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Nearly a Duke hoopster, Benson embracing the process

MLB.com

DAYTON, Ohio -- The month of March was rough for Indians outfield prospect Will Benson.

There wasn't an injury and it wasn't like Cleveland's No. 7 prospect struggled during Spring Training. No, it had nothing to do with baseball; it had everything to do with March Madness.

DAYTON, Ohio -- The month of March was rough for Indians outfield prospect Will Benson.

There wasn't an injury and it wasn't like Cleveland's No. 7 prospect struggled during Spring Training. No, it had nothing to do with baseball; it had everything to do with March Madness.

"It sucked, because I knew I could help Duke win it all," said Benson, a basketball standout in high school who would have walked on with the Blue Devils on the court had he not signed. "I'm kidding. But March was a tough time, especially seeing my Dukies lose.

"I miss basketball, 100 percent. It will always be my one and first true love, honestly. I'll be a basketball guy until the day I die, but I'm continuing to grow and love baseball even more now, so it's pretty awesome."

Indians' Top 30 list | Top prospects stats

Benson's skills in his chosen sport have grown as well. Both he and the Indians knew it might take some time for the big outfielder to figure things out when they took him in the first round in 2016, given his split focus across two sports in high school. Both team and player knew he might not go to a full-season club in 2017, his first full year of pro ball. Instead, Benson hung back at the Indians' Arizona facility and went to Class A Short-Season Mahoning Valley, where he showed off power (10 homers in 202 at-bats) and a propensity to swing-and-miss (80 strikeouts).

"Going into it, I was pretty clear with the Indians that it was going to be a process and I wanted to take the best route and make sure I would be the best possible player I could be," Benson said. "They fully understood that and we've both been in cooperation with that. I've been working hard; that extra summer was needed. I think it benefited me heavily, gaining connection with coaches who started to understand who I am as a player and what I wanted to be and helped get me to where I am right now.

"I think extended spring allowed me to continue to understand who I am as a baseball player. Coming up, baseball really wasn't my first sport. Coming into it, I was really good at it, but I hadn't reached my full potential. I'm still trying to figure that out and that summer was a big step in me figuring that stuff out."

Video: Top Prospects: Will Benson, OF, Indians

One of those coaches is Pete Lauritson, Benson's hitting coach in Mahoning Valley and now again in his full-season debut with Lake County in the Midwest League. He has worked tirelessly with Lauritson to refine his craft at the plate. Sometimes a light bulb has gone off and sometimes it's been more of a slow burn.

"It's an overall approach, an overall comfort I'm starting to feel that I didn't feel before and that's starting to help me move the ball to different parts of the field and become a better overall hitter," Benson said. "Big shouts to Pete Lauritson, our hitting coach. I think I had quite a few 'a-ha' moments with him. And being in the Indians organization, there's always gradual progress. Going back to last summer, there was a really good mixture of 'a-ha' moments and gradual progress and it was kind of cool to really understand baseball at a deeper level than I ever had before."

That work has already shown up in the early going of the Midwest League season. All of Benson's 10 home runs in 2017 went to his pull side. His first two long balls with Lake County have gone the other way, to left field, and he's cut his strikeout rate and upped his walk rate a bit over his first nine games.

"Yes, I did work on that in the offseason, but it was more just becoming a better overall hitter," Benson said. "Like I said Pete Lauritson, me and him have had some 'a-ha' moments. A lot of that transpired over the course of the offseason, even during Spring Training and even the beginning of this season. Some of those moments have opened up my swing a little bit more to different parts of the field."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Cleveland Indians

Unheralded Haase continues to 'widen eyes'

Catcher prospect shining bright in Mejia's shadow
MLB.com

LAS VEGAS -- Eric Haase tore around the bases and saw Indians third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh pumping his arm in circles, signaling for the catcher to sprint home. Haase tried to hit another gear, felt his legs trembling and slid across home plate before rising to his feet to enjoy the moment. An inside-the-park home run.

That mad dash took place at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday against the Reds in a Cactus League game that was not televised. In a way, the fact that there is no highlight to watch of Haase's first career inside-the-park shot is fitting. Haase has flown under the radar in terms of the public eye, especially given the presence of highly touted catching prospect Francisco Mejia in Cleveland's system.

LAS VEGAS -- Eric Haase tore around the bases and saw Indians third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh pumping his arm in circles, signaling for the catcher to sprint home. Haase tried to hit another gear, felt his legs trembling and slid across home plate before rising to his feet to enjoy the moment. An inside-the-park home run.

That mad dash took place at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday against the Reds in a Cactus League game that was not televised. In a way, the fact that there is no highlight to watch of Haase's first career inside-the-park shot is fitting. Haase has flown under the radar in terms of the public eye, especially given the presence of highly touted catching prospect Francisco Mejia in Cleveland's system.

Haase is hardly unnoticed by the Indians, however, having made a very strong impression on the team's Major League staff this spring.

"He does a lot of things really well," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And he's getting better. That's the exciting thing."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Francona spoke from the cramped confines of the visitors' dugout at Cashman Field, where the Indians took on the Cubs on Saturday in the opener of the annual Big League Weekend series in Las Vegas. With both of Cleveland's big league catchers, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, staying in Arizona this weekend, and Mejia back with Triple-A Columbus on the Minor League side, this series presented an opportunity for more playing time for Haase.

That was music to Haase's ears, as he continues to try to make the most of his stint in Major League camp. He has worked closely with first-base coach and catching instructor Sandy Alomar Jr., picked the brains of Gomes and Perez, and spent time in the cage with the team's big league hitting coaches.

Haase said he is trying to be a "sponge" for as long as he can.

"However much time left I have up here," he said, "I'm going to take advantage of it."

The hype around Mejia is understandable. According to MLB Pipeline, he is not only the Indians' top prospect, but the best catching prospect in baseball right now. With Gomes and Perez entrenched in the Majors, the Indians actually plan on getting Mejia some outfield work in the Minors to potentially expedite his path to the Majors. There is a strong chance that Mejia is up with Cleveland at some point this summer.

Haase, 25, currently ranks 20th on the Tribe's Top 30 prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline, but he could also be knocking on the Majors' door in the near future. In the offseason, the Indians added Haase to the 40-man roster, making him and Mejia possibly the next men up if something were to happen to either Gomes or Perez. Given Haase's showing last season, putting him on the roster was a no-brainer.

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: The strength of the #Indians' farm system is hitters, including top prospect Francisco Mejia, but he's not the only promising catching prospect at camp as Eric Haase is turning heads. Here's Jim Callis' dispatch from @Indians camp: https://t.co/8U1Jnp632P pic.twitter.com/LRZym6e8VH

Francona said Haase has backed up that decision with his play this spring.

"When a young kid comes in, and I don't want to say opens your eyes, but widens your eyes, we welcome that," Francona said. "He's a catcher who kind of played himself onto the roster last year. And instead of being content with that, he wants to take it and run with it, and it gets exciting."

Last year, Haase spent the bulk of the season with Double-A Akron, where he hit .258 with 26 home runs and a .923 OPS in 95 games. His slugging percentage at Double-A in 2017 jumped to .574 -- up from .438 at the same level in '16. Haase more than doubled his home run output (12 in '16) as well.

Haase said the improvement stemmed from a change in approach and plenty of hard work on his swing to accommodate his shift in mindset. He used HitTrax to get different metrics on his swing, which he wanted to be flatter through the zone in an effort to get more balls in the air. The results followed. Haase had a 52.2-percent fly-ball rate in '17 (up from 43.3 percent in '16) and saw his home run per fly ball rate climb to 23.9 percent (up from 18.5 in '16).

"Putting up bigger launch angles, that was really helping me," Haase said. "I was taught my whole life, 'Swing down on the ball.' And I slowly started to realize that's not the way to go about it, especially when these [pitchers] are getting so good."

Francona said he is excited to see where all of Haase's work takes him.

"Confidence plays such a huge role," Francona said. "I know it's hard to put a number on that, because you can't. But a guy starts to do something and then all of a sudden he realizes he can, and you take off from there. That's part of the fun of watching young players."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Eric Haase

Sent down, prospect Bradley leaves impression

Slugging first baseman dropped weight during offseason, hit well in Spring Training
MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona was so excited when Bobby Bradley walked into his office early in Spring Training that he could not stop the complimentary curse words from flying. The promising first-base prospect arrived looking like a new person after shedding dozens of pounds.

"He was a real highlight for us," Francona said on Monday morning.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona was so excited when Bobby Bradley walked into his office early in Spring Training that he could not stop the complimentary curse words from flying. The promising first-base prospect arrived looking like a new person after shedding dozens of pounds.

"He was a real highlight for us," Francona said on Monday morning.

Bradley was included in the Indians' latest round of spring roster reductions -- along with top prospect Francisco Mejia, outfielder Abraham Almonte and six others -- but the move was not unexpected. In fact, Francona said the energy during that meeting at the outset of Spring Training was still there during Monday's conversation with Bradley, who was reassigned to Minor League camp.

• Mejia optioned to Triple-A, will work in OF

Bradley blew away the Indians' staff with his offseason training, did well in soaking up information in his first big league camp and produced in the batter's box to the tune of a .391 average in his 23 Cactus League at-bats. The 21-year-old Bradley arrived to Spring Training knowing that a trip back to the Minors was coming, so the message on Monday was to just stay on his current path.

Video: CLE@MIL: Bradley rips a double high off the wall

"There are some send-downs that, quite honestly, get tough," Francona said. "The guys, this is the way they make their living. But, for Bobby, I think it was anything but that. We just reinforced the things we talked about. And I reminded him that, 'You're [21] years old. You haven't even been to Triple-A yet. Enjoy seeing how good you can be.'"

Earlier this spring, Bradley smiled when told of Francona's excitement level over the young first baseman.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"It's an amazing feeling just to know that the hard work and dedication is being noticed," Bradley said. "Words can't describe how good that feels."

Bradley -- ranked as the Indians' No. 3 prospect and the 6th-best first-base prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline -- has belted 87 home runs in his 411 Minor League games with Cleveland. The left-handed hitter was selected by Cleveland in the third round of the 2014 MLB Draft and power has always been his calling card. Last year, Bradley had 23 homers, 51 extra-base hits and a .465 slugging percentage in 131 games with Double-A Akron.

Over the offseason, Bradley wanted to get into better shape to help improve other facets of his game and to maintain his energy over the course of a full season. He restructured his diet, attended the Indians' strength camps in Arizona -- after playing in the Arizona Fall League with Glendale -- and found another fitness routine that helped him drop nearly 30 pounds when it was all said and done.

Video: CLE@MIL: Bradley plates Mejia with a single in 4th

"Me and my fiancee at the time just sat down and she started doing Orangetheory [fitness]," Bradley said. "She dragged me to a class kicking and screaming. I didn't want to go. I ended up liking it. It was super-high-intensity interval training. We did that four times a week."

Bradley said he has been focusing on strength training since shedding the weight, because he does not want to lose any of his signature power. Francona said the changed Bradley made were noticeable on the field this spring, adding to the organization's excitement about the first baseman.

"I thought it was outstanding," Francona said. "It's nice when a kid works as hard as he does and, I know it's limited at-bats, but he really swung the bat really well. It's kind of nice when guys see results, or see what it can do to their game. I think his energy's better. His defense is better. His bat speed. It looks like it's just easier for him to do things physically."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Bobby Bradley

Mejia sent to Triple-A, will get OF experience

Cleveland looking for ways to expedite top prospect's path to Majors
MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Mejia tried his hand at third base during the Arizona Fall League after last season ended. Now, the Indians plan on having the highly touted catching prospect get some experience in the outfield during Minor League camp and early in the season with Triple-A Columbus.

Indians manager Terry Francona wanted to make something clear, though.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Mejia tried his hand at third base during the Arizona Fall League after last season ended. Now, the Indians plan on having the highly touted catching prospect get some experience in the outfield during Minor League camp and early in the season with Triple-A Columbus.

Indians manager Terry Francona wanted to make something clear, though.

"He's a catcher," Francona said.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

On Monday morning, when Mejia was optioned to Triple-A as part of Cleveland's latest round of spring roster reductions, Francona reiterated that message. The manager repeated what has been his go-to phrasing for the plans involving Mejia, noting that "this is by no means an indictment on his catching." If anything, Francona said the way the Tribe is handling Mejia is a great compliment to the promising prospect.

The Indians believe that the 22-year-old Mejia -- ranked No. 1 among the Tribe's Top 30 prospects, No. 1 among baseball's catching prospects and 11th overall on the Top 100 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline -- is an extremely advanced hitter. Cleveland's decision makers feel that Mejia is so polished as a hitter, in fact, that he might be able to help the Major League club at some point this summer.

The only problem is that the Indians have a pair of Major League-caliber catchers in Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes who rank among the game's best defenders, are locked into long-term contracts and have built a strong rapport with one of baseball's top pitching staffs. At the moment, there is no room in the inn behind the plate for a rookie like Mejia, but the Indians do not want that to get in the way of a possible promotion to the big leagues.

"We just kind of told him, 'Look, we have Perez and Gomes. Do the math,'" Francona said. "And he's such an advanced hitter that, if he's able to play another position and then there's an injury or something, he could find himself not only in the big leagues, but playing. And I think he understands. We went to pretty good lengths to try to make sure that he understands that this is not an indictment on his catching. He's just such an advanced hitter. We want to take advantage of it."

Video: CLE@MIL: Mejia rips a two-run homer to left in 5th

In 11 Cactus League games this spring, the switch-hitting Mejia has hit .421 (8-for-19) with two home runs, seven RBIs and a 1.292 OPS. That comes after Mejia hit .365 with an .873 OPS in 15 games for Glendale in the AFL. Last season, Mejia had an 11-game cup of coffee with the Indians down the stretch, but he spent the bulk of the year with Double-A Akron, where he turned in a .297/.346/.490 slash line with 14 homers, 21 doubles, 52 RBIs in 92 games.

That body of work follows Mejia's breakout showing in 2016, when he hit .342 (.896 OPS) between Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Lynchburg and made national headlines with a 50-game hitting streak. Mejia has participated in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in each of the past two years, rising swiftly up the various prospect rankings.

Video: WEST@EAST: Mejia hits a double in the 4th inning

"From both sides of the plate, he just has a knack," Francona said. "I don't know if a lot of people could hit like that. It's a little bit unique. But, if you break it down, when the pitcher's releasing the ball, he's in a really good place to hit. And even when he gets out front, he's got such good hands and he keeps his hands back so well, he can either foul off a pitch or he's strong enough to get under it and still hit the ball out of the ballpark.

"But like most good hitters, the more pitches he sees and the deeper he gets in the count, he gets more dangerous. So, he's got the knack, because he uses the whole field. And I mean the whole field. But, he can also hit the ball in the gap and out of the ballpark from both sides of the plate."

Francona said the team was impressed this spring by Mejia's defensive progress, which included spending a lot of time under the tutelage of Sandy Alomar Jr., along with Perez and Gomes. Defensively, Mejia boasts a strong arm, but is still "cleaning up" his transfer and working on carrying the strides made in workouts into games.

"We were really pleased with his progression," Francona said.

Mejia tried playing third base in the AFL, but that experiment is over now, according to the Indians manager. In conversations with the young catcher, Francona felt that giving him some time in the outfield might be the more appropriate route. Mejia will still catch for Triple-A Columbus, but the Indians also want catching prospect Eric Haase to get innings behind the plate. That opens the door for some outfield innings for Mejia.

"We kind of told him, we said, 'Hey, if you want to be a full-time catcher, we'll back you 100 percent,'" Francona said. "But, when we kind of laid it out for him there, he was like, 'No, I need to do this.' So, I think we explained it properly and we won't just send him on his way. We'll check and re-check and make sure he's OK, because he's one of our biggest prospects, that's for sure.

"It just seems like he's got that kind of a bat that he could probably step into a Major League lineup and help you."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Mejia

Diaz faces battle for Opening Day roster

Francona thinks 3B may be better served getting regular ABs in Minors; Kluber fans 7 Friday; Mejia has huge day
MLB.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Indians plan on opening the regular season with Jose Ramirez back at third base and Jason Kipnis manning second. That alignment has created an uphill battle for third baseman Yandy Diaz to make Cleveland's Opening Day roster.

Barring something unforeseen, Indians manager Terry Francona said the debate about Diaz will center around not only the roster composition, but whether the third baseman will be better served opening in the Minors. With Triple-A Columbus, Diaz could garner regular at-bats and playing time, rather than filling a part-time bench role for the Indians.

View Full Game Coverage

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Indians plan on opening the regular season with Jose Ramirez back at third base and Jason Kipnis manning second. That alignment has created an uphill battle for third baseman Yandy Diaz to make Cleveland's Opening Day roster.

Barring something unforeseen, Indians manager Terry Francona said the debate about Diaz will center around not only the roster composition, but whether the third baseman will be better served opening in the Minors. With Triple-A Columbus, Diaz could garner regular at-bats and playing time, rather than filling a part-time bench role for the Indians.

View Full Game Coverage

"We'll see how it plays out," Francona said. "There's a lot of factors. There's a balance there, for sure. Sometimes you think guys are better off going to play for a while. They may be disappointed they get sent down, but getting 200 at-bats, as opposed to sitting -- especially in the first part of the season, where you're kind of struggling to find at-bats for guys, and it's cold -- sometimes they're better off going to Triple-A and playing."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Diaz, who went 1-for-3 with a single in Friday's 8-5 win against the Rockies, opened last year as the Indians' third baseman due to Kipnis beginning the season on the disabled list. In 49 games overall, Diaz turned in a .263/.352/.327 slash line, but he finished strong. Across his final 31 games in 2017, dating back to a recall from the Minors on Aug. 22, Diaz hit .304 with an .810 OPS.

"You look at his Triple-A numbers, they're massive," Francona said. "It's an interesting bat. Now, we've got to get him to the point where he's reliable."

Kluber's march to Opening Day
The Rockies fielded a lineup with a handful of regulars on Friday, giving Indians ace Corey Kluber an opportunity to treat his outing more like a regular-season start. The pitching line that the right-hander pieced together certainly looked like what Cleveland has come to expect.

"I guess maybe trying to sequence a little more normal like we would in a real game," Kluber said of his approach against Colorado at Sal River Fields. "I'm trying to get into that mode. Earlier on, we worked on a few things, but today we kind of took it more like a real game, kind of attacked the hitters like we normally would."

Video: CLE@COL: Kluber on facing strong lineup vs. Rockies

In 3 2/3 innings, Kluber struck out seven and ended with one run allowed on two hits with one walk issued. The lone run charged to Kluber came after his exit, via a two-run homer surrendered by Neil Ramirez. Overall, Kluber logged 57 pitches, including 39 strikes in the performance.

"When the outing's over with," Kluber said, "you take a step back and analyze, 'Did I get what I wanted to out of today?' And I think, for me, part of that is feeling like I was in a good spot mechanically."

Prospect watch
The Indians are excited about Francisco Mejia's potential as a hitter. Friday, the young catcher got the start as the Tribe's designated hitter and promptly put his power on display.

Video: CLE@COL: Mejia belts a three-run jack in the 3rd

Mejia, who is Cleveland's top prospect and the top catching prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, belted a towering three-run home run off Colorado starter Jon Gray in the third inning. Mejia ended the afternoon 3-for-4 with a single, double and three RBIs.

Tweet from @MLBBarrelAlert: Francisco Mejia off RHP Jon Gray - 102.1 mph, 35 degrees (382 ft Home Run)94.4 mph Four-Seamer#Indians @ #Rockies (T3) pic.twitter.com/qGYSGXt5vK

Injury updates
• Left fielder Michael Brantley (rehabbing from right ankle surgery in October) and right-hander Danny Salazar (right shoulder inflammation) were back with the team on Friday. Both players were sent home from the complex on Thursday due to illness.

• Left-hander Robert Zarate (elbow soreness) and right-hander Cole Sulser (fractured rib) were reassigned to Minor League camp on Friday. Righty Julian Merryweather was slated to undergo Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow on Friday.

Worth noting
• The Indians made a handful of roster moves on Friday morning, reducing the number of players in camp to 59. Cleveland optioned shortstops Willi Castro (No. 5 on the Tribe's Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline) and Yu Chang (No. 7) to Double-A Akron, and also reassigned first baseman Nellie Rodriguez to Minor League camp.

• Relief ace Andrew Miller's next scheduled Cactus League appearance has been pushed back to Sunday against the Brewers. Francona said that Miller, who has not pitched in a game since Monday, is simply on a conservative spring program.

Up next
Right-hander Mike Clevinger, who projects to be the Indians' No. 4 starter, is scheduled to take the mound against the Padres in a 3:10 p.m. ET Cactus League tilt in Peoria, Ariz. Zach McAllister, Dan Otero, Adam Wilk, Jeff Beliveau, Josh Martin and Cameron Hill are also penciled in to pitch for the Tribe. Eric Lauer will start for San Diego. The game will be broadcast live on MLB.TV.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Yandy Diaz, Corey Kluber, Francisco Mejia

Pipeline report: Padres camp

No. 1 farm system in baseball on display in Spring Training
MLB.com

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Padres.

PEORIA, Ariz. - It's the player development equivalent of "With great power comes great responsibility." The Padres have the best farm system in baseball, and with that ranking comes a bar that has been raised quite a bit.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Padres.

PEORIA, Ariz. - It's the player development equivalent of "With great power comes great responsibility." The Padres have the best farm system in baseball, and with that ranking comes a bar that has been raised quite a bit.

Padres' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with MacKenzie Gore

"A lot had to go right last year and with that comes expectations for this next year," Padres farm director Sam Geaney said. "We very much have to continue to push forward."

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

Not that he or anyone in the Padres' front office is complaining. The Padres are just getting their official Minor League Spring Training going, but even during their mini-camp of about 50 players, there was a certain kid-in-a-candy-store mentality.

"It is fun," Geaney said. "You end up missing a few things over the course of the day just because you have to make some hard decisions about what you watch. I have to make these terrible choices: Do I go watch Gabriel Arias take ground balls or do I watch MacKenzie Gore throw a bullpen? It's a nice problem to have."

It's also been nice to see a group of players perform in big league camp. Top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., No. 3 Luis Urias, No. 4 Cal Quantrill, No. 9 Joey Lucchesi, No. 13 Eric Lauer, No. 14 Jacob Nix and No. 15 Josh Naylor were among those getting Cactus League action while the guys at the lower levels were being put through the paces in mini-camp.

"For the first time, we have that group over in big league camp," Geaney said. "In the last couple of years, our mini-camp dominated our stuff. Now we can also watch our Minor League players playing regularly in big league games. That's been fun."

While it's rare everything goes according to plan in player development, it largely has for the Padres after they started the rebuilding process. It's led to a deep system at pretty much every stage of development.

"[General Manager A.J. Preller] always talks about waves of talent," Geaney said. "We have that group getting to Major League camp, then we have this second group of guys who are going to play full-season ball for the first time. Then, even being in the penalty, I still feel we've added some international guys. The Yangervis Solarte trade brought us an interesting player in Edward Olivares. We're continuing to layer on top of the guys who probably make us ranked where we are."

That will eventually lead to a logjam of players as they reach the upper levels and the big leagues. Again, it's a good problem to have and Geaney is looking forward to being afforded more time to develop all of this talent.

"The first couple of years, we've been able to move guys as aggressively as their talent has allowed them and we've probably had some aggressive assignments," Geaney said. "I think it's natural that will slow down. Hopefully that lines up with a finer focus on finishing off pieces for some of these players. We definitely want to make sure that when we graduate them, they are very much prepared."

Tatis Jr. a special development case

Tatis went from the Midwest League to the Double-A Texas League at age 18 and more than held his own, finishing off a 20-30 season that led to him being ranked No. 8 on the overall Top 100 list. So if things get slowed down with development plans in a couple of years, that would mean the double-jump Tatis made in 2017 wouldn't happen, right?

"He is special," Geaney said. "I've been told there's not a lot to be learned from his 2017 season and what his developmental path is and is going to be because it's a special talent and those guys don't always follow conventional paths."

The Padres knew they were getting a special player when they acquired Tatis. But it would be understandable if even they were surprised by what he was able to accomplish. They wouldn't have predicted a finish in Double-A, but there wasn't a lot of shock in the front office when he got there.

"We knew he was very, very talented," Geaney said. "I do remember when we had him in extended in 2016 and the AZL, it's the same player. He's always had this raw, loose athleticism to his game and that's still there. He's tightened his swing up, his actions on defense have gotten better.

"I would think as far as being surprised by last year, by the time he got to instructs in 2016, it was pretty clear to all of us we were looking at a guy who had the chance to be our top prospect by the end of the year. Then he went out and we were pleasantly surprised with how well he progressed offensively, but it wasn't out of left field."

Camp standout

Tatis wasn't the only young middle infielder in the system who advanced in 2017. The Padres signed Justin Lopez for $1.2 million during their aggressive foray into the international market in July 2016. The teenager (he doesn't turn 18 until May) spent the regular season in the short-season Northwest League, but he got promoted to the full-season Midwest League for the postseason. He hit .246/.291/.324 with Tri-City last summer -- the promotion had more to do with his ability to defend at shortstop and second -- but based on his mini-camp, he looks ready to make the next step.

"He is physically starting to mature," Geaney said of the switch-hitting infielder. "He's very gifted defensively and showed up looking very strong. He had a very good offseason."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Cleveland Indians

Pipeline report: Indians camp

Tribe's farm offers balance of talent
MLB.com

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Indians.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Even after the promotions of Francisco Lindor and Bradley Zimmer to the big leagues and the inclusion of Clint Frazier in the Andrew Miller trade with the Yankees, the strength of the Indians farm system remains its position players.

Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Indians.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Even after the promotions of Francisco Lindor and Bradley Zimmer to the big leagues and the inclusion of Clint Frazier in the Andrew Miller trade with the Yankees, the strength of the Indians farm system remains its position players.

Indians' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Nolan Jones

Twelve of the first 15 players on MLB Pipeline's Indians Top 30 Prospects list are hitters. That group includes players on the cusp of the Majors (catcher Francisco Mejia, first baseman Bobby Bradley, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, outfielder Greg Allen), on the verge of breakouts (third baseman Nolan Jones, shortstop Willi Castro, outfielders Will Benson and Conner Capel) and newcomers from 2017 signed via the Draft (outfielder Quentin Holmes, shortstop Tyler Freeman) and international market (outfielder George Valera, shortstop Aaron Bracho).

:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::

Mejia should be the first of that group to make an impact in Cleveland, though at which position remains unclear. The game's best catching prospect has an exceptional bat that made headlines when he set a modern Minor League record with a 50-game hitting streak in 2016, and he encored by batting .297/.346/.490 in Double-A at age 21 last year.

While Mejia has a plus-plus arm, he's still polishing his defense. The Indians like what Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez provide them behind the plate, so they experimented with Mejia playing third base during the Arizona Fall League. He looked rough in his first exposure to the hot corner and Cleveland has All-Star Jose Ramirez there anyway, so it's possible that Mejia's bat could be big league-ready before there's a place to play him.

"Mejia's bat is really good but we also have two very good catchers in the big leagues," Indians farm director James Harris said. "If we didn't, you wouldn't have heard about the possibility of him playing third base. We don't want him to be limited to playing one position.

"His receiving has improved gradually, Not as much as his leadership, communication and understanding of the game. All of those things can make his receiving look better and put him in a position to be a great catch and throw guy."

Harris good-naturedly objects to the notion that the system leans heavily in favor of position players. He points to right-hander Triston McKenzie, one of baseball's top young mound prospects, and elite strike-throwers Shane Bieber (first in the Minors last year with 0.4 walks per nine innings) and Aaron Civale (third at 0.8) as evidence that there's not much of an imbalance between hitters and pitchers.

McKenzie was the Carolina League pitcher of the year in 2017, topping the Class A Advanced circuit in wins (12), strikeouts (186, second in the Minors), strikeout rate (11.7 per nine innings) and opponents' average (.203) at age 19. His low-90s fastball plays up with extension and spin rate, his curveball is an out pitch and his changeup isn't far behind his other two offerings.

"His main development goal is to have consistency, game in and game out and for multiple innings," Harris said. "Turn the lineup over multiple times. We know he can do that at high Class A. Can he do it at higher levels? We think he can and we're preparing him mentally and physically to do it."

Video: Bradley, Allen reflect on productive 2017 seasons

Camp standouts

Mejia hits everywhere he goes, and that has continued in Cactus League games this spring, as he has gone 5-for-10 and slammed a homer off the Brewers' Tyler Webb. Allen, whose speed and defense earned him a spot on Cleveland's playoff roster last October, has gone 9-for-20 with three extra-base hits and a steal.

Mejia isn't the only catcher who has made an impression on the big league staff. Eric Haase doubled and homered in his first game of the spring, showing the power he displayed a year ago when he hit 27 homers and led all Indians farmhands with a .578 slugging percentage. Club officials liked how he responded when he was asked to repeat Double-A and serve as Mejia's backup at the start of 2017.

"You can sulk or say you're going to put yourself in a position where they have to play me, and he sought the resources and the coaching and made himself a good hitter," Harris said. "He's not behind the plate as much as he would be if he weren't on the same team as Mejia. That's the challenge, to find more opportunities for him to catch. He receives well and has a strong arm."

Jim Calis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Cleveland Indians

Mejia has a mentor of sorts in Ramirez

Tribe's top prospect, third baseman hail from same town in DR
MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Mejia estimated that it was about a decade ago that he first encountered Jose Ramirez. It was during one of Mejia's weekend games in Bani, their shared hometown in the Dominican Republic. Ramirez was out at shortstop when a young Mejia stepped up to the plate.

"He was always a good player," said Mejia, who went 2-for-4 with a run scored in Wednesday's 15-3 win over the Angels in Tempe. "They love him in Bani."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Mejia estimated that it was about a decade ago that he first encountered Jose Ramirez. It was during one of Mejia's weekend games in Bani, their shared hometown in the Dominican Republic. Ramirez was out at shortstop when a young Mejia stepped up to the plate.

"He was always a good player," said Mejia, who went 2-for-4 with a run scored in Wednesday's 15-3 win over the Angels in Tempe. "They love him in Bani."

Now, Ramirez acts like a big brother around Mejia in Cleveland's clubhouse. The rookie catcher's locker inside the Indians' spring complex is the first stall by the room's entrance. That gives Ramirez the chance to mess around with Mejia when he is coming and going. On a recent morning, Ramirez wrapped an arm around the catcher and pulled him out of his chair and told him to go watch video with him.

On Wednesday morning, when Mejia began to answer a reporter's questions, Ramirez leaned against the white cinder-block wall next to the catcher's locker. Ramirez had his arms folded across his chest and wore a serious expression as he awaited the rookie's responses. Cleveland's third baseman was jokingly asked whether he was supervising the interview.

"No cualquier supervisor," Ramirez fired back.

Not just any supervisor.

No, Ramirez is becoming more than that for Mejia.

Ramirez, who finished third in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award last season, has become a mentor for Mejia. The Bani Brothers spend time together away from the complex -- Ramirez said he does the driving -- and often get their daily work done side by side. Ramirez will swing by Mejia's locker and tell him to join him in the batting cage or video room.

"He's always around here," Mejia said with a smile. "I go do whatever he wants to do."

Video: Francona on catching situation, Mejia's development

The rookie has appreciated that veteran players like Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion have made him feel welcome around the Major Leaguers. It could be because they know the catcher should be knocking on the big league door soon. There is a lot of hype surrounding the 22-year-old Mejia, who is the Indians' No. 1 prospect and the top catching prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline.

Ramirez's description of Mejia as a hitter hardly needed translating.

"Tremendo bateador," said Ramirez, who doubled and drew a walk in Wednesday's 4-2 win over the Mariners at Goodyear Ballpark.

Ramirez continued on.

"Obviously, he's still a young guy," he said via a translator. "And he has a lot of maturing to do and he has some adjustments that he needs to make. But, from what I've seen, I really think he's going to be one of the best."

Mejia found himself on the national radar two years ago, when the switch-hitter pieced together a 50-game hitting streak between Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Lynchburg. He finished that season hitting .342 with an .896 OPS in 102 games overall. Last year, Mejia moved up to Double-A Akron and turned in a .297/.346/.490 slash line with 14 homers, 21 doubles and 52 RBIs in 92 games before being promoted to Cleveland.

The Indians think so highly of Mejia as a hitter that the team had him try his hand at third base during the Arizona Fall League in an effort to introduce some position versatility. They believe he can be a good big league catcher, but Mejia is blocked at the moment by Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes. If there is a way to expedite Mejia's path to the Majors, the Indians want to explore it.

"He's so advanced," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's kind of why we've talked about positional changes with him. It's not an indictment on his catching. It's just the fact that, if something happened in April or May or June, he's probably our best Minor League hitter."

Ramirez said his advice for Mejia this spring has been simple.

"I don't think he's going to have an opportunity to make the team when we break camp," Ramirez said. "So the advice I gave him is: No matter what, keep your head up, keep working hard no matter [where you're playing]. You don't know what could happen and what opportunities might come up."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Mejia, Jose Ramirez

Mejia among Indians' dark-horse candidates

Merritt, Naquin, Upton Jr. also seeking OD roster spots
MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every spring, there are players with lockers in the crowded clubhouses who are off the public radar. The cameras focus on the stars, core pieces and veterans, while other players quietly get in their daily work away from the Spring Training spotlight.

And then, some of those players prove critical to the season that follows.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every spring, there are players with lockers in the crowded clubhouses who are off the public radar. The cameras focus on the stars, core pieces and veterans, while other players quietly get in their daily work away from the Spring Training spotlight.

And then, some of those players prove critical to the season that follows.

Indians Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"There's always going to be that somebody," Indians reliever Dan Otero said. "Good teams need those guys to step up. And we have such a good core group that those complementary players don't need to do above and beyond. They just need to play to their capabilities."

On Friday, the Tribe will begin its Cactus League slate at 3:05 p.m. ET against the Reds at Goodyear Ballpark on MLB.TV. When starter Mike Clevinger takes the mound, the right-hander will set the 2018 season in motion, renewing the Indians' quest for another American League Central title with hopes of capturing a World Series championship.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

That journey begins with the construction of the Opening Day roster. In camp, the Indians will need to sort out the back of the rotation, the final spot in the bullpen, the makeup of the bench and how the outfield will be aligned. With that in mind, here is a look at four dark-horse candidates for roster spots this spring:

LHP Ryan Merritt: Merritt is a cult hero among Indians fans, who remember him coming out of nowhere to help pitch the club into the 2016 World Series during the AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays. In nine Major League games over the past two seasons, all Merritt has done is spin a 1.71 ERA, too.

The problem is the rotation is talented and deep, and it looks like there is no room in the inn for Merritt. The Indians will still stretch him out accordingly this spring as an insurance plan for the starting staff, but he is out of Minor League options. That could put Merritt in the mix for the lone bullpen vacancy.

C Francisco Mejia: He is ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect and the best catching prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. So, why was Mejia playing third base during the Arizona Fall League? Well, the Indians have two veteran catchers in Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, who are plus defenders, pitch framers and have established a great rapport with one of the game's elite pitching staffs.

Mejia tried his hand at third to see if his path to the Majors might be quickened via versatility. The organization believes he has a future behind the plate, but it doesn't want him unnecessarily blocked if his bat appears primed for The Show. If there is a setback for the club's catchers, Mejia looks like the next man up. The prospect looks more like an in-season addition, but there's a lot of spring left.

Video: Top Prospects: Francisco Mejia, C, Indians

OF Tyler Naquin: Naquin seized an Opening Day roster spot prior to the 2016 season and he played his way into a third-place finish for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Last year, injuries and other complications led to what amounted to a lost season for the outfielder. Now, in light of Bradley Zimmer's emergence, Naquin faces an uphill battle for a roster spot in an outfield filled with lefty bats. If a window of opportunity comes up this spring, though, Naquin is in position to again push for a job.

OF Melvin Upton Jr.: Last spring, the Indians brought outfield Austin Jackson into camp on a Minor League pact following an injury-riddled campaign. Jackson proved he was healthy, won a job and played a key role in 2017. This time around, Upton is in a similar situation. If Upton shows that his '17 health woes are behind him, he can make a strong play for a role as a right-handed complement in the outfield. Rajai Davis is also in camp to compete for the same type of job.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Melvin Upton Jr., Francisco Mejia, Ryan Merritt, Tyler Naquin

Tribe's 2018 Top 30 Prospects list is 100% homegrown

MLB.com

After a heartbreaking loss to the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, the Cleveland Indians returned with vengeance in '17 as they overcame a mediocre first half to post a .733 winning percentage (55-20) after the All-Star break -- thanks in part to an American League-record 22-game winning streak that spanned parts of two months -- en route to a 102-win season and a second consecutive AL Central title.

Indians Top 30 Prospects list

After a heartbreaking loss to the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, the Cleveland Indians returned with vengeance in '17 as they overcame a mediocre first half to post a .733 winning percentage (55-20) after the All-Star break -- thanks in part to an American League-record 22-game winning streak that spanned parts of two months -- en route to a 102-win season and a second consecutive AL Central title.

Indians Top 30 Prospects list

And while the Indians failed to advance beyond the AL Division Series, losing to the Yankees in six games after taking what appeared to be a commanding 2-0 series lead, it was yet another breakthrough season for a franchise in search of ending a 70-year World Series drought.

:: Team Top 30 Prospects lists ::

Much of that success was tied to a historically good Indians starting rotation that arguably was the best in the Major Leagues. Led by AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, Indians starters recorded 81 wins and 1,066 strikeouts to lead the Majors in both categories. Their collective 3.52 ERA, meanwhile, ranked first in the AL and second among all 30 teams.

That dominance on the mound extended to the club's dynamic bullpen, too, as Cleveland relievers paced both circuits in ERA (2.89) and WHIP (1.14), while converting all but 10 save opportunities.

At the plate, the Tribe received enormous contributions from a pair of homegrown phenoms in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Lindor, the Indians' first-round pick in 2011, further established himself as one of the sport's premier players by setting career highs in a host of offensive categories, while Ramirez turned in the top breakout performance across the game to finish third in AL MVP voting.

The Indians also received help from their farm system along the way, most notably from Bradley Zimmer. The team's top prospect at this time last year, Zimmer made his Major League debut in May and proceeded to impress in all facets of the game before suffering a season-ending injury. Cleveland also received contributions from versatile prospects Yandy Diaz and Erik Gonzalez.

Zimmer and Co. were eventually joined in the Majors by No. 11 overall prospect Francisco Mejia and speedy outfielder Greg Allen, both of whom contributed down the stretch after receiving a September callup and are expected to take on larger roles with the club in 2018.

Down on the farm, right-hander Triston McKenzie, MLB Pipeline's No. 24 prospect for 2018, solidified his status as an elite pitching prospect with a dominant campaign that earned him Class A Advanced Carolina League pitcher of the year honors. Right-hander Shane Bieber, a 2016 fourth-rounder, breezed through three full-season levels, including Double-A, while issuing just 10 walks in 173 1/3 innings.

Even more Indians prospects appear poised to make strides in 2018, as Will Benson, George Valera, Conner Capel and Aaron Bracho will all be names to follow closely as the season unfolds.

Biggest jump/fall
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2017 preseason list to the 2018 preseason list.

Jump: Conner Capel, OF (2017: NR | 2018: 12)
Fall: Brady Aiken, LHP (2017: 5 | 2018: 29)

Best tools
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.

Hit: 60 -- Francisco Mejia
Power: 60 -- Bobby Bradley
Run: 80 -- Quentin Holmes
Arm: 70 -- Francisco Mejia (Oscar Gonzalez)
Defense: 60 -- Greg Allen
Fastball: 60 -- Julian Merryweather (Triston McKenzie)
Curveball: 60 -- Triston McKenzie
Slider: 60 -- Aaron Civale (Shawn Morimando)
Changeup: 65 -- Eli Morgan
Control: 70 -- Shane Bieber

How they were built
Draft: 23
International: 7

Breakdown by ETA
2018: 9
2019: 7
2020: 8
2021: 5
2022: 1

Breakdown by position
C: 3
1B: 1
2B: 2
3B: 1
SS: 5
OF: 9
RHP: 5
LHP: 4

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Cleveland Indians

Resilient Aiken poised to make jump in 2018

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Entering his third season in professional baseball, Indians pitching prospect Brady Aiken is about to begin what could be the most important campaign of his young career. The lefty is wrapping up his first completely healthy offseason, and 2018 could serve as a turning point.

The Indians grabbed Aiken with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft -- a year after he went first overall, but did not sign with the Astros. The left-hander has as good of a pedigree as any pitching prospect, but his path to stardom was put in jeopardy when he underwent Tommy John surgery prior to being selected by Cleveland.

CLEVELAND -- Entering his third season in professional baseball, Indians pitching prospect Brady Aiken is about to begin what could be the most important campaign of his young career. The lefty is wrapping up his first completely healthy offseason, and 2018 could serve as a turning point.

The Indians grabbed Aiken with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft -- a year after he went first overall, but did not sign with the Astros. The left-hander has as good of a pedigree as any pitching prospect, but his path to stardom was put in jeopardy when he underwent Tommy John surgery prior to being selected by Cleveland.

Aiken showed his promise in spurts in 2017, but it was a trying season, as can often be the case for a pitcher working through his first full tour after elbow surgery. He did not feature the 97-mph fastball that he did as a top prospect out of high school -- he now sits in the 87-91 mph range -- but the left-hander has high expectations for himself in '18.

"It's definitely tough just because you know it's in there, the success," Aiken said during the Indians' fall development program in September. "That's not the pitcher I am. It's tough. It's frustrating. This year was frustrating. But at the same time, I learned a lot from the team side, learning about different things that I need to do to get my body in the right state of mind and go out there and compete on every fifth day."

The first two Minor League seasons were not easy for Aiken. Between Rookie ball, Class A Short-Season Mahoning Valley and Class A Lake County, Aiken has registered a 5.05 ERA with 122 walks and 146 strikeouts in 178 1/3 innings.

Aiken has been ranked as high as the No. 64 prospect in baseball before the 2016 season by MLB Pipeline, but the elbow troubles and inconsistency on the mound has caused his stock to slip. The left-hander now ranks as the Indians' No. 24 prospect and did not make the cut for the latest Top 100 prospects list.

But, as frustrating as last season was in terms of numbers, Aiken did achieve his top goal: staying healthy. Aiken led the Midwest League with 27 starts and didn't miss a turn, proving to himself that he isn't fragile.

Without any health complications in 2017, Aiken can finally complete his offseason program at full strength. No need to hold back in throwing drills. No more babying his arm. That should allow Aiken to take a big step forward this year.

"Obviously we want that workload again, but we can focus on pushing him a little bit more when it comes to getting him bigger and stronger and athletic," said Ruben Niebla, the Indians' Minor League pitching coordinator. "This will be his first offseason where he should 100 percent feel like he's healthy, and he's going to be able to go through another full season without any issues and push himself more."

As Aiken grows more agile and athletic, it should become easier for him to repeat his delivery and straighten out his mechanics, which in turn should improve his control. That pinpoint command in the strike zone is usually one of the last things to come back to pitchers as they recover from Tommy John surgery.

That lack of control was particularly frustrating for Aiken, who issued at least three walks in 23 of his 27 starts last season, leading to an oversized 6.88 walks per nine innings. He was throwing quality stuff, but it was not in the strike zone often enough.

Aiken was comforted by the fact that he was eliciting weak contact when opponents were able to put their bats on the ball last season. As an indicator, only 28.4 percent of batted balls against him went for extra bases compared to a 31.7 league average.

Now it comes down to how he can translate those improvements into results on the field. He showed flashes of his potential when he gave up two runs or fewer in four of his last five starts of 2017, and he carries that confidence into the next season.

"It is really, really impressive to see a 20-year-old man -- kid, really -- be able to handle all of the things thrown at him," Carter Hawkins, the Indians' assistant general manager, said. "The fact that he is as resilient as he is is certainly helping a lot of that process, so now it's turning that resiliency, that consistency, into some actual tangible product that hopefully gives him progress over the course of this offseason and really bumps him up to have a really awesome '18 for himself."

Ben Weinrib is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter at @benweinrib.

Cleveland Indians, Brady Aiken

Indians land two on Top 100 Prospects list

Mejia, McKenzie ranked 11th and 24th, respectively
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are smack dab in the middle of a real contention window, in which winning the World Series is the primary focus. In recent years, highly touted prospects like Francisco Lindor, Bradley Zimmer and Tyler Naquin have ascended through the farm system to help the big league club in that quest.

As the core of Cleveland's Major League roster gets older, and contracts begin reaching expiration dates, the question becomes: Which current prospects can keep the window open in the future? MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects list is a great place to start, and the Indians have two players -- catcher Francisco Mejia and pitcher Triston McKenzie -- on the newest version of the rankings.

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are smack dab in the middle of a real contention window, in which winning the World Series is the primary focus. In recent years, highly touted prospects like Francisco Lindor, Bradley Zimmer and Tyler Naquin have ascended through the farm system to help the big league club in that quest.

As the core of Cleveland's Major League roster gets older, and contracts begin reaching expiration dates, the question becomes: Which current prospects can keep the window open in the future? MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects list is a great place to start, and the Indians have two players -- catcher Francisco Mejia and pitcher Triston McKenzie -- on the newest version of the rankings.

• MLB Pipeline's 2018 Top 100 Prospects list

:: Complete 2018 Top Prospects coverage ::

In the unveiling of the Top 100 in an MLB Network special on Saturday night, Mejia was ranked 11th overall and McKenzie came in at 24th on MLB Pipeline's annual list. Mejia, who will be in camp with the Indians this spring, was rated as baseball's top catching prospect, while McKenzie checked in at ninth among all right-handed pitching prospects.

The annual ranking of MLB's Top 100 prospects is assembled by MLB Pipeline Draft and prospect experts Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Mike Rosenbaum, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. Only players with rookie status entering the 2018 season are eligible for the list. Players who were at least 25 years old when they signed and played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.

Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani -- the No. 1-ranked prospect -- spent the past five seasons pitching in Japan, but is 23 years old. The rest of the top five (in order) includes Ronald Acuna (Braves), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays), Eloy Jimenez (White Sox) and Gleyber Torres (Yankees).

As part of the Top 100 rankings, MLB Pipeline assigns prospect points to each team based on the players' place on the list. The No. 1 position is worth 100 points, followed by 99 for No. 2, 98 for No. 3 and so on. Cleveland's 167 points were the most among the 11 teams with two or fewer prospects and more than three teams who had at least three prospects on the list. The Indians had the 17th-highest prospect point total among the 30 franchises.

Video: Top Prospects: Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians

Mejia, 22, turned in a .297/.346/.490 slash line with 14 home runs, 21 doubles, 52 RBIs, 52 runs scored and seven steals in 92 games with Double-A Akron last year. The switch-hitting catcher also threw out 30 percent of would-be basestealers. That showing came after Mejia's breakout performance in '16, when he had an .896 OPS between Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Lynchburg and made national headlines with a 50-game hitting streak.

The Indians promoted Mejia to the Majors for the final month of the season, but Cleveland was in the midst of its American League-record 22-game winning streak, and was jockeying for position in the playoff picture. Under the circumstances, the young catcher appeared in only 11 games for the Tribe.

Following the regular season, Mejia went to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .365 in 15 games and tried his hand at third base. The idea was to introduce some versatility into Mejia's game, given that he is close to being ready for the Majors and Cleveland has two veteran catchers (Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes) locked in at the moment.

Both Mejia and McKenzie were a part of the Futures Game this past summer.

McKenzie, 20, spent the entire 2017 season with Lynchburg, going 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA and 186 strikeouts against 45 walks in 143 innings (25 starts). Since being selected in the first round (42nd overall) in the 2015 MLB Draft, the righty has posted a 2.68 ERA with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 4.4 strikeout-to-walk rate in parts of three professional seasons.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Mejia