The Indians keep jettisoning mainstays, reducing payroll and winning. Since July 2019, they've traded Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco and declined options on Brad Hand and Carlos Santana. Nevertheless, they still finished above .500 for the eighth consecutive season in 2020 while making the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years.
Cleveland is projected to have the lowest Opening Day payroll in the American League this season, yet it's also expected to contend once again in the AL Central. It has done a fine job of plugging holes by developing replacements and dealing for youngsters.
The Tribe found three-fifths of its formidable rotation in the 2016 Draft with Shane Bieber (fourth round), Aaron Civale (third) and Zach Plesac (12th), which made it easier to trade Bauer, Kluber, Clevinger and Carrasco. It'll attempt to replace Lindor in the near future with non-quite-established big leaguers Andrés Giménez and Amed Rosario, part of the the Lindor/Carrasco return from the Mets, and also have a farm system teeming with middle-infield prospects.
Cleveland's system may be on the verge of gaining recognition as one of the best around. That might have happened already had the coronavirus pandemic not wiped out the 2020 Minor League schedule and denied many of the Indians' best prospects the opportunity to make their full-season debuts.
Their very best phenoms (third baseman Nolan Jones, right-hander Triston McKenzie, shortstop Tyler Freeman) may be able to contribute in the Majors in 2021. But the bulk of their promising young hitters (headlined by catcher Bo Naylor and outfielder George Valera), sweet-swinging middle infielders (led by shortstops Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio) and live-armed pitchers (fronted by righties Daniel Espino and Ethan Hankins) are two or three years away. Overall, the system hasn't been this strong since Michael Brantley, Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, Kluber, Lindor, José Ramírez and Santana were ascending a decade ago.
Here's a look at the Indians' top prospects:
Biggest jump/fall Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2020 preseason list to the 2021 preseason list.
Jump: Lenny Torres, RHP (2020: 23 | 2021: 12) -- Recovered from Tommy John surgery in May 2019, he's regaining the power stuff that made the Indians excited to get him in 2018's supplemental first round.
Fall: Scott Moss, LHP (2020: 18 | 2021: 28) -- Pushed down the list by a number of Draft and trade acquisitions, he still looked like a three-pitch starter at Cleveland's alternate training site last summer.
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 -- Tyler Freeman (George Valera)
Power: 60 -- Bobby Bradley (Nolan Jones)
Run: 60 -- Isaiah Greene (Petey Halpin, Daniel Johnson, Brayan Rocchio, Carson Tucker)
Arm: 75 -- Gabriel Arias
Defense: 60 -- Gabriel Arias
Fastball: 80 -- Emmanuel Clase
Curveball: 60 -- Triston McKenzie (Josh Wolf)
Slider: 60 -- Daniel Espino (Carlos Vargas)
Changeup: 60 -- Joey Cantillo (Logan Allen)
Control: 55 -- Triston McKenzie (Logan Allen)
How they were built
Draft: 14 | International: 8 | Trade: 8
Breakdown by ETA
2021: 8 | 2022: 5 | 2023: 11 | 2024: 6
Breakdown by position
C: 2 | 1B: 1 | 2B: 1 | 3B: 1 | SS: 9 | OF: 4 | RHP: 8 | LHP: 4