eight of Cleveland's 14 best prospects were selected before the third round of the Draft: first-rounders Naylor, Espino and Tucker; supplemental first-rounders McKenzie and Burns; second rounder Jones and supplemental second-rounder Freeman.
TOP 30 BY POSITION
The Indians lead all organizations with nine shortstops on their Top 30 and have another half-dozen who received strong consideration for the list.