Despite winning 93 games in 2019, the Indians failed to win the American League Central for the first time in four years. They tried to balance returning to the postseason with reducing payroll, and ultimately fell eight games short of another division title and three shy of a Wild Card berth.
Going forward, Cleveland's farm system should be able to help it achieve both goals. The organization's Minor League talent is as strong as it has been since the start of this decade, when Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana were advancing toward Progressive Field.
While the Indians got valuable contributions from rookies Aaron Civale, Oscar Mercado and Zach Plesac this summer, the best of the system is yet to come. Nine of their 14 best prospects are 20 or younger and only three members of that group have reached Triple-A. The average age of the prospects on their Top 30 list is the youngest in baseball at 20 years, 10 months.
Infielders are the obvious strength of the system. Third baseman Nolan Jones, Cleveland's best prospect, combines power and patience and may be ready to help the big league club at some point in 2020. The Indians are loaded with sweet-swinging shortstops, most notably Tyler Freeman and Brayan Rocchio.
TOP FIVE PROSPECTS
HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR
Bobby Bradley, 1B (No. 7): He won the fourth Minor League home run crown of his six-year career by hitting 33 to lead the Triple-A International League while batting .264/.344/.567, though he struggled to make consistent contact in a short stint with Cleveland.
Aaron Civale, RHP (graduated from Top 30): Not only did he log a 2.35 ERA in 13 starts at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, but he also worked at least five innings without giving up more than two earned runs in each of his first nine big league starts -- the first rookie to accomplish that since King Cole in 1909-10. More »
James Karinchak, RHP (No. 21): Despite battling a hamstring injury, he used his mid-90s fastball and 12-6 curveball to strike out an incredible 59 percent of the Minor Leaguers he faced -- then whiffed eight of the 22 big leaguers he encountered during a September callup.
Quentin Holmes, OF: The Indians hoped the fastest player in the organization would bounce back after missing most of 2018 with hamstring woes, but he hit just .175/.247/.274 in low Class A and posted the fourth-worst OPS (.522) in the full-season Minors.
Draft: Daniel Espino, RHP, 1st round (No. 9); Yordys Valdes, SS/2B, 2nd round (No. 23); Christian Cairo, INF, 4th round (No. 28); Joe Naranjo, 1B, 3rd round; Hunter Gaddis, RHP, 5th round Complete Draft list »
International: Jose Pastrano, SS
Trade: Logan Allen, LHP (No. 4); Scott Moss, LHP (No. 17); Andrew Velazquez, OF/SS
For the second straight year, the Indians added the high schooler with the best fastball in the Draft, pairing Espino with fellow Georgia product and 2018 first-rounder Ethan Hankins. The system was short on left-handers until Cleveland acquired both Allen and Moss in the three-team trade that sent Trevor Bauer to the Reds in July.
2020 IMPACT PROSPECT
Bobby Bradley, 1B (No. 7): He has nothing left to prove in the Minors and the Indians could use his left-handed power in their lineup, with DH looking like the best fit.
Hit: Tyler Freeman
Power: Bobby Bradley
Run: Quentin Holmes
Arm: Daniel Johnson
Field: Bo Naylor
Best athlete: Daniel Johnson
Fastball: Daniel Espino
Curveball: James Karinchak
Slider: Carlos Vargas
Changeup: Eli Morgan
Control: Hunter Gaddis
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
Seven of Cleveland's best nine prospects are high schoolers selected in the first three rounds: Jones, McKenzie, Freeman, Naylor, Bradley, Hankins and Espino. The current Top 30 includes just three college draftees, none higher than Karinchak at No. 21.
TOP 30 BY POSITION
The Indians pace all systems with eight shortstops on their Top 30. Their 18 position players are just one short of the lead shared by three organizations.