Tribe's up-and-coming farm one to watch

March 19th, 2021

MLB Pipeline unveiled its top 10 farm systems going into the 2021 season this week, and Cleveland did not make the cut.

But check back in a few months.

What’s striking about the Tribe’s top 30 prospects list for 2021 -- in the aftermath of blockbuster trades that sent Mike Clevinger to the Padres and Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets -- is the abundance of youth, even by prospect-list standards. There are 19 players listed at age 21 or younger, as well as eight under 20.

Given a legitimate Minor League season to develop, Cleveland’s system has the potential to make a big leap from the No. 14 spot it occupied at the end of the pandemic-altered 2020. And a Spring Training camp in which quite a few of those top 30 prospects held their own against big league competition has people within the organization feeling bullish.

“We need to be an organization -- and we know this -- that develops young players,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said Friday. “We completely understand that, and we’re OK with that. But when you see some young players who have some ability, it makes the glass look a little more full, maybe, than other people think.”

The Tribe has three prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 -- third baseman (No. 36), right-hander (No. 51) and shortstop (No. 98).

Given the club’s unsettled outfield situation and Jones’ willingness to bounce back and forth between third base and the outfield at Triple-A Columbus this year, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could impact the Major League team this year. McKenzie, meanwhile, already debuted last season and has an eye on the Opening Day rotation.

With the offseason addition and strong spring of Andrés Giménez -- to go along with Yu Chang’s inside track on the infield utility job -- Freeman’s path to the bigs is cloudier. But the 21-year-old, who made a fantastic diving stop and tough play in Thursday’s game against the Cubs, could prove versatile in the infield.

“My guess is he could play multiple positions,” Francona said. “But if a guy can handle shortstop, that makes him more valuable.”

This spring has allowed the likes of catcher Bo Naylor (No. 4 on the Tribe’s list), shortstop Gabriel Arias (No. 6) and middle infielder Owen Miller (No. 18) a chance to acquaint themselves with the big league coaching staff.

The 21-year-old Naylor, who was reassigned to Minor League camp on Friday, has already gained the trust of the big league pitchers.

“This kid’s got a bright future,” Francona said.

Acquired in the Clevinger trade, Arias, 21, was already known to be a strong defender, but he was more advanced at the plate than expected.

“He controlled the strike zone and used the opposite field,” Tribe president Chris Antonetti said.

Francona has also been raving about the Miller’s plate approach.

“This kid’s gonna be some kind of hitter,” the skipper said. “He’s already a good hitter.”

Those are all names to know -- and there are others who have opened eyes, including shortstop Ernie Clement, who is not ranked in the top 30. Cleveland's wealth of young middle infielders could serve as trade depth, or lead to more guys being asked to explore their versatility in the coming months or years.

But the overarching point -- and key takeaway this spring -- is that a team that has drastically repositioned its Major League roster over the course of the last two seasons now has a farm system capable of ranking among the very best in the game, even if MLB Pipeline’s top 10 does not reflect that at the moment.